A Quarter of My Life

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My husband and I have been fans of Lord Huron for quite some time. When we lived in Cleveland and found out their tour was bringing them to town we set reminders for ourselves to buy tickets the minute they were on sale. Then we moved to New Hampshire about a week before the show, giving up our tickets to people I barely knew. A few weeks later they were going to be in Portsmouth performing a free outdoor concert at Prescott Park. The night of the show an intense storm rolled through the area. It poured buckets. Lightning and thunder. The whole bit. We didn’t see them that night either since the show was canceled on account of dangerous weather.

And so we found ourselves driving to Portland, Maine one night back in July. Another chance to see Lord Huron! Another outdoor concert, too, but this time it wasn’t free. We bought tickets, booked a hotel, and watched the weather reports all week. The night of the show we reveled in our good luck. The weather was nothing short of spectacular. As was the show itself.

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Lord Huron sings about the places where I grew up. I literally just did the math and even I’m surprised to learn that I’ve lived a quarter of my life on the Great Lakes – first Huron, then Superior, then Erie. In between I spent holidays and summers with my mother’s family near Lake Michigan. A few years ago my husband and I spent a couple of nights in Buffalo, New York, and made a point to drive to the Lake Ontario shoreline. She was my last lake to visit, a final check on the Great Lakes bucket list. On the way home to Cleveland we talked about me getting a Great Lakes tattoo for my next birthday. I never did.

My birthday is coming up and I have yet to shake the idea. Clearly those lakes mean a great deal to me. I have yet to shake them, too, I guess.

History and Pop Culture: Billy Joel

For someone who was so willing to plunk down thousands of dollars (and what felt like an equal amount of hours) into researching and writing a master’s thesis, I have done absolutely nothing since I got my degree. I attributed it to burn-out and to starting a full-time job. Then winter in Ohio came and I endured my usual seasonal depression. Then we moved to New England. It’s been eight months since I submitted that sucker, and I can finally admit that I simply believed the same enthusiasm I had for historical disease research would carry over into my non-academic life. It didn’t. Perhaps I was naive. Perhaps I had shelved my self-discipline. Perhaps I was just tired. I believe, in a way, it was all three. No accountability. The work was done. Now what?

I hoped, however, that being literally surrounded by early American history (even the trees in New England have historical significance) would jump-start my interest once again and send me head first into a topic which, considering my location, would have ample sources to investigate. And that happened, temporarily. First, I came across a local controversy involving a Civil War hero and his horse in a nearby cemetery. Then I discovered Nathaniel Hawthorne’s involvement in creating New Hampshire’s tourism industry and the actual field of trauma tourism. Then…nothing. The spark of light that held my attention petered out just as uneventfully as it appeared – that is to say I hadn’t expected it to come or go, but I’m happy it kept me from being too overwhelmed with responsibilities during my first weeks here in New Hampshire.

Recently I started reading Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. When I think of North Korea, I often think of Billy Joel’s song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” As a kid, I absolutely adored Billy Joel’s music. I still do. I’m pretty sure my parents had a few of his albums, so his musical presence was nothing new whether it was from inside my house, or coming from my parents’ car stereo. I grew up in the 80s, but more importantly I lived on a military base in Northern Italy during the first half of the decade. I was always keenly aware of the Soviet nuclear threat and the fact that international flights were frequent terrorist targets. By the time the video for “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was released, I had memorized all the words and became ridiculously interested in all of Joel’s historical references. What is a Communist Bloc? Why are children on thalidomide? What IS thalidomide? Where is the Congo? And why are the Belgians there? It would be fair to say that Billy Joel deserves just as much credit as my visit to the Peshtigo Fire Museum and my high school history teacher, Mr. O’Malley, for enrooting in me the near-obsessive compulsion to discovering the who, what, where, when, and, most compellingly, the why in anyone’s story.

Sometimes I have to go back to the beginning to remind myself why I love history so much. It’s not that I forget, necessarily. It’s just that I find myself uninspired sometimes by the negativity of this world, weighed down by the heaviness of our current political climate. Earlier this year I deleted all of my news apps and, coincidentally, Facebook friends (and some family members) who feed the monster that is, in my opinion, besmirching the ideals that a good percentage of Americans from every background had finally started to come around to. Some of you might argue that my past research on biological genocide against native North American tribes or racial and economic disparities regarding Yellow Fever outbreaks is just as negative. I wouldn’t say you’re entirely wrong. But I think the country’s current epidemic of the Orange Fever is dangerous in its own way. Why? Because it’s happening now. Will Trump and anecdotes about his presidency ever make it into a song that also includes the lyrics “Black Lives Matter,” a reference to Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” and the inevitable end of the world? Maybe. And I’d probably love the hell out of it.

