Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …

It’s Wednesday and the temple is finally completed and open. As soon as the day begins to cool down, I head out for a little private ceremony I’ve been contemplating for weeks. I have two fine ladies to pay tribute to. One is the mother of a friend who died a few months ago, leaving these last words.

I had such a great time, y’all.

I’ve been wearing her bright orange shawl, trying to carry her spirit of joy with me here at Burning Man.

The other is my own mother, who died ten years ago. I some ways I feel like I never fully mourned her and this seems like the right time and place. I settle into a soft spot in the dust, armed with a sharpie, prepared to leave my tributes on one of the many two by fours that form this beautiful open air construction.

I leave Judy’s last words, and have moved onto crafting something for my mom, when I notice raucous music getting louder. What? This is supposed to be the one quiet place for reflection. How rude are these people?

I keep writing and let the tears flow, tears I never could summon before. It feels good but the music is getting louder and harder to ignore. I listen.

It’s jazz. New Orleans jazz to be precise, and I realize this is a funeral procession for someone else, being mourned in a way that is fitting to them. Of course it is appropriate here. My irritation dissipates, and I return to my own ceremony.

Then I notice just how big the procession is. It’s got to be hundreds of people, maybe more. They are getting closer to the temple, lead with a banner featuring a likeness I recognize. It’s of Larry Harvey, one of founders of Burning Man and friend to so many who are here.

I’m happy to let my private tears coexist with this noisy tribute. Then I realize the trajectory of this procession will take it into the temple via one of the many curved entrances, and it happens to be the one in which I’m sitting in the dust crying. I’m about to be in the way of the largest single act of mourning ever held at Burning Man.

I take a quick photo of what I’ve written so far, and crawl through a gap in the wood just in time. The music is deafening as the parade passes me and skydivers jump out of airplanes above.

Sorry about that, mom. Bad timing.

I hear her laughter in my head. She had a way of seeing the humor in the bizarre and it occurs to me she might have found this rather funny. I let myself laugh as well. What were the odds?

Her laughter mingles with mine and I think maybe it is a better tribute to her than all the tears I could shed.

I leave the friends of Larry Harvey to their celebration of his life, and head out to the deep playa to enjoy the dusk. I’ve been wanting to ride all the way out to the perimeter since I got here and this seems to be the perfect time.

I’m back to searching the day’s events to find my rules of the road. Today offers multiple options.

It’s good to go out to the edge.

Or if you find yourself in the path of a parade, either join in or get out of the way.

Both good advice, but I’m choosing if you get interrupted by a parade, laugh.

As to the song of the day, that one is easy. What else could it be?

 

 

 

Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home

I left Kansas when I was 17 years old, and I remain surprised at the number of Wizard of Oz references I still get when I tell someone where I was born and raised. Today I am off the road, enjoying the town I once called home. To my delight, it remains surprisingly familiar.

There is lunch with a childhood friend at a restaurant my family frequented when I was a kid. There is a visit to a small parcel of land my sister and I still own, and to the little oil well on it. I say my thanks for the dribble of extra income both provide

It has been six years since I’ve seen my parents’ graves. I put fresh flowers there, knowing the Kansas wind and August sun will reduce them to nothing by the end of week. It’s the thought that counts, or at least I hope it is.

My cousin takes me on a tour of the town. The college is bigger, there are more hotels and restaurants which he proudly points out. He wants me to know the town is thriving and growing. He doesn’t understand that I’m so happy to know it is still much the same as I remember it.

We drive by the building that used to house my fathers shop, a small electronics business. It was turned into a run down pawn store after his death, and I winced whenever I passed it. But look! It has a new life now, as a pet grooming shop. The grounds are clean and the building looks well cared for and I acknowledge some changes around town can be for the better.

I knew before I began my day what my Rule of the Road #8 would be. Get off the road once in awhile, and look around.

I also knew what my song of the day would be. It really was no contest. Yes, I know it has been overplayed, but trust me, if you had listed to as many dumb jokes about Toto and Auntie Em as I have, you’d want this song here too.

It comes to you all the way from Hawaii, the beautiful home of this artist.

 

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

 

Day 7. Cry

Didn’t think to look at the weather forecast, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I needed to get from Omaha to Hays Kansas today and the drive was going to get done, rain or shine. It turned out to be rain, and lots of it. At least today Google and I agreed on the best route.

I put Hays into this trip because it is the deepest of my roots, the place where I was born and raised, where I came back to be married, and where both of my parents are buried, along with any other ancestor who died after arriving in the U.S. It’s been six years since I was here, and as I cross into Kansas on Highway 81, the rain and the destination combine to form a sense of melancholy.

I have a playlist called 26 songs for sad times. (Yes, I really do like making playlists for everything.) Starting it is a good call; everyone of those 26 speaks to me behind the steady thwank of the windshield wipers, and in that odd way, their sorrow eases mine.

I end the medley the way it began, with Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness. It helps me understand Rule of the Road #7. It’s okay if some of your travels make you sad. Go ahead and cry.

