If you’re familiar with Elle King’s music that heading might make you do a double take. I have to say I’ve never seen a show at a church before so was trepidatious myself. When my husband found out there wouldn’t be drinks (it’s a church for christ’s sake) he almost became seditious.
All the Yelp reviews I read ahead of time (I was hoping to find one that said it was BYOB) raved over the acoustics. It was indeed a nice space but waiting for Elle’s set (she was opening for David Ramirez) was super awkward. We were sitting on pews. With nothing to do but fuck around on our phones. I actually attempted to be a social creature and asked the people sitting near me if they had heard of the opener. They said no but immediately became interested when I said that was who I came to see. A woman a few seats down leaned over and said “We were listening to her in the car and… this is an all ages show!” I told the younger girl behind me she was notorious for covering “My Neck, My Back” and the affronted woman said, “Yes! That was it! I hope she doesn’t do it tonight.” Her husband offered, “Well if she used the correct anatomical terms maybe it would be okay.” (wut?) I was happy when Elle came on if only to avoid such awkward conversations with people dressed in shorts and flip-flops surrounded by bibles. And, in the end, her solo 45 minute set made every odd moment of the night worthwhile.
I first heard her after coming home from a late night out. My husband was passed out next to me but I was still awake, channel surfing, and came across a taping of Elle at the ACL studios on KLRU. “Who is this tattooed banjo-playing angel?” I wondered. Since then her precious few released tracks have always been on my faves playlist and I can’t wait until she releases her full-length record.
Tonight the only song she did off her “Playing for Keeps” EP was “Good to Be a Man,” which was fine as that’s probably my favorite of her tracks. She did another couple I recognized – “Easy Pleasing Girl” and “Good for Nothing Woman.” But every song she did whether I recognized it or not sounded great delivered in that huge space with huge voice and heart. There was no need for back-up band or bottle of beer to appreciate the music. (But the beer would have been nice.) The only other time I’ve seen her live was at the Blackheart during SXSW 2013. She was with a full band that night and more raucous after admitting she’d been downing fireballs all night. This show was a good contrast to that one and definitely put her talents out front and center.
Between songs she was chatty if perhaps a bit nervous. It was a huge packed church and everyone sat still and quiet, listening politely. She did get a good back and forth going with the crowd though and everyone seemed appreciative and into the show. It was like an Asylum Street Spankers show if everyone, including the band, was completely sober and the band didn’t do any of their filthy tunes. Not a bad concept because the musicianship is top notch but still, odd. Maybe I’m just too much of a fucking drunk. *Takes a swig of her Ruby Redbird. Realizes real drunks don’t drink beer with ginger and grapefruit flavors.*
Oh, and she got a standing O. Even from the lady who was terrified she might do a non-ratchet Khia cover. And she signed my phone case. Who do I get next? Is Joan Jett doing the rodeo again this year?
I can’t be angry about everything all the time. Everyday there’s some new scandal, some new offense against the world. But you have to pick and choose. I have to if I want to have energy to fight any battles at all. Don’t you ever get tired of being outraged? Do you have an off button?
The easiest way to not do something is to think you have to be really good at it. At least this has been the case for most of my life. I have done things. I’ve managed to read the entire Harry Potter series several times and I once drove non-stop to Detroit for a Beastie Boys concert. But I would be hard pressed to tell you I’ve been really good at something.
That’s because my idea of “good” is out of proportion to reality. Since I was a small child I’ve been led to believe that the only true measure of success is dubious outside accolade or public acclamation.
I was a precocious reader, reading well before Kindergarten. Writing and being good at school in general followed this and branded me “smart” (that badge being a double-edged sword as life would show.) For my father, who I will be bold enough to say was not so smart, this simply meant that I should be famous. Why? Because I could read several grade levels above my peers? I wasn’t writing novels or doing scientific research in my room. I was just a kid. This is something my father never grasped in many, many ways. Different story, moving on.
Once, when I was probably around six or seven, we were sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table and he told me I should write a letter to Dear Abby. “You could be famous.” (For the moment, let’s just let it slide that someone might believe you could become famous for writing a letter to a syndicated advice columnist.) His thinking was, I could read and write pretty good for a kid my age. But, hey, let’s do one better. You should be famous!
“What should I write a letter about?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Think of something.”
So now here I am, first grader, being told that I needed to do something to be famous and that I should figure that thing out on my own. Sadly, like so many other things that happen to us at that age, this one stuck.
I’m a logical person. I long ago abandoned the idea – on a conscious level – that one must be “famous” or lauded to be successful. No, fuck successful, how about just happy and fulfilled. (“Just” she smirks.)
