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In my quest to 1) become a better person and 2) survive 2016 intact, several weeks ago I signed up for a mindfulness meditation class.
The instructor is lovely and the class is, well, relaxing. It makes me calmer and a better person in so many ways.
This whole meditation thing doesn’t really jibe with my New Mexico upbringing. Stress reduction is a bit different ’round here than it was there.
For example, where I live now, it’s awful hard to take a three-hour ride upon my favorite horse in order to relax. And driving out to Chopes for enchiladas and a beer is a longer drive than I can make in a day.
Meditation it is, then.
Last week, we had a long class discussion about the use of one’s car horn. How it’s not mindful or necessary to lay on the horn while traveling this world. How it can make things worse by scaring the other driver or making the other driver mad (and bad things come from that).
This is also in line with The Good Man and his rules for better living. Since we live in a more urban city than I’ve ever lived in before, he has asked me nicely give my horn honking a rest. These are tense times and occasionally I travel through tough neighborhoods. Who knows how the ol’ toot-toot will be received?
Really, this is all sage advice, both from the Vispassana teacher and the man I married.
Until yesterday, when I found myself in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood. Where the Chinatown in San Francisco is something of a tourist delight, the Oakland Chinatown is a serious ethnic neighborhood. It sits near Oakland’s downtown, so it’s busy, jam packed with traffic, and not to be taken lightly.
I’ve spent many an hour in Oakland’s Chinatown over my years and I love it. It had been a while, and was nice to be there again. I had a couple things on my shopping list that can only be found in that neighborhood.
As I rolled into the area, I made my way past city buses and double-parked cars, and was filled with glee to find a nice wide parking spot on the street just around the corner from where I needed to be. Score!
I carefully maneuvered over, waited while the car ahead loaded her kid in the car, had my blinker on the whole time and as I pulled forward to align and began to back into the spot, some $%^& started to pull head first into my spot.
Yay, verily, there was much laying on of horns. Oh yes. My beloved Jeep is equipped with not one but two bassy air horns that make it clear to whomever is on the receiving end that they have been properly honked. One firm flat-palm press lights up the hearing cavities of all nearby.
I held that Jeep horn with a solid hand, owing my destiny to all of the fabulous people throughout my years here in the Bay Area who taught me how to survive in a city. Indeed. I followed the playbook and hoped to hell this wouldn’t escalate into that driver getting out of their car.
Thus, as the interloper assessed the situation, she surely noticed my sixteen-year-old Jeep was far less shiny than her almost new SUV nosing into my spot. I held steady, knowing even then that the person backing in is at a disadvantage to the person trying to head in.
Finally the fancy car threw it in reverse and left, giving me an exaggerated shrug on the way by.
Here is the true confession: Damn did honking the hell out of my horn feel good. Like, real good. Like cold beer after a hard day of yard work. Like that first bite of a Chopes enchilada (egg and sour cream on top). Like finally getting out the splinter that is starting to fester.
I know it goes against everything my spouse and my learned teacher have asked of me. It wasn’t peaceful, nor kind. But damn did it feel good.
Almost too good.
Okay, okay. The horn honking is over. The satisfaction was quick and delicious. The endorphins rose and quickly dissipated.
Today I’ll rededicate myself to the peaceful life. To being more kind. To being more centered. To let traffic solve itself without the help of two weighty and meaningful Jeep air horns.
They don’t call meditation a practice for nothing. It takes work. Perfection is not expected. (I’ll add this note, I refrained from both cursing and arm waving in addition to the horn. It’s something to build on.)
Given the same situation, would I honk it up again? Hee, hee…probably.
Okay, okay. I’ll try harder.
Recycling one of my favorite photos. Image found here.
Image found here.
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On the way to work this morning, I listened to legendary San Francisco radio station KFOG. They’ve recently had a bit personnel shakeup and it turns out their new morning guy is former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield. I’m not totally thrilled with the change, but I will say this: he is able to pull pretty decent guests.
This morning it was Matt Nathanson and it was a good interview. They talked music and influences, and Pinfield asked what I thought was an intriguing question.
“What is the one song that changed your life?”
