Music isn’t a Pop Game

Music isn’t a game. But pop is, was, and always will be, apparently.

I’m a diehard pop fan. I grew up on the Top 40 and I make no apologies for it. My father and my mother were pop fans too, in their own time. They gave me an acquired taste for bossa nova jazz, rock, and Broadway tunes. My younger brother turned me onto metal, and my former fiancé, alternative college radio (The Caulfields’ “Rickshaw!”).

Lately, I’ve been watching “The Pop Game” on Lifetime, knowing full well this isn’t real music and these aren’t real musicians. Well, except for Ian, the Texan guitarist, songwriter, and singer who has routinely given me chills by tuning the popular masses out and tuning into his own, almost angular vibe.

So, obviously, Cravetay is my least favorite.

Amateur pitchy wannabes like her are the reason mainstream music’s suffered from a disturbing lack of talent, creativity, depth. Like “world renowned” record producer Timbaland says more than once, We can fix the vocals, but you’re born with swag.

I think what pisses me off the most about this show and this pervasive attitude that anyone can be famous is the whole cult of personality disease infecting our free world.

Talent does and should matter. Other art forms require talent, why not music?

Like all art, the best is when the artist allows the muse to flow in then out, projecting his/her true voice without any adulteration, auto-tune, social media hype, or stylist. Art is truth.

No other art form can lay such truth bare better than music. No other art form requires the artist develop his/her voice to the best of his/her ability more.

I’ve heard too many real artists go unnoticed because the big box office studios prefer to go with superficials, the almighty physical appearance, almighty youth, that stupid excuse for bullshit called swag.

Swag is personality. Personality combined with ability equals truth in art.

Watching and disparaging what others do isn’t art. Ask any closet poet who writes from the bottom of a pit of hell of his own making.

Focusing solely on yourself as “the star” isn’t music. The music is what matters. Someone like Cravetay will never improve as long as she plays to that shallow bottom line, even if she will probably win the Pop Game. Because isn’t that what the world wants? Sugar on the fiber cereal, pass the Pop Tarts.

I’m also listening to a lot of fatalistic indie music lately, which drives home the point even more that life’s too short for games of any sort, pop or otherwise.

Not sure why. Maybe because my own time is at hand (I’m in my 50s, not getting any younger, and there’s this shooting pain near my pelvic bone) and the universe likes to fuck with me like that.

Those musicians have a shit-ton to say, and they say it thoughtfully with a whirlwind of artful instruments at their disposal, distilled down to the raw, gritty nub through their flawed, heartbroken, heartrending, imperfectly open humanity.

They’re not about putting on a glamorous show where one guy wins, and the other loses. They’re about collaborating so we can feel better about ourselves, so we don’t feel as alone, so we can feel something.

The only thing I feel when I watch “Pop Game” is rage, and the urge to throw my remote at the TV as hard as I can.

Sidelined

We attended the soccer match tonight. It felt good to support the team, even though my son injured out with a fractured knee and MCL sprain.

People showered him with love, from his teammates to his English teacher whose son played for Varsity. She gave him a muffin. Once, I looked up through the early evening shower to catch one of the JV defenders pat him on the back.

He would never admit this, but he was glad I made him go when — at the last minute — he tried to back out.

We plan to go to every game to support the JV and Varsity squads. They’re his teams too, even if he can no longer join them on the pitch, in the heat of battle. I hope one day he will understand how much it means for him to be there.

Most people go their entire lives going the easy route, staying home, nursing their private wounds, checking out because they can’t be a part of the action or, heaven forbid, the center of attention.

I never want my son to be one of those kind of people. They’re a dime a dozen.

Final scores: Kamiak JV lost 1-4 in a brutal match, but Varsity beat Mariner 2-1 in a very heated game with terrible refereeing. I’m banking on our Varsity team winning every game from now till the end of April for personal reasons.

Go, Knights!

So, this happened…

“Come pick me up. Messed up my knee. Walk-in clinic. Coach said it’s most likely a knee sprain. When you have time can you email Ryan? I’m sorry, mom.”

