Tag Archives: music

Actin’ a Fool


After the kids were in bed, G came into the den and found me standing in the middle of the floor, watching “Godzilla” and writhing about.

“WHAT are you doing?”

I continued to flap my arms from side to side and wriggle my hips to the song inside my head. I squatted…rhythmically.

“I’m dancing.”

He kept walking.

Honestly, this is what February has reduced me to. Actin’ a fool is the only solution I have left to escape the depressive gloom that has been sitting on my chest for a month. So I have been actin’ a fool all day.

I have Bruno Mars to thank. While driving in to work in the pouring rain, already feeling like I had done everything wrong before 9 a.m., “Uptown Funk” came on the radio. I turned it up a tad then thought, “Fuck it, why not?” and turned it up so loud that my eyes were throbbing. I sang as loud and flat as I could, because nothing makes me giggle like singing loud and flat. Flat is FUNNY. (Take a second…try it…try singing “Blue Moon” like a foghorn) I danced in my seat, even at four-way stops where other people could see me. I tickled myself and it felt so so good to laugh at my own silliness.

charlie-chaplin-actor-failure-is-unimportant-it-takes-courage-to-makeActing a fool is different from cutting up, showing out, showing up, showing your ass, turning up, etc. I act a fool intentionally. I act a fool when the limits of reason have been reached and I need to jumpstart myself. I’m working on a couple of big creative things and find myself shutting down in the face of all that fear of failure.

I wore a garishly colored velvet scarf today with six inches of fringe. I bought myself an evil eye charm for my bracelet. I said “yes” to the lunch invite when I really wanted to curl up in a ball under my desk. I made jokes about holding a coworker’s taco. I danced like Elaine Bennis every time I passed Nicole’s office on the way to the kitchen for water. I squatted down by the road to take a picture of some daffodils in the rain. I changed my Pandora station from 10,000 Maniacs to Missy Elliott. I wiggled. I bought flowers for myself. I played with Carlos for half an hour instead of starting dinner. I watched Godzilla, for godsakes.

And I danced in the den to a song in my head. All too many pounds of me, shaking it like my rent was due. Instead of cleaning milk out of the carpet, or walking on the treadmill, or filling out those forms for the developmental pediatrician, or writing the RSVP (I’m coming to the wedding, Mandy!), or paying the $401 gas bill, or doing the taxes, or writing a better post than this, or working on that talk I’m doing at Missouri State in a few weeks, or finishing that quilt I started when I was pregnant with Vivi, or getting all those socks matched up once and for all, or writing a thank you note (I love the painting, Little Gay!), or cleaning out the freezer, or plucking these Sasquatch brows, or making plans for spring break next week, or planning our meals for the week, or or or or.

I danced. And I felt some better.

Don’t believe me? Just watch.



Love Dares You to Care

This post has been rattling around in my head for over a week now: a little bit of Freddie Mercury, a dash of David Bowie, Michael Brown, Alexander the Great. I couldn’t get my head around it until, just like when I was a kid, Mr. Rogers helped me understand.

We’re big Queen fans in this house (and queen fans, in general, but that’s on a case-by-case basis). I wish I could have seen Queen play a live show–Freddie Mercury commanded arenas with his electric stage presence and four octave voice. A force of nature, he died from complications of AIDS in 1991. He died one day after telling the world that he had the disease.


I know you’ve heard “Under Pressure”…right? It’s been called the greatest bass line in rock and roll history (and this is the part where we spit on the ground and curse the name of Vanilla Ass for sampling it and not giving songwriting credit until he got sued, sued baby).

Anywho…As G and I were clearing the table the other night, I played this video for him of the isolated vocal track of “Under Pressure.” Please take a moment to listen:

I’ve known this song for 30 years but hearing the simple power of their voices apart from the instruments knocked me back into my chair. I sat at the crumb-covered table and listened to the words like I was hearing them for the first time. That echoing call: “Why can’t we give love just one more chance?”

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

I couldn’t help crying, for it had been less than 24 hours since the announcement that there would be no indictment in Ferguson. So many people, crushed by the pressure.

While the noodles boiled for dinner, I had been reading news reports. Vivi lay stretched across the top of the loveseat behind me with her book. She put her chin on my shoulder to look at the headline on my screen. “What’s rack-i-seem?” It took me a second to realize what she was sounding out–“racism.”

It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, “Let me out!

“Well, race is the way people tend to be grouped by how we look, like the color of our skin. Racism is the idea that one color of skin is better than another. What do you think about that?”

She screwed up her face and shook her head. “Skin’s just skin.”

