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two sides of a naked truth

There are naked pictures of me on this blog.

What can I say? I went through a brief, months-long phase in my late teens where I was at the edge of my early-college thinness, had a web cam, and thought I was some form of internet soft-core porn star. I was young, newly single, and attractive.

Even in my youthful pride and vanity, I understood the context of my actions. I knew that by posting the images to CK I was committing them to the collective consciousness, and that they would exist in perpetuity through my every job interview or public exposure. I was okay with that. It was my choice, which I own even if I may later regret it.

This weekend one of the biggest stories on the internet was that the private photographs of dozens of actresses had been hacked from Apple’s iCloud service and posted on the internet. These images were not taken to be committed to the collective consciousness, but for personal use. The only choice made was to take them – they may have even been deleted later, only to persist in the cloud. They weren’t carelessly misplaced or lost. They were stolen.

This is not only a theft, but a sex crime – which is to say, the criminal behind it intentionally and with harmful intent removed the sexual agency from these women. Yet, the general reception to the photos was not disgust or icy dismissal. Many people rejoiced in the chance to see these stars naked. In catching up on the story, I read one particularly disturbing comment from a woman who said she loaded the photos, handed her laptop to her husband, and said only, “You’re welcome.”

I suppose he was supposed to be thanking her for acting as an accessory to a disgusting crime she was now implicating him in as well? I’m not sure.

Let me state plainly that there are important issues of misogyny to unpack here. I’m not the writer most-qualified to contend with those topics, or even list them. I’ll simply point out that few if no men had their solo photographs leaked as part of this crime. It would be just as much as a theft and a sex crime if there had been, but the crime would be in a different context.

That’s the context I find myself mulling over, since I have the capacity to do so – the one we might be discussing if this had not been a sex crime solely against women. That is the idea of public versus private communication.

(No, not in the disgusting, victim-blaming, “don’t take the photos if you don’t want them to be seen” way that I’ve seen it happening so far. We can be surprised that stars might take these photos – I personally am – but let’s not pretend that the facts that a human is sexual and that a body can be naked in front of a camera entitles us to see the results.)

At work, I lead a session for new employees on Brand Voice. The prevailing theme is that when you represent a brand you should assume all of your communication is public-facing and brand-representing. There is no private. It doesn’t matter if it’s an internal email, a comment on an elevator, or a personal posting. If you can be construed as a representative of your brand, your comment counts! Once you fix that in your brain and use it as your global filter, your risk is greatly reduced. If something runs counter to your brand, you don’t say it or share it willfully.

Celebrities are certainly aware they are brands and in any potentially public-facing venue act accordingly. These women would never have committed these images to the public consciousness, as I chose to over a decade ago. They were all clearly private – just as I expect some of my colleagues might say something in the privacy of their home that would fall outside of my recommendations in the Brand Voice talk.

What defines private? In my colleagues’ case, it’s the knowledge of their surroundings and the assumption of security. They are in their living space with a known quantity of other people, presumably safe from being intruded upon, overheard, or recorded. That assumption could be in error – someone could knock down the door at any second! But, they have a reasonable, evidence-based expectation that they are secure.

What defined private for the victims in this case? They, too, were in secure spaces. They, too, did not think they would be seen by anything other than their own camera and their intended recipient. However, once these digital photos were allowed to sync to the cloud, a whole new set of assumptions came into play.

Do you know what it means when you commit a photo to iCloud, use DropBox, divulge a personal detail on a social network, or even speculatively place something into your shopping cart in the same browser session where you have been logged in to any website, anywhere? I suspect you don’t. You assume what you are doing is private because you want it to be, and because there are some measures in place to maintain that illusion of limited access. You don’t understand the whole chain of custody of your information and how it will be used.

You may not realize the website you visited knows which ads you clicked and what you did afterward, though you would surely object to someone following you through a grocery store, taking notes. You don’t know what server your private Facebook message sits on, or what prevents it from going to another user, yet you are likely as confident (or moreso!) in the privacy of that communication than you are that a letter will reach its intended recipient unmolested. In fact, it is the digital thing is so much more fragile and corruptible.

