Friday, June 25, 2010

A Certain Kind of Magic in Nashville

I grew up throwing dirt clods for sport and listening to Garth Brooks and Vince Gill on cassette tapes. Bare feet and dirt roads. When I was older, four-wheelers and trails through the woods. In high school, I was a part of the self-proclaimed redneck crowd donned in Carhart coats socializing around their oversized trucks with lift-kits. I still remember when my dad moved out when I was in second grade into another trailer across town. He had cable, and I was introduced to CMT and music videos. All that is to say, I was raised in the country on country music.

Though my musical tastes are broad, country music emanates this feeling of home. There is this unparalleled community that happens in the country music world. There is a shared history and love of the South and its culture, a fondness for simple pleasures in life, and the sweet twang—all of these things bringing musicians and fans together.

Jess and I share an office, so when she looked up the information about CMA Fest, I was the first to hear about it. My job is mostly administrative and doesn’t require me to go on the road very much, but I knew that if TWLOHA was going to be at CMA Fest I wanted to be there. Of the fourteen people on staff, Jess, Chris, and I are the only country fans. Chris is from Georgia, so it’s a part of his soul. Jess is a diehard fan and has adopted a bit of a twang. But we were sure it wouldn’t work. Summer is our busiest season, and TWLOHA has never been involved with the country music world at all.

Jamie and Rich said yes. Surprised but incredibly excited, Jess submitted our application. The CMA Fest only has three or four nonprofits, a much smaller number than we’re used to so we were unsure whether or not we would get picked. Next thing I know, Chris is packing the back of the Jeep like a jigsaw puzzle while Jess, Emily, and I organize pillows, snacks, and music for the long drive to Nashville. Although Emily wasn’t a big country fan before the festival, she left singing along to Lady Antebellum and Carrie Underwood and still laughing about Blake Shelton’s jokes.

I’ve been back for ten days and I’m still smiling and singing Zac Brown Band’s “Free” with a majestic hope in my heart. I said the words, “we’re a nonprofit raising awareness about depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide” with an info card in my hand and sweat trickling down my back 847 times, and I didn’t get tired of it. Some people politely listened feigning interest and others really heard me and tied a string from themselves to us because somehow our story was their story, too.

Peggy didn’t expect to be so drawn in. She stopped at the McDonald’s tent to get a snack for her granddaughter waiting at the picnic table when our funny name caught her eye. For the 321st time, I told a stranger who we are. Holding back tears, she told us about her niece Jeanie and how much Jeanie needed to know about us. “This is so Jeanie, all Jeanie,” she kept saying and shared how Jeanie has dealt with great loss and pain in the last year. Peggy walked away and wasn’t a stranger anymore.

The next day, Chris was helping a petite soft-spoken woman with her blonde hair cropped just above her shoulders who was learning about us for the first time. I came up when she was paying for her Love is the Movement shirt. Holding back tears and digging in her wallet, her gaze not meeting our eyes, she said she lost her brother to suicide. I said I was so sorry to hear that and Chris asked her name. Asking someone their name gives them this unspoken validation that they matter even though they may be a stranger. Through her smile, she said her name was Lisa, and I knew I would never forget her. She looked at me and said, “Mom and Dad are never the same,” and I said, “Yeah, it changes everything—nothing and no one is ever the same.” She nodded, and I asked when her brother passed sure that it was within the past few months. Her voice cracked as she said, “1986.” I tried to contain my surprise. I haven’t lost someone to suicide, so I haven’t dealt with that kind of pain personally. Her brother has been gone longer than I have been alive, and her pain at losing him is still so fresh and real. She held up her shirt, bowed her head, and said thank you as she walked away, and I wonder who is more grateful that she stopped at our tent—her or us?

At CMA Fest during the day different zones are open and most of them free to the public, but at five booths start closing up for the night for everyone to get dinner and make the trek to LP Field across the bridge for the evening concerts. Passes to the concerts were included with our booth package, so each night we joined more than 40,000 people to sing and dance to our favorite country songs. Anyone who enjoys seeing live music knows the magic of being in a crowd of people, singing the same song at the top of your lungs and getting goose bumps. It doesn’t always happen that way in the nosebleeds, but during Keith Urban’s set it was inevitable.