Oh, honey. True…but. But we’ve added so much to it over centuries and centuries.  Now there’s a Gordian knot of history to unravel.

Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why, why, why?  Love

gordian_knot-260x238So slashed and torn. A Gordian knot is a metaphor for a problem that seems to have no solution, something so tightly entangled that we can’t even find the end to begin pulling the knot apart. It comes from an ancient Greek story of a cart tied by this complicated knot. Whoever could untie the knot would conquer the east. After struggling with the knot, Alexander grew tired of the delay, drew his sword and slashed the knot in two.

Is that what’s happening to our Gordian knot of racism?

Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?..

For days, I’ve felt helpless and sad. It’s such a huge problem. Now, #icantbreathe. We’re cracking. How do I explain rack-i-seem to my second grader? She’s lucky enough to be on the side that can choose to learn more. As my friend, Bryndis, put it a while back, whites can choose whether to learn the ways of other races, but people of color have to learn to navigate the white world in order to survive.

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance? I got some courage back today, thanks to Mr Rogers:


Love. Struggle.

‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves

Love dares you to care. How do we care for the people on the edge of the night? The people who are quietly lying down in the street, on bridges, in shopping malls–lying down to become visible. To insist upon being seen and heard. I can listen. I can see. I can add my voice.

Racism has to become OUR problem. Freddie Mercury died of AIDS back when most people thought AIDS was someone else’s problem. Thousands of people fought like hell, lay down in the street, to get America to notice AIDS. Like ebola or climate change or marriage equality–we won’t make any progress on these Gordian knots until we recognize that they aren’t just other people’s problems.

This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure


Life is Sweet

Let’s have a moment of music appreciation today. This song got me out of a dark place today. Natalie Merchant, “Life Is Sweet”:

natalie merchant

It’s a pity
it’s a crying shame
who pulled you down again?
how painful it must be
to bruise so easily inside

It’s a pity
it’s a downright crime
but it happens all the time
you wanna stay little daddy’s girl
wanna hide from the vicious world outside

Call it seasonal depression. Or emotional fatigue. Or denial. I call it “dragging the wagon.” Today I was dragging the wagon behind me and in that wagon is every brave thing I’ve ever wanted to do and left short, every pound I’ve failed to lose, every person I ever disappointed, every dream I had that didn’t come true.

So who pulled me down again? The bruise inside, the one I work on and sometimes think I’m getting past. The fear of putting my heart into the vicious world and getting it shredded. The fear of running back for comfort to my daddy and him not being there.

Three friends have lost their daddies in the past week. And the story I haven’t been telling for a couple of months now is that I almost lost mine. It scares me so much that I can’t look at it straight on. My dad was very close to dying. He’s back now. He called me the other day to thank me for the orchid I brought when he was in the rehab place. We’ll eat turkey next week and be grateful.

I’m sad for Heather and Jonathan and Laura who are trying to find words to say goodbye and thank you and good job, Dad.

But don’t cry
know the tears’ll do no good
so dry your eyes

They told you life is hard
it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

10700549_10204326604998278_6333280427733818279_oThis weekend, I took the kids down to the playfort in the backyard and got choked up when I saw that the cherry tree had dropped all of its leaves overnight. One day, a globe of golden whispering leaves and the next day, a silent carpet over the frosty ground. Some trees, like my neighbor’s sugar maple, take weeks to shed their leaves, so long that we get kind of used the change. Others–whoosh and they’re gone in the first hard freeze.

That cherry tree was a wedding gift from my coworkers when Richard and I married. It stayed in a pot for months, waiting on the soil to soften up with spring. I got around to planting it after Richard died. It’s been especially precious to me now that my babies play in its shade. Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all it needed to grow.

For almost ten years, I’ve grown used to the miracle of that tree. Pink pom poms in spring, pale green leaves through the summer, then the golden show of fall. And every year, the shock of the day when it’s just gone. Bare and spare. Reminding me how suddenly everything can change.

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?
it’s high time that you decide
in your own mind

Dragging the wagon. Carrying all this fear and sadness around and not writing it out. Afraid to write it wrong or write it right. Trying to speak my truth but the hand over my mouth is my own. That’s why I found myself crying at my desk at lunchtime. “Life Is Sweet” came on Pandora and it took me back all those years to when I first loved this song and had no earthly idea how true it is. I sat there and cried because I’m so tired of wanting things to be different but not making them different. Time to make up my own mind.

mapleThere’s a red maple outside my office window, and as it’s been losing its scarlet leaves this week, more sunshine gets through. I sat there today next to the window, half of my tired body warmed in the light and half of it shivering. Natalie’s words calling out to me from my phone.

