The collection of essays I am assembling I am calling Swimming in the Deep Red Sea. They began as mentions during many of my blogs when talking about Nashville and what brought me here, sadly keeps me here and in turn what my observations and experiences have been in just one year in. I have three more to go so where it will take me I have no idea. But here is the first entry in the journey. Like me it is a work in progress and welcome feedback but this is the start of the book and it begins with a quote and ends with another to bookend how I feel at the start of each day and the end of one.
When It Finally Breaks
He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.
- Raymond Hull
There are the idioms which one use that refers to a breaking point, the turning point that changes how one sees things. There are those that use trees: When a bough breaks; Out on a Limb, Out of the Woods, Barking up the Wrong Tree. There are those that use cars; In need of a tune up, a total wreck job, driven up the wall. There are those that can find the Turning Point, the Tipping Point, and the Breaking Point. All which point is the point of no return? What does that mean when you cannot return? Are you so broken that you must pay for what you break? And are you broken beyond repair?
Am I now what Steve Jobs envisioned with Apple an item with planned obsolescence? Do I have a sell by date and is that different than an expiration date? Not a day goes by when I don’t remind myself of that date of departure as if it is the light at the end of the tunnel; the beacon to guide me, the metaphorical life preserver being thrown to me as I swim here in the deep red sea.
When I think of the Northwest I think of Puget Sound, a cold but blue water inlet off the less predictable but no less blue Pacific. When I think of my home I see its symbol as my own, the Evergreen. A tree sturdy, tough, low maintenance, singular yet strong as it withstands most storms. But over time and some major climatic events even this tree found itself missing some branches and some roots exposed so it was time to renew, to replant, to see if this tree has some good years left. Fresh soil offers fresh life or so I was to believe. But the soil and the water here are not native to the Evergreen and it is not an easy transplant as ones made in years past. Roots dig deep and sometimes picking up and digging up that dirt brings with it a new set of dilemmas and problems that sometimes are better left underground. And this was not the first time this tree had been uprooted and not the first forest in which I had been replanted. But the cool blue waters of Puget Sound are not composition of the Cumberland River that composes a portion of the red sea.
Could I be redeemed, renewed and reclaimed, replanted, like a tree? Could this non-salient water, so warm, so deceptively smooth revive me or drown me? When one thinks of Seattle one thinks of the water - the Sound, the Lakes, and the Pacific that all are apart of our terrain that is marked with Mountain ranges, like bookends that make the City unique in its own fashion and that is what people most speak of when they think of Seattle - its landscape.
When I think of Seattle I think of my home near the lake - Green by the color and of the same name. A lake with an Aqua Theater that once had shows of another era but also shows from bands that were of Zeppelins just not those of the air and Fireworks that marked the day of that 4th in July. There was an island just for ducks but for a city park it was a peaceful as it was loud. It was my home where I walked to and around, learned to swim, to play tennis and to gaze out to dreaming of a life that would take me other lakes and other bodies of water that were beyond my vision. Today I think of another lake more tucked away but oddly more relevant to my mood since relocating - Bitter Lake. Ah but those hidden treasures are here yet I have no plan to find them. For water here is not the same stillness and sense of peace, for here it is rough, it is deep and it is red.
When others think of Seattle they think of endless gray skies that lead one to the believe that it rains in Seattle all the time. No, and yes. No one from Seattle carries an umbrella as our rain is not like the kind here in the Red Sea. It is more of a drizzle, much like a Baptism that cleanses the soul and renews all that it touches. Water, which has such significance in Seattle, seems to not have the same affect here in the Red Sea. When it rains here it floods and with each rainstorm comes a warning and like many things I come to learn nothing good comes from it but it is needed and in turn welcomed. When it rains you are told to find high ground, to avoid the outdoors, to hide from winds and lightening.It is that mixed message that defines the hospitality of my new home. Welcome and when will you be leaving? My first introduction into the often confusing messages on receives here in the Deep Red Sea. It reminds of signs by Pools that say NO DIVING and yet they invite one to do just that. But pool water is as deceiving as clear and cool to the touch but when one takes a taste is tastes anything but. I have left the Emerald City and landed in Music City. There is no Toto, no three friends to guide you, and no kind Witch. You are alone and the wind is rising and the waters get rough.
So finding new ground, high ground, became the search that made one realize perhaps no such land exists for this transplant. But what kind of transplant am I? An Evergreen? Or am I something less sturdy and less symbolic of my native home? Was there a warning sign I neglected to read?
Bob Dylan spoke of the rolling stone and the complete unknown. I have always been a Rolling Stone but I never thought of what it meant to be unknown. And then I came here and I feel both invisible and small, like a rock in a shoe, an annoyance that gets tossed. Rocks can be skipped over water but eventually they sink.
