Breathe

Okay, this song is fast on its way to actually becoming my number 1 favorite U2 song of all time… Currently “A Sort of Homecoming” from The Unforgettable Fire holds that position, as it has held that position for a long time. But “Breathe” has to be one of the most emotionally uplifting songs I’ve ever heard. It’s the breath of fresh air after a hard cry; it’s the moment after you’ve felt the most pain you’ve ever felt in your life; it’s the second you realize that despite all the pain, you want to hold on, hold on, hold onto life as tight as possible because it’s at once so overwhelming beautiful and gut-wrenchingly painful. It’s realizing that you still have to get up in the morning, face the day, push yourself outside to feel the joy. Joy is not something that just falls into your lap; you have to force yourself to find it. For me, it’s the perfect widow anthem of overcoming. It’s the single best spiritual song U2 has ever written.

I finally found a great live version of “Breathe,” which I think is from the Rose Bowl. I really wish they’d put this back on their set list!!

Anyway, I feel really vindicated because Bono said in the interview below that his favorite song on No Line on the Horizon is “Breathe.” I feel like I and the artist have connected. Damn. It’s a beautiful thing!

There’s a few things I need you to know. Three:

1. That scarf Bono is wearing? Um. Yeah. That’s the scarf I got from the forum friend mentioned in prior post. It’s all the rage of Bonogirls. And female U2 fans in general. He’s the best advertisement for his wife’s clothing company. Eh-hem. We girls are so gullible.

2. Bono is totally right about No Line on the Horizon (NLOTH): It’s definitely an album that has to sit with you for awhile. I like this release so much more today than I do when it first came out. Initially, my favorite songs were “Breathe” and “Magnificent.” Since 2009 when the album came out, I’ve grown to love “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” “Stand Up Comedy,”  “Unknown Caller,” and “Moment of Surrender.” Now these songs rank with some of the top U2 songs of all time. NLOTH started at #8 in my rankings of the U2 albums; now it’s moved up to #7, trading places with How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. To be honest, it quite possibly could rank between Achtung Baby and Zooropa with me these days. Anyway, it’s a great album and a definite evolution of the band.

3. “Blogging has put me off from democracy.” – Totally agree with you, Bono. Even as a blogger. Unfortunately. I’ve said repeatedly that there’s a problem in a world where everyone has the ability to publicly state their opinion on everything–the books you want to read, the movies you want to see, legitimate news stories, someone else’s blog posts. It’s too much sharing of information. Too much noise. And a lot of the noise just terrible. (Even mine, I’m sure, to some.) We’re all just a bit too connected to each other these days. Don’t think I’ve not thought about it as I leave my footprint all over the internet…

Christmas Unwrap

This year was another one of those years where I just didn’t feel the Christmas spirit. It seems like one moment, it was summer and I was riding my bike around everywhere, and then the next moment it was winter and Christmas was here. What the frak happened to this year? It slipped by elusively through my fingers. I guess I was extremely busy… 4,753 miles is definitely pretty busy. A sermon that occupied my mind through the month of September and half of October. I picked up a few more volunteer positions. I changed jobs. That’s busy.

Still working on the writing thing, but I think I’ve changed my approach. I’m in the mood for fiction of the late. I started working on (and researching for, in a matter of speaking) my “rock star” story. This is coming along quite well… All the characters are revealing details about themselves to me each day. I’m getting that excited yearning to write and I even found myself day-dreaming a scene for the book the other day. I’ve also started looking at a short story I started a year and a half ago–a science-fiction piece about, yes, a young widow. Not surprisingly, there’s a young widow in both my rock star story and my short story and–even funnier–I just realized I gave the dead husband in both stories the same name (Mark!). I must like the name Mark or something. I’ve decided to change the name of the guy in the short story since it’s less intertwined with my plot than the rock star story has become. But I thought it was extremely funny that I used the same name in both stories.

