Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reading the Riot Act to Sad and Frantic

As I sit here trying to put this past weekend into words I feel tears well up in the corner of my eyes. They aren't "sad" tears. They aren't quite "happy" tears either. More like "dammit this life I have is pretty freaking amazing even though sometimes it feels awful crappy" tears. And no matter how many times I've tried to write a less sappy blog post it just isn't going to happen.

Music and the people who enjoy it with me have that sort of deep effect on my psyche so it should be no surprise that a weekend of music in one of my favorite cities with some of my favorite people would inspire the type of perspective shift I needed.

I reunited with old friends. I met new ones. I officially retired my old Mizuno running shoes by getting them muddied up at Riot Fest and then plugging away 10 more miles the next morning along the gorgeous Lakefront Trail. I ate funnel cake for dinner and had many, many drinks with friends (and even some strangers). I shared a brunch for the ages with 3 of the coolest people you could assemble in one place. And we all listened to kick ass music until we passed out in our respective beds.

The retirement of my old Mizunos. RF muddy and still did 10 miles.
I was frantic going into this weekend. Frantic and sad. Work has been devouring me from the inside out. The weight of Joe's death has been starting to emerge again in the questions and heartache of my increasingly vocal, soon-to-be 4 year old. The shortening daylight hours were already taking a toll on my emotional well being and, against my better judgment, in many ways I was letting my circumstances define my self worth. The recipe was so bad that I almost canceled the trip which I was all of a sudden going to be making solo.

Thankfully, a wise friend convinced me that it made much more sense to go than it did to cancel and from my first run along Lake Michigan to the final Riot Fest after show I didn't regret the decision for a second.

There was the moment when The Dropkick Murphys broke in to I'm Shipping Up to Boston, a song that I run to during my training runs as I keep my eyes set on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I couldn't have been happier to sing along with the crowd under the gorgeous early evening sun and dream of crossing the finish line in Philly in November with my qualifying time.

Just a demonstration of the random fun of RF. I found Waldo. He goes by Rooster.
He had a flask of whiskey. Don't ask.
There was the conversation with another member of the Congo (if that makes no sense to you then check this out) just before the Afghan Whigs began their set on Saturday. I found myself answering her question about how I was doing with the conclusion that my marathon training was the one thing that was consistent, mostly within my control, and keeping my sanity in check in the midst of everything else - work, dating, parenting, you know, LIFE. It was something of a realization for me. She had some kind words to say about this blog and my journey and it was one of the sweetest moments of the weekend for me. The bonds I have formed with my fellow AW fans and the music we share together are deeper than anything I could explain here. Many of the people I have met through the Congo have become like my second family and our passion for music is not only fun but transforming. When the band began their set at Riot Fest I was so happy to be among friends who understood that flying to Chicago for music wasn't really THAT crazy. In a lot of ways it was NECESSARY.

My view of The Afghan Whigs rocking my face off at Riot Fest.
There was also the moment "Domani" came on at the bar where we were having brunch (with some help from a fellow Congo member of course). And a little later it was "Live With Me". And a little later "Bulletproof" and "Faded". All with their own special place and meaning. All making the music weekend something to remember (or not remember depending on the number of Dark & Stormy drinks and Congo Bombs I ended up consuming before we finally left thanks to same Congo member!) We sang along and laughed together and enjoyed Sunday like I hadn't in a long time. It was perfect.

Over the weekend, I even had music moments while I was running. The most powerful was on my Saturday run, when the random shuffle hit me once again with "On Top of the World" at the exact same spot as it did last time I was in Chicago. What a spectacular feeling...and how wholly impossible to keep my pace easy with the view and the music and the beautiful weather. No matter what comes I am blessed and I was reminded of that again and again this weekend.

From my Sunday run, but still, same amazing view both days.
Aside from the Afghan Whigs performance, my favorite overall set of the weekend was the one by Social Distortion. A few of us had found ourselves some space right behind the sound booth so we didn't have the problem of crowds and no one cared when another fellow Congo member and I started dancing around. I couldn't help but sing along loudly to Ball and Chain, Story of My Life, and Ring of Fire. The dancing and the singing, combined with the fact that while Story of My Life was going strong I was transported back to Guitar Hero days with Joe, left me on a high for the rest of the weekend. I've been listening to those songs since and even paid a visit to the cemetery on my way home to have a listen and collect my thoughts.

Visiting the cemetery.
With fellow Congo member Lisa at our spot for Social D & Patti.
Patti Smith's set at Riot Fest was a turning point for me in how overwhelmed I have been at work. Her performance of "We Have the Power" and her impassioned plea at its conclusion reminded me of why I started working as an organizer in the first place and that even when it seems most hopeless, there are more of us than there are of them.

"We do have the power! Our governments, our corporations, would like us to feel defeated. But, we have it with our numbers - if we use it. Don't forget it!" She might as well have come down off the stage, crossed over the field to the soundbooth behind the Roots stage, and spoke those words while pointing her finger in my face. It felt that direct to my being.

Patti continued on and as she spoke I thought of how beaten down I have felt about the people's fights, but also about THE reason why I keep doing what I do. My faith compels me and my son inspires me. It's about hope in extreme darkness buttressed by proof that people DO have the power if we only decide to band together and use it. This afternoon, two days after "the Patti experience", we received word that the final vote count in the American Airlines Union election was 9,640 Yes to 1,547 No. Workers at AA (before the company merged with US Airways) had been trying to organize with my Union, CWA, for more than 20 years. I worked on the effort just before this one and was heartbroken when we lost by just 150 votes. When people decide to band together eventually they can win.

There were so many great things about my weekend in Chicago - so many things that I needed. Inspiration to fight on. A reminder to get up and get out even when things don't go the way I expect. Hugs and drinks and music with friends. Running in the sunshine with a beautiful change of scenery. Some good old fashioned fun. And I almost didn't even go.

Yesterday, I watched my son giggle and grin and jump around Disney as he saw his favorite characters and heard his favorite songs. This was his own soon-to-be-4-years-old version of Riot Fest and I loved being able to give it to him. And then, when we got in the car on our way to dinner and our cousin Tony popped in Do To The Beast by The Afghan Whigs and Domani's first words were, "Mommy, it's Greg Dulli!" I just knew that all was right in the world. No matter how sad and frantic, I will have Riot Fest and the music and relationships that come with it. No matter how depressing and chaotic, my son and I will have Disney World and the hugs and laughter of these days. These moments are way bigger than the feeble things of my imagination, larger than what I think a "happy" version of my life should look like - and when I picture a life full of love, the moments of the last 5 days are actually what remain.
View while eating my funnel cake dinner and listening to Weezer.

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