If this sounds like it’s turning into, “So don’t take a naked digital picture ever!” it’s not. Again, just because a naked photo exists doesn’t mean everyone should be allowed to see it, just as because a woman has a body does not mean every one has the right to comment on it.

It is, “Why do we trust who we trust?” When someone tells us, “your data is private and secure,” do we understand what those words mean? Private unless what? Secure until when? My clients frequently request documentation or NDAs to confirm that statement, but it turns out the most famous people in the world just click “I Accept” on the iCloud user agreement like the rest of us and go on with their lives.

They trust just like we do. They think private means the same thing we do. The violation they are experiencing is the same one we sign up for every time we click that “I Accept” button. We’re all the same, except more people recognize their faces.

If I suddenly became famous tomorrow – joined a reality TV show, or released a hit song, or ran for public office – all of the content on this blog would become fodder for both my fans and foes. Hundreds of details about my actions and beliefs. Indecent photos. Terrible demo songs. That was my choice.

What happened to the victims of this situation wasn’t a choice. It isn’t fair or just. It’s terrible, it’s a crime, and it can never be erased. Famous or not, woman or man, no one deserves to lose their sexual agency or to be treated like an object.

And it’s all because one criminal decided he wanted to change the meaning of the word “private.”

#MusicMonday: “Bang Bang” – Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nikki Minaj

Bang-Bang-Promo-Cover

One of many fan-made “Bang Bang” promo covers with a decidely retro feel.

I have always loved Motown. This post is about Jessie J’, Ariana Grande, and Nikki Minaj’s late-summer hit, “Bang Bang.”

These two statements are closely related, I promise.

I grew up revering Motown music. I was obsessed with “Stop! In The Name of Love,” and listened to Oldies 98.1 WOGL on every car ride with my father. The beauty of the great majority of Motown songs is their disarmingly simplicity. The classic and seemingly complex “I Want You Back” is mostly just one endlessly descending bassline. Smokey Robinson created intricate riffs and harmonies over the simplest of blues progressions. My favorite dance tune – “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” – distills down to just one pair of chords.

As it turns out, simple songs with clearly distilled messages are hard to ignore.

This presents a terrific conundrum when it comes to Motown covers on acoustic guitar. “I Want You Back” translates to plenty action on an acoustic guitar, and Smokey songs can be dressed up or stripped down as you choose. Yet, other songs lose their sing sans arrangement and bassline. Plus, what to do with “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” – so simple in its execution that it hardly holds together on one instrument? There, the power must be in your delivery and interpretation – there’s nothing spare to dress with.

Which brings me to “Bang Bang,” a raunchy summer slam from two of the hugest young female voices in pop. I heard it for the first time a few weekends ago while standing in a cell phone store, and my immediate first reaction wasn’t, “Who is singing?” or “Why is the production so huge?”

Nope. My reaction was, “This is so Motown!” I tried to explain it to E later that day, but not being the Hitsville connoisseur that I am she didn’t wholly appreciate the distinction. However, when I confessed it to Ashley in Smash Fantastic rehearsal yesterday, she shrieked, “I know!”

At which point we attempted our first cover of the ridiculous hot weather confection that is “Bang Bang” and discovered its true Motown realness: It’s just one damned chord! C7, over and over again. I thrashed it over and over in rhythm while Ashley annihilated that crazy Jessie J vocal that starts on an Eb. (I claimed Ariana’s verse as my own, as I love belting to her range. We are still negotiating over the Nikki verse.)

The similarity doesn’t stop there. Despite the decidedly unsubtle chorus, the first linee in Grande’s verse is practically cribbed from pint-sized Michael Jackson, “She might’ve let you hold her hand in school. But I’mma show you how to graduate.” Is that so different than the punnish innuendo in “The Love You Save,” where he sings, “When Alexander called you, he said he rang your chimes. Christopher discovered you’re way ahead of your times!”

