table for one

Most people like things they’re good at.

At some point, maybe Michael Jordan has thought to himself, “I am kind of an ace at basketball. I will really enjoy the next opportunity I have to play.” Or perhaps David Bowie-while running his weekend errands-has mused a time or two about how much he looks forward to his next free moments for Glam Rocking and covering heinously annoying holiday songs in a somewhat more bearable fashion.

In some ways, I fit this paradigm. I both enjoy and am decent at a few things: talking people into oblivion, handing out sass, and executing the perfect high-five pretty much exhaust that list.

But one thing remains a mystery to me. Why in the Ever-Revolving World do I look forward to-and thoroughly enjoy-Valentine’s Day?

As you will see from the images in this post, Amazing-Celebrity-Crush-Inspired-Valentine-Making has been ruling my free time lately. What started as a joke between me and one friend is growing into a February hobby. I am genuinely giddy to see the feedback on them, and the growing list of requests for more.

But Valentine’s enthusiasm is nothing new for the likes of me. Every year, I look forward to the cheesy chick-flick marathons, and the box of Whitman’s chocolate from at least one of my parental units.

But it doesn’t add up. To say I’m “good at Valentine’s Day” is like saying e.e. cummings is “good at observing basic syntax”. The particulars do not match. Something isn’t gelling right. Where does all my enthusiasm come from?

My first thought is to chalk my behavior up somewhere between Delusions of Grandeur and Denial on the Crazy Continuum. Don’t get me wrong, I have been known to feel a bit out of place as the 3rd, 7th, or 11th wheel. And it can be an exhausting business to be the “buddy” or the “jovial and mysteriously content” single person in the group.

However, Valentine’s Day still [albeit miraculously] carries a bizarre mystique for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy myself long-stem roses and loop Sleepless in Seattle for 3  straight days. But I actually enjoy the feeling in the air.

Maybe it’s because red is often a very flattering color, and chocolate is delicious. But I think there is something deeper going on. Could it be that I love the thought of being in love? That the idea of romance is almost as intriguing as the experience? That sounds very poetic. But I think it is something much simpler.

In my favorite modern romantic comedy, a couple goes through an amicable break-up. The guy and his soon-to-be-ex-girl are sitting at the table, trying to make the best of things. “What about you” he asks her, “Is there someone else?”

“No,” she answers, “But there is the dream of someone else.”

Once again, the girl-driven sector of cinema proves it can be good-for-something.

I think that’s the most appealing part of the whole experience for me when it comes to this time of year. Maybe it’s the lingering promise of the new year, along with heart-shaped everything: whatever gives me the inclination, I enjoy granting myself permission to dream.

Oscar Wilde once said, “The essence of romance is uncertainty”. Even though it is the most agonizing bit for many, the facing of the unknown is often the best part of almost any story in the scheme of things. There is suspense, there is drama, there is anticipation.

To illustrate the point, consider the Secret Admirer: a phantom who often emerges this time of year. What makes him/her so infuriating is the same thing that thrills the recipient of affections: the unknown, the feeling of something to come, something great be revealed. As Willy Wonka says, “The best kind of prize is a SUR-prize!”

I’m not saying I’ll be writing odes to life in iambic pentameter next week. I won’t be humming to myself, or twirling around in my living room with a look of glassy-eyed happiness. In most ways, it will be a week like any other.

But when predictability threatens to bum me out, maybe I can call on the idyllic feeling of a daydream.

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the ballad of icarus

Hey all , here is a brand new poem! Who knows if WP will preserve my formatting? It rarely does! But I hope you enjoy, nonetheless.

Row, row, row your boat

Down the stream of Consciousness

Crying out like Paul Revere

Something’s coming

Find your bliss

Hold your hands out for the lemons

Life is bound to hand to you

Leave them lying at your feet

Cause you have better things to do

Like close your eyes

Close your eyes

To dream of flying

Take the pills and listen

To the things the experts have to say

Save it with your favorite songs

To use up on a rainy day

Pick the flowers from the yard

And place them there behind your ear

I want to set a whisper there

But you must do this first to hear

So close your eyes

Close your eyes

To dream of flying

Icarus fell to the earth

With ego bruised, afraid and burned

They asked him “Friend, what can you share?

