beauty friendship hope life love

my religion

“I see God most in my relationships with other people. Victor Hugo said that ‘to love another person is to see the face of God.’ I think our capacity to love is uniquely human and naturally connects us to something higher than ourselves. I even think that loving a baseball team can be a religious experience. I was here in 2012 when Santana pitched his no hitter. Everyone in this stadium was holding their breath at the exact same time. And when the game ended, everyone screamed with the same joy. We all felt so connected at that moment. And I think that was holy. That’s the feeling I want to create in my synagogue.” – Humans of New York

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When I picture that night, I see it in red.

Red lights shining from the stage onto our table, beer glasses, cheesecake, and faces. I see two piano guys winking at us from the stage and playing the songs we requested: “Old Time Rock n Roll,” “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places,” and “Bye Bye Bye.”

Shortly after the NSync song, I turned to one of my glowing red friends and, with a big smile on my face, said, “I decided music is my religion.” And she nodded and smiled like a good friend, and then we continued on with the night – singing, clapping, and dancing in our seats until the piano guys eventually called us on stage to dance to “Baby Got Back.” And if that’s not religious then, well … OK, maybe that’s not religious.

I’m sure saying “music is my religion” sounded like another Joe Drunk statement after I’d downed a Rocket Man margarita and a few beers, but as is the case with some Joe Drunk statements, this was something that had been following me around but hadn’t been said out loud yet.

In an effort to continue seeking some kind of spirituality, the Humans of New York quote above jumped into my mind after a recent Lady Antebellum concert where this same friend and I sat in the grass with a bunch of strangers singing country songs while watching the sunset. It was a good sunset that night, too, and I thought about how every musical event I attend feels a lot like that Humans of New York baseball game – everyone screaming with the same joy. Feeling so connected in the moment.

When I think of being religious growing up, I feel like many of the times I connected with it most involved music. And when I’ve attended a Christian church in Albuquerque here and there, it’s still always about the music. I love the guitars and piano, the drums, and the lead singers’ voices. I love the occasional accordion and flute, and the way that the energy brings people to their feet with their hands in the air. This is new to me. Singing on our feet to a band is nothing like the church I grew up in.

But outside of church, I feel just as strong of a connection – if not more – with people and God through beats, melodies, harmonies, and instruments. Nothing else gives me the chills like big talent on a stage and people cheering all around me. It’s completely inclusive. It brings strangers together in places where no one asks about your past or future because it’s all about being in the moment. Music accepts. It loves. It challenges, grieves, and spreads joy.

I always needed music – I craved it all the time growing up in the kitchen, in the car, and in my bedroom. I’ve also always needed people – family, close friends, and crowds. I needed places where everyone could be themselves and sometimes that’s where religion failed for me. Music never has.

I love the way cellphone lights make arenas sparkle and sway. I love when thousands of hands reach up and clap to the beat, and when the lead singer stops to let the audience finish the chorus on its own. I’ve been at a concert surrounded by lightning and saw it rain at just the right time. I’ve seen a crowd go nuts over the sound of one chord because they knew what was coming. I’ve stood on the floor jumping in unison with everyone around me and danced when a certain song had mandatory moves. I love when lights stay dim and everyone screams for an encore, then erupts when the musicians comes back on stage to belt a few more songs. I love piano bars and karaoke and how everybody cheers each other on, no matter how horrible the sound and ridiculous the dance.

So, when I look back on that recent night with the red lights and my nice friends, I mostly remember how fun and hilarious it was, and how I was driving everyone nuts taking pictures and videos. And I also remember that I meant what I said in that drunken Manette moment – that music is my religion. Because right now, nothing else seems to compete with that feeling.

Tim McGraw, June 2015
Elton John, March 2017
Garth Brooks, April 2017


grief hope life

Like Punky Brewster

This is me on the first day of kindergarten, around age 6. Don’t let this innocent face fool you; at times I was too stubborn for my own good, and even now I still am.

I’ve always been a bit, shall we say, independent.

