jazz is life

(NOTE: Last year, I started writing an amateur musical memoir. Then I stopped. But in the eternal spirit of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, I’ve decided to take what I’ve written, break it up into tidy, digestible chunks, toss in a few new chunks and then spew it out into the world via this shit-figurin’ blog. And so, with no further ado. . . )

I GOT MUSIC: CONFESSIONS OF AN AMATEUR
PART VI: JAZZ IS LIFE

I’ve dug through the past until my fingernails bleed, but I can’t remember when and how I first heard the music of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. It was probably in some movie soundtrack. It must have been “Minor Swing,” because Amazon tells me I downloaded it in December 2010: there it is, the moment of inception. In January of 2011, I bought a fat collection of Reinhardt/Grappelli tracks, and I was gobsmacked. I didn’t know the violin could do that: the swinging, the sliding, the astonishing flights of virtuosity in the context of popular song. At no point, of course, did I delude myself into thinking I could do that. How could I? I was a crappy classical amateur! My playing unleashed the dying squirrel!

Then, just eight months later — in late September of 2011 — I lost my husband to suicide. In the face of incomprehensible tragedy, I resolved to learn jazz violin. This made no sense, but what did? My beloved Chris was dead. Why not make an utter boob out of myself in the pursuit of some swinging musical dream?

So I started lessons. I found a wonderful teacher. I learned gradually. I sucked happily. But I kept at it, learning and sucking, as I grieved and coped and grieved and coped and grieved some more, saying goodbye to my second mother, Pat, and my best friend, Pam. Life tossed other complications my way, some joyous, some painful, and as it did, I found myself playing jazz out in the world with other people.

Two and a half years ago, I drove to the pretty stone church in Connecticut where I was married in 1991. It was a couple weeks before Easter, and the doors were open. I walked up the aisle, standing for a moment at the altar with the shades of all my departed. Chris, Pat, Pam. My parents and sister, who died in 1992 and 1994. I recalled that drizzly Saturday in July. I pictured Pam, helping me with my makeup that morning — the second and last time I ever wore it. My handsome husband, beaming in his polka-dot bowtie. My dear, sweet, senile father, confused but smiling as my mother squeezed his hand in the pew. My sister Lucy, squeezing mine. All of the love in the church that day. All of the hugs afterward.

The memories pressed hard on me. I sagged, breathless and teary, before a crucifix draped with the purple of Lent.

Somehow, I left. And as I drove away I listened to Grappelli, a cassette tape crammed into my (extremely) old Honda. The music carried me. It bore me along bendy hills and blind curves with a wild, indefatigable, syncopated cheer that hauled me into the present and filled me with hope.

At home the next day, I hugged my son and then bolted to my bedroom, got out my fiddle — Mama’s fiddle — and played gypsy jazz, each successive tune punching me awake. As I told a friend not long ago: It’s impossible to be sad while playing that music. It’s impossible to think about anything else, any people I’ve lost, any errors I’ve made, any scars I’m prone to picking.

Music keeps the brokenness at bay. It’s an act of creation in the face of loss, a patch of daylight in the dark. It expands my shrunken universe, allowing me to meet new people and make new attachments at an age when the meeting and the making are not the easiest thing. It allows me to greet the world as a friend. I am sick as hell of death, that greasy bastard, and I refuse to let it win: Jamming is my triumph over the reaper. BACK THE HELL OFF, I say, armed with a bow in one hand, a violin in the other. I AM GOING TO PLAY JAZZ.

Swinging with friends, I know I’m alive. I  know I have a place in this world — if only for a moment, if only in a sly little pocket of rhythm that seduces and slays me. But isn’t that all of life? Isn’t it just one fleeting but fruitful pocket, thick with meaning? A swing on a pendulum that dips and turns, all sharps and flats and blue notes and bridges from one piece of song to another?

