The Uprooting

If you ask me about my roots, I would show you the silver-white streaks cascading from my scalp and tumbling over my curls.  I could take you out into the garden and show you my iris that my mom and I planted 2 years ago and how their rhizomes are exposed to the sun so they don’t rot away.  I could give you some family history and heritage on both my parents’ side and you would find it mildly interesting as we have still yet to discover any really salacious details of ancestors who were thieves, ladies of the night, or gypsy fortune-tellers who barely escaped a ravenous mob.   I can discuss with  you my hometown and talk to you about my adopted town I’ve lived in for 16 years.  I could list all the pros and cons of each.  I can even tell you in detail the love of my Midwestern roots and why I love Garrison Keillor and his show “Prairie Home Companion” and the nostalgia it creates when he sing-song talks about the moving mountainous clouds over the rolling prairie and tells the quaint stories of hardworking and honest to goodness good Midwesterners out there.

I’m avoiding talking about the sale of my house and the roots I failed to fully establish in that space.  I’ve lived in 3 places since I moved to this area.  The first was a small apartment across from a park.  The second was the place I stayed at the longest (10 years to be exact):  a duplex with a manageable yard in a middle-class neighborhood.  I loved it immensely, but there was a yearning to grow bigger and try something new.  That’s how I awkwardly found myself in a gorgeous cottage-style 2100 sq foot ranch home with a large yard, vaulted ceilings, open concept, 3 bedroom, 2 bath, all brick home in a really nice neighborhood, complete with a private lake within walking distance.  A  lake I was only privy to in glances among fence rows, past the neighbors’ large homes whose backyards include said lake.

A few days before I moved out, one of my neighbors, a retired teacher in her 70s, was on her morning walk.  My dog and I joined her.  She talked at me the whole entire time – projecting on to me her worries and desires about my move, and her life.  She fretted about me leaving my teaching position and worried about my pension.  She told me I should go and teach school in North Carolina where it’s not as bad as this area.  I questioned her on that, and she said, “You know.  Minorities here.  I’m sure it’s hard to teach.  Move somewhere and teach where it’s not as bad as here.”  I almost started an argument with her, but she then switched subjects and talked about her second lake home that is 50 miles away in a  “non-minority” town.  She was fussing about how she had to clean her lake house here and then go there to mow the lawn of her other lake house.  My dog and I parted ways without a goodbye.  Two weeks prior to that, another neighbor asked me if the couple moving in to my home are black or white.  When I snapped, “I don’t know.  What does it matter?”  He smiled knowingly and said, “Oh it matters.”  I walked away without even a goodbye.  It was time to leave, and not just the conversation; time to leave this neighborhood where some of the inhabitants live in isolation and fear of what is beyond their island of supposed safety and security of brick walls, nice lawns, a man-made lake that has wintering geese and egrets that spike its shoreline.

As I spent the last few days packing boxes and shipping things off to storage, I heard the spray of the broken pipe in the leaky bathroom and heard the sump pump kick in.  I shuddered to think that this home is falling apart from the inside out.  The sound only revealed itself too me after the buyers made an offer and then got their home inspection a month afterward.  The subflooring in that bathroom is rotting out and one day the toilet will be in the crawl space.  The inspection also revealed that the roof in the garage had a leak in it that caused black mold to form in the attic.  I replaced the entire roof for the new owners with the support of my insurance company.  The wiring throughout the home is shoddy and a friend who replaced light fixtures for me found that the original wires to the light fixtures were ungrounded and so he fixed them.  I went back to my own original home inspection and discovered truths I was too naive to understand at the time.  One section stated:  “If leaks are apparent, they seem to be hidden cosmetically.”  In a nutshell, the previous owner (and probably the previous owners before him) just lived in the home.  They didn’t maintain, they covered up or ignored.

I had done many repairs during the 3 years I lived there, and now the new owners will be inheriting more money pit issues because of someone else’s laziness or my oversight or lack of awareness of these issues their home inspection revealed.  Through conversations with my realtor, I sensed that this young couple were still in love with this home and wanted it so badly they could taste it.  I did whatever it took to help them realize their dream. Even lying and crying to the county inspector who was trying to tick off more items to repair on the second re-inspection after I had made all of the repairs he wanted on the first inspection.  I just wanted out.  I was not in love with the home and I was already deep into my commitment to my new life that I fought for it with not just my tiny white lies to the county inspector, but with additional repair money to the new owners, hasty packing, numerous trips to the storage unit or the Salvation Army, electronically signed forms sent from my realtor,  etc., just so I could leave faster.  In my fierce fight and flight, I forgot to mourn my loss.  I forgot to take a moment to say goodbye to all that has been good.  I forgot or ignored the parts of my body that were holding in stress.

