Thursday, June 29, 2006
Uncle John's Band
I received an email this morning from an old friend from freshman year at UC Santa Cruz.
My delight could not have been more complete. And the connection started me on a long road of associations and memories.
1974 was a magical year for me. It was my year of leaving home and coming home. Coming home to myself for the first time in my life, while at the same time jetisoning all aspects of comfort and familiarity. I flew into San Jose airport and took a shuttle onto campus, truly on my own for the first time in my life.
Alone at least literally. In truth, this was the first time I think I felt ever truly connected. When I had come up to visit the campus earlier that spring, I'd started crying when I saw it, smelled the redwoods, turned to see the heartbreaking expanse of Pacific Ocean stretching out below me. It was home, even though I'd never been there before. And it's still home, even though I've been back only a handful of times in the past ten/fifteen years.
I had a roommate for a few nights and then she moved to triple up with a cooler set of girls, leaving me a "single double" which was perfect and luxurious for an only child about to work through all her issues all at once.
That first quarter I started to take care of business by discovering sex, drugs and alcohol all within the first couple of months. I also discovered mononucleosis, flirted with suicide, was felled by strep throat, mastered the magic of calculus and was boggled by the impenetrability of pure philosophy.
I met my friends Brian and Nancy, whom I still hold as dear as treasured jewels, even though we rarely talk and our meetings are agonizing years apart. My friend Tom who wrote today is another one of that circle. He'd disappeared from view about 25 years ago and I was sure he had been swallowed by the depths of time forever.
One moment in second quarter, when I was down in another room -- a single room this time -- I was introduced to The Grateful Dead. It was, of course, a requirement in that time and space to be a Dead Head and I was woefully behind in that aspect of my education. So Brian sat me down with his copy of Workingman's Dead and put on the first track, Uncle John's Band.
Thanks to I-Tunes and more technology than we ever imagined, I can now sit here and write a blog while listening to the same music. At the time it was thought to be soooo wild. The Grateful Dead -- such a name! I was secretly thrilled just by saying the words. They were SO edgy and SO contemporary. To a girl who had just recently come from a home in which the strains of Simon & Garfunkle had to be snatched from the AM radio in the Chevy, to listen to music by a band with such an iconoclastic name was rebellion itself.
And the music... well, it was great. Simple and pure, with lyrics that I would end up spending years (and innumerable rolling papers) trying to decipher.
After hearing from Tom I pulled out my old original vinyl album, bought almost immediately after that first introduction from a used record store down at the Pacific Garden Mall. Its corner was chewed by a dog I'd purchased in one misguided moment and ended up giving to the family of a girlfriend, one of my first huge failures in responsibility. If it was an album that booked open, I'm sure some residue of ancient seeds or stems would've been caught in the crease.
I pulled out the album, much to my ten year old son Jack's fascination. "You can actually play that thing?" he said in wonder. I put the stylus down and heard that old crackling of analog and years, and suddenly the song started. As simple and pure and lilting as always.
And I had two thoughts. 1) MAN, these guys could REALLY not sing very well. It was all about the lyrics and the music. And not at all about their voices which, well, I'm sorry to say, kind of suck. And 2) what simpler times those were. I hate to say this, too, because it sounds like I'm such an old lady. But to think of this music as iconoclastic? After hearing what the next thirty years produced, this seems so... melodic. Simple. Clean. Nice. It's almost Muzak it's so nice and sweet. My god... in our quest to shock, how far we have come.
Jack sat and listened to it dutifully, kindly not commenting on the fact that I was able to remember and sing (with the same quality as the original band) every single word of the lyrics. I was grinning broadly and felt my heart lift in a way I haven't felt in ages and ages. I was in love... with my past, with my long long life, with this music, all the roads I have travelled.
Suddenly I was SO glad to be turning 50. I am SO glad to have such deep roots and long memories and complex stories with so many people. There are people in the world who remember my Chevy, who introduced me to music that is so sweet and antiquated these days, who remember me in the first days of my long career of befuddled adventure. There are people whom I love, and who love me, simply because we've travelled through so much life together and separately. And that's a fine reason to love and be loved. We've gone through it. We've seen the world through eyes that are still more or less synchronous.
I love it. I can't help it. It's such a gift to have been down so many wandering paths. A wonderful woman I met on the train the other day said that she sees each birthday as a time capsule... like a pill that unfolds in its predestined order, blossoming open each year with an appropriate new dosage of learning and wonder and magic.