For Mr. Nathanson, it was “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls. He said it made him want to play acoustic guitar and changed the course of his music. Pretty cool answer and song.
When they cut to commercial, I was left wondering what my answer would be. What is the one song that changed my life?
Well sheesh, that’s hard question. Music is so integral to my life that it can’t possibly be one song. There have been many songs that have changed my life and there are unwritten, un-thought of songs on the path ahead that will certainly change my life again.
As I drove and pondered, I was able to come up with a bunch. Here are just four of a much longer list.
Let’s dig in:
1) It’s 1991 and I’ve just gotten an undergraduate degree and about to start my MBA program. Right before the new semester began, my boyfriend broke up with me. I was quite into that particular boyfriend, pretty sure he was “the one,” and the breakup hit me like a ton of bricks.
I wallowed deep into a lot of sad country music, but one song in particular was a constant companion.
“Are You Still Within The Sound of my Voice” by Glen Campbell
There was a place down on the Rio Grande where he and I used to go, so I would drive there, bring out a blanket and my boom box and find a place on the banks of the river. I would play that song over and over again while crying, sobbing, keening. I rose the level of that dusty ol’ river with my salty tears.
Glen and that song got me through it. I can still hardly listen to that song, it’s so etched into my memory and DNA. But that song helped me make the transition back to good. It made me stronger. It did, indeed, change my life.
2) It’s 1994 and I’m living in Albuquerque, fresh out of college, gainfully employed and living that single girl life on my own. I’d lost a lot of weight and was feeling sassy and strong.
My musical tastes still ran toward country, but I was starting to listen to a lot of other music. In fact my musical education expanded a lot since there was a whole lot of music in the 90’s that was changing the world.
I’d caught the end of a song on the radio that got my attention, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
A few days later I was riding in an old Jeep CJ that was open to the wind with radio playing loud. That song came on, those now easily identifiable guitar chords, and I asked the driver to turn it up.
I was super late to the party on this song, but on that day, really hearing the song, my life changed.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
Oh muh lord. Of course we all know the impact of Nirvana now, but back then, it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I just knew I needed more. A lot more.
I bought “Nevermind” on CD and played it over and over and over. I had never heard an artist express themselves like that. I sang along with angry lyrics while the music (and musician) spoke to me in ways I still don’t understand.
3) It’s 1997 and I’ve moved to the Bay Area and I’m spending all of my time in San Francisco’s North Beach where my musical education took a turn toward the Blues.
There were a couple bars I knew how to get to and went to all on my own. A little girl with hayseeds in my hair, the employees and the musicians took me in. I became part of their family and they mine.
Blues music rolled in waves down Grant street back then and I’d start at the Savoy and work my way down. Grant & Green, Lost and Found, The Saloon.
Then there was a man named Willie who belonged to the street, but was still part of our family. More than once he protected me from the less kind aspects of city streets. He was a talented man with a bit of a drinking problem, but oh could he play that harp.
He’d tap his foot in time and play the blues. Then I’d go inside the bars and hear the musicians dive deep into history and play those same songs.
There was one that made me take notice, made me sit up. The beginning of what became a beautiful blues education. The door opened and I walked through.
“Matchbox” written by Blind Lemon Jefferson
On one night I heard four different musicians do the song, each putting their own fingerprint on it. This one song took a hold of me and never let go.
4) It’s 2015 and I’m with the love of my life, the one who actually is the one, and we’re attending a show at a small but awesomely funky venue in our new hometown. The act is Radney Foster and going to the show is like coming home.
I wrote a lot about why that night itself mattered right here on this little ol’ blog.
But more than that, Radney’s music was a core part of my college years and my life. A life I left when I moved to California. It was mostly the right decision, but damn I often feel like I left a huge piece of myself behind.
So many people here in the Bay Area. Crowded. Packed in. People who don’t understand the emptiness you find in New Mexico. The wide open spaces. The ease.
A lot of people here who don’t understand New Mexico, don’t understand what matters to me, and sure as hell don’t listen to country music.
And now here was Mr. Radney Foster standing on a stage in Northern California. There were even people other than me came to see the show. People who get it. It was a mind bender.