I did finally take some time to clean the house and sit in meditation after a solid yoga practice.  I did an old Native American ritual where you burn sage and smudge every room of the house as a way to symbolically clear the energy and open the space for the new owners that would build their life here.  It felt good to actively participate in my departing, but still no real wave of emotion came to me.  I supposed that was a good sign and an indication that some part of me had already left this all behind and that the goodbyes were over with.  And so it came as a little of a surprise when I found myself crying at the kennel on the last day I picked up my dog from daycare.  Here were the sweet people who have loved us for so long and they were sad to see us go.  And I found myself crying when I stood in the Chick-fil-A parking lot one hot afternoon after eating lunch with my best friend Katie and her three kids.  I had just hugged them all deeply and kissed the 6 and 3 year old boys’ cheeks as they told me, “We love ya, bro!  We’re coming to visit you, bro!  Be good bro!”

It really hit me that I was leaving my old life and old ways the night before I left town.   I was saying goodbye to my friend Jenn and her two little children.  We were outside in her front yard, standing near their maple tree that was dappled with the light from the summer’s first full moon.  I pointed out that a young mockingbird was playing in the tree and the grass hours before when I arrived.  We all could hear him singing but couldn’t see him.  We chit-chatted a little more, and Jenn stood with her 1 year old on her hip while her 6 year old daughter danced back and forth between us.  I was feeling just fine and it didn’t resonate with me when she said to me, “You’re off on your new adventure.  I’m so proud of you, Meg.  It takes so much guts to follow your heart.  You’ll do well, and I can’t wait to see what life has in store for you.”  It wasn’t until I hugged her that I felt her strong arms hold me close to her and not let me go.  I heard a sniffle and realized she was crying.

When I finally stepped back, I saw tears running down her cheeks.  “Why are you crying?” I asked. “I’m a Virgo.  We’re loyal as hell and we don’t let go of friendships that are important to us.”  I laughed a little at my silly astronomy talk that I don’t believe in, minus the loyalty part.  She finally collected herself when her daughter hugged us and laughed, “Oh mommy.  Turn off the waterworks.  You’re Ok.”  I smiled and gave one last hug before getting in my car.  As I began to pull away, I looked up and saw my friend’s tear-streaked face as fresh new tears fell in the tracks.  My heart broke in that moment.  Here were my roots.  Here was my nourishment and my tending and my loving care support system.  In the eyes of my friend.  Of all my friends and family who love me.  The roof over my head and the walls supporting it and the neighborhood around it were very beautiful indeed, but it did not fill me up with so much love as in that moment of my friend’s heartbreak.  And I now see all of the emotions displayed by the ones I love, whether it be practical concerns, words of encouragement, or displays of hurt, sadness, worry, confusion, frustration, elation, and celebration.  They are what anchor me to my heart and allow me to stay rooted to them, no matter where I am.

Advertisements

Crescendo, Decrescendo: A Lesson in Letting Go. . .

My first guitar
My first guitar

I’ve been practicing the guitar now for about 1 1/2 years.  When I started, I was playing a left-handed guitar (where I strum with my left, and form chords with the right).  I chose this way because I am very dominant in my left-hand and thought that was the way to go.   I resisted listening to my guitar instructor Pat’s advice in trying to play the mainstream way.  He kept telling me that I would be a better player and that it would be easier for me.  But for about 1 year I stuck with my way, and struggled every single week at lessons and on my own when I practiced at home.  I had to reverse the written music in my mind and play the chords and notes differently as well.  I plunked along and finally one session Pat just said, “Here, play my guitar.  Just try it, and if you don’t like it, I will stop hounding you about playing left-handed.”