Maybe that’s why everything’s better when I swing. Maybe that’s why everything feels right on the two and the four. Maybe that’s why even a wrong note makes sense as I bend it into the right one, inching it a half-step up or down in a metaphor for living that that I seized upon, some months ago, and now clutch to my chest as the answer to everything.

In jazz, at least, mistakes don’t kill the music. They simply change it. And ain’t that life, or it should be.

Click here to read PART I: MY DJANGO OBSESSION
Click here to read PART II: GYPSY JAZZ AND HOLY TERRORS
Click here to read PART III: I LIKE MY HANDS (AND WILL NOT CUT THEM OFF)
Click here to read PART IV: IN PRAISE OF SECOND FIDDLE
Click here to read PART V: MUSIC = SEX

dear people


Dear People:

I am not your Enemy. I’m not.

Am I human? Of course I am. Sometimes I make mistakes. I strive not to. I double-check, I triple-check, I report and report and fact-check and fact-check and proof and proof and proof — but still, sometimes I make them. Sometimes I misunderstand something or misreport something or misspell something, and when I hear about it afterward, believe me, I beat myself up. I tell my editor, write up a correction, and then I go home fretting over it. I go to bed fretting over it. I wake up at 3 a.m. fretting over it. I spend the next workday fretting over it, and the next workday, and the next, vowing never to make a mistake again.

I am imperfect. But I am not your Enemy.

Do I have biases, preferences, beliefs? Of course I do. Am I subjective? Of course I am. As I admitted above: I’m human. This doesn’t make my work Fake. It doesn’t delegitimize everything I write. It means that I’m aware of my biases and beliefs and strive always to counter them with with balanced reporting. It means that I’m aware of my subjectivity and strive always to counter it with objectivity. It means that I ask questions from every angle, listen hard to every answer, then do my best to piece the answers together in a fair and full and accurate story.

This is what journalists do: ask, then listen, then tell.

This is what journalists believe: that the telling matters.

What we do isn’t easy, and maybe it doesn’t pay so well, either. But we do it because we’re curious, and we do it because we we care, and we do it because we like being in newsrooms filled with curious people who care.

If you’ve worked in journalism long enough, you’ve gotten a threatening letter, email or phone call. I have. Everyone has. Reporters periodically piss people off; that’s just a fact. Sometimes it happens when we get things wrong. Sometimes it happens when we get things right.

But Trump’s every reference to the “Enemy of the People” scares me. It scares me because the phrase reduces an entire population of well-meaning, hard-working, admittedly somewhat frumpy professionals to a class of depraved and cynical scumbags scheming to undercut the American way of life.

And we’re not. I mean it: We’re not. You want to know the truth? Most of us love this country. We revere its founding principles, and I don’t just mean the First Amendment; I mean all of it. Widespread and longstanding stereotypes to the contrary, journalists aren’t actually cynics. Journalists are skeptical idealists, people who’ve seen it all and question everything but still want to believe in something greater. Why would any of us be in this business if we didn’t? Why would we care enough to stay?

We are not your enemy.

 

the word

You know what? I haven’t written a holy-moly, super-Catholic, spirituality-on-steroids blog post in quite a while. So watch out! Incoming! Run for your life!

Something hit me in church two months ago. Then it kept hitting me, and hitting me, and hitting me. The revelation clocked me so hard only because it was so blazingly obvious, and I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before — kind of like when someone pointed out that the “L” in “Staples” is actually a staple and I howled OMIGOD OMIGOD HOW COME I NEVER NOTICED IT BEFORE OMIGOD THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING. And ever since then, every time I drive past the Staples on Central Avenue I shake my head with silent little omigod, marveling at its genius and my stupidity.

So this is what hit me at Mass: the Word. If you’re Catholic, you know that moment just before the Eucharist when the congregation says: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” (That’s the new translation; until late 2011, we said: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.”)

