Notes from the Road
Part One: Seattle
For years I hated autumn. I never knew why, exactly. But well into my twenties I would get depressed when September rolled around. Both serious breakdowns I’ve had in my life were in the fall. Fall of 2007 was particularly awful. I got fired from two shitty survival jobs; one as a customer service rep for a psychic hotline and one as a front desk “girl” at a pole dancing gym. I got fired from a pole dancing gym. My car got towed one night when I went bowling to try to blow off some steam. It cost hundreds of dollars I didn’t have to get it out of impound. And I spent hours sitting in the hallway at the psych ward of UCLA medical center waiting for a doctor to tell me to admit myself (I didn’t). I got kidney stones two years later. In the fall. Fall was not my season.
I can’t remember when, but one year in late August I felt my hackles go up as I braced myself for the onslaught of September, and I finally took a moment to examine why I was pre-freaking out. Future tripping. And I realized it was because I associated fall with school starting. Even though I was a good 15 years out of school, I still felt the same dread I’d felt as a kid, packing up my backpack and lacing up my off-brand high tops, to drag myself to that special torture known as school. All those post-school terrible autumns were, I think, due in large part to my belief that fall was a nightmare. Perception is half of life. Or something pseudo-profound like that.
Every year I’d buy a new Trapper Keeper and vow too myself that this would be the year I kept it neat and organized. Everything would go into its designated folder or pocket. And every year, by the end of week one that Trapper Keeper was a fucking disaster area. Papers everywhere. Plastic pockets ripped and rendered completely useless. A pencil hole right over Donnie Walberg’s face from when I absent-mindedly took my math class anxiety out on the Trapper Keeper’s pristine cover.
I’d be disappointed in myself. This year was going to be different, I’d told myself. This year I was going to be that person. And when I’d proven myself wrong, I’d give up. As though there were no coming back from a messy Trapper Keeper. Like promising yourself you’re only going to have one slice of cake, then realizing you’ve eaten half of it, and then finishing the whole thing because fuck it, you’ve gone that far, might as well finish the job. School for me was one experience after another that proved to me I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t organized enough, smart enough, disciplined enough, pretty enough, popular enough (or, like, at all).
When I realized that my hatred of fall was linked to my hatred of school I was able to rewire things enough in my brain so that when I did start feeling that inevitable panic as back-to-school commercials began to play I could remind myself that I wasn’t going to be going back to school. That I had, in fact, survived school, messy Trapper Keeper and all, and came out on the other side, and could now enjoy fall with its crunchy leaves underfoot and fireplace fire smells. And now I love fall. This year in NYC, it didn’t feel like fall until late October and that was a disappointment. The first day it really felt like fall was thrilling.
Now I find myself with a new conundrum. Every time I have an out-of-town gig I think, “This time I’m going to unpack right away. This time I’m going to get on a responsible, adult-like schedule. This time I’m going to wake up at a reasonable time each day. I’m going to take advantage of the free continental breakfast in the lobby. I’m going to go to the gym regularly (or, like, at all). I’m going to buy groceries and actually eat them. I’m not going to go out to eat. I’m not going to stay up late. Or drink too much. Or watch garbage TV. I’m going to write every day!
And I find myself on day four, sleeping until almost 11 a.m., missing the continental breakfast, looking at the groceries I bought and deciding to go out to eat, throwing out left-overs from take out I bought and didn’t eat, and completely not unpacked.
BUT, I am actively fighting that voice that’s saying, “Fuck it. It’s too late now. Just go all in. Spend all your money. Drink that whole bottle of wine. Watch another episode of Friends. Sleep until 11 a.m. Free breakfast is for suckers. Make your bed? For who? Rifling through boxes and suitcases is almost like rifling through organized drawers. You’re just going to have to pack up again. In a month and a half…”
My Trapper Keeper may already be a mess, but it’s not falling apart yet. I can salvage this. My utter lack of organization is not inevitable. I AM NOT MY TRAPPER KEEPER!