I caved and picked up his guitar.  We started talking and he just said, “G major chord.”  Without thinking, my left-hand formed the chord effortlessly on the fret.  He just started calling out chords:  “D major,” “C major,” “C add 9,” “D sus 4,” “E minor,” and each time my hand found the chord and went right to it.  I sheepishly looked up at him and said, “Yeah, I know.”  Two weeks later, I had a new Jasmine guitar by Takamine and have progressed quickly in my lessons.  Turns out, I’m not too bad of a guitar player.  My biggest problem?  I think too much while I’m trying to play. IMG_0746

About a month ago, I went to guitar lessons and plopped down on my chair in Pat’s office. It was evident we were both in a funk.  He didn’t have any ideas on what song to start me on, and I was waiting for his guidance.  He asked me, “What do you want to play?”  I replied, “I don’t know, what do you think?”  He shrugged his shoulders and said, “You have to play what you want, what you feel like playing.  It’s that simple.”  I rolled my eyes and said, “I don’t know, dude.  Let me think.”  He rolled his eyes and said, “Naturally.  You’re always thinking.”  I was annoyed by him, and he by me.  We had a stare-down.  He finally blinked, sighed and said, “Well, how are you feeling?  Just be honest.”  I told him I was melancholy.  He understood that one.  After a little bit of deliberation and calling off song titles, I said, “There’s a song by Pearl Jam and it has the word ‘breathe’ in it.  I can’t think of the title right now.”  He pulled up YouTube and started typing.  He found “Just Breathe” and pushed played.  The first chord in I said, “Yes, that’s it!  That’s the one I’ve been hearing in my head.  Let’s do that one.”  Little did I know that I chose a challenging song that required a few chord changes, a slide and finger-style picking on the right hand. Pat listened to it a couple of times and played along and said, “Ok, I got it.”  He wrote down the music and taught me the basics.  It was hard.  I could do it, but it would require a lot of practice to the point where I had to become automatic with the changes so I wouldn’t think about each note.

Every week he changed the song and tweaked my technique.  Every week I had to think out the notes and worried about how I sounded and got frustrated when it didn’t sound like Eddie Vedder’s or Pat’s guitar playing.  I became determined and started practicing every night for about a half hour.  I even worked on older pieces in the hopes of just getting a little better and not making a fool out of myself in front of Pat – the only person I have played in front of.  “Who am I to think I can learn to play guitar?” I constantly think this and worry that maybe it’s a foolish hobby to pursue.  I have no reasons why I chose guitar.  I took piano lessons as a kid and played saxophone in my junior high and high school bands.  I have a decent sense of rhythm, and can sing a little bit (only really can harmonize and sing some country/folk songs where beautiful voices aren’t required).  But, I’ve not kept up with my musical side:  I quite piano in the 3rd grade; I stopped saxophone after I graduated high school; and I even stopped tango and salsa lessons a few years back.  All I can explain about the guitar is that for two years I dreamed about playing it and woke up hearing songs in my head.  One day, I finally decided to just go with my gut and I bought my first guitar and haven’t looked back.

IMG_0751

Mostly I shy away from letting anyone really hear me play because I worry that I will get criticized or worse that I will get asked to play a song for someone and when I’m done they’ll not have recognized a single part of it.  So, I sit up in my room and practice my scales and the songs from the week and dig out older songs and see if I can remember what Pat taught me.  Then, I walk into the lesson and hope to God that he hears some progress.  And during practice I get pissed off because I made so many mistakes and it doesn’t sound like what I had been practicing at home.  This is inevitably when I hear Pat say one of the following phrases: “Quit thinking.”  “Stop worrying.  Just let it go.”  “Who cares if you mess up?  I mess up, you don’t hear me stopping and saying, ‘Wait, let me start over.’ Big f—ing deal.  Just keep playing.”   “You’re thinking.  Stop thinking, damn’t!” (His comments are always followed up with me saying, “Yeah, I know,” or when I’m really frustrated with myself I laugh at him and say, “Screw you,” before I start playing all over again.)

I finally decided to be brave yesterday and after walking in to Pat’s office with my usual greeting of, “What’s up, dude?” I tuned my guitar and said, “Ok, just listen to this.”  I closed my eyes and played the first 8 measures of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”.  Sure, I made a few mistakes, but I didn’t stop.  When I opened my eyes, Pat lifted up his hands and said, “Finally!”  I shook my head modestly and said, “Yeah, I know,” relieved that it was over and that I actually sounded decent.  He didn’t let me quit there.  He made me start up again and had me play only 1 specific rhythm with the same 4 notes using the C major chord.  After telling me to quit looking at my hands, he started asking me random questions.  I knew better than to quit playing, so I did my best to answer him and only once said, “Shit,” and “Damn’t” when I screwed up.  I kept playing when he told me to say my ABCs.  I know I gave him a weird look, but like a good student, I obeyed.

