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#22: Recalibrating: How cold is it in space?

First, I want to tell you a story. When I was 23 my heart broke. In response, I joined AmeriCorps as a VISTA volunteer and moved to North Dakota to work with girls on Indian Reservations.

Well. I failed at that.

So, I moved back to Iowa where I lived with my parents, worked three jobs (including schlepping beers at a bar with a moose on the wall), smoked, drank way too much, and nursed my big dumb broken awful heart.

It was time to recalibrate.

When my stipend came in from AmeriCorps, I had just enough to buy a plane ticket to Europe, a EuroRail pass, and a youth hostel card. I borrowed a giant hiking backpack from a friend, loaded it with the bare essentials, and flew away. I spent a month alone in Europe wandering around: Recalibrating.

I've journaled since I was a kid; but when I was alone in Europe with nothing but my bad German, my journal became more than a journal. It became my companion and my therapist. I wrote all day everyday everywhere. I'm not generally social enough to strike up conversations with strangers, so my journal was my only real conversation. Any time I had something to say, I said it with a pen on lined paper.

And so it has been, between my journal and me, ever since. When I need a companion and to recalibrate, I write obsessively.

I've been thinking about my Europe journal a lot over the last few weeks. It's been quiet around here since the CD release. I've had a long break from shows. I moved into a new house. A relationship fell apart. I went back to work. When my son is with his dad, everything goes quiet. I find myself writing obsessively again. All day everyday everywhere.

I was a writer before I wrote music. It was my original aspiration. I have stories, essays, bad poetry, unfinished novels, blips and blurbs; and I'm doing it again. I want to do it again. But I'd like a better balance this time.

Writing, for me, is diving under. Deep. It's the bottom of the ocean. It's quiet and still and solitary. ... When I'm in it, it's hard to leave the house. I forget how to say normal things to other human beings in real life. Everywhere I go, I feel like I'm behind the glass of a 2-way mirror.

Writing = In.

Music = Out.

When I write music, it comes out. Out out out. It's an expression, heavy on the ex-. When I write a song, 9 times out of 10, the music comes first: the chord progressions, the hooks, the licks. Then, the melody comes out: Wordless. Next, vowels form. And finally: Words. Words are nearly always last.

I'm recalibrating again, and I have new writing projects. I'm digging in again. All the way in and under. But I don't want to disappear. I'd like to keep making music, too. I'd like to keep leaving the house (My employers seem to prefer it.). Connection is a motivating force for me, so I'd like to share periodically if you're into it.

I opened up an old prose blog I hadn't touched in 6 years. They're decontextualized bits that you may see resurface in one way or another. If you're interested in such a thing, it's here: tiny blue dots. And if by chance it lights a fire under your buns to do your own junk-skimming no-edit free-writes, I'd be pleased as pie.

This one, based on a conversation with my son last night, came out this morning:


“How cold is it in space?” he asks from the backseat.

It’s not a silly question. I wonder, too. Are space suits heated? Are they air conditioned? What is the utility of all that bulk?

“I don’t know,” I say. “We’ll look it up when we get home.”

But we don’t. There are 15 minutes of stoplights and go lights, streetlights, and blinkers. There are cars in other lanes, and songs on the radio that I don’t like. There is parking in the driveway and remembering all the bags, a noisy furnace and a bedtime snack, a mess on the table, and mail spilled on the desk. There is arguing over toothpaste and negotiating time. There is an echo and a hum and a tick, a hollow spot behind my sternum that doesn’t fill up.

Only in the morning do I remember: I still don’t know how cold it is in space.

He asked me how many stars there were, too. I told him we don’t know. Billions? Every time we think we’re done counting, we find more. I tried to explain “infinity,” but I don’t have words for things I can’t count.

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