i sat with my back to the door, an unusual choice for me, and one i made purposely to see how i felt about it. i felt wrong. however, after hanging my wool pea coat—which is black by nature but had become threaded with fine white pit bull hairs, even though i'd cleaned it the day before— and my scarf and my purse on the bar stool, and after laying out my ipad, to write a letter for a client, and my book, to shove my nose in after finishing work, i didn't feel like moving all of that around the corner and a few stools up, which was the next empty seat. so i settled into my uncomfortable spot.
there were two couples on either side of me, one who is looked down up on because they are interracial, according to the half-drunk female cohort who went on to turn up her volume to an unworkable level. "that's unfortunate," i said, sincerely meaning it and sincerely wishing i knew the whereabouts of my headphones so i could give her the universal sign for "i'm closed for conversation now." the other couple was probably around my age, late thirties, that is, and seemed happy, just plain happy to be at the corner of the bar, eating locally sourced burgers and fries with three kinds of dipping sauce. when they left, i relocated. the looked-down-upon couple had gone too, so i had solace, but my back-to-the-door felt as huge as a billboard. with my side to the door in my new seat, i felt small and unnoticeable again.
work moved quickly and i felt a thrill as i finally settled back into my recent fix, The Glass Castle, a memoir by west virginian jeannette walls. since first opening its pages, i had been mesmerized. it's been so long since a book has made me feel that way; the only word that suffices to describe it is love. for a while i've largely neglected books in favor of more academic reading. i've gone on thousands of online knowledge adventures, digging up bits about every thought or question that has crossed my mind, like henry kissinger, quantum theory, sinn fein, the middle east conflict, the former yugoslavia, the krebs cycle, fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers, peaberry coffee beans, the history of punk rock, petroleum, "uphill" breast feeding, phytic acid, treasury bonds, rococo art, bee pollination, and more, more, and more—most of which i'll have to re-research, or already have, because i only retain a chunk of each bit of information, and i'll drive myself crazy until i go back and remind myself where that chunk fits.
over the past few weeks, my reading time was mostly devoted to jeannette walls. as i read the details of her life—one absolutely gorged on both tribulations and triumphs—i was transported not just into the world her book created but into myself as a writer. as my eyes devoured every word, my soul was rapturous. reading the words of another soul moved to write, i felt alive. i felt like me. i didn't want that book to end. end it did, last friday as i was curled up in the glider chair at my parents' house, the same chair where i spent many cold winter days nursing my january-born boy, singing him "yoshimi" by the flaming lips, and snuggling his tiny, new body as he slept. as i reluctantly closed the covers, i thought, i'm so glad someone from west virginia wrote this unforgettable book. i wonder if jeannette walls sees herself as unbelievably resilient as her readers do, or if she considers her experiences mere facts of her life. it's a brilliant fact of life that books can move us.
i can't live without being moved. i search for it everywhere—in the music i listen to, the clothes i wear, the food i cook, the way i raise my son, the people with whom i spend my time. my inspiration began, i'd say, from the moment of conception, my father being an english teacher and my mother a singer, not by trade but by irrepressible habit and talent. as i grew, my big brother became a model of one who must be moved. his room was a wonderland and served as my education in musical passions; from walls to desktop to dresser-drawer contents, i learned about stevie ray vaughan, rush, primus, deep purple, john bonham, zildjian, and jeff buckley. and knives, i learned about them too, the kind with a compass built into the handle and or with tools that disappear into the metal folds. my brother wasn't a violent guy; i'd say he was more passionate about the idea of survival. i don't blame him. me too.
muse as tool for survival. yes, i'll buy that.
i've been chasing muses for many years now. there are large-scale muses, like life goals, and small ones that are like paint splatters added to a white-canvas day. some days, the muse might be nothing more than what i'm wearing. that's why i like to own old things: vintage; antique; gently worn. while the euphemisms tend to change, the fact remains that they're old, and they have character and stories, and that makes me feel good. i used to have quite the wardrobe of old things; many of them were lost to the relocation war of attrition. now that i'm hoping to move fewer times, maybe even only one more time—into my home sweet home that will hopefully be somewhere in the neighborhood where i live now, my warm little jewel among these whimsical victorians and stately stones—i wish i had held on to more of my old things. then again, new-old muses are always finding their way into my life, as family hand-me-downs and garage-sale finds, and less often thrift-store scores, seeing as this town has mostly done away with the places where i found so many treasures during college.
music moves me too. over the past fifteen years or so, it's been a current that has carried me to people and to places. yesterday, i was reminded of one of those such drifts. in 2004, i went to a bar in morgantown to see a band from indiana called magnolia electric company with my best girl erin. she and i were the tightest of tight back then. still are, though it's been years since we've been near enough for a hug. the singer of that band was jason molina, who had grown up partly in southern west virginia, not far from erin's hometown. after the show, they chatted about that part of the state. jason was a small man, and his voice was not big either, but how it had a presence. it was the voice of moonlight coming through the window of an appalachian mountain home.
a year after that show, i went to another at the same bar to see a band who shared a member with magnolia electric company. my friend gave the band a place to stay after the show, and i made a new friend that night. j.e.g. and i have stayed in touch through email and facebook for a decade now, only seeing each other once when magnolia played memphis. a guitar player by night and historian by day, j.e.g. is a good-spirited, talented, driven guy topped off with a head full of crayon-orange curls that give him a distinct appearance, especially when they flop around with his impassioned guitar playing. like his bandmate jason molina, j.e.g. has ties to west virginia, having married a girl from the very town where my father taught school. sometimes the world truly does feel as small as that shiny, textured globe that spun around on its metal axis in various classrooms throughout my early education. in 2013, jason molina died from organ failure due to alcoholism. j.e.g. wrote a beautiful tribute that was posted online two days ago, and it reminded me that i'm so glad to have met a guy like him along my way.
i've met many inspiring people by way of music and travels. they are a bowl of mixed nuts: musicians, filmmakers, photographers, skateboarders, social workers, and entrepreneurs from all over the country, with even an oscar winner among them. they are mostly men, and of these men, all except one i have never so much as kissed. that one, he was a byproduct of circumstance: he was around and i was around. as the lead singer stamped by countless tattoos and endowed with a handsomeness not near classic but sufficient enough to enhance the built-in allure of being a guy with a guitar, he had a surplus of interested women, and so he never entertained any sort of serious cavorting with me. although that became occasionally frustrating, since i am human, overall there was no harm done seeing as i hadn't actually entertained the facts of actually catching him. my path at the time was consumed by a desire to be part of something, to feel energized, to be taken away from a place that tried to hush my spirit—all forces far more powerful than an aimless crush. my goal, even subconscious at times, is to be moved.
and what about, instead of being moved, being one who moves? as the grateful recipient of inspiration in the form of people and places, i'm also lucky enough to have been the giver of inspiration too. i know because i've been told. what beautiful revelations. i tuck those word-gifts into deep folds of my mind for safe keeping. i've decided there is no contest between being moved and moving. both are wonderful and essential to a life of purpose.
as i spend the first morning of this new year eying my shamefully chipped, sparkly black nail polish, writing from my desk that used to house my grandmother's sewing machine, sitting in this funky throwback chair i plucked from goodwill, humoring my littlest love's endless journeys to and from my lap, i hope for the coming year to brings gifts of inspiration. i wish for fortune and progress to shape our days in 2015.
i keep silent thank yous on reserve, ever grateful for the gift of being moved.