Then he told me, “Only focus on what you’re playing,” and he picked up his guitar and began improvising a melody line.  Next he told me to focus on what he was playing and to really listen to him while I kept playing.  All of a sudden, something magical happened:  I began to really feel and hear how his melody and my harmonic rhythm line went together.  Without even trying, I held some notes longer, let a few ring out and synced my sound with his.  There were even places when I created a crescendo and then he ended our song with a decrescendo, smoothly bringing everything to an end.  I had a huge smile on my face.  He gave me two thumbs up and simply said, “Awesome,” and turned to look at his phone and said time was up.  Before I left, he smiled and said, “You’re doing a killer job.”  This compliment was hard earned and means a lot  coming from a bad ass who has purposefully pissed me off numerous times by calling me a “wuss” and a “baby” when I want to quit playing or when I start whining about wanting the music to sound perfect.  He knows full well that it will only make me want to get better and to practice and to learn to let go:  his biggest lesson that he has been teaching me for almost 2 years now.

This evening I went out on my deck and sat down in my lawn chair and started playing my guitar just for me.  I wanted to turn my brain off for once in my life and just have that moment of freedom where perfection wasn’t the end goal of my days here on earth.  The wind was rustling through the leaves and it sounded a little bit like the ocean.  The different whistles, twitters and calls of the birds had a natural melody to them.  I simply closed my eyes, listened to the wind and the birds and played my guitar following the notes wherever they wanted to take me.  I created crescendos and decrescendos in sync with the birds.  I felt the warm breeze on my face and I smiled and heard the notes and felt the rhythm instead of trying to be technical and mechanical with my playing.  I think I found the key to letting go and that is just to listen to your heart and let it sing.  IMG_0754

Real Estate Is the New Dating Game: Part 3

This past Wednesday, I closed on my new house.  It was a tedious, overwhelming process that it was a bit numbing.  I had to sign so many papers at the title company (don’t even get me started what a racket that all is) and had to hand over a hefty cashier’s check for my down payment and closing costs that I really didn’t even have time to think, “Oh my God!  I’m buying a house!”  All of those thoughts, and the nerves that came with them, were in full force leading up to this rather anti-climatic moment. But they weren’t there that day as my hand glided over the 50th copy of some tax form.   It wasn’t until I walked into the house an hour or so later that everything hit me all at once:  this space, this far bigger space than I’ve ever lived in my entire adult life, is all mine.

My new home
My new home

Countless thoughts swirled in my brain as I stood there in the new kitchen.  I looked around at the 700 more square feet I’m gaining and thought, “I can have my friends and family over and we can all sit around comfortably.”  I also worried about who I would call if I accidentally locked myself out of my new house. (Don’t laugh, it’s happened twice in the past at the home I currently reside in.)  A random thought (or maybe an urge) of realizing I could walk naked from end to end in this new home raced through my mind.  (Not that I can’t do that now in my current townhome, but the mere idea of walking naked in this big open space made me feel far more alive and vulnerable at the same time.  Is this some sort of “territory marking” ritual new homeowners do or is it just me?  I don’t know.  I think I’ll skip the self-analysis for now.)

Entrance to the great unknown. . .
Entrance to the great unknown. . .

Suffice it to say my life has been a whirlwind of change lately.  Being the control freak that I am, I want to organize all this chaotic change and put it in neat little compartments and tuck it all away so I can get down to the business of being happy and enjoy all this newness in my life and make it normal.  I’ve been wanting so much in my life lately, and I don’t do well when that newness doesn’t show up in a linear fashion like a checklist that is neatly written in chronological order.  In the spring, my personal life got a boost of excitement when I met a really great guy through mutual friends.  We exchanged emails regularly and went on an amazing date that lasted 7 and 1/2 hours.  I was excited at the possibilities that could unfold with him and looked forward to a growing friendship, but distance (long distance as well as his emotional distance) made that all fizzle and go flat faster than a cheap can of soda. I also met someone through the kennel I take my dog to, and we exchanged texts and pleasantries, but he wound up getting back together with his ex-girlfriend and canceling our date.  Online dating is now officially off of my list of ways to find a date.  I’m tired of posting beautiful pictures of myself, writing a nice profile and sending out countless “winks” and emails and searching and reading the profiles.  It’s becoming like a part time job with no benefits:  a few dates with one guy who got mad at me because I reacted awkwardly when he tried to unexpectedly kiss me in the middle of the date while I was in mid conversation walking in to the restaurant, one guy who stood me up, and a smattering of emails with no follow ups for phone calls or dates, and one creepy stalker who I had to report to the website.  A  few weeks ago, a traveling sculptor at the art fair downtown  hit on me while I was simply walking across the street looking for the public restrooms.  I’ve been checked out so many times at the grocery store, the bank, the hardware store and once while I went into the doctor’s office for a regular checkup that I sometimes worry my ego is getting a little out of check.  I have no idea where this part of my life is going, and though it sounds fun as you’re reading this, it has been stressing me out because it’s so messy and confusing, fun and aggravating all at the same time.  My mind races and tries to organize and compartmentalize what is happening and I’ve been holding on to that one amazing date wondering “what if” and sadly worrying about what I did wrong to possibly make it all go away, and make all these other guys ultimately pass on by too.