Or, to quote my own internal monologue: “Lord, I am broken and bleeding. I am soooo not worthy of the body of Christ. But THANK GOD, and I mean that literally, you already know this about me. You already know I’m a piece of. . . ummm, work. You know all my flaws, even the ones I don’t yet realize I have, because I’m a clueless nincompoop in addition to being unworthy. Yet here I am! At the table! Unworthy little me! Just say the word, and. . .  wait — what’s that? You mean, you’ve said it already? The word that makes everything right? The word that heals? The word that resolves my broken state, my error-prone nincompoopedness, just as it resolves every cracked piece of everyone who approaches the altar to receive? REALLY? ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THIS, GOD? You are? You’ve said the magic word? Whoooooa, so I’m healed? You’re kidding! Thanks, dude, I mean God!”

This is pretty much the narrative that runs through my brain each time I receive communion. I’ve been Catholic for more than 28 years now,  and I’m constantly struck by the beautiful illogic of God’s attitude toward communion: None of you is worthy, but all of you are healed. This is one reason I’m forever infuriated by those who would deny “sinners” the Eucharist, as though A) everyone isn’t already a total sinning mess and B) Jesus himself ever denied anyone anything. For crying out loud, he didn’t boot Judas from the Last Supper, did he? And he knew what was up with that guy.

But what hit me at Mass two months ago: The word. It’s the Word. Meaning Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” — so goes the opening of the gospel according to St. John. I never really got it (true confessions). As gospels go, John is a little too wordy and poetical for me in general; I prefer the bluntness of Mark. And the prologue always hit me like: Wot? How is Jesus a word? But I took it to mean that Jesus was part of God’s plan from the beginning — that God, in creating us, knew from the start we were flawed and decided to include a handy-dandy redeemer in on the deal. It’s like going for a drive with a dying battery; you know the car is likely to crap out en route, so you pack a portable charger before you leave.

Jesus is our jumper. God packed him to make things right. And not just for Christians — for everyone.

I think about this, now, whenever I receive communion. I dwell on the greatness of God’s love, the outrageousness of it, as I shuffle up to the table in all my inadequacy. “Lord, I am not worthy. . . but only say the Word,” I repeat, rendering the upper case in my mind. I’m always unworthy, always healed. Makes no sense at all and all the sense in the world.

Holy-moly blog post, over and out.

launched

Where the hell have I been? Not here, that’s for sure. I’ve been an absentee blogger. The last time I posted an entry was five weeks ago (in blogospheric terms: a lifetime). That was two weeks or so before my son’s departure on his gap year and my new life as me, by which I mean me. Me. MEEEEEEEEEEEE. Just me. Little me. Befuddled and bewildered me. Jittery me. At times marginally exhilarated me. Hopeful me. Happy me. Blue me. Questioning me. Somewhat petrified me. Rattled to my core me, staring down an unfathomably empty nest and wondering how on earth I’d ever carry on alone (ALONE) in a house once occupied by five (FIVE).

As the day drew closer, I coped by helping my son plan and pack. I made lists. Then I annotated the lists I made. Then I made more lists! And then I annotated those! Yes! Coping through parental micro-management! Was I trying to control the uncontrollable? Was I trying to take command of ungovernable Fates through the orderly arrangement of stuff sacks? Yes. Yes, I was.

Then, at 6 a.m. one misty Thursday morning, my son flew off on his adventures, and I flew off — metaphorically, at least — into mine. The three and a half weeks since have been busy with work and music and friendship, with gigs and trips and lunches and laughter, with eating when I feel like it, reading when I’m in the mood, sleeping when I’m tired and scratching on my fiddle anywhere in this echoing house that happens to suit my whims. When someone asks, “Hey, Ames, ya wanna do X?” my answer has nothing to do with anyone’s needs and desires but my own. Suddenly I’m in a position to ask: What do I want? From the moment? From this day? From my life? It’s a question I haven’t really entertained in (long pause as she counts on her fingers and toes) a while.