What should we do? What have you learned?”

He said that life had humbled him

That was the truth, that much he knew

“When you feel that all is lost,

There’s only one thing you can do”

Just close your eyes

Close your eyes

To dream of flying

Yes, close your eyes.

Close your eyes

And dream of flying

June 6, 2010

i’d like to make myself believe (meeting Owl City)

Some call it Luck. Some call it Grace. Some call it leading a Charmed Life. I call it that feeling you get when you realize you could have done nothing to deserve some fantastic thing; and that you couldn’t have made it happen on your own accord. Whatever you call that feeling, that state of being, sometimes it’s all around me. Sometimes I breathe it in.

The writer and musician behind this song is named Adam Young, who performs under the name Owl City. [The video isn’t his version, but hearing children sing it really captures the innocence and wonder in the lyrics in a way I’m sure he would appreciate.] He is a synthesizer player from Owatonna, Minnesota – known for its large owl population.

He came to my attention through friends. (A couple of whom suggested we should get married.) I don’t listen to Top 40 enough to know more than one half of one line of a Lady Gaga song [true story; I don’t even really know who this Justin Beiber kid is]. I had no concept of Owl City the Pop Star.

I was immediately endeared to his sweet songs, his clear voice, and the excuse to blare uber-happy dancepop in my room when no one was home. As far as I was concerned, he was Adam Young- a guy from up north who likes to play keys and sing songs about moonbeams and playing on the beach- a guy whose reckless optimism was something I wanted to grab hold of and never let go. Adam became a guy I had to meet, if only to test my theory: that the mere positioning of the two of us in the same place would send daisies sprouting up, joining hands, and dancing about the room.

Since moving back home, I have been forced to come face to face with reality and saying hello, whether I wanted to or not. And let me tell you something, he doesn’t have big eyes, pretty hair, and Buddy Holly glasses. It has been a time of disappointment, frustration, and rejection at many junctures. It has been an endless uphill struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and to assume that light is not being cast by an oncoming train. The company of those I love and the parade of Little Things to be Thankful For have given me invaluable solace.

One of the Biggest Little Things has been music. And Adam’s in particular: often a departure into dreams, bliss, and outer space; it’s like getting 3 scoops of ice cream when all you’ve been getting are melty, artificially flavored Ice Pops- the yellow and green ones that no one really likes.

Anyone who knows me knows that meeting Adam is the stuff of legend among myself and my friends; fodder for thematic Twitter feeds and silly Facebook statuses. You hear people telling you to expect the unexpected. Well, I certainly wasn’t.

After arriving downtown and figuring out how to get into the venue, where we would be sitting, etc. I went back outside. Not having any clue what to do for hours before doors opened, I went around the back of the building; near where the opening bands were loading their equipment. I sat at the foot of the stairs by the backstage door: pretending not to feel more awkward and nervous than I could ever remember.

I made conversation with the roadies and the Local Boys opening for Adam (after we recognized each other from around town). A couple of my friends were on their crews and were able to keep me company for a bit. But I felt strange. Like an impostor of some kind. I kept trying to force myself to look at my phone- to try to make it seem less apparent what- or who- I was waiting for.

After a while, I heard synth sounds. It was sound check time. No one had even asked me to move an inch for about an hour, so I remained there to enjoy it. And I began to allow myself to think, “What if?”

But, even after waiting  for soundcheck to finish, there was no sign of anyone connected with the show going in or out. It was getting late, and I needed to be back in time for doors to make sure I got my spot. As a joke, I took a picture of the stairs leading up to the backstage door,  I typed in a clever caption, ready to upload it to Facebook.

And there he was, coming down the stairs, landing less than a foot away from me. I knew it was him. Because my insides were doing cartwheels. And I said, as if I had forgotten to ask him something, “Adam?”

“Yeah!” he said with a smile.

Okay, I was still alive. I hadn’t died on the spot. I could do this. I had this. Calm, cool collected. It’s just me and a guy from Minnesota with a fondness for warm weather and sea creatures. Proceed.

I introduced myself, telling him I had just wanted to say hi, if that was okay. “Sure! Nice to meet you!” I couldn’t help but smile. I just knew he’d be the type to end all his sentences with exclamation points.