My son’s text came at 6:44 p.m. today, right as I was finishing the other ear of my second try at a new crochet cat hat.

X-rays showed an avulsion fracture, a sprain of the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) on the left knee. While going for the ball during a scrimmage — with only 30 minutes left to the two-hour practice at school — my son hyper-extended his left knee, backward, really hard. Hard enough to cause a small fracture at the knee joint.

As the doctor and the two nurses at the walk-in clinic made a joke out of this entire process, I found myself doing what I always do when overwhelmed: I closed my eyes, fighting hard to stay present, and not to cry out loud.

When I picked my son up from practice to take him to the walk-in clinic, he complained that I wasn’t reacting well, like before back in Jan. when he broke his pinky playing a soccer tournament. Back then, I joked around, I made it okay for him to take this in stride.

This time, I couldn’t take the universe piling on any longer. Not on this kid, not again.

Earlier in the day, he’d received the all-clear from a hand specialist for the pinky he’d broken. On the drive back to school, I remembered lecturing him against taking every moment of his precious life for granted with boredom or argumentatively nitpicking semantics with his mom. Don’t be complacent, I’d said, you never know what could happen.

He maintained that I was being too negative about his knee injury — until the doctor gave us the results of the x-ray: it’s a mild injury, considering, but definitely a fracture, there, most likely no surgery, and the recovery time’s only about six weeks, four on crutches.

Six weeks is a lifetime, an entire season of JV soccer — his first, the one he worked all his life for, enduring rejection after rejection during Premier/Select tryouts last spring, the lean years before when we couldn’t afford the better, elite clubs.

As soon as the diagnosis hit him, my son felt just as upset and overwhelmed.

So, we do this all over again: wait for the orthopedic office to call for an appointment next week, keep the injured limb immobile, ice, rest, elevate, “Do you want a note for the school and P.E.?”

Before he went to bed, I cleaned his good leg with a soapy washcloth and a bowl full of warm water. I wiped his leg dry, noticing it shake uncontrollably, recalling one of the coaches at school telling me about that when the injury first happened.

The uncontrollable shaking is a part of the side effects from his asthma/allergy meds, which exacerbate whatever condition he was born with. His cross to bear.

Most of my frustration and anger at the universe went away at that point. I was reminded of my son’s individual mortality, the idiosyncrasies that make up his DNA and forge his character.

Here was this young boy who seems impossibly strong, invincible. Yet, I knew better. I’d seen his soft spots, the vulnerabilities, the handicaps he’s had to overcome in his short, 15 years, the back-to-back trips to the ER (three-four), the asthma attacks, the anxiety that comes with keeping on top of a list of prescriptions most adults don’t ever need…

I know many, many other people have to deal with so much worse. I know I sound so selfish and wrong crying about my one child who is at least alive and able to reasonably function.

But right this very minute, I’m allowing myself to be upset for him, to be as selfish about his happiness as the rest of you are about your own.

You have no idea how long he’s waited to play competitive JV soccer for his high school, how hard he worked to make tryouts after so many “experts” in the game dismissed him or pointed out his drawbacks in the most humiliating fashion, what he’s had to put up with to get to this moment… only for the universe to seemingly revel in taking it all back.

 

Tomorrow is the long-anticipated game against a rival high school. My son looked forward to helping his JV team fight the good fight on the pitch. Thirty minutes, 30 fucking minutes, then he would’ve enjoyed a good night’s sleep, school, and the game of a lifetime, the second in the season.

Tomorrow, we’ll be there — G-d willing — him to support his team on the sidelines, me to take pictures, before heading back home in his crutches and the long climb upstairs to rest, and maybe dream of something better up ahead.

Peace Now

I’m reading. He’s good, tucking maybe regret, definitely affection — as a man would — in intentional throwaway recollection, the kind with marks.

Last night, I enjoyed my first home-cooked meal, a bowl of spaghetti sauce, organic, and a ton of broccoli. Sleep came in a brain wave of this light blue-green stitch and an endless series of possibility. Just past midnight, which is abnormal for me.

