What's In Your Headphones?

Music is salve for the soul. My soul, at least. I can't speak for yours. If I live through a million failures, a thousand accomplishments, a multitude of heartache, I'll still never be able to dip my pen into the inkwell of my soul and articulate my thoughts to you in verse. Not ever.

A dozen people can listen to the same song and generate from it a different feeling. That's the beauty of music. It plays for us all on our own individual turntables. We walk this way surrounded but alone, each on a different path to the same destination. How we get there is a journey no one can share. We can commiserate, we can empathize, we can love, but we are ultimately alone.

Music unites us at the same time it separates us. How many times have you tried to share your favorite song, your favorite artist with someone? You can't. We can listen to the same song together in a space as confined as a car and each be a million miles away from the other. You can't make someone see the world through your eyes, make them feel the pain from the wounds that reside beneath your flesh, make them hear the unique rhythm of your heart beat, or have them traverse the valleys in your mind.

We each hear the music in our own way. Where one of us sees darkness, another sees light. Where one of us hears a melody in the breeze, another is lost in silence. Where one of us is crippled by abuse, another is made strong.

(I suppose, if you are very lucky in this lifetime, you may find one or a handful of people who get it the same way you get it. And if you are ever so lucky, you should probably hold on real tight to that shit, maybe triple wrap them up in that bubble padding stuff and super glue them to your body.)

And still. Even though we know all this. Even though we know that music is our own personal antidote against the world, against this life..... we still struggle to share the songs we hear, the artists we love.

We (or at least I) want to know... what's in your headphones right now? Maybe it is something so inconsequential that it requires zero thought because you can't think another minute today. Maybe it is something that pierces your soul so harshly that you can't help but think of last summer when you should have done something but didn't. Maybe it is something that renders you so helpless all you can do is press rewind.... again and again. Maybe it is none of those things. Maybe it's just a good time.

Whatever it is, what is it?

I'll tell you what's in my headphones right now and why. And maybe you will feel inclined to share with me what's in yours?

Eminem: For enduring a lifetime of bullshit and persevering; for baring his soul naked to the world and standing unabashed underneath the giant stream of piss that some of you aim at it; for bringing me to tears and then drying them with laughter in the space of one song, fueling and then quelling the despair inside of me; for the sense of humor he aims at himself to drown his insecurities; for shoving his dick up our ass and daring us to critique him after he's already critiqued himself in a light far harsher than ours will ever be; for his vulnerability and his strength; his angels and his demons; the hurt, the anger, and the love that are in a constant state of battle for primary residence inside of him; for wrecking himself completely for his art, giving every part of himself to the music and not ironing out the wrinkles in his soul or washing the dirt off his psyche before he steps out into the world; for showing us the darkness because without it the light would have no meaning; for allowing us to gather as bystanders on the sideline of his life; for being so painfully and completely real and not giving a shit if we can handle it or not (can we?); for being a complete jerk one minute and a sentimental fuck the next and never requiring forgiveness because the music is his own, not ours; for never just skimming the surface but going down deep where it's dark and muddy and resurfacing in a shower of complex brilliance - showing us the prison bars of his freedom and giving us more in his one lifetime than we can ever give back; allowing us to kneel hungrily at his feet and suck him dry, taking everything he offers, inhaling the very life out of him while begging him for more....

Shit. Do I sound obsessed?

I am simply amazed. Amazed that there is a person sharing the space of this earth with us who is swimming so far out in the deepest part of the ocean without a life jacket on, cut and bruised, bloody and worn. (Isn't he afraid of sharks? No. He isn't). The rest of us are wading here in the tide with our feet planted firmly in the sand, our life jackets strapped tight around us. Do any of us have the courage to untie these straps and swim out there into the deep water, too? Will we risk being beaten up and spit out by the world if we unlock the demons that reside in our closets? Will we risk getting to know each other? Or will we shrivel up and die here on this beach, trading weather stats and baseball stats and what we ate for dinner stats?

Dear Heaven: Just off me now if all that is in store for my life are fucking plants from the Home Depot and shopping for antiques (Did you know I fucking hate antiques?.. Or maybe I just hated antiques with you).

Damn. What's happening? I can't stop my fingers from molesting this keyboard.

Empty out the chamber. Reload. Aim

Moving right along.

Ani Difranco: for her wit; for her balls; for refusing to sell out; for daring to be different; for never diminishing her art by shaking her ass just to sell a few records; for a middle finger turned up to the record labels; for the complexity of her lyrics; for wearing out my rewind button.

Bright Eyes: For flawed perfection (is there any other kind?); for hearing Conor's voice crack in the middle of a song and knowing he's real; for simple lyrics that hold so much depth, especially for I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning.

Keb' Mo': For finding me at the nature store. You were just sitting there on a rack filled with CD's that promised to play bird songs, orca whale songs, rain forest lullaby's. What were you doing there, Mr. Mo'? You were waiting for me, I know. Thank you for telling me about Henry and his steel guitar; for still climbing up the mountain top; for giving me back a sense of forgiveness; for showing me love and pain and pleasure with the strings of your guitar.

