In a dream I saw them
as clear as light
All the flowers of my childhood
The greens and golds
I walked past at midnight
Wispy dandelion seeds swept along cedar
by youthful breath
with knots in their stems
Distinct as the flowers of my adulthood
White and exotic and some
Others only peeking long after
sun gone to slumber
Reds and yellows and umber
Some I cannot name
yet some the same
As those in the garden of
I woke up wanting to hear A Place Without a Postcard, my favorite band’s kind of forgotten album (at least among my own collection). It’s Sunday. The final day of an event-filled short weekend. Laundry is being washed, dishes are soaking in the sink. The bamboo shade has been drawn in the office where I now sit, lest the sun’s searing, penetrating beams suck away any energy I have to make this a productive day.
October breezes are welcome. Weekend afternoon naps appreciated.
My kid is growing up way too fast. I’m trying to grasp and hold on to the smidgen of childhood he has left. I think he is, too. He always says he doesn’t want to grow up, doesn’t want to get older. Well he doesn’t have to look too far to see what it’s like to be a kid-at-heart. Being a systematized adult is overrated. I want to wear goofy hats and laugh at fart jokes sometimes too.
I was a kid just yesterday, wasn’t I? Good lord I graduated from college 20 years ago. Is that right? Yes, yes it is. But I’m not one to start moaning and groaning about the pains of aging. Physically I don’t feel a day over 25 unless I try to read something. Mentally I feel about 60. In Yoda years that’s nothing. Our brains have an immense amount of time to evolve and grow and settle.
But sometimes I want to curl up in bed while someone makes breakfast for me. Someone drives me here and there. Someone to tell me to rake the leaves, do my homework. Long days spent staring at posters on the wall listening to tapes from the boom box. Perhaps that’s the place without a postcard?
Friday night I went to the beach alone to watch the sunset and decompress from the week’s craziness. My birthday was the day before and truly great but the full moon preceding it roused some sadness within my psyche as well as maniacal energy in the kids at school. So let’s just say I needed some beach time, if only for an hour.
I set up my blue beach chair towards the setting sun and a band of young surfers and skim boarders. They always fascinate me as I’ve never been able to surf (only tried it twice though thus far). I will not try skim boarding. I don’t want to recreate the incident in which I thought it OK for me to attempt to ride one of those ridiculous hover boards. I’m lucky I didn’t break anything or send myself to the ER.
Surfers have this underlying known mantra of being one with the ocean, feeling the waves, living for that next curl. I had many fantasies growing up in Tennessee that I could possibly be one of them some day. I often thought about a bungalow near the beach where me and my surfer buddies would live. This image has crossed my mind so many times I’m not sure if it’s a recurring dream or something that happened in a past life or parallel universe. Nevertheless I’ve imagined this house on its stilts and the colorful cushy floor pillows inside and these cool, easy-going people and that lifestyle ever since I can remember.
This life never came into fruition in that way, but I’ve gathered bits of it here and there and incorporated it. I live close to the beach and keep beach and river items in my trunk at all times. There’s always a sprinkling of sand on my floorboards. I can paddle board pretty well. And in these moments of beach-going if there are surfers about I tend to gaze out and watch them.
I noticed a few yards away from the band of them a young girl of about seventeen skim boarding by herself. She had a perfect athletic body, tanned skin, long blonde hair. And she could skim the hell out of that board. She had such purpose in her movements along with gracefulness and strength. She did this over and over, never falling off, never an instance of hesitation. And she wasn’t doing it to impress anyone. She was in her own world, accomplishing a feat not easily obtained. I reveled in this girl, this kick ass girl who was ripping it up out there and in that moment seemed to have such confidence and talent. I thought about myself at that age and in no way could compare as I hadn’t near that kind of self assurance, strength, free spirit.