The stress that came prior to buying a home caused my neck, jaw and back muscles to spasm.  There was the  incompetent insurance agent who sent all of her information in emails and to the wrong email address at that.  The uptight loan underwriters and processors who asked for 50 million different documents and proof of funds to the point that I wondered if they could even poop without having a contract for proper excretion signed and dated first. Then there was the race to get all the forms, applications, loan approval, home inspection and bank appraisal finished one week before the closing date because the angry homeowner was trying to get out of our contract  (he felt I cheated him out of money simply because he accepted my  $4,000 offer under his asking price, and he claimed he had an offer for $11,000 over asking price the day after he signed our contract).  I also worried about my stressed out realtor who had to deal with said homeowner’s constant badgering about the contract while he was also calling her “honey,” “sweetie,” and “darling,” and offering to give her discounted Cardinals’ tickets, rides for her and her friends on his company’s party bus, a discount on a used Corvette if she could just talk me out of wanting to buy his home.  Once I got the cashier’s check processed (one day before closing), I then had to deal with my bank’s incompetence for online money transfers from checking to savings in which someone somewhere screwed up and caused me to overdraft in both my checking and savings accounts.  I had to call every day and get my money back in the right order for home improvement supplies and funds for my upcoming vacation.  Then, today I get a smiley faced email with exclamation points from my insurance agent asking when I’ll be moving into my new house and telling me that I need to get this current house sold before 6 months is up or they will stop their legalized extortion for more insurance money on this townhome.   She ended by writing “Congratulations on your new home!” and put a big smiley face and another exclamation point after that.

All of these stresses have been enough for me to want to walk away from the unknown and settle back down into my old, comfortable life where I’m rarely noticed by guys, I don’t have to put my heart on the line and look foolish and where my money, my house, my routine stays in place and nothing ever changes.  Or, everything can change but at my command and on my terms.

Open Space = Open Heart
Open Space = Open Heart

Add in all of my worries of wondering if I will fit in with my neighbors, if I’ll be broke because of a pricier mortgage and higher taxes, if I will ever find a guy that will not feel threatened that I bought a nice home, unjustified fears of friends and family feeling jealous of my good fortune, questions of if I deserve this good fortune and just worries in general, and I’ve become a neurotic mess.  And an ungrateful one at that.  Luckily, I have friends and family members that ground me and put me in my place.  My mom and dad both told me how proud they are of me, and my mom reminded me that this life is racked with such difficult, real problems that it is important to seize these beautiful moments and soak in the joy.  My friend Mary has been my biggest cheerleader and paint consultant.  I needed her artist’s eye and advice on what colors would best replace the putrid terra cotta ceilings, electric blue room, and glitter-encrusted walls in the spare bedrooms.  Every time we talk on the phone, she always reminds me that life is full of endless possibilities.   My friend Jenn keeps telling me to “let it go, and let it flow.” And my friend Sarah has told me to “have no fear, bitch,” and to keep my heart open to all that is coming my way and I will know more love than I ever thought possible.  My sister texts me and asks me updates on my house and even embroidered beautiful towel sets for my new kitchen.  And my friend Katie, my wingman through this entire process (Read Parts 1 & 2 here: ), came over to my new house yesterday evening with her two little boys.  She smiled and hugged me and said, “This is all yours!  I’m so excited and happy for you!  You did it!”  And we laughed and watched as Charlie and Peter ran, stomped and yelled from one end of the house to the other.  They ended with a grand finale of somersaults on the hideous shag carpeting in the bedrooms.  All is right with my world.

