because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Somebody That I Used To Know

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Warning: This post contain content that may trigger survivors of abuse. If this is an issue for you, you might want to skip today’s post.

They have been playing this song on the radio a lot.

And it’s bringing things up for me.

See, there is this man who is trapped in the fabric of my limbs’ history.

For better or worse, we got tangled up many summers ago, and even though I set him free, he returns in memories.

When I think back to the best night of a most perfect summer, I remember fluffy white towels and hot showers and blueberries bought fresh from a crooked fruit stand.

Stevie Nicks sang for us, husky and low.

He was the leader and I wanted to follow.

And it was good.

When we said goodbye that August, I leaned against a brown Chevette. The leaves were still green when he put his hands on either side of my head and squeezed. He took a red lollypop out of his mouth and when we kissed, our teeth scraped together.

I should have known then. Because lollypops are too sweet. They are filled with artificial flavors and colors and objects in the mirror appear closer than they are.

One year later, he used his body like a weapon and blew me apart.

So I think of him each August.

I can’t help it.

These days, we have no real connection.

But I wonder if his wife knows about what he did. His children?

I wonder what they might think about the man in the expensive suit, if they knew he once gutted a girl like a fish.

How well do we know our partners? And would we really want to know their darkest secrets?

What music brings you back to dark places? 

Tweet this twit @rasjacobson

The Piano Lesson

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She was comfortable at the piano

playing for yellow palomino manes

for rains and the wet-kiss of storm,

for doughy clouds which gather, become houses

and horses, and are dispersed again.

She kept her own time

until

he stood behind her

like somebody’s older brother, with one hand

pressing her shoulder

trying to get her in sync

with the tick-tick-ticking pendulum

so she sits up

straight, fingers

stumbled across keys, caught

in cracks.  She falls in after them.

He never smiles, only rakes

pointed fingers through greasy hair

and like a snake sliding

on a purple belly, extends

a flickering black tongue.

She wonders why

she must change

her beat

to his.

Can you guess what my instructions to this assignment were?

Tweet this twit @rasjacobson

Helplessly Hoping David Crosby Notices Me

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Back in May, Kevin Haggerty asked an intriguing question in a blog post: “If you could talk to the you of 5-10 years ago, what would you say to yourself?” (Both Leanne Shirtliffe and Jessica Buttram wrote a gorgeous letters to their 20-year selves. Kevin later went further back and wrote a letter to his 2-year old self.)

I, of course, had to go in a different direction.

Instead of talking to myself, I decided to write a letter to David Crosby in December of 1967.

In real life, I would have been 1 month old. But for the purposes of this exercise, I am going to ask you to suspend your disbelief and please pretend I am 21 years old. You know, so this doesn’t get any creepier than it already is.

• • •

Loved him then…

Hi David. I know that you have this thing for Joni Mitchell and everything, but the thing is that I have been crushing on you for a really long time. When you sing “Guinnevere,” I tremble.

Wait, you might not have written that song yet.

Let me check.

No, you didn’t write it until 1969.

But that’s good.

Because now I’m sure that when you sing about how Guinnevere has “green eyes, like yours / lady, like yours,” I am certain you have always been talking about me.

And when you wrote “Triad,” I know you didn’t really want to have a ménage a trois. You were just restless. You wanted out of the Byrds. You were just pushing the envelope. It was the era. Everyone was all about free love and stuff. I like to push the boundaries, too. Everyone once in a while I like to be naughty. Sometimes I sunbathe topless in my backyard or dance on tabletops in bars.

But that Joni? She’s just going to hurt you, David. She’s going to fool around with Graham Nash and Jackson Browne and a lot of other people, too. Because she’s a hot chick with a cool vibe and a guitar. And she is ambitious, David. She’s like a wild horse: beautiful — but you are not going to get that one to settle down.

I know that there are going to be some tough times for you. Unwelcome events like car wrecks which will leave you wanting to escape. I know you will want to pull away from everyone during these times. That you will seek comfort in needles. And being “Wasted on the Way” might work for a time, but I would follow you into the “Cathedral” and hold you while the demons swirl around us.