I used to drive along the winding roads of Mt. Tamalpais listening to this music. It was the center of the universe to me back then. And this morning I got to hand a small slice of that moment to my son. Like a time capsule, he won't get to maybe receive its full strength for awhile. But I hope that someday he meets people who get in deep under his skin, and listens to music that fills his soul, and has scary and dangerous adventures that will shape him and his life forever. Hopefully not as dangerous as mine, but ones that fill him up to bursting as he looks back on them from the hills of time.
Like the Monterey Bay stretching out before me from that campus so long ago, I look back over these years and feel my heart swelling with gratitude. Such moments. Such moments. Such moments.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 1:31 PM 0 comments
Friday, June 23, 2006
PleasantvilleMaltshop Guy: What's outside of Pleasantville?
David: Oh, it doesn't matter.
Maltshop Girl: What's outside of Pleasantville?
David: There are some places that the road doesn't go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going.
Maltshop Girl: Keeps going?
David: Yeah, yeah. It just keeps going. It all keeps going.
I wrote one of these lines down the other night while watching Pleasantville. "There are some places that the road doesn't go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going." I was thinking about how, in life, sometime you get on a road where it just keeps circling back on itself. Even with a lot of therapy, a lot of consciousness, a great deal of introspection... sometimes you get to the end of the path just to find yourself on its beginning again.
In Pleasantville, the black-and-white town in the movie, there are two streets: Main and Elm. When you get to the end of Main you find yourself back at the beginning of it again. There's nothing outside of Pleasantville. And, until the events of the movie transpire, there's no need for anything outside of Pleasantville. Everyone stays on script. They do what's expected of them every moment and nothing... ever... changes.
I like the idea of pleasantness. I like it very much. In my life with my ex-husband and his current girlfriend, I think I'm perceived as the Anti-Pleasant person. I have the potential to bring icky stuff up. I have the potential to cause conflict. They don't like that. And I don't blame them. I don't like ickiness or confrontation, either. But I seem to have the role of being the one who brings that into the mix. I keep myself as invisible as possible, but I still have that role.
I believe to the core of my being that in order to make these roads in life GO somewhere, you have to be willing to have life not be pleasant every so often. As a dear friend said to me the other night, regarding a path of personal growth: "we're not in the business of being comfortable. Being comfortable is no longer part of our job description."
I was married 16 years ago today. It was a great day and in many ways I was the happiest I've ever been for most of the eight years of the marriage. I look back on that feeling of being partnered with great wistfulness and nostalgia.
Was it pleasant? Yes, in good ways.
Did the road lead somewhere? Yes, for much of the time.
I don't believe that being on the road that goes somewhere HAS to be unpleasant. It just has the potential to go off script from time to time. Things change. Upsets happen. Sometimes you get to a place where it just isn't clear what's expected any more.
That's OK, I think. I will take my chances with improvisation and feeling adrift and occasional moments of just not knowing what's next. I want my road to go somewhere. There's a whole lot of world out there to see.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:42 AM 0 comments
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Plumbing IssuesSo last night finds me in the kitchen with a huge problem on my hands. I am deep in the thick of a nasty night. My kids and I are fighting, I am having an end-of-school-year self-admonishment fest inside my head, I started off cleaning Chris' backpack out and ended up -- after cleaning out the entire garage as I went to put the papers to be saved forever into their appointed box -- in the kitchen.
I needed something. Actually, I needed some lubrication. For the kitchen counter. I wanted to oil the kitchen counter. So I braced myself and opened the door under the kitchen sink.
Big problem. It is HORRIBLE under there. A slimy, moldy, swampy mess that has been growing ever worse for the three years I've lived in the house and something that I am finally unable to ignore. There's a leak on the side of the sink, you see. Big holes that let the water drip down below. I have covered the holes but the water still gets in, and festers, and it was BAD.
And it was a bad bad night for me to open that door.
Round about midnight I'm standing there. I've pulled everything out, stripped the bottom of the cupboard, dug out some old floor tile from the recesses of the garage, relined the cupboard and am doing my favorite thing -- sitting on the floor cleaning the cleaning products.
I put everything back but I know I have a problem. I have a huge hole in my life that needs to get filled, otherwise this is going to happen over and over again. I stand, contemplating what I can do to fix it when suddenly I realize what I need.
I need some caulk.
That would fix the hole in my life. That would keep the incessant dripping from causing so much damage. If I could plug up that hole, with some caulk, I'd be in good shape.
And I know where to get some.
I go and fetch the best caulk I can find from my garage. I haven't used it in awhile, god knows, but I still remember how to do it. It's white caulk -- and I've heard that, in some situations, black caulk can do the job more effectively -- but for this situation I have some white surfaces that need dealing with.
