Mental Contagion

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Notes from Open Land
by Wendy Lewis

Starting Over, Again and Again

I’d written the skeleton for July’s piece weeks ago and after sleeping for only four hours last night, got up early and wrote for six hours, which took me into the early afternoon, my intention being to submit my essay before guests arrived. After going into the kitchen to put potatoes into the oven, I returned to my dozing computer, unintentionally clicked “revert to” when it reawakened, and lost all of it.  It’s gone the way of all unprinted words, unsavored. I refuse to resuscitate the essay because it’s like trying to save an exhausted, dead relationship. I slapped my laptop shut and went to the shower crying, frustrated as hell. Meanwhile, the phone keeps ringing, the house is filling with people already and I guess I’m just going to write this during the next 12 hours under the forces of distraction.

I’ll write in between making coleslaw or replenishing the chip bowl, or starting the grill or holding a conversation about lyrics, touring or what someone might be reading lately or how much ambition it takes to destroy integrity. It’ll be an interesting guerilla exercise and reminds me of how I’ve written most of my songs over the last 20 years. We are entertaining a band of young lads at our house tonight with a summer barbeque. They’ve recently released their first indie label recording and are probably still recovering from the industry hoo-hah of last weekend’s festivities, which we were obliged to attend, due to my husband’s involvement.

The label party was typically hi-fi hype with lo-fi substance and zero class. Even the art hung on the office walls was obviously thrown up at the last minute and conveyed nothing. All food and drink was sponsored and they ran out of everything far too early. Wine was being poured by a handsome, flustered, young company man in a hip suit, who kept disappearing. We served ourselves, gratefully avoiding the sales pitch. Later that night, I would watch him roughly ushered out of the adjacent club after the band played by a bouncer who would shout to his cohort positioned on the street, “I don’t wanna see his face in here again!” The wine spokesman would sway inertly in his disheveled suit on the sidewalk, rendered utterly harmless. Ketel One vodka cocktails were delivered through a ridiculously gauche ice sculpture contraption run by two young, sexy, interchangeable blondes with perfect teeth, appearing tired of showing them. The line to that table was as long as one to a featured ride at an amusement park and we didn’t go there. The label interns did a terrible job of monitoring the food tables for tidiness or replenishing the platters. On one trip to the restroom I could see them all yucking it up in the back room, clearly drunk, far too early in the night.

The band members, who were the flaunting label’s excuse for throwing the party, awkwardly meandered around looking out of place and bored, unrecognized by the partiers, who were all too busy noticing or being noticed by someone who might have mattered. Never mind the amateur label having been clueless and extremely difficult during the entire recording process—it was their night for bragging rights. For our part, it was endlessly entertaining to lean against a wall, sip wine and watch the vapid B-rate movie airing in real time before our eyes. We’ve both been in the music business for years and we recognized no one as “local industry”. Instead, it was peopled with beautiful, young twenty-somethings who had thought way too hard about what to wear, juxtaposed against aging male rocker nobodies, whose outfits were LA, circa 1989—think heavy, Goth crosses, black tees with slashes of white sporting a daring splash of red, and Rod Stewart hair. 

This group of merry pop/rock boys are grounded, politically savvy people with brains that churn and sharp senses of humor. They have already figured out, in their late teens and early twenties, how to navigate one of the sleaziest businesses on the planet and they are serious about their burgeoning careers. Their families, with whom we have become loosely acquainted, are solid and supportive of their talented kids, as we are. We were grateful to find them amid myriad posers and trashed wannabes.

Brats, burgers and salads have been served, tiki torches are lit and the beanbag toss game is in full swing. I just finished the first round of dishes and put a pan of brownies into the oven. Laughter and unintelligible if animated conversation is floating around the yard, mixing nicely with music from the stereo, cranked up loudly from inside the house. Tents were pitched before sunset and it’s assumed we may be up until sunrise. The weather is perfect, as it has been for many, glorious days, hovering in the mid-70s with clear skies and cooler nights. We’ve put on sweatshirts and I’ve poured myself a glass of wine. A full moon is rising and later I’ll convince everyone to walk down to the prairie, work off some of the effects of alcohol and enjoy a moment with Mommy Nature. 

This house harbors a self-generating revelry, and while we play the part of hosts, we can’t claim ownership to the Mecca for communion, solace and ease that are proving to be its architectural birthright. It seems to possess incarnate powers, separate from but embracing all who live and gather here. Tonight is yet another inspiring night in a series of days and nights with no beginning or ending.   But, the brownies are done. I’ll be back later.

We processed down to the river with the dogs, drifting into three unspecified groups who were given prior instruction regarding respect for our sleeping neighbors, since it was past 2:00 AM. A low-lying fog had settled in the prairie, illuminated by the moon and punctuated with fireflies. We coalesced mid-way down the gravel road where the view is long and open to the tree line chute, gazing up river. Some stood quietly and others ran like puppies, chasing the dogs around the wet grasses. Someone starting singing something and soon we became an eight-voice choir belting out gospel songs in the middle of the night.

I don’t really know how it all happened but it will go down in our history as the first time we brought song to the river’s edge. We stumbled across one tune after another, repeating some that took us there, and abandoning others that didn’t, laughing at our feeble attempts and bragging to each other about what worked. The stars appeared weak against the proud moon and the dogs panted in our midst. At some point, it seemed time to leave and we carted our exuberance back to the house where some of us belted out Beatles songs at the top of our lungs from the porch, accompanied by acoustic guitar, for a good hour and a half. My vocal chords finally gave out and I joined the other half of our party in the yard. The rest trickled down from the porch eventually, the grill was fired up again to reheat brats and hilarity ebbed and flowed until the sky began to lighten. I turned off the stone porch light, blew out the torches and soon we filed off to bed before the sun rose, like unoffending vampires. 

We slept intermittently against our somewhat confused body clocks, finally giving up and getting up three or four hours later. The boys (and one girlfriend) crawled from tents as the sun rose, dragging their sleeping bags into open shade. My tousled daughters have stumbled downstairs. Coffee is being brewed and I’ve chopped onions and leftover potatoes from the night’s fare for hash browns. Bacon is sizzling, cheese is being grated, and sunny side up eggs will be fried. 

As I survey the littered yard from behind the porch screens, I think about how randomly life unfolds depending upon the choices that are made. I might have sold this house four years ago when I got divorced and moved myself and my girls back to the city. But that’s not what happened. And I didn’t plan on falling in love and marrying the local musician who would move into this old, magical house and be such a willing participant in surfing the thermals with me. Sometimes, I get tired of washing dishes, swiping down tables, mopping floors, sweeping up dog hair and planning meals for the next round of guests, but we continue extending invitations and it’s always—always worth the effort. We can’t help it! This is how we live. And I never know how I’ll get my next essay written with all this activity, especially when my computer betrays me, but it works out.  

Mental Contagion
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