A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.
Last night we went out to dinner with a couple of friends and I experienced what for me are the worst and the best aspects of returning to society, all in the space of a few hours. Fortunately they occurred in that order.
We arrived at the restaurant they had suggested a few minutes after they did. We were, they said, second on the list for an outside table with a 20-30 minute wait time. We waited, unable to have any kind of conversation because of the noise level, watching people stream in and out of the front entrance. Some were masked, most weren’t.
After forty minutes or so I had to step out, and walked around the parking lot to clear my head. By the time I got to the lower level lot the music was loud instead of deafening and after a few minutes I made my way back to the foyer. Twenty minutes later our friend went in to ask about the delay in seating and was told there was a trivia game going on that wouldn’t end until nine or so, and many of the tables would remain occupied until that time. At that point we decided to give up on the possibility of an outside table, ordered our food to go, and followed our friends to their house nearby. We had a very pleasant meal and a couple of hours of equally pleasant conversation (which would have been impossible at the restaurant unless we were willing to shout).
The trip to the restaurant reminded me of many things I dislike about socializing, and my visit with my friends reminded me of the things I’ve been missing, the important connections that feed us and remind us of the value of human contact. I’m glad we bailed on the restaurant, and I’m wondering when or if I’ll be willing to put up with the crowds and the noise to share a meal with friends when all I really want to do is have the kind of conversation that flows from topic to topic, allows us to touch base with each other, laugh or commiserate, tell stories, and share our triumphs and setbacks both large and small with folks we care about and who care about us. That’s a big deal, and I think this past year or so has reminded us of how essential it is.
I’m pleased to announce that Following Frankie, the fourth book in the Boone series, will be released June 4th; the ebook is available for pre-order now on Amazon. If you haven’t met Boone yet, check out the first three books in the series, available in both print and ebook versions.
I’m waiting for the call that says my new glasses are ready, and for the proof of Following Frankie to arrive so I can give it one last look before publication, and for whatever winter this is to blow on through and let spring settle in, and for the results of the blood test I was supposed to have had done seven months ago except for this pandemic. I’m waiting for my first in-person meeting with Kavya, and for my first steps back into the world to be a little less hesitant, and for the next project to suggest itself to me, and for musicians to start gathering again at the community center so I can join in, and, as the poet said, I am perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder.
And I’m thankful that I have yet to be disappointed by that last one.
Yesterday afternoon we attended a performance of John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit” at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens. We heard it first five years ago at Mead’s Quarry in Ijams Nature Center, also here in Knoxville. That performance was the culmination of the Big Ears Festival of 2016. This was also a Big Ears event, the first one in about 14 months. An hour long percussion work performed outdoors, it’s an immersive experience; the performers are scattered all around the grounds, and the listeners can move among them to get a changing perspective on the piece as it unfolds. Today’s involved a smaller ensemble than the one five years ago, probably not more than two dozen percussionists, but it was still a wonderful experience.
I set out to attend today’s event with mixed feelings. It’s been over a year since I did anything of a social nature, and I was uncertain, even a little scared (even though I’m vaccinated). After investing so much time and effort into staying safe and minimizing risk, going to a concert, even an outdoor one, was daunting.
There were no parking spaces when we arrived and we were directed to the overflow lot some distance away. After a brisk walk we entered the performance area and found many people already there, waiting for things to start. With very few exceptions, everyone was masked and maintaining a respectful distance from their fellow listeners, and once the music started, it became everyone’s focus. I looked around at the group of people, from babies in strollers to elderly couples, and they were all transfixed by the performance taking place all around them. The few people who talked did so in whispers so low there was no interference in my enjoyment of the music. It was a lovely experience. Magical.
We were at a friend’s home for dinner the other night, the first time since the pandemic hit that we thought about venturing out. Since the vaccine became available and more people are getting their shots, it’s becoming possible to do some things that in the past were ordinary but right now seem special.
The conversation meandered around from one subject to another, as it often does when friends get together, and at one point our host was talking about a young couple he knew who were dealing with an overbearing in-law/parent. He said that the father-in-law tried to provoke the young woman, but she didn’t take the bait. The phrase he used was, “She wouldn’t pick up her end of the rope.”
What great imagery that is. If you visualize ego-driven confrontations as a tug-of-war, then by far the best and easiest way to counter them is to refuse to pick up your end of the rope.
He grew up in the Midwest — Wisconsin, I believe — but I didn’t think to ask him if that was a regional idiom or one he picked up somewhere else (or made up himself). In any case, it’s good advice for all of us, I think. If we find ourselves being provoked into a confrontation, it’s a good technique to try, and an easy solution if it works.
I believe in the power of art, and that it is worth our support. Artists see things the rest of us miss, say things that we sometimes didn’t even know needed to be said, and shine much needed light into some pretty dark places. They are valuable members of society, and I’m not usually able to support them as much as I would like. Money that I didn’t expect to have recently appeared in my account, and that has given me an opportunity to, as they say, put my money where my mouth is. As part of my decision to use my stimulus money to support the arts, I asked some local authors to choose one of their works, autograph it, and sell it to me. The choice of which book to offer and how much to charge was left entirely up to them.
I had authors refuse to accept any money and tell me to use what I would have given them to buy a book from someone else. Some quoted me a discounted price. Some quoted me the retail price, and a couple offered to mail me the book and refused to let me cover the cost of the postage.
One spread out all five of his books and asked me to choose. When I repeated that it was his decision which one to sell me as well as how much to ask for the book, he picked one and said, “That will be $60.00.” He signed it, I wrote him a check, and he handed me what was obviously a used copy of one of his books.
It’s been an interesting exercise so far; one thing I’ve been reminded of is that how a person receives a gift says very little about the giver and quite a lot about the recipient. I had people tell me to act as their agent to support someone else’s efforts, people graciously accept the gift as it was given, and one person who saw an opportunity to unload a used book at a high price.
It’s good for me to do this kind of thing when I can. I’m learning that as a giver, I am handing over the decision about how to respond to the recipient, and I need to truly let go. Also, I’m trying to learn that as a receiver my best response is to say “thank you,” and accept the gift in the spirit it’s being given. I’m still working on that part. I sometimes see a gift as assigning some kind of obligation to me to reciprocate, which misses the point completely and, more importantly, deprives the giver of something they had set out to do. It’s funny how I sometimes make it more difficult for people to be kind to me. Not impossible, you understand. Just awkward.