For me, there is no reason to study history if I can’t find some way to connect events, from yesterday or past centuries, to the reasons something exists, or doesn’t exist, today. Again, Billy Joel’s song encourages me to do that. He sang about the Ayatollah in Iran and Bernie Goetz, remember? Because of that Ayatollah in Iran, I know what an air raid siren sounds like because I had to respond to them when I was five years old. And because of Bernie Goetz, gun rights enthusiasts and activists can still make a good point in being legally self-armed, decades after Goetz made his.

About that fire, though: Billy Joel wants to know When we are gone, will it still burn on? Probably. Like he said, It was always burning since the world’s been turning. And with that, my fascination with historical trauma events and their affects on the modern world will never be without material. Admittedly, I am a little sad that I haven’t been terribly motivated by anything or anyone in history, as of yet, to start plugging away on the research and the writing. Perhaps I am naive. Perhaps I have shelved my self-discipline. Perhaps I am just tired.

Perhaps I should just write a history book that tackles every single one’s of Joel’s references in the order in which he sings…

Stayin’ Alive

Did you know that the Bee Gee’s hit song “Stayin’ Alive” is the best song to have stuck in your head while performing CPR? It’s all about the rhythm, or the compressions per minute. And how fitting is that song title? I wonder how many lives the Bee Gees have saved just by writing that catchy little tune.

But prior to CPR (and the Bee Gees), there was the Silvester’s Method. It was occasionally referred to as Sylvester’s Method, as you can see from the illustrations I found in The Soldier’s Handbook published in 1909.

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When I was a little girl I had quite the crush on Andy Gibb. It was probably because of his hair. He had great hair. My early childhood and teenage crushes all had really great hair – Eddie Rabbit, Jon Bon Jovi, Sebastian Bach, etc. But I digress. The reason I bring up Andy Gibb is to point on the irony of his early death. Andy died from complications of myocarditis which causes sudden cardiac arrest and even death – a death that, incidentally, can sometimes be prevented by administering CPR.

GOTR: A Modern Day Land Run

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Gentlemen of the Road stage – photo taken early on Day One

Our little family of three spent the majority of this past weekend in a town just north of Oklahoma City called Guthrie. It used to be the once-thriving capital of the Oklahoma Territory. During the Land Run on April 22, 1889, the small rail stop of Guthrie boomed into a city of over 10,000 people by nightfall. A little over two decades later, Oklahoma City was chosen to be the capital after statehood was granted and Guthrie was eventually left behind.  Today, Guthrie’s population still remains around 10,000.

That all changed last week. The Gentlemen of the Road tour (featuring Alabama Shakes, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and, of course, Mumford & Sons) came into town Friday, more than tripling Guthrie’s population. Again, people poured in from all over the Plains region to claim their plot of land at the Cottonwood Flats. Vying for precious ground on which to throw a blanket was a fairly easy thing to do. We weren’t staking a claim on which to raise a family; we only wished for a decent spot that had a good view of the stage.

As with any concert and, I’ll assume, outdoor music festival – since this one was my first – there is always the risk of being confronted with people who are too tall, too drunk, or just ridiculously rude. We were lucky in that none of these people moved in on our land until the last day of the festival. They also happened to show up during the last hour when Mumford & Sons took the stage. Three particularly giant men managed to steal a few square feet of space ahead of us and block out the entire stage with just their shoulders alone. I didn’t have time to name each one of them, so they more or less became a race of people I called Ginormica. Two blankets in front of us, a guy we named “Sage” (based on the name written on his backpack) smoked a few joints and introduced my kid to her first real whiff of pot. She’s gonna learn sometime…

During a lively Mumford jam session on stage, we encountered Drunk Chicken Man. Drunk Chicken Man decided to stand directly in front of Elle and me even though there were plenty of other plots of space to occupy. Perhaps to make up for the intrusion, Drunk Chicken Man generously offered our blanket neighbor some grilled chicken, forcing the shredded meat into the confused man’s hand. He politely and then not-so politely declined, so Drunk Chicken Man took back the chicken leg with his bare hand and passed it over to my daughter. The WTF? look on her face was fantastic. We yelled at him out of pure shock, but with nobody around willing to share in the feast, Drunk Chicken Man moved on.

When Mumford & Sons quieted down, they began playing a beautifully soft and mesmerizing piece. It was difficult to enjoy, though, with the drunk trio of loud guffawers sitting behind us. My husband remarked in their direction, “Shut up!” to no avail. Finally, after a good two minutes or so of boisterous laughter, he marched over to them and said, “You do realize that you’re ruining this beautiful song for everyone within a 20-foot radius so why don’t you just shut the fuck up?” MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. We didn’t hear another peep from them for the rest of the night.

Beards, they can be intimidating, and Mumfordland is full of beards. Those three didn’t stand a chance.

