I can’t really know if anybody besides me has been asking that question, but if you’re one of the regulars around here (the numbers may not be legion, but the affection is sincere…) you may have been wondering why the frequency of posts to this site dropped off dramatically in the second half of last year (2016).
At least, I hope somebody noticed, and even if nobody did notice, I’m going to attempt to explain the absence.
So, where did Paul go?
He sorta went into hiding for awhile. His innate tendency to be reclusive and withdrawn when things “go all pear-shaped” got the better of him for several months.
Or, rather, maybe, he just had the wind kicked out of him, and he’s been trying to catch his breath.
Or maybe he’s been thrown into the middle of a lake and is treading water, trying to figure which shore to swim to.
Yeah, that’s it. Treading water.
Chalk it all up to disruption on a personally cosmic scale.
– – – – – – –
I remember exactly when the fabric of my universe started to tear: April 29, 2016.
Ann and I were in Portland, Oregon. She got back in the car and said,
“They want me to start August 1st.”
At that moment, the Big Bang Theory went into full reverse and my Universe started to implode….
We were in Portland to visit “the kids” – that would be Ann’s two sons, James and Robert (they are by no means “kids” – I can never remember their exact ages but it’s somewhere in the vicinity of 40 years old), her daughter-in-law – Robert’s wife, Melissa – and, more notably, Robert and Melissa’s baby daughter, Ann’s first – and quite possibly her only – grandchild, Juniper Rae.
We’d gone to Portland ostensibly for Juniper’s first birthday. She was born in May of 2015, and we’d both flown up to Portland for that; Ann had gotten there within hours of the baby’s arrival, I followed a week later.
Now we were back for the first birthday, and Major Changes were afoot. They’d started in earnest the previously fall, but really the fuse started burning toward an inexorable explosion as soon as Melissa’s pregnancy was announced back in the summer of 2014.
The fuse started burning with that announcement, but the first cherry bomb didn’t go off until a year later, when Ann let me know that sooner or later she was moving to Oregon. And that I could come… if I wanted. It was all about being a grandparent. Which concept I might have been insufficiently enthusiastic about, owing in part to never having met the prerequisite of being an actual parent myself.
“I’m going to find a job and I might just pack up and move,” she said, back in November of 2015. “If you’d like to come with me that’s great. If you don’t, that’s fine, too.”
Juniper was about 6 months old when Ann threw down that gauntlet.
Now here we were in Portland six months later, and the prophecy was coming true.
Prior to flying out to Portland for Juni’s birthday, Ann had started making… arrangements. Ann is a nurse, and for the past nearly two decades she has worked for a multinational health care company that has offices and clinics all over the country. Prior to our trip to Portland, she started scanning the company’s bulletin boards to see what sort of opportunities she could find in the Portland area.
Sure enough, there was a new clinic opening in a Portland suburb, and Ann arranged an interview.
We flew to Portland on Thursday, April 28. The next morning I dropped her off for her interview and went off to a Starbucks nearby. She sent me a text when the interview was over, I went back to pick her up, she got back in the car and said “they want me to start on August 1.”
Cue the Big Bang Theory, only set it in reverse….
I have lived in Nashville (OK, I’m technically in Pegram, in the next county over, but who’s counting?) since February, 1994. It’ll be 23 years I’ve lived here come next Valentines Day.
That’s more than twice as long as I’ve lived anywhere in my whole life. When I was a kid I lived in Rumson, New Jersey, from age 0 until I was almost 12, when my mother and (new) step father moved us to a suburb in New Jersey that was closer to his office in New York. I also lived in Hawaii from 1980 until 1994, though the last two years of that residency was spent mostly in Los Angeles, going back and forth to Maui.
So by any calculus, I’ve lived here in Middle Tennessee longer than I’ve lived anywhere. When people ask me “where are you from” I will make a big deal about being from ‘Springsteen Country – Monmouth County, New Jersey.” But then I will tell them, “but I’ve lived in Nashville longer than I’ve lived anywhere, so I’m from here now….”
Ann and I met at a music festival in Texas in the spring of 1997. She was living in Austin at the time, and we maintained a “long distance relationship” until January of 1998, when she pulled up stakes and moved to Tennessee – to be with me.
