Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Sonidos de Soledad

 I've been joking with friends about my lifelong penchant for solitude.  We've had a private relationship for years, I say-- flirtations, sometimes a secret affair...  but lately we've become more or less exclusive.  To be perfectly honest, I never really felt totally connected.  I loved my mother-- but the others-- well, it was like we were made of different material.  We'd get banished to our rooms for various childhood misdeeds and while my sister would tantrum and panic, it was sort of my sanctuary.  I invented stories and poems-- I read, I painted pictures, talked to my little animal collection, looked at stamps, built things.  It was the group activities that terrified me-- even a family dinner was like a tortuous ritual.  

It's not like I was a loner; I was social and participated... I took ballet and chorus and orchestra and loved the ensemble thing, but I craved solitude.   When I discovered music-- pop and rock in those magical years of the early 60's, the lyrics reached out to me.  I went as an exchange student to a remote city in Veracruz, Mexico and the language difference separated me further, but also drew me in.  The girls had names like Blanca-- Rosa-- colors... or Dolores (sorrow), and my favorite friend, Soledad (loneliness).  It was like a legendary story and I was a character.  Life was simple and basic-- no electricity or plumbing; we slept three 'sisters' to a floor-palette.  People sang and danced.  

I'd brought with me Simon & Garfunkel's 'Sounds of Silence' album.  This had been a revelation to me-- from the very first lyric 'Hello darkness my old friend'... I knew I was 'home'. Unfortunately there was no turntable and nowhere to plug one in, but Soledad daily came and studied the cover-- turning it over and over, touching the vinyl grooves as though magic would emerge.  They had a guitar; I was not good but could figure out most of the chords... So I spent the summer translating song lyrics...los Sonidos de Silencio.  My versions were clumsy and filled with mistakes and misinterpretations but I began to understand the underlayer of the Spanish language, the way we in school wake up one day to the concept of symbolism.  Names have a meaning; characters represent things.  What is the meaning of my life, I wondered, as I wrote out Yo soy piedra/yo soy isla... and Soledad looked at me from her black eyes of sympathy.

My first stop when I got to Mexico City later that season was a record store where I found The Who's 'Tommy' had been released.  I spent the afternoon in an isolation booth with headphones, savoring the re-discovery of recorded music--like an old friend.  For those of us who begin to 'live' via music, it is only this that accompanies the solitary room of existence.  Every sorrow has a theme, every grief has a soundtrack. 

Ironically, in my 2020 confinement here, I have been separated from my live musical connections.  Players need one another-- we need noise and amplification and audience and company... personal intimacy.  The absence of the alternative to solitude takes away some of its meaning.  I'm not sure Thoreau would agree-- or St. Augustine or those monks who suffered and labored for years confined and deprived.  For me, during much of the year, loss and grief have defined the boundaries of my shadows-- they have drawn the outline of my silhouette.  Some nights it has been hard to even listen to songs of my personal history that conjure old memories.  Here I have all the time and space I have ever craved, and the ghosts of music past haunt my evenings and color my auditions with a kind of pain.  

Tonight I did my lap of the park reservoir in the cold with the wind stirring up a current on the glassy water... A lone goose was calling-- shrieking, squawking.  The moon had painted a clear white broken line on the black surface but she avoided the spotlight.  I strained to understand her, to fathom her language... to no avail... but within minutes a whole flock came and surrounded her.  For a time they all shouted and sang; then they were quiet.  What was the meaning?  Was she banished or punished and then forgiven?  They all seemed so calm when I turned west-- gliding across the rippling cold water, listening to the sirens and the soft wind, unaware that the year is about to turn over.  

I realize that Soledad taught me somehow the difference between solitude and loneliness.  I wonder where she is today-- an older woman like me.  She liked to dance-- she would undoubtedly have led the happy/sad life of most beautiful women.  I am still mourning the losses of this year, but am grateful to embrace the amplitude of what I have been given.  It is as though I am in an empty room with nothing but a wand.  There is another language still to be learned; I am beginning to see this, and I look forward to a  slow melodic passage into another year where I will once again hear and translate the sounds of silence.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Sticky Fingers

 I was newly 18 when the Stones released Sticky Fingers.  Converted by the second track and totally romanced by Wild Horses, it was clear the album was going to take precedence on my little dormitory stereo in those innocent days before headphones.  Plus you could hear Brown Sugar and Bitch blasting across quadrangles everywhere.  Still, it was the cover that really obsessed me, the art student who had hung out at Max's with fake ID and visited the Warhol studio on several teenage occasions.  It was clever-- it was pop, it was tongue and cheek, and it was ultra sexy.  There were racy promo photos of Mick wearing nothing but the album placed just so across his hips.  

My Mom often used the expression 'sticky fingers' when she suspected one of us girls had raided her purse or the refrigerator.  Never me-- I was inclined otherwise... not a pilferer, nor a tattler.  In my first year of college I caught a roommate red-handed in my underwear drawer.  Confusing and a little creepy.  She cried and returned  a stash of 'borrowed' things, none of which were of much use to her.  It was her pathology, our Psych-major neighbor explained.  

