Right before I walked away from my first house, I walked away from my first house. Carried my baby down the street in the snow: dry flakes, whipping sideways past the neighbors’ houses. We were going to the liquor store around the corner to buy milk and a newspaper.
I guess it was a shitty liquor store—gritty, anyway—I’d never thought about it before. You could smell the ocean from the front steps on windy days and that was all I cared about. When I put a carton of milk and a newspaper down and began to count my money, the quiet, elfin man behind the counter waved at my quiet, elfin baby (“Quiet Wyatt”) and threw in some free orange juice just because he was a good guy – and ‘cause it was past its date. We told him we were cool with that when we moved there, so he gave us slightly used orange juice and eggs while Twinkies and Wonder Bread gathered dust on the shelves.
I’d stopped buying alcohol there about a year earlier, switching to pregnant lady groceries, and he’d been very patient with me. This man was a blue collar wine connoisseur who knew absolutely everything there was to know about wine. It was nuts. But he could no longer discuss Spanish grapes or Oregon vineyards with me, or even how cold the beer cooler was that day, so there wasn’t much for us talk about. And the poor guy small talked for a whole year! Finding his wine-centric worldliness useless, he focussed on the immediate: weather and my big stomach, then the tiny face who gazed at him from underneath my winter coat.
“Hope we get a big snow,” he smiled and I smiled back, ‘cause I hoped so, too. “After I get home,” he added. “Got stuck here once for two days, no electricity. Slept in the stockroom.”
I blinked. “Geez…”
“Nah,” he shrugged. “It was just boring.”
Not going home is boring, I thought, that’s so true. People always said the opposite. I traveled for a living, which was often romantic, sometimes exotic, and almost always boring. When I finally got home at the end of a tour, I was thrilled – giddy even – knowing full well that I wasn’t supposed to feel that way.
I thanked the nice elfin man whose name I had never learned, left the warm liquor store and stood on the corner, watching powder spin in the gray air. I knew that the World didn’t value the blue collar connoisseur, as he attracted no attention and sought none. He never tap danced, just quietly knew everything there was to know about his chosen subject. He lived his life peaceful and engaged; only people he could reach out and touch looked at him.
Our neighborhood didn’t make noise in the world, either, it wasn’t cool; we knew this because our tawdry houses, full of real life, carried very low price tags.
My shabby little house up the street was full of snow days and beach days and thunderstorms, our kids sat on the kitchen counter there and planned their Halloween costumes. We’d raised two puppies into dogs in that house, fought and kissed there, had quiet dinners and rowdy birthday parties. I wrote the songs on “University” and “Limbo” in the garage and planted an herb garden in the sandbox that grew taller than our sons.
Dave Narcizo spent a thousand afternoons in the kitchen, planning tours and records, eating bananas and drinking tea. Dark or light, our mood seemed to make more sense over bananas and tea. We fed a family of squirrels on the deck who raised another family of squirrels in the maple tree near the fence. After that, we had to double our output of squirrel food. The squirrels all hated my cooking and would swat homemade baked goods off the deck, then knock on the door, begging for more sunflower seeds.
Vic Chesnutt slept on the living room couch we’d bought in a New Mexico furniture store ‘cause they were giving away free coffee that morning and we felt guilty for drinking it. We toasted in bittersweet New Year’s Eves on that couch, too, the children asleep in their bunk beds upstairs.
Our friend David Kelley shot goofy videos for the Muses’ songs “Shark” and “Ruthie’s Knocking” in the dining room, and we shot even goofier home movies of the kids playing in the yard, wearing hand-me-downs from Murray the chimp I brought home from David’s “Bright Yellow Gun” shoot. Trina Shoemaker, the Muses’ engineer, sat at that kitchen counter on a spring afternoon and painted irises. And from our bedroom window, we could see the huge Christmas star on top of the hospital where Wyatt was born.
All these treasures amounted to nothing in the eyes of the World, of course; as they were small world events. Private and more valuable for that, if you ask me, but our little house wasn’t worth any actual money – the World’s favorite measuring stick.
My band also carried a very low price tag: the World didn’t value our world. Not enough people cared enough about our music to allow us to play it for a living any more. This was confusing, as our band was ubiquitous to us. It was like someone telling you that your left arm wasn’t cool enough.