I gave him a gift. A little owl zipper pouch. One of my favorite things that I carried everywhere until that moment.  He thanked me and said he loved it, putting it in his pocket.

I asked him if he’d been able to enjoy Nashville, but unfortunately, he had been under the weather.

Then it was picture time. One of the most remarkable things about this meeting is we were the only ones there: no line, no cameras, no crew, no entourage: just Adam and me. This presented a tiny problem.

“Who’s going to take the picture?” I said, laughing, “There’s, like, no one around.”

“You want me to just hold it out here and take it?” he said.

“Sure, we’ll ‘Myspace’ that!” I said [referring, of course, to the way everyone on Myspace takes their display photo].

And so we did. He asked my name again, I told him, along with our approximate seat spot. And after thanking him repeatedly for his time, I watched him go to the bus. At this point, I threw both my arms in the air in triumph. The roadies, who had kept their respectful distance and allowed Adam and I to have our moment, smiled and gave me the Thumbs Up.

I did what any level-headed person who is lucky enough to have frequent encounters with her favorite musicians would do: calmly stowed my phone, proceeded to the end of the block, turned the corner, and screamed like one of those extras in a Hard Days Night.

I went in, got my seat, met up with one of my childhood friends and my sister in law, and had a great time dancing the night away with a throng of hysterical teenage girls, feeling like a sympathetic chaperone. Of course, our photo greets me from a variety of places now. And seeing those delighted grins makes me think: I don’t deserve this kind of happy. And maybe I don’t. But I am holding on to it with both hands.

In one of his silliest songs, Adam Young writes:

“I’d rather pick flowers instead of fights.

And rather than flaunt my style, I’d flash you a smile of clean Pearly Whites”

Who knew so much of his work was autobiographical?

Thanks, Adam for making my day, my Spring, possibly my early 20s. I hope you’re feeling better today. I know I am.

see and be seen

This is Amos Lee. He is from Philadelphia. He used to be an elementary school teacher. He now plays tunes. He has 3 full-length studio records and a 2-song EP. He headlines tours nationwide and has had his at least one of his songs featured on a popular commercial. And he has a way of making one’s night.

I went to see Amos for the first time at Cannery Ballroom 2 years ago. Through the kindness of strangers, I was able to have a chance meeting with him, which I wrote about here. He was nothing but polite. He chatted and took a photo, and even sent a less-than-cordial tour manager after me to apologize to me for losing his cool. So doing, Amos became one of those artists- one of those people- you remember. Someone whose success you want to support.

I was able to see Amos a second time that year when his fall tour brought him to the 40 Watt Club in Athens. I didn’t get to talk to him then. But I promised myself that if I ever did, I would thank him  for how thoughtful he had been after meeting me.

Last night, I saw Amos for the third time at Mercy Lounge here in Nashville. He played a fabulous set with lots of favorites, some new material, and some cheeky banter peppered in, [Oh, and a Queen cover. Let’s not forget that]. I was right in front of him, but wasn’t sure he had actually seen me at all; he tends to sing with his eyes closed most of the time. When he made a comment at the end of the show about a song being written in 2009, I said [not yelling or anything], “It was a good year.” He looks at me and says “Really?”, as if he knew what 2009 had been like for me. I said “Yeah” with a lot of hesitation, feeling a tiny bit embarrassed and every bit found out. He smiled, pointed right at me and said, “For you, for you, but for me. . .” and continued to set up the song before he finished the second encore with it: it was about learning from the Less Than Great things that life hands to us sometimes. Given that 2009 was actually not that great for me, I appreciated it especially.

It was a great night; I had no complaints. I had nothing to do other than hope for the chance to reconnect.

After Amos left stage, Alicia, Holly and myself stood around “talking set list” with all the other shiny, happy people. It was a sold out crowd, so waiting for a lot of them to close their tabs and clear out seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was.

All of a sudden, Amos came darting out from backstage. He walked right past us and headed toward the back of the room by the bar, where he began talking to some people gathered there. I kept saying to myself “Calm, cool and collected, calm cool and collected”, and before you know it, I had been turned toward him and we were saying hello. He smiled. He is not a teeth-smiler, if you were curious.But he’s one of those people whose eyes help his smile along, so it is easy to tell when he is comfortable and sincere, “My hands are wet,” he said, as he shook mine, “but they’re clean.”