Her nursing career had begun only a couple of years before. She was divorced (twice, but we don’t have to go into the second one) from the father of her two sons, who were in their early 20s and living with her and going to school in Austin. When she decided to move to Nashville, she set ‘the boys’ out on their own and put her house up for rent. Then she put everything she owned in a U-Haul and with a friend made the trek from Texas to Tennessee.
The apartment I was living in at the time was tiny, and mostly filled with the CDs for songs.com – the online music service I’d started two years earlier. So Ann got her own apartment in the same complex where I lived in Bellevue, and for the next 18 months or so, we “lived together in separate apartments…”
In the spring of 1999 we bought a house together. When I’d first come to Nashville in 1994, real estate was still quite affordable, but by the time we started looking around in 1999 prices within Nashville / Davidson County were already inflating out of reach (never mind how much farther they’ve gotten out of reach since). So we found a charming little ‘ersatz Cape Cod’ on an acre of land on a quiet cul-de-sac in Pegram, one exit off I-40, west of the last exit in Davidson County.
We put both or our names on the deed, and moved in together in May of 1999.
I sold that Internet music business later that year. At the very peak of the Internet Bubble Gaylord Entertainment came knocking and offered us stupid money for a tiny business. My partners (Tom Kimmel and Michael Camp) and I pondered the proposition for about 15 seconds and said “OK.” We closed the deal in December ’99, and the first call I made after banking the proceeds was to the bank that held our mortgage, which I paid off.
Perhaps due to some family history (my father died when I was 7), I’ve never been one for making or pursuing goals in life. But the one dream/fantasy/goal I’d ever had as to live in a paid-for house. I notched that one at the end of 1999. By the time that happened, Ann and I had been living there for about six months.
I went to work as a mid-level executive for Gaylord, still running my old company but now lashed to the prerogatives of young and stupid Corporate Overlords. I watched as the whole thing ground slowly into digital dust.
Ann and I got married in September, 2000 and went on a two-week honeymoon to England and Germany. We got rained on at Ludlow Castle in the Cotswolds, and went through crazy King Ludwig II’s Fantasyland Castle in Bavaria. Then we returned to our shared house in Pegram and settled in “for the duration.”
Once again proving that “everything is permanent… for as long as it lasts.”
Enough nostalgia for now. Now, we return to Portland last spring.
Ann and I stayed there about a week. Juni had her first birthday party, attended by children and their parents from Rob and Melissa’s community of friends. I took pictures.
And the wheels started turning toward Ann’s departure. I say “Ann’s departure” because from the moment she got back in the car, it was obvious that she was moving to Portland… and I was not. At least, not yet….
We came back to Nashville, and almost immediately, Ann started pulling things together and packing things up. Over the ensuing several weeks, things that we had shared for years started disappearing. Things like the steak knives we’d used since 1999. She stopped feeding the birds in the backyard. It was always little things, but it was little things that added up to a Big Thing.
If you’ve read this far, I think you get the gist.
Ann packed up her Subaru SUV and drove off with her friend Evelyn (Thelma and Louise!!) and left for Portland on July 20.
And so, amid all the other cosmic/global upheavals of the past 12 months, I have been going through my own fundamental disruption and realignment.
Here is where, in the first draft of this account, I started to go into some detail about how Ann and I had moved in to the house together and the considerable (and costly!) improvements we made over the years. How the deal with Gaylord Entertainment went off the rails the day after we returned from our honeymoon, and how I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up ever since.
That’s a lot more detail than I need to go into now. Maybe another time…
But I will share just one story from the week after Ann’s departure:
Shortly after Ann and Evelyn drove off, I left the house, too. For the sake of my own sanity, I made a point to leave and not come back for several days. I spent three nights staying in the homes of friends who operate AirBnBs, who were kind and generous enough to give me those three nights gratis.
On the third day, though, I came back to the house for a couple of hours, just to gather a few things and, well, to see what it was like.
It was… strange. The energy in the house was definitely different. I drifted through the spaces we had shared and could palpably feel her absence. I kept thinking of Hugh Prestwood’s song, “Ghost In This House.”
When I went up stairs, I went past her bathroom at the top of the stairs and looked in. All her personal effects – her cosmetics, her jewelry, some pictures – were gone.
But it didn’t really hit me until I got to the bedroom. Just inside there door, there is a wrought iron clothes tree with three limbs. I’d always kept some of my clothes on two o the limbs, and Ann kept some of hers on the third limb. Now that third limb was empty.
