"So bang the drum slowly and play the fife lowly..."
2012 was the year that had no silