Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Worshipping at the Culture Altar

Last Monday I went to the EMP. That stands for the Experience Music Project, and is this fantastic museum-ish thing right in the shadow of the Space Needle, a gathering ground for music and science fiction and pop culture. Basically, it's a building that was created for me. It's a haven, housing my every interest and love and desire. I think I spent three hours there and was loathe to leave.

Right now they have two music exhibits. One traces the career of Jimi Hendrix, and made me weak in the knees. The other was entitled "Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses," and was a more incredible and intimate portrait of the Gods of Grunge than I could even imagine. That exhibit left me speechless, and has even invaded my subconscious. Then there was the Guitar Gallery, tracing the development of that sacred instrument from its inception and blues roots through the invention of the electric and amplified rock and fuzz, which made me stand silently, staring, with tears in my eyes.

The entrance to the EMP.

Classic white Fender Strat, used by Hendrix at Woodstock.

Set piece from Nirvana's In Utero tour.

One of Kurt Cobain's guitars.

But the single greatest thing about the EMP was their focus on the collection of oral histories. That aspect fascinated me. I feel really strongly about this, so I'm going to say it again, with emphasis. The oral histories fascinated me. The sheer spectrum of interviews they had collected was vast--they had an entire gallery called "Sound and Vision" that was filled with headphones and computers and mp3 players with files from musicians and actors and producers and authors, all sharing their experiences. These snippets of history were pure inspiration to my soul (especially the few moments where Ray Bradbury discussed the writing process. That alone was worth it). There is something different, something magical about hearing something from the source. This desire to hear stories is what first drew me to journalism in my youth, and continues to make me an enthralled observer of life. So having all those interviews at my fingertips was a rather gleeful experience.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was something I liked even more than interviews with the established and famous. In "Sound and Vision," they had a room where visitors could tape a short segment where they talked about basically anything: how you discovered a band you love, a book that changed how you think, a favorite movie, etc. Outside the room, there was a small screen set up where you could watch the interviews. This man-on-the-street collection even extended to the Nirvana exhibit, where they had a special room with an adjacent booth where fans could record their stories about how they connected with Nirvana.

I could have listened to those casual interviews for days. In fact, I am completely, 100% planning on going back and spending hours in those rooms alone. There's something about hearing other people's stories. You know, people that aren't famous or accomplished in any other way. They have more to prove, are more eager to please, and their desperation to leave their mark makes those snippets far more entertaining. In this world, everyone, and I include myself in this statement (I have a blog, don't I?) is looking to make their mark on the world. Looking for their claim to fame, as it were. And those brief interviews, where people were laying their passions and drives and obsessions on the line, left me completely transfixed. Yes, there was no reason I should listen to these people, but they were there. Telling stories. Sharing small pieces of their identity with an anonymous public.

They were me. I saw myself in them, identifying with their strange, almost compulsive need to share moments that, however trivial they seemed, were nonetheless important to the teller. I chuckled as they laughed, agreed when they credited music or movies with shaping their life. Stories. Connections. A method of bonding despite having no solid foundation, except what existed through mutual appreciation. That's what the EMP was doing--in some colossal scheme, they were creating peace through the collection of oral histories. And that is a cause I can completely support.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Settling In

I have a home. It is pretty, with red brick walls and a white fence, hardwood floors and new, clean bathrooms. There is a shining lake just down the road, surrounded with shops and trails and a library. There are green trees and squares of grass. It's beautiful.

Yep, that's where I'm living. In the flesh. It's OK if you're jealous, I understand the feeling. As soon as I passed this little house, I was smitten. I vowed then and there that it would be mine. Oh yes, it would be mine. And now here I am, sitting in the perfect three-month lease, with the perfect little room, and a surprisingly comfortable air mattress. And I couldn't be happier to be in such a wonderful corner of the world.

But even if it was a rundown, ramshackle shack, I'd still be alright with it. That might be a bit of an overstatement (after all, I did pass on Jonny and his hotboxed house), but still. The feeling of having a room of my own, a space for me to inhabit and dwell and build upon is priceless. The past couple of weeks in Everson have been great, and wonderful, and illuminating in all the best ways, but my oh my am I ready to start this Seattle adventure.

So here I come, bus pass in hand. Goals in sight. Eager to start this part of 2011. I would not be anywhere else in the world but here tonight. Washington, I'm yours.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Tribute

Well here it is, Mother's Day. And here I am, resting in a small town just outside of Bellingham, WA, missing my mother in the most surprising and profound way. I'm not usually inclined towards homesickness, and especially not now, when I'm finally out of Utah and finally in a place where I can start to build something, where I can realize my full potential. But on a day set aside for honoring the noble women who sacrifice everything, I can't help but add my voice to the praise.

My mom is the single most important influence in my life. She raised me to value language, books, education. She set me on the path of knowledge that I follow today. She taught me about the gospel, the difference between right and wrong, and how to foster intelligence while maintaining high ideals. Her example was one of love, and service, and constant dedication to family. Even when I couldn't see my own potential my mom always did, and always had faith in me to be better and to do great things. I am so proud to be her daughter.

Whenever I try to put into words what my mom has done for me, or how grateful I am, it reminds me how woefully inadequate any statement is. Nothing can summarize the role of mothers. And then, after feeling helpless for a bit, I remember the poem "The Lanyard" by Billy Collins.

The Lanyard - Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

I don't think anything can ever make us even, Mom. Thank you for everything. Know that I am thinking of you. You are amazing. You are so full of love and talent and warmth. I admire you and love you so much. Once again, I'm grateful that you are my mother.