Thursday, April 25, 2013

The only way out is through.

If my life is a battlefield, it's a battlefield at a music festival. It's a wide, gorgeous green field, or it's the desert, with infinite stages, infinite performances, infinite perfect moments, infinite people, with the constant threat of loss, with the constant threat of heartbreak, but with constant reminders that I am surrounded on all sides by love and brilliance and light at all times. As I've walked myself through the past two weeks, I've felt like a tourist in my own life, but in the most magnificent way. Like everything that has happened has been staged for my enjoyment. Like every wonderful moment is planted along this path through this music festival battlefield just waiting to be enjoyed. For instance, I live under this sky. I get to spend a weekend afternoon collecting sea critters from tide pools with newly discovered friends, and I get to drive to yoga in an ocean of color and palm trees and slightly salted air toward an evening with yet another new friend who has created a space for people like me to explore their physical and mental strength.

Here is a small tour of my battlefield:

1. To the east is Modest Mouse who played in Pomona last week. I took a night time drive toward the desert to this college town to see my favorite band of all time play songs I knew would make me cry. Jake and I bonded over many bands, but one of the most important ones was Modest Mouse. "Black Cadillacs" reminds me of driving around the suburbs with my brother. "Custom Concern" reminds me of meeting my girls for the first time in college, the girls who've been my support system through all of this, the girls I met in Jake's Copper Nickel class the semester that I graduated. "Baby Blue Sedan" reminds me of this particular night with two people who are no longer in my life, because the lyrics to that song applied to the situation, not in their content, but in their sadness, in their hopelessness, in their resigned desperation. "Life of Arctic Sounds" reminds me of measuring the distance between Littleton and Los Angeles to make sure it wasn't more than 1100 miles because 1100 miles is too far inside a car. But most of all, everything about Modest Mouse reminds me of my solitude, reminds me of the desert, reminds me of Jake, kills me, then makes me feel strong. I started sobbing during "Trailer Trash." I don't even know why. It's one of the few songs with which I have no particular association, though I always have wanted to hang the liner notes to that album, The Lonesome Crowded West, in my future office because Jake did, had them hanging there on the top of his door next to a photo of himself in graduate school. I cried harder than I've ever cried at a show. And it felt right to be there, feeling absence through the presence of this music. I remembered the time I got beat up at a Modest Mouse concert because I was alone in the front row, and I realized that that's not my life anymore, that I'm no longer willing to suffer certain types of pain for the sake of anything. I drove home, west on the 10, listening to old episodes of This American Life, an episode about people you love and hate, who you have no idea what to do with. I felt Modest Mouse transforming my DNA into strands of their lyrics, into spaces that are ever expanding inside me. It was always worth it, that's the part I seem to hide

2. I had the best night I'd had in weeks spending two hours inside an AT&T store trying to buy an iPhone 5. Due to a series of delays related to all the ridiculous bureaucracy that is a large corporation like AT&T, G and D, the only employees in the store, spent hours talking with me, setting up my phone, talking again. Never have I loved humanity more than I did that night. I know I'm prone to hyperbole, but I'm not kidding. These two strangers turned a horribly anxious day into something hopeful and hysterically funny. I almost went back the next day just to hang out with them, but I didn't want to be greedy. The universe gave them to me the night before I had to dive right into yet another loss. And I was grateful for those couple hours of relief before the storm.
That's D. The store was empty. Freezing. Painfully lit. It was wonderful.

3. My zigzagging path through the past two weeks took me to Agoura Hills to spend an evening with my retired couple that I met on the airplane. They cooked me dinner and distracted me enough so that I could consume it without getting sick. They knew I needed to talk. They knew I needed to feel safe. They picked a perfect movie for us to watch, lit the wood burning fire place, and gave me a comfy chair and a blanket and instructions to cuddle up while the three of us watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The perfect movie: not too much about death, not too much about heartbreak, mostly about adventure and the surprises we never expect. They knew I didn't want to leave when it was over. They spent until midnight talking to me, sometimes about sadness, sometimes about other things, like The West Wing and how they met and good vegetarian places in my neighborhood. They sent me off with two new cactuses for my collection, a couple pieces of clothing, two movies for distracting myself, and a promise to have me over again as soon as they returned from their trip. There's something so relieving to me about being close with people who are unknown to the rest of the people in my life. These are my people. I met them myself, alone, on an airplane. We didn't become friends due to circumstance or familial relation. We became friends because I like to talk to nice people and Roberta likes to talk to nice people and we talked for 2.5 hours from Denver to LA and we decided we wanted to talk more outside the airplane. My family doesn't know them. My friends don't know them. No one else knows them. They are my safe place. They live just far enough from my house that I can escape whatever it is I don't want to deal with here, they live just enough in the suburbs that I can pretend I'm somewhere more familiar than this sprawling city by the sea.

4. Much of my battlefield is filled with small things I pass everyday that provide a context, a framework within which I exist. My almost daily walks to the Junction, my train rides to and from school, my drives east to west to see my cupcake, my drives west to east headed home. They're always filled with moonlit fog and lanky palm trees and innovative art and reminders of the natural world's existence, even in this grid of cement and asphalt and train tracks and car exhaust.