It remains to be seen if Ashley and I can make our cover interesting enough to hold its own sans all of the arrangement and production on the studio cut, but at least now we understand why the song screamed “Motown!” at us on first contact.

Happy Birthday To This

The Collector

I cannot remember the first thing I collected with the studied intent of completion.

I think that is because the collecting was being done for me before I can recall. Both of my parents bought every record from their favorite artists. My mother documented our adventures in homemade photo storybooks. I had a complete collection of He-Man toys. Collecting is just what you did.

Why have only one record, or memory, or toy, when they are meant to be strung together with magnificent context?

That urge stuck with me past my childhood years. In fact, it was the urge to obsessively collect all of my words into one place that lead me to create this blog, fourteen years ago today.

The Limits

When I was a child, the main limiting factor in my quest for completion was resource availability. I knew who all the GI Joes were, but old lines were impossible to find and even newer ones yielded rare figures. Later, I wrote up a wishlist of every comic issue I wanted, but even after researching how to mail-order my missing issues my budget was the limiting factor. I also wanted to see every episode of X-Files, but I could never catch re-runs of Season 1 even when the show went into syndication.

As I began this blog in 2000, the only limiting factor was my interest. I had all the technical resources and time I could want for, and my other major hobby of songwriting was a natural complement to the content here. The only element that could be in short supply was the will to write.

I never run out of a will for the things I love to do. I think that is the secret of being a good collector, actually – the delight in the effort and chase. It is that delight that made me a good blogger, but also a great bandmate and professional. I would organize all the songs and make all the lead-sheets and know the harmony like the back of my hand. I would reach Inbox 0 and have notes on every project and measure my efficiency every week.

And so I did for many years of happiness and continued improvement in my two chosen careers.

Now, a little over a year into this experiment of raising a small human being, there is no question that the main limiting factors to anything in my life are not will or delight, but space and time. I want to be at Inbox 0, but there are sometimes more emails than minutes I have to read them. I own every issue of X-Men ever published, but I’ve run out of places to put them and I have to sneak them a handful at a time before bed or on my commute. I have every X-Files episode on DVD (well, all of the Mulder seasons, anyway), but when will I watch them again? I barely have the 42 minutes to spare in any given day. What used to take weeks or months to enjoy could now stretch on for years.

I have thousands of songs in my collection, but if I try to listen to them all when will I write, learn, and perform my own music? Even if I gave up performing and focused on recording my music for posterity, I’m out of recording space on a tremendously huge set of hard drives. Plus, when would I fine time to grind away at the perfect track for hours at a time?

I have a blog to collect every fleeting memory and opinion with a veritable unlimited amount of space to fill, but when will I set the words down?

If I am a collector because I yearn to complete every collection, what happens when I realize I cannot have it all every time, forever? Who am I, and what have I spent all of these years doing with my life?

What’s Lost

I can remember the first time I lost something irretrievably.

I was four years old, at the beach with my father, wading out into the water until it reached my waist. I brought my favorite toy – Wonder Woman – with me and had her tied to the string of my swimming trunks. As the water ebbed and flowed around my tiny body, her arms caught the current and she drifted out from my body for a moment before sinking, inexorably, never to surface again.

I later received another Wonder Woman – the first of many – but the lesson was not lost on me. Don’t be capricious with what you’ve collected. Don’t risk.

I was a forgetful teenager, so I lost a lot of other things. Pencil cases, keys, and calculators. But, never anything too important – a thing I collected. Never a GI Joe or a comic book. Only twice the lyrics to songs. Never a friend I meant to keep.

If there is is a second disappointing truth I’ve learned in the past year, it is that I cannot always control the things I lose, no matter how much care I take. Moments left unrecorded are forgotten. Instruments are worn and can break down irreparably. Teams of colleagues splinter and move on. Friends depart.

The Mystery

Every day I debate if I am trying to raise another collector. It helps that one of EV6′s nicknames is “chaos baby,’” and that she enjoys knocking things over and spreading them out much better than amassing them in a neat pile.

