When You Walk into the Middle of a Dream That Came True

A few months back, my honey and I invited his folks out to the annual San Jose Jazz Festival, an event I've written about before. The festival itself was great, as always, but some time in the afternoon that Saturday we tore away from the stages in search of food.

Crossing the Light Rail tracks on 1st street, we headed straight toward a shop we hadn't seen before, full of San Jose merchandise. On the storefront window were about 500 flyers, but the one that caught my eye was advertising a tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, a jazz musician my father-in-law-ish Dan (hereafter referred to as "Catfish") introduced us to a few months previous. Just lookit him...

Kirk was long dead, but this was his birthday weekend, so a local club was celebrating with a musical memorial. As it was also Catfish's birthday weekend and he was a big Kirk fan (he'd seen him play decades ago in Philadelphia), so stopping in on that seemed a no-brainer.

We made mental note of the event but made no definite plans to go, and nobody mentioned it again until the four of us were seated in the hotel's restaurant, resting after a long day and pretty much fixin' to head up to bed.

Catfish mentioned the tribute and we collected enough wherewithal between us to go check it out.

The only problem was nobody remembered the name of the club, and though I'd lived a decade in downtown San Jose, I didn't recognize the name when I'd read it earlier. A Google search brought up Cafe Stritch, a new club that, as luck would have it, was located less than a full block's walk from our hotel.

Approaching, Catfish mentioned that the "stritch" of the club's name is a rare Buescher alto sax that Rahsaan Roland Kirk used to play. What? How incredibly random, or else....how incredibly intentional (?). We'd learn soon enough.

A man who turned out to be the club's owner was standing outside when we walked up, and he implored us to come in. He said nothing we could possibly find to do that night would be cooler. He didn't need to convince us; we'd sought it out. And beyond that, the place was already packed. But I sure did like his enthusiasm. He said there was one set left and offered us half off the cover. (Nothing sweeter than the sweetening of a deal.)

Before that night, I new little about Kirk except that he was 1) some kind of musical mad scientist savant and 2) he was blind. Here is one of the original videos Catfish had shown us (do me [yourself] the favor of hanging in there until 1:44):

What the HELL, right?

In a good way.

You and me--we all should know a little bit more about this man. Like this, from the website all.about.jazz:

"His playing was generally rooted in soul jazz or hard bop, but Kirk's knowledge of jazz history allowed him to draw on many elements of the music's history, from ragtime to swing and free jazz. Kirk also regularly explored classical and pop music.

Kirk played and collected a number of musical instruments, mainly various saxophones, clarinets and flutes. His main instruments were a tenor saxophone and two obscure saxophones: the manzello (similar to a soprano sax) and the stritch (a straight alto sax lacking the instrument's characteristic upturned bell). Kirk modified these instruments himself to accommodate his simultaneous playing technique. He typically appeared on stage with all three horns hanging around his neck, as well as a variety of other instruments, including flutes and whistles, and often kept a gong within reach. Kirk also played harmonica, english horn, recorders and was a competent trumpeter. He often had unique approaches, using a saxophone mouthpiece on a trumpet or playing nose flute. He additionally used many extramusical sounds in his art, such as alarm clocks, whistles, sirens, a section of common garden hose (”the black mystery pipes”) and even primitive electronic sounds (before such things became commonplace).

Kirk was also an influential flautist, employing several techniques that he developed himself. One technique was to sing or hum into the flute at the same time as playing. Another was to play the standard transverse flute at the same time as a nose flute.

