On the road a la Jetsons

July 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I am writing this while sitting at the dining room table of one of my oldest and dearest friends, one more temporary home along this path of travel. Just so many beads on a 24-day-long chain. It’s amazing to me to think that this is how Dan and I used to live for weeks on end, back in my touring days. As much as that now seems more like a past life than just part of my own story, I have to admit that I have had a fairly easy time settling into this traveling rhythm. Somewhere in my cells it is a familiar groove.

So. Right here in this paragraph – indeed, in my very next sentence – I am going to tell you something, straight out. I GOT AN ANDROID . Not only that, I added APPS. Many of them. And, though a few weeks ago I would have proclaimed from my very own soap box that I can easily do without such new-fangled high-tech toys, thank you very much, um, it has actually been kind of, well, fun. Chloe and I used it to determine whether gas was cheaper on this or that side of the Colorado-Kansas line (we saved around $3 by waiting until we crossed into Kansas), it led us to the most fantastic restaurant that serves locally-grown and meticulously prepared cuisine (715 in Lawrence, KS), as well as helping us find our way to more than one cleverly elusive destination. It has accurately predicted the weather so I could dress for 70 or 95 degrees (though it couldn’t turn down the insidious overdose of air conditioning once we were inside the building – more on that in some future post. Hopefully they’ll come up with an app for that soon.) It has made it a piece of cake to keep up with my emails. It has located and navigated our path to Whole Foods, music stores, Target, and more. One app supplied us with quotations from famous people for our presentations. I know what the date is every day on the Jewish calendar. If I had figured out how to use it in time (and remembered where it was hiding), I could have helped my teacher by running the stopwatch when we needed it during one class session. I have taken countless pictures and emailed them to Dan and my mother and a college friend of Chloe’s (except it turned out she [Chloe] gave me the wrong person’s email address, so we are actually not sure who received the not-so-scenic view of Salina, Kansas. No offense to any Salinians out there.) And in case you are interested, I am facing southeast at 145 degrees right now, a minor but accurate fact imparted to me by said droid.

Oh. AND I have made and received phone calls on it. Which is, of course, what I got it for to begin with, though it is all too easy to forget that, when trying to figure out how to use all the other stuff, as mentioned above.

Gone are the old days. Dan and I can remember countless occasions when we had to be near a pay phone at a specific time on a specific day for a radio interview or to call a hard-to-reach contact, way back in the 1980s when we drove for all my tours. It was often next to impossible to find a phone when we needed it. Do you ever have one of those dreams where you finally find the phone booth only to discover it is out of order, or someone is already using it, or the buttons don’t work right or you don’t have the right amount of change or your long distance calling card somehow doesn’t work? Or the temperature is either ten below or 95 and humid? It was like that more often than you might guess. I will never forget the time when we called our answering machine from the back office of one of my gigs, and heard a message from our neighbor that was cut off in the middle: “So we don’t want you to worry, and the police came, but they told us—“ It was just like one of those nightmares – I couldn’t get our long distance card to work, the connection kept getting interrupted, and I was frantically dialing (we actually had a “dialer” that we carried around to beep the tones into phones that still had dials) while Dan and I were picturing our front door broken down or our house burnt to the ground. (In the end, it turned out okay, but the stress of getting through to our neighbor took at least eighteen months off my life.) None of this would have happened if we had had cell phones back then.

And now a word from my devil’s advocate, or old self, take your pick.

By sometime in the 90s Dan used all the evidence from the above adrenaline-sucking paragraph to try to convince me of the virtues of an (early) cell phone. I agreed with him that having one in our possession could spare us – or at least reduce the frequency of – the nightmarish challenges of keeping up with communications while being on the road. In my very next breath I always went on to say – and here comes my actual soap box moment (just a warning) – that maybe it turns out that it’s actually good for us to have some private time. Maybe it’s all for the better that there are times that nobody knows where we are or how to reach us. Yes, I can turn my android off, but it’s possible that even just knowing that someone could be calling or emailing me keeps one tiny set of neurons on alert when they should be taking their twenty-minute power nap or meditating on a mantra that bears no resemblance to a handheld superpower device.

So while I’m happy to have this new instrument from the Star Trek era in my employ, I still feel uncomfortable with the fact that our host for this Friday night reached me when I happened to be shopping for lead refills for my No. 7 mechanical pencil and a backpack last night. And while I was able to carry on a perfectly coherent conversation with her as I navigated the aisles of the mega-store, it’s just plain weird that she didn’t have to know where I was while we were pinning down the parameters of tomorrow’s visit. I find it on the edge of icky when a woman in the stall or dressing room next to mine is chatting with someone I cannot see. (Granted, I cannot see the woman in the stall or dressing room next to mine either, but I know you know what I’m getting at. Please don’t let me lose my momentum here.)

When we were kids, my brother and I watched the Jetsons on television together. We wanted what they had – the TV-screen phones, the instant food, the remote camera intercoms, etc. – so bad we could taste it. While I know we have not gotten as far as flying cars (thank goodness – can you imagine bad or raging drivers filling the airways in addition to the highways?) we are using a lot of things that look like Jetson imitations as it is. My android is teaching me that it can be fun, just as that happy animated family from the future made it seem. But I also want to remind all of us that the Jetsons had their daily life issues, as do we all. George, Jane, Judy, and Elroy had all manner of things to contend with at home, at school, and in the workplace, which was what the episodes were REALLY about, even if my brother and I missed the so called point. It’s not how I call Dan every day, it’s the fact that I do get to talk to him. It’s not how we found the gas station, it’s that we are fortunate enough to be able to afford to pay for this trip so that I can develop further in my profession, and also so that Chloe and Rachel and I can enjoy being together in our respective musical endeavors, re-connecting with several old friends, and making new friends along the way. I am glad to have my droid’s help so that perhaps I am less frazzled when I get there! But let me remember that the tool, no matter how seductive, is still just a tool.