They told you life is hard

it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?

I closed my eyes. In the dark quiet there behind my eyelids, the left eye caught a reddish glow from the sun shining through. The right eye looked out into the darkness.

It’s high time you decide
it’s time you make up your own sweet little mind

With my eyes still closed, I turned towards the sun. I sat still and let it warm me. Just like my cherry tree, “Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all I need to grow.”

They told you life is long
be thankful when it’s done
don’t ask for more
you should be grateful

But I tell you life is short
be thankful because before you know
it will be over

Cause life is sweet
and life is also very short
your life is sweet

If you are the praying type, say a peaceful one for Ted and Heather, Stephen and Jonathan, Gary and Laura. And say a thankful one for Sam and Ashley.

Daddy, I’m glad you’re back. I love you and I’m grateful for you. Save me some turkey.

This Blue Sky Is Not Beautiful Because…

As I walked between buildings this morning with my face in my smartphone and my head filled with project deadlines, housekeeping minutiae, goals and dreams and regrets that make up the miasma that sublets my head, a red rosebud caught my attention.  I turned off the phone for a second.

I took a deeper breath and pushed it down through my tense muscles, all the way to my feet. My feet sent back the message that I was walking on a pebbled path made of gentle curves, passing under five old oak trees.  My brain wafted down the word “psithurism”–the word for the sound that wind makes in trees.  I couldn’t help but smile.

At the end of the path, I stopped on the sidewalk to let a car pass, even though I had the right of way at the crosswalk.  Reflexively, my mind clicked over to berating the car’s driver for not seeing me…but I stopped and chose to breathe again.  I lifted my eyes, and this is what I saw:blue sky

Such a surprise, to SEE the sky and accept with grateful wonder that I get to live in a place on a day in a moment when that color is right there for me to see.  No charge, no ticket required, no restrictions apply.

At that moment, what words popped into my head?

“This blue sky is not beautiful BECAUSE of anything.  It just IS. It is and it is beautiful.

Not because I have a job.

Not because my clothes match and smell nice.

Not because my son’s potty training is on or off track.

Not because the scale said a certain number.

Not because I met that deadline.

Not because I wrote today or slept last night or ate the right balance of carbs to protein or remembered to take the school supplies to the teacher.  All those things that fill my mind have nothing whatsoever to do with this blue sky that brings me such delight.

And no self-respecting Georgia Girl could dive into a sky like that without humming “Blue Sky” by The Allman Brothers.  Here’s one of only five recordings of “Blue Sky” from the glory days of the brothers, the band, the Betts.  This version was recorded live in 1971 at SUNY Stonybrook.  It’s long, because it was the 70s.  Worth every single second–breathe your way through it instead of playing Candy Crush or worrying about carbs.

“You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day.  Lord y’know it makes me high when you turn your love my way. Turn your love my way…” Click the photo of the band if you’d like to go back to that day:


Morning Magic

Wednesday morning, I drove over to Watkinsville for a meeting…that had been canceled.  No one thought to tell me. Oh well.  I was in such a good mood that there was no frustrating me with inconveniences.  When you find yourself in Watkinsville early in the morning and you haven’t eaten breakfast yet and you have a little time on your hands, what do you do?  This girl pops in to Waffle House for a Cheese and Eggs platter with grits, wheat toast, and sausage.  Aw, yeah!

I sat at the low counter because all the spinny seats at the high counter were taken.  On one perched a retired man in a cowboy hat with a peacock feather bobbing from the band.  The seat by the register held a prosperous looking fellow in an emerald green golf shirt who held up a full-page newspaper ad and told the waitress, “THAT is NOT Kim Kardashian.”  Obvious Photoshopping on the waistline.  In the center, a couple deep in their phones.

Ms V. took my order–she’s my favorite because one time Vivi and I went in there and they talked about sharing V names.  While the cooks did their thing, one of the younger girls started singing a pop song.  She wasn’t as entertaining as she thought she was.  Ms. V must not have approved because after she dropped off my plate, she walked over to the jukebox, pressed some magic button and started up something far better:  Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch singing “I’ll Fly Away” from the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack.


I couldn’t help it. Quietly, under my breath.  Just loud enough to hear myself…I started singing.