Saturday evening, sick from the heat and exhausted from the long weekend, we packed up our belongings and returned to Oklahoma City. It’s the second time this century that Guthrie’s population has fallen significantly due to people moving on to the “new” state capital. Instead of trains, the city was overrun with trolleys and SUVs. And the Union Jack was prominently displayed throughout the town to honor the musicians who had managed to coordinate such a fantastic weekend. This time, it seems, Guthrie is doing just fine after the hasty departure of more than 25,000 people. There is no worry that financial despair or a decades-long depression will thrust the economy into the red dirt again. In fact, local businesses were thrilled to have such a busy weekend and local residents were probably just as happy to see us finally leave.

P.S. For the record, we did not stake our claim on Friday and sit there all weekend. We’re not crazy. We did, however, manage to stake our claim on Saturday near our first day claim. Both locations were nicely plotted and, for the most part, our neighbors were great.

Recent Happenings

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Our mornings come early these days. The alarm goes off at 5:30 and in an hour we’re all out the door (Matt to work, Elle and I to the bus). Because the weather has been so nice in the mornings, I have been taking the dogs for walks to the bus stop. One at a time, of course. By the time I get back home from my morning walk it’s barely 7 o’clock (which is what time I was waking up last year to get Elle ready for school).

6th grade is fantastic, so far. Elle is having none of the problems she experienced last year. Three very good reasons why:

  • She was more liked by her 5th grade classmates than she believed
  • Her middle school is a blending of five area elementary schools which, to me, means more kids to choose to be your friends
  • She has learned her lesson – guns, politics, and God are very touchy topics of discussion no matter which age group you belong to

Elle is finally confident enough in herself to wear black & white polka-dotted skinny jeans and blue streaks in her hair. She even shared with her teacher how badly she wants to be a medical examiner when she grows up. Her English teacher, whom we met last night, just loved how unique Elle’s career goals are. “You wouldn’t believe how every kid writes down the same thing!” When I asked Elle later what that same thing was, she replied, “Vet. Everybody writes down that they want to be a vet!” I had to laugh at this. I, as well as many of my childhood friends, wrote this down once as a career goal. I also once wanted to be an Olympic gymnast, a children’s book writer, and Jon Bon Jovi’s wife. But, alas…

Elle  is on her way to becoming the only person in our family who can play an instrument. She didn’t get assigned the instrument she thought she would like best (clarinet or the flute), but was instead assigned the trumpet. I was thrilled! She claims my excitement over this is because of the band Beirut. Probably. But Cake, Dave Matthews Band, and Paul Simon also use trumpets, so there. For the record, she’s pretty thrilled, too. The flute and clarinet were too difficult for her to get just right due to her braces so she’s eagerly awaiting the arrival of her 1963 King 602 cornet next week. That is on top of the basic school supplies and the fabric I have to purchase for her sewing assignment in Personal Development class…

Who knew middle school was so freakin’ expensive?

As far as my schooling goes, I CAN’T BELIEVE I AM ALMOST DONE. I’ve been in and out of colleges since 1994, but I only just got serious and hunkered down in 2008. The only things that stand between me and my bachelor’s degree are a Level II Spanish course and a 30-page thesis on the American narrative. It’s a topic of my own choosing and I am really enjoying it so far. The professor who was assigned to me to help guide me through this process is one I have had before. She taught a narrative writing course that I took over the summer and she really likes my writing style. I’m feeling pretty lucky when it comes to my thesis.

On the other hand, Spanish…I have no words. In English or in Spanish. Even the Spanish-speaking have difficulty speaking Spanish, as evidenced in the video below (which was provided to me by my Spanish-speaking friend from Puerto Rico). If you have ever tried to learn Spanish, you’ll get a laugh out of this.

 

In other news:

  • Winter is coming. The Farmer’s Almanac is threatening my region with being “unusually wet and frosty”. Today it will be 97 degrees. I’ve got some time and I want to enjoy it while I can.
  • Our tickets for the Gentlemen of the Road stopover arrived a few days ago. I’m looking forward to enjoying good music in the historic town of Guthrie. And it’s only 30 minutes away so I get to come home each night and sleep in my own bed!
  • Speaking of music, I shared a few of my favorite 80s rock videos with my daughter last night. Def Leppard, you rock my world. STILL.
  • I think I purchased the wrong kind of cucumber seedlings from the Farmer’s Market in the spring. A few have come around, but they taste like shit. Bitter, all rind, no meat.
  • Purple okra is less slimy than green okra, but it turns green when you grill it. I really wanted to eat purple okra, though. It’s my favorite color.
  • I don’t normally get nervous about political maneuvers, but this whole business with Syria makes me nervous. I recently watched a documentary from 2008 called The Listening Project. If you can’t watch the film, at least watch this trailer. It might make you think a little differently about the United States’ involvement in just about anything. The Tanzanian gentleman hits the nail on the head (around the 6:00 mark).