When I was around 6 years old, my parents threatened to leave me someplace because I refused to get in the car or some other nonsense. When they packed up, buckled in, and drove away, I sat on a curb, folded my arms and decided I was going to make it on my own – just like Punky Brewster, whose parents left her at a grocery store. Punky Brewster was my favorite television show at the time and was possibly one of the reasons I played “orphans” instead of “house” with my cousins until I was at least 12. Characters like Punky Brewster and Anne-Marie from the cartoon movie “All Dogs go to Heaven,” were my inspirations. Who wants to pretend to be a mom or dad when you can pretend to be a kid on your own, who knows how to make it on the streets, and who lives in boxcars and abandoned buildings? We could pretend to be kids who never had to hear the words no.

As I sat there on the curb that day telling myself I’d figure life out like Punky Brewster, my parents drove about one block away, far enough that I couldn’t see them, but close enough that they could see me. They were surprised I didn’t cry when pretty much every other 6-year-old in the world would have run after the car sobbing her eyes out. After they realized I wouldn’t chase them, they pulled back up and MADE me get in the car where I continued to cause a ruckus until they literally turned the car around. By the time we got home, I was carsick and threw up all over the driveway. What a rotten child I was at times.

But the point is, I was independent from the start, and while I’m sure it’s given my family their share of headaches, there are good things about this too. Good things like the day I called my folks at age 19 and told them I was going to China to teach English – No. Matter. What. Following that conversation, I worked really hard to make the adventure happen. I wanted to pay for it on my own, so I got two unclassy summer jobs at Walmart and Maverik, clocked 12-16 hour days sometimes and worked a couple 20-day stretches. It was one of the summers I am most proud of. I saved most of that money, slept very little, hung out with friends as much as possible, then boarded a plane to Shanghai and lived in a small town five hours south for four glorious months.

It was during that stretch of my life where one of my mottos was, “you can do anything you want if you plan for it.” If I could make it to China working two cashier jobs, then I could go anywhere, right? Do anything? Fulfill every dream? I really thought so. Oh, to be 19 again.

Fast forward 13 years to last night when I had a huge moment of self-doubt that has been lingering for a while now but maybe hasn’t been put into words so plainly. Travis and I were talking about the adult stuff – budgets and house work mostly. After we’d gone over the to-do lists, I asked him what he wanted his life too look like? What did he imagine? And then he asked me. It’s hard for me to put exactly what I want into words, so I told him I want simplicity, and to be more grateful. But a lot of the other stuff, like what my dream job is, I just don’t know.

For a while now, I have felt like a failed business owner, a failed writer, a failed dreamer. And I started to cry, saying I’ve been asked what my career goals are and I have no idea. For now, I want a job. I want to be very good at a job. But being good at a job doesn’t necessarily equal passion. I said between tears that I used to have passion and it didn’t work out. I worked for a small paper, moved, and bounced around from three jobs in five years. I started writing a book six years ago and never finished. I opened a small business two years ago and haven’t broken even. I used to run marathons and make bucket lists and check things off. Now that old bucket list collects digital dust on this blog that survives solely because this space means too much to me to delete – not because I write often. I can’t seem to get organized enough to do any of the things I used to call dreams – such as my business, and book, running, and creating a home that feels quaint, and quiet, and warm.

Today those thoughts stayed with me. I walked from my car to my office nearly in tears, and started to cry at my desk before I was thankfully interrupted by a coworker who wanted me to sign a get well card for someone whose problems are more immediate than mine.

But I think maybe this could be a turning point, too. Because this morning, before the walk from my car to my office, I woke up and ran through my neighborhood with my dog and the moon and a small glimmer of hope that today is a new day and those dreams and passions are still somewhere inside me. Buried perhaps, but somewhere nonetheless. And after that run, and the almost cry, I signed up for a half marathon. Because although I don’t think my dreams and passions need to stay the same, I think I’ll repeat old ones until I find the new.

And maybe that is exciting. And maybe I’ll fail again. Maybe I’ll fail again 1,000 times like many of us with passion do. Maybe that 19-year-old isn’t wiser than my 32-year-old self; maybe that 19-year-old just hadn’t failed yet. And maybe there is a part of me that still believes I can make big things happen No. Matter. What. Even if that means some of my plans take longer than expected, or don’t happen at all. Maybe that 6-year-old inside me is still sure enough that I’ll figure out life … just like Punky Brewster.

-Written July 10, 2017