Beautiful sunny cool day in Austin. Inspiring “bro-client” Erik Conn, drummer extraordinaire, swung by the house in a pick-up truck rerouted by the marathon. Called across my big green backyard to say hey as I hung laundry (muddy dog beds, rugs, towels, and sheets). Though I was ensconced in slobarific writer sweats, and hadn’t had a shower yet, I took a brief break to chat.
I was glad to see him. You ever have one of those friends that gets right to what’s real? The day, the weather, his blues and joys, tacos, house-sitting, fans, concerts, art, music, the zone, discussions of ego and other psychological structures and their relationship to the soul. Such was our conversation, as always. Not to mention bro hand-clasping through the wire fence (tall because of escape artist dogs) and words in parting that leave me feeling loved and supported. More than a few times he’s called me one of his favorite Jedi Knights.
Inspired by the familiar discussion with Erik, his dedication to creating art that pays off huge in joy and beauty but not so much in moola, and how difficult that can be, here’s where I am right now on the zig-zag creative path:
Practicing life-long writing habit.
Know what I want to say and saying it.
Putting “it” in the work (all angst, problems, arguments go into the writing, not the air).
Dividing writing time fairly well between the creative and editing sides.
Spending an equal amount of time learning the business, making contacts, and marketing as I do creating the work.
Operating as if writing is my main job now.
Always have a great guide or teacher (right now, it’s Truby).
Not thrown off course by creative peaks and valleys.
No writers block, though I do swim through mud often on the business side of things.
Setting boundaries, ie, I say no to 90 percent of gatherings, arts, shows, holiday visits, travel, even relationships.
Maneuvering through the minefields of life and day job and just keep writing.
And it’s all worth it.
Here’s a shout out to Erik and all the other struggling artists, who’ve dedicated to their art and craft and are still in the in-between world of the day job that pays the bills (which could last forever as far as anyone knows) and are still driven to create. Here’s to you, creators!
As Erik said today, “The sun is on my face. I’m glad to be alive!”
Where are you in your process? Feel free to give a shout out in the comments to the dedicated creator in your life, especially if it’s you! Post links if you feel it.
Monday a house exploded in my neighborhood, on my street, catty-corner and one over from me. For a news story on the event, click here. My post is a personal account of a few of my neighbors who were involved, shocked, and saddened.
It was 8:23 AM according to neighbor Buster, who was working at home and looked up at the clock right when it happened. Neighbor Dale, driving home after taking his daughter to school, was directly in front of the house when it blew. The force moved his car. The roof of the house went up one story high and landed in the front yard. Debris began to fall over a larger area, and electric lines began sparking and exploding. He knew no one inside would have survived a blast like that and turned his attention to the house next door, moved off its foundation, windows blown out. Once inside he saw sheetrock blown off the walls, debris and possessions everywhere including boards and nails. The resident who had been blown out of bed by the force of the explosion wanted to stay and look for his dog, but Dale kept him moving out. The dog has since been found.
Neighbor Jack, next door to the blast on the other side, was just about to take cute Harley the pit bull on a run (Jack on bike) when the house exploded. Jack, too, first went toward the blast, and found immediately there was no way he could go in. He could hear continued explosions, and see flames already engulfing the house. He, too, turned his attention to others, nearby, his wife and granddaughter. He ran back inside his own house and yelled, “Get out of the house. Now!” I spoke with him again earlier today. He said that after taking his granddaughter to another neighbor’s place, “Apparently I told Candy to get in the car with the dogs and just drive. I don’t remember that,” he said.
My new neighbor next door, I heard from Dale, must have run out of his house exactly as the blast sounded, because he was barefoot and wore only shorts and t-shirt. It was cold and rainy. He ran behind the house to see if he could get in, and there met yet another neighbor, a teenager, trying to see if he could help. The entire back of the house had blown off, so they could see where the rooms used to be. Many neighbors ran from one street over in their pajamas to watch the tragedy unfold.
