Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tales of Two Cities

Returning our rental car this morning, I encountered a chic couple looking over a map in the lobby as they waited for their car. They did not seem to be happy to be visiting Vermont, nor very thrilled to be together, for that matter, but looked stoically determined to make the best of their next twenty-four hours in the boonies.

I was tempted to offer directions, but the woman looked me up and over with such disdain, nearly fear, I happily backed off and left them alone. I recognized that in their silk suits and coiffed appearance I looked something very different. Back to my masonry project, my new shoes are already scuffed and dirty, my shorts smeared, my shirt stained. I had not bothered to shave between my late arrival home and early departure for work.

I drove away in my rickety, clattering redster, the CD of our Bitter End performance blaring, smiling at the intriguing wonder that we know so little about the strangers all around us.

Scary to them, they have no clue to imagine I am just finished entertaining crowds three nights out of four, the last on the best stage in their own fair city for my kind of music. Our judgments blind us too often to the beauty around us. Shaped by our experiences and limited perceptions, it is difficult to stay open. A guy dressed like me could easily be crass and vulgar. Just as easily (but more likely behind closed doors) could a woman like her. Who but our own selves is really able to know?

And even there, the challenge to hold to our truest selves remains difficult. Her judgments may have been entirely my own insecure projections. Perhaps it was simply a persnickety fleck of Vermont dust that had made her eyes roll so far back. Maybe she had turned afterwards and admired (one can always wish) the virile hair on my construction hardened legs swinging into my high schooler’s redster (ah, more possible if it had been a macho truck!).

The truth is few of us know what another is thinking, but we often assume it is about us and usually negative. More importantly, it is how we think of ourselves that affects the tone of our days.

I am the one struggling the most with my schizophrenia of creativity versus practicality, who wrestles hourly to find the balance in each and every activity. My judgments determine the abundance or scarcity of laughter in any moment. My thoughts shape the sculpture that is my life.

I have chosen to live in Vermont because on any visit to New York City, I am invariably numbed by the effort to focus among the eight million on the few people I actually came to meet. I wander and I wonder, and I finally leave relieved not to have to contend with such a mass of stimulation every day.

Perhaps that silken couple sees the Vermont landscape as something so quaint and picturesque, a tableau in which they can immerse themselves--like Dick Van Dyke dancing with penguins in Mary Poppins--for twenty-four hours before fleeing back to their own cavernous refuge. We wonder about each other, formulate our judgments, and then happily go about the delights and drudgeries of our own particular days.

It is my own thoughts of my own redster, my own embarrassment to hear the clatter again that makes me want to do the work it will take to buy the nice new car like the one we rented to transport the band. It is the dust in my own eyes wiped off my sweaty sleeve that brings me some days near to tears. The fear of a smashed finger that could not caress a guitar makes me handle the cinderblocks more carefully.

That I have such diverse talents is a blessing and a curse. This dichotomy of commitment has plagued me throughout my life, and balance, after all this time, seems no less elusive. Listening to the songs on my way to work, I want to go home and play. At home, the music is not feely played when worried so much about the bills being paid. Sometimes the biggest wonder to me is why I do not more often just sit back with eyes closed and arms dangling, and just drift away…

Then I remember: I am not alone in this struggle. That couple, so foreign to me, is also trying to do the best they can.

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zannahpinan said...

"maybe it's the dust in my own eyes..." Beautiful dad!!! Love it. Great words.

Laurie said...

Kip, It is such a blessing to know that we do have choice for so many things....especially our attitude. I admire you for constantly bringing yourself back to the positive in spite of struggling and feeling off-balanced at times. You are blessed....with various talents but also with perseverance. You are also a risk taker. Those are great qualities and will benefit you in the end. Keep strumming your guitar and singing your heart. Make a living however you can to give you the $$ you need to live your passion. You are an inspiration to me Kip. Thanks for that.