(Maybe I should do somersaults in my new house, too.  Don’t worry, I won’t be doing them naked.  And if I do, you won’t know.)

Are You There God? It’s Me, Megan.

For my friend.  You know who you are.

Sometimes, we all lose our way.  Sometimes, we put up a facade and pretend to be someone we’re not.  It’s not that we’re fake people.  We’re fearful people.  We’re afraid that we will be judged by others, on any number of topics about our lives.  I will not list my fears here, but I will tell you I have faced them recently.  I realized that all the perceived judgment by others and the self-induced guilt and shame I carried around was done by me.  And me alone.  Everyone looking from the outside in was getting a small representation of who I am on the inside.  Last week, a part of my past (when I was in my early 20s) came rushing from the back of my brain and slapping me in the forehead.  Out of nowhere I began to cry and get upset.  The day was beautiful.  It was 60 degrees, more or less, and it was a bright fall Saturday.  I didn’t have any plans, but I can definitely say it was not on my agenda to sit and dwell on a part of my life that’s been over for more than 10 years now.

Instead of trying to force feed myself some happy-go-lucky mantra, I decided to be brave and to give into the feeling and ride that wave of emotion instead.  Fortunately, I had my trusty notebook by my side, so I started writing down everything I was thinking and feeling as it came into my brain.  It may shock some people to know that there were some dark thoughts inside of me that have been swimming around for a very long time.  (Though, I have come to learn that we all carry that dark side within us every day of our lives.  It’s just that we’re masters at tuning it out, pushing it away or distorting it.) I started to sink into a quick depression, and then I heard a little voice somewhere inside of me say, “This is not real.  You’re letting it all go, but you have to let it out first.  Just hang on, feel it, write it down and then it will pass and be gone forever.  Trust me.”

For the first time in my life, I completely gave over control to that higher voice.  I trusted her (it?  him? who?).  I wrote down 6 pages in my notebook and held nothing back.  Nothing.  I was shocked that everything that took shape there on the page was all the old experiences, mean feelings, judgmental thoughts and cruel lies about myself that I have been carrying around all of these years.  My emotional baggage was now in the form of words on a page.  Although I have been writing my thoughts down for a very long time, for reasons only known by me, this particular experience that happened to me when I was a young woman at the beginning of her path to adulthood never has come up in discussion.  Ever.  Not even in my own personal writings.  I figured I would just have to live with it and deal with it and pretend that it was behind me.  I was afraid to get real even with myself when I was by myself.  Yet, once I leaned into that wise voice inside of my head that promised me that it would all go away once I opened up, I felt free.  I felt like a healed bird whose wings had once been wounded by a cruel predator.  I was ready to walk away from it all and realize that I am more than my facade I have created over the years.

Then, I did the next healing thing I could think of.  I went to the park and I walked the mile long trail with my body and face in the sunshine.  When I got back to my car, I heard that little voice again tell me, “Grab your yoga mat and go up on that  hill.  You’ll thank me later.”  I opened up the back door, reached in for my purple, junky mat that I’ve had for almost 10 years, and traipsed up the hill as joggers and walkers watched me go off the beaten path and roll out my mat on top of a hill situated in an open space.  I practiced a little bit of yoga, and then I sat facing the sun.  I closed my eyes and I drank in my newfound freedom.

“You are so much sunshine to the square inch.” -Walt Whitman

Let the sunshine in.

Nashville Uncovered

Nashville Night-life

On our way to Nashville this weekend, my friend Katie & I had no idea what we would exactly be doing, who we would meet, or where we would be going.  We just knew that we both needed a getaway weekend from our hectic lives.  We’re both high school teachers, and the added stress of taking our work home with us when it doesn’t get finished at work was piling up on both of us in different ways.  It doesn’t matter how, what matters is that we both recognized a break from our daily routine and lives would give us a chance to reconnect with ourselves and just be ourselves.  Not Mrs. McD or Ms. H, or even mom and wife in her case.  Just Katie & Megan out on the road.

That’s when the idea of Nashville came to us.

A few nights before we left, we made hotel reservations and determined that we would figure out the trip as we went.

I’m so glad we did because we didn’t fall into tourist traps nor did we have any real expectations.  Instead, we went in with open minds and open hearts and let the moment take us to wherever we wound up.  Live music, however, was a must.

