Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Moment in Song, v. 4

Sure, some songs are going to always take you back to the first time you heard them, or that summer they were ubiquitous (see previous Moment in Song posts...). But sometimes, if you're really lucky, a song you loved for old reasons gets repurposed into a song you love for all time.

Back on the Chain Gang, The Pretenders:

This song originally took me to a sad old place. I first learned The Pretenders with Brandes, we had the Best Of CD so he could learn "Brass in Pocket" as a cover song for his band. There are very few low points in the Pretenders best-of catalog, and certainly the highlight is "Back on the Chain Gang." On the Pretenders episode of Unplugged, she says she cribbed the song from "Working in a Coal Mine," and if you hear her tell it, it makes sense. I mean, is Chryssie Hynde the coolest woman on earth? She might be. Tracy and I saw them at the Ryman a few years back, and Chrissie was in white leather pants. She was like fifty-five. Truly a rock star.

After Brandes and I split, before things were easier between us, I saw Guilty Pleasures play "Back on the Chain Gang" (Kat sang it, of course). Suddenly that line came to life for me: "I found a picture of you, those were the happiest days of my life." At that time, it was a punch to my gut. I'd just packed up our formerly shared home and stored boxes of pictures, what do you do with all the pictures after it all goes to hell? I still come across them, and am shocked by how young we were. And maybe in the fall of 2002, I heard the song and the past would have seemed like the happiest days of my life. Certainly not the present, and the future was not just foggy but blank.

That was eight years ago. Longer than we were together. And as these years scroll onward, I'm glad he is my friend, and glad he is not my husband (he shares these sentiments). It certainly seemed like it at the time, but those weren't the happiest days of my life. The happiest days are everywhere, they aren't crammed into the good times of a seven-year relationship. We certainly were happy, sometimes, just as we were sometimes contentious, and sometimes deceitful, and sometimes selfish, and sometimes just fools.

Fast-forward to May 2010, the month I marry the man I didn't know existed way back then. It's Wedding Week, and it's a blur, although not so much a frantic one as a smiling one. The day before the wedding, we've got a crew of helpers coming to the venue to set up tables and chairs, put out the plates, hang decorations. I spend the morning running errands with my sisters: mani-pedis, a quick lunch and then we head to Sylvan Park to pick up the flowers for our bouquets. There are plenty of people I will be glad to see and spend time with over the weekend, but just for these few hours, I'm so, so happy that it's just me and my sisters, how it's always been. I'm driving us around, and the car is chock full of party paraphernalia. As we're riding down Murphy Road, "Back on the Chain Gang" comes on the radio, and we take a break from the constant flow of conversation that has always existed in our three-sided circle, and we sing along at the top of our lungs, "Those were the happiest days of my life..."

P.S. I've spent this week going back through the history of this blog adding tags. Now, if you want to browse through all the food-related posts (don't worry, there's a lot of them), you can do that here. Or if you're wanting to start at the beginning of the Wedding Story, now that's easy! Was that the best use of my spare time this week? Nope. Am I glad it's done? I am.

Monday, December 6, 2010

lost the plot

I feel like at least once a week, an apology blog comes up on my Reader. You know the drill: "Wow, I can't believe it's been xx days since I've posted last. I've been busy, the weather is cold, I have a social life, blah. I'm definitely going to start writing more." I think we all just have to put some kind of anonymous external pressure on ourselves to write, and then some of us (like me, the kind who did the same thing with schoolwork) use that as a reason NOT to write. I'm writing in my head, all the time. But since the wedding especially, I'm trying to apply a structure to the blog that doesn't exist, and, in the case of my cooking blog that I haven't even started yet, have all my ideas in place ahead of time. That isn't a blog, it's a novel. I'm not writing a novel; I'm never going to write a novel. I just need to keep coming back to this place.

So why haven't I been transcribing the wedding details, the honeymoon tales, the cooking triumphs? I am addicted to word puzzles. I've loved to do them since I was a kid, and it was always especially a treat for vacation travel. I'd pick out a fat paper book of Penny Press Word Games and work through it over the course of a trip, or during school breaks. Over the last few years, though, it's become my default before-bed activity, cutting heavily (okay, almost entirely) into my book reading. I occasionally justify the timewasting on these puzzles as a way to ward off early Alzheimer's. I've heard and read that keeping the brain nimble with word games can help prevent the disease from taking hold, but the truth is, it didn't help my Grandma, who worked crosswords religiously with her morning toast and coffee, and of course she is the reason I am morbidly obsessed with my own failing memory. I really just do these puzzles because I like them. It's quick, gratifying work, suits my diminishing attention span and somehow seems to actually take less brain energy than simply reading. I particularly love the puzzles like Places Please and Fill-Ins, the ones that are the written word equivalent of packing a suitcase (this fits here, this fits there, done!).

So there's my apology blog. I'm not writing on Sundays. I'm doing logic problems. And baking peanut butter cookies. And wrapping Mischa up in blankets with me on the couch. It's wintertime in the Gray household, complete with logs burning merrily in the fireplace, a new 12-quart stock pot purchased specifically for a big batch of chicken and dumplings, and plenty of quiet and peace in the company of my handsome and funny husband. Okay then, I'm not really apologizing. I'll just get there, and I'll keep trying.