But I’m up now. Sunless.

Her repetition doesn’t seem right for this half-assed, ultimately cool, belated eulogy.

The Best Friend Episode

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A year before I married my husband, I asked my co-worker Lisa to be my maid of honor. I would’ve liked to say she was my best friend growing up, or that we were even all that close since we met at my first real full-time job.

But that would be a lie.

I have a hard time making friends. I always have. It wasn’t for lack of trying — at least early on.

Girls, especially, were hard to make friends with. This is why I’m ridiculously forgiving of the girls my son, 15, knows, and their crazy drama.

Girls go through a horrible trial by fire that doesn’t really ever end until they’re past their 30s. They learn early on not to trust appearances, that a best friend can easily turn on you to join up with the more popular squad by the time everyone reaches middle school. Or worse, that all your so-called friends can abandon you when you need them the most, during the hard times.

You never know who your true friends are until those times.

Growing up, most of my friends — and I could literally count them on my two hands — were boys. With boys, what you see is what you get, and most of them only viewed me through the friend filter, as I was never a bombshell. (Although, looking back, I wasn’t a dog either.)

So it wasn’t a surprise that when my time came to marry, I wouldn’t have a soul to pick as my maid of honor. All my friends from high school, all three of them, had disappeared off the face of the planet. I was a military brat, too, which rendered friends from elementary school null and void.

I looked around at my workplace, where I hung out the most. About a year prior to my engagement, Lisa joined our office as an administrative assistant. Lisa was a former beauty queen contestant, tall, willowy, beautiful, and charming in that exacting Libra way I tend to be fond of (I married a Libra). She was also easy to be around.

Every so often, we’d all get together for lunch outside the office. At work, she would be the first to help me out of a minor jam in the middle of my deadlines as the editor of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii newsletter.

Much to my shock, Lisa agreed to be my maid of honor, despite her feeling both delighted and shocked herself. I’m sure she wondered why I asked her when surely, I had other, older friends to call on. Nope.

With that admission, she kindly guided me through the minefield of a mostly traditional wedding. She even threw me a G-rated bridal shower up in Hawaii Kai, with a cooking foodie theme, everyone sharing their recipes (kind of prophetic, considering my latent interest in baking, I’d say).

She made a wonderful maid of honor, and even more amazing, would remain one of my dearest friends through the many more years to come. When it was her turn to get married, she invited me to her wedding at the lavish Moana Surfrider on the edge of Waikiki.

When I visited Hawaii last year for almost two weeks, I spent two separate days with her. Almost every time I’ve gone back home, she’s been available to hang out. Read: She makes herself available.

We still keep in contact, through the births of our children, through health scares, her back-to-back cancers, my husband’s, my own bout with depression when another friend, Terri, died of liver cancer. In fact, we’re supposed to talk on the phone today — Lisa is an old school princess; she hates texting, LOL.

To this day, I still feel a twinge of shame about my wedding day. I wished I had a lot of friends there to celebrate with me. I wish I knew what it was like to be like Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King.

Remember that infamous best friends episode on Oprah’s talk show? Still hurts me to think about.

Not long after this show aired, I found myself at a church acquaintance’s house for a Pampered Chef or Silpada Jewelry party. I remember sitting opposite her and her best friend as they reminisced about their fun camping adventure, just them and their roster of kids. I wanted to scream at them. I wanted to run away. I wanted to hole up by the Pacific ocean in a tiny little one-room shack with my ’80s Walkman, my crochet afghan, and my 20 cats, and wait for the next lifetime.

Instead, I just sat there trying to smile, counting the minutes until I could reasonably leave. These two best friends, sisters in Christ, would split up in two years because one of them was toxic to the relationship — a status that made me laugh and cry at the same time.