So white caulk it is.
I get it going and suddenly it's squirting out all over the place. I remember how it dribbles out the end, but that's OK. I'm busy with my finger, pushing it deep into the cracks, getting it WAY down in there so that it's really REALLY filling those holes.
Now that I'm into the process, I realize there are several holes that need filling. I use the gun over and over, pushing all that caulk right into the right place. I need to use lots of paper towels -- didn't remember how messy the whole thing was -- but that's OK. I moisten them and keep using my finger and it starts getting really really good.
At one point I stand back. The caulk is dripping, about halfway spent, into the sink. That's OK. My tools and I have worked together well tonight. My holes are BEAUTIFULLY filled up and I feel OH so much better.
This morning in the shower I reflected on how deeply satisfying the whole experience was. Then I started looking around in the cracks and saw, hmmm... we may need a little in here later on tonight....
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:39 AM 1 comments
Monday, June 12, 2006
The Glamour of HollywoodSo this morning finds me living out a lifetime dream: after dropping off my wonderful son at his private-yet-socially-conscientious school where he is going to enjoy a day of freedom at the beach celebrating the end of his year in fourth grade, I take off to do a radio show.
I have it all.
I have two healthy children, a professional job, a house in the 'burbs, a creative career and the opportunity to speak on live radio from a Hollywood studio, doing a two hour show called Unlimited Thinking on www.karmaAir.com.
As I pull into the morning traffic, I also see I have something else.
I have a thin coating of SpaghettiOs sauce on my rear view mirror.
I have the remnants of SpaghettiOs also on the windshield, and the passenger window. I also know, although I've tried to block it out, that I have a blob of the stuff, and a couple of noodles, on the trunk.
This was not a part of the Great American Dream.
I did not do this myself as some kind of outre performance art piece, flashbacks from my Bennington days gone horribly wrong.
This downpouring of SpaghettiOs was visited upon me last night at the Altadena Country Club, where I was attending a Cub Scout graduation dinner. I had used the valets to park the car, they had parked on the street as the lot was full, and sometime during the evening someone decided to dump a not-insubstantial quantity of Campbell's Soup SpaghettiOs all over my car.
It was FAAARRRR worse last night.
We drove home with the noodles all over the place, my son Chris moving the window up and down until the noodles collected in a gooey smush on the side of the door. There were noodles all over the windshield which negated the use of the wipers. (Yuck factor: through the roof.)
When I got home I sent the kids off to do their bedtime ablutions and then I rinsed the car off vigorously with the high-powered hose until I was satisfied that I'd gotten all the stuff off.
I was wrong.
Here's the thing. Five minutes before the valet delivered the car to me last night, a wedding event guy was loading his van after his reception was over. He offered me and another woman each a glorious array of flowers... a centerpiece of roses and lillies, pinks and whites and creams. I was glowing in the benevolence of the universe as I put the gorgeous arrangement in the car. And then I sat in the driver's seat, took off, and noticed the Jackson Pollack smattering of sauce and pasta all over my almost cleanish car.
It was really gross.
And kind of incomprehensible.
As I told the valet guy when I drove back -- not to get pissy, as I assured my kids, but just to let the place know about what happened -- it's not like I have a "fuck you" car. This is not the car that screams "I'm at the country club and you're not, you sorry loser." It's a Honda Civic. Seven years old. Somewhat dinged. Somewhat scratched. Nothing (sad to say) that you would ever look at and say "oooohhh, I'm going to GET the bastard who owns THAT car."
It's a tribute to my triumph over perfectionism, this car. The fact that I allow myself to drive such a well-lived-in vehicle is my statement that I can actually relax in the imperfections of my life. (OK, it's also a tribute to the fact that it's really hard to keep everything perfect all the time.)
As I'm driving to the Hollywood studio, I'm thinking that really, we've gone too far this time. A spaghettiOs-covered vehicle is not a triumph over anything, except maybe the power of the subhuman hostility of the punkish youth of Altadena over anything faintly resembling common sense and decency.
Here's the point of the blog: The night before my appearance on KarmaAir.com radio, I am simultaneously given a sublime bouquet of wedding flowers... and about two cups of vehicular adornment.
What does this MEAN??
The radio show went off beautifully. Is this now my perfect equation? Will I become superstitious and demand a ritual smearing of canned goods and a floral arrangement before every public appearance? Or... what?
Where's the karma? What's the lesson? Am I just supposed to stay humble here? (OK, I scream inside, JEEZ. Like DUH, OK? I'm humble already.)