Earlier this year a friend gave EV6 a trio of adorably wobbly wheeled dinosaurs, and I noticed on the back of one of their packages there was a fourth. Of course, you can imagine that I immediately set out on an online search for the wayward member of the quartet. After five minutes I looked down to see EV6 mashing one of their heads into her mouth. She’s perfectly happy with three, I thought. The fourth could remain a mystery.

When you’ve spent your whole life being a collector the mystery is both your inspiration and antithesis. You thrill in tracking down a missing piece, but its absence seems to detract from the parts of the puzzle you’ve completed. So you strive to eliminate the mystery, brighten all the corners, place every piece – only to find that your completed collection sans the mystery isn’t as satisfying as it was with one last thing to strive for.

I’m trying to learn to appreciate the mystery. It’s still hard for me to not go back for an episode of a show I dozed off while watching, or to avoid picking up an awful back-catalog album from a now-mature musician.

However, I have come to accept that this blog isn’t complete. It never was. Each year I spend this day highlighting my favorite posts, but also the memories that went by the wayside – now disappearing through a haze of recollection like that tiny plastic superhero into the waters of New Jersey.

The best thing I can do here is the same as the best thing I can due with my tiny ball of chaos: be honest. Be honest about what I do write, and about what doesn’t need to be written. Be honest that I appreciate my memories and your attention to them, but that if I don’t go out and live I’ll never have stories to tell later. Be honest that it hurts to lose things, but you’ve never truly lost a thing you’ve loved.

I love this blog and every moment I’ve spent writing it, so it will never be lost. I delight in adding to it whenever I am able because I am always willing.

Thank you for finding it and reading it for these past fourteen years.

Thank you, and happy birthday to this.

In Memoriam, Dante Bucci

On Sunday I went on my first hike.

I’ve walked through a forest before, even along a trail when we visited Muir Woods in California last year, but this was the first time I needed to prepare in advance of our journey. What would I wear? How would I stay hydrated? How would I know where I was going?

The internet could have told me, but I have friends who hold that knowledge and were able to share with me directly. My well-travelled friend Jessica coached me on what to wear. My sister-in-law Jenny helped me find the right CamelBack for my battered L.L. Bean bookbag. My dear friend Jack took charge of our little group of hikers to make sure we took the right trail.

The hike went well. We spoke, sweated, laughed, and sang until we reached the top of the mountain and it’s Pinnacle Rock.

An outtake from Dante's press kit shoot with E.

An outtake from Dante’s press kit shoot with E.

We were there to say one final goodbye to our mutual friend, Dante Bucci, who had passed away the week prior due to a tragic and random accident in his home. That mountaintop was one of his favorite places – and where he recorded a video that thrust him into the spotlight as one of the world’s foremost players of the Hang drum.

Dante was in the first play I acted in on the main stage at Drexel. The Man Who Came to Dinner has 29 listed cast members, of whom Gina and I were two. Neither of us had any idea of how much impact some of them would go on to have on our lives, while others would quickly recede. Two were members of my wedding party – three, if you count Gina. One would become my co-worker and good friend. Another, my first kiss.

It took some time to understand what Dante would become to me. I still don’t know if I can articulate it. I remember so clearly how he had to emerge repeatedly from a pair of pocket doors to deliver these brief, exasperated lines, and how the doors would get stuck and eventually Dante’s exasperation and the character’s exasperation were indistinguishable, which made it even funnier.

That lack of distinction between Dante and the part he played was his hallmark. He was not merely an actor, a singer, a musician, or a human being. Dante embodied his art from the first note to the last. He was a work of art himself.