Back in the late ’90s, I honestly thought I’d found my own best friend via a soap opera message board. We corresponded through email. Intense, intimate emails. Almost met IRL several times. We were even born on the same day. But she couldn’t continue our friendship when she was dealing with her own heavy issues. She hurt me more than I could ever express, more than those girls who claimed to be my friend then wrote in my yearbook or said to my face how much they secretly hated my guts. I trusted her. I believed in her. I gave her my entire heart, and she—

I’m too old to try to get to the bottom of my friendship issue. Maybe I’m better off with strangers who become acquaintances, not too close, not too much. Maybe I’m just a touch-and-go kind of person. Maybe none of this matters, the labels, the talk show brag books, as long as I gave 100 percent, as long as I did love.

 

About that mouse

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Pat me on the back.

I’ve really been good about calming my innumerable phobias during the one week when the shit truly hit the fan (Eeek! A mouse!).

What helped?

People who went beyond the “I’m praying for you” platitudes to share their own experiences, even if it was, “You’ll be fine. It’s not personal.” (Said at an actual Home Depot in Everett.)

As I drove my son home from his soccer practice, both of us barely simmering with anxiety — hey, he’s the one who stared down the mouse in our family room — I took this moment to go over another life lesson, mostly to calm my own ass down.

“I know I say this a thousand times, but it bears repeating,” I began. “We learn from bad experiences, so that when others go through something similar, we can help them. Don’t ever forget that. I know it sucks right now to have a mouse in our home, or back when you didn’t make Premier tryouts. But I never want you keeping it to yourself if you have a chance to reassure someone else who maybe thinks the world is ending. Too many people keep things to themselves, or act like they got their shit together. You don’t be that person. Don’t waste what you went through.”

Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not, I have failed indeed. Has anyone’s burden been lighter today, because I was willing to share? Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way? When they needed my help was I there?” — Will L. Thompson (music and text)

If we’re too busy to help other people, we’ve missed the mark. Taking the time to spontaneously — as well as planned — helping other people is one of the greatest joys in life. Helping others opens you up to new sides of yourself. It helps you connect deeper with those you help and humanity in general. It clarifies what really matters in life.

—Benjamin P. Hardy, “50 Ways to Live On Your Own Terms,” Thrive Global 

As Thomas Monson has said, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” That would truly be a failure.

This mouse situation has scared us all. But the people who extended themselves by sharing their own stories…it literally only takes a minute, honest to god… they helped the most. They gave me the courage, the confidence to plow through my fears.

Imagine what a better world this would be if we all did this. Our experiences are similar, the good and the bad, they bond us, really.

The worst feeling in the world is feeling alone, or worse, abandoned.

My inclination is to always reach out. Unfortunately, too many of my so-called friends and family choose to take the observer role, as if they’ve never ever been through anything negative like that — until it happens to them. They seem to perch on their thrones, issuing simulations of compassion (appropriate words) but little else, making sure I know that such a terrible situation has never happened to them.

That’s not helping. That’s certainly not being a friend or using our time here wisely.

If I acted like that, I’d end up in the funny farm real quick.

So after the mouse incident, I went about my day quietly freaking out, trying not to make a big outward display of it as to scare strangers. Alone.

My husband left for work, his day job and his musician gig. He would be gone all this weekend, leaving me to deal with Mickey Mouse and god knows how many cousins were running around in our family room, and a teenaged son who wanted to stay in his own hotel room (“Can they go upstairs?”).

The fate of the world depends on me? We’re fucked!

Oddly, strangers were the ones who helped me out the most…random strangers at a Walgreens, where I loaded up on mouse prevention contraptions and athletic tape for my soccer-playing teen, and Home Depot, more mouse contraptions and home-spun advice.

After weeks of getting four hours of sleep on average, now this, running around trying to get a handle on what’s going down at my house, wondering if I’ll ever focus long enough to prevent more shit from hitting the fan navigating invisible rodent minefields … I finally cracked in Aisle 1.

A few tears spilled out as I thanked a Home Depot lady for bothering with me. She’d carefully explained the various options of no-kill traps. Now, she was patiently listening to me as I blathered on about potential airborne dangers.

“You’re gonna be fine. It’s just a mouse, who probably strayed into your house and is just as eager to escape. Don’t take this personally.”

