In Seattle, a huge music and arts festival called Bumbershoot heralds the end of summer every Labor Day weekend. It takes over the sprawling facility surrounding the Space Needle and draws 40,000 people per day for three days.
When I was childless, whether or not I should go to Bumbershoot was a no-brainer. I took the bus, paid my money, and stayed all day. I'd hear six or seven bands. I'd drop in on some book readings. I'd wander through the galleries. When I felt like resting, I'd sprawl out on the grass somewhere until I felt like getting up again. I'd come back the next day and repeat.
Everything's different now that I have little kids. If a kid is involved at a big event like this, the time is fractured and focused on food and potty issues. If I go without the family, I'm required to negotiate times and chores with my husband, weigh this activity against other upcoming things I might want to cash in my child care chips for, and shoulder some guilt.
This year the timing wasn't right. It was a busy weekend. I was suffering some kind of mental/physical sickness. It all just seemed like too much of a pain. I decided to forget it.
I was okay with this decision, mostly.
I was okay with it until the last night of the festival, when, while I stirred a pot of Thai curry on the stove at home, a Steve Earle song came over the radio. I rushed to the nearest speaker.
"I love Steve Earle," I sighed to my husband. I turned the volume up, went back to the kitchen, and continued to swoon.
"Never heard of him," said Matt.
"He is a great songwriter. In the 80's he - wait, is this LIVE?"
Matt, sitting in the living room with his laptop, offered to look it up on the KEXP website. "Yep, it's live," he said. "Some private KEXP thing at Bumbershoot."
Motherfucker. I sunk down into a chair beside him. My heart had started to bleed a bit. I got up and turned off the pot of rice. I assembled the kid's quesadillas.
It's okay, I told myself.
We all sat down to dinner. Steve Earle continued to play this intimate show where I was not present. My heart started to bleed more. It was no longer okay.
I dropped my spoon with a clatter. "I really want to go see The Frames and Steve Earle tonight," I blurted.
The bus dumped me at Seattle Center just in time to see The Frames. I nosed my way past casual onlookers into the part of the crowd where people were screaming requests at the band and standing shoulder to shoulder with one another. All I had to carry was my own bag. All I had to listen to was the music. A great tree canopy overhead released a few drying leaves on our heads to memorialize the last day of summer. The sky grew steadily darker.
Glen Hansard, the tall red-headed Irishman capturing our attention onstage, sang about how hard it is to keep your side of the deal. I knew what he meant. I'd been trying all weekend.
Watching Hansard's lanky body jerk and shimmy, hearing him cry "you'll see how hard it can be," gratified about nineteen different desires, and brought to mind the fundemental struggle that is always mine to manage: how do I keep my side of the deal and keep myself at the same time?
Sometimes it can feel as if feeding any need or desire I have will take something away from my babies or husband. It can feel as if wanting to be lost in pure pleasure - like music - is somehow aberrant. This is especially so since my husband and I follow different passions. It feels like if it's purely mine, it can't be good.
I tore myself away to catch Mr. Earle on another stage. He sang of a woman ("Whatsername, wherever the hell she is") who ran wild and disappeared into the sunset on a motorcycle.
I took a cab home, helped with last-minute bedtime water cups and pee-pee trips, and slept beside my domestic husband just like millions of other women were doing that night. I fell asleep thinking about the Whatsername-like woman inside me. She shimmers below the surface most of the time. At times she's so close I think she might take me over. Just noticing her makes me feel aberrant.
Well, I thought, snuggling in for the night, here's one more day she stayed put. Meanwhile, I'm still here keeping my side of the deal.
(Photo by joshc off Frames website. See more here.)