In case you’ve been under a rock and don’t know this, Nashville had an awful flood the first weekend in May. Most of downtown Nashville (where CMA Fest is held) was under water. In the beginning, the media didn’t give it much coverage and the city wasn’t getting help from the outside. But Nashville banded together, pulled themselves up and did what they had to do to get their city on its feet again. Restaurants spent their days making bag lunches and giving them away throughout the city, while other people worked to repair the damage. A little more than a month later, they were ready to host the first ever sold out CMA Fest.

Keith played his whole set, then he talked about Nashville and the flood. He talked about how proud he was to be a part of a city with such a strong community, how people joined together without thinking twice, and how important it was for all of us to be there at CMA Fest, how much Nashville needed us to come. He dedicated his next song to the city and the people and launched into a cover of “With a Little Help from my Friends” with Little Big Town. The performers at Heavy and Light this year also covered this song, but this performance had a different force, a different power, a different magic with images from the flood flashing on the screen behind the band. We stood and we sang and we rocked (yes, we still rock out in country music). In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie talks about this moment where he and his friends are singing together in the truck and he says he felt infinite (page 39), and this night, this song, this moment is infinite for all 40,000 of us.

Depression doesn’t care if you wear a cowboy hat with Wranglers or skinny jeans with Converses. I hope that through this small window into what may be a different world you see that this story may be your story, too. It may look different and sound different, but pain is universal. Hope is, too. That’s why we went because everyone is a part of this ongoing conversation. May your life look like this—where strangers become friends in an instant, where 40,000 people can feel like family, where a song and a few pictures become an infinite moment you want to tuck away so you can take it out again and again.

So much love to all of you strangers reading this.
Know that there is someone down in Florida who believes in you.
Thank you for letting me be a part of your story.


Monday, June 21, 2010

My Hope for You

A few minutes ago, I loaded more than 900 pictures onto my computer.
Here is one I want to share with you:

Those robes are buried in closets.
That grass watched me take a piece of paper, a piece of paper that ended a chapter for me.
These hands belong to some of the women I love most in the world.
This ring connects me to a long history of women, a history of fighters, free thinkers built with a certain quickness and spirit.

I am proud of where I come from.
I am thankful for Meredith College.
Whoever you are, may you be given the opportunity to know the kind of joy and challenge I know in that place.

Cheers to you.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Recommendation

I know I have been quite absent this past week.
Sorry about that.
However, this post is not about catching up and offering my thoughts and words today.
It is more about letting you know about words from other people.

I read A LOT.
Like, my New Year's Resolution this year is to read 75 books.
And I am on track.
I love reading and writing with my whole self.
That is why I'm pointing you, dear readers, in the direction of Tessa Gratton.
She is a writer friend of Maggie Stiefvater, the author of Shiver.
Tessa writes books and keeps a regular blog, and she pretty much rocks.
Just to show you how much she rocks, I am going to share a drawing she made.

I hope you will head on over to and spend some time checking her out.

Hope you all are enjoying the sweaty month of June.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

An Attempt at Consistency

My eyes are burning in that way that only happens when you have been awake too long.
They just want to close for long and beautiful hours of rest, dreams, and inactivity.
Bags and suitcases full of all the items that make up the home I manage to build away from home line the wall behind me.
I have a perfect new window seat that is momentarily occupied by boxes in The Yellow House (that's the name of my new home, as of last night).
The Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition" is streaming through my headphones while I sit on my frameless bed.
I'm awaiting the sunrise.
I moved to Florida 9 months ago, and I've wanted to see a sunrise here since I arrived.
Today will be my first.
Sunrises are special to me because I never rise with the sun, since I've normally set not long before the sun rises.
Just after the sun rises today, though, I shall set.
The sleep will be thick and deep, necessary adjectives after this week.