Two friends did stand out when I texted about my dilemma. Even though one was very sick with a cold after a hard week of working long hours, the first thing she told me was that she had plenty of mice come in and out of her home. Her cats would bring them in, and they’d humanely take them out, no problem.

Another friend today immediately texted back that her family had a mouse they called Houdini who lived in their home for a month before they found him with his hands on the back of a toilet and his little feet against the wall. A month! Can you believe it?

Their shared stories did more to help me than all the “Oh, that sucks!” “I’m sorry you’re going through that. It must be awful” well-meaning bullshit.

Btw, what’s with everyone recommending I get a *cat?

  1.  I’m allergic to cats.
  2. Cats aren’t a guarantee against rodents wandering into the house. Haven’t you watched YouTube videos of cats farting around with mice already inside?

Here’s how it works, kids. You go through your own particular brand of shit. When someone else goes through something similar, you step up and let them know your story, including the part where you freaked out first.

You don’t leave them hanging. You don’t keep to yourself. You don’t talk around the problem. You don’t go around hand’s off. Any computer simulation can be programmed to do that.

*Fuck it. I’m getting a dog.

Diamond Girl

“Can’t you feel the whole world’s a-turnin’
We are real and we are a-burnin’
Diamond Girl now that I’ve found you
It’s around you that I am” —Seals and Crofts

“The Big Lebowski’s” on HBO, Seals and Crofts are playing their greatest hits, and I’m on the precipice of a decision: Writer or Slouchy Hat?

This dream, I knew it would be involved, intense and erotic, a whirligig of early Beatles impressions on a post ’60s high — with influences from the pulled pork Eggs Benedict I just ate rotting and shooting up my esophagus, as well as several weeks of major insomnia from the thundering approach of menopause.

I’m back in the music world, accepted as one of them even though I don’t play a note. These musicians, a startling array of them, seem to want something from me ticket money can’t buy. They play and I respond, or maybe vice versa.

One of them’s playing now, an aging rock star with a familiar lick from my childhood. I remember jumping down up front onto a pillow to get a closer look. He only cares about his show and the fact I nudged a bassist friend’s guitar face up, because he’s too famous.

As I debate whether to right the bass up, “Diamond Girl” pipes in from stereo speakers everywhere. Maybe the Seals and Crofts song has been playing all this time, waiting for me to pay attention.

The universal language of dreams is energy, we all exude some form of it. The closest manifestation of that energy, for me anyway, is music — music I can identify with, whether it’s a scorching solo out of nowhere that burns down forests, or a 1973 pop hit that used to play constantly on the radio when I was a child running around in Louisville, Ky.

I hear music constantly, dreaming or awake. Music or lyrics, makes no difference. It’s the vibe, the soul, the spirit behind the notes.

Sometimes the music is original. Other times, it’s this… A dedication of sorts from this man I know in real life who plays flugelhorn — someone who would be one of my best friends growing up in Kentucky chasing fireflies and exchanging comic books from our rising collection — waiting patiently through some amazing sets for me to look up and hear myself in the song he plays in his head over and over.

When I stop filling up the precious seconds with borrowed chatter, I finally do, as if hearing it for the first time. I hear it through his point of view, incredulous, almost disbelieving were it not for the Greek chorus in the many people who have crossed my life, many lifetimes.

Yet, this is the kind of lovely sentiment for other women, beautiful, charming, normal, accepted women, women up there on the marquee and the center of attention at cocktail parties — not me.

“You,” he said. “Only you.”

I looked at him, too, for the first time. Words could never describe what that meant. Therapy and truth. Support and freedom.

Everything at this point opens up and I’m blinded, as if I just stepped into the early morning light on the first day of spring.

There’s no attachment here, not to the past or the future, societal rules of etiquette or who’s fucking who, just pure mushin. Dreams, real dreams, aren’t about that boring life stuff anyway. Musicians know. Why do you think so many of them are misunderstood?

Energy, remember? I do and I did, and it was — for a blissful moment — wonderfully validating.

When I woke up, I immediately went to Google for the lyrics and then YouTube to listen to my song. It really does fit, in a spectacularly offbeat way.

And hey, the song’s not bad either.