I know you love to sail. You have seen “The Southern Cross,” floated all along “The Lee Shore,” and have seen time stop on the “Delta.” I’m a Scorpio, a water sign: the most passionate sign in the horoscope. I love to write the way I imagine you love to compose music. I understand the magic of putting words together, how even cigarette smoke can smell beautiful sometimes – if you lay it down just so.

Oh, David, if you pick me, I would dance for you — the way I have since 1982.

So pick me, David.

Let me be your “Lady of the Island.”

Your “Dark Star.”

I’ll be “Helplessly Hoping” forever.

Love him now.

The last time I saw you perform, you recognized me. You waved, whispered to Graham, and then you dedicated “Guinnevere” to me.

“To the girl in white,” you said.

So I’m telling you, David, that I’ll be at CMAC on June 12th, wearing white – along with my magic beads — like I always do.

And when I smile, you’ll know it’s for you.

Only for you.

If you were going to write a letter to someone famous upon whom you’ve always crushed, to whom would you write? And what would you say?

Tweet this twit @rasjacobson

From Music To Life: A #LessonLearned by Christian Emmett

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Hi Christian!

I love Christian Emmett’s blog Adventures and Insights because he is Australian and many of the things he shows me, I haven’t seen before. Plus when I read his posts, I hear them in an accent that sounds incredibly sexy. When I’m wearing six layers of clothing here in Rochester, I like knowing that it is summer Down-Under.

Christian writes with heartbreaking sincerity. Whether he is writing about Christmas remembrances or favorite bands or old lovers, I admire this about him. Please read one of his most wonderful pieces “Something Needs To Be Undone.” And follow him on Twitter at @ChristianEmmett.

• • •

Click here to see main schedule!

A Lesson From Music To Life

When I started high school, coincidence had Mrs. Smith change teaching jobs. She had been my music teacher during primary school and when I showed up for my first music class in 1989 I was greeted by the very same woman who taught me to sing “Day-O” and had our concert band watch “An American Tail” so that we could better play the song “Somewhere Out There”. Naturally I was a little surprised to see her but at the same time there was a measure of comfort in having a familiar face in a new environment.

In addition to being our music teacher, Mrs. Smith also assisted with the school bands. She had a real love for music, something that she tried to pass on to all her students. Her passion for music was balanced with a no-nonsense attitude, which made her a brilliant teacher – at least in my mind.

In high school, I was introduced to the tenor saxophone and became part of the concert band. The majority of my time was spent playing support to our talented altos, and I didn’t mind it at all. It meant that I could afford to be a little lax with my practice because all I really had to do was perform simple, fluid combinations of notes that were never designed to be heard above the other instruments.

The band played concerts and eisteddfods, competitions were won and lost and all the while I continued to cruise through the whole experience. Much like life, however, the concert band can be an unpredictable creature and there came a time when I faced a significant challenge. One of the songs that had been chosen for the band was “Wipeout” by the Surfaris and I was to play the most important part.

I took the music home and proceeded to completely freak out. I practiced as best I could but knew I needed more before I could do justice to the tune and the band.

Is this the instrument upon which Christian jammed?

When we started practice the next week, things began well enough. We played through our opening pieces successfully and I felt somewhat ready for a run-through of our signature tune. Of course, when life wants to test you it never does half a job. I may have been ok if I had been able to remain seated like everyone else. Instead, our conductor told me to stand up so that I could best perform my solo through better posture.

Nerves overwhelmed me. I stood up as the band began to play. I took the mouthpiece between my now parched lips and began to blow. Stricken with panic, my fingers spasmed over keys as the sound of a dying goose emanated from the bell of the instrument. Things went from bad to worse as I struggled through my solo and as the conductor called the band to a halt, I gave in to embarrassment as decided to quit the band.

It was at this moment that Mrs. Smith stepped in. We took a short recess and she guided me outside. She asked me about my practicing and I sputtered out that I had practiced but I couldn’t do it. I told her that I was no good and that I wanted to quit the band. They would be able to find someone to replace me easily enough.

For the look I got from her, she may as well have slapped me across the face. Mrs. Smith shook her head and spoke simply, her calm voice reeling in my sense of failure and replacing it with some common sense and compassion. I had always pressured myself to be the best and on occasions where I was put on the spot I always faltered. Mrs. Smith told me that all I needed to do was keep practicing. To relax, try again and not to worry about what everyone else was doing or thinking.