Try as I might to walk away from this idea, it sticks in my mind like a piece of a kale salad might wedge itself in your molars except I have a hard time finding mind floss. (Please don’t send me a link to any cheesy book called “Floss for the Mind.” And if you written such a book, I apologize, I’m sure it’s lovely. Just don’t send it to me.) At 40 I still struggle everyday with the idea that I’m not good, I’m not successful, I’m not smart because I’m not famous, I haven’t had a book published, I don’t get phone calls from journalists asking me to lend my knowledge to a piece they’re working on (ok, that has happened but it’s too embarrassing to recount.) Last week I actually thought while listening to NPR one morning “I wish I could be someone called to give expert testimony in trials.” WHY??? I bet the expert testimony guy hates those calls. If you are one of those people, please drop me a line and tell me how much you hate doing it. It will make me feel so much better for not being recognized as an expert in any of the myriad activities and interests I hold.
But to my father these types of things are all that would matter. IF PEOPLE DON’T KNOW YOUR NAME YOU ARE SHIT. Damn, why didn’t I write that letter to Dear Abby when I was seven? All you muthafuckers would be bowing down to me now. I’d be the mother of dragons.
Yeah but anyway I didn’t and I’m not. How did I start this post? ::scrolls up:: Oh yeah “The easiest way to not do something is to think you have to be really good at it.” For the majority of my adult life I’ve either just survived (which is actually pretty damn good, another story, another time) or made myself sick trying to be the best at something which in the end I probably couldn’t give a shit about.
So, in the interest of actually trying to be happy, I am going to actively not be good at these things: writing; my job; reading “smart” books; reading “not smart” books; keeping a clean house; looking ten years younger; trying to make people know who the fuck I am. Because why do you care? Why do I care? I plan on being too busy not being the best at all of those things to notice.
Oh before moving on from this not-really-good post, one last anecdote about my father. Before he got sent away for his most recent prison sentence, we were speaking at that same table in my grandmother’s kitchen when he was going over (sentimentally?) some of the things I had done in my life during his first 20-year prison stint. He mentioned how I had always been “so meat and potatoes. You’ve always worked.” It’s standard to be brought up short by odd, fucked-up things people say but the three or so conversations I had with my father between prison terms always left me more tongue-tied than usual.
Later it occurred to me I should’ve pointed out that I was “meat and potatoes” because of him. His never holding a steady job because he was trying to launch a music magazine, or be a videographer or whatever other bullshit ventures he had, left us starving. I was meat and potatoes because I knew from watching him where the fool’s good of “fame and fortune” took you.
Oh, and yeah, I’d much rather have a desk job than be in prison.
(I’m not going back and proofing this b/c then I edit, reconsider and never hit publish. At this point in my actively being bad at writing effort, it’s just got to be bad and stream-of-conscious. Sorry non-existent reader.)
I’ve deleted my twitter app – again – and this time Instagram as well. Kept Facebook as people I know wind me up far less than people I don’t. Funny, that.
The need to let words fall out of my face hole still exists but maybe I can be satisfied doing it someplace like here. Nobody knows I exist here.
Of course I can always reinstall those apps. We’ll see how long I can hold out. I’m about to go break one of my other promises to myself right now. Ta!
I’ll admit that my anxiety over turning forty was a bit ridiculous. So many of my friends had already made the jump. Everyone already there told me how great it was. Thirty-nine was one of the pretty coolest years of my life and forty already has great stuff lined up. So what in the hell was I tripping about?
I haven’t been able to let go of this idea that my life is halfway over. There’s a lot of fallacy in that statement. Obviously none of us are promised anything. We could go any day. Or I could be one of those crones who lives to 105. Who knows. I’m shooting for the latter but spirits willing we only have so much control.
My kicking and screaming about aging with dignity also demonstrates the general wamp wamp attitude I’ve had towards life, well, all of my life. Halfway over? Fuck, why not think “Damn! I’ve got as much life to live as I’ve already lived. And it feels like a lot! I’m a lucky bitch to be 40!” Indeed. That will be my mantra for the next year: “I’m a lucky bitch to be 40.”
(I was going to write some other stuff about not going to see your obgyn the day before you turn 40. The convos which could be had are generally not the kind that encourage my newly minted mantra. Perhaps another blog when I’m feeling more “kids, lolz.” My mood’s been too good today.)
Because the first half was bad, this second half will be good.
Because my body and heart were treated as a garbage disposal in the past, I will work to fill my heart and soul with light in the future.
Because my mind has grooves worn by habit to always seek pain, I will carve new grooves that only seek good.
Because at one time the only thing that helped a scared girl survive his visits in the night were the words that came from her typewriter during the day, this grown woman will sit in front of her laptop and not let that girl’s words disappear.
Because what he did to me is still done to little girls and grown women every day, I won’t lock the door to that past. He can’t hurt me anymore but I can help them.
Because a privileged few continue to build fences keeping the unprivileged in their place, I will help them build ladders and then we’ll knock the fences down together.
Because institutions controlled by men tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her body, I will shout loud enough to drown them out.
Because I’ve been kicked down, shit on, and left for dead doesn’t mean I’ve given up the belief that we can help each other to stand up, stay strong, and stay alive.
Because I almost didn’t survive the first half of my life, I am going to thrive in the second half.
It’s time for a new life, a second one, and this one will be good.