Ah yes so many passes my mind as I tread water here in the Red Sea. How does it feel Bob to be on your own, no direction home, a complete unknown? I have no answer to that question; irony that of all people and of all songs it was that which found its way to Nashville. Do all roads eventually lead in and then back out of Nashville and are you better because of it? Funny what you learn when you are on your own and completely unknown in a place unknown. But then I am invisible now, I have no secrets to conceal and I have nothing to lose so I will dive in deep into this red sea.
Ah the Bible Belt as it is called in America, the land of Christianity, forgiveness, renewal and of course Baptism, an act in and of water. It is from that act I find the redemption I need. But I am of blue waters and they run as deep within me as they do whose who swim in this red sea. And the waters run hot, humid and sticky like the Tea they serve only less sweet.
I decided to take a dip in the Red Sea not for its musical notes but for the Medicine. The land of Music is also the land of Hospitals. Think of it as Medical Tourism in the U.S. and instead of an Umbrella in your drink you get a Cowboy Boot or maybe a boot up the ass as I have one sore ass of late. But I thought this might be the place before I ended up like many a wreck, in the junkyard. I am a good swimmer but even I knew that upon my first entry into another kind of dive, Vanderbilt the biggest Honky Tonk in Nashville, and I was not going to come out the same way I came in. And that is what I wanted. As another adage goes: Be careful for what you wish for. This is the South and they are well known for their reconstruction, just what that means is not the same one referred to in the books of history.
Reconstruction. To rebuild, to renew. And yet when you look at the definition of the word it focuses on the Civil War. Ah the past you can never escape it if you are obsessed with it.
On a daily basis I am asked, “What brought you here?” At times the responses veer between the absurd: “A plane.” To the more viscous: “To fuck you over.” But I recall another time when the plane brought one to an island was that of a fantasy and the guests found that their fantasy was not the one they envisioned. Like Steve Jobs in an ironic way we all have a planned obsolesce it is just not one in our control. So I came to the City of Now, the Music City, Smashville or whatever name it calls itself to see if this outdated model could still be repaired.
This is a city in constant need to re-brand, to label itself – the City of Now, Music City - as Cities do. A TV series that made the name and the City seem bigger and better as many fictions do. And it was no different in Seattle, the Emerald City. Ah yes just like Oz, mythical, and with a man behind the curtain spinning tales. I see now the two cities are more alike than I realized. Seattle once known for being Sleepless is now all Grey's and her anatomy is actually less Frazier and more Bezos and with that the culture and quality of life had changed in ways that no longer mirrored my own. So I needed to move, to find somewhere to re-brand and renew. And now as the process has begun and it is nowhere near as easy nor as joyous as I had anticipated. There is another idiom: Now matter where you go there you are. Well I am here and now what am I?
When I arrived in Nashville I had priorities. And this was one of those reasons why I came. My first official appointment to be made was at The Dental Clinic of Vanderbilt. Even the article "the" before the name Dental Clinic wanted me to believe it was special and it was a right fit. I wanted to pretend that the name meant something, a name from another world and that the dignity of the era from which it came would be awarded to all those who walked through the doors. This was never to be and never will. For today when you walk through a door to a hospital you enter a maze and Vanderbilt is one such maze that you wonder if it is a design in purpose to see which rats can survive it.
My Dentist, a woman in a field of men, was one reason I chose Vanderbilt over my other choice in another town that too has decided to remake itself from the industry of steel to Medicine so the choice fell to a pendulum over the map, a TV show and a woman elected as Mayor that led me think that perhaps there was a touch of blue in this red sea or at least some purple that I could embrace. For there is another idiom - When I get old I shall wear purple. And that idiom is one I chose wisely to ignore as it is not a color I wear well. And as it turned out it is more pink then red here and any blue is a color found only on the State flag.
But what I needed someone to be the voice of reason in a business dominated by the white male patriarchy that is the medical industrial complex. Here first words when we met were “We are going to be together a long time, I hope you know that.” I laughed and said that in Tennessee that would be akin to a cousin marriage no doubt and in turn she laughed. I was relieved. She led me to perhaps the best Surgeon I could wish for, he was Inigo Montoya and I was the Princess Bride. They were both not from here and that was my sole qualification but faith is a dish served here in the red sea and wielded by a belt that becomes a tool in which to swing it. Little did I know that the belt leaves powerful welts and those become scars. Scars can fade but I had my optimism my version of faith and I still had laughter. But I as learned early on too many swings of that belt causes laughter to evolve into tears. So now when asked the question "Why did you come here?" I ask myself the same.