He did a lot of the familiar songs, and late in the show he introduced a new song. Told us that his wife grew up in Oakland. How he was at his in-law’s house in the Oakland hills and watched a gorgeous Bay Area sunset. Then he told his wife “I’m going to be late for dinner,” because he had to get down a song.
“California” by Radney Foster
It made me cry a little because it’s a beautiful love ode to California, written by someone from West Texas. A desert rat like me who gets it, was there back in the day, and understands why California.
It’s hard to explain to folks back home, but now I have the perfect musical explanation. In the following weeks I played it over and over again. This song let me know it’s okay to have my heart in both New Mexico and California. This song brought peace. Healing.
Truly life changing.
Whew. Yeah. Okay. I could probably go on. This list expands and grows the more I think about it.
I bet you are thinking too. Running through the soundtrack of your life and remembering the songs that mattered. The songs that changed your life.
It’s worth the journey. Feel free to share here or on Facebook. I’d love to know which songs changed your life.
Image used royalty free and found here.
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This one goes out to all of us who found ourselves attending New Mexico State University back in 1989. Maybe it was 1990. Memory is funny.
This one is for the Ag College kids. I’m about to drop a memory on you. Come along with me.
I can’t really recall what time of year it was, but it was sunny. That much I recall. Then again, it’s sunny in Las Cruces an awful lot.
The band Foster & Lloyd were on the radio. Remember them? Back then we were all listening to Foster & Lloyd. A lot. And Dwight Yoakam. And the Mavericks. And more.
So along came the news that Foster & Lloyd were opening for a Los Lobos show at the Pan Am Center. Yeah, I wanted to go to that show real bad. Alas I was a broke college kid and couldn’t afford tickets. I heard the ads on KGRT over and over and pined, but knew it wasn’t meant to be.
So instead I popped my Faster and Llouder cassette tape into the boom box I carried in the car. Or maybe it was Verision of the Truth. Or maybe first one then the other. And I held my own car concerts as I rolled around Cruces.
Then something unbelievable happened. My best friend called, out of breath and excited, to tell me that Los Lobos had to cancel the show and Foster & Lloyd were going to do a free concert just outside of Corbett Center (the student union building at NMSU) in this little amphitheater area.
We gathered up all of our friends, an armful of blankets and made sure we went to that show. My best friend walked with confidence right to the front of the small stage area and staked out our place. Up close and personal. We sat, we listened, we sang, we were a bunch of kids feeling an awful lot like family on that day.
For a bunch of Ag College kids from NMSU (hands up now, “I believe in the Future of Farming…”) having a national act come out and do a show FOR FREE was, well, that was about the coolest thing in the world.
That was a best-day-ever kind of a day. Back then anyway. Sitting here today I do have to admit that my wedding day is my best day ever, hands down. But back then to this New Mexico kid wearing dusty beat up goatskin ropers, that sunny Las Cruces day was really the best day ever.
My best friend and I slip into the Wayback Machine an awful lot when we get together, and that free concert is one we land on quite a bit. What I wouldn’t give to have a real Wayback Machine and dial it to back to that day. I might never come back.
Toward the end of the show, Foster & Lloyd were really swinging. We were all riding a sonic high and at one point, Mr. Radney Foster wandered out into the audience and put a hand out to my best friend’s little sister. He plucked her from our blanket and spun her around a little bit with the music.
My best friend and I were both elated and jealous as hell. In fact in the now twenty-five years hence, I know for sure that my best friend has never really gotten over it. Neither have I, if I am honest.
My best friend’s little sister was and is a beauty. Gorgeous and sweet and funny as hell. She is pure awesome and I love her madly, so of course I can’t be upset with her. Just jealous, I guess.
When we were in college, Little Sister was in high school and she’d find her way to Las Cruces and we’d take her out with us. When a cowboy would start to get a little too interested in her, my best friend would wander by and whisper “Um, just thought you should know…she’s sixteen.” That usually put an end to things.
So we were used to her getting a lot of the attention. On that day after Mr. Radney Foster twirled her under the bright New Mexico sky we laughed and hugged her and loved every second of that show.