Some observers thought that Kirk's bizarre onstage appearance and simultaneous multi-instrumentalism were just gimmicks, especially when coming from a blind man, but these opinions usually vanished when Kirk actually started playing. He used the multiple horns to play true chords, essentially functioning as a one-man saxophone section. Kirk insisted that he was only trying to emulate the sounds he heard in his mind.
Kirk was also a major exponent and practitioner of circular breathing. Using this technique, Kirk was not only able to sustain a single note for virtually any length of time; he could also play 16th-note runs of almost unlimited length, and at high speeds. His circular breathing ability enabled him to record Concerto For Saxophone on the Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle LP in one continuous take of about 20 minutes' playing with no discernible “break” for inhaling. His long-time producer at Atlantic Jazz, Joel Dorn, believes he should have received credit in The Guinness Book of World Records for such feats (he was capable of playing continuously “without taking a breath” for far longer than exhibited on that LP), but this never happened."

Anyway, that is all stuff I've since learned. Really, I would have been happy to be out anywhere listening to jazz in order that the party continue, but this seemed especially promising.

We walked in and surveyed the exposed brick, the black and white mural and photographs, the chalkboard menu. It was oozing cool.

Then we leaned in and waited:
  • for the storm to break
  • for the reckoning
  • for the promised land
  • for the envelopment
  • for the freakshow
  • for the smile-wide-open-bop-your-head-feel-it-feel-it-feel-it-frenzy of jazz done right(eously).

And we stood huddled in our foursome while all was delivered.

Kevin watched me taking it in and moving and digging it, and he whispered in my ear that he enjoyed glimpsing what seemed like a younger version of me, how he imagined I was in my 20's. He was right. I was right there again: filled with my 20-something wonder and big vision and full-and-complete appreciation for all that was good. Even all that was not good. Just all that was.

And they hadn't even brought out the heavy artillery yet.

The weightiest, most spectacular woman in the room that night was a slight-of-frame, short-haired octogenarian who'd been seated off to the side of the stage with a wisdom-of-ages smile on her face, taking it all in. Toward the end of the set she was introduced to the crowd as Betty Neals, the woman who'd performed spoken word on one of Kirk's albums in the 1970's. She'd come all the way from wherever goddesses like her now reside to be present for this evening.

She stood up, took a microphone in hand and her place center stage and brought the fucking house down. Imagine this cadence, only coming from a beautifully aged, regal looking woman who simply OWNED the space surrounding her:

It was a striking literary experience.

Her performance was followed by that of a genius female vocalist (I wish I'd made note of her name so I could seek her out again) who brought the place onto its feet in one of the best climaxes to a jazz sets I've attended.


With the crowd spent and the tribute come to a close, the club's owner and son stood up front and addressed us. The owner mentioned how his former restaurant, Eulipia (named after a Kirk album--they had some kind of family tie to the artist. Kirk's widow was also in attendance that night) had occupied that retail space for upwards of 30 years (some kind of near-record for downtown San Jose, for sure), until one day when the family decided it was time to honor their REAL passions and open a jazz club.

My heart sang and sank simultaneously. For the decade I'd lived in San Jose, I'd wished somebody would open a jazz club, and now here it was. And here it was in so much STYLE. And with so much energy. And launched with such joy.

But I'd moved away. Too far away to just drop in on a weekly or even bi-weekly or even monthly basis.

No matter.

I was here now.

This is what I realized as I listened to that club owner and his son talk about what went into the renovation, what I thought about when I heard the owner say "thank you for joining me on this evening, which I consider to be the apex of my career": I realized that the electrical energy we were all feeling in that room was the good vibin' fallout of a dream coming true. It was the witnessing of one person's thing-they-never-believed-would-actually-happen, happening.

So *that's* what that looks/feels/sounds like.

God, what an honor. What a true honor, though.

I thought that I need to walk in on some more dreams coming true. Really. Your album launch, your exhibit opening, your IPO, your retirement or housewarming or graduation or even your 12-36 hours of labor: count me in! Invite me along! Please. I'll take pictures of it and everything.

I will cry for sure, too.