Dante acted. He joined Drexel’s male acappella group 8 To The Bar midway through a season, lending his astounding vocal percussion to their songs. He sang in choir and in a select Madrigal group, whose intricate, interwoven melodies first escaped my comprehension and later delighted me to no end. He was the first drummer I ever recorded, playing the talking drum on the demo of “Amphibious” with Gina for Blogathon. When he was E’s roommate he focused on guitar, playing and replaying songs until he got them right – down to the last little riff. Shortly after, he was on congas when he invited me to join my first band, a rough-at-the-edges covers act with our friends Justin and Geoff. That fall he cut the first drums on any of my original songs for a hi-fi recording of “Icy Cold” for my old podcast Trio.

Dante was always growing and refining. He could play any instrument he picked up in a mere moment. (One of my proudest memories is producing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on a cello slightly faster than Dante could manage when we were both introduced to the instrument.) As we moved up and on from college his tastes in instruments became more electric. Didgeridoo (of which he constructed his own). Nose flute. Theremin. Hang drum.

The Hang drum had something none of the other instruments had. It was more restrictive – it could not play a full chromatic scale, and Dante could not bend or slide notes as he could on so many other instruments. Yet, the Hang is otherworldly. It’s a drum that sings. It’s meditative but insistent.

It was a perfect match for a musician who was as much music as he was man, so it made perfect sense that it was the instrument of his sudden explosion of popularity on YouTube and in the Philadelphia music scene. I watched many times as Dante and his Hang brought a chattering room to awed silence, the air filled only with his melody.

Despite preparing me for my hike, in the preceding week no one could explain to me how to grieve for a friend who was so dear, so talented, and so essential to to the world and to my own life’s story. When E and I first learned the news I couldn’t breathe, my mouth frozen in a silent scream, hands clutched to my heart as if to make sure it would keep beating. I didn’t know how I would walk into his viewing and speak to his family, let alone go on living and listening to his beautiful music without breaking down. I gamely asked our friend Tony the next day, a doctor of Psychology, just in case there was an easy solution that experienced grievers would know about.

He said, “There’s no right thing to say or do. Just be there, and hold people close.”

I have held many people very closely over the past ten days. Some of them repeatedly.

I felt happy and alive at the top of the mountain despite the mournful purpose of our journey. I hiked to the top with friends who I used to see every day at rehearsal and impromptu parties, who now I see every few months or years. We clambered from rock to rock, laughing and watching hawks and vultures circle in the distance. When the rest of our company joined us, including Dante’s family, the mood grew more somber. We gathered around a high rock jutting out into the sky with nothing surrounding it. Lindsay sang “Blackbird” with Dante’s friend John to begin our ceremony with her daughter seated on her lap, smiling. After others spoke and read, Anthony (yet another face from The Man Who) held up his iPhone above his head.

From the speakers wafted Dante’s voice, now gone from this world, singing Paul McCartney’s “Junk.”

I attended the record release show where Dante debuted the song to an audience. I cried there, silently smiling. I used to stand next to Dante in choir to steal his notes, and later in our acappella group Progeny. I knew the perfection of his voice, how it was just one more instrument to bend to his will. (No, not “bend” – Dante never bent, just coaxed.) I never thought of him as a bass or a baritone, but instead a complex machine like that cello – one who could resonate low and deeply only to then sigh so high and delicately.

“Junk” has all of those parts of Dante’s voice. When E and I left his show with his album Kinesthesia in-hand, I turned to her and said, “That is the song I’ve always wanted to hear Dante sing.” I couldn’t stop playing it. I played it for anyone who came to our house – mostly my mother, who kindly said after the second time, “Yes, you’ve played that before – it’s beautiful.”

At Pinnacle, Sunday.

At Pinnacle, Sunday.

All this past week I couldn’t play the song. On the morning we learned the news, I was crying desperately on the floor with E and EV6 squeezed between us and said, “I want to hear him sing so badly, but I’m afraid to hear him, because then I’ll know I can never really hear him again.” E held me close and said, “We already can’t hear him again, but you can listen to him whenever you want.”