Sometimes you believe the World’s price tags, take the World’s opinion as law, because its flighty, shallow ability to shine light on a trend is so very influential. Its voodoo packs a wallop (remember, voodoo works only when people believe in it). So, sometimes—frighteningly, dangerously—we believe in it, too. That’s what makes people agree that we all value the same things. Which of course, we don’t.
Like my cheap band, my cheap house made me happier than I’d ever been before. I could barely sleep in it, because when I shut my eyes, I couldn’t see it any more – the back of my eyelids couldn’t compete with its majesty: my very own doorknobs! My friend Ivo laughed when I told him this. “Sleep!” he said. “Your doorknobs will still be there in the morning…”
So I shut my eyes and when I opened them again, my little house and my little band were gone, and I’d become a ghost, wandering in the Mojave desert, hoping I’d blow away.
We all know what the World values: things that makes noise, “expert” opinions, sales, charts, hype, lists, awards, trends, tap dancing, self-promotion…it hangs high price tags on what it says the herd wants. And it is true that there are people who only like to look at what they think other people are looking at, who only want to live where other people want to live, who watch, read and listen only to what they’ve heard that piles of other people are watching, reading and listening to, who buy the voodoo, who never stop asking, “What’s happening? What’s the best?” They suck down that Kool-Aid.
Sometimes we try to keep up with this by making noise, by tap dancing, pointing at what we’ve done, trying to get people to turn around and look…show it off. But passionate work and showing off are not in the same sphere. Passionate work is private, focused, contemplative and selfless. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that showing off is the opposite. No one should be asked to do it. If you never stop tap dancing, when do you do the work?
Believing in showing off is when you lose Eden, whether you are the creator or the consumer. It’s the first clue that you’ve slipped off the path. Billy says, “It’d be much less boring and way more honest if we shared our flaws, frailties and uglinesses.” It seems like a contradiction, but the quiet way is more social. We share what matters, ego-less. The tap dancing ego obscures what’s real.
I don’t care who you are, the World is not your world. Movie stars imitate you, not the other way around. Movies and books and songs are about small worlds because that’s where real life happens. You have passions, your loved ones are your stars, your stories are true, your opinions are valid, you are the only expert when it comes to what you love. That’s what’s happening: your life. It’s what’s best. Because it’s the only thing that’s real.
And like that little bimbo Tinkerbell, fake comes to a crashing halt when we stop clapping.
Soon after I walked away from my first house, I spent a day in a pop star’s house in LA, wondering how many rooms a person can be in at once. One room led to another, in a long, long chain. Up stairs, around corners and down hallways…room, room, room, room, room. What is it that makes a body want so much building? So many wide-screen tv’s?
The answer, I guess, is showing off. Without passionate work, we seem to want to grow bigger, to grab the World’s attention, make faces in its face, flirt, stockpile money, etc. Rooms, rooms, rooms…a mansion without a foundation. This person was arguably one of the most famous people in the world at the time. And if anyone’s gonna think the World is their world, it’s someone with big price tags on both their house and their person. But to me, no small life means you have no life at all.
Suddenly exhausted, I leaned on a statue next to the enormous pool and decided it was time to go home. Like the blue-collar wine connoisseur, my worldliness had become useless. I needed to focus on the immediate, to breathe life back into my small world. After all, not going home is boring.
This was many years ago. I never got home. Or I haven’t yet, anyway, and I’m not alone in that. Lots of people never get home; I guess that’s why they say you can’t go there. Life conspires, changes direction, starts over again and again. Ocean air isn’t cheap anymore anyway, even in front of shitty, gritty liquor stores. I still feel like a ghost who could blow away on a desert wind because I lost my life.
This is sad for me, but what I figure is: I don’t buy price tags, I don’t believe in voodoo, I don’t watch tap dances, I don’t drink the Kool-Aid. I don’t know anyone who does. Nobody I know cares about “stars,” except for the ones in the sky. My friends are all blue collar connoisseurs who celebrate the moment and the timeless, while Twinkies and Wonder Bread gather dust. Some of my loved ones I can reach out and touch, some are scattered across the globe, and some I’ve never even seen before; we’re just like-minded spirits talking across the ether. Or being quiet across the ether.
Snow is still falling somewhere. This is what’s happening, this is what’s best, this is home, this is Eden.