I know I did not do justice to a single one of these people. But I know they won't hold it against me. They are all out there in the ocean, some not quite as far as others,but out there nonetheless.

I am standing on the shore and this is as far as my shore-weary eyes can see.

Just turn the fucking music up already. Damn.


The Sky Is Crying

"Son of a bitch, Elijah. If you don't sit your ass down...." His big, droopy face stared at me in the rearview mirror, drool hanging from his jowls in thick ropes of anxiety and anticipation. His brown eyes implored me, "Where the hell are we going, bitch? Shit. We've been in this bumpy ass rig for 7 damn hours. It's past my dinner time. I'm thirsty."

"Alright, that's it. We're never going to make it to the campsite before dark. By the time we set up, it'll be 9 o'clock and we'll only have one good hour of beer drinking time. I say we pull over here . Okay with you, mom?"

"Shit yeah. I need a drink."

"We all need a damn drink."

We pulled into the Knights Inn (because this is the type of accommodation you are reduced to when your traveling companion has four legs instead of the recommended two), road-weary and thirsty. The kid at the front desk handed us our key and we circled the lot in search of our room. Just as we rounded the corner to our building, the parking lot was suddenly teeming with boats and men.

Hot damn.

Fishermen. Huddled together in groups here and clumps there. In the middle of it all, the finest boats you have ever seen. Apparently, there was to be a tournament the next day in which the winner would receive a $54,000 boat.

"Would you look at this?" Mom declared. "I wonder what's going on."

"Looks like a good time to me," I replied, putting the Jeep in park in front of our room.

We quickly unloaded what we deemed important (our cooler and chairs) and after a quick walk around the grounds with Elijah, set up camp outside our motel room.

"We'll just sit out here and pretend we're camping," Mom said. We settled in to enjoy the view, passing the can of mixed nuts between us.

Suddenly, a voice broke through the darkness.

"Need some help?"

It was my mother. Offering her services to two men pushing a giant of a boat into a parking space in front of our room.

"That'd be nice! But you better watch out. You're fixing to have a face full of propeller!"

Undaunted, my mother began enthusiastically directing them. "Come on back. Just a little to the left. You got it. Come on...come on. A little more....Whoa! Right there!"

I honestly don't know what they would have done without her. It never fails. Thank you, Oh Sweet Mother Of Mine. You have once again ripped through the prison bars of social barriers to unite us all in human interaction.

As the night grew darker, the fishermen admired our Jeep. "Those are some nice tires you got on there. What are those, R2D2 Mega Bad Ass Mother Fuckers?" "You know it," I said as I took a swig of beer.

Lesson of the day: When someone wishes to trade tire facts with you or converse on any such subject of which you are in complete ignorance, pull one those generic phrases you keep stored in your head ("you know it," "damn straight," "hell yes," etc., etc.), perfect a pose of utter nonchalance, shrug your shoulders, and plaster a smug as fuck grin on your face. Works every time. Need a frame of reference? This guy can help:

They admired our dog. "Is that a dog or a horse?" "Well, sir, I'm glad you asked. I like to refer to him as a mini pony." Ah! The lady has a sense of humor.

They admired our spirit of adventure. "You're going camping in a tent and everything?" Like, for sure!

After a couple of hours, we packed up our chairs and our cooler and fell into a laugh riot behind the closed door of our motel room. We danced around the room with Elijah. We told ourselves the fishermen were so completely undone by us that come morning there would be a note stuck in the Jeep with a phone number. "Dear Awesome Women at the Knights Inn, It was a joy to talk to you. We would like to take you out to dinner tonight. Please call us at...." We threw peanuts into the air and scored Elijah on hits and misses. We fell into our beds at midnight, assuring ourselves that tomorrow, come hell or highwater, we were going to camp.

Well, hell didn't come. But highwater did. The heavens unleashed themselves in a torrent of tears that lasted nearly 7 hours. We tried to outrun their fury but we were no match. Just as we pulled into our cabin (having given up any attempt to pitch a tent), the sky heaved a big sigh of relief, covering the mountaintop in fog and thereby obscuring our view from the top. Thanks ever so much.

We had reached our final destination and the sky had finally cried itself out.

Needless to say, our air mattresses remained deflated, our tent unpitched, our stove uncooked. The campground remained in its state of glory. The universe, it seems, had its own Public Service Announcement for us.

Attention DumbAsses:

Who's big idea was this? Going camping? Seriously now. Do you really think that's such a smart idea?

You. Yeah you. The one who threw her back out dribbling a basketball. The one who's middle name is not, was not, nor ever will be Grace. The one who fell down in complete sobriety, breaking her nose and ending up with a swollen face and busted jaw. ("No, Officer, I do not need to report an assault. Yes sir, I'm sure. It's true, I did have a boyfriend once but his closed fist never actually made contact with my jaw, tempted though he was. No sir, I do not need directions to the safe house.")