When I talked to Jack minutes after the blast, his mind was squarely on his next-door neighbor, Renald. He lamented the fact that Renald’s car was in the driveway. He lamented the fact that the blast occurred during the time Renald sometimes would have already left for work. He gave thanks Renald’s son was likely not there with him. The boy lives in Houston, and though he was there sometimes visiting his father, Jack didn’t think he was there now. We now know he wasn’t. Jack asked more than once of neighbors standing around, “The car was in the driveway, right?” Right. He stopped talking. His nine-year-old granddaughter, Alicia, was watching closely. She asked, “Is he dead?” Jack said, “I don’t know, honey. Maybe so.” Alicia ran off to the neighbor’s house to be with her grandmother.
I keep thinking about these neighbors who dropped everything and ran toward a huge explosion, a rooftop flying up into the air and raining down, flames shooting out in seconds, engulfing a house in mere minutes. Then, they had the presence of mind to drop the first impulse to run into the fire, knowing the cause was lost, and turn immediately to the next most important concern, the people nearby who might still be in danger.
I keep thinking about our lost neighbor. I didn’t know him, but had said hello passing his place while walking the dogs. He was almost finished with the remodel and looked forward to his son moving in with him, says a KVUE report this evening.
Dale describes the blast (another neighbor Shirley speaks first, then Dale). Click here. (This is a report from Monday).
As the facts of the story come to light and the investigation moves forward, I’m finding out other places in the neighborhood are leaking gas. Even last night I heard another story from a neighbor I met walking his dog. He’s experienced the strong smell of gas off and on for some time on his property. He expressed frustration with the gas company’s response and especially the ongoing nature of the problem. But now crews are on the scene day and night monitoring our street. Today I checked on the neighbor who mentioned those problems, and the gas at his place is turned off and the line is plugged. I’m glad.
Despite this tragic event and the ongoing worries, I feel grateful to live here with these neighbors, and grateful for life. I’m moved by the heroism and calm of the neighbors who ran to help. I’m grateful for the firefighters, gas workers, and investigators. And I’m so sorry Renald won’t be able to live here among us anymore.
Next week, here in Austin, I’ll be showing off the largest urban bat colony in the world, eating great Tex-Mex food south of the River, and listening to some live music somewhere in the city each night with my old friend and boss, Bill Presley. We worked together many moons ago at Charley’s Seafood Grill in Addison, Texas. Bill had a way of organizing our world back in the day by creating mix tapes and throwing a series of parties for each season. If I recall, Summer Party # 3 was the best. But who can say? There was a pool, a ton of beer, several excursions to the 7-11 for cigs, and for some unknown reason, copious amounts of high-fiving complete with hand injuries. The next day at work, Bill awarded me the mix-tape from the party, saying I deserved it, because I had had the most fun. I count this as my highest honor. I had performed the choreography to “Manhunt” from Flashdance, then made out on the front porch for a really long time with my good friend, David, home from college for a visit. I guess I had to go on a manhunt to find the boy next door who actually came to the party with me and turned out to be not just my date, but my date-date. I was in my early twenties.
While Bill organizes by celebration, I organize by place. When I think of each house, apartment, and spare room I’ve ever lived in, I can tell you where I worked, who my roommates were, who my boyfriend was (or the guy I wished was my boyfriend if I was single), the major things that happened in my life and in the world, and even what I wondered and hoped. Since I had to move every six months to two years, depending on the roommate-money-landlord situation, when I recall the place, all the other details follow like ducklings.
During the Bill Presley days I lived in a three-bedroom brick house near the edge of Plano and Richardson with roomies, Melanie and Martin who both worked with Bill and me at Charley’s. We had THE party house. Melanie and I were waitresses; Martin was a bartender; Bill was our manager, friend, and experience instigator. He organized outings to Ranger games and water parks and movies and concerts. Bill got tickets from the owner of our restaurant to the ZZ Top Eliminator Tour Concert. We couldn’t make the show, because we both had to work that night, but those tickets got us in to the after-party. We hung out at the bar all night talking about our lives and loves and trying to convince the bartender to trade his ZZ Top shirt for entres at Charley’s.