“Good to know,” I said.

Then, I said what I had wanted to say to him for almost two years, “Hey, man. I met you a couple years ago at Cannery. And there was this mean guy that yelled at me, and you told him to apologize, and he did. So, thanks for being a solid dude.”

He said, “No problem,” and smiled. Then he gave me a fist bump.

Realizing I had forgotten an important detail, I said, “My name’s Beth, by the way. What’s yours?”

After he said his name, he realized I was joking and we had a laugh.

He asked me if I had enjoyed the show. I said of course, and thanked him for a great performance.

I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking some pictures. “Sure, let’s do it,” he said. And he crouched next to me and took a few with the group, after we fumbled around with our cameras to make sure they were on and working. I mumbled something about not knowing how to use my own camera, thinking about how many of his precious seconds I was taking up, and he said “It happens,” in a way that I knew meant he was alright  with waiting. Smile, smile. Snap. Snap. Snap. At some point, I called him back over for a Just-The-Two-of-Us shot to replace the crazy awkward one of me we had taken on our first encounter. I told him I had hated that first one (of me) and he said, “No, no, don’t hate it!” and rushed over to take the replacements.

While we were all chatting, I asked Amos if he missed being a teacher. He laughed and said no, not the paperwork and the bureaucracy. But of course, he missed the kids. I also admitted that even though I said 2009 was a good year, I didn’t really mean it. And we had a moment of griping before the obligatory “2010, baby”! I’m glad there’s at least one other person out there who likes to think the year is still new.

Amos was very kind, attentive, and appreciative. I lost count of how many times he thanked me and my friends for being there. And- just in case you were wondering if he actually did see me from the stage- he said at some point before we parted, “Thank you so much for coming out. Your smile lit me up.”

Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that every Happy Cell in my body did a standing backflip when he said that. I cannot explain how happy a simple statement like that can make someone feel. It means “I saw your face”; it means “we connected”, it means “your presence affected my life in a positive way, if only for a few moments”. If I could have picked my jaw up off the floor fast enough, I would have let him know: the sentiment is mutual.

This isn’t really a concert review; this isn’t a set list, a photo montage, or a crappy YouTube video. It’s a story of two people meeting: a meandering dreamer and a former schoolteacher. Somewhere amidst the frantic chatter and the nervous smiles lay the lesson that- just when you think you’ve found your path- you may be sent in another direction entirely; you may be led to even greater heights. It is a reminder that we can make an impression on someone and not know it; and vice versa.

I guess what I’m saying is, we should keep going; we never know where we’ll end up.We should keep smiling; people notice it; people need it. And it is one of the easiest and most rewarding things in the world to give.

*

“You get right down to the bottom of the barrel,

And then you float back on top. . .”

Thanks, Amos, for your kindness. It is invaluable. May all your Happy Cells get their exercise. Talk to you soon.

final fantasy

You guys know me well enough by now to know I adore my musicians. For some kids it’s athletes. For some it’s actors. For some it’s superheroes. But I have idealized (and idolized, in the poetic sense of the word) musicians all my life.  Part of it is the personality or image that person projects. Combine that with the power of poetry to connect with our experience and the beauty of the music itself, and finding the right music could mean forging a lifelong partnership.

A connection with an artist can be strong indeed. I have spent an untold amount of money over the years building up my collection, in an effort to find more lyrical treasures. And another small fortune has gone to concert tickets. Going to shows is a last ditch effort of the fan to make the connection real. There are few feelings like the opening chords of a concert. The adrenaline is palpable. Tens of thousands of shrieks of elation fill the room with euphoric, chaotic noise. Everyone wanting desperately to be seen, to be heard; to experience their hero on a real, human level.

I have been fortunate enough over the years to come face to face with several of my “favorites”: Mr. Dennen, Mr. Lee, and Mr. Folds, to name some of the highlights. And I treasure those opportunities to thank a few of the people whose thoughts and experiences have given me food for thought; whose struggles have given me inspiration.