I stared at it for a minute, my eyes resting on this visceral manifestation of the unfamiliar energy that now filled the house we had shared for more than 15 years.
“Ah,” I found myself thinking, “this is what it must be like when the surviving spouse comes home after the funeral….”
I have been to Portland three times in the 5-1/2 months since Ann moved there. She has yet to visit Nashville.
And I have been, for the most part, creatively inert. I haven’t written much, I haven’t taken any pictures, I haven’t played much guitar. I’ve posted only a few things to this blog, and there hasn’t been a “Weekly Digest” since the week before the election. What little output I have made has been pretty much confined to Facebook – which lends it self to short, quick, snarky diatribes that don’t require a whole lot of actual thought.
Maybe I’ve been quiet because it’s hard to keep creative energy flowing when all the energy you have is just going into riding the waves of an emotional roller coaster, when it takes all your strength to just hold yourself together when it feels like the world around you is falling apart. Like I told my therapist recently, “I’m exhausted.”
For as long as it has been – too long, really – since my business blew up in 2000, I have fully expected that I would find something to do that would spring from my own creative energy. First I wrote a book and got it published. Thinking I’d found my new calling as a “biographer of obscure 20th century scientists” I went on to write another. That turned into six years going down a rabbit hole in which there was no fucking rabbit.
After that, I turned my attention to photography, and even my therapist thought I was “on to something” when I first started creating the “Portals of Stone” from my trip to the UK in the spring of 2013. I started exhibiting at a gallery in the Arcade. I tried to own my identity as “an artist.” But mostly what I got was a first-hand education in how truly difficult that is.
Long and short of it, nothing I’ve undertaken over the past 15 years has come to fruition anything like that company I started back in 1995. I’ve spent all that time as “an entrepreneur between startups” or “an author between books.” Or a photographer wandering among medieval ruins, looking for continuity in time and space…
But once I was living alone, I finally found a partial answer to the question I’ve been asking myself at 4:00AM every morning for the past 15 years, “what will I do when I grow up?”
I finally broke down and got a “real job.”
For the past four months, I have been working for Apple, at their store in the Green Hills Mall in Nashville, where I am a “product specialist.” It’s a glorified title for a retail salesperson, but I rather like the work and I seem well-suited for it.
I really have prided myself, over the course of my life generally, but of the past decade-and-half specifically, for never having worked for any giant corporations. The two previous exceptions where a brief stint as a securities peddler for the Maui branch of a Wall Street brokerage, and then my 10 months as an ‘executive’ for Gaylord Entertainment.
Neither of those situations was a particularly good fit. The Wall-Street-in-Hawaii thing dissolved when I decided instead to go to Los Angeles and study music. At Gaylord, I was “the New York Jewish bull in Gaylord’s Southern Christian China shop.”
But as giant corporations go, Apple is a good one – at least from the perspective of a rank-and-file employee at one of their retail stores. The environment is stimulating and supportive; the hours are flexible and predicated as much on my own schedule as theirs. Since I get to spend the hours there talking about products that I use personally, that I know almost inside and out, it’s just the most natural fit I was ever going to find. And given what else was going on in my life when I applied for the job, I am grateful that they looked at my resume (…”What, you haven’t really had a job for 15 years?…) and said “OK.”
So for the past few months, I have been spending most of my waking hours finding an unexpected refuge in the form of a conventional “day job” that I actually look forward to going to every day. As challenging as some of the customer interactions can be sometimes (“…Whaddya mean you don’t know your password…???”), it’s always a bit of a let down when it’s time to leave. And I really like the person I turn into when I go out on the floor.
So a lot of my time and energy over the past 4 months has gone into adapting to a very different reality from everything that went before.
Yesterday, I opened WordPress for the first time in weeks (months?) and posted two items. I spent the rest of the day writing this gem. It’s literally the first time I have spent a whole day in my own creative space in several months.
So maybe there is something to this “dawning of a new year” business, even if it does mean that Donald-Fucking-Trump is going to be President for the next four years (or until we nuclear-annihilate ourselves, which ever comes first).
It feels like the fog is lifting. Like I’m finally starting to come out of a self-induced creative coma.
Maybe there’s some light at the end of this tunnel – though I suspect there could be more tunnel before I actually get to the light.
This will do for now.
Anyway, that’s where Paul went.