And it’s been strange. In a home once exploding with the crash and hum of family life, it’s been quiet. Dishes accumulate in the sink at a much slower rate. With no ravenous teenager in the house, I take much longer to consume the food in my fridge; a gallon of milk lasts eons. Despite all this, I have not yet accomplished any of what I set out to do this fall, including my pledges to A) climb all 46 Adirondack High Peaks at least twice; B) write at least 23 best-selling novels; C) perform a stem-to-stern cleaning/clearing-out/Shop-Vac’ing/nuclear-bombing of my entire house; and D) blog more.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the seven years since my husband’s death, it’s this: Life does what it does, especially in the midst of transitions. No matter how impatient I am, how badly I want to ka-zoom into some mysterious but delightful future, none of this can be rushed. I have to figure out who I am. What I need. How I might move forward. And isn’t that everybody’s task at hand? Isn’t that what we do from the moment we’re expelled from the womb, howling in rage at the slap of cold and the shock of hunger? (Where’s the breast? Where’s the breast? OKAY I MEAN IT NOW, WHERE’S THE #$!@ BREAST?)

So my son has launched. I’ve launched, too. Where I’m headed, how long it’ll take and how hard I’ll land on arrival, I can’t tell. But I’m a soul at loose in a body navigating the world, and I’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’ll blog more. I swear I will. I promise.

leaving

For the first time in 20 years, a child of mine isn’t enrolled in Albany City Schools. No kiss and hug on the way out the door after Labor Day; no zipping and unzipping of backpacks in the kitchen; no choir and orchestra and track meets and chitchat with parents at same. No emails to teachers. No grades in the mail. No talk about AP classes next semester and next year and next, and next, and next.

For the first time in 25 years, my children are all adults. My youngest graduated high school in June and is now less than two weeks away from rocketing off into life as a mature and autonomous creature: first a gap year, then college. I am tempted to ask HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN, just as I was tempted to ask HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN when his two sisters launched before him, except, of course, I know full well HOW THE HELL THIS HAPPENED: I loved their father. He loved me. Our love made babies, boom boom boom, which subsequently exploded into the world with sweat and blood and violence (and in one case deft scalpel work) and then proceeded to eat and cry and eat more and cry more and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow, although we never noticed the growing, not really, not while it was happening, not until we took them to the top of the basement stairs and put a ruler on their heads and scratched a line in pencil onto the wall while uttering look at thats and oooh good jobs and wow wow wows.

Those lines are still there. My babies are still there, squirming a little in my still-vivid memory, wincing at Mom and Dad and just wanting to be set free from the peculiar and ritualistic parental urge to mark off milestones. Milestones don’t matter to children. Children don’t get sentimental at the first day of kindergarten, or the last kiss and hug on the way to school. They don’t stop to think, “I won’t ever walk home again with Mommy this way,” or “I won’t ever eat a bagged lunch she made for me with a smushed PB&J,” or “She’ll never again hold me on her lap or read me a picture book or give me a terrible bowl cut that I will look back upon with horror for the rest of my living days.”

Children do their job without guilt or misty reflection: They grow up. And as they do, they leave us gasping with pride and wonder, marveling at the beauty and rapidity and unaffected grace of their departures from us. They’re always rocketing away, and we’re always feeling the tug. As I explained in an earlier blog post, my mother always characterized this in umbilical terms: The cord never truly breaks. It only stretches.

And boy, is it stretching now.

As for me, I am not sure what life will entail in this new era I’m facing. I suppose I should begin by unsubscribing to school-district emails — will I need to know about snow days any longer? — but I don’t have the guts. Not yet. Nor do I know what to say when people ask me how I’ll cope with the empty nest, a logical question that I’ve asked myself every second of every minute of every waking hour for the last six months. My usual response is this: I’m framing it as an opportunity. I’m framing it as a chance to figure out who I am — I, a singular pronoun at an existential crossroads, facing an unwritten chapter with a shape and syntax yet to be revealed.