Lest you think I’m wearing out the young widow angle in my writing, be assured that I probably will just need to get the lead out in a few stories at first. I promise not to overdo it later in life. I currently have nothing published so it’s safe. I’ve partially decided to not go the memoir route because, I don’t know, it seems I have more latitude in fiction. Getting into the messy details of my personal life may be a little more exposure than I want or am ready to handle. I have certain things to say about widowhood and life through widowhood and I think I can express them better through fiction. Of course, details of my real life eek into my fiction–it does with every writer. I think I’m going to still work on publishing a few smaller memoir-style pieces (such as the first chapter I wrote ages ago) into some sort of publication… And I really need to research places where I could submit such pieces… But nothing’s impossible. Just getting my writing out there is the point. And it’s not all about being a widow, either; it’s about my love of writing and my desire to become a published writer.

Fiction’s the hardest route, though, and I realize that. Essentially, though, I guess it really doesn’t matter if I don’t publish this rock star story. I’m having fun writing it. I’m having fun thinking about it. That’s the important thing. If I could get that level of concentration and absorption I used to get when writing, it would be enough to make me feel fulfilled. Writing used to feel like reading a book, except one I could control, and I want to get back to that. Maybe after I die, someone will shuffle through my stuff, read it, and find it interesting. I don’t know.

My Christmas overall was okay. I did the usual things–skied Christmas Eve (my new tradition) at Boston Mills, attended my family’s Christmas Eve party, stayed overnight at my parents’ and did the family thing on Christmas. It was all very low-key and normal. Another cousin announced she was pregnant, another one of my mom’s siblings becomes a grandparent. I felt a tinge of bittersweet sadness for what could have been in my life but was not (it’s so hard to not get that way, even when you try very hard to stop yourself). My best friend Melissa called to tell me she was engaged. I went skiing on Sunday at Seven Springs with my friend Janet to unwind from the holiday overload.

Now comes my holiday–New Year’s. This is always my favorite. New beginnings, the promise of new adventures in the coming year, a big party to bring it all in. Well, in my case, the big party is–yes, again–skiing in upstate New York. I’ll ski all day and then maybe hang out in the main lodge to bring in midnight. The ski resort I go to has a torch light parade down one of the runs followed by fireworks at midnight. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate New Year’s, really; this is how I’ve spent it for the last three years now. I guess I cling to routine. But it’s nice to make my own traditions.

It looks like I’ve been conned persuaded to go to yet another U2 concert in the coming year. I was already going to two–E. Lansing, Michigan and Pittsburgh, PA–but one of the girls on a fan forum I frequent may have talked me into going to Philadelphia with her and a bunch of other forum girls. I just need to get another GA ticket that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg since Ticketmaster is officially sold out on GA for that show. I would like to say that I’m considering this current dalliance into super-fandom research for my rock star story. Sadly, I think the real truth of the matter is, I’m a super-fan. Oh, boy. The last time I was this crazy for a musician was for The Monkees when I was a teenager. I guess I’ve at least advanced to real adult people music?

Anyway, the above-mentioned arm-twister on the forum photoshopped the picture below as part of her campaign.

Bono Asks Mars Girl To Go To Philly

One of the nicest things that happened was that this same girl also surprised me with an extra special gift in the mail. I’d been wanting this Edun scarf because, um, yeah, Bono is always wearing one. Ridiculous, right? Well, all the “Bonogirls”–the girls who worship at the altar of Bono–were buying these scarfs left and right. I’d wanted to get one too but because it was Christmas, I was refusing to buy it for myself. Well, Wednesday last week I get a package in the mail with the Edun label all over it. And I’m in a state of shock because obviously someone has bought it for me. I ripped open that box to find out it was this girl on the forum. She had my address because I participated in a holiday card exchange and she was one of the people with whom I exchanged cards. It was really a sweet thing for her to do and I was really touched. After thanking her profusely, I told her I would repay her generosity with a donation of an equal amount as the scarf to one of my favorite charities to pay forward the giving spirit she inspired (since she didn’t want anything in return). She was pleased. I was just really surprised by the random act of kindness from someone I only knew through online conversations. Amazing. Donation to charity or no, I still owe her a little something when we cross paths… I’ll have to come up with something good.

