No Capo Needed

I am finally getting around to setting up my office-slash-craft room in the third bedroom. Thank you, kind-of spring.

In the process of going through everything I have owned and deemed worthy of toting across the country and across the state, I have found some… interesting things. I found my entire CD collection, in various stages of disrepair. I found my old research project from my brief, yet miserable, foray into graduate school. I found beanie babies, the bikini I wore when i was a baby, an old Writer’s Market from 2006, old Wal-Mart receipts with poems scratched out on the back, Weight Watchers journals from 2001 (tuna fish and granola bars much?), and about eleventy bazillion notebooks with attempted and abandoned journals.

I am tempted to shake my head at the odd assemblage of crap that I have chosen to hang on to and spend energy moving over the years. But, every once in a while, my emotional packrattery pays off. Today, I found this:

What may, to some people, look like clutter I should have stopped moving 8 years ago, is, in reality, a testament to the human spirit. To ingenuity, to grace and creativity under pressure.

In the summer of 2002, my best friend had a pretty hefty schedule of bar gigs. I went with her whenever I could to help carry gear, set up, tear down, count tips, get water, you name it. Because of her busy late night schedule, she sometimes found herself without some of the things she needed for the night. Makeup, maybe, or a tip jar, once in a while. But the worst thing she could forget, the most crucial to her being able to play for three hours straight (other than a guitar, obviously), was her capo. If you don’t know what a capo is, it’s basically a little clamp that holds down all of the strings at once on the guitar’s fretboard, and this raises the pitch of the strings so you can play a wider variety of songs without having to re-tune the guitar between songs.

One night, she did forget the capo, and we had to resort to rummaging through my car for something, anything, that would work instead. I have no idea why I had spoons in my car, but, then again, see above for my indiscriminate packing habits. We foraged around in the car until we came up with a spoon and a hair tie, which I had to break apart and re-knot to get tight enough to put the spoon close enough to the fretboard to allow it to act as a true capo.

So we did. We made it, we did it, and you can actually still see where the guitar strings wore into the brown part of the spoon.

That summer was full of opportunities to make do with a little bit. To get by on what either of us could find, to eat ice cream sandwiches in the Wal-Mart parking lot, to swim in my parents’ pool, to stay up late and get up early and still have a ridiculously fun and full life. We are still those girls somewhere inside, and we still have what it takes. I was so happy today to get that reminder.


Choking on the lucky crumbs.

Have you ever encountered the following scenario?

Person 1: Wow, I am having a tough day today.

Person 2: Ha! You want to hear about a rough day?! Great Aunt Gwendolyn was diagnosed with black hairy tongue last Tuesday. This after she lost her little toe to gangrene last month! To make matters worse, her poodle, Sprinkles, had an anxiety attack last night! You should count your blessings!

Person 1: …

This is so common. Count your blessings even though you are miserable. Consider yourself lucky that you even have a job in this economy. At least you can walk.

Consider yourself lucky to have something to be unhappy about.

What does this mean? Haven’t we always been told not to compare ourselves to others? Don’t try to be that skinny or that rich or that successful, and certainly don’t feel bad about yourself for living an average and mediocre life. That’s the positive side of it. Judge you by you. I get that. But the underside is something more nefarious – the elevating of ourselves by being thankful that we don’t share in others’ misfortunes.

Guess what? Thinking about all of the kids and moms and dads who go to bed hungry every night and who aren’t making it in this economy doesn’t inspire me to count my blessings. Thinking about the people who send out resume after resume and are wondering if they should just end it all to make it stop? They break my heart. I think about it often. I am a poet. The suffering of the masses does not escape my notice, I assure you.

But because others suffer, am I not allowed to aspire to more?  I already count my blessings. I don’t take the wonderful parts of my life for granted. But should I really consider myself “lucky” to be unhappy because somewhere out there, someone is unhappier than me?

That has always been true, and I think I have known since I was aged somewhere in the single digits that there was oppression and hunger and abuse and neglect and killing and torture and suffering and death in this world. And never, not one time, has that ever given me any cause to feel lucky. I always knew how good I had it, but that’s because I understood the trajectory of my life and where it could have gone horrible wrong (or ceased to exist), I was indeed happy to be alive.

Comparative misery is a myth.

Each person lives in their own small universe, and it is impossible to compare across universes. I could never comprehend the struggles of, say, a crack whore. Neither could I grasp what might send a princess into the depths of despair. Because it’s not about what makes other people miserable or happy. It’s about what makes ME miserable or happy. The feelings we feel inside our respective lives are valid. We are allowed to feel disappointed in what life has to offer right now – even when the unemployment rate is eleventy billion percent.

I am struggling right now, and everywhere I turn, the universe is responding with a resounding, “You’re lucky to be getting crumbs. How dare you expect an entire piece?”

As long as people in this world are still thinking new and creative thoughts, selling their art for money, writing books and poems and films, and making new music for the world to enjoy, I will never be content (or feel lucky) to toil away at anything less. And it’s nobody’s right to tell me I should be.

Imagine a person choking on a few crumbs (let’s imagine, just for fun, that they happen to be crumbs of mediocrity). What would you do? Would you walk up to that person and say, “You’re lucky that you have those two crumbs to choke on. Do you know how many people are starving in this world? You should count your blessings.”

No, you wouldn’t.