Thursday, February 19, 2009

Self-Discography #9: "Sky Motel" by Kristin Hersh

I moved west with no real plan. Oh, sure, it may have seemed like it to untrained observers, but August 1998 was perhaps the one month of my life where I freely gave myself up to the unknown.

I'd left New York with Nicole in a rented Penske truck, leaving behind me a dirty city crammed with my low-paying jobs that barely afforded me a living, beautiful Brooklyn street scenes, and a dissolved relationship I mourned because it seemed so unfair that it had come into my life at the wrong time.

Before I'd left New York, I'd had a consultation with an astrologer, with whom I'd worked on a book that would be published by my old employer. She was delightful, honest, and funny--and not at all crazy-sounding, which seemed a nice bonus at the time. She read my chart for me, setting the stage, she said, for the transformative things that would come in the next year of my life. At the time I thought it was amusing and I took the predictions and stuffed them in a box, threw that box in the Penske truck, and sped far far away from the East Coast....

...and nine months later opened the box when suddenly everything seemed to be going far too well.

At the time I chalked it up to simple things like living in the California sunshine, to quitting smoking, and having my own apartment--not to mention meeting a man whom I suspiciously liked for all the right reasons. But suddenly I had to reconsider whether planetary alignment had anything to do with it.

At this moment came this album by an artist whose work I'd loved for years already. It was, as Kristin Hersh said at the time, her "desert album." She'd moved to the high desert of Southern California after the dissolution of her band Throwing Muses. And from some of her time there, this idiosyncratic collection was born. And with the luck of timing, it had been recorded the month I moved west. And released in June 1999, the month I had to reconsider whether astrology played any role in my feeling wonderful for the first time in far too long.

It may have been Hersh's desert album, but "Sky Motel" was also my "I Heart California" moment--bright and shiny, poppy yet off-kilter, simultaneously challenging and defiant. Here were a collection of songs that not only created an atmosphere around me, but also seemed to burrow directly into my brain, highlighting the contradictions inherent in the choices I'd made and my fascination with this beautiful train wreck of a place in which I now found myself living:

"I never bitched at anyone. I never asked for my heart back. I'm loving everybody. And hating everyone I see."
The album's opening song, "Echo," includes these lyrics. I wanted the first half to be true. I used to wish that I was stoic. And here I was, about to give my heart away to a man after swearing I wouldn't. The contradiction of the second part mirrored how I felt about the people here at first--a motley crew of some of the most intelligent individuals I'd ever met, mixed with some of the most intensely vain and neurotic. I couldn't help but love and hate equally. But the love for strangers was a new sensation.

"10,000 miles of moonscape don't keep anybody away, after all."
You can move as far away as you like, but the problems are still going to crawl up out of the ground to get you. Right? Or is it that all the people you think you left behind still know how to find you in this alien landscape? Oh. Both.

"I would love a better drug. You lucky jerk."
I found myself staring at an attractive man at a party in June. Too smart for his own good, sharp witted, well-dressed, seemingly 100% together. Why the hell was he interested in me. I couldn't make myself feel better....yet. I kind of hated how great I found him. I didn't know he'd actually stick around because he saw I was a lucky jerk, too.

"This strange old sunshine beats me senseless, but it's supposed to be keeping me's a lie. You're a strange old thing that keeps me senseless, but you're supposed to be keeping me company."
Living in New York felt, often, like living in the dark and fighting with Mother Nature. Suddenly freed from that contact, I found myself thinking, "Does it ever rain here? If it doesn't, how can anyone feel anything authentically?" But then... maybe... "If it doesn't rain, you never have to hide yourself away inside. You never have to miss out on anything."

"You have to look close to see what this disease has done to me."
There was something about my move that made me felt like a fugitive. No one here had to know anything about the last year of my life. No one had to know that I'd mangled my foot, that I'd consumed hideous Chinese herbs in an attempt to clear up some "skin condition" clearly brought on by stress. I had no heart-shredding breakup behind me. I didn't have to explain a phone call from my mother on a rainy spring day telling me my 20-year-old stepsister was dead. I could be anything I wanted to be. My history could be what I wanted. It was a necessary play acting for just a little while, just until I could finally stand on my own two feet again.

"Faithful to the finish, I'm grateful to be in this with you. A fucker of lifeline. A mother of a lifetime with you."
I'd wanted to shake off any number of relationships in my lifetime. But now here I was, fiercely protective of what I had in front of me. A developing relationship with a man that felt, maybe for the first time ever, like one that mattered. Re-establishing my strong friendship with my sister, which survived me sleeping on her floor for four months. Enjoying the time spent with my old friends in a place that seemed to encourage it. This song builds to a cathartic release at this moment with these lyrics--screamed/sung assured clarity. I could never have said it better myself.

"Tonight your secret's safe with me. Tomorrow we wake up in L.A. Such a lovely dream. What a lovely place."
Driving back into L.A. from a day spent in the Valley with my friend Owen, gliding and zigzagging through Laurel Canyon, a hot breeze blowing from no specific direction, the golden lights of the city unfurling below us as we speed down Crescent Heights. It's a place where you simply dream, isn't it? You can make yourself into anything, but it's still some version of you. I think I'm gonna like it here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mexico Hangover

Back in January, newly arrived back to the so-called real world after vacation, I thought about completing an epic blog post with over 50 different photos from Mexico, but you know what? No.

I posted a slew of photos instead on my Flickr page. And now I find myself looking at that page every other day. I've had a pretty rough re-entry to day-to-day life, work, and the like.

As I have gotten older, I have fewer problems completely disconnecting when I go on vacation. It's a function of having a sane job. It's also a function of the fact that I finally feel OK in saying, "I deserve this." I saved my money to make this trip happen and I wanted nothing to interfere with my time away. Maybe it's a tad dogmatic, but it also makes me enjoy myself that much more. Ryan and I made reservations months ago, so to finally land in Mexico felt like the reward for 6 months of hard work.

Needless to say, I loved nearly every day we were in Mexico. Tulum, in particular, was wonderful because it's a real town where locals actually mix with tourists--where hotels are cabanas on the beach and where the food was pretty amazing. Playa del Carmen was more touristy, Isla Mujeres more urban feeling than I anticipated. Plus, Ryan was deathly ill the last 36 hours we were there. By the time we managed to get across the water to Cancun, made it to the airport, and flew home, we were both wasted in vastly different ways.

There's something about pretending your day-to-day life doesn't exist. Especially when you escape it near some of the most beautiful beaches and historic ruins in the world. You romanticize your existence in this foreign place. You want anything that was unfinished or unclear when you left to be finished and clear. Which makes returning to "reality" a harsh slap. For the better part of two weeks, I resented being home in L.A.
Getting sick after coming back didn't help.

And for the first week or so, I gave myself the room to mourn something as seemingly innocuous as the end of a vacation. Now, however, I see from looking at a picture of my feet framed with palm trees and an insanely azure ocean, the point is not necessarily to forget your day-to-day life, but become aware of how to transform it.

It doesn't necessarily mean that I don't sigh heavily looking at a shot like this:

But I do understand myself a little better now. And I hadn't really thought that was possible.