Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Charleston, in two parts

Part 1 - The Audition

This past Friday, I auditioned for American Idol.

It's silly, I know. The show is questionable and the artists it produces are questionable, I know. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching it. I don't really feel the need to defend myself, but I will say that there's something heart-warming about watching "normal" people with extraordinary talents be recognized for them. That's all.

I sing because it's fun and I like to entertain people, be it on a stage or in my home. I have no delusions of grandeur, but decided to audition anyway for the following reasons:

1. I wouldn't be very disappointed if I was rejected - I'm secure in my limited ability. Also, I would have an answer the next time someone said "Oh my gosh, you should totally try out for American Idol!" Not much to lose.
2. If I made it through even one round of auditions, I'd be thrilled.
3. If I were able to actually be on the show, I'd get to hone my craft, wear fun clothes, and entertain many people. Plus, Steven Tyler might say something creepy to me, and that'd be a story to tell.

Well, the audition came and went and I did not make it through to the next round. A man who had been listening to singers for 10 hours (and who looked like Bono) mustered the minimum requirement of earnestness to explain to me that I had a nice voice, but that I wasn't what they were looking for. (The whole process took 12 hours, but that's a story for another time.)

What did I learn from the American Idol audition? Absolutely nothing.

Part 2 - The Hosts

Rewind a bit. When I knew I was going to the aforementioned audition in Charleston, SC, I also knew that I did not want to get a hotel room for my sister and me. I realize that I'm 25, but the idea of paying $100ish to sleep somewhere hasn't become any easier to deal with. Therefore, I took advantage of my social media connectedness and posted on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of anyone in Charleston who might be willing to host some American Idol hopefuls. My friend, Scotland, with whom I had lived long ago in a faraway land, responded that he had some friends in Charleston and set up a line of communicated between them and me.

The result of that Facebook post was a long weekend staying in the living room of, I feel confident staying, the most hospitable home in Charleston - the home of Kevin, Janice, Tyler and Zack, all young professional twentysomethings. Beyond their home, they shared with us conversation, watermelon, card games, friends, music, french toast, and an ocean river float. Sure, we drove to Charleston for the audition, but that was, though a unique and entertaining experience, one of the least enjoyable activities of the weekend.

What did I learn from staying with Kevin, Janice, Tyler, and Zack? 1) I have friends in Charleston. 2) Hospitality for strangers is not something that mostly exists in records of ancient cultures. 3) Friendship and openness are more valuable to the human spirit than the approval of a Hollywood producer who looks like Bono. Okay, I already knew that last one, but thought it was worth mentioning anyway.

This post is a part of a synchroblog. Click here to peruse other posts on "What we might become if..."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

fear itself

It was chilly and raining some, the bleak type of fall weather. I was only about 30 minutes into a four or five-hour road trip. I was alone.

Between the swishes of my windshield-wipers, I noticed a dark blob on the right side of the road ahead of me. As I approached the blob, I saw that it was actually three, smaller blobs. It wasn't until I sped past them that I realized they were people, walking beside the highway.

"How miserable." I thought.

Their clothes must have been wet and their bodies must have been freezing.

From what I could tell during the instant that I was able to recognize them as human, they were about my age, two men and a woman, dressed in dark clothing and carrying a cardboard sign I could not read.

I pulled off of the next exit so that I could turn around and pick them up. I don't remember deciding that it was a good idea, I just knew that it was what was going to happen.  Kind of like if you see a five dollar-bill on the sidewalk - there is no deliberation, you just pick it up.

During the few minutes that it took me to get off the exit, re-enter the highway in the opposite direction and then repeat that process, I called Jackie.

"Hi. I'm about to pick up some hitchhikers and I thought I should tell someone."

I don't know why I thought that calling a friend who lived 14 hours away would be helpful. Perhaps it was a subconscious effort to involve someone else enough to sooth my anxiety, but not enough to surrender any control.

She urged me to be careful.

I ended the call just as I began to brake and pull off of the road. I stopped the car a bit behind them, but they had noticed me and were facing me now.  I got out of the car.

"You guys need a ride?"

"Yeah! Thank you so much."

I popped my trunk and they unloaded their backpacks.

They rode with me for two hours. Apart from the slight smell of hours of highway walking and my own anxiety about which questions were not polite to ask, it was a pleasant ride. They were on their way to New Orleans for Halloween. They were intentionally homeless and traveled the country by hitchhiking and sneaking onto trains.

The whole idea seemed so romantic; in many ways, they were free. I, with my recently earned BA, student loans, and a career to begin, was feeling the ever-mounting pressure of the quarter-life crisis while they were happy to not know where they would sleep that night. What was more fascinating was learning that there is an entire community of people with this same lifestyle for whom Halloween in New Orleans is an a annual reunion, similar to the college homecoming at the end of my road trip.

Part of me would like to say that I sold my car in the next city, bought a black hoodie and joined them, but I did not. I dropped them off at a friend of a friend's house where they could stay the night. They were very grateful for the ride and I was grateful for the experience.

Immediately, as a 22 year-old, what I took from the experience was that I wanted to be a street kid, not have  a career or pay rent.

Since then, I've learned the value of staying in one place - how the longer you stay in a place or even in a good relationship, the more clearly you can see your own reflection in it. How can I identify and improve myself if I only ever see my vague likeness through the eyes of people and places who barely know me?

Now, I look back on the experience as a small liberation from fear. It is upsetting how capable I am of letting my life be dictated by fear. Those people needed something: a ride and a place that was not cold or rainy. I had what they needed and it cost me very little to give it to them. I try not to tell this story too much because it is met with much criticism. Sure, they could have pulled out an ax and beheaded me right there in my Altima, but they didn't. I don't want my goal in life to be to live the longest with the least amount of pain. I want to fully engage the world around me without fear. If that means being beheaded, then so be it.

This post was written as part of a synchroblog. Topic: Independence.  Here are links to my fellow synchroblogger's posts:
nightsbrightdays: hypothetically speaking 
karma's fool: truly local 
the rebel i: independence 
plow and rain: a thing is itself
art, et cetera by megan e b jones: interbeing
wordshepherd: Escape Velocity, Part III 
passionately pensive: Bodily Interruptions
muddleddreamer: Co-dependence