But in spite of these mountaintop experiences, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness. Long past the days where John, Paul, George, and Ringo are opening their own fan letters, I am part of a new generation of fans. We may be able to read about their breakfast cereal choices on Twitter, or their tour schedules on Facebook and MySpace, but the vast expanses of cyberspace only expand the chasms between fan and hero. The back row is the new front row.

I always hold out hope that I will meet my favorite artists, and that we will have some profound Best Friendship start out of a single meeting (or a More Than Friendship, depending on who you’re talking about). But with the demise of the fan letter and the rising price of concert tickets, I have begun to notice that I temper my silly, childlike idealism with a cynical sense of acceptance.

It is ironic how accessible artists make their hearts and their experience in their work, while it is nearly impossible for their fans, whose support is indispensable, to look into their eyes and smile. Of course, I understand that to attend to every fan is impractical (and impossible in most cases), but it seems unfair for fans to have to resign themselves to anonymity.

So, if your letters, Tweets, wall posts, and emails go unread, what’s the point of sending them? If you are sitting in the nosebleed section screaming yourself hoarse for the 6th time, knowing you won’t be seen, why not be quiet?

Because music brings joy. And if you identify with someone’s music, whether they know you exist or not, that person brings you the same happiness. And because it’s fun to jump up and down and scream like a little girl sometimes. You know it is.

It may not sound like it, but I’m still hopeful. Because I have met a few, I still believe there are artists who appreciate, understand, and connect with the human component of their success. And I believe that life has adventurous, romantic, impossible moments that take us by surprise.

If you’re in the industry, hold your artists accountable. And give them the chance to be a person, a friend, and a crush- not just an icon. If you’re an artist, don’t forget a regular diet of humble pie.  And for the rest, just yell as loud as you can. I hear you loud and clear.

shark fins

Holding hands

Is what people in dreams do

Dancing stars

Fall between me before you

And we lose ourselves

Shopping malls

Look better in outer space

Waterfalls

Wash the freckles from your face

And we lose ourselves

Will I find you

Will I find you

When I wake up
Roller skates

Are more fun on the sidewalk

Rainbows scraped

On the driveway in orange chalk

And we close our eyes

Lemonade

Fills a glass in a diner

Running late

Life has never looked finer

And we close our eyes
Will I find you

Will I find you

When I wake up
Children play

In the dirt on the playground

Dinner bells

Make obtrusive alert sounds

And you see my face

Picture frames

Made of pasta and sequins

Swimming pools

Full of hands making shark fins

And you see my face
You have found me

You have found me

And I wake up

– Beth Hopkins

(Please ask permission before copying and sharing with others. Many thanks!)

measurementality

I have recently been struggling with feeling that I have not had a successful year. (Since I am still living at home; still without a permanent, full-time, or paying job; still unattached) Not at all saying that I haven’t done anything this year, or that I am full of woe and misery. Nothing like that. I’m just being honest: I’m not where I thought I would be. I’m not where I wanted to be by now.

I posted a note on Facebook the other day, updating everyone across the board on how things were going- or not going- and expressed the same feeling of discontent. (It was long, so I will spare you. But you can probably guess the gist of it.)

At any rate, as usual, my remarkable friends responded with gentleness and love. You guys are a supportive lot. In a particular conversation, Michelle and I were talking about the disconnect between the social ideas of success and our personal idea of success. In other words- when I say I don’t feel successful, whose standards am I using? The standards of society: get a job, get a house, make money, get a fella? Or other, more personal goals and means of understanding success: personal growth, spiritual stability, the building of strong friendships, volunteering, etc?

There is no clear answer for this. Of course, social standards of success are not always bad. I genuinely would like a job and an income and a place of my own, and there’s not anything shallow about that. But if that’s all I’m going on to gauge my success, it’s not going to be pretty.

It’s not like I’m going to go all Thoreau on you guys: living in the woods, tax evasion, and being a social pariah may work well for some writers, but not for this one. I’m just saying that my conversation with my friend was a great reminder that there is more than one way to define success. For example, giving to others of your time and yourself is definitely a mark of a successful life- but it is a lot more difficult to do this if you are not in a stable, secure place yourself (and this requires some degree of traditional, material success).

Success seems to be a combination of accomplishing your goals and learning something when you don’t.

What do you think? What is the best unit for the measurement of success? And how are things stacking up for you these days?