Dante gave us songs, and he gave me so many memories – many of which are documented here. He was the best possible friend no matter how close you were or how often you saw him, always supporting, laughing, and dispensing hugs. He and Lindsay brought me to New Hope for the first time. We held music festivals at his family’s house from 2004 through 2008, and in 2005 he agreed to join me for a solo set. I practiced for it so much that I completely wore through all of my calluses, but I would just keep playing – how could I not take advantage of time to play with Dante? Later he would play drums with Arcati Crisis for a Winter Mixer show, and again at a little coffee shop where my father saw me play for the first time.

When his Hang music grew in popularity, his was the first press kit I ever put together, revising repeatedly to try to express the truth of his music in inadequate words. In 2010, he got me booked for my first solo set at the Tin Angel on a bill he was headlining. I don’t think he ever missed an Arcati Crisis show in Philadelphia proper, always hugging and congratulating me as I stepped off the stage.

I did the same for him twice this year, at two record releases – one for his solo album, and another for a thrilling project he undertook with Angela Sheik, who made it a point to have Dante play as many instruments as he was able on stage at each show. Those two shows were a delightful greatest hits of Dante, all those things E used to hear through the wall or that he would excitedly introduce me to in his parents’ basement. This was the true Dante I loved, the human work of art on display for all the world to see.

When Anthony played “Junk” at the top of the mountain, for a moment I was transported back to my first moment of grief, breathless and terrified, clutching my chest. Then the song reached the point between the verses where Dante simply moans the melody in delicate harmony with the strings.

I could breathe, then. I looked up into the beautiful sky from atop the mountain – Dante’s mountain – with nothing between the clouds and I except the air and the waves of sound carrying Dante’s voice away into the distance.

I cried there, silently smiling up into the sunlight.

Dante gave me that moment, too.

retrain

When I am not paying close attention, my left shoulder still slouches slightly inward from when I broke my collarbone in college.

I step too hard on my heels when I walk. I speak and sing with too much tension in my jaw and uneven air support. I touch-type perfectly with my right hand, but hunt and peck with my left. I underuse my pinkies when I play guitar.

These are my thoughts as I struggle to get my left pinky facing down into the plane of water this morning as I backstroke.

There are many people who always square their shoulders, walk correctly, speak and sing well, touch type, and nimbly play guitar. I bet some of them even swim pretty decently, too.

For someone with a reputation as a perfectionist, I have a lot of rough edges. As I look back at learning all of those skills, it not as though I purposely skimped on practice. Well, maybe on walking – you’d have to ask my parents.

Sometimes these imperfections make me afraid, as if I am a fraud at posture and walking and talking and typing and playing guitar. I fear that one day I’ll be exposed as a fake and I won’t be allowed to move or express myself ever again.

It’s not a valid fear. These are my skills that people always appreciate the most – yes, even my fast walking. They are part of who I am, even if I do them a bit wrongly. All I can do to alleviate my fear is retrain myself in increments. Roll my shoulder back every time I notice it leaning forward. Let go of a little of that tension and breathe more. Take the time to play the solo the efficient way instead of the quick way.

My left arm breaks through the water. I swing it up, rotate, and plunge down to slice the water with my pinky finger.

We are all imperfect and we are all improving, and that doesn’t make any of us a fraud.

not drowning, probably

Yesterday I did not drown.

The vast majority of people in the world can say this on the vast majority of days. The group of people on any given day who did drown the day before and are still talking about it is relatively slim.

Yet, of that vast majority, not all of them are doing their first significant swimming since half a life and a third of their body weight ago. That was what I was doing yesterday morning at the absurd hour of 5:30 a.m. in our neighborhood YMCA.

I’ve been swearing for four years now that I would start swimming before work. It’s been an awful lot of swearing. E is quite tired of it. I swore when we first moved, as if the suburbs would suddenly make me a fitness nut out of sheer boredom of not living in the city anymore. I swore when I was getting lumpy the next year, swore again when I got super-fit by practicing yoga three times a week, and swore some more when I joined a start-up last year and my gym time went down to nil.

