The sky was gray, almost white. Dismal and perfect at the same time. The air was cool and chilly, and the birds were noisy, busy doing whatever birds do in the afternoon. Fluttering around in the bushes now, not high in the trees like they were in the summer.
Every bit of my surroundings shouted (very quietly) ‘late November’.
The words we write are part of who we are. That was my motivation, I think.
I decided early this year to work on collecting my bits of writing in some sort of permanent way. Not to publish it, but to have it for myself. Also to have it for those in my life who might care to read it, and maybe keep it.
My goal was to assemble it all in a way that would make turning pages a pleasure. Something with sturdy covers, good quality paper, etc. Nice enough to wrap in tissue paper and hand to someone as a gift.
It started old school with printing copies and storing my work in a three-ring binder. Functional, but certainly not gift worthy.
Eventually, I decided to use the formatting from one of those companies that produces photo calendars, photo cards, and photo books. And chose their simplest style 8 inch by 10 inch photo book product, which includes stretchable text boxes.
I selected about 25 of my written pieces and some of my photos, and set to work. It was tedious. There was no ‘cut and paste’, so it took a lot of ‘delete and re-type’. Start overs, and of course, proofing. It was a project to make everything fit and have a sequencing and flow that made sense and looked good. I enjoy that sort of work, but it’s not something you can throw together in a couple of days.
Ta da … I completed one collection in the spring, and I just finished another for the winter. This isn’t an ad for photo companies, but their production and the paper products they use were more than I hoped for. Coffee table book quality materials, glossy pages, attractive covers, and nice binding. It optimized what I had to offer.
The costs were reasonable, and I’m happy to have a personalized keepsake to gift this Christmas.
For me, for myself, I get to leaf through the pages and feel like the words I write matter. And see that they have a little bit of permanence.
I’m no good at transitions. A few days after Christmas, people are ready to move on. They throw out the wrapping paper, they recycle the boxes, they take down the tree. January 23rd, and I’m still trying to squeeze in every moment, every song, every note I missed.
That cricket. That damn cricket. The last cricket.
He had to be in the house. Sometimes I walked in the kitchen, and he’d stop, and then seconds later he’d start back up. That cheep was always good for a tug, or a smile, somewhere back in the emotional part of me. It was the sound of something vaguely reassuring. I don’t know, a warm muggy night? You go outside and it seems the whole neighborhood is asleep. Maybe a lazy pause in the dark, on the cement step at the end of the walk. He sounded like the moment you were alone with the trees and the stars and the balmy air and the sounds of the last bits of summer.
It’s one of those microseconds when you look up with hopeless hope that somehow there’s still some summer left, and that’s all it lasts. A microsecond.
Embers flare and trail to the dark. A darkness thick and quiet.
Intermittent quiet … sporadic cracks flicker and pop. An abrupt smack, and another, and then another, catapult the burning sparks up into the emptiness above.
I look up and follow the trail of random lines and tiny lights. It could have been the smoke hanging above a campfire on a summer night. Or the puffs of smoke at a Christmas tree lot in the middle of December. But this was no campfire, and there was no festive holiday music. The smoky fog hovering around me fills the air with a mood that makes you want to hide, tuck your head, wrap your arms around your legs. Hide.
Heat distorted air around the fire whips into smoky remnants and a transparent film snakes its way up, part of the wind. Higher. And even higher. Past the shadows of the trees and past the yellow crescent form of the new moon.
I could feel the chill in the air, and the damp mist, not freezing yet, but oppressive. A strange fusion of cold and warm. I’m sitting close enough for heat to reach my face, but the rest of me feels pale and sickly. Overheated and chilled at the same time. As if I was getting a fever, first the chills, even as a fever brings a warm flush to the face.
The scent of musty, maybe even acidic. Smoke. An onslaught to my sensors. Sizzling burnt wood and fiery embers.
[Warning: This is about bad dreams and scary spiders, and yes, I really did have this dream.]
