"See How We Are” is one of my favorite songs by my all-time favorite band X. I was looking forward to seeing them at the Palace Theater later this month with The Violent Femmes, a band I first saw at a frat party on the University of Wisconsin campus in the early ‘80s. I miss live music. It took me years to re-embrace live music - when I retired from my rock band, Zuzu’s Petals, I was burnt out, a hollow, ashen exhausted husk. Seeing live music for the decade following my retirement triggered me (as much as I hate that term). I could tell who was out of tune, who couldn’t hear their monitors on stage, what needed to be turned up in the mix, who was not getting along within the band; a kind of benign rock and roll PTSD. Covid-19 means that my many musician friends are in limbo.
Thank you Liz Wilkinson for thinking of me as a potential contributor to this artist-fueled project. Liz, a colleague and friend at the medium-sized university at which we both teach, participated in a magic memoir writing workshop last summer on Madeline Island led by fellow memoirist Katherine Lanpher (you may remember her from MPR’s “Morning Show”) and myself. Liz was our very own Maria Von Trapp for the week. Katherine and I wanted her to write the next Diving Confidential. I’m grateful that last summer’s group acquired magic status because last week I found out that this year’s Memoir Bootcamp and Independent Study on Madeline Island has been cancelled. And so it goes in the life of a gig worker in the early stages of a pandemic. Fingers crossed for Tucson’s retreat set for January 2021. Fingers are crossed, but I’ll not hold my breath.
For their final essay in the course I’m currently teaching “Coming of Age Memoirs,” instead of comparing and contrasting Alex Lemon’s Happy with Mary Karr’s Cherry, I asked them to write their own Covid-19 coming of age memoirs. This idea came to me after our first Zoom class during which I saw nineteen young adults sitting miserably in their childhood bedrooms. Their rough drafts were both heartbreaking and testaments of resiliency. I write memoir not so much to navel-gaze and more to bear witness. Speaking of which…I’m almost twelve years late in turning in my second book. I tell myself that if I can’t construct that manuscript while on lockdown (I have a pre-existing condition and I smoked for years), I’m not really a writer. My ex-husband used to chide me saying that “…those who can’t, teach.”
The three teaching positions for which I recently applied, for which I am wildly over-qualified, produced “thank you for your application”emails, nary a Zoom interview in the bunch. And so it goes for a white woman in her fifties applying to English Departments, departments jam packed with white women in their fifties. I’m late to the dance, my first career was in music, and I didn’t get to academia until midlife. Those who can teach should answer this calling earlier in life if they’re looking for security. Career building and pandemic are not compatible.
But hey, my son is graduating from college this Saturday. Sure, he won’t have a graduation ceremony, and I haven’t seen him since January, but when I think of myself at twenty-one, I would have opted to stay on campus in Colorado with my roommates/bandmates. He graduated in four years - something that took me a whopping ten years. I’m popping with pride. I’m having cold beer and pizza delivered to their house on Saturday.
One day I listened to both of our albums while walking on the old treadmill in my garage. I came away realizing that our first album was transcendent, and our second album was a solid demo. It is no coincidence that I am unable to get myself to complete book two and whip it off to my agent (who has most likely long forgotten about me). I admire my musician friends for performing online, and I try to contribute to their coffers on paycheck weeks.
Anyway, I’m alright. I am watching too much TV and eating too much sugar. I sleep like a teenager and go from jammies to yoga pants and pull myself together for Zoom classes. I get out to walk my geriatric golden retriever Linus every day. I mask and glove up and go to the grocery store once a week. I made rhubarb crisp from the bumper crop of rhubarb dominating my side yard, and my partner Jim, who splits time between here and California, is here with me. I know I am a lucky one. Artistic angst seems whiny during a pandemic; I’m trying to break this old comfortable habit. Artistic angst is overrated. Just fucking get on with it. But maybe I’m being too hard on myself.