For the first time in 30 years, I’ll be well and truly alone. I tell myself that this is inevitable. That it’s necessary. That it’s good for all of us. That all I’ve wanted, since the death of my husband seven years ago, is to know that my three brave and extraordinary kids (and can someone please coin a decent term for adult children) are living their lives with hope and pluck and independence. That I’ll do my job right, and they’ll leave me.

They’re leaving me. Miracle of miracles, joy beyond joy, they’re leaving me.

as far as the eye can see

Glimpses. We get glimpses.

We think we know where we’re headed, but we don’t. From the darkness of our mother’s wombs we ride the chute into hospital florescence, then into the fickle daylight, then into lives that carry us like tubes on a bendy river as we crane our necks for a better look and snap our quivering butts from the water to avoid each pointed rock. We try to see what’s coming but we can’t. Not really. All we can do is steer as best we can, flap our hands and feet a bit, will the river to calm as we approach it, then hoot as it whorls in sudden fury and slaps and sprays our eyes. We yield to forward motion. We laugh with our nearest loved ones. We inhale, then exhale, then wonder what the hell will hit us next. And we go on.

Or maybe we hike through dense woods to an unseen summit, moving our legs on faith. We know something’s up there. We know nothing’s up there: just a view, just a chance to stop for a moment and glance outward at creation. We hike upwards for miles in the hopes of being still, of grasping beauty, of sensing a sublime destination even if it’s out of reach. That it exists at all is enough to keep us going as we hike back down to nurse our blisters and tool around blind through our madhouse lives, wanting to feel there’s a purpose.

Or maybe we make music on a porch at night with friends and cousins, people we haven’t seen for years or decades or ever, maybe, but people who become — in that protracted, joyous instant — proof that life isn’t done with any of us, that life has direction, that life is filled with healing reunion even as memories of the absent make us weep. All we can know is what came before us and where we stand now. Stories illuminate the past. Love lights the present. We root ourselves in the here and now as best we can, batting away fears of death and age and loneliness and decrepitude and all the other gnats that cloud our psyches.

We can’t see much. Not ahead of us. Not in that direction. All we can know is the gifts that stand before us, the music we feel in our bones, the breeze that caresses a northern lake and the breath that shapes each moment. That’s all, and that’s enough. Now.

behold the dress

This is my sister Betsy’s wedding dress. She dreamed it up herself. She crocheted it herself, working on it for the last year. She imagines butterflies flying from its pockets during the ceremony. She imagines a man loving and compassionate and handsome standing opposite her as she wears it, a man she deserves, a man we all imagine for her, too, but a man who hasn’t yet found her.

Betsy is disabled. She has some deficits, but don’t we all? Do they make us any less complete as human beings? No one is more complete than Betsy. She loves with fullness, comprehends with kindness, feels with depth and grasps the world with a wisdom and joy I only wish I had. But I don’t need it. I have Betsy. We all should have a Betsy in our lives.

She has a few dreams for hers. One is to meet Barry Manilow. Another is to meet the man who will enter her world and stay there, who will take her hand and hold it forever, who will see her with eyes filled gratitude and wonder as she wears her beautiful, brilliant, kaleidoscopic gown of love.

Betsy is an artist. Betsy is a font of unending and ebullient creativity. Betsy is a force of love and light and hope and warmth. Betsy is a gift.

Behold her wedding dress. And while you’re at it, behold her heart.

 

stating the obvious


Last month, I encountered this tree and its profoundly helpful signage near a crosswalk somewhere in our great Northeast. I won’t say where, only because I feel like draping my story in a cloud of mystery. I have no idea what the label means, other than “tree.” I have no idea who put it there and why, and I have no particular interest in finding out, although I’m guessing it has something to do with municipal streetscaping and the need for different civic bodies to communicate with one another, even when the communication requires one such body to state the obvious IN ALL CAPS on a stake in the ground.

