Thursday, September 11, 2008

Faced with the prospect of no trip on the horizon until November (Hawaii!), and two more months of potential triple digit temps here in central Texas, I did the most logical thing any adventurous, cold-air loving soul would do: got a temporary job spending most the day walking around outside at a place I worked at for 14 years in  my pre-Antarctic life. I was going to go to Ireland for a few weeks, or drive to northern New Mexico again, but I was gripped by my ancient, ingrained work ethic persona (even though I was born in Austin and dress like one, I am not a "slacker" in my soul!) & decided I needed to be busy & spend the day doing something I'm being paid to do instead of trying to dream up ways of passing the days. I also wanted a sort of work solidarity feeling with my peeps on the Ice, as it was "time" for me to go back to work. So I got a temp job at the University of Texas, (which I also graduated from 25 years ago) walking around tracking down professors and grad students to tag newly purchased inventory. I have tagged mostly brand new computers, some strange lab equipment that apparently does something with live frogs that I probably don't want to know about. I have a giant binder of millions of dollars of stuff purchased for UT Athletics so I'll be spending lots of time at the stadium tagging everything from racing sculls to batting cages. An immense, state university is a fascinating place to work - I could never work at an office park or in some environment where you don't have a rich environment to balance out the soulless work going on in the cubicles. When I first took this job I was angry at myself and wondering if I did the right thing, as "going back to UT" (as we've always referred to it) turned the knife that was in my heart about not being on the Ice this season. I felt like a puppet that someone else was pulling its strings - why am I staying in this oven city for two more months working 8-5, missing yoga, travel & sleeping in, doing this grueling work? After 3 days of work I know why: because life is more interesting when it surprises you & doesn't follow your own script (who was it that wanted a job?). Something in me knew this was the right thing to do for now even though it's not "exciting!" or in a "foreign locale!" After 3 days of hard work I am not complaining  ceaselessly like I was about the weather - I don't have time to navel gaze as I'm so busy organizing how I'm going to do my day. I interact with people so much that a huge contact void is being filled. I thought I knew what I wanted but like I heard Bob Dylan say "getting what you want is just getting what you want." And he also said something about the state of being happy was not as interesting as other states one might be in. I get that. And some good people I hang with have a great saying: you may not get what you want but you always get what you need. Having a regular job dials down my neurosis to a very low hum, whereas endless hours of free time will have me in a mental tailspin derived from self absorption. I have experimented with this for years: quitting jobs I hated & trying time after time to "self-structure" so I can make art, but it never works. I need structure. And I need external structure, preferably by a large institution. I've had jobs with small employers and it always made me nervous - I like the womb like feeling of the massive employer (UT has 25,000 staff members). So, like an adult, I have made peace with my decision, and tomorrow will happily run around all day applying little silver stickers on laptops, frog cleaners and centrifuges...because right now, I need to be identified with the tribe of the "employed." My identity was so tied up with being "that chick who works in Antarctica," that I've been lost for a few months knowing I wasn't going back. But I still am that chick, because I will go back, just not for now....