I had this dream some time ago, as a teenager, or maybe as a young adult. A dream that I had to kill a spider. I don’t like to step on bugs, while I’m awake and apparently in my dreams, especially if it’s a bug that has some ‘crunch’, that is, any bug bigger than tiny. It gives me a creepy, shuddering feeling. Well, the spider in my dream seemed like the kind of spider that had some crunch. But I also knew, in my dream, I had to kill it. For whatever reason, I had to.
I guess I hoped I could just step on it, and it would die in a negligibly quick painless second. So I lifted my foot and stepped down, fully intending to smash the spider. Unfortunately, I lacked the full-fledged commitment, or fortitude, and it turned out to be almost but not quite a step. When I lifted my shoe back up, I hoped there had been enough pressure applied, the spider would be dead, and that would be the end of that.
Ahh, if dreams could be so kind. Not only was the spider still alive, but it started to grow.
It grew and it grew, this slowly expanding creature in my dream. And this was no daddy long-legs. No. This guy had long, thick, furry legs. I’m sure the dream-like state that was me felt more horrified by those scary legs than whatever threat posed by any other part of its body. It continued to grow, until it was almost as big as me. I sensed the spider was enraged, furious with me, or out of its mind, whatever type of mind it is that spiders have.
Fortunately, the dream ended there.
Just thinking about all this makes me want to shake it off. Get up, get something to eat, take a nap, take a walk.
Take the words I typed here, select them all, and click ‘delete’.
Forty-nine years ago, August 1, 1971. The Concert for Bangladesh. In reality, two concerts. Performed to raise awareness, and funds for relief, of refugees caught up in the war in Bangladesh.
Earlier that year, Ravi Shankar, an Indian musician and friend to George, told him about the desperation in Bangladesh and asked George to help. The short of it is George said okay. A couple of months went by without a real plan, but another five or six weeks and George pulled together his friends, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Ringo Star, and the band Badfinger, and Ravi Shankar recruited another Indian musician, Ali Akbar Khan, and they all performed at Madison Square Garden on the first day of August.
The back story covers a lot of musical history, and intersects the lives of some well-known and talented people. In 1961, George was 18 and performing in Germany with an early pre-Ringo version of The Beatles. Fast forward ten years, the musical group called The Beatles exploded into THE BEATLES and took over the world, until the individual Beatles went their separate ways in 1970. George was more and more interested in spirituality and eastern philosophies and music traditions, and was evolving musically to bring these influences into his craft. By 1971, he had his own solo albums and was producing the soundtrack for Raga, a documentary film on Shankar. Nevertheless, he hadn’t performed on stage as a solo act yet.
That summer, George was 28 and organizing in my memory one of the first big, really big, aid concerts in modern history. Dealing with the venue, performers, filming, recordings, the tax man, and everything else that’s involved in planning an event like this, with the goal (and determination) to get the money to where it was needed, in Bangladesh, and not everywhere in between.
So. Picture this. The end of the concert. George at the microphone. The master of ceremonies. The other performers were done. Clapton was dealing with some serious addiction issues and barely made it through his bit with George. And George didn’t know at this point if Dylan would perform. The day before, Dylan told George he was too nervous. About the crowd. For every one of us who’s stumbled over our own words because looking out at faces brings on brain freeze, there’s the idea of a nervous Bob Dylan. Are we all human or what? Bob Dylan, yes THE Bob Dylan, was nervous about the crowd and not sure he could perform. Whatever was happening in his life, he hadn’t really performed in concert for a number of years, and wasn’t sure he could do it. Why does this awkward little detail appeal to me?
George looked around the darkened stage, bright lights in his eyes, to see if the big act would come out and sing.
And yes, Bob Dylan was the big act. There was in fact a question mark next to his name on the concert playlist. What was George thinking during that flash of a minute? It must have been something like, “Oh shit, what am I doing here?” I haven’t seen that quote, but what else would be going through his head?
Then, yes … there he was. Bob Dylan. To paraphrase George’s description, his denim jacket, his harmonica, and his guitar. Dylan looked young and uncomfortable, but the music started. It was A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall, and he knew his song well.
Forty-nine years ago.
___________________________ Images from: the fest for beatles fans snf your beatles station