It took a baby to get me to stop my swearing. I could slip my own vows for four years running, but so help me that baby was learning to swim as soon as she was old enough for her first lesson. I had seen all of the adorable photos from my friends and their swimming babies, and both of my parents still have amusing stories to tell about my baby swimming endeavors – and, honestly, there are very few stories they both tell the same way that do not involve Thriller or my aunt arriving to babysit me bearing a gallon jug of white wine.

Thus, we found a scruffy me and a chubby baby sitting at the counter at our local YMCA four weeks ago, waiting to get my photo taken. The swearing was over. Now we were doing.

Except, baby swim lessons – they’re not the most strenuous activity in the world. It’s not as though you are freestyling with them strapped to your back like a laser on a shark, you know? You are just pushing them through the water in the shallow end where you can stand. I sneak a little treading in at the end of every lesson, but it’s not exactly leaving me breathless.

Ah, but now I have a precious membership card in my wallet, which means half of the swear has been sworn. Now I just needed to get my body into the pool sans baby. So, for the those intervening four weeks I tried to wake up early enough to head to the pool before work.

Yeah – it just wasn’t happening. I am a motivated individual, but when you are juggling baby and the entire account book of a business and a cover band and god knows what else I claim to be doing with my time, the difference between waking up at 5:15 and 6:15 is a BIG DEAL. You can go to sleep in your swim trunks thinking soggy motivational thoughts and set every alarm, but when it comes down to it you are going to choose the extra hour of shut-eye every damn time. You being me, in this example.

That routine played out yesterday morning at 5:15 a.m. as it had for the past 29 days. I shut off the alarm and was about to turn over and go back to sleep. Then, I thought to myself, “What if your swimming is just as important to EV6′s lifetime cumulative happiness as her swimming? Even if it just makes you happier so you enjoy your time with her more. Then would it get you out bed?”

I laid on my back for a minute thinking about that.

Five minutes later I was in the car wearing swim trunks.

Nine minutes later I was halfway through an Olympic-length lap of freestyle thinking a few particular thoughts:

(a) I have not swum for more than a consecutive minute since I was fifteen.

(b) Even at fifteen, I don’t know if I ever attempted laps in an Olympic-sized pool.

(c) 5:30 a.m. is perhaps a bit too early to submerge one’s entire face in water and subsequently coordinate side-breathing.

(d) Wow, there’s like half a pool left in front of me.

(e) Come to think of it, I’ve always been pretty slow at freestyle.

(f) This staying afloat while moving forward thing (or, visa versa) is pretty strenuous compared to how hard it was when I was fifteen and weighed 75% of what I do right now without a single ounce of fat on my body.

(g) But fat is buoyant, right?

(h) Oh my lord, there is still more pool in front of me.

After my first lap and a brief bout of hyperventilation while clinging to the pool side, the lifeguard suddenly emerged from his little office to sit in a chair that happened to be directly facing my lane. My fellow swimmers had received no such treatment. Despite my frequent concerns that I would arrive early to find an entire and entirely-lithe high school swim team dominating the lanes, I was swimming with one middle age woman who also (wisely) was not putting her face in the water and an older gentleman who swam a slow but unceasing freestyle the entire time I was at the pool without stopping once.

The lifeguard continued to stare directly at me as I clumsily completed another lap, as if he was considering administering the swim test they give to tweens and granting me a neon arm band. I probably would have helped my case if I didn’t dip precipitously under the water about two thirds of the way through every lap.

But let me remind you of something about me. It might take me a long time to do something. I might have a lot of concerns about the critical path and the project management triangle. But when I am in the pool getting lapped by the dry-faced lady and the never-ending senior paddler with a lifeguard judging me, you had better believe I will find a way to eek out each successive lap just like I made it through my first hot yoga class while being convinced I was dying the entire time.

So I swam. I did some modified freestyle. I did a side-stroke. About halfway through I remembered that I was actually not terrible at backstroke, and switched to that. Each lap was still a herculean struggle, but moving my body through the water stopped seeming like such an absurd idea during my wall-clinging breaks.