I did just that. I practiced that piece until I could almost do it blindfolded. We rocked the Eisteddfod that year.

I never took the time to thank Mrs. Smith for her support in that crucial moment, but I walked away from the experience armed with the knowledge that even though I will occasionally fail – it’s okay.

Saturday Night at the Club

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Working on my fiction! This week’s prompt spoke to me so I decided to give it a whirl. We were asked to let a character be inspired by music. I had to show in 400 words or less how my character responds to a piece of music.

• • •

The music rolls upward in smoky circles toward lights covered in red-cellophane.  On the floor below, a man and a woman sit side by side at a tiny round table. Dressed in black, they look sharp together.  The two have had several bottles of wine, and the woman has draped her bare legs over his thighs. He pushes against her and something rises inside me, a longing perhaps to be touched like that. And always, the music, it pumps.

While the drummer fans his cymbals, I watch the woman teasing her man, and I feel like I am watching some kind of primitive human mating ritual. From out of nowhere, she is shouting. Her voice rises over the music, and her fingers open and close as she clutches the air around her.

Suddenly, he pushes her legs off his lap; he is on his feet, taking long strides towards the back of the club. I look to see her reaction but I can’t see her face because her hair blocks her eyes. I see now that she is drunk, that she is crying, choking on her sadness. Help her, I look around wildly. Someone help her; she is too beautiful to cry.

The waitress comes and whispers something in the woman’s ear. For a moment I can’t tell whose ear is whose; they are a collage of interchangeable body parts, two women, two strangers come together in the darkness. The woman owes for the bottles of wine, and she takes out her wallet to pay. A few papers fall on the floor, but she doesn’t notice or — if she does — she doesn’t care.

The waitress leaves, and the woman dabs at her eyes with a cocktail napkin. She checks her watch, but never turns around: never turns to see where he might be. Or where he might not be. After what seems like an eternity of jazz, he returns to his chair as if he has only been gone a moment, not some small eternity. Staring into the dark hole of the horn player’s trumpet, he taps his foot to the beat.

The music quiets. The man says something I can’t decipher, words that cause the woman to rise. Tall and curved, she reaches for her purse. When she looks for him, he is three-paces ahead of her. Teetering on too high heels, cigarette smoke swirls around her and, for a moment, she recognizes the toxic funk she is in, a low vibration or a blue note from the bass player’s strings.

How do you feel about people who are drunk in public?

My Son's First Concert

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The Very Best of Steely Dan: Reelin' In the Years
Image via Wikipedia

When my husband suggested we take our 12-year old son to see Steely Dan, live, in concert, I tried to gently suggest it might be a bad idea.

“He’ll love it,” Hubby insisted, in that clueless way that husbands sometimes insist on things.

What Hubby really meant was: “I want to see Steely Dan in concert.”

We were not trying to punish our son, but to a child who has a strong preference for techno, I’m pretty sure three hours with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker felt like something akin to water-boarding.

Here is the way the night played out in numbers:

6. PM: the time we left our house so we would get “good” parking.

10. Dollars spent so we could park as close to the exit as humanly possible.

22. Minutes spent in the bathroom for Break #1. This is where Monkey first learned that women’s lines really are 3 times slower than men’s.

30. The difference in the number of years between Monkey’s age and the age of the average concert goer.

5. Dollars spent for a sleeve of kettle corn in an attempt to distract Monkey from noticing the balding men and folks in wheelchairs toting oxygen tanks.

8. PM: The time Steely Dan was supposed to start playing. Except they didn’t. The opening band was a whacked-out jazz ensemble featuring a bass guitar, a drummer and an organist.

2. Number of songs Monkey sat through before he decided he needed to go to the bathroom.

Again.

87. Degrees Fahrenheit outside as people filed in under the shell to take their seats.

9. PM. The time Steely Dan actually started their show. Monkey and I were in the bathroom, so we missed the beginning of the opening number. We returned to our seats where Hubby  pointed to the four vacant seats in front of us. “Awesome!” he shouted, sticking his thumbs up.

Our "awesome view" of the man in front of us.

Suddenly, the incarnation of Andre the Giant arrived and sat right in front of us. He was 8 feet tall, and his head was bowling bowl big. His cranium completely eclipsed our view.