After I had a baby I learned the true and literal meaning of sticky fingers.  They were everywhere... windows, appliances, stereos, bookshelves.  My little monster once 'mailed' a peanut butter sandwich in the VCR slot.  Nights were spent wiping things down-- after all, these things spread germs or grew bacteria, or whatever.  Babies put anything and everything in their mouth and then they transfer to their hands and paint the walls.  

The pandemic admonished us of the potential threat in human fingerprints; I have often thought back with nostalgia on those innocent baby-juice days as I learned to wipe off surfaces, doorknobs and other touchables.  Admittedly I'm not too fastidious.  But being alone here for extended hours and months, I've done a sort of unintentional categorical inventory of things.  I've discovered possessions, cds, albums, books-- old letters and photos-- rocks and minerals, souvenirs... things I recall with some vagueness.  Like an associative exercise, one thing leads me to another-- a Colin Blunstone album, a love-letter from a deceased drummer, a set of strings from some rockstar or other... I've never been one to actually catalogue;  I loaned so many books and albums over the years-- many never come back.  During recent months I've come upon these 'gaps' like a missing tooth... and I wonder, besides my own careless generosity, what visitor or overnight guest might have slipped something into a pocket, then let themselves quietly out while I was sleeping off an all-night gig.

My first husband felt entitled to my things in a charming sort of way.  After all, he is non-materialistic and would give anyone anything.  When I pulled out a vintage album on which he played, I found the vinyl had been lifted and a burned cd with a handwritten note left in its place.  But that was a focused appropriation.  In a way he 'owned' his work.  Here I'm missing Dylan-- Hendrix... Faulkner... Pynchon... baffling.  Sticky Fingers-- the actual zipper version-- appropriately (?)-- has been removed.  

My old neighbor used to come by every night and slip something into his pocket.  He took wine bottles from our local liquor store, too.  Sometimes he'd steal cookies and food.  When I'd question him, on the way out, he'd reply 'you don't need THAT'.  Much of his 'loot' were compact jazz box-sets he loved.  Slim and Slam.  Bud Powell.  He was a famous photographer and a great man who had entered the last stage of his life.   He was confused.  I was a little flattered that he wanted my things.  Go figure.  His fingers were literally sticky from the stolen cookies.  He left prints. 

Modern technology is clean and sterile.  No inky prints on our letters-- no rumpled paper and foodstains on manuscripts.  We are reminded, in the pandemic, that phones carry germs.  Everyone is sanitizing their hands to near-death.  When we voted, we were given our very own stylus/pen which went home with us.  God forbid anyone should exchange body fluids.  

I can't help thinking sex has suffered-- it's messy and sticky.  Obviously hook-ups and random meetings have been squelched although surely there is an underground culture of touching and physical intimacy.  For the rest of us, monogamy is favored.  I found it ironic that the Stones' 'mouth' logo which first appeared on the Sticky Fingers album is now being commonly used on a mask which inherently messages 'anti-tongue'.  We haven't seen many real smiles on the street... lipstick sales are understandably down-- cosmetic tooth procedures no longer prioritized.  

When I was about 15 I went to a concert and one of the musicians brushed my arm on the way out.  He gave me a wink, as though it was intentional.  I could swear I felt it, like a sort of warm glow, and did not wash that spot for a week until I was forced into a school swim.  Our Mom used to tell us how God touched every baby before birth just above its mouth and left that cleft mark.  There's a certain magical transference that happens when someone touches you... talks with their hands-- plays your guitar and leaves marks on it... shares some moment with you that leaves you with a physical souvenir.  

I miss my old neighbor... I miss my old sense of hospitality.  Christmas is here and very few people will see my tree which, after setting it up alone, left my hands fragrant and syrupy with its resin.  I miss my missing things... tonight I'd put Sway on my turntable if I still had it.  I can get it on youtube... not the same.  A few of my beloved decorations are not in the box-- more victims of my neighbor?  There were undoubtedly times when I'd take things down and give them away.  

We have all been a little sterilized by this pandemic.  We fear one another, we hesitate-- we wash and scrub and hold our breath.  We disguise ourselves and pretend maybe to be cleaner than we are.  Most of all I miss being 'touched' by someone-- a random meeting or conversation where you exchange and leave a sort of mark on someone.  These things do not happen with the same frequency.  I worry our culture is a little too digital and premeditated... less fleshy and flawed and mud-spattered.  White-washed and clean, smelling of disinfectant... do not forget how bloody are our beating hearts, how sticky the fingerprints of our childhood and parental memories, how fragile our souls which pass so easily through the layers of latex and surgical cloth and flesh.  

Tonight I looked again in vain for the Saturn/Jupiter conjunction.  It's up there, like most things, even though we can't see them.  Not touching, but putting on a little bi-millennial show for us--  reminding us that this too shall pass, this 2020 mess.... just about a moonlight mile on down the road.

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