I don't get it. I want the answer.
SpaghettiOs and roses.
If anyone has a thought about this, please comment. In the meantime, I think I really should visit a car wash pronto.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 8:26 PM 1 comments
Sunday, June 04, 2006
The sunbaked days. The migraine glare of the pavement and windshields during rush hour. The whiff of coolness in the evening. The ozone bursting out of the earth when the sprinklers hit the soil.
Summertime is the cornerstone of the Southern California brand. What would Los Angeles be without images of tanned bodies and the breaking curls of waves? The glittering blue of the ocean is our backdrop, the Beach Boys are our soundtrack, the taste of the Southern California summer is salt, sweat and beer.
And, if you're a local like me, working and living anywhere further inland than Culver City, you can probably go years without even seeing the Pacific Ocean.
Two weekends ago I went back. I packed up the wet suit, the boogie board, my iPod and a book, and went to the beach.
I did this a lot the first summer I was single again. Then, as now, I had no man in my life and my weekends without the kids felt long and deeply healing. Every year that the weather heats up, I remember that summer. And this year, as I near my 50th birthday and feel ragged, spiritually and emotionally spent, I have been aching for the feel of that summer: working in the garden, thinking new thoughts, going to the beach in weekend pilgrimages. I've been missing that wise, contented, serene me of eight years ago.
So I did it.
In many ways it wasn't all that different from that summer of 1999. My wet suit still fit (thank you, Yoga House). I was feeling the same kind of contended loneliness that only comes from taking some time to consciously heal after an acknowledged pain. I was on that same track and was seeking, as I was then, to continue on the journey so I could become even more at ease within my own skin.
There were differences, too. My car was squeaky clean and new that summer, now it's hit a painful midlife crisis, requiring supplemental servicing and feeling its first whiff of mortality. Eight years ago I didn't have a dog, a cell phone or a house to leave from. There were no such things as iPods. And I didn't have a box of books published with my name as the author in the trunk.
Pretty significant differences.
I made a place for myself and pulled on my wetsuit. There was a heatwave going on and immediately I was sweating inside it. I grabbed the board with images of The Endlass Summer in my head, and ran down to the water's edge.
And then I remembered exactly what a dork I am and always have been. I touched the water and all but squealed. DAMNATION. That water was STILL COLD. It has ALWAYS felt cold and it always WILL feel cold. I inched into the cold water, sweating under my wet suit but still a wimpy little girl inside.
As I moved forward micron by micron, I also realized that there are huge benefits to growing older: I simply didn't care any more. Yes, I was wearing a wet suit in 70 degree water and STILL moving forward with painful trepidation. Yes, I'm a middle-aged woman (no way around that word any more) with two kids. Yes, I was surrounded by tanned bodies that had never heard of BMI or cellulite (yeah RIGHT... but I was on a roll of self-denegration), and yet it was OK. I was still alone in that water, on that beach, and it was fine.
Eventually, as I soon remembered, it does get warmer. And then it's glorious. I took my first wave and it all came back to me.
In what other forum can you lose control, scream cursewords out loud, think you may die and skin your knees all at the same time???
Yes. It's JUST like THAT.
No awkward conversations the next morning. No diseases. No dumping on either side.
And best of all... no brain.
At least not the brain that makes me crazy.
No brain of the analyzing when he's going to call kind. No brain of the "gee I think he's into me more than I'm into him but he's the best of the batch currently in the running but isn't that kind of lacking in integrity?" kind.
The brain is engaged in other things, mainly survival. The brain is analyzing things it simply doesn't usually have to worry about, like whether that wave is going to crush me into a pulp if I don't move forward or back. Like whether it's worth going under, trying to ride it, or try to jump it. Like counting the sets, figuring out the configuration of the sand bar, staring into the distance to see the literally unfathomable beauty of the blue of deep water.
Body is alive, hair is matted and wet, brain is settled down, contented like a runner after a race.
I only last an hour or two out there. I walk back to my towel with every nerve tingling. I know the sand that is caked on all of me and my belongings is going to be an issue, in the car, in the house. I also relish the feeling of totally not caring. Sand... no sand... whatever. Akuna matata.
I must've been a surfer in a past life. Or an islander. I am able to so quickly find my most basic points of calm and inner peace when I'm doing this.
Ridiculously simple, this whole notion of visiting the beach. Laughably basic, the idea of taking a piece of styrofoam and hanging onto it while you are pushed by a wave. But it goes so deep, this visit to the sea. It is an homage to the mother, the vast unconscious, a gesture of respect to things primitive and untamed.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:06 PM 0 comments