It is a beautiful memory. Were you there too?
A few months ago I happened to stumble across Radney Foster’s Facebook page and hit “like” so I could see what he was up to. I’d lost track of him after his Del Rio, TX 1959 album.
Then came the fateful day where he posted that he’d be playing a little venue called Freight & Salvage in mid-July. That’s not too far from where this New Mexico kid is living these days.
Well, I hopped on those tickets so fast my credit card started smokin’.
And that live show happened just a week ago, July 15.
The Good Man had never heard of no Radney Foster until I showed him a bunch of YouTube clips in the days before the show. Then he was totally onboard. We stood at the front of the line when the doors opened and found second row seats in the general admission venue.
Photo Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth
It was just Mr. Foster and his acoustic guitar and he put on one hell of a show. Storytelling, songs, laughter. Man alive, it was really profound. It was like seeing a really dear old friend and picking up right where we left off twenty years ago.
Photo found on @valisaschmidley Twitter stream because I was too gobsmacked to actually take a photo myself during the show.
I almost started crying when he hit the first notes of the first song. It felt so right.
And then…oh and then…
After the show, Mr. Foster came out to the front lobby to sign a few autographs and I jumped in line.
I practiced what I was going to say and when I got there, I let roll the story of that day, 1989 (or was it 1990?) in the grass outside Corbett Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Given the sheer number of shows he has performed in the last 25 years, I was surprised that he actually remembered that one day. But he did.
“Oh yeah, we were rocking that day,” he said.
“Yeah you were!” I replied.
Then I thanked him, I told him how much that free show meant to all us New Mexico college kids.
Then I reminded him about coming out into the crowd and dancing with my best friend’s little sister. About how my best friend has never quite gotten over it.
Then I held out a copy of his new CD and said “Her name is Kate and you are going to sign this for her.”
(The album is titled “Everything I Should Have Said” and it’s awesome and you should pick one up. Here is the Amazon link and here is the RadneyFoster.com link ($3 cheaper!) Go on, click one of those links. You know you wanna)
And he did sign that CD. Oh boy did he ever.
Here’s what it looks like. In case you can’t read it, it says “Kate, You get the next dance.”
Photo Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth
C’mon! How awesome is Radney Foster? The correct answer is amazingly awesome!
I told him that he had just created some healing twenty-five years in the making and he laughed. Then I had that “hey, let’s go grab a beer” moment and of course thought better of it. He’s just the kind of musician you feel like you know well because he writes the kind of songs that feel personal.
Then I asked him to sign a CD for The Good Man and me, and he did.
I walked out of that venue smiling from ear to ear and remembering and laughing and just at peace with the world.
And so this entire post today and all of these stories are intended to bring all of my NMSU Ag College friends along with me into that Wayback Machine.
Were you there? Do you remember? Wanna reminisce?
This post is also to thank Mr. Radney Foster for helping create another amazing memory.
Whew. Today as I wrote this I listened to The Essential Foster & Lloyd album and it was almost hard to hear. So many memories both beautiful and sad captured in all of those songs.
Well, thanks for staying a while and reading all of these words. I’m serious about you grabbing one of those new albums. Get to clicking! And if you can catch Radney Foster live? Well even better.
P.S. If you have ever wondered how a New Mexico girl could ever live in California, I suggest you obtain a copy of Mr. Foster’s new album and listen to the song “California.” (I believe it is also on YouTube) Then you will understand. According to the story, that song was inspired by a beautiful Bay Area sunset as viewed from the Oakland Hills. Saaaalute!
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I miss my best friend today. Autumnal Equinox makes me think of harvesting hay and Dickerson’s dances.
That was a text message I sent to my best friend yesterday afternoon. I was at work and found myself with a few moments of pause. What I felt in that silence was an aching sense of melancholy.
The angle of light has been changing for a while and yesterday the world looked a little different bathed in early Autumn sun.
A beautiful sunny yet hazy day as I found myself at a high elevation gazing across the amazing view, Oakland to my left, Golden Gate center, Albany to my right.
It’s hardly original to feel melancholy in the Fall. I will follow the old poetic trope and go there anyway.
