When you’re homesick, you look for something to stifle the pang.
Shortly after starting my first job and in what I perceived at the time would be a temporary assignment before making a big move overseas, I found myself in that curious space of dwelling in the in between. Sure, I’d lived in California for several years during school but our campus might have been its own kingdom, as it was so set apart from the town in which it was established. My jaunts into “the city” helped distract the gnawing for the familiar that sometimes felt insurmountable.
Even among the mountains, the ocean and Bay, I missed that wide open sky that categorized the flat land from which I’d come. So much about California seemed compelling, but it was still becoming home to me. In this job, I found myself the happy recipient of paychecks, learning how to fend for myself in the working world apart from a schedule of studies. It was a bit of a revelation with the satisfaction of paying bills like checking off boxes on a grand to do list. Moving to the city that first year found Olga and I as roommates in the world’s smallest kitchen with a microwave that also acted as an oven when it needed to. I spent long hours walking the length of the street until it ended at the beach and then walking in the other direction. Somehow all the walking provided a canvas to work through and collect my thoughts.
My parents and family, close friends from growing up were rooted in the republic of Texas and I was forging ahead after graduation in California. Olga could attest to my sentiments of being caught in the middle of trying to muddle out of occasional funks.
Something was missing.
Much of the Texas I longed for, apart from family and friends, was steeped in music. I missed certain bands that would make the rounds in Dallas during a tour season that stopped shy of the Colorado border. I took my long walks in silence, I took them with headphones and that familiar lifeblood of music pumping into my ears. The monotony of the working world was a bit of a shock to this graduate. You got up, went to work, came home and slept only to get up and start it all again in the morning. Even with all that routine, I felt as if something was about to happen that would settle the unsettledness and waited impatiently for it to come. The waiting, the uncertainty were disquieting.
That year, I received a sizable-to-me tax refund. An email newsletter from a favorite band, Vigilantes of Love, mentioned opportunities to perform house shows. A seedling of an idea planted itself in my head and I began watering it to see how it might bloom.
At the time, the church I attended owned an old firehouse building seldom used outside of a weekday childcare program. The brick edifice had a narrow stairwell that led up to a big open room with a cordoned off area, separating the main room from the back room with a curtain. If I closed my eyes, I could envision a concert happening there in that space, imagining the guitarist and keyboardist set up and rocking out. If I closed my eyes, I could see rows of unfolded metal chairs housed with an eager and attentive audience. I could listen to the music that might quell those pangs for home I knew wouldn’t come from flying to Dallas or moving back. I opened my eyes and began planting seeds for the concert with others and several co-benefactors emerged.
My paltry and yet substantial enough tax refund check breathed life into a tangible idea.
An email to the booking manager began clarifying the certainty of my resolve. A discussion and agreement with the church on the use of the space confirmed my inclination. Once the email response arrived affirmatively, I began putting together concert posters in audacious shades of lipstick red, garish aqua and day-glow neon hues. This concert gave me a prevailing purpose and the goal rooted me in place. I reveled in the possibility of getting to share my appreciation for the strains of Bill Mallonee crooning and his song storytelling with people in San Francisco. I couldn’t imagine my tax refund check going to a better cause than supporting live art in action. For a time, I played the role of benefactor and promoter along with ardent fan.
The day arrived after many weeks of getting the word out in flyers hung up, emails sent out, and phone calls made. We had cleaned the old firehouse and assembled the chairs the evening before. Now, it was a matter of waiting for the main act to show up. Now, it was a matter of waiting for the people to come and see if we might break even.
From the back of the hall, I took ticket money and welcomed people into the concert space. I gave wide berth for the band to do what they needed to. As the majority of seats became occupied, it was time to bring down the lights and start the show. The adrenaline kept me on my toes. Leaning on the top of the stairwell by the door I soaked up the live music as they performed “Resplendent.” That pent up energy kept me on my feet, unable to sit still. When VoL began playing my absolute favorite song, “Skin”, I found myself grinning and in the thrall of the happy place where music can take you. Mallonee amended lyrics in the song to apply to San Francisco. “You gotta take a few on the chin” he sang about Vincent van Gogh, about us. That moment and that song made all the hard work to pull off the evening worth it.
A few of us tagged along with Bill and team to Mel’s for a late night dinner of hamburgers and shakes. Presented with the opportunity, I plied him with questions of what his creative process looked like – taking notes with pen and paper, not caring that I might look like a super fan or a geek. Apart from that rip of guitar cutting the silence and those VoL lyrics that always provoked some sort of response, what gave me a slice of home was hearing from this artistic sojourner in between projects, in between cities- living in the in between and also trying very much to live in the now.
The truth is, there is a homesickness that’s subcutaneous but unreachable. It can’t be itched- not yet. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we recognize its presence even if we don’t want to give it credence. Fox holes and nests, San Francisco and Dallas – we dwell in the in between and sometimes a tax refund check can curtail the gnawing want for that ever elusive “other.” It can be like the act of braising, letting chunks of lamb steam and simmer in beer and stock for hours. This low and slow method of cooking does yield succulent meat made tender. But the waiting can almost do you in.
We are each of us in process, aren’t we?
I thank the audacity of youth for that evening which seems surreal rather than real. I spoon up the Beer Braised Lamb and Leeks with “Real Downtown” streaming in the background, simultaneously dwelling in the what happened, the now, the not yet.