My half-hour of morning pool time done, I emerged triumphantly from the pool – only to very nearly collapse into a heap when gravity took over and I realized I felt like someone had been beating me with a sack of oranges. I gingerly noodled over to a bench and sank down, trying to affect an air of contemplation and self-evaluation so the guard would not come over and check me for delayed drowning.

Five minutes later I rose and limped to my car so I could go wake up a baby and tell her about how her father just went swimming.

 

waffly plans

I make a lot of plans that I don’t follow through to completion.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. When I plan something I more often than not do it. It’s just that nebulous pre-planning stage where I’m a risk. More than just a verbal agreement, but less than an actual day, time, and schedule. That’s where I’m dangerous. The thing could happen or not. I have no way of knowing until we plan some more.

At 6:49 a.m. yesterday morning I was still looking for something to go wrong with the plan. I was in the car, but it still didn’t feel like much of a plan. Not because I didn’t want to see Mel – it had been nearly a year, after all – but because driving across two states to have brunch at a random Waffle House is the sort of thing I verbally commit to and maybe even plot on a map once or twice, but don’t actually follow through and do.  Trust me – I have many friends who can verify this sort of thing. Interstate plans are my least-likely to be achieved.

(The conversation started in Facebook Messenger as follows:

Me: We should have brunch sometime, despite being separated by multiple states and hundreds of miles.

Both: [Interminable rambling about kids' schedules.]

Mel: Well, there’s a Cracker Barrel exactly at the mid-point between our houses.

Me: I was hoping for a Waffle House.

Mel: That’s the next closest dining establishment to the exact mid-point between our homes.

Me: Sold.

As you can see, it really wasn’t much of a plan.)

An hour later I was doing 85 on I-95 South just to keep up with the other cars, belting “Rent” at the top of my lungs to the wind rushing in from my open window. Certainly, something would go wrong once I left the highway. I am not a noted navigator, and there were four separate state routes in Maryland I would need to navigate. Plenty of room for error and plans canceled at the last minute.

I kept thinking that until I actually passed the Waffle House on my right, because that is how I think. The thing that makes me good at project management makes me bad at doing things with friends – I assume the process is in danger and possibly broken until it delivers. Now I just needed to make a right into the parking lot and the plan would be consummated.

A right. I know I passed a ramp into the lot, but it was into the gas station. A Waffle House would have a proper ramp. With signs. Waffly signs. I would be seeing it any moment now.

I came to the intersection at the edge of the not-quite strip mall of gas station, Waffle House, and liquor store. There was no ramp. I leaned forward tentatively to peer across my dash at the road ahead to the right. No ramp. In fact, it looked a bit like a highway, extending unceasingly into the distance with no options for a K-turn. Though it beggared belief, apparently that small and informal gas station ramp was also the entrance to the only Waffle House within two hours of my house.

(That may not be true. According to their handy store-finder, there are three Houses of Waffle slightly nearer within Maryland though not necessarily as directly accessible, and one in Lancaster whose time away would largely be dictated by how many horse-drawn buggies you would get stuck behind in Lancaster.)

I looked left and right. I looked forward and backwards. There were no cars as far as the eye could see.

I carefully placed the car in reverse and drove backwards the hundred or so feet to the entrance to the gas station. A woman was just exiting in her sedan, and I gave her a jaunty wave as I reversed past the ramp, came to a stop, and then turned into the lot.

Mel was waiting for me, seated in the window, drinking coffee from one of those curved little mugs like we used to have at our coffee shop. Her hair seemed impossibly long. I kept meaning to tell her how long her hair looked, but when you’ve driven ninety minutes to see someone for ninety minutes and then drive away for another ninety minutes you have to be efficient with your topics of conversation.

We ate hash browns with picked jalapeños, swapped stories about our kids and eCommerce, and probably said the word “vagina” more than any other pair of people who have ever been seated together in a Waffle House.

My plan was fulfilled. Now I just had to figure out which direction was north so I could get home.