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Dorm news, the nature of grieving, and a lesson in exponents

August 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 8 Comments
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Yesterday, after several tense weeks, Chloe finally received the email announcing her freshman roommate and her dorm assignment.  Now she has one more tangible piece of the year ahead that she can place in the puzzle before her.  Only somewhat tangible, however.  She found her roommate on Facebook and sent a message along with a friend request.  The latter was granted, but as of eighteen hours later, there is no return message.  Okay, the girl is apparently at Disneyland right now, and was up late last night.  We assume she friended Chloe on her iPhone and went to bed.  As Chloe pointed out, it’s simultaneously fun and creepy to fb-stalk someone.  But we were happy to see that she plays violin and also likes the Beatles and Jason Mraz, so it can’t be bad!  We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that Chloe will move closer to the top of her list after she leaves the Magic Kingdom.  And then they can talk about who will bring the mini-fridge and other domestic details.

For me the new degree of reality brings up a mass of tangled feelings and then the typical aftermath of thoughts, trying to sort it all out.  Last night Dan and I joined friends for dinner and Chloe stayed home and had friends over for dinner and a movie.  As we were seated in the Ethiopian restaurant, I had a sudden rush of awareness:  tonight we are here and Chloe is at home, but in a few weeks, when we return home from anywhere we go, she won’t be there.  After I rescued my stomach from the basement beneath my chair, I knew one thing for certain.  This is no different from any other kind of grieving.  There’s the over-the-top wallop of the loss itself, and then there’s the waves that hit you in any random moment, with no warning.  I haven’t even had the wallop yet.  These must be prelude-waves.

Before Chloe, I had a pregnancy that ended in miscarriage.  Dan and I were overcome with sorrow, and then, of course – what else can you do? – we began to carry on with our lives.  Two months after the miscarriage, I walked into the backstage dressing room of a concert hall and spontaneously burst into tears.  Until I set foot in the dressing room, it had not dawned on me that months beforehand, I had pictured myself doing that concert in a maternity dress.  Over the coming months, I came to understand that we walk through grief by mourning each micro-component of the whole.  Every moment, every face, every thread that is attached to what we lost has to be met and felt. 

It’s all around me.  Last week Dan and I went to see “The Kids Are All Right” which had received good reviews and didn’t look too heavy.  Little did we know that (and I don’t think it will ruin anything for any of you who have not seen it if I include this – but if you want to, you can skip this paragraph) the movie includes a main character who has recently graduated from high school and has only a few weeks left before she leaves for college.  The parting scene shows her arriving on campus, dumping her stuff in her dorm room, saying good-by to her family and watching them drive off without her.  Okay, was it really necessary for us to watch this right now? 

And a few nights later I was at a party where Chloe was to play background music with a friend.  I was chatting with another guest who is ahead of me by a few years.  As if to refresh my memory of the movie I already wished I hadn’t just seen, she described her own experience of driving her daughter across several states, helping her unload into her dorm room, and saying good-by.  “And then,” she continued, “I got into my car and began the drive home.  I must have sobbed for two solid hours!  And I was all alone.  Or wait – was my mother with me for that trip…?”  Oh great.  I hope I remember that Dan is driving home with me someday years from now, when I am telling my story to some fragile wisp, trembling before me.  Assuming we don’t have an accident, driving on the interstate while sobbing.  Perhaps we’ll stay on the side roads for the first part of the journey.

I know, I know, I know.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s wonderful.  Yes, it’s necessary – and right.  And I have lots to do in the seventeen days between now and our departure.  And there is nothing to fix.  There is no one dying.  Heaven knows, I am well aware of the difference between my 80-year-old father passing away a year ago and my 18-year-old daughter embarking on the next chapter of her life’s adventures.  And I am not alone.  Dan and Rachel are moving through it in their own ways.  I guess it’s also true to say that our family foursome is moving through it as a whole as well. 

I remember that after Chloe was born, I figured out that adding a baby to a couple doesn’t just make three.  It’s closer to exponential because you have to add the dynamics of all the relationships.  So to begin with there were three relationships:  Dan and his relationship with himself, my relationship with him, and my relationship with myself.  Adding Chloe gave us four more – hers with herself, that between each of us with her, and the threesome.  Adding Rachel gave us a myriad more, because it wasn’t just Rachel herself and Rachel with each of us.  There were now “the girls”, “the kids”, “the grown-ups”, etc.  Even though Chloe is not a “member” of each of those relationships, it affects all of them.

Everyone tells me that our relationships with Chloe will continue, but they will change, and I do believe that.  It helps me to remember that our family has ridden the shockwaves of past transitions, and it has always been for the better.  So yes, this is uncomfortable, and each of us has an occasional moment of squirming, flailing and/or writhing, but we are in it together, even as we are each negotiating an individual set of bumps and turns.  I feel mighty fortunate to have such a strong set-up.  In this moment, bolstered by what has just come clearer to me, I know we’ll all be okay.  What is it they say – the only constant is change?

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