Saturday, May 17, 2008

Enlighten the Load

You know those moments when the harsh light of reality clicks on above your head and suddenly you see things more clearly and you’re all like DUH, I AM SO STUPID. That happened to me just the other day.

I thought I was doing pretty well with the letting go of things as I pack to move cross country. I've sold a lot of furniture on (Best. Web site. Ever.) and built a massive pile in my dining room of decorative items, linens, clothes, shoes, and all kinds of other stuff for a garage sale and/or donation. But I was having trouble selling myself the idea of leaving books behind.

I love books. I refer to Barnes & Noble as the Vatican and I tithe like an alter boy in the priest's chambers. My "To Read" pile eats up a healthy bite of my bookshelves and just keeps getting fatter. I often wonder how I escaped the publishing industry for so long.

When I was getting estimates for moving trucks, I was dismayed to find they were much higher than I anticipated. I was told my books were what raised the tally because they are heavy (especially since I have a thing for hardbacks) and estimates are based on weight in the truck. Darn. The price of being educated.

I decided to weed out my library, but I didn't do a very good job. There may have been 15-20 books I was willing to part with, all novels or things I'd read halfway then lost interest in. (I gained back about 10 bookmarks tho!) It wasn't even really a dent. I accepted that it's going to be an expensive move, and packed the rest.

Then the other day I read something that flipped a switch. Books "belong to the world" a particular blog stated, and they should be passed around and shared, just like music. Hmm. I nodded in agreement, but my conscience was poking me because I know I'm not walking my talk. I've had an account with for four years (another awesome web site), and I've registered exactly four books - all within the first few weeks of membership. Not what I'd call a shining example of sharing.

I've always felt a bit of unrest too in the fact that books are made of paper, which means dead trees, and the more I buy, the more I'm contributing to killing trees. Especially if I'm recommending other people buy the same book instead of just giving them my copy. Not cool. But I still love my books. There's something very relaxing about seeing them lined up in a bookcase; or being curled up in a chair with one, your favorite beverage on the table by your side.

Anyway, I questioned if I was being selfish. :sigh: Yes, probably so. My rationale has always been that I might need to reference them later when I'm writing, but I know deep down it's super rare that I've ever actually gone back to look something up. In fact, even if I did, the chances of me remembering which book to look in were pretty slim, and half the time I can find it faster on the Net. Sometimes it sucks to be so internally honest.

So I asked myself, "Why do I have such a hard time letting go of books?" Well, I like having them in my home because they make it feel cozy and comfortable, like a bookstore or coffee shop. Somewhere in the grey matter I also knew it was a little bit because I feel like people with a lot of books are generally smart, and I want others that visit me to think I'm smart too without me having to demonstrate it. Ego was lurking in the corner at this point, looking guilty and trying not to be conspicuous.

"Which books do I like having the most?" I asked. Definitely the New Agey-spiritual ones. (They are a majority of my collection.) "Ok, then what is it about the New Agey-spiritual ones that I like so much?" Ego's virtual hand shot up despite myself. "Because they make me feel more spiritual and surely they project my enlightenment to the world!"

Oh Ego, if I give you enough rope, you always hang yourself.

The floodlight was tripped and I realized that if that's really why I was hanging onto all that ink and paper, beautiful as it may look on cherry shelving, I had COMPLETELY missed the point of the very tomes I stubbornly clutched to my being. Siddhartha was right: Attachment only leads to suffering. (And expensive transnational moves.) You can't find yourself, or a feeling of spirituality, or enlightenment, by looking for it in material things... like books. DUH.

So I actually UN-packed boxes yesterday and sorted out everything I've read. I'm even putting all seven of my hardback first edition Harry Potter books on eBay. (Fantastic story, but seriously, do I need JK Rowling to make me feel magical?) I kept any I hadn't read yet and my absolute favorites like Conversations With God, The Red Book, Surfing the Himalayas, and God's Debris. I then noticed I still have more than enough to create a cozy feeling, especially since I'm not taking all my shelves with me. After I finish reading the books that made the cut, they'll be moving on. I'll probably have bought twice as many to replace them by then anyway, plus it gives me reason to explore new coffee houses in San Diego and find public bookshelves in need.

I'm leaving all my Book Darts (yet another fabulous idea) in the titles I'm giving away too. I always found used books that have notes in the margins especially intriguing because it leaves much to the imagination about who the previous owner was. Book Darts offer even less explanation, but the places I mark are generally good points to spend a few extra minutes pondering. This spreads a bit of a balm on my strangled Ego too, thinking the next reader might possibly stop and wonder who I am and what made me single out that particular passage.

Maybe the truck and my spirit will be a little lighter now.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Some Enchanted Evening

Just about two weeks ago I drove 3 1/2 hours to Worcester, MA (pronounced Wuss-ter, which I cannot imagine spelled any other way now thanks to Jenn at Random Lunacy - check her out) to see Jason Mraz play one of his last gigs on the Music, Magic & Make-Peace mini-tour promoting his new CD, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. coming Tuesday to an iTunes near you. So much of my trip was spent in the Present Moment it felt like living a fantasy, and I'm not trying to be dramatic.

This is going to be long, so make some tea and get comfortable if you’re interested in getting to the bottom of this.

Now let's see...

As some of you know, and others may have guessed, Mraz has been at the top of my Favorite Musician list for almost three years. Not just because he writes great songs with lyrical prowess and memorable melodies; if you read his blogs and listen to his interviews you will find a genuine, True person. He is not a fabrication of the music industry, a marketing department, or your imagination (although he will definitely engage it!).

Wuss-ter is 3 1/2 hours from where I live so originally I had not planned to go to this concert, but the temptation of seeing the show one last time proved too much. Once you're a Mraz fan, just plan on spending all your extra cash to go to his concerts because they're like Lay's potato chips - you can't stop at just one.

Yes people, he is all that and a bag of chips. (C'mon, how could I not go there? :)

I left work early so I could reach the venue in time. The weather didn't look good, it had been raining all day and driving long distances in rain makes me nervous. The Universe smiled shortly before I left though, and the roads were dry. What a blessing.

The drive proved to be just as charming as the concert. I discovered that CT-15 North is a beautiful route and very much resembles driving through a Disneyfied woodland forest. The highway is lined with trees and wooden fences, and I passed under several arched stone bridges with iron scrollwork along the top. Being that it's Spring, everything was bright green, pink, yellow - gorgeous colors everywhere I looked. If a cartoon princess had come skipping across the road, woodland friends in tow, I would not have thought twice about it.

As I was driving along admiring the view, I happened upon an exit for New Canaan, CT. Once upon a time, I lived in New Canaan with my mother in an apartment above a huge empty house that still holds the record in my mind for the Best. Kitchen. Ever. (Mom says I'm mixing up my memories, and it's possible I drempt the kitchen, but seems real enough in my head.) It was around the corner and down a few streets from a house Robert Redford owned (for real), and I remember we would joke about rubbing elbows with all the snotty rich people when we did our grocery shopping at Food Emporium. Now that I shop mostly at Whole Foods in Ridgewood (a very similar store in a similar neighborhood), I think about those trips and suspect I may have become one of the snobs. Hmmm.

We only lived there two months, but I have a surprising number of good memories from that place for such a brief period of inhabitance, so even though I didn't have time to use the exit, it was very cool to pass the signs and flip through happy thoughts like a photo album.

Further along the trail, there appeared an entrance to a tunnel through a mountain. Have you ever unexpectedly smelled something that reminded you of kindergarten? When I saw the tunnel, it must've released some mad rush of serotonin in my brain because I felt that same sense of wonder and excitement one rarely experiences after growing up. It was weird and awesome all at once. Amazing how something so simple can give you a thrill.

Mom and I traveled a lot when I was little, and I remember vividly going through tunnels in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and the Smokies in Tennessee. They were long and dark and I'd make up stories in my head about mythical creatures that could pop out ahead and whisk us away to another time and place. (Have I mentioned what a large part of my childhood good ol' Walt influenced?)

Looking back I'm not sure why tunnels thrilled me so much (I avoid the Lincoln Tunnel like the plague) but it was way cool to feel that same anticipation and I literally laughed out loud at myself.

And this was all BEFORE I got to the concert!

The rest of the drive was actually uneventful, except at one point I found Benny & The Jets by Elton John stuck in my head. I tried to think how that could've possibly happened since I'd been listening to Jason the whole way, and decided it must be an association with Mraz singing Rocket Man, along with a realization that I hadn't heard him play Rocket Man at all during this tour and that I missed hearing it. ::cue foreshadowing music::

I arrived at Holy Cross College just before the doors opened. Jenn and Matt had been standing in line with a new friend, Bridgete, for over an hour so they were right up by the door. I felt COMPLETELY GUILTY walking past all those people to go stand with my friends at the front, especially when I saw how cold they all were and I'd just stepped out of a nice warm car. Thank you SO MUCH to my friends for their generosity! And thank you to everyone in line that probably thought I was an ass, but didn't say anything.

We were let in shortly thereafter and found our way to a place near the front of the mob at the stage. There was a bit of confusion about people who had tickets in hand vs. those forced to pick them up at will call, so we were about 4 people deep in the crowd despite the awesome line position. Oh well. I have no complaints. Standing there waiting for the first band, I thought it was kind of funny that I seem to always end up in the same spot relative to the stage.

Everclear opened the show for a reason no one is able to figure out. They're an odd pairing with Mraz, but fortunately I like their music so it was fun to see them live. I couldn't remember too many of the lyrics, but I recognized the songs, and they definitely rocked the house. I thought surely due to time they must be replacing part of the Music, Magic, & Make-Peace circus that has been this tour, but no. It was a 4 1/2 hour marathon of fun with no one left out.

Since my reviews of the first two concerts I attended (PA & NYC) went by the wayside, this will kind of be a combination of all three.

I have to say, the PA & NYC shows were great, but they were almost identical in every way - right down to the jokes between songs - and I find that odd for a Mraz production. In the past, his concerts have been less staged: the setlist was more of a crapshoot (in a good way) and the banter was less predictable, which is what makes it so worth buying tickets to multiple shows on the same tour. Don't get me wrong, both PA & NY went by at 100 SPH (Smiles Per Hour) and I enjoyed every minute. I was just surprised these two were SO similar and it makes me wonder if it had to do with record label control or if Jason decided it's easier to work that way, or you just can't be that spontaneous with that many people on stage or what. I've always had too many questions in my head, the most persistent being "Why?"

The Wuss-ter show appeared to have more spontaneity to it but later, when I looked up the set lists from the Canadian shows the two nights previous, I saw it wasn't quite as spontaneous as I thought. Either way it made me happy and that's really all that matters.

The Ring Master for this event was Justin Kredible, and he is exactly that. His bowling ball trick is my favorite for the "how the fuck did he do that" factor, and I still laugh when I think about his "learning a new trick" with the banana. It's a very a-peel-ing bit. :D

At Wuss-ter, as he was cleaning up from the banana trick, he flung some of the mashed fruit into the audience and a little landed on me. The next morning I tried to brush my hair and found it was still sticky from Justin's banana. ::snicker giggle::

I never did get a chance to ask Justin about his girlfriend's name either. Someone told me he's fucking Amazing, so I figured that's what they call her. Amazing is an odd thing to name a girl, but cool nonetheless. I'll bet her middle name is Grace. :D

Ok, enough with the bad jokes. (Justin started it.)

The Makepeace Brothers, hailing from Ithaca, NY, are awesome. I've never been such an instant fan of an opening band. I downloaded the songs available from SnoCap on their MySpace page and I already want more. You should too.

They use an unusual blend of instruments - bass, cajon, and uke or guitar, depending on the song - which makes them sound like much more than the three-piece they normally are. Actually, according to their MySpace page, there are four brothers and the bass player (a brother from another mother) in the band officially, but somehow I mostly saw three of them on stage. Dunno why the other two seemed hidden most of the time.

Things Gonna Wait, the last song in their set, is definitely potential hit material with the catchy hook and simple, happy lyrics that quickly become a sing-along. They bring all the musicians in the tour onstage to perform this one and it's a party atmosphere every time.

The only thing that bugged me a little about Jason shakin' his tambourine (and other things) during this song was the obvious shift in the tide of adoration anytime he moves around the stage. I love Jason dearly and he can't help the attention his presence draws, but I felt like it took away a little from the Makepeace Brothers' most shining moment. Mraz tries to stay in the background, but the crowd never buys it. MPB are so worth ALL your love every minute they play, it made me sad that people were so easily distracted.

Back on the up side, you gotta love that they wore Blend Apparel shirts at every show. F & A. (Censored for the sensitive. :)

William-Billy-Bushwalla-Galewood hits the stage with so much energy you can't help but be swept up by it. He starts out slow like he's moving in for a chaste kiss, then licks you head to toe with his funky eclectic groove and you're left thinking, "Hey, that was pretty sexy! Can we do it again?"

I've listened to his music before, even seen him perform at The Mint in LA, but I can't say I knew his tunes intimately before attending these three shows. I think Brown is my favorite. It makes me giggle every time because it's a sing-along with a lot of "don't sing heres" and "shhhhs" interjected as Billy conducts the audience, and of course no one gets it right. Creatures in the Yard is a close second (mostly because it mentions dragonflies, and how can I not love that?). And I have to agree that it's hard to be a gangsta with a basket on your bike, but Tittybangin' courtesy of Bushwallian Cruise Lines (giggle)... Vitamin Me (LMAO)... that was definitely a fav performance at the Wuss-ter show. As I've said before, polar bears envy Billy's coolness, and his wardrobe.

Bush's backup band is actually Mraz and his troop, but for most shows they took to wearing black electrical tape to "disguise" themselves for that set. By the time they reached Wuss-ter, they ditched the tape, but who can blame them? They probably had no facial hair (or skin) left from ripping it off each night.

Billy is so commanding on stage it was easier for the crowd to focus on him when they should. The couple songs that featured "Johnny Wishbone" aka "Sloppy Joe" (Jason's character) still elicited a higher pitch of hoots and hollers, but it seemed the love was spread a little more evenly.

By the time Mraz actually popped outta Justin's tent (snicker) as himself, I almost forgot it was him I was there to see. It was good tho, because I felt like, "Damn, all that AND I get to hear Jason? Too much rock for one hand!"

As I said, Mraz's sets in PA & NYC were almost identical, the difference being Sleep All Day in PA, and Plane in NY. At least both times he sang all the songs the way I love them best. Growling out words (yeah baby); Beautiful Mess had different chords at the end; extra verse and Wonderwall and Ian's bass solo added to Remedy (which saved it from monotony); Live High had "singing" instead of "selling" gratitude in the lyrics (selling just doesn't fit the vibe of the song), and in I'm Yours "god-intended" sounds much nicer than "god-forsaken." I know, details details, but to me the details are like a spice that sends it over the top. Banter in NY was more interesting than PA too, although I had to go back and listen to the taped version to understand a few things he said.

And by the way, can I have a "Hell YEAH" for tapers?!

The Wuss-ter show was in a different class. The crowd was worse, but the set list was better. He started his set with the middle verse of Rocket Man (so freaky - I thought maybe it was a telepathic moment in the car until I read later that he played it in Canada the last two nights as well), then he chose Bella Luna, complete with a request for the sea of cellphone stars (which always looks amazing).

Unfortunately a group of very loud drunk kids chose that moment to shove their way in behind us and I couldn't hear over their talking and shouting through most of the song. After several quick fantasies about death to the idiots behind us, I decided it was instead an opportunity to practice rising above my ego (not what I WANTED to do). Situations like that remind me I still have things to learn about maintaining Peace on the inside. I was hoping someone would put a video of the song on YouTube, but no such luck.

Older Lover was louder than the Rude People, which was way cool, and in the break he started singing "Can you read my mind?" I was thinking, "You must be reading mine because it's like you're taking my requests!" After that he played Life is Wonderful, and even added some opera in the encore (his range is incredible).

And speaking of the encore... No Stopping Us was an awesome choice (in my opinion) because he had the brass with him, and that song is just 10 times better with horns. I wasn't yet a fan when he released his Tonight, Not Again live CD so these dates were the first time I'd seen him with the extended band.

I love that the Grooveline Horns are from Austin because I have ties there. They were incredible, especially when they show up in the balcony (if there is one) or on the front barriers (if there isn't) and play in. your. face. during Live High. I dunno who had that idea, but it rocked. There was a nice distribution of solos among the horns on various nights as well, and each one held me transfixed.

Fall Through Glass was a brilliant choice for the second encore song because it is so upbeat, everyone is on stage again dancing and jumping, and the audience is just rockin' out on their own at that point, and I love that Jason is the kind of guy that will choose his best friend's song instead of another of his own. About halfway through they freeze in place while Justin comes out to name everyone (think: roll credits). He snaps some pics, thanks the audience, then they start up again and finish the song. You think to yourself, "that is the PERFECT show ending..." you're leaving on such a high note... but wait...

Everyone bows like the best Broadway musical and they leave the stage, but Jason hangs back, grabs his axe (my favorite one with the pink Om symbol in the middle), and offers a very intimate, personal performance of You and I Both. He asks everyone to sing along, and most do, but it's more like a bedtime story or a lullaby that leaves you all warm and mushy inside. In the middle he takes time to impress upon all who are paying attention his thoughts on gratitude, the Golden Rule, and environmental consciousness. These are the values I identify with that make him one of my favorite performers - the thread of Truth that runs through everything he does and weaves his success. He walks his talk, and that impresses the shit outta me. I'd say normally leaving an audience on a mellow note like that might not be ideal, but this worked like pixie dust.

So that was the end of the concert, but not the end of my story. Sorry. If you need a pee break, you know, it's the Internet - it'll still be here when you get back.

We drifted to the lobby and hung out for a few minutes, tried to take a couple pictures outside but we were all freezing, so after hugs and goodbyes we went our own ways.

I drove home in silence (yes, 3+ hours), not wanting to hear anything but the thoughts in my head. It was like a collage: pieces of the concert... thinking... musing. Driving can be like a meditation for me if I'm alone in the car, although I don't recommend 80 MPH on the Mass Pike as a habitual place of transcendence.

Before I knew it, I was back on CT-15, headed South this time. What had been an Enchanted Forest in the daylight looked a little creepier at night with the trees hanging over the road and no lamps above to light the way. I decided to go with it though since I was already in such an imaginative state. I wasn't really tired, but to ensure that I stayed awake I pretended the forest had been overcome by an evil villain, which threw it into darkness. I couldn't stop the car even for a minute or the spell would put me to sleep forever. As I was thinking this, almost on cue, a huge white owl swooped out of a tree and flew across my path, close enough to cause me to jam the brakes in reaction, but too far away to actually be in danger of being hit. He sailed in front of me and was gone in a blink. I broke my silence with "What the fuck?!" Then I laughed. For real. Out loud. Not only did I recently read in Tolle's New Earth book something about "One With Life" which I realized OWL is an acronym for, but if you look in the Medicine Cards owls symbolize magic, wisdom, clairvoyance, and an ability to see the Truth, even if it's covered up. Owls are awesome.

A little while later, while I'm still thinking how Disney-gone-evil the road looks, I pass a hotel in the middle of nowhere, and the neon sign claims it is the "Hi Ho." I laughed again, right out loud. Do you think dwarves are behind the front desk and maybe Snow White cleans the rooms? That was too funny.

I finally emerged from the woods onto the NY Thruway, and I swear it was like coming out of a fantasy and back to reality in every way. My mindset changed to one of "I just want to get home now" and the road was brightly lit and much busier even at 3am. I pulled over shortly after the ramp though to open the roof and gaze up at the stars. You can see so many more of them out away from NYC. I said a heartfelt thank you for such an amazing evening, but they just winked at me until I pulled back onto the road.

Not to ruin the mood, but I was almost on empty when I got stuck on the Tappan Zee due to overnight construction. Thanks to Jenn, all I could think about was her story of some kind of worm eating through the iron that holds the bridge up under the water (which is probably what they are doing construction for). The whole bridge shook every time a semi would pass on the other side. Thanks, Jenn! :P Fortunately we only had to wait about 10 minutes, then they let us through.

The last sparkle of wizardry I saw that night was after I pulled out of the 24 hour gas station. I looked to my left and there was a beautiful, HUGE, orange crescent moon hanging over the city. It was like the heavens conjured up a picture of Bella Luna for me since I couldn't hear it too well earlier. I would've played the song if I had it in the car, but I didn't, so I finally broke the silence with A Beautiful Mess instead. I pulled into the driveway as the final note faded.

It was 4am when I finally hit the sheets and I had to get up at 7:30 to go to work. I napped in the car at lunch to stay awake, and I ended up getting sick a few days later from the girl behind me at the concert sneezing and coughing into my hair all night, but...

It. Was. So. Worth. It.

Hey look, here comes the sun. Guess I'd better go to bed. Happy Mother's Day to all you Mothers out there! :D And a special Happy Mother's Day to Mother Earth because She deserves it. Make sure you remember Her today too.

Artwork by Jenness Cortez Perlmutter used without permission from American Meditation Institute, but I'm hoping a link will suffice. :)