And you, old woman. Don't even get me started. How do you think you'll roll yourself off that air mattress come morning? And do you know how many people depend on you? God forbid something happen to you in those woods.... who will the world call to babysit? How will Grandma get to the grocery store?

The dog? Leave the dog out of this. I got no beef with the dog. His only crime is being stuck with you two.

No, bitches. It ain't happening.

Good looking out, Universe. Good looking out.


Hacking Into The Outdoors

Me: "She's probably going to be pissed when she finds out."

Grandma: "Well, turn about is fair play. It's not like you haven't been mad at her."

I love you, Grandma. A spade is a spade and you call 'em like you see 'em.

Now for a Public Service Announcement:

Attention all nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, sportsmen and women! My mother, my dog, and I will be hacking into your sanctuary this weekend. We will be plugging ourselves in for a couple of days. As all good posers, wannabe's, fakers, hackers..take your pick..are already quite aware, appearances are everything when it comes to being someone you are not. We are no different. We will be arriving tricked out in my brother's Jeep, setting up camp in a tent borrowed from my sister, and drinking beer from a can (the latter of which we are already quite accustomed to). Don't fear. We have already practiced putting up our tent so as not to offend you. We have practiced lighting our camp stove as precaution against setting the campground aflame. My brother has instructed us in the fine art of raising and lowering the Jeep top.

Whatever you do, DON'T PANIC! We come in peace. We come seeking peace. We heard you had some of it. We'd like to get our hands on a little piece of it. Just a little piece of your peace, if you will. You won't even know we're there. You'll think we're one of you. And why not? Our gear is top notch with just a touch of weathered for authenticity. We will look as if we belong. Probably, you'll be asking us for tips before the weekend is over.

"Help! I've been bitten by a snake!"

"Relax, sir. My mother will suck the venom out while I get the first-aid kit. Before we apply the ointment, my dog will piss on the wound to kill the surface bacteria."

"Wait...what? Your dog will do what?"

"Piss on the wound, numbnuts. This ain't our first rodeo. Wanna beer? It might take mom a while to get that venom out. Her lungs ain't what they used to be."

So, sit back. Relax. Watch the professionals at play.

We don't know shit but you'll never be able to tell. Just ask any top executive in any firm in America. God Bless the USA. It's the American way.

Safe Travels and Happy Camping!

P.S. We plan to wear our special t-shirts bought specifically for the occasion. Mine: Smile, Tomorrow Will Be Worse. Mom's: Reality Continues To Ruin My Life. And we plan to wear the all weekend.



In Between Days

Isn't that where we are all caught? Suspended like fish in a fisherman's net. Not in the water anymore but neither on someone's dinner plate or packaged in neat little rows at the grocery. Not yet. Suspended. Hanging on. Gasping for the breath to sustain us long enough to get to where we're going. Or to get back to where we once came. Our eyes bulging out before us trying to compact the events of a day into a brain too complex to regurgitate our sights back to us in absolute clarity. Our bodies convulsing with the adrenalin of our accomplishments, our failures, our fears, our mistakes. Our very lives hanging so precariously like the thread of the net hanging from the pole. And the pole, gripped tight between the calloused hands of the fisherman.

We are all right here... in between days. Waiting to read the next chapter, to listen to the next verse. Our struggles, our pain, our misunderstandings. The things that make up a soul. The things that make up a life. The things that make us who we are, who we were, who we will become.

What are those things? Can any one person ever really know us? Are we so much more than can be understood?

It is not so much to know a person's favorite meal, how they take their coffee, their preference for storms, the way their chin lifts in indignation while their eyes cloud in sadness, the freckle on the inside of their knee, the scar along their collarbone.

What about the way the crowd in the room at the Christmas party in 2004 made them feel as if all the air were being sucked from their lungs, or the way the spider lilies looked on the hillside outside Decatur and the digital camera in their back pocket did nothing to justify the beauty, or how their heart ached for the girl crying on the cement steps outside the Bob Dylan concert. Can you feel it too? Does it destroy you just as surely as it destroys them?

Will anyone ever really know us? Or are we all destined to bear the burden of ourselves alone?

Will we be like those fish in that net...swimming together, hunting together, procreating together...until we are all caught by the Fisherman? Will we hang there in the balance as our fate is determined or will any of us have the courage to flop, gasp, hurl our bodies back over the net, back down into this murky pool for one more chance, one more go round, one more day, one more opportunity to connect our souls.

Or will we simply keep living in between days?

I want to get covered in your filth, whoever the fuck you are. Let's cake each other in the shit that stirs in our soul and then bathe in the cleansing stream of its release. When are you coming around? I wish you'd hurry. I'm tired of waiting.

"If I die before I learn to speak, can money pay for all the days I've lived awake but half asleep?" Primitive Radio Gods - Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand