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So, this is my 2013 Christmas tree…
Despise my current downess, I’m really trying to enjoy Christmas. Honestly, no matter what, it really is my favorite time of year. I love the shiny decorations, hunting for presents for people I’m grateful to have around, helping folks who are down on their luck to have fun that many people take for granted, all the Christmas movies, I really am a fan of Christmas. Still, it’s like, all the cheer and bright lights… amplify whatever melancholy I’m feeling. I miss people who are gone, I miss parts of me I’ve lost. It’s… I don’t know.No comments
Mary is the kind of woman that you’re lucky to ever meet. She knows you better than anybody ever has, or ever will; She can hear what you’re thinking like you were saying it right out loud. You love her so much, you’re scared, always, somewhere in your head, of the day she might go away.
I know this woman, that feeling. Nothing feels so bad, and so purely good, both at the same time.1 comment
So, I’ve always thought of myself as a kind of, sort of, probably best described as a lapsed Catholic. Maybe? I mean, I go to Midnight Mass because I like the decorations, and the songs, and the story, but that’s my yearly visit to church.
Many years ago, after I quit talking, before Sara went away, I wanted to “get right with God.” It just seemed like the thing to do, for lots of reasons. I started dragging my assistant to mass every Sunday, I was looking into bible classes, I wanted to take Confession and Communion. I was really serious, it wasn’t just a passing thing. After a month-ish, less, I was at an evening mass and at that particular mass was a Bishop. It seemed so perfect, I wanted to ask someone how I would go about taking Confession and Communion, as my chair won’t fit in a confessional, and I’d recently switched to eating via a tube in my stomach. I knew I’d need accommodations. I figured a Bishop could totally get me those accommodations. I figured a Bishop would be totally happy to do so.
Well, after mass, my assistant and I went up to the Bishop, my assistant (Steven) explained my goal toward Confession and Communion. The Bishop looked puzzled a moment, then he asked Steven, talking about me in the third-person, “Can he take anything by mouth?” Steven explained that I can’t because of the tube in my throat, but I have the tube in my stomach, and we can crush things to go down said tube. The Bishop shook his head and told Steven that Communion has to be taken by mouth, only by mouth. Someone else then came up to chat with the totally not helpful Holy Man, and that was that. We left.
I didn’t lose any faith in God, but I definitely lost faith in His PR people. It felt kind of un-Christian. I remember thinking, had I just approached Jesus, He wouldn’t have totally blown me off, He’d have at least talked with me awhile, something. I remember leaving church, the sun was setting a gorgeous orange, I was thinking about dinner with Sara, a cold evening breeze making me feel keenly alive. I felt God all around me, but outside of that church, away from that Bishop.
Ever since, I only go to Midnight Mass. I always feel close to God at Midnight Mass. Generally though, I don’t go to church to strengthen my faith, God feels so much more vivid elsewhere. I see God in star-filled night skies, in sun shining through green tree leaves. I feel God falling asleep holding someone I love. I see God in her eyes, eyes that love me back. God’s not relegated to a place, God is everywhere, so it’s not like this bad experience at church broke me. I just quit feeling like church is important.
Well, after my experience at the Greek Orthodox church, I started feeling like I’d like to go back, maybe a lot. It felt nice being there. I liked being there with Maria, liked how she lit up telling me all about the church, the Liturgy. I liked how everyone was so friendly; people talked to me, not about me, in the third-person. The church itself is gorgeous. I was happier when I left than when I showed up. I was thinking about all of this stuff while hanging out with Maria last week, mentioning parts, leaving out parts.
We started talking about going to visit my church sometime, as she put it, “your turf.” I had to laugh, the Catholic church is hardly my turf. I reminded her, “I’m a lapsed Catholic AT BEST.” Then I started typing, Besides, I’m technically originally baptized Serbian Ort-, at which point Maria said, “Wait, if you type Orthodox, I’m going to have a cow!” I had no idea I was saying anything important. To me, it’s always been an amusing aside that I was baptized Serbian Orthodox, and was promptly baptized AGAIN, as a Catholic, as soon as my parents divorced. It never seemed like it meant anything. I barely knew my dad, I really don’t know the Phillipses at all, so I always just thought my baptismal resume was just another example of my never doing anything normal, and it is, but it’s more too.
Basically, if you’re baptized Orthodox, but fall away for whatever reason, they’ll always accept you back, if you ask. You don’t have to renounce anything, or convert to anything, you just get welcomed back.
There’s one small ceremonial thing to be done, but after that, I re-join my Orthodox heritage.
I don’t know how this is going to go, but Atheism isn’t for me (sorry, Ziztur!), and I’ve really always wanted to be a part of a more welcoming church. I’m sure I’ll disagree with lots of things, as I always have, but I’ll be a part of something that’s beautiful, a place to be among friends. A place where they’ll let me take Confession and Communion, I won’t be rejected for losing something that I didn’t lose by choice. That alone tells me that I’m doing something right.2 comments
So, a few of you actually guessed right, I was at a Greek Orthodox church, because…
A few months ago I started e-mailing with my high-school honors world history teacher, Maria (Ms. Palios way back when), but unlike how a lot of my e-mail correspondence tends to go, our correspondence stuck. She’s just very kind, and very smart, and she writes e-mails that feel like paper letters. I think that’s why I kept writing back, I love the idea of paper letters, old-fashioned correspondence. Then we met for tea, and now we hang-out once a week. I pretty much only hung out with my teachers IN high-school, so being friends with one now isn’t a big stretch. Maria also isn’t a ton older than me, so we have more in common. It’s a total fluke, she’s gotten to be one of my best friends.
A bit after we met, Maria gave me this carving of my namesake, the Archangel, Michael. We’d talked about our faith before, I’m a kind of, maybe Catholic, she’s totally Greek Orthodox. Usually, I get gifts like this, usually trying to “save me,” and it just feels… weird. I say a nice “Thank you,” stick the whatever in my closet, and never see it again. This felt different. Maria knew about my faith, knew I like religion, but am not religious, and that I like religious art, so it felt like a unique, thoughtful gift, rather than someone trying to sell me something. This is why it’s hanging on my wall, not stuffed in my closet.
Well, then she told me about how the Greek Orthodox celebrate the Archangels, and the Saints (technically, they recognize the Archangels AS Saints), and that when they celebrate Michael on November Eighth (I have to ask if it’s always November Eighth, or if it’s something that shifts, like Easter Sunday), that’s my Name Day, which people also celebrate. I’d never been to a Greek Orthodox church, or seen a Greek Orthodox Liturgy (it’s like a Catholic High Mass), so we went. It was honestly the best church experience I’ve ever had, it felt the way I’ve always wanted church to feel. Everybody was welcoming, people talked to each other. It was just a really spectacular feeling, being in a beautiful church where everyone was happy.
This isn’t actually the end of my Greek Orthodox journey, the next part’s kind of a shocker…4 comments
So, I wrote about this tattoo as part of larger narrative, but I also want to write about the tattoo itself.
This tattoo is from the song, I Can’t Get My Head Around It, which is off of Aimee Mann’s, The Forgotten Arm, a record that isn’t just a collection of songs that share a theme, rather, it tells the story of a washed-up junkie ex-boxer, his girlfriend, and their totally fucked up relationship. To me, the songs definitely stand alone, but you don’t get the full emotional impact of the record until you listen from beginning to end, at least once. It’s a really beautiful, really sad story of a relationship in which love just isn’t enough to make everything okay. I was smack in the middle of that sort of relationship right around when The Forgotten Arm came out, and while I absolutely love the record, certain songs, I still skip them sometimes.
Anyway, this tattoo had been on my list for a long time, these lyrics really hit me the first time I heard them, and ever since. I guess I was just waiting for the right time to do it, which ended up being my trip to Baton Rouge for an Aimee Mann show. Baton Rouge was one of those I’m either going to go, and die, or it’s going to be a fucking blast trips. I felt like shit the morning we left, I spent the previous day in the hospital getting a fresh trach, I was exhausted. Still, nothing was going to make me not go. I would have had to die to not go. It wasn’t easy to go, but I wasn’t going to miss Baton Rouge, seeing Aimee Mann, being there with someone I love.
“…kicking is hard, but the bottom’s harder…”
Kicking is hard, but sinking into cold nothingness is worse. I’ve hit bottom before, physically, emotionally, but I’ve always been able to kick my way back up. One time, I won’t be able to, but we’re not there yet.1 comment
So, this is my last little artifact from Baton Rouge…
I pre-ordered Charmer on vinyl… for absolutely no reason. I just thought it would be neat to have, maybe I’d hang it somewheres.
Now that it’s signed…
…there’s no maybe about it!
If you’ve never listened to Aimee Mann before, Charmer is a good place to start.1 comment
I have really nice memories tied around this record, it was Tivoli’s favorite Aimee record. We’d listen to it straight through, on those rainy Summer days, talking about the songs.1 comment
I woke up the morning of the show feeling like hot garbage, definitely not top-form. Like I expected, I slept in, and I didn’t feel much like hitting the town. I just kept saying to myself, You’re fine, everything’s fine, the show’s going to be awesome. We mostly just hung out around the hotel, went for a cajun dinner.
By evening I was feeling pretty great, it was like I got fresh batteries. My ear opened up, I could finally hear. I watched the Baton Rouge sunset thinking about someone I love, her touch, her smile… her kiss. She’s with me even when she’s not, I never feel like I’m completely by myself, even when I am.
Our hotel was right near where Aimee was playing, the very stylish Manship Theatre, so we decided to walk it. The early evening air was cool, but humid, a freshness unique to Southern October nights. It was a nice walk, though on that walk down a bumpy sidewalk, toward the Manship Theatre, toward backstage passes, I started getting nervous. It was a happy kind of nervous, I wouldn’t have wanted to not be there. It was just, the first time I met Aimee I didn’t have the little plastic tube in my throat, my language was voice, not text. I wanted to say so much, I was just scared I wouldn’t be able to type quickly enough, or maybe I would have to use my fake computer voice and it would just sound stupid. My computer does text-to-speech, but I try really hard not to use it. I prefer to have people read my text, or at least to have someone that I’m with say what I’m typing. The digital voice just makes me cringe, it’s cold, it mispronounces words, it’s definitely not the voice I hear in my head. I don’t like pushing the idea, disabled people sound like robots, and I really didn’t want Aimee to remember me from that night on as the first robot she’d ever met. I just wanted everything to go well.
Ted Leo opened for Aimee, and he was a great start. First off, he’s really funny. He’d tell a story between songs, and they were all pretty great. It was never like, “Oh, God, you’re more boring than Dune, either shut up, or go die in a fire. Please.” Of course, his music was great, that goes without saying. His guitar is super fast.
Then, Aimee joined Ted for a few songs, playing together as their new band, The Both. They’ve been hanging out so much on tour, writing songs together, that they decided it’s worth starting a band and putting out a record. Together, they sound really great, their songs are totally worth a record, totally worth paying cash for said record. Their stage chemistry was also fantastic. So long as Aimee doesn’t quit writing solo-records, I’m down with The Both.
Finally, Aimee took the stage all by her lonesome and opened with a solo, beautiful rendition of Freeway, and took off from there. I’ve seen Aimee play three times now, and this show that I drove eleven hours to see, drove eleven hours after a previous day in the hospital, drove eleven hours all the way from Tampa to Baton Rouge to see, was absolutely the best of the three. Aimee’s voice had never sounded so clear, so decadently lush, sadly beautiful.
After Freeway, Aimee was joined by Paul Bryan on bass guitar, singing accompanying vocals, and a really great fellow on piano whose name my addled brain forgets. It was an intimate show, the instruments only complimented the crisp vocals. They played a few new songs off of Charmer, but mostly she sang older songs from other records, which was totally fine by me. All her songs off of all her records are great, there isn’t a single song that would have had me thinking, Ugh, not THAT song. I only think she avoided Charmer because it’s a loud record, but this wasn’t a loud show. It was two guitars, a piano and vocals. It wasn’t a rock show, it was a cozy and close acoustic show. A pretty much perfect show.
Aimee Mann is a brilliant writer, none of her songs are throw-away songs. She writes beautiful lyrics, beautiful stories of addiction, loss, stories of people hanging on by the tips of their fingers. She writes stories about lives that bend sideways, lives that take bad turns, that don’t go the way they were supposed to go. She tells complete, beautiful, honest stories, in way under five hundred words. To me, she writes flash fiction set to gorgeous music. It’s the sort of writing I aspire toward. Her words are art, I carry them with me always, in my head and on my skin.
That night, she played so many songs, it was a spectacular setlist. She sang stories I know by heart, stories of loneliness that always make me feel a little less lonely. While I was totally happy to hear whatever she’d play, there was one song I really hoped to hear. For days before the show I kept thinking, I really really really hope she plays Looking for Nothing. Yes, I actually thought “really” three times. Looking for Nothing is my favorite song, not just my favorite Aimee Mann song, it’s my favorite anybody song. It’s off of @#%&*! Smilers (Smilers for short), which also isn’t just my favorite Aimee Mann record, Smilers is my favorite anybody record, it’s full of melancholy, vivid songs. Looking for Nothing is a song about feeling lost, something I’ve felt most of my life. I didn’t feel so lost that night, but the song will always be a part of me, will always resonate with me. I just wanted to hear it that night, in that place, a place that was very different from the place where I heard it the first time. Aimee played other songs from Smilers, she didn’t skip the record entirely. She played lots of songs, all great. She left the stage and came back for an amazing encore. She didn’t sing Looking for Nothing.
The show was over.
The evening, however, so wasn’t.3 comments
So, the drive itself was really long, and really boring. Though, we got the most bizarre call about halfway through the ride. Randy (my ex-step dad) was all animated on the phone, I couldn’t totally hear him, my ear hadn’t cleared up yet. He just sounded really excited, and he never gets excited about anything, except for maybe when a new kind of beer gets invented. After he ended the call, we pulled into a gas station, he turned toward me and said, “Okay, we’re going to have backstage passes, and we’ll get to hang-out with the band.” He may have followed up with, “Oh, also, birds are eating your face.” I don’t know, I was already a freaking out about getting to meet Aimee for the second time. This time, with a little plastic tube in my throat. This time, everything I’d say would be in text. My first thought, at least I won’t be as likely to blurt out anything stupid. Still, I was nervous, and I had until the next evening to be more nervous. Now, many may wonder HOW Randy scored backstage… everything. Well, I wonder too, even now. He won’t say, it’s a total mystery.
Anyway, we got to the hotel, a really nice downtown Hilton; art deco, French influences, really chic, early Tuesday evening. We got upstairs, the room was nice, a little old, but really nice. I had a big cozy bed, which I promptly got aboard. We got my forty-seven devices plugged-in; two vents, MacBook Pro, iPod Touch, iPad mini, NeuroSwitch, various batteries, particle accelerator, Time Machine, freeze-ray, mini death-ray (the original is mounted on a classified roof-top), I don’t really travel light.
At this point, I was worn, I was comfortable, I didn’t want to move, at all, ever again.. So, an hour later, we went to get me a tattoo. Whenever I go out of town, I try to get a new tattoo, and I knew if I didn’t go that first night, I wouldn’t go at all. I knew I’d want to sleep in the next morning, I wouldn’t want to follow any kind of schedule the day of the concert aside from getting TO the concert.
I always just try to google and pick the highest rated place nearest to my hotel, a system that hasn’t let me down so far.
Enter Deja Vu Tattoo…
In my experience, it’s not so easy finding artists willing to even TRY tattooing smallish lettering, and SOMETIMES people can be a little taken aback by me at first glance, my hoses and tubes and what-not. The latter being way less true than the former, tattoo/goth people are generally the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. The girl I met that night in Baton Rouge was neither scared of small lettering, or my various hoses. Jessica at Deja Vu was totally cool and impressively skilled, she did a really spectacular tattoo on my leg.
This tattoo, lyrics from Aimee Mann’s fifth studio record, The Forgotten Arm, from the song, I Can’t Get My Head Around It, is one of my favorites.
This one had been on my list awhile, but it felt particularly appropriate that evening…
“…kicking is hard, but the bottom’s harder…”
I’ve always said, since I died but didn’t, that if I felt too exhausted, or too scared, or too both, to go do something, then I should absolutely go do it. I fail sometimes, but mostly I don’t. Mostly I go and do and have a blast. Kicking is hard, but hitting bottom, not fighting back, feels so much worse. I’ve done it, it’s awful. It’s terrifying. It’s terrifying because you’re not just lying down on purpose, you don’t hit whatever bottom you hit because it’s oh so cozy, it’s that you genuinely don’t have the energy, the will to get back up. You feel like maybe this time, you’re out of time. I kick because it’s Hell to sink.
I felt really pretty sick when we got to Baton Rouge. By the time Jessica was etching in the finishing touches on her beautiful work, I’m pretty certain I had a fever. I was freezing cold, but we weren’t anywhere cold. I basically ate dinner asleep, covered in six blankets. Everything just caught up with me; two trach changes, the ear tube, almost no sleep, the drive… I pushed until my batteries died… and I’d do it all again right now. I had an awesome night in a cool new city, I met a badass tattoo artist, I got a gorgeous tattoo. I’d rather drop dead on some adventure than in some hospital. That night I had a blast, and I didn’t die… score!
The next night, well, it would be better than anything I could imagine.4 comments