5. Even though I sometimes don't think I can bare to step outside my own skin when I'm hurting, I force myself into situations where I have to shrink myself down in a way that removes any space for sadness and allows only for the most concentrated, most committed version of myself. I've spent each Tuesday of the last two weeks doing that at 826la with my after school tutoring kids. [I've actually spent one day per week doing this since October, but these last two weeks in particular were special.] There's no room for personal tragedy when you're in a small building with 30 rambunctious children trying to do algebra and write stories. The first week, one of them gave me this sticker because she said it's the sticker that best matched my face that day [it was a rough day], and the second week, one of them, my ten year old best friend, gave me this drawing and bet me I wouldn't put it on my fridge. I cleared off a few photos and made room for her piece, photographed it up there as proof, and now she owes me three pages of writing.

6. Fellow student brings cupcakes to class. One of them mimics a hostest cupcake, my favorite childhood snack. Enough said. [Yes I switched to present tense because I want this moment to last forever.]

7. There are dreamlike phases of my walk. Like how the other night I had a dream that I was in some weird, giant metal concert hall and Sufjan Stevens, composer Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner from The National, seven trombone players, a drummer, and a sting quartet were all on a stage together and there was this giant orb floating above them and they were playing songs about outer space and the orb glowed and displayed crazy, spacey images and there were laser lights and the whole audience was like what the fuck is this because most of them had no idea what was going on. And it was a perfect dream because it was the epitome of what I imagine when I imagine my ideal musical experience. And it was a perfect dream because it actually happened two nights ago at the Disney Concert Hall in Downtown LA and I got to witness it and I got to cry through the entire performance, not out of sadness, but out of the deepest sense of awe that someone in this world made this thing and I got to be immersed entirely in it, surrounded by Angelenos who were shocked, confused, and quite happily surprised. Please please please watch this video for just a tiny taste of what happened. 
If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love Sufjan Stevens.

8. Another dreamlike stage in my battlefield was what happened the other night when we were all supposed to go to Brokechella [Cochella for us broke folks]. We ended up at the Hollywood Tower for a pre-Brokechella roof party, and we never left. N and I were the first to arrive, and before we even headed upstairs, we had a twenty minute photo shoot in the lobby because it is the most gorgeous lobby that has ever existed, we were all dressed up, and we couldn't help ourselves. A few residents walked in and out of the lobby, watching us be completely ridiculous, which only made the experience that much better. Walking into the lobby was like walking back in time, to N's favorite time in fact, and just as we were about to head to the roof, a beautiful woman who was also a remnant of an earlier, more aesthetically pleasing era walked in. We fell in love with her. We even asked her to pose with the furniture, which she kindly and gracefully did. As we made our way up the elevator, down the staircase, through the halls, and onto the two different rooftop patios overlooking the Hollywood Hills on one side and downtown LA on the other, we made a pact that this would always be our life, that we would always show up spontaneously at places and events that would blow our minds, that we would feel as often as possible that sense of sheer joy, gratitude, and amazement at how goddamn lucky we are that this is our life, that things like this happen not rarely or even occasionally, but frequently. I left my apartment earlier that evening after lunch with a long time friend and I said to N, all I want to do tonight is stand next to an open window in this dress looking out over Hollywood, sipping a glass of champagne. And you know what happened?
I did.
View looking down on the patio from the top of the tower.
At the end of the night, three of us snuck up to the highest point on the tower
and we watched Hollywood glitter behind the giant R, and we muffled our
giggles as we danced barefoot above this beautiful city.

10. This guy, who is sometimes two guys when the morning sun is just right, has never left my side, crowded and chaotic as the battlefield music fest sometimes gets.

11. Much of the past two weeks of my sometimes trudging sometimes dancing through this battlefield music festival has been spent with people whose love is so present in my life I have to continually make more room inside myself to absorb it all. Last night, in true romantic comedy fashion, N and I celebrated all this love by discussing it at length between conversations about life, the universe, and everything, to the exclusion of all the work we'd intended to do in our late night work session. We ate icing out of the jar and shared this quesadilla sitting across from each other on the couch laughing and crying and rationalizing and letting go. We watched cat videos on youtube and reminded each other over and over of the things we sometimes let ourselves forget.
After she'd gone to sleep and I'd finished my work, I stepped outside into a night of glowing fog and silence. I thought about how quiet it is here and how that's the opposite of what you'd expect from a major world city. Even in my neighborhood, which is more densely populated and closer to the urban center, 1:30am is quieter than it ever was anywhere else I've lived other than my valley. And even though there's pollution and exhaust, the ocean breathes salty and I sleep soundly in this life I've built for myself out here, far from home. It's taken all my strength and a football team worth of friends for me to get to this place, but now that I'm here, I'm staying. I made a decision one morning almost two years ago that I was going to be happy, whether I was happy or not. I fought for that state of mind and I won. When the clouds of death and loss part even briefly these days, what I see waiting behind them is what I started cultivating back then. And this battlefield becomes a playground. And fear becomes freedom. And I realize how much better off I am at this exact moment in time, how much I don't need the future because I'm surrounded every day by the miraculous present. And how that is finally, finally enough.

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