But perhaps this girl doesn’t always convey or encompass these qualities. Perhaps she struggles with something deep down and this is her solace. This is the thing that keeps her grounded. Perhaps she doesn’t always have it together as she does right here on this beach with all these boys in the distance and pelicans flying low in the golden horizon. But thank God or the Universe or Neptune or hell all three she found something she’s good at. And can hopefully take that with her when she’s not in the warm gulf whitecaps.
All of us humans have struggles. Some days are more arduous than others. If we find that something which keeps us from going mad, something that gives us a freedom and sense of peace not unlike a breeze in our hair, water lapping at our feet, or personal triumph, then we should try and incorporate it as much as possible. And do it with purpose just like that young girl in the surf on a random Friday night.
I hear the sounds of my youth outside the window, the various chirping and buzzing. And although so familiar also so distant to me now. The heat and sand and multitude of adventures of my home now for 16 years calls to me.
It was a mass exodus out of my beloved state of Florida. Those of us fleeing north in a perpetual gridlock. At one point I blew bubbles out the window to lighten the mood.
This monster of a storm barreling towards us is imminent. And now it is hurry up and wait. Those who’ve stayed to fight it out have boarded up their homes and filled their tubs. I want to be there to hold their hand through the eye of it. But I can only send well wishes and pray to the Universe to have mercy, weaken this thing. Mother Nature in all her glory and zen can turn to desicrate within minutes.
Before moving to Florida over 16 years ago I lived in Tennessee, in and around Nashville where I was born and raised. It will always be a part of me. Hell, I’ve got the ever-present accent to prove it. There are family and friends there I hold dear to my heart even when we go months or years without being in each other’s presence.
My memories scatter over various times in my life. There was college and TV production shows we birthed and sent out into the airwaves over late nights and early mornings. There was childhood where the cedar trees in my backyard over looked the creek where we spent days exploring and trying to catch crawdaddies. There were the high school days of triumph and aggravation. Bonding with those of the same heart. And through it all my brother somewhere close by.
So now I stay with him and his family in their home in Tennessee while we all wait for this storm to spin and crash its course. The course that is battering where my life is now. In all its quirkiness and troubles Florida is endearing to me and I wear it with me always. Even in the suffocating heat of August and the rainy hurricane season of September I still regard it with adoration. Various memories here, too. The birth and growing up of my son. The friends made from various other parts of the country who all came down for one reason or another. The beach, the springs, the trails, the cute little towns, all the parks, even the bland strip malls and constant flat earth. I love it all as I did when I’d come to visit in my youth. And of course the freeing opportunity to wear flip flops all year round.
Oh Florida, and all of you there. Please be safe. Keep your walls in tact. Crouch and fight and breathe. And rise again with the sunshine waiting for another day. Those of us who fled will be back to hold and rise with you.
As per request (and writing prompt) from one of my dear readers and a fellow music devouter, I’d like to share 5 amazing songs that build up emotion in my chest, take me to happy and far away places, or just leave me whirlishly dancing on the chipped-tiled kitchen floor.
Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds
This song of course is married to the ever-universal teen angst classic The Breakfast Club, making it even that much more endearing. That last scene when the song smacks in and John Bender gives a requited fist pump in a freeze frame forever is one of the best movie endings.
Don’t You Forget About Me reminds me of precious 80’s nostalgia, the innocence and simplicity there regarding music and hand-written letters and Walkmans and trips to the mall sans security personnel.
And the meaning: Don’t you forget about me. We all want to be remembered. We cannot let time or circumstance or distance allow the brain to turn us into static and the heart unforgiving or worse, ignored.
This one is for belting out fearlessly and dancing feverishly. My students have seen me do this. On my fortieth birthday this is the song I boldly requested at the skating rink among all the preteens and their Taylor Swift enthusiasm. I’ll be singing and dancing to this one when I’m an old, old lady.