Oh, and Andre brought his wife Chatty McChatter and her friend Ima B. Talkintoo.

Monkey tolerated 3 more songs before he asked to go to the bathroom.

Again.

Once outside, my boy confessed he didn’t like the music. The lights were too bright. He couldn’t see anything. He was getting a headache from the people in front of us who wouldn’t stop talking. I suggested we go to the darkest, blackest, most deserted corner of the lawn and lie down on the grass. I rubbed my son’s hair, which had grown long. I looked at the clouds which appeared gray in the night sky.

“Sixty-three!” said Monkey.

“What?” I asked.

“I counted 63 people playing with their phones.” And he was right. Everywhere I looked, people’s phones flickered like little rectangular fireflies as folks plugged into their favorite apps. The sight actually made me a little sad. I mean, I remember going to concerts and really watching. Really listening.

Monkey sniffed the air a few times which smelled like freshly cut grass – if your lawn was a giant field of green, sticky-bud marijuana.

“What is that stink?” my boy asked.

So while Hubby enjoyed the music, I got to school our child about marijuana. And concerts. And how they sometimes go together. Monkey looked for the source of the smell and found we were surrounded. Monkey announced he did not like the smell. I told him he did not have to. That smoking pot was not a requirement for going to concerts.

As the show wound down, Steely Dan played “Dirty Work,” a personal favorite of mine.

When the song ended, Monkey didn’t clap.

“It would be fake clapping.”

On the way home, Hubby asked if there was one thing about the concert that Monkey had liked.

“Having it end,” our son said unapologetically and fell asleep in the backseat.

Monkey will probably not remember his first concert. He will more likely remember the 16 mosquito bites he acquired from lying on the lawn without a blanket.

It’s okay; he has a whole lifetime to see concerts by musicians he really likes; to laugh in the darkness with friends; to cuddle on a blanket with someone he cares about and smooch while a fabulous song plays in the background.

On an up-note, I’m thinking that the number of times Hubby will question my judgment about things like this in the future: 0.

What was your first concert? Do you remember who you saw? What else do you remember about the experience? Or what was the worst show you ever attended? How underwhelmed were you? Explain.

Lessons From The Sludge

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Note: This piece was inspired by yesterday’s outrageous downpour and my husband’s subsequent muddy bike ride. Upon his return, he found me eating potato chips that I had dropped on the floor. It was our anniversary this weekend. Sixteen years. I guess this is a tribute. Kind of.

When I lived in New Orleans, there was one particularly soggy Jazz Fest where just as Robert Cray finished belting out the last stanza to “Forecast,” — I can feel the thunder
/ I can see the lightning
 / I can feel the pain
 / Oh, it’s gonna rain,” — the already ominous looking grey skies opened up, and torrents of water-soaked this curly-girly’s hair in less than 30 seconds.

My soon-to-be fiancé and I huddled under an enormous piece of plastic that some smart person had thought to bring, and when the downpour turned into a light sprinkle, we slogged over to the food vendors.

Hubby immediately headed for the shortest line and opted for something cheap — a piece of pizza. I, on the other hand, went full throttle N’awlins and went to stand in a line advertising étouffée and crocodile and turtle soup and crawfish pies.

The line was ridiculously long; it wrapped and weaved around which, to me, indicated I’d found the Disneyland of food vendors. For 30 minutes, I sloshed around in a combination of mud and muck and hay and urine, my feet and ankles covered in a chocolaty-goo.

Eventually, I made it to the front of the line where I asked as politely as a ravenous, sleep-deprived, ridiculously sweaty, mud-covered dancing fool could muster: “One soft-shell crab Po’ Boy, please.”

Finally, a woman with honey colored skin and a long, kinky ponytail placed the sandwich of my dreams in my hands. My Po ‘Boy was thick and ungainly. Holding it, made it near impossible to retrieve my wet wad of dollar bills out of my pocket to pay. The woman behind the counter offered, “Sugar, let me hold dat for you.”

I reached in my pocket for $15.00.

Expensive? Absolutely. But I was beyond ravenous, and I just felt certain my “sammy” would be worth the wait.

Ms. Honeysweet Food Vendor traded cash-for-sandwich and, napkins in hand, I stepped away from the smell of fried food and the stink of people whose deodorant had washed off hours earlier. Or had never been applied at all.