I have to admit… I feel a little sheepish admitting to the above paragraph (buying clothes to match my favorite rock star??). But I’ll own it because it’s true. But if I ever got to meet any member of U2, I would never admit to this in a million years… I feel like such a dork as it is. But I will not dress in “Bonowear” anywhere where I might run into him… such as a concert… no way!! (Um, yeah, I’m wearing a scarf from your wife’s clothing company because you’re always wearing one just like it….) Dork, dork, dork. I blame my sermon and my would-be rock star novel for this horrible failing in my character. At least I realize how ridiculous my behavior is…. However, that doesn’t seem to make me stop said behavior. Unfortunately. (Okay, it’s admittedly fun to freak geek out on something.)

So, 2011. What’s next? I’m still hoping for hotels in orbit. I’ll be the first one to pay for a trip off Earth for a week. Or two. Stop this planet, I want to get off!

Between laughter and tears

Over the last year, I’ve noticed that I have this really odd tendency, when something really tickles my funny bone, to fall into an uncontrollable fit of laughter that then erupts into tears.  I’m not sad or upset. But suddenly, tears are tumbling out of my eyes as free as the laughter bubbling from my throat. My laughter intensifies as I try to stop the fit and I start to sound like I’m hyperventilating or something. It’s actually a little embarrassing. I really have to struggle hard to stop thinking of the catalyst that incited the laughter and try to force calm upon myself. Meanwhile, I’m wiping tears from my eyes that I’m trying to hide. And at the end of the fit, I feel the same as I do after a good cry. It’s very baffling.

An event like this happened just a few weeks ago at work. During a training class. It was a stupid joke that made me laugh. We were working on a lab, building a template in the software, which is one of the hardest things to do in our product, and so someone had named their template something I found intensely funny, even though it was a little dumb–“It’s not a tumor, it’s a [insert the type of thing we were creating].” For some reason or another, I just found this incredibly hilarious. And the floodgates opened. While a few people found the joke cute or slightly funny, they were baffled by my over-reaction to its cleverness. I was too.

Then, a week later, while conducting a demo at work, I started giggling about something else (I’m always getting playfully ribbed on by coworkers at my job), and it reminded me of the “it’s not a tumor” incident, and then I fell into that fit all over again. Once again, I was met with baffled faces, though everyone was slightly amused how easy it is to get me started on a fit. I had to calm myself down again, try to focus my mind on the task at hand, and relax. I managed to stop; however, I felt as though I’d had a good cry throughout the rest of the meeting.

These laughter fits, while entertaining, have got me thinking about how there seems to be a very blurry line between laughter and tears to our physiology. Both seem to come upon you at inopportune moments when you least expect them, sometimes just randomly out of the blue. You can never predict singular thing is going to make you laugh, nor can you often imagine what event will make you burst into tears. I think of this in terms of my widowhood, at least in those first years, where the littlest thing–a smell, a song, a place, or even the ghost of a feeling–could push me over the brim into a fit of fears. I still get spells like that, only now it’s more just a sweeping feeling of nostalgia or sadness.

I’ve noticed I laugh more these days. I’ve always been the kind of person to laugh easily, find humor in even the most serious situations where I was supposed to be somber, and so it’s not a huge change. However, more often than not my laughter easily evolves into these new laugh-cry fits. I’d like to think that it’s because I become swept up in the moment. Maybe a little too swept up in the moment, true. But at the same time, I went through periods of time for a while where I didn’t laugh for days. I can’t help but wonder if perhaps I’m just allowing myself to live in the moment and appreciate things as they are. Maybe I’m just a little more open to finding humor in life.

There is a line from the U2 song “Get On Your Boots” that has been ringing in my head ever since I started thinking about my laugh/cry fits:

Laughter is eternity if the joy is real.

It’s a really beautiful thought. Like a weight lifted off my soul. Finding even the smallest bit of joy in a moment–real, utterly honest joy–brings a relief of laughter that–though brief–can not only improve your day but significantly change your outlook about everything. It brightens your day, gives you hope, relieves the heavy tension that weighs on your heart from the darkest, toughest moments of your life. I like to laugh. I welcome laughter. When people see me laugh, I only hope that they view me a light-hearted person. I’d rather be seen that way than solemn and serious. I’ve had enough of serious, solemn, and sad. It’s time to laugh. Even if said laughter makes me cry at the same time. But isn’t that really a statement of life? Laughter and tears; tears and laughter. We’re always on the brink of one or the other. Joy and sorrow are so closely intertwined like the yin and the yang. We need both to appreciate life.