Or, more to the point, my Trapper Keeper is not me.
I’m sitting in my hotel room in Queen Anne on day three out of town with The Humans tour. Seattle Rep and our housing is within spitting distance of the Space Needle (or the “Speece Naddle” as Monty calls it), but my view is of downtown (I assume it’s downtown. That’s usually where they put the tall buildings) and of a lot of construction. Seattle is under-going massive new construction now that Amazon is in town. I count 14 cranes from my living room window. Most are building those hideous glass, and grey, and often orange (?!) “luxury” condo buildings that became a scourge on the skyline of downtown Brooklyn in the last five years or so and are everywhere.
I haven’t listened to my morning news podcasts, yet, or checked Twitter, so I don’t know what awful tragedy took place over night, though I’m confident there has been at least one mass shooting. Do we even call them “mass” anymore if fewer than 10 people are killed? I remember when Columbine happened. I was horrified, but somehow not shocked. Even though it was the first attack of its kind and we were all supposed to be shocked, I remember feeling kind of numb. I felt awful for the victims and survivors and their families, but I never felt like it was out of the realm of possibility enough to be shocked by it. I felt some shock after Sandy Hook, but even then, I thought, “Yeah, people are sick and awful. This is what happens when awful, sick people have access to killing machines.”
DO NOT MISINTERPRET ME, I’m not saying our mass shooting crisis is the fault of mental illness. I have mental illness. The only person I’ve ever wanted to kill was myself. And my sister’s ex-boyfriend… And, frankly, I think we’re all mentally ill to some degree, or at least suffering from PTSD to some degree or another. My generation was raised by two generations of survivors of horrific wars. Our grandparents and our parents survived World War II and Vietnam respectively, even if they didn’t serve; war permeates every aspect of our lives. War really is hell. Vietnam was not just some montage of walking through jungles while Credence Clearwater played in the background. It was a living nightmare. And thousands and thousands of the men and women who did survive it went on to have children without ever processing the atrocities they committed in the name of patriotism. Those are the people who raised us. Of course we’re all damaged. And then there’s our joke of an education system and organized religion, both of which teach blind obedience to “God” and country, both of which are completely false concepts.
Anyway, we’re all broken. And we’re being “lead” by a group of sociopathic monsters whose hands are bound by the NRA and the Koch brothers. So, no, I’m not shocked when a broken person, who is a product of this backward-ass broken system gets his hands on a tool built for ONE PURPOSE and uses it for that purpose. And if you are still shocked by that, then you’re deluding yourself.
We made some progress last night across the country in local elections, especially with women and people of color being elected, including electing the first trans woman to a delegate seat. In Virginia, no less. So, that’s good. Maybe the system really can be changed from within. Maybe we don’t need to upend the whole thing and start from fresh.
Monty’s dad talks about visiting a museum when he was a kid that proclaimed to have George Washington’s ax that he famously chopped down the cherry tree with. “Come see George Washington’s actual ax!” When they got there, a museum guide explained that, over the years, many parts in the ax had to be replaced due to age and wear. So, George Washington’s “actual, authentic” ax had had its handle replaced. And its blade. And its handle again. And the parts that held the handle and the blade together. “So,” Kurt said to the museum guide, “It’s not actually the ax that George Washington used.” “Sure, it is,” the guide said, “It’s just been refurbished!”
Maybe that’s what we’ll do. Piece by piece, part by part, we’ll replace and refurbish the parts of our country that have been worn away or have become outdated due to age and wear. A legislative seat here, a law there. And eventually what we’ll have is a brand new country that pretty much resembles the original but with new, working parts that serve it better.
“Come see ‘The Original United States of America!’ Now with more tolerance, fewer guns, and a lot more grey and glass ‘luxury’ condos!”
And now I’m off to rehearsal where I get to play make-believe and get paid for it. Now that is shocking.