Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Chris Stapleton at Red Rocks

Once upon a time, I became obsessed with Chris Stapleton. I mean, not obsessed with him, but with his music. I wasn't following him on social media and pinning pictures to my wall. But I was listening to his Traveler album all. the. time.

I'm not even a concert person, but I thought this would be a concert I'd like to attend. I've been to many concerts. In college, my roommate and I went to see the country artists we liked at bars and casinos and the state fair. My husband was in a band when we were dating, so I went to a few of his shows at sketchy clubs where minors had to get Xs on their hands. Then we were married and I went along with him to see the artists he liked at dark damp places that never had anywhere to park.

But this would be different. The concert to end all concerts.

I looked at Stapleton's tour schedule and there was nothing in Omaha. Who cares? Omaha sucks. I would travel. I'd be a traveler (it's late and I'm delusional. Everything's funny).  He was going to Chicago. I've always wanted to go to Chicago. It was at Wrigley Field. Steve and I would catch a Cubs game. He's always wanted to go to Wrigley. But the timing didn't match up with our schedule.

Oh well.
Kansas: no. That's as bad as Omaha.

Denver. Now we're talking. Denver is a city I love. Steve and I used to go there once a year. We went there when we were dating on our first real trip together. Maybe we even fell in love there (I'm probably reaching but it sounds poetic). I met his extended family and instantly felt accepted. I stayed at my cousin's hotel, the one I could never afford without the friends and family hookup. Steve and I walked 16th street and gave crumpled ones to street performers and bums. We held hands and stopped for beers on patios.

Chris Stapleton was not just coming to Denver, he was performing at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Last September Steve went to Red Rocks to see his favorite artist (Gregory Alan Isakov). He went with his brother and ever since he's been telling me about it: what an experience it was, up in the mountains, in the open air, under the stars. I would have to go sometime, he said.

So fuck it, I would.

Tickets were sold out, as they always are in this age of ticket agency hustlers. But we bought them anyway. We paid what we had to. But still, I wouldn't say we paid too much.

Then last Wednesday, we set our alarms for 5:30 a.m. and roused the boys from bed and hit the road. We drove five hundred miles with two toddler boys. We dropped them at Steve's uncle and aunt's house where they threw pine cones into a creek and then slept in a tent.

And Steve and I made our way up the mountains. To those giant, almost unbelievable red rocks.

The home of the $9 margaritas that got me not quite fucked up but just the right amount of feeling good. And the music swirled and dipped and the crowd swelled and overflowed. And the shadows lengthened and then the sun went down and the stars came out and the crowd got rowdier and I cared less and I heard my favorite songs and I smelled the mountain air and the Colorado marijuana and the music filled my ears, my lungs, my body and I knew what Steve meant then, about it being an experience. Not just seeing someone, not just hearing them, but feeling the music in your whole body.

It wasn't the liquor, but that was a part of it.
It wasn't the smoke plumes in the sky when he sang "Might as well get stoned," but that was some of it.
It wasn't the people watching: the cowboy boots and cutoff jean shorts, the glassy eyes, the flannel shirts. But that was a little.
It wasn't Stapleton with his long hair like a homeschool girl, covered at the crown with a cowboy hat. OK, it was, a bit.
It wasn't familiar songs filling me as they filled other people, being a part of it together, watching the way it moved them, affected them. But that was a lot of it.

It was all of it. And it was the line at the bathroom and the way we huffed to the top of the stairs because of the altitude. It was the people tailgating in the parking lot and it was having someone else put our kids to bed for the first time (my mom has been the only one up until now). It was traveling to get there and planning it before that. It was all of it wrapped up together, this giant ball of energy that moved in us and made us feel alive, up there in the mountains, under the clear Colorado sky.

Life is full of moments. A lot of them are ordinary. But we have to make room for those unordinary ones. We have to clear a space for those expensive, ridiculous, impractical ones. The ones that fill your entire being and remind you not only that you're alive, but all there is to live for.

Fuck yeah, it was that. good.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

B's photography

Last week, Brandon graduated from preschool. 

You should see this boy. 
He is incredible. 

We decided to pull apart our house for a garage sale in two days, and he has been the best helper, organizing and sorting, cleaning out, even lifting one end of a table for me. 