Sell-out

One of the biggest criticisms I hear from people who hate U2 is that they feel the band is a “sell-out.” Over the last several weeks, I’ve been contemplating just what people mean when they accuse U2–or any other band of equaling popularity and fame–of being a sell-out. And I’ve come to one conclusion: people inherently hate when someone is much more successful than they can ever dream to be. I can back up this theory with many other non-musical examples, such as how people leer at those who have money or are apparently successful with their careers when they themselves are not successful. Resentful people seem to think that others who have achieved relative success have somehow gained their success in some magical way: they were lucky, they knew the right people, they were somehow favored by a higher power. Because we–yes, “we” because even I’ve fallen victim to resentment–only look upon these people from the outside, we never see all the sweat and hard work it took a person to achieve their goals. To us, it looks like magic. But really, in most but the very few exceptions, a person has worked hard to achieve their goals. They were not magically bestowed on them because they prayed to the god of success or sold their soul to Satan.

In the world of music, I have noticed a tendency for people to only like bands before they are popular. Like it’s hipper or something to love the band when they are struggling and working in small venues waiting for their break. And I can agree on some level that it’s great when you find a band early in its inception and you get to enjoy the intimacy of a small, local venue. When you can walk right up to the band and get their autographs. It’s fun to be a groupie and follow them around with your little group of 10-20 people. I’ve been there. I’ve seen lots of bands at places like the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, loved the fact that I could see the expression on each band member’s face from all the way across a room. These are great days, made even greater when the band really starts to catch on beyond your home and others see the brilliance in them that you do.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that every band does not want to achieve success in the numbers of artists like U2 or The Beatles or [insert name of a famous artist]. Every artist wants to be able to make a living off of their art and not struggle with it as a second-hand hobby to their “day job.” Every artist of every type. Plain and simple. No one wants their art to be only locally appreciated and then withered away into obscurity. As much as they like their own group of original fans, every band would love to achieve success. One some level, ever artist is a narcissist; if they weren’t, they’d never take their art out in public.  I can’t speak for exactly what every artist personally hopes to find in success, but I can say that for myself, I’d like my writing to reach a wider audience so that I could, if possible, touch other lives in a significant way. A rather noble goal, yes, but that’s what art is all about–it makes you feel and it does touch you. We like music because it resonates with something within ourselves. We love a good fiction book because for a period of time, it distracts our senses so completely, we are drawn into its make-believe world and entertained. We love a good non-fiction book because it teaches us something or speaks a truth to our own experiences, and makes us feel less alone. We love a good movie for similar reasons to why we love music or a fiction book. Stories and music are largely about the human experience, something we can all share and acknowledge together.

I’d be more than honored if I could give back to the world in that way. And I believe Bono considers the same things when he writes his own lyrics. U2 always strives to remain relevant in the world because they believe that music is more than just a river of sound to float on; they believe it’s a conscious experience, a way to reach people, an outlet to inspire. I truly believe that art has a social responsibility to the world. If art does not teach you something about yourself or about someone else, it’s not really doing its job. If it doesn’t make you feel anything, then there’s simply no point. Art should anger you, inspire you, make you cry, elate you, and otherwise move you. U2 music does all of these things for me.

I think people have problems with U2 partnering with products like Blackberry and iPod, too. Or they are angered by Bono’s affiliations with organizations such as the ONE campaign, Product (RED), DATA, etc. I won’t go into the humanitarian causes Bono is involved with–I’ve discussed that before and I personally have no problem with a band using their name and position to push for social reform (I would gladly do it if I had the position and power, I assure you). Because it needs to be done. Plain and simple. As for product affiliations–well, you have to keep in mind that managing a band of the magnitude and popularity of U2 is a business like anything else. At that level, it’s no longer possible to just be an artist for the sake of art, especially in this day when it’s so easy to pirate music off the internet (which, by the way, does take away from the profits of your favorite band significantly). Bands have to find other ways to generate revenue. It’s also perfectly acceptable to me for them to partner with products. I’ve never been one to buy a product because my favorite band or personality is affiliated with it–I’m not that easy. (Though I do own both a Blackberry and an iPod, but it has nothing at all to do with U2… It’s an information world and I’m a tech geek.)