Twelve hours ago, two of my friends got married.
Despite the teasing rain and soaked backyard, we celebrated.
In sweat and love and joy and hope, we most definitely celebrated.
They belong together.
It feels good to have witnessed, and I wish you knew them.
I'm still trying to figure out if that kind of love will be a part of my life one day.
Regardless, it is beautiful to see in the lives of people around me. :)

Now it is 5:32 am, and I am still awake.
My mind is crowded with jumbled thoughts of honesty and vulnerability.
I believe both are better than their alternatives, but I'm finding that I do neither of them as well as I would like.
Is that the tale of being human?
Always reaching for a goal we may never attain on this side of heaven?
I wish my brain had enough room to process and contemplate for a while.
But it doesn't, and after the closest star rises in the sky, I will recharge.

Perhaps this post is slightly splotchy and quite short.
But, hey, this is my effort to post more.
I hope that wherever you are, your Saturday morning finds you with a smile on your face and hope in your heart.
Know that you are loved in more ways than you know.

Let me know how you're doing in comments, and always if you have any questions post them there.
I am glad you're here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Welcome of Sorts

Last night into the early hours of the morning, I posted "So I Remember Later."
I shared it with the people who made yesterday meaningful for me.
Little did I know, one of them would go on to share it where we work and it would be posted on To Write Love's blog.
I am honored and thankful and appreciative and smiley. :)
I have worked for To Write Love since last September, and the blog is still one of the most powerful things for me.
Being able to have my own words posted there is a victory and a blessing and an answer.

I say all this to welcome any new readers.
If you look at the archives, you see I'm not the most frequent blogger.
While I hope to change that, it is always my first goal to string together words that move me and other people, words that are true and feel so real you think you might be able to touch them.
I'm glad you're reading, that you are letting your story intersect with mine.
I hope you feel the freedom to email or comment with questions, thoughts, or even your own writing.
Know that what you're thinking matters, that your story is worth telling.
I hope you'll stick with me through this season, that maybe at our intersection we will stop awhile and plant a garden.

For now, may your Tuesday night be warm and bright.
May you read good books with a cup of tea and rest in the knowledge that joy comes in the morning.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, remember you are loved.


So I Remember Later

Dear Today (or Yesterday as the case may be), I am thankful you happened.
I believe I can confidently say that today was the best Memorial Day I’ve ever had.
The others were fine, but they were just days, the possibility of a break from school or work, and (if I remembered) for remembering people who have served in my place to protect a freedom I take for granted.
(And perhaps I am a horrible person for not remembering, but that is a different blog.)
But today, I remember.

Today, I remember we are broken creatures.
I remember our brokenness is not the end, that we can let the light in through the cracks.
I remember intersections mean that we are coming from different angles.
I remember to be thankful for the crossing.
I remember we must work to sew ourselves to each other.
I remember pulling the threads takes steady fingers and commitment.
I remember that roots are worth it, no matter how temporary.
And these are pretentious and varying metaphors, yet they completely capture my Memorial Day.

Today was made of a few good conversations leading me to all those conclusions.
Tonight, I sat at a picnic table with a woman I should, by all potential intersections, already know but didn’t until two weeks ago.
As the water steadily slapped the rocks and the clouds moved like a slideshow above us, we talked about Ms. Britt and Meredith College, our love for the most beautiful of the Carolinas, the strings that attach us to where we come from and where we’ve been, and the women we believe we’ve always been and are becoming more of everyday.
When I talked about feeling like my strings are tight and the strain hurts, she tilted my perspective.
She reminded me that tight strings make for beautiful melodies and maybe my melody of this time will serve a purpose for someone else.
And maybe that doesn’t sound profound to you, reading this on a screen.
Maybe you need the darkness and streetlights and rock-slapping water to get the full effect, but for me, for tonight, she gave the metaphor a weight I needed to see.

And I remember why I wanted to come here.
It was for conversations like today, for the intentional and genuine curiosity of a stranger that plants the seeds of beautiful friendships.
It was for nights like tonight, where, despite the bugs and the heat and the humidity and the creepers, we were not leaving that fucking bench.
Days like today make me feel more alive and more myself.
And I remember my story is mine, and I choose how to tell it.
Dear Today, I needed you very much.