I have not always lived in blue waters, I have dipped my toe in other red seas and am a strong swimmer. I lived i Texas when a Bush was a Governor not a President, and saw him too at another lake every day but that was not a lake it was a river. Ah the South it does things differently. But that too was an Oasis in a desert of sand. Austin was and is still keeping it weird but it too changes as we all do with time. And that was then and this is now and I am definitely one who lives in the now.
As I write and reflect about all my experiences here in the Red Sea I knew it would not be easy but I had no idea it would be this hard, this overwhelming and this isolating. So to pick just one thing that broke me is impossible; however, this is one Camel's back on full overload and in turn that basket that had so worn me well is now heavier that I could have imagined. And a heavy basket makes it near impossible in which to cross the Red Sea. So what to discard and what to keep is just another conundrum in a town that has them served up on a daily basis with sweet tea and biscuits.
I have weathered many storms, been in a few wrecks in my day, one that nearly killed me but I was still salvageable. But who was I to become in the process? As another idiom goes: That what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. As I have that experience first hand the only response to that is: No it just doesn’t kill you.
Living here brings to mind another idiom: Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone. I have done both here a great deal and almost always alone. More lies your Mother tells you. But this is one place where I devised a new idiom: Lying While Talking.
The ability to lie to one’s face and accept that as normal is a given here. This is the land of Writers, be they of novels or songs they are all about the wrong doings of others under the power of lies, be they love, drugs or booze as none will do you right. Narcissism is not the State flower here but instead a perpetual state of mind and it is one that clearly does well in humidity. There are two kinds of t's here - one you drink and one you wear. It as if you are bathing with your clothes on. Nashville on many days reminds me of a hot house where many starters are placed in pots and some thrive and others wither. I wonder which I will be?
Swimming in salt water is quite healing, swimming in the Red Sea does not have said powers. Again that conundrum, that in the land of Christianity one would think otherwise but that is not why those come here, this is not Mecca or the Vatican, despite its location deep in the center of the red sea. The dreams here are of stars and wishes that are part of the gospel, the prosperity one, that excuses and explains ambition and greed and encourages it under the guise of working hard and earning success. Yes that ladder is strongly held here and few will climb it to heaven but alas that is not something told to the dreamers here.
This is the land of faith and of tragedy; A place of dreams and of despair that are sung in both pews and bars, that mark the biggest trade in Nashville not medicinal - hospitality. Irony that it too is a contradiction in terms and that Broadway is the street of dreams. Ah there is another Broadway but that is in a city where one if they make it there can make it anywhere. I don't think they have co-opted that yet here but give it time as theft is as natural here as grits.
So here am I. My Mother used to warn me that if I carried on as I did I would live in the South side on the wrong side of the tracks. Or maybe that was Jim Croce? And of course that is where I landed in South Nashville right against the train tracks. And yet this is Nashville where another singer wrote of the endless noise as a beacon, I beg to differ. It is a disruption, a disturbance and lends only to make one fit the mood and may explain why Johnny Cash was the man in black. I And for those who revere the past here they should note that many are dead and the dead hears nothing.
When asked about why Trains can make noise without repercussion, while bars and honky tonks are under a noise ordinance; I was told in certain terms (which means with frustration and the eternal scold face that dons almost all residents) that is they way it is always been. No, that the noise ordinance for bars came to be when new condos and apartments were built and people moved to the city of now and they came for the Music but sleep in the quiet. The same trains that blare their horns throughout the City are oddly quiet in this same section of town.
It again is another lesson one learns that in the South: Money and power garner privilege and the rest you fight it out among yourselves. Trains are part again of the ubiquitous history that marks each intersection, every building and corner as if anyone ever reads them but they are there more beacons to be ignored. Like the sign I did not read that said "No Swimming Allowed" when I arrived.
This is the circle speak of the South, it is talking at you not with you. I see why they prefer songs of hymns and the country music songs of despair as from them they can evoke the feelings that they cannot or will not express.
Funny in the land of songs I sing so few here that are not ones of despair. Well a little bit country and little bit rock and roll and that is what I am doing, rolling in the deep. Yes Adele was right about that. When you swim in the red sea you dive deep.
But the one idiom that I find most applicable since my dive here in to the Deep Red Sea is: The Straw that breaks the Camel’s back. And my back feels broken and there is no one willing to save me from drowning, they are too busy swimming for their own lives. That is one thing you find out early on that the ladder to climb out of the water and into the boat is one that retracts easily when it is realized you have nothing to offer. Your pity, your rage, your fear is not greater than those who swim around you and those on the boat pick and choose whom they deign willing to be saved. Ah yes it is always back to saving those in the deep red sea, it is just what you are willing to do to be saved is the question.
It is the only thing that does when you are swimming in waters not your own. One straw, one basket, one broken back, but broken backs can be healed. Or will my Evergreen be simply whittled away to nothing?
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
- Audrey Hepburn