Big companies like Blackberry and iPod also help to fund concerts, providing an access to technology for big shows, and, really, might help contribute to lower costs for the concerts themselves. In the grand scheme of things, U2 concert tickets are not as expensive as the tickets to other shows. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure Lady GaGa is far more expensive than U2. Plus, U2 always offers a General Admission option which is extremely cheap (I paid about $60 for my Pittsburgh ticket, which includes about $20 in up-charges from that damned pirate called Ticketmaster). They put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen live, anyway, so the money spent is well worth it.

What makes U2 shows so great? They put their heart, soul, blood into every performance. They rotate their set lists out and try new songs. Every night is different even when the set list matches one that has been played over and over. Bono “snippets” other songs–U2’s or those of other artists–within the ones he sings and he changes these out quite frequently depending on the mood of the audience, the conditions of the venue, or the particular events of the day (ie, multiple John Lennon lyrics were snippeted into songs during the concert in Brisbane, Australia on December 8th to recognize the “anniversary” of John Lennon’s death). Unlike other bands who play the same set every night in the same way without changing a single facial expression, U2 brings a fresh performance on even the oldest songs. And Bono’s voice on the current concert tour is better now than it’s been in years. He’s on fire. Totally worth any amount of money spent on the concert.

U2 has not “sold out”–they’ve strategically planned out their business.  I totally resent the words “sell out.”  These words are merely the jealous rantings of people who wish they had achieved better in their own pathetic lives. Hipsters who would rather buy the obscure vinyl albums of unheard artists out of the trunk of some dude’s 1970’s yellow low-rider. I’m sad for artists that never got to see their day in the spotlight. We all want to achieve success on some level. I suppose I’d be called a sell-out if I did manage to get something of mine published. Or if I sold the rights to a theoretical best-selling novel to a movie company for it to be made into a screenplay and subsequent movie. That’s not selling out, that’s accomplishment and success. It means you made a product someone wants. U2 has been making a product people have wanted for over 30 years. And God bless them for it!!

Christmas and 2011 Adventure Ponderings

I’ve gotten a little sparse on my blog posting because I’ve been spending most of my free time working on my writing projects–a fiction story that requires a lot of back-planning and, of course, my memoir. I’ve been feeling a little more inspired lately and I love the mobility my netbook affords me. It’s really nice to be able to leave the distractions of my house to go write at a coffee shop (found a real nice one near me that has normal hours, unlike another coffee shop just up the street with really weird hours). Everyone in the world now has free internet access, which makes life easy, though admittedly causes lots of distractions for me if I’m not careful. However, when you need to look up something to do a quick spot of research, you’ve got the capability at your finger tips. Writing was never made so easy in this information age!

I think my fiction story is going to take a bit more than internet research. I have a feeling this may be a several-years-long project. I feel I have to visit a few places and shadow the interesting lives of other people to make it more realistic. It’d be really fantastic if I knew a band that was just on the verge of becoming a big hit… or if I could spend a year following Bono! Ha, ha! Just kidding. The thing I’ve always struggled with in writing realistic fiction–that is, fiction that isn’t science-fiction–is that you have to be really careful about the portraying the lives you step into in a realistic way. Everyone has had that moment when watching a TV show where the people are touching on something you know personally about–maybe your job or your hometown–and you have to contain your annoyance that the writers of the show obviously knew nothing about that which they were trying to write. (Which never happens in the case of Clevelanders.) I don’t want to be that kind of writer. I guess that’s another good thing about writing science-fiction–you don’t have to worry so much about portraying a hometown or a job unrealistically. You still have to get the science right; though, in most cases, it just has to be plausible.

Besides the writing projects, I’ve been trying to get into the Christmas season even though it feels like I was just celebrating Christmas like two weeks ago. On Friday, my dad and I went on our annual hunt for my Christmas tree. And by “hunt,” I mean we went to Kriegers in Cuyahoga Falls–we’ve gone there three years in a row now. After setting up the tree in my living room, we went to Ray’s in Kent–also our annual tradition. It’s like when I was a kid, but instead of getting a McD’s eggnog shake after picking out a tree, we go for beer, the beverage for adult children.