We got into Nashville late in the evening.  We dropped off our luggage in the room and headed to the lobby to figure out a place to eat.  While we were waiting, we began to notice women walking by us wearing tight jean skirts, tight yoga pants or jeans, and on a few rare occasions tight cut-off jean shorts.  What they all had in common was that they were all wearing over-the-top decorated cowboy boots.  They.  Were.  Horrible.  Yet, I immediately became fascinated by them and we both asked, “Why?  Why in the world would people wear those things?”  We knew the answers:  for attention and for their own idea of sex appeal.  The prettier and more decorated the peacock, the more chances he has at attracting a mate.  Same base mentality applies to us humans.  But seriously, turquoise, hot pink and purple colors may blend together nicely on a peacock; but when they are applied to expensive snake skin and leather and bedazzled with rhinestones and passed off as fashion footwear, a person’s attention seeking ways have gone from normal to extreme.

We rode in the shuttle with 4 middle-aged men our fathers’ age.  They decided to relive their youth and flirt with us and begged us to go to a bar called “The Rebar” with them.  We politely declined, and laughed when we heard them say “Hubba, Hubba,” as we closed the shuttle van door behind us.

After eating at a nice meal at a nice restaurant with a nice cover band, we headed back to the hotel.  Once in the room, I grabbed a pen and paper and started making tally marks.  When Katie asked what I was doing, I mentioned that I was going to start a “Boot Count” tally and check off the number of times I saw women clomping around in these obnoxious things and I was writing down my count from earlier that evening.  And the weekend theme began.

Do these boots make my butt look big?

We noticed them while driving down the 2 lane streets back to the hotel after visiting Andrew Jackson’s homestead “The Hermitage.”  We noticed them in our hotel lobby and at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  As we bit the bullet and walked into and back out of the “Juke Joints,” “Honky Tonks,” and souvenir shops on Music Row, our eyes lit up and we began a fast count of all the pedestrians walking towards us at the crosswalk.  Katie’s pretty blue eyes lit up and she nodded her head ever so slightly and said, “Get out your pen and paper, ‘cuz here they come.”  I pulled out my tally sheet on the corner of Broadway and 2nd and ticked off the 8 college girls walking our way.  They all were wearing black tights, gray sweater dresses, and hideously expensive cowboy boots in chartreuse, red, turquoise, brown-fringed, or pink and purple pointy-toed cowboy boots.  Yes!  Score!

Me & My Guitar Boots
I’m Just a Rhinestone Cowgirl
There’s a Snake In My Boot!

In one souvenir shop, I spotted a hideous Elvis jumpsuit that I tried to persuade Katie to buy for a Halloween costume.  All I got was this picture of the mannequin wearing it instead.

Return to Sender

I spotted an Elvis fortune telling machine when I was at the checkout machine.  I pressed my luck, and put in my 50 cents.  Elvis gave me some sound advice and my fortune card told me, “Recently you’ve had to make some judgements. . .The more we judge, the less we love.”  I worried that the all-knowing Elvis was chastising me for being so critical of my fellow females, and so I did a “Mea Culpa” and went into 3 boot stores and took pictures of the boots and pretended to like them.  When approached by the salesclerk and asked to try a pair on, I told her “Thank you,” but they were “too expensive” for my taste.  I made my attempt to fit in, and my reward was meeting an Elvis-impersonator and getting advised to go to “Boot Time” store so I could buy 1 pair and get 2 pairs free.

I see boots & live music in your future, darling.
A Hunk-a Hunk-a Burnin’ Love
Buy 1 pair, get 2 pairs Free

Later in the evening, we knew that we had to go listen to live music.  So, we took a local’s advice and wound up going to “The Commodore Lounge” in the Holiday Inn across town.  We were both very glad that we did.  When we walked in, 4 women were on stage.  Each one had a mic and their guitars.  It was “Songwriter’s Night.”  Each set of 2 – 4 people got a total of approximately 1 hour to perform their songs they had written and crafted.  It was amazing.  The 1st woman had so much emotional depth to her lyrics and voice that she gave us goosebumps.  The 2nd woman was so polished in her singing and playing, and her song “No Neighbors,” made me feel melancholy and realize the truth that in our culture we don’t sit on our porches and visit with neighbors, but instead we rush home and shut down the garage door and seal off the world.  The 3rd woman sang with a lot of grit and made you take the “Whisky Queen,” seriously and incensed you when you learned she was cheated on by her man.  And the 4th woman sang a tender song about her daughter, and her face glowed when she looked out in the audience and saw her daughter sitting in the front.