I scanned the crowd for my fiancé, knowing he wouldn’t be far and, spotting him, I triumphantly raised my sandwich in the air.

Photo by rpongsaj @ flickr.com

And then it happened.

The innards of my sandwich — all that crabmeat, the special sauce and lettuce and tomato and onion — slipped, slow-motion style from the wax paper into which it had been carefully swaddled and splashed into the filthy sludge pile beneath my feet.

“Noooooo!” I howled, scrambling to my knees to retrieve what I could salvage.

Future Hubby was mortified.

“You. Are. So. Not. Eating. That.”

Future Hubby probably meant this as a gentle suggestion, but I have always heard sentences like that as a kind of dare.

And I always take the dare.

I picked up my broken sandwich parts and picked out the largest, most offensive pieces of hay and grit.

Did I mention the dirt? And the sludge?

I looked at Future Hubby, just so he understood the girl he had chosen and what he was getting.

And I took a bite.

My sandwich was not delicious. It definitely had bits-o-mulch in it, but I made a point of chewing and swallowing.

Future Hubby made gagging noises. He told me I would, undoubtedly, become sick. He told me all about germ theory and all the kinds of parasites that live in urine and dirt. He told me I was going to get tapeworm. And toxoplasmosis. Don’t ask. (I know I didn’t.)

I was unimpressed. If it was going to be my time, I figured it was as good as any to go. I would have lived fully. I would have been warmed by the sun and then survived an amazing lightning storm. I would have heard Herbie Hancock and Pearl Jam and Wynton Marsalis and Superfly and Chilliwack Dixieland.

As it turns out, that Po’ Boy was not worth a 30-minute wait. Neither was it worth that $15 price-tag. Even if my ridiculously expensive sandwich hadn’t fallen in the flarg, it is unlikely that I would have finished it. It just wasn’t very good.

Later, the sun came out again in full force. Exhausted, Future Hubby and I went to the Gospel Tent, where a person can usually find a chair away from the heat. I felt transported back in time, to some kind of revival meeting straight out of Huckleberry Finn. With so many people raising their hands in the air and saying “amen,” I knew I would not get sick. That afternoon, I put my faith in Rance Allen and Albert S. Hadley and Soul Children — in their voices, and in my immune system.

And guess what? I’m still here.

What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever tried to eat?

Lessons From The Dance Floor

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Outside of Taylor's Nightclub & Bistro

Last Thursday afternoon, my husband took Monkey to a fencing tournament in Arlington, Virginia. While they were at The Capitol Clash, I spent hours working on my book. I didn’t eat or watch television; I simply wrote. And it was fabulous.

But by Friday late afternoon, I got antsy and started thinking it would be kind of a good idea to get out of bed and move my body a little bit, maybe go dancing. For the record, the last time I went clubbing was when I lived in New Orleans back in the 1990’s, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that there is, in fact, a joint less than five miles from my home where I could actually get down and get funky.

So I started asking (and by asking, I mean begging) friends to go dancing with me that night. After hours of foolishness spent on Facebook (and the phone), I realized that there was simply no one willing or able to go with me. My first rejection came when my bestie sighed and said that, while she loved me, she was going to have to let me down. This was followed by a handful of other friends who felt compelled to tell me everything they were doing with their children that night that prevented them from going dancing with me. As the hours passed, my beloved neighbor emailed to let me know she was already in her jammies while another buddy reminded me of her back injury. Finally, at 9pm my pal Lisa said if she hadn’t blown out her knee she would have totally gone with me.

“Really? I asked.

“No, not really,” she giggled, “That place is gross.”

Even my gay friends declined.

Dejected, I crawled back into bed and wrote prolifically until just after midnight, at which point I flipped off my light. As I lay there in bed, I thought to myself: Why didn’t I just go alone? What was there to be afraid of? I didn’t need an entourage. I wasn’t going out to get laid. I just wanted to shake my groove thing a little. Snuggling into my comforter, I decided that I would go the next night.