A few years ago in an OCD-like energy burst, I decided to write down not only all the places I’ve lived, but all the times I’ve moved. Some of those times I moved back in to places I’d lived before, like Mom’s house, my sis, Kim’s, dining room, Dad’s living room a couple of times. My dear friend and talented performing songwriter, Dana Cooper, a road warrior musician if there ever was one, once told me I was the person most crossed off and rewritten in his address book, (in the olden days before cell phones). Out of all those fans, all those years. As I was trying to remember every time I moved, I lost count at fifty. But the images of the houses, apartments, and rooms-for-rent float into my mind’s eye, and I still see the roommates, bosses, and customers. I hear the concerts, smell the fajitas and margaritas, taste the cold beer and all-you-can-eat breakfast bars after a long night out, feel the sun and sand from Hamilton Pool, its waterfall crashing down cold and powerful on the top of my head on a hot Texas Hill Country day.
Now that I’ve lived in the same house for over seven years, I find it difficult to differentiate events, goals, and relationships, when they happened, how long they lasted. Entire years blob by. I started organizing a memoir around the places I’ve lived, not because they’re all over the world and fabulous. In fact, all the places I’ve lived are in or near Dallas or Austin. I just needed to get it straight in my head, try like hell to get a handle on memory and therefore, perhaps, life. It works. Writing memoir is an exercise in memory, which leads to discovering or creating meaning. One of the nicest places I ever lived was actually my childhood home, the little brick house with the magnolia tree in the front yard, near the Richardson High School baseball field. The discovered meaning: I’m actually living the collective dream of my home town backwards. We were supposed to grow up, get an awesome lucrative career that made us rich, and buy a house three times bigger than the one we started out in.
I’ve never owned a house, but I’ve lived in some wonderful places. My homes come with persons attached to them: landlords. For instance, I now have the greatest landlord in the world (thank you, Sandra!), who not only lets me rent this cute little house with a huge backyard for my four dogs in a great neighborhood, she once proclaimed, “You can live here forever as far as I’m concerned!” (The Greatest Gift ever given to this renter). I also had the second best landlord in the world, Sonny “I Think We Can Work That Out” Rhodes. Not Sonny Rhodes, the “Disciple of Blues” from Smithville, but the music-loving Austinite, who is, however, friends with performing songwriter, Chip Taylor, who wrote “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning”. If you live in Austin, you’re either in the band or you know it personally.
I lived in the top right unit of Sonny’s tiny four-plex in the North University neighborhood in Austin for the long stretch of four and a half years. Not having to turn around and move again after six months is always a plus. I’m creating a TV drama set in Austin and was looking for location ideas in the book, Keep Austin Weird: a Guide to the Odd Side of Town by Red Wassenich. I turned a page, encountered a photo of Sonny’s four-plex and realized I do not need to do research to find interesting locations that say something about the characters and their situations; I’ve lived it. There it was, the tiny beige brick box, the stairs, railings, and shutters painted Longhorn orange, the facade accented by chairs, mirrors, macrame, and other possesions all painted bright Caribbean blue and spilling out of the downstairs apartment into the yard and parking spaces. In the photo it really did look weird (in a good way; that’s how we mean it here). When I lived there, it was burnt orange but didn’t have the ocean-blue embellishments outside. A small space in a wonderful neighborhood, it served as my crash pad after doing massage therapy, nannying for two families, hanging out at Kerrville Folk Festivals, going to house concerts, and hosting, along with family and friends, a House Concert Series of our own in whatever space we could find: one backyard, one Methodist Church sanctuary, and one home on Shoal Creek Drive with great-sounding hardwood floors. We heard some fantastic performing songwriters at our concert series: Ruthie Foster, johnsmith, John McVey, Dana Cooper, Pierce Pettis, Chris Rosser.
We were just about to book our favorite Austin musicians for the next series when we had to take a break for a while. That break ran long, and I’m still on it, having had nose to grindstone ever since.
With Bill coming to town and Summer party # 3 about to start (he’s informed me Summer Party #’s 1 and 2 have already come and gone) where should we go next week in Austin, “Live Music Capital of the World?” What’s your favorite bar, coffeehouse, or living room in Austin to listen to music? What are the places you remember?