Each set brought an interesting grouping of songwriters – some who have known each other for awhile, and others who had just met each other while on stage.  The beauty of it was that the universe was working in the artists’ and audience’s favor that night because all the songs and styles blended so well with one another.  One man sang a honky-tonk, bluesy song, and the 2nd round he sang a country song called “Real Men Wear Pink.”  It started off funny, and then turned when the character’s wife had developed and then overcome breast cancer and he put on his pink ribbon to show his support of her.  It was a very well crafted and surprising song.

In between the sets, Katie and I struck up a conversation with a young man by the name of Mike Everett.  I usually don’t post people’s full names on this blog, but in his case I’m making an exception.  He is a songwriter with substance.  He’s shy and unassuming, but very observant.  Throughout the evening, we learned that he has been playing since he was 14 (he’s now 22), and he moved to Nashville a few months ago.  We thought it was just to focus on his music career, but he later revealed to us that he graduated from a military school and is working as a Mechanical Engineer at a company in town.  He only started writing music a year ago, but he’s known that music is part of his life and that he really does want to make it his life’s focus and passion.  If we stayed for his late set, we would miss our shuttle back to the hotel and have to take a cab late at night.  We decided that since he was all alone (his roommate was out touring with his band, and he has no relatives in the state) we would be his support system.  Feeling like his big sisters, we told him to leave his jacket and go get his guitar and get ready.  We wished him well, and then we sat back and waited.

Once the soundcheck was over for him and the 2 other men (both in their 60s), he volunteered to go first.  His scrawny physique immediately changed, and the lighting hit his sharp, angular cheekbones and nose just right that his demeanor changed the minute he hit his first chord.  With his dark, curly brown hair and black t-shirt he looked like a cross between a young Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.  His voice was strong and his rhythm was tight.  He brought a range of emotions to his song called “Words,” and he even got the attention of a woman in the crowd who clapped and said, “Whoo hoo!” as he was playing.  The 2 other men on stage sat in their chairs and smiled and grinned as he continued.  His second song, “On the Fence,” was about trying to break up with someone, but being afraid to lose her forever.  His voice was gritty and the vocals were raw and straight from the heart.  It was obvious that this song was fresh and new, not because he just wrote it, but because he was connecting into those emotions that he obviously went through to write that song.  It was pretty great to watch and listen to him.  We wound up visiting with him the rest of the evening and shutting down The Commodore Lounge.

High school students even got up there and performed as well.  The youngest one was a 14 year old girl who played the keyboard and sang songs about being in touch with nature, and finding herself while trying to work out the chaos of life as a teenager.  They even had great lines. The 16 year old girl played a waltz-rhytm on her guitar and sang, “Next time I’ll let my heart speak through my mouth.”  The 17 year old boy told a story about falling in love with a girl and referencing It’s A Wonderful Life and says he’ll “. . .be like George Bailey and lasso the moon for you.”  It was fun to watch these 3 kids have a chance to speak their hearts and minds and share their talents in this small, off the beaten path, venue.

Oh, and how can I forget Ken & Jeannie Veltz?  A husband and wife duo.  They performed 2 songs, one called “You Like Me,” and “Before You Take Me Home.”  I’m actually listening to the latter one as I’m typing this just to try and recapture the feelings I felt as I listened to them sing in this intimate venue. They have been married 38 years and have children and grandchildren.  Their songs have such a lovely, positive overtone and such soul and depth in them.  There’s humor, love and passion and compassion in their lyrics and melody and harmony.  Katie and I both got teary-eyed listening to them and very uplifted and grounded at the same time.  Katie leaned over to me during the second song and said, “Could you imagine having them as grandparents?  I mean, you would get to experience this every time you were with them.  How cool is that?”  I agreed.  They’re something special.  I encourage you to check out their website:  http://www.veltzmusic.com/Adventures_Veltz.html You won’t regret it.

And there you have it:  Nashville Uncovered.  Though it has its tourist traps, silly styles and its own culture and way of doing things, like every city, the real Nashville lies in the people who bring Music City to life.  Those unsung heroes of singing and songwriting.  Those who know that it’s more important to work on your craft and put your vulnerability, heart, and soul on the line.  Those who will never make it on the radio or get a wide range of attention (unless maybe if they buy some of those boots).  Those who create because they know it’s about the process of creating and sharing that process in the form of art.  Those who connect to us out there in the audience for a brief moment and share a part of their lives for 3 – 5 minutes at a time.