Don’t you forget about me. I’ll be alone, dancing, you know it, baby…
Us and Them by Pink Floyd
I listened to The Dark Side of the Moon on a constant loop along with The Cure’s Disintegration on a summer stint in Italy in my early teens. I know Roger Waters was talking about war in his lyrics but to me the “us” and “them” represented both the subtle and not-so-subtle differences I experienced between Americans and Italians. We spoke different languages, ate at different times of the day, looked different, but in the way we were different we were also the same. Just people trying to make it in the world, experience life, try not to trip on pebbles.
To this day, every time I hear that keyboard intro I feel the welling up in my chest. I am completely transported back to that balcony in Sardinia, back to that innocent 15 year old taking in everything never witnessed back in Antioch, Tennessee. I’m reminded of all the people I met and their cultural and nurturing influence on me.
Us, and them. And after all, we’re only ordinary men…
The Fool on the Hill by The Beatles
The Beatles were a big part of my growing up. They were not forced on me but rather gently introduced as my parent’s record collections included many Beatles albums and 45s. My brother and I would sit on the shaggy carpeted floor of our basement-turned-playroom and listen to them on our Fisher-price turntable. We fashioned ourselves as rock singers, belting out tunes as the grated vinyl spun round and round.
But when Fool on the Hill rolled along and into the tiny speaker, we would quietly sing together. Never looking up, frozen in that moment with lyrics and melody I swear brought welling up in my goofy sibling’s eyes.
That is one of my strongest and most fond memories of us together as children. Later in our teens we traveled to Lexington, Kentucky with a group of like-minded friends to see Paul McCartney in concert. I was enthralled to be in the presence of a Great. And to enjoy it with my bro at my side.
But the fool on the hill, sees the sun going down, and the eyes in his head, see the world spinning round…
A Forest by The Cure
This haunting song is one of the reasons I will forever be a Cure fan and Classic Alternative junkie. I was first introduced to the Cure when Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me came out. During this era I was blown away by this sound which at the time never reached the local radio airwaves.
A Forest mirrored my teen angst, depression, and need for creative inspiration as sheets of rain seemed to fall endlessly in the grey, Tennessee winter. This dirge didn’t exasperate my feelings as my parents agonized. Instead it encapsulated and provided solace. I wasn’t alone in my fervor.
And just the word forest. It conjures images of lush foliage where mystery hides and escape is possible.
A few summers ago I was driving alone in North Florida on a windy road away from friends and family with whom I’d just spent an unforgettable week. As soon as I entered Tate’s Hell State Forest, an unforgiving ominous expanse of swampy woodland, my GPS fell silent and A Forest shuffled on my auxiliary. I don’t know if there’s ever been more perfect timing between song and circumstance.
Come closer and see, see into the trees…
The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil
I could write an entire blog post about songs by Midnight Oil but for the purpose of not turning this into a biography I’ll sample this one.
I was introduced to Midnight Oil via the video for Bed’s Are Burning, seen on MTV’s Friday Night Videos. This unique sound from Australia fronted by a bald, passionate giant literally left me gasping in its strum guitar and water tank drum beats. I was instantly transformed. Life would never be the same. And then began a life-long love and adoration for the band, their extensive collection of songs throughout the decades, and their messages about equality and the environment.
The Dead Heart evokes singing and whirling, and to the tune of aboriginal rights in Australia. It’s as serious as it is heartfelt and in the end a hopeful dance. The Oils do a fantastic job of informing while entertaining and this song is no exception. When I hear it I’m in the Outback as well as on my old friend’s balcony (what’s with me and balconies) back in ’87 when all this alternative rock hoopla began voluntarily infiltrating my soul.
Midnight Oil will forever be my favorite band of all time. And The Dead Heart is just one of many that fill me with emotion, the need to research, to help bring about change, and yes, to belt it out and move.
These 5 songs helped shape who I am. What are yours?
I’ve always been a proponent of vacations. Every vacation I ever took left me with a newfound sense of zen, an inspiration to tweak things in my life, and an altered way of looking at my surroundings.