I was watching a Louis C.K. clip this morning wherein he talked about how people need to let themselves wallow a bit in moments of sadness because it is only in so doing that they can fully feel moments of happiness. Giving way--all the way--to the one is what makes room for the other (Kahlil Gibran said this about 100 years ago too "...when you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight," but I appreciated Louis C.K.'s updated vernacular). Anyway, I was thinking that, similarly, the sweetness of dreams coming true is tasted in direct relation to the hours spent dreaming, the blood/sweat/tears spilled in the achieving, the thoroughness of one's stubborn and wisdom-filled refusal to let the dream go.

Thirty years doing the dirty, dirty and difficult work of running a successful restaurant when that man REALLY wanted to own a jazz club is a lot of time put in. That's a lot of steeping, as I like to call it. But boy oh boy must he feel it was worth it, now.

In more than a decade attending the San Jose Jazz Festival, that has taken up space as one of my richest, juiciest memories.


Going Rate: $125/Hour

I don't make heaps of money in my current position.

I'm working on improving the outlook in that area, but for now: there's that.

Recently, on occasional days off, I've been picking up supplemental income here and there in the form of market research participation.

"Here and there" is a very literal term in this case. About six months ago I answered a Craigslist ad and drove to a Kohl's half an hour away to try on blouses in the presence of an employee from Zulu.com. Her job is to listen to people talk about the way clothes fit them and why they would or wouldn't buy certain garments.

It was a strange and interesting experience to share a fitting room with a perfect stranger and talk in depth about my body issues and how each blouse exacerbated or alleviated them (Don't worry; this wasn't recorded. I wasn't accidentally starring in fitting room fetish videos for a fitting room fetish website).

Not because it was her job but just out of niceness, the employee would explain to me the garments that I couldn't make sense of, and she offered occasional advice for my future clothes shopping moments of turmoil. A few times, women from the neighboring fitting room asked what was happening and if they could get somebody to sit in THEIR fitting rooms and help THEM!

At the end of that hour, I was handed 50 bucks.

Then, a while ago, a customer came into the branch depositing a payroll check from a market research firm, and she referred me to their website to create a profile. Four months ago this landed me in a room with four other folks where, in front of a two-way mirror, we offered our opinions about a number of Asian grab-and-go snacks a grocery chain is considering developing. An hour later I left with a check for $100 and $25 cash (bonus for arriving on-time--What? I can be early if you like).

Here's what I really like about doing this kind of thing: these market researchers are paying me to give my opinion. I mean I freely give my opinion (sometimes unsolicited) on a daily basis, but it is so, so much better to get paid for it. And it's not like the people are just smiling and politely nodding with that look that kids get when they want the lecture to just be over already(!). They are rapt. They are writing down everything I SAY! As if I were the last word on Asian grab-and-go snacks.

As if I know shit about...



So. That brings me to last week. Some way, somehow, I opened my front door last Wednesday and allowed four (four!) people to come in for the purpose of watching me clean.

And here's the real beauty of it. Within 10 minutes of their arrival, I let it fly out of my mouth that I hate (hate hate hate) cleaning. And they don't care! They didn't come to watch an expert cleaner. They want to know what and how people think about cleaning. They WANT to know what sucks about it and why people avoid doing it, because they are there on behalf of a company developing products to make cleaning easier...things people would find worth their money--strange devices for lazy cleaners like me.

So for about an hour we just sat at my kitchen table and talked about one of my least favorite subjects.

Also, they played with the cat, because these were normal, friendly people. No lab coats or clipboards or rigid directives. (In fact I was struck by the casual nature of the thing and I could have done my own market research on their choices of note-taking methods—two on smartphones, one taking notes right on the in-development product spec sheets (which would have been my choice), and one taking notes in black sharpie pen on dozens of 3x3 Post-It notes, in what has to be the least efficient note-taking method in the history of taking notes.

I told them how watching cleaning commercials featuring women get excited about cleaning products makes me feel like I'm missing a gene...because I never ever never get excited about cleaning products (though there was this one little pump windex-y dispenser thing I got from my parents that gave me a mild twinge of "this is not so bad").

I told them that I always feel like my place isn't clean enough and said I end up feeling bad because I think the boys deserve a really clean place to live. "Why?" one of them asked. "Why does anybody deserve clean?"