Since I know I have a “thing” about Autumn, I started looking back in the archives of my blog and found something that perfectly captures how I feel today. I’m nothing if not consistent.
Autumn is, after all, my favorite season in Oh Fair New Mexico.
So here’s a repost to get me through the day. The words still ring true, even as time goes by.
Originally posted April 15, 2009
It was Fall, had to be. Slight crispness to the evening air. Anticipation thick as the fog of Aqua Net in the sorority house where I lived.
It was 1989, probably. Or somewhere close to that. The campus of New Mexico State University. I was a sophomore, maybe a junior, I can’t remember. Doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that I was getting ready to go to a dance at Corbett Center on the NMSU campus.
The woman who would become my best friend for what is now over twenty years was the driving force that night, and many just like it. Her parents had met at a Corbett Center dance, so she was especially incentivized to go scoot a boot and see what’s doing. Family history.
I nervously pulled on my too shiny, too new, gray goatskin round toe ropers and jeans that didn’t really go with the boots, but were at least long enough to be acceptable. “You should buy some Rockies,” I was told, and they were right. I would, later, in quantity. But then I had neither the money nor the courage. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get into, I just knew I was going to be there come hell or high water.
It wasn’t my first Corbett dance. It wouldn’t be my last. This story isn’t about one actual night, more an amalgam of a lot of great nights.
The gaggle of high-haired women walked out the back door of our home, a sorority house containing twenty-eight women of different backgrounds, and one understanding house mom. What bound us together was our choice of educational institution. A land grant institution. To the uninformed, that means an agricultural college.
It was a short shuffle over to Corbett, up the stairs to the third floor where they had the ballrooms. Pay the entrance fee. Five dollars I think? Maybe less back then. Get a stamp on your hand. Look around, see who is there already. Talk about who you hope shows up.
Hear the opening strains of music. Usually The Delk Band. A group of musicians, brothers, and their dad on fiddle. I went to school with most of the boys. I remember I thought one of the Delks was cute. I remember one of the Delks was the drummer and back then had a tendency to speed up the tempo as a song wore on. Hard to dance to a wildly varying tempo. But we did it. (note of update: Saw the band not that long ago and that is no longer a problem.)
They were our people, and we embraced them. And we danced. Oh did we dance.
The two-step. Not the Texas double up kind, no. The slow kind, keeping time to the music.
And a waltz. My favorite, how I love to waltz. The rhythm of a song set to the beat of a waltz still paces my heart a little differently.
The polka. If done right with the right boy (he had to be tall because I’m tall and otherwise we’d just bump knees) you felt like you were flying, feet hardly touching the ground.
The ladies, my friends and I, would stand on the sidelines and take a look at the scene. My best friend would always get asked to dance first. She’s beautiful and a great dancer. Who could blame the boys for flocking to her blue-eyed, dark haired gorgeousness? Not me, certainly.
As I got better at dancing, I got asked often enough, too. The boys liked the girls who could dance, who liked to dance, who didn’t turn up their nose at dirty fingernails and cow sh*t on their boots.
There is something special about dancing with a boy who knows how to dance, a strong lead, who looks you in the eyes. The boys who had the right fold in their hat and smelled faintly of Copenhagen and beer and Polo cologne.
I got to know those folks. All of them, the boys, the girls, the dancers, the musicians, the laughers, the people who liked to swing each other around the dance floor.
They became my family. We traveled in packs, dancing until we were sweaty, then heading outside into the cool air to take a breath, drink a beer, laugh a lot and occasionally find someone to spend a little time with.
Well not me, not then. I was still too awkward and mixed up to attract much in the way of boys at that point. I was more “one of the guys” than one of the girls the guys would chase. Don’t feel bad for me though, I eventually figured it out. (cover your eyes, mom)
Over time, we all aged a little, got to be over 21 and started to migrate from dancing at Corbett center to dancing at the local country bar. It was fun but seemed a little more complicated. Add more than a couple beers to the night and weird things happen.
