Many years ago I was a poet in work boots, wool coat, and creepy fur pillbox hat. I believed writing was the key to the universe and the flickering neon sign “Jesus is the Light of the World” that I could see from the window in my cramped one bedroom apartment if I turned my head sideways at an uncomfortable angle was the period at the end of every sentence. I didn’t have to look to feel it there and for my bones to laugh at the spectacle of Jesus not affording good bulbs like everyone else in the Tenderloin.
I have always been a pessimistic optimist.
Or an optimistic pessimist.
Two sides of the same conflicted coin.
I’m listening to Pete Seeger singing “We Shall Overcome”*. I believe I was born singing this in the cruel corners of the One World Family Commune in Berkeley California into which I was born. I must have dreamed the words in my anonymous little cubby on the wall of children’s beds, pretending I didn’t know there was a predator among us.
The words of peace have stuck in my heart.
Words of peace so at odds with the darkness that periodically subsumes me. That also subsumed a few of the unfortunate children who were molested around me. How I was spared when my 5 year old best friend wasn’t I will never know. Might be because I had a reputation for screaming like the devil when upset.**
All these years later and my first language still informs everything I think and write: poetry. My poetry, alone, is not sublime or award-worthy. It was merely my first language. Before English, I understood how color is memory, how scent is emotion, how shape is an infinite synonym for other shapes. I think in abbreviated sentences, sometimes staccato, sometimes soft. Poetry breaks rules and makes rules simultaneously.
Pete Seeger leads me back to Dylan. My favorite Dylan song of all time is “Girl From the North Country” sung with Johnny Cash. I could never be all Death Rocker because of Cash and Dylan. I could never be all anything because of them.
Not long before I’m off my childhood charts.
Today I got a job. You know when you need something desperately and it never materializes? You smash your head against the universe and it continues to close the door on your skull again and again and again until you haven’t got enough bone left to lose?
This wasn’t like that. I had that little nervous breakdown a lot of people witnessed and then I saw this listing on Craigslist. It sounded perfect. An essential oil company here in town needing skills I have? Paying probably enough to make our ends meet? I submitted my funky resume with my earnest cover letter, the way I DO, and waited. I had no faith. Because life has taught me to be cautious and not hope overmuch.
I got the call. I got an interview. I wasn’t scared. I don’t know why as I’m a worrying kind of person in such situations. It felt right the minute I read the listing. It felt right the minute I met the people interviewing me. To the point where I had the strange urge to hug them. I wanted to say “LET’S GET ON WITH THIS PARTY BECAUSE I’M GOING TO WORK MY ASS OFF FOR YOU AND IT’S GOING TO BE GREAT!”
Today I got the position provisionally. For the next week I will work and if they like me and I like them – I will get the job officially.
Nothing feels more right than this.
I want to say that the only thing that would feel more right than this is not needing a part time job at all. But you know when you can feel that an experience is necessary? That whatever is coming is important to you in some way, even if you can’t know how yet? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you wish life could be when you’re dreaming, what we need are experiences that shape us, that help us grow, and enrich us in one way or another. Every job I’ve ever had has given me more experience, more interaction, more stories, and more language.
It always comes back to poetry if I’m willing to see it. If I’m willing to acknowledge it. The mother tongue. The place everything started. My original language.
I haven’t had a pair of work boots in too many years. It bothers me. I have foot problems now and I can’t afford them. But I am, in my soul, a boot girl. Not a fancy boot girl, a work boot girl. I love wool and berets and pea coats. I love eyeliner and red lipstick. I love Scotland and winter. I love trains and other slow transportation. I love efficiency and mail, possibly oxymorons now. I love Fleetwood Mac and Beethoven.
I love dancing to music that’s blasting so loud I can hear it under my own skin.
Tomorrow I’m going to open my damn accordion after I get off work and I’m going to make some incomprehensible noise for the pure joy of it.
*My friend Kele is responsible for reuniting me with this track.
**My nickname in the commune was “Devilina”