I spent Saturday decorating the tree and my house. I know a lot of single people don’t bother with this sort of thing since no one sees their house, but I always do it for myself. It puts me in the Christmas spirit. I really love having a live tree–it makes my house smell wonderful, conjuring images of my very young years when my family had a live tree. I also post all the Christmas cards I receive along the wall in the entry way by my front door.

Christmas Tree and Santa McCoy

Tree and fireplace mantle (the baseball shrine dare not be touched in fear of angering the baseball gods!).

I also managed to finish all my Christmas cards–including the ones I had to make by hand for my friends on the U2 forum I frequent. Everything is ready for the mail tomorrow. I feel like I got a lot done this weekend. Now to shopping… I don’t even want to go there. It’s so hard trying to come up with stuff for everyone I want to buy gifts for. I feel pressure to find something awesome and unique every year and that just doesn’t happen all the time. I hate resorting to gift cards.

So with the initial festivities of Christmas begun, I turn my thoughts to the adventures that 2011 will bring. Naturally, I’ve already got most of the year planned out. I guess I’m not too spontaneous.

  • March – Week long ski trip to Whistler with my friend Janet. My first time in Western Canada. Whee! What a great way to bring in 36 (going the week after my birthday).
  • May 7-8 – The 50th TOSRV!!! PAAAARTY!! (As much as one can party after 100 miles in the evening before another 100 miles.)
  • June 26th – U2 Concert, East Lansing, Michigan. Rock on!!!
  • July 16th – Ride Across INdiana (RAIN) – 160 miles in one day. Can I do it? I may try to organize something with my bike club. Safety and motivation in numbers, right?
  • July 26th – U2 Concert, Pittsburgh, PA. I’m in GA (general admission) and I plan to get into the inner circle–the space between the stage and the looping catwalk. Talk about a party!! But I will be standing/sitting/chatting with fellow fanatics admirers of U2 in line. All. Day. Long. I’m willing to sacrifice for the chance to be close to the band. Like I was in 2001, except then I was in seats.
  • August ? – Might go to California to climb its high point, Mt. Whitney. My uncle (who lives in California) and I have tentatively emailed about it but we have not made any solid plans at this time. Whether I do rides like Roscoe Ramble or Mad Anthony depends on when/if I go to California.

Yes, you’re seeing correctly: No MS 150 this year. Sadly, the MS 150 traditionally takes place the same weekend that my U2 concert–which I originally bought for 2010 before Bono hurt his back–got rescheduled to. Um. Some things take priority over others… Sorry, MS 150! If I am not in California the week of the MS 150 ride in NE Ohio–Pedal to the Point–I might actually do that on. So it’s undetermined at this time whether or not I’ll be participating in an MS 150. Probably all my friends and family would appreciate a year off… since my donations have been dwindling over the years…

I might actually be too distracted to pull the kind of bicycling miles I did this year. But you never know. Most people out there know I’m obsessed with cycling… and thus I will probably end up doing about 4000 miles no matter what. Commuting to work certainly adds mileage. And I love to do it!!

I think I’ve got enough plans spinning out there for now. I guess we’ll only see what the next year brings as it unfolds. I should probably still aim to try to get one of my shorter memoir pieces published. The initial one I wrote–which has never been posted to this blog–about the day my husband died is actually in a final edit form. I’ve had it reviewed by other people and I’ve made changes. If I think it’s great, then it has to be pretty good as I generally think what I write sucks. So I’d like to try to get it published somewhere. I know I’ve said that before and I admit that I didn’t really try this year, even though I said I would. But I should probably dust off the cobwebs and actually make an honest attempt to submit it. I can honestly say that the positive feedback I received after my sermon at my church made me feel more compelled to give it a try. It never hurts to try. The worst that can happen is rejection. Rejection is okay.

Anyway, that’s my update for now. I’ve got some other topics that I’ve wanted to blog about so maybe I’ll make some time in the coming days to get them down. Until then, good luck to all in dealing with the holiday madness!