He is a photographer now. I wanted a picture of him in his cap after his graduation ceremony, but I had to bribe him in order to take one. 
He wanted to take it himself. A selfie on a Canon. 
He might have something here, that je ne sais quoi that photographers have. Their ability to capture with a camera what most people can only sense, not see.
He poses his animals all around the house and walks around snapping shots with my Canon. 
Not my phone. 
Heavens no.
 Look at what he does with colors. I know it's on purpose. This kid never does anything accidentally.
 The gray elephant in front of the dirty stainless steel. I mean, it's masterful.
 The sunlight winks in his photos. It is playful, like his toys.
 A menacing toy atop bright colors. It's all so ironic, so cheery and cheeky, so Brandon.
 Iago by a coffee mug.
 Sunlight dancing on the leaves. Brandon owns the light.
 A couple shot, to show his range.
A sticker on a wall, because photographers always have these oddball items that you think are nothing and then you realize it's something to them so you think about it and let it become something to you.
 A small pony among giant books. 
It's hard to believe Brandon just left preschool a week ago. 
I can already see his name in lights.
But then again, maybe it's mom pride. 
Mom googles. 
Of course, I don't think so.

Monday, May 29, 2017


I guess what I'm most interested in is the way people change.

That's what I like to read, what I like to write.

I'm currently reading Karen Gettert Shoemaker's short story collection, Night Sounds. She talks about friendships, about how we enter into them knowing they will change us.

I think not only about people, but about our hobbies that shape us: the absences we create that we used to fill, the absences we used to have that we learn to fill. What we do to stave off grief or loneliness.

The jobs we hold, how they create biases or destroy them.

We are constantly evolving, not only because of things that happen to us, but because of things we make happen and things that happen to people we love. We react to situations, learn to cope, to move on. 

We are educated by hard knocks, trial by fire.

We can transform from who we were into something almost new. But really we are not new, we are duller or shinier. These memories accumulate into parts of us that make the whole of us. We learn to reinvent ourselves when we need to. We are shedding old skins as we learn to live a different way.

That's what the novel I just wrote was about. And that's what my next one will be, too, but with a different story. I have a suspicion that's what all my stories will be about. Because I can't think of anything more hopeful than people changing.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

second novel

I haven't written in a few weeks. Ever since I finished my novel.

I mean, I wrote a short story and a couple of poems.

But I didn't write anything longer, bigger.

I've had this idea for a second novel for a few months now and last night, when I was trying to fall asleep, I kept thinking about this character and her backstory. Words were boiling over: my mind needed to think it through, my fingers type it out.

I used to worry that once I wrote a book, that I would be done. That I would pour all of myself into it and have nothing left to say afterward.

But that's not how it is. Different characters get into different situations, have different thoughts, and for every one of those, a writer finds something to say.

If you see me in real life, I probably won't have anything to say. I'm a terrible conversationalist. But if you give me a keyboard, a monitor, and some time alone, I will never shut up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Cheryl Strayed

Once my sister recommended I watch the movie Wild, so I tried it. I mean, I started it. I'll be honest, I'm not a movie person. I'm not even really a TV person anymore. The only way I sit down in front of it is if I have a game to play or a book to read simultaneously. I get bored with TV. It doesn't do it for me. I like to laugh, I like to be entertained, and I love a good story, but those things are are more likely to happen from a book or in real life than from a screen.

So I sat down to watch Wild but I didn't get into it. It was hard to follow with the flashbacks. I just don't follow stories on screen that well. But if I can get my hands on it, see the words, feel them, flow with the tide of each sentence, I can get into a story. I said, "I'd rather read this." Of course, as most good stories are, it was a book. So I put it on hold at the library and in a few months, my name came up. I was captivated. Cheryl is the heroine of her own story, a real person, not a created character. She is flawed and not made to be likeable. But I found her likeable despite her flaws, or maybe because of them.

The book, in case you live under a rock, is about Cheryl's journey hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail, 1100 miles of it, all alone one summer after losing her mom and losing herself in the hole that had created.

Then three weeks ago, Cheryl Strayed came to UNO. A friend in the MFA program got me a ticket without asking if I would want one, maybe just knowing I would want one because we're writers and very few things can excite us more than hearing another writer speak our language. It was in the Baxter Arena, so it wasn't like the casual readings I've been to in coffee shops or little rooms within a college.

She came out on stage and I strained to look at her, as though she was a rock god and I was a groupie. She spoke, a bit about her book, Wild, yes, but also just about living and how she managed to do it. About her two kids, one named Carver after Raymond Carver. I smiled, and daydreamed about meeting her and telling her my son's name is Holden after Holden Caulfield. Then I scribbled notes furiously, the way I always do in the presence of greatness I admire.