At 9:30pm Saturday night, I gussied myself up (and by “gussying myself up,” I mean I put on a pair of clean jeans and a black short-sleeve t-shirt) and headed over to Taylor’s Nightclub and Bistro – which, by the way, is a total misnomer. Taylor’s is no “bistro.” When I think “bistro,” I conjure up a small, informal restaurant that serves wine – usually found in France. Let’s be clear: Taylor’s is a dive. No one is serving bread or wine or olives at Taylor’s. Which, by the way, was fine. All I wanted to do was shake my groove thing.

A blustery Saturday night with about four inches of fresh, slippery snow on the roads, I was surprised to see that the place was, in fact, packed. One dance floor featured an eclectic (read: skanky) mix of women wearing really short dresses and really tall heels doing a lot of bumping and grinding. Sure, there were men on the prowl, but they were harmless enough. There was even a cluster of older moms, laughing and enjoying a night out together.

I made my way to dance floor number two where a disco ball turned and strobe lights flashed. It was much less crowded. The DJ played hits from the 70s and 80s on a warped turn-table. Much more my speed.

I warmed up to “White Lines” and “Cold Hearted Snake” when (gasp) Janet Jackson’s “Pleasure Principle” came on. Sidebar: You have to understand that in 1989, I memorized every single move in that video and I still remember most of the sequences, so I started going full force. It all came back to me. My God, I thought, I am even wearing the black shirt and jeans. (Note: there were no chairs or microphones to topple or throw, so I had to improvise during those parts, and while it was tempting, I did not tie my shirt into a front knot.)

Anyway, near the end of the song, Janet starts throwing her head around and striking these tight popping poses, so I dug deep into my old repertoire and tried to recreate my old moves.

Keep in mind that I had not had one single drink.

Not even a gingle ale.

But suddenly the room started to tip, and I started to topple. You know when you have put too many towels in your washing machine and it starts making that kachung-kachung-kachung sound and you know things are unbalanced, and then you have to go in the laundry room and move things around so that things run smoothly again? Well, it was like that.

Except I was alone in a bar, so when I grabbed the wall for support, I am sure I looked mad drunk.

And the sensation  wouldn’t go away.

The DJ actually announced something like: “If you’ve been drinking, for everyone’s safety, please stay off the dance floor.”

I am pretty sure he was talking to me.

And then, I felt a vibration in my back pocket. Retrieving my phone, I saw that it was my husband, texting to say the airplane had landed. I had to get them at the airport, but I was in no condition to drive. I grabbed my coat, prayed the cold night air would make me feel better, and staggered out into the snow (and by staggered, I mean I zigzagged across the parking lot). If a police office saw me, he would definitely have demanded I take a Breathalyzer. It was embarrassing.

Once in my car, I waited for the weird swirling feeling to stop completely (which it did, thank goodness), and, as I drove to the airport to pick up my family, this twit had a sad epiphany: At forty-sumthin-sunthin years old, I can no longer channel my inner Janet Jackson.

From here on out, as Billy Idol once sang, I’ll be “Dancin’ With Myself.”

Probably in my own living room.

Anybody else miss being in their 20s, even once in a while?

(If you’ve never seen “The Pleasure Principle,” please enjoy Janet’s moves from 1989. Just imagine my face on her body.) 😉

A Day Of Community Spirit

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This year, our temple invited members from synagogues from all over the area to join in a huge community celebration. While rabbis and daddies manned the grills outside to make sure that the laws of kashrut were being observed,  students and parents enjoyed instrumental and vocal performances, saw their children dance to Israeli music, and act in little plays. Afterward, everyone spilled out to a buffet lunch on our first really gorgeous blue-sky, green-grass day.

Girls enjoying the day

Before the kids in this video went inside to perform, I asked permission to videotape them. They are clearly a tight bunch; performing together does that to people. When I asked one of the kids how he felt about the year coming to an end he said, “It’s been a great year. Once we understood and accepted everyone’s different personalities, we could just focus on working together to make something cool.”

So on that day, I served burgers, offering seeded and unseeded rolls (there were also hot dogs and vegetarian alternatives), and my son got a little recognition for having stellar attendance. It felt good to come together as a community. The youngest children played simple games (the kind that involve ping-pong balls and spoons and a lot of running) while older kids played tag, teenagers lounged in the courtyard, and adults stood and chatted nearby. A gentle breeze blew. Not a bad way to end May.

When is the last time you did something that touched your spirit?