Needless to say, I was greatly amused. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA, I said, or something along those lines. HA HA HA HA I GUESS THE CITY GARDENERS ARE HAVING THEIR SAY HA HA HA HA HA, then added, just for good measure: HA HA HA HA. And snapped a photo. Which you see here. Ha ha ha ha ha.

But then I started thinking heavily, which I tend to do a little more often than I should. I started thinking about Things That Are Obvious and Things That Are Said, and how often the obvious goes unsaid at the precise points in time when they really ought to be articulated. Like this point. Now. When what’s right and what’s wrong are being confused, when what’s real and what’s fake are being conflated, when up is down and good is bad and love is the not the opposite of hate but a convenience to be bartered and bought among the powerful.

We fancy ourselves creatures of deliberation. We regard ourselves as beings capable of complex reasoning and nuanced motives, but we are not. We are simple. We need labels. Indeed, we crave them. We want to be told who we are, why we are, whom to trust, whom to fear and which among us belongs to the clan.

And so I began to wonder whether everything should be painted in bold letters on conspicuous wooden signs.

The homeless guy panhandling for change: HUMAN. The toddler at the border, separated from her parents and stained with tears: CHILD. The politicians in city hall, in any given statehouse, in the U.S. Capitol and the White House, no matter who they think they’re working for and how they’re lining their pockets: PUBLIC SERVANTS. The trash collectors who lift your heavy-ass, stinky-ass, overloaded garbage into a truck every week: PUBLIC HEROES. The sacred place where we sleep and eat and laugh and hold our loved ones, no matter its location or its footprint or its worth: HOME. The people who live next door to us, no matter their beliefs, no matter their birthplace, no matter their habits or their accent or their orientation or their identity or their ethnicity or their color or creed: NEIGHBORS.

The neighbor who holds and treasures citizenship in this country: AMERICAN. The neighbor who doesn’t but yearns to: ASPIRING AMERICAN. The one who spews hatred in anyone’s direction: UNAMERICAN.

I could go on, but you get the gist. And one more thing: TREE.

 

the things we share


On this day of American celebration, in this era of heart-wrenching division, I thought now would be a good time to assemble a list of Things We Share. This isn’t anything profound, nothing on the order of Dan Rather’s “What Unites Us” (which you should read, like, now). I’m not pretending to be a poet or philosopher or pundit or anything other than what I am: a citizen of this country, a resident of this planet and a compulsive scribbler of words who’s been trying like hell to make sense of who and what we are — what it even means to even be American in this distressed, discombobulating age.

So I asked myself: What can we agree on, these days? Anything? I came up with a few points of likely agreement. Please feel free to add more in the comments. Share, if you’re so disposed.  Let’s try to find consensus.

THE THINGS WE SHARE:

  1. We like holidays (most of the time).
  2. We like fireworks (all of the time).
  3. We like to laugh.
  4. We hate paying bills.
  5. We love our children and want what’s best for them, though sometimes they drive us nuts.
  6. We love our parents and siblings and spouses and friends, though sometimes they drive us nuts.
  7. We work hard and take our jobs seriously.
  8. We sometimes put in more hours than we’re paid for, but we do it because we need the paycheck and know the work is necessary and figure what the hell, it’ll come out in the wash.
  9. We wish the workweek were a little shorter and the weekend a little longer (but we still got paid the same).
  10. We like to eat when we’re hungry.
  11. We like to sleep when we’re tired.
  12. We love the beauty of a sunrise tinged with hope and a sunset tinged with sadness.
  13. We wish our bladders were just a little bigger.
  14. We like getting along with people but also kinda-sorta-maybe enjoy the occasional zing of a heated argument, but only if it ends quickly with no lasting rancor.
  15. We hate garbage night and wish it would go away (along with the garbage, too).
  16. We love taking showers — but not too hot,  and not too cold.
  17. We regard caffeine as the greatest organic compound in the arc of human history, at least at 6:53 a.m.
  18. We don’t like dental appointments, even when the dentist is a really nice guy.
    We have a hard time holding up our end of the conversation during dental appointments, even when the dentist is a really nice guy, and to be honest we get a little tired of staring at that poster of clouds on the ceiling.
  19. We hate trimming our toenails and wish someone would invent a gizmo that does it in our sleep and then disposes of the clippings without our knowledge.
  20. We prefer the smell of our own farts to anyone else’s.
  21. We worry more than we’d like to admit.
  22. We hurt more than we say.
  23. We feel lonelier in the dark than anyone realizes, no matter how proudly we strut or loudly we talk in the daylight.
  24. We hate pain.
  25. We fear death.
  26. We have faith in something larger than we are, be it God or life or love or art or entropy and the expanding universe.
  27. We want to be loved.
  28. We want to be held.
  29. When we hold a baby, we smile.
  30. When a loved one dies, we grieve.
  31. When someone asks us if we’re doing our best to live a good and decent life, we say yes.
  32. We don’t like to be judged.
  33. We don’t like to be insulted.
  34. We don’t like to be demonized as sub-human.
  35. We try hard.
  36. We stumble.
  37. We try hard again.
  38. We stumble again.
  39. We have dreams.
  40. At some point in our lives, some jerk suggested we didn’t have what it takes to achieve those dreams, and since then we have spent our every waking hour laboring to prove them wrong.
  41. We want to believe in humanity.
  42. We want to believe we matter.
  43. We want to believe our vote counts, our voice counts, we count.
  44. We want to believe in ourselves, even when we don’t believe in one another.
  45. We want to believe in America.

oh, shit

The photo above is not, as a friend of mine remarked, the Wicked Witch of the East. This is me. Those are my legs. That is my car. This is one of those periodic moments in my life when violent grinding noises interrupt my peaceful and orderly existence, or would interrupt it if indeed I had a peaceful and orderly existence, and if violent grinding noises were not already the norm. But isn’t that true of everybody’s life? Aren’t violent grinding noises always the norm?

You may have noticed that the name of this blog is Figuring Shit Out. As it happens, I also wrote a book with exactly that title, and it’s also true that I’ve made kind of a BFD out of fixing my own sink whoop whoop, and hating on the very car pictured above, and best of all that time I shoveled piles of literal crap out of my basement.

But I don’t mean to suggest that I’m a BFD. Or an authority on cars, plumbing, caca or any other noxious essence that splats down upon humanity. I’m not in any way special or unusual in my shit-figuring, not remotely, certainly not because I crawled under my scraping and groaning CRV with a roll of packing tape (YES, PACKING TAPE, AND YES, THAT’S TOTALLY PATHETIC) in a futile attempt to mend the undercarriage, although I will admit I was rather proud of my moronic and stubborn refusal to let others with Actual Car Knowledge to climb under it in my stead and give it a proper look-see. I was even prouder when, later on, I slithered down with a pair of kitchen shears and clipped off the offending broken bits with the same offhand panache that I once used to to trim my son’s bowl cut, and won’t he be pleased when he learns I just broadcast that tidbit on social media.

This is the story of my life. This is the story of everyone’s life, the figuring out of shit on an aggravating, extemporaneous, predictably unpredictable basis. It’s all about the belching of noises, the breaking of parts, the interruption of routine, the introduction of disorder, the muttering of Oh Nos and Oh Shits and Why Nows, the looking down in an attempt to understand, the crawling under in an effort to repair, the retreat from shadowed underworlds with blinking eyes and a face streaked with grease and confusion, the glance thrown at people who see you and know you and stand with you and show you the photo of your “Wizard of Oz” legs that they snapped from an oblique angle. And then the laugh that you share. And then the prayer that you utter to God or to fate asking furiously for a break, though not a literal one, at least not for a little while, please please please please please.

It’s all F.S.O., my people. The noise and the grease streaks, the shadows and the laughter. It’s all F.S.O.