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

The Cheese and Eggs platter reminds me of my Grandmama Eunice.  In the summers when I was young, I spent the days with her while my parents and siblings worked.  Some days, she would fix me a big breakfast–eggs, sausage, grits and toast.  I liked to use the toast as a base, pile on a little dab of grits for mortar, then a little bit of egg, then a bite of sausage and eat it all together.  I still eat it that way at the Waffle House.  I was thinking of Grandmama Eunice and those breakfasts, singing “When the shadows of this life have gone, I’ll fly away,” when I realized that the woman beside me was singing too.  And the man with the newspaper was whistling along.  The peacock feather kept the beat.  Ms. V joined in on the chorus.


I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away


A few hours earlier, my friend, Hannah, had shared this quote from J. B. Priestley:  “I have always been delighted at the prospect of  a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.”  Amen.  I found my bit of magic at the Waffle House in Watkinsville, singing an old song with strangers.  My bill was $8 and I left a $20 for Ms. V.

Here’s to a new day, a fresh try, one more start!

morning magic

Green Bananas

In the strange ways of the world we’ve created online, I am sad tonight for a friend I’ve never met.  We know the same people and we chat on Facebook.  I’d recognize her if we passed each other in the street and I’d stop to hug her neck.  She’s good people.  

She’s saying farewell to her beloved grandfather.  His body is worn out with living and he’s ready to go.  He is safe and comfortable, wrapped up in love.  His records play softly on the stereo.  His girls have propped his favorite photos by the bed and tucked him under a warm quilt.   Tended quietly by the people you love, the people you created–that’s the way to finish.


His ending hasn’t been a surprise.  A few weeks ago, he answered a question about the future with, “Aw, honey–I’m too old to buy green bananas.”   That joke says so much about how we have to live.  We have to live with the hope for tomorrow–the green bananas.  We invest then have to wait a while for it to sweeten up.  We start out tough and grow softer as we have less time ahead of us.  

Watching from the sidelines as Kathryn lives through these strange last hours makes me feel peaceful that Richard died at home.  That I tended him.  We could have fled with his failing body to the hospital and handed this frightening responsibility over to people who knew what they were doing, but we stayed at home.  We might not have known what we were doing, but we knew how to do it.  Gently, with great love.  Fearlessly, with great courage.

That’s the same way we raise children or save our own lives or try to change the world.  Gently, fearlessly, with love and with courage.

So if you are the praying type, whisper one for those who are saying goodbye, from both sides of the door.  If you are the loving type, send a little more love into the world today in honor of a grandfather who sowed love and reaped love.  I’ve never met him, but I’ll miss Mr. Thomas “Buddy” Ballew.  

Here’s a video of a beautiful song about accepting when it’s time to say goodbye.  It’s called “On Your Way” by East Mountain South.  The story is of a man realizing what a mess he’s made of things with his woman.  He’s wishing her well, sending her on her way–even though she’s already gone.  

…so let his heart surround you, and let his arms protect you
and hold you every morning the way that I could never do
another life has blessed you, he wants the same as you do
so I must find the courage to send you on your way…

Oda a la Alegría

Oh, this.  This makes my heart thankful.  

It’s a good thing I was the only one in the office Wednesday afternoon, because I clicked this link and within two minutes I was sobbing into a wad of tissues.

Yes, I know it’s an ad for a bank.  Yes, I know it’s a year old.  Yes, I know it’s all staged.  But that doesn’t make it not beautiful.

Take five minutes away from the bustle of today and let yourself travel to this bright town square in Spain.  Let the Ode to Joy start small and let it grow in your chest, let it leak out of your eyes and make your shoulders shake.  It’s joy.  That’s the path joy takes.  Joy doesn’t start with the crescendo.  It begins with a single note.  That’s why it’s hard to spot sometimes in its early stages.

Ode to Joy, from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, is my favorite piece of music, #1, hands down, not even close.  That’s why I chose it for the recessional music when Fartbuster and I got married.  And why I chose it as the recessional music when Richard and I got married.

Then a short while later, his parents and I were planning his memorial service with the priest and there in the list of suggested music for the recessional was “Ode to Joy.” Joy?  At a funeral?

I chose it.  (wait…gotta do some more crying…)

I don’t remember everything from that service, but I do remember the way that music swelled from the organ after all the words had been said.  I remember the soaring sound made by hundreds of our friends and family as they sang the modern English lyrics:  “Ever singing march we onward, Victors in the midst of strife; Joyful music lifts us sunward in the triumph song of life!” I felt a great sense of relief that the service had been perfectly fitting for Richard.  I felt…joy.  Joy at having had that one thing go right.  The music carried me out of the sanctuary and on to the next part of life.

I wish you joy today.  Among all the leftovers and hangovers and overdrafts and overpasses–STOP.  Like those people in the square in Spain, all they had to do was stop and listen to joy.

Now cut me some white meat and pass the cranberry sauce!