Thursday, September 04, 2008

It Began with Bruce

Thirty three years ago I was riding home from high school with a friend & her brother in a car, which was significant for me as I almost always rode the school bus, and was envious of people who didn't have to ride it. I remember what I was wearing, that I was sitting in the center of the back seat (I don't remember who the other two riders were), and that my friend's brother turned up the radio volume knob and said "hey listen to this new song, it's really cool," in his understated math-geek style. I then heard something that exploded in my soul and electrified every nerve in my being. I felt what all the gurus & mystics talk about when they describe a spiritual experience in regards to there being no awareness of time, space or separation of bodies. I felt new blood & life rushing into me & a confidence that my life was going to be greater, wilder and more adventurous than my 14 year old self could possibly imagine at that point. I had a fleeting glimpse that the universe was going to unfold for me in outrageously abundant ways and I'd better hold on  for the ride. This feeling can still overcome me with the opening bars of certain songs, but it began with this one (see t-shirt in photo). I saw Bruce for the first time in 1980 at the former Summit in Houston on "The River" tour. I still have the $8 ticket stub (it was also the only time *I think* he played "Drive All Night," my all time number one Bruce anthem tune). I was deeply entrenched in the punk rock scene in Austin at the time, but would always return to Bruce in the wee hours - and all my non-Bruce friends would roll their eyes, like all non-Bruce people have always done. "I don't get it" they say. Or "all his songs sound the same." I made a few converts, usually by talking them into seeing a live show, or by forcing them to participate in late night "lock-ins" where I would play his albums over and over. There is nothing so beautiful as seeing an ambivalent Bruce person transformed after a show. After that 1980 show, which was nothing short of transcendental: the parting of the audience as he strolled into the center of the hushed bodies, as if the Pope himself were coming through - I didn't see a show for a while. I sort of lost my enthusiasm after "Born in the USA" came out (that embarassing dance training!). I lived in New York City when that tour started in 1984, knew a live show would be a heartstopper, stood in line all day & bought 10 tickets, went to Ireland and fell in love, ditched my return plane ticket & didn't get back in time to see the show in Jersey (I still haven't seen Bruce in Jersey, man!). I felt really bad as some of those tickets belonged to other people who didn't get to see the show either. I saw a couple of solo acoustic shows in the '90s but didn't get that fire back until the E Street band reunited in 2000. After that first Texas show in Dallas I wasn't sure I would be able to return to "normal" life again - I have never seen anyone give that much. I don't know what my expectations were but not that a middle aged man would come out as blisteringly raw, powerful and inspiring like he did in the '70s. I went on to see the Austin & Houston shows, and then in 2002 tour did the "GA line" (which is an epic journey in itself) & stood leaning on the stage as he held my hand for half a song while starting into my friend's eyes. My hearing was ruined from that show, but being that close to Bruce & Li'l Steven was worth the fascinating and surreal process known as the "GA line." (for short: spending four days of 24/7 ritual to be one of those people who are all standing near the stage). This past April, I saw Bruce in his most recent tour in Houston. As usual, I held my breath in the beginning knowing I was in for a ride - and this show was epic among shows. I was trying to pin the right words on it & finally read them in one of the reviews of the show: "a brain meltingly good show." That's exactly what happened: my brain melted, and like I do after every show, I race home & get online & plot my life path to go to every show possible & then don't do it. The one show that looked really good was his last one - at something called "Harleyfest" in the Midwest, but I didn't bother with trying to get tickets as they were really expensive and I couldn't get my Bruce-pal Kate to go with me.

So last Saturday I'm riding back from the shores of Green Bay (where this photo was taken) to Chicago. En route we encounter thousands of Harleys near Milwaukee and then get stuck in a massive traffic jam. My friend said this was a big annual music festival that is really prestigious & has great acts. Being from Austin I usually take these comments with a grain of salt - and it was blazingly hot out so I was not tempted as I would otherwise be to follow the rumbling bikers into town. I found out a few days later that Bruce had played his last & longest show of this tour that very night in Milwaukee at that music show known as "Harleyfest." I kicked myself for a little while for not knowing that I was just blocks from the Boss, but regrets don't do me a lick of good.

A good friend told me I suffer from a deep case of "the grass is greener" syndrome. I've been thinking about this a lot as it is playing itself out like a giant Technicolor psychodrama in the part of my brain that makes decisions. I had to make a very difficult choice this year: whether to go back to the Ice, or spend the ski season in Jackson Hole with Will. The first time I went to Antarctica was exactly like that moment in that car 33 years ago: like waking up from a dull tired dream into a new and exciting world, full of romance and creativity and living on the razor's edge. I did have a job on Ice this upcoming season, and the whole time I knew I could go, I felt tormented about what I would miss out on by not going to JH. When I finally said no to the job and yes to Will, I mourned not going back to the Ice and am torturing myself over what I am missing out on at McMurdo! I watched me put myself through this exhausting and self-defeating ritual, and with what tiny bit of middle aged wisdom I have finally had to just tell myself that there is NO wrong decision, and that whatever I choose will be good no matter how it pans out. And what I finally realized was giving me so much heartache about this decision was that I was having to decide between two things I really wanted - whereas I'm usually trying to escape some yucky situation by replacing it with something that seems better, but that usually ends up yucky too. So to be in a situation where all the choices are good? Wow - now that's something new -I realize the enviable situation I am apparently in. The best part about the decision I made was that I'm doing something different, something that involves a lot of unknown and risk taking, something that will present new challenges, yet living someplace where I know I'll like the weather! 

What I learned from Bruce is to keep asking myself  "is anybody really alive in there?" And to follow the path that feels most alive. And sometimes, life is so abundantly alive, you have to choose one path over the other...a condition I like to refer to as "luxury problems."

"Talk about a dream...try to make it real...."