I loved that. A philosophic quandary. I don't have an answer that would hold up to any serious scrutiny, but it simply doesn't seem right that a bathroom should have grime in it, does it? And somehow I've absorbed the message that I am the person who is supposed to be most concerned about this issue.

And, despite my abhorrence for cleaning…I am (concerned about it).

I talked about how in my mind, every woman in the world is cleaner than me and that they are all judging me when they come into my house.

This led to a very enlightening moment for me because, through their questioning, I realized that I only know a handful of extremely clean people. That I-am-gross-and-my-house-is-gross feeling I have is a result of one those people happening to be my Mom. My Mom has always been neater, cleaner, and more organized than I will ever be. And knowing I won’t (by nature) ever stack up has left me with an ever-present sense of semi-failure.

The feeling isn't strong enough to send me cleaning all the time; it's just on the list of things I can choose to feel bad about at any given moment, if I suddenly want to feel bad about something.

At one point, about an hour and 15 minutes into the researchers’ visit, the below pictured was produced from under my bathroom sink.

Bucket O' Evil

Simple, I said: It's got 409 and Windex--the tools my Mom uses for the job. Comet would usually be found in there as well. No gimmicks. No magic tools. Just a crude collection of terrible smelling blue and clear liquids.

They asked me to clean a bathtub, my mirror and basin, and then the kitchen floor and to explain what I was doing and why. That portion lasted a merciful 30 minutes or so. 

Then, more questions about my relationship with de-nastification.

The more they questioned me, the closer I got to identifying the sources of my cleaning aversions.

1) I am not opposed to getting things clean. I LOVE when things are clean. And I love to do laundry--or, that is, I love folding clean laundry and the feeling when all the laundry is done. I also don't mind washing dishes or vacuuming. What I hate about cleaning bathrooms and dusting (for example) is the toxic smell of cleaners (or else the latex glove smell) left on my hands when it's all done. I don't like cleaning something and feeling like I've become dirty as a result.

2) In a few different ways, one of the researchers was trying to get to the bottom of whether it is the energy or the time that I don't have for cleaning. I told her that I could make a case for neither. What I don't have, I said, is the desire. With the limited free time being a working mother leaves me, the last thing I want to do is get on my hands and knees and fucking scrub a floor. I called this the "Cinderella Factor." I don't think I'm above cleaning...as though there is a type of person in the world better suited for life's Cinderella moments. I think we all have better and more interesting, less Sisyphean things to do with our time.

In the end, they showed me the concept cleaner ideas and asked the likelihood of my purchasing them, were they available.

And then they left.  But not before telling me that, for somebody who hates cleaning, my house was pretty darned clean. That was surprisingly good to hear.

And I will receive $250 for this.

Two hundred and fifty smackaroos for spending two hours detailing all the ways in which I would rather be doing anything else.

Not bad.

I don't exactly plan to make a career out of this sort of thing; I don’t see it as a viable alternative to landing the well-paying job of my dreams. But for the meantime--and for the supplemental aspect of it--the market research thing is great. If I can manage to score a project in which I get to taste yummy things or borrow and test cutting-edge technological gadgets, so much the better.

Kevin's Sketch

As I mentioned before, Kevin is going to be doing sketches rather than the kind of painstakingly intricate drawings with crazy shading and all that jazz he puts many, many hours into. The below is a sketch of a door from Indonesia which sits in our bedroom. It's a solid black carved wooden thing that weighs about 600 pounds. It was given to him by a friend. I think of her as a protector of sorts.

Scenes from Manzanita Project Work Time, Week 1

I thought it would be fun, even just for our own memory, to capture scenes from the time we put aside to work together during the week. May not get that special time every week, but when possible...

Speisekammer is a German restaurant a few blocks from our house. It has a nice little outdoor beer garden and a convenient electrical outlet, meant for a string of outdoor lights that lines the patio.