I just got back from a three week road trip (tour de South) with the boy, who is twelve years old- that splendid minute between childhood and adolescence. He still sleeps with his stuffed animal Snuggles yet he forgot I existed once on our trip when a fellow 21 Pilots fan with long dark hair and a braided choker necklace entered his world.
Besides my glorious trips overseas in my teens and twenties I have not been away from home for this length of time. I can be a cave-dweller. When not at work or grocery shopping at Walmart I stick to my minute radius, often ignoring the slight nag to interact with humanity on a physical level.
Vacations pluck you out of your comfort zone, plop you into the unknown, and enlighten your sense of self. I learned I can keep up with preteens on a floating obstacle course (although I could barely lift my arms the next day). I realized I am pretty good at being a chameleon when it comes to cohabitating with various families and groups of people (although I had to slink away at small intervals to get away from the tiresome chatter I’d rather replace with a good book or staring at the tops of the trees).
I urinated in several outdoor locations without soaking my feet. I got lost in the banjo-echoed boonies without becoming completely inconsolable. I drove through thunderstorms and along winding mountain roads and alongside Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss.
I sang aloud to Boz Scaggs and Jimmy Hendrix and Weezer. I sipped coffee with my brother. I read fairy tales to my nephew. I poured my grandmother a glass of milk. I floated down rivers with friends I hope I have forever.
And all this with my son.
When we pulled into our driveway I was a bit dejected. Reality. Chores. Bills. Work. Homework. But if I can tackle these things with the zen I felt on the mountain, the freedom I felt on the open road, the happiness I felt surrounded by friends and family, then maybe these mundane tasks won’t be so stressful.
“I feel strongly about Saturn” was written in marker on a wooden bed in a cabin in the north Florida woods. It made me think of all the travelers who came there before me. And the dreams of stellar travels to come.
Yesterday while stepping outside the office to the parking lot I caught a whiff of some kind of dry brush percolating its arid scent in the late spring warmth. It immediately transported me back to 1989. To a sandy and rooted path towards the Mediterranean sea. I looked down at my feet and couldn’t believe I had really gone on that trip all those years ago. Seems like an eternity. The girl who traveled there had freckles and bushy brown hair and a wondering mind. I still have the freckles and a matured version of that mind so it must have been me.
I love how smells take you to places and evoke memories in an instant. In the midst of everyday life we step back and take a deep inhale through the honker and relive a moment as if it were right at our feet.
Take oranges for another example. That smell of freshly sliced citrus transports me back to an even earlier time. To childhood and the kitchen counter and the oranges stacked in a bowl during Christmastime. It is always Christmas when I smell an orange. And now the citrus fruits lining my lanai swell and ripen in wintertime.
Fresh cut grass reminds me of Tennessee summers and my dad and my brother and the aggravation then prideful relief when the yard work was finished.
Decaying leaves and burning wood always remind me of fall and Halloween. The beginning of school days. Trick-or-treating. Playing in piles of orange and red and brown fallen oak and maple. Writing somber poetry.
Curry and coriander bring forth memories of Christmas Eve and our now decade-long family tradition of enjoying an Indian feast before driving around to see all the neighborhood holiday lights.
Instant coffee and tobacco– my grandparent’s house. Powder soap and crayons– elementary school. Soft, sweet Petunia– my mother’s garden. Aveeno Eczema Therapy lotion– my son’s infancy. Rain– lazy summer days and escaping to shelter. Cinnamon– all the good memories ever all wrapped into one.
Last night I stared down at my feet after a good jog on the causeway. The terrain underneath reminded me of that path to the Mediterranean sea and the desert of the Australian Outback and all the places I’ve been and seen and experienced. It’s still a bit of a shock how much I’ve done. The smell of the salty, shelly gulf wafted around me and I smelled not a memory but a presence. I was home. And alive in the present with all the memories of the past in my brain waiting for the frontal lobe to spark the temporal and let me relive them again, if only for a time.