The rain lets up as I turn onto Interstate 70 in Salina and as I head west, the sky turns blue. As I approach Hays. I coax myself out of the car to a take selfie by an old limestone sign. The truck whiz past me and I know; tomorrow will be a different sort of day.

 

More

The logic of time travel is so problematic. Go backwards and you mess up the present. Go forwards, and you’ve negated free will. It’s a message from the universe, a flashing neon sign saying “Forget it. This doesn’t work!”

Yet we do it everyday.

I live nearly half my life in the future, imaging the fascinating ways I prove myself to be smarter, kinder and stronger than anyone thinks I am, including me. The world revolves around me in these imagined scenes, which is probably why none of them has ever come true.

I also live nearly half my life in the past. I don’t mean to, but music hurls me there with a force I can’t resist. A few bars of a song from a certain 1962 Italian documentary no one has ever heard of throws me onto a piano bench where I am 13 years old, at my 8th grade graduation, scared to death.

For some bizarre reason I’ve been coerced into performing a duet for the ceremony, along with my best friend who actually plays the piano well. I’ve been given the easy part, but I am still praying to all the gods I’ve ever heard of for the strength to not screw this up. Absolutely everyone in my young life looks on as I strike that first note. I focus. I breath. I begin to play.

Dates remembered have much the same effect as music. I’m at a qigong retreat right now, and smack in the middle of it is the 10 year anniversary of my mother’s death. This was not an easy, gentle exit, and if I ever do go see a therapist it will be the first thing I’ll tackle. But there are no therapists here, only other practitioners lost in their own worlds, on their own paths. They murmur sympathy when I mention the day’s significance to me, but none ask for details.

It’s not my way to burst into tears or otherwise demand attention, so I muddle through the day, lost in the past, reliving the ten year old question of whether I could have or should have done anything different. I know I need to let go of the memories, and be here now, but then More, the song More, sneaks back into my head as a single note melody. Oops.

It’s my wedding day and I’m stumbling around to this tune in a long white dress while everyone I know watches. My husband of a few hours hands me off to my father; dad and I stumble together. I inherited his lack of rhythm, so we laugh at the silliness of our efforts and I’m glad I don’t know that he’ll be dead of cancer fourteen years later.

Stop it, I tell myself. Stop it. You and your father danced fine. There was nothing better you could have done for your mother. You can’t change anything that has come tumbling down on you since that day you sat at a piano and played More. Which, by the way, you did do and it went fine.

So focus. Breath. Do it in the now.

I force the past from my mind, and at least for a moment, time stands still.

 

Remember My Name

Do you want to be famous? Why?

The idea of strangers knowing who I am and caring about what I do holds no appeal for me, but of course individual tastes do vary. If you crave your ten minutes of fame, or ten years of it, I wish you well.

There is one thing I do want from you, though, although I suppose it makes no more sense than fame. I want you, or a few people in general, to remember my name. Wait, my name isn’t important. Just remember what I said. Remember something I wrote.

I’m tearing apart the reasons I’ve spent years writing novels, as a way to find a path forward for me, the books I’ve written and my future writing. So far I’ve acknowledged that I write for the sheer joy of it and for the massive amount of things I’ve learned. I write for therapy and play money. I write for praise.

Today, I face the fact that one of the reasons I write is to leave something behind.

“Oh, so you want to be immortal?” you ask. No. I’ve studied too much astrophysics to think anything in this universe will last forever, and enough history to know that few humans leave a noticeable footprint more than a few generations into the future.

The key word to me is noticeable.

Somewhere in my heart, I think if you leave something of value behind, it will affect others who will do the same and so on. Yes, I’m enough of a realist to expect the effect to diminish with time, and to recognize our life expectancy as a species probably isn’t all that long, anyway.

So? It’s not an influence that lasts forever I’m after. However, the idea of leaving a little of me here for awhile is something I’m driven to do. Like I said, individual tastes do vary.

“Why don’t you just have children?” you may ask. Excellent question. I did that and they’re wonderful. If all goes well, I will leave them behind. Whether any of them will go on to produce children of their own remains to be seen, but I don’t think my desire to leave something of myself on this planet should be a driving factor in our relationship. They’ve got their own paths to follow, and that may or may not include passing my fine genetic material along.

Years ago I read a book of short stories called Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Each tale takes place in an eccentric bar, and involves a mildly sci-fi premise. To the best of my recollection only one character who wanders in is female, which is maybe why her story stuck with me. She’d lived for centuries, long enough to see every one of her descendants perish until finally she had none. The knowing made her sad. Like I said, the story stuck with me.

“Well, you could get out there and do some good works and leave your mark on this world that way,” you could suggest, and a fine suggestion it would be. I think we should all do that, and I’m trying to do my part. But, it’s not the same thing.

We are each driven by what we are. I want to write something that outlives me. Maybe I’ve done it already and maybe it is yet to happen. Either way I’ll probably never know. Based on Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, I see how not knowing can be a better thing.

