Wednesday, April 8, 2020

R.I.P., John Prine

John Prine's songs told the story of my life (really all of our lives, I bet) armed with a crystal ball and a magical rearview mirror with perfect vision. He was the troubadour through every romance I've had--the soundtrack to so many moments-- the sad and the jubilant, the sorry and the unforgiven, the transcendent and the earthly.

"How the hell can a person go to work in the morning, and come home in the evening and have nothing to say?" The Someone and I shook our heads over that line a million times, stunned by it, thanking our lucky stars we weren't like that. Until we were. The last few years of the marriage there could not have been a more perfect  description of our lives.

I saw John Prine for the first time in Knoxville in 1974. Life was messy that year. Back from a year backpacking through Europe, too broke to go back to college, feeling unwelcome in my mom's house since she'd remarried, I went down to Knoxville to stay with a friend and got a job as an art model at the university there. For the Freshman drawing classes, it was required that I wear a leotard and chalk a mark to show where my navel was. For the older students, I modeled nude, as is the normal procedure for figure drawing classes. I sold my blood plasma for extra cash in Knoxville. It was a great scheme. Until it wasn't. With two sources of income, I could afford to buy a ticket to John Prine. I didn't even know who he was. My friend said he was good. He sat alone on stage on a wooden stool with a six pack of beer at his feet, every now and then prying the top off a fresh one. As I recall it in my mind's eye, he was in the center of a pool of light. The theater was silent, transfixed, that golden light spreading, enveloping every heart in the room.

I last saw John Prine in June of 2011 at the Orpheum Theater in downtown L.A. for Dan's birthday. The night was a marvel. How the hell could a person write so damn many great songs? Two days later I got on a plane to Minneapolis to do stuff at my condo in St. Paul. Closets, shelves for the pantry. I imagined living in Minnesota someday. The next week I went out to Baltimore to see my mom who was living with my brother and his girlfriend. My mother was still recovering after almost dying after her lung cancer surgery. My brother was having a hip replacement. Every night I listened to music before I went to sleep. I know Prine was on that soundtrack.

For the past few years a friend and I have regularly checked John Prine's schedule, hoping to catch him somewhere. It never worked out. Somehow he released an album in 2018 that I missed. I bought it today. I'm gonna take it one song at a time. I've started with the last song. It's called "When I Get to Heaven."

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Who's Zoomin' Who?

Visiting Dan in 2014

I feel stunned most of the time. Loved ones on the front lines. Me here, sometimes feeling I'm barely earning my right to breathe our virus tinged air.

I am, without a doubt, an introvert. I was never so exhausted as when I was teaching English. I was in my 30s then, and the constant talking, explaining, teaching destroyed every ounce of energy every single day. This is my way of saying that, in some ways, my life is unchanged, that I'm fine with lock-down. I could tell you too, that my life has been turned upside down. Both are true.

I have made a schedule for my self, a routine, a checklist. It's a lifeboat. An anchor.

Here's a photo of my old neighborhood in California with a cloud shaped like an exclamation point

I read the news, do a t'ai chi chih practice, yoga (unless it's a day off to rest my wrists.) I write, read, practice drawing with the lessons in "Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain." There are bookbinding projects. I do Duolingo French lessons. Yesterday I found the juggling balls and added juggling. I could juggle well enough in the summer of 1975 that I did it day after day in a commedia dell'arte. 

I sit in my big chair by the window in my bedroom and let memories roll by like clouds.
Memories of hospital rooms, being masked and gowned, visiting Dan whose white count and platelet numbers were all wrong time after time in the months before he died.
Visiting my mother from the hallway when I was 18, and she was in the hospital recovering/not recovering from surgery with pneumonia and a staph infection.
I remember my own bleary hospital time, her at my bedside every day during a long Minnesota January. I remember the sirens the day the poet John Berryman jumped off the Washington Avenue Bridge. Something's going on out there she said, standing by the window in her high heels, me flat on my back. lashed to the bed, in traction.
The thing is, everything is worse than all that now.

But my god, there are ridiculously funny things on the internet. I was laughing almost unable to stop at midnight last night. There's amazing writing and art. I'm talking to friends almost every day. Zooming them. Remember that Aretha Franklin song from the 80's? Who's Zoomin' Who? I just might zoom everyone I know.