But still we danced. By that time, I’d moved off campus and lived with my friend from TorC. She was crazy and fun and taught me a lot (cover your eyes, mom), and she loved to dance as much as I did. She coined the phrase “big bar hair” and gave me an education on how to get it, and keep it, despite dancing so hard sweat ran down your face.
Then we all aged a bit more, and we graduated and found respectable jobs. My best friend, her husband (a fine dancer, I must say) and I are all actually employed in the same area that’s listed on our diplomas. One might scoff at country folks, but all three of us hold a Master’s degree in our chosen fields.
on the verge of turning forty well past forty, I find I still miss those days, mightily. I wished I’d enjoyed them more at the time. The stress of school and classes and “what do I want to be when I grow up” cast a pall on my days.
My own fault. A worrier by nature, a tendency that I fight tooth and nail every single day I take a breath.
When I’m having a bad day, when I doubt myself, when I realize I don’t fit in at my new place of employment, when I don’t feel heard or understood or very well liked, I can always go back to those days in my mind and smile.
I can’t get together with my best friend and her husband and NOT talk about those days. Magical. I’m blessed to have been able to have them. Once upon a time, I knew where I belonged.
Photo of The Delk Band in action
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My fascination with bridges is pretty well documented. I have a mini project going on in my creative background to photograph bridges (and rivers, boy do I love rivers!).
This weekend I had a nice opportunity to photograph a brand spanking new bridge.
For years, ok pretty much since I moved to the Bay Area, I have railed about the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The western span is a beautiful, elegant suspension bridge while the eastern span is a bunch of clunky tinker toys, better known as a cantilever bridge.
Here’s a photo I took from the upper deck of the tinker toy:
Image Copyright 2010, Karen Fayeth
This part of the bridge is very functional but not very aesthetically pleasing. At least in my personal opinion (others disagree).
You’ll recall that in 1989, this was also the section of the Bay Bridge that collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Image from Wikipedia and used under a Creative Commons license.
If that photo don’t make your heiney pucker, than you have a set of brass nerves that I just don’t have.
In the wake of the 1989 earthquake, planning and work began to replace this span of the Bay Bridge with something more seismically stable. This project was not cheap and it was not simple, but by gum, now some 24 years later the brand spanking new eastern span of the Bay Bridge opened up to the public last night.
Traffic reports this morning were pretty bleak as plenty of people crammed onto the new span for their first ride.
Yesterday The Good Man and I sought to escape the breeze-less heat at our happy home and drove out to the marina near Emeryville, which offers unobstructed views of the City, the bridges and downtown Oakland. I took my camera along as I am part of a photography club and this month’s theme is landscapes.
Here is my semi-artistic view of the new eastern span (to the far left in the photo) and how it blends is perfectly with the existing buildings and landscape of the San Francisco city line (that’s the top of the iconic Transamerica building just to the right of the new bridge).
At first I was no fan of the white paint on the new span, but now I’ve come to love it. This new suspension bridge really stands out against the backdrop and claims its own place in Bay Area history.
Image Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth
Hard to tell from this photo, but there are no cars on the deck of the bridge. Who knows how many years will pass before we see that again!
And while I’m excited to the point of hyperactivity about this gorgeous new suspension bridge and looking forward to seeing it every day as I drive to work, I find something curious is happening.
The news reports say that the moment the new bridge is up and running, the old eastern span will be dismantled. The pieces will come out in the reverse order they went in and much of the metal will be sold for scrap. This makes me a bit sad. It seems that ugly ol’ bridge found a way into my heart. Those 1934 era tinker toys now mean something to me, and I’m more than sad to see them go.
In the wake of this shiny new toy, that unseismically sound bridge now seems awfully lovely. In the many months I commuted to the east bay across the Bay Bridge (before I made the big move), I learned to love the forgotten little sister to the Golden Gate bridge.
Sure am going to miss one half of my old chum, even as I welcome this safer new span.
I’m glad the Bay Bridge is having a much deserved moment in the sun.
Image of the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge, Copyright 2010, Karen Fayeth. Image of new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth. Both images subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Old span taken with an iPhone and the Camera+ app, new span taken with a Canon Rebel and fixed up a bit in Photoshop.