Whatever the situation is, though, it sounds like I better keep writing.

But first, I’m going to take a minute and enjoy this great video.

 

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, My Eye-opening Second Reason for WritingI write because it’s cheaper than therapy, Nothing cool about modest ambitions and I love to be loved.)

 

Missing the Eclipse: There is Always Another?

I’ve wanted to see a total eclipse of the sun for as long as I can remember. I was a child who was fascinated by astronomy. By sixth grade I’d read every book that Jefferson West Elementary School had on the subject and I’d moved on to the Hays public library and was making pretty good progress there.

But it takes money, often a lot of money, to get the the remote locations in which that thin strip of totality seems to always lie. So, imagine my excitement when I read last February that a swatch of total eclipse was going to reach from Oregon to my home state of North Carolina.

Then, imagine my reaction when I realized that I would not be here for the big event. Days earlier I had booked non-refundable airline tickets for four to Kenya for the safari trip of a lifetime. No, the eclipse would not be visible in Kenya. No, the tickets could not be changed. Maybe I should have checked, but seriously, who looks at a schedule of eclipses before they plan a trip?

I cut my losses, focused on the excitement of my upcoming journey, and tried to ignore the ever-increasing hype about the eclipse as mid-August approached.

I had a great time in Kenya. And, the good old reliable sun provided me with a lot of beautiful photos, so I didn’t feel completely cheated out of celestial beauty.

Meanwhile, some of those closest to me headed over to nearby Charleston SC for nature’s big show. Our home near Asheville wasn’t in the path of totality. But, we have kin in Charleston, and it seemed like  a terrific place to view an eclipse: all that wide expanse of ocean, all those great restaurants and things to do, and a relative’s condo that was available for free.

Only the total eclipse didn’t happen quite as expected. Yes, the moon passed in front of the sun for a couple of minutes, but it never got dark, like in the NASA photo shown at the top of this post. It was more dusky, like part way through a sunset. According to some theories, light from outside the totality band was reflected off of the ocean, preventing complete darkness. Whatever the cause, an iPhone captured totality like this. It was a cool experience, according to those who were there, but not quite the extreme event they were lead to expect.

I’m in Charleston today, thinking about the eclipse that I missed. That was about 28 days ago and we are back to the new moon. This time, the moon won’t pass directly in front of the sun, at least from where I am sitting. But it will from somewhere, even if that somewhere is out in space.

Sooner or later, I hope to find a way to put myself directly in that shadow. Will the experience live up to all of my expectations? Maybe. Maybe not.

Meanwhile, here is how the sun, and that invisible new moon, are looking today in the Charleston area, just one full cycle of the moon later.

Not too shabby. If this is the best solar event I get to see for awhile, I’m not going to feel so bad about it.

 

And that’s the way it was, June 10 1947

She turned twenty-one that day, and married her high school sweetheart. He was about to turn twenty-two, and had already returned from the war, smoking cigarettes and telling tales of the motorcycle he had learned to ride. She thought that he seemed pretty full of himself since his return, but she married him anyway at the small country church in the town in which she was raised. A 9:00 mass was followed by a giant buffet lunch which was followed by an afternoon of drinking and dancing and then a lavish dinner with more dancing and drinking after that.

It’s a wonder marriages got consummated after such a day, but they did. She was a farm girl, and astounded to discover that the male human had parts quite similar to all the male animals for which she cared. That possibility had never occurred to her. She and her husband would laugh about that for years.

On June 10, 1957 she wore pink costume jewelry and put her black hair in a Liz Taylor style coiffure. She dressed her little daughters in pink frills too as the family celebrated the tenth anniversary of the big day. Then she and her husband had highballs, and went out for steaks. They were living the good life.

On June 10, 1972 they went to Hawaii to celebrate their 25th anniversary. When they returned they hosted a luau for all their friends, wearing shiny silver clothes and passing out leis make from real flowers. Most people thought that there had never been a party quite like it before in all of Western Kansas.

On June 10, 1987 they had a ruby-themed celebration of their 40th anniversary. Their daughters, partners and grand kids all dressed in bright red and the parish priest graciously allowed the crimson festivities to flow into an anniversary mass with family members performing special songs and readings. He did remark quietly that his church had never seen anything quite like it before.

On June 10, 1997 her children and grandchildren consoled her as best they could. A small birthday cake, and giving her the time and space to cry, seemed the best they could do. She kept a photo of him next to her cake.

On June 10, 2006 her family took her on a cruise for her eightieth birthday. She was recovering from pneumonia and could barely make the trip, but she tried to have fun. She would never fully regain her strength after that.

And today, on June 10, 2017, several people will raise a glass and drink to what began seventy years ago. Every day has its events, they always cause some ripples. Many of those last a century or more.

But only a few days have the power, seven decades later, to bring a smile to the lips of those weren’t even there, and who owe their very world to what happened on that day.

(For more segments about June days from long ago, see That’s the Way It Was June 15, 1984, June 18, 1972, June 28, 1888, and June 30, 1940.)