On Co-Creation: The Birth of The Manzanita Project

The first time I spoke to my boyfriend Kevin on the phone (we met on eHarmony...there were emails and "guided communication" that preceded our first phone contact), he confessed he'd already heard my voice. He said he'd Googled my name and followed the link to listen to a short essay I'd read for a talk radio station.

Upon hearing this, I was initially a little embarrassed. I mean, it's not like I put it out there so people WOULDN'T access it, but I hadn't considered that a potential date might do this before we'd had the chance to meet.

My secondary reactions, after I'd gotten over the initial surprise, were more favorable. First of all, he was interested enough to check me out. Cool. Second, he heard my essay and was still interested. This boded well because a man of a certain kind of traditional ilk would have probably been turned off by the content of that particular essay. Cool again. Thirdly, he now knew that writing was at least a part of what I did with my life, and it would seem he didn't take issue with that. Zing!

I would shortly discover that Kevin was not only a supporter of creative endeavors, he was himself a very talented artist; he emailed me these drawings the first time I asked to see some of his work.

Wowee, I thought. That's (he's) the real deal.

When we moved in together with our children this summer, one of the things Kevin and I both looked forward to was creating a space in which we could mutually support and give space to one another's crafts--the practice and honing and labor of that.

We had both arrived at stuck places--he because he hadn't finished a major drawing he'd been working on for years, me because I had an ever-present worry playing lo-fi and constant in the back of my brain which didn't leave a lot of room for creativity. So far, we hadn't been itching to do a lot that either of us needed to support or make space for.

My omni-present worry has worked itself out, however, and Kevin has decided to work on other things until whatever it is that needs to happen for him to finish the major drawing (his personal Chinese Democracy, I like to call it) happens.

With these turns of events, I turned to him with an idea.

I thought it would be cool to embark on a project together. For a year, I would agree to produce a piece of writing and he would create at least one drawing per week. He was game.

The moment we hatched this plan I felt a surge of creative energy like I haven't felt for some time. My mind had been so tired I just couldn't even fathom the kind of late night writing sessions that used to fill me with adrenaline. All I could really think of was getting through the daily stuff, the chores, the work, the planning. It's not that I wasn't having any fun--I'd just stopped processing the days' events in terms of how I might write about them, which is what I'd always done when I was writing regularly. There'd been a voice in the back of my head very deliberately generating sentences to describe things as they unfolded, but I'd let that voice go quiet.

I've invited her back, though. I want to hear what she has to say again; I want to hear how she has to say it. And I am beyond excited to be setting out on a project like this with a loved one. I mean, I have never created something with another person before, save my son. And since Kevin and I almost surely won't be making any of those together, isn't this a great alternative? I find the thought of it somehow romantic.

And though we aren't focusing a themed piece (I will be writing about who-knows-what-all-manner-of-thing and he will be drawing who-knows-what-probably-related-to-the-natural world), I'm interested to see how our creative processes intertwine and interplay.

I'm also really excited to see what he ends up being inspired by. Kevin's drawn one significant nature illustration in the time we've been together (depicting three different predatory habits of the California Kingsnake), and a bunch of little cartoons, but beyond that I haven't much seen him in action. He said he will likely be doing sketches to get him back into the groove--not necessarily in-depth pieces, but whatever it is I'm interested. Hmmmm...

It took us a while to come up with a name for our project (I promptly voted down his loopy, post-sick nap suggestions of "Project Fuck Ass" and "Project Bloody Dolphin"). He thought it would be nice to focus on a flower that blooms in the winter months, since in effect that is what we'd be doing, and we'd been talking about the concept of becoming "open"...to the muse, to the flow, whatever you may call it. Because he studies these things for a living, Kevin wanted a plant that was native to California. And so I present to you:

The Manzanita Project.

Isn't the Manzanita a super bad ass?!

So...I will be posting all my pieces here on this blog, and I will share some or all of his here as well. I hope you enjoy.