She said she is often asked what took her so long to write Wild. She replied: "The hike was in the summer of 1995. I wrote Wild at the moment that I had something to say about the hike. As a writer, until you know what you have to say that transcends your own life, you don't have a book."

At this time, three weeks ago, I was two days late turning in my final packet and was trying to write the ending to my own story. The next day, I finished it. My own novel is about an eighteen-year-old girl, which I haven't been for sixteen years. But I'm writing about it now, because now I have something to say about it. I will never know if it was coincidence that I finished my book the day after I saw Cheryl or if she--this hero of mine, this badass writer and woman and mother--pushed me toward it. If her bravery was contagious, even in that giant arena full of people.

Today, having something like free time, having finished my semester, finished my book, I sat outside in my new reading chair and read Cheryl Strayed's book of her own quotes that Amber sent me, Brave Enough. Let me leave you with what she left me:

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Well, he's done it. Steve has graduated with his MBA. 
I took the boys to the graduation.  I could get Holden in respectable attire, but I gave up on Brandon.
I did not graduate from a big university. I didn't know there would be traffic and a shuttle. I didn't know the ceremony would actually last three hours.
But the good thing about big schools is that they have graduation ceremonies in arenas with snack bars.

We sat in the very top back row at Brandon's request and I took the iPad and when daddy's name was called, we cheered and somehow he heard us from all the way in the back. 
We did leave a bit early, after dad's name, because it wouldn't end. We went to Target. Dad came and met us.  We broke into smiles, seeing him in his full graduation gear.
We went out for pizza which seems like a nothing celebration given that it took three years for this achievement. But when you have kids and they are quiet at restaurants, that is a celebration. 
I am proud of Steve's achievement, proud of the example he sets for our boys. About hard work and being a lifelong learner, of course, but mostly, about not giving up. Most people give up. Not us.
We are just two grad students trying to raise two kids and work two jobs without cracking.  Maybe we're getting there. The cap and gown and honor society tassels seem to prove it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

winding my spring

Just as you take care of the birds and the fields every morning, ever morning I wind my own spring. I give it some 36 good twists by the time I've got up, brushed my teeth, shaved, eaten breakfast, changed my clothes, left the dorm, and arrived at the university. I tell myself, "OK, let's make this day another good one."

I'm reading Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood and the protagonist often talks about "winding his spring." He is referring to a watch, the old-fashioned kind you wind to keep it ticking. I love the metaphor. Our bodies perform routines and we keep going. We mentally prepare ourselves for what is ahead of us. Our gumption is our fuel.

Life can be hard. Relationships help us or distract us, fuel us or drain us. But despite our relationships, we all need our own gumption. We all wind our own springs. Some people just need a bit more winding than others.

How many Sundays - how many hundreds of Sundays like this - lay ahead of me? "Quiet, peaceful, and lonely," I said aloud to myself. On Sundays, I didn't wind my spring. 

Murakami also talks about taking a break from the winding. One day a week his protagonist allows this. It's a wallowing, a lying about without forcing forward progress. It's allowing yourself to be still. Just like I need to wind, I need to unwind (mixed metaphor, I know). I need to rest to have the energy to keep moving. And then, when I have it, I wind again. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

start of summer

 It's summer time. I finished school on Monday.
We're in full-on happy lazy summertime mode (note Holds in the background)
 Even though Brandon is still in school. For three more weeks. He's been a little late this week.
 We went to the zoo. We raided dad's Dolphins hat collection. Holden's ended up sideways which suits him perfectly.
 I love to see the boys together.
And I don't hate the zoo so much as long as I don't have to go to the aquarium, I realized.
Even Brandon fell asleep on the way home.
Found this on my camera roll. This year at the boys' doctor appointments they wore tiny robes which I thought were adorable.
 For Holden's birthday, I took them on the ferris wheel at Scheel's. I think they loved it.
Last week for Arbor Day, we went to Nebraska City, the home of Arbor Day. We went to the Lied Lodge, where I go to school. The boys love the pool there. And I love seeing them happy.
 Dad came with us this time.
I want to remember this about Holden: his signature move is his thumb in his mouth, his finger in nose.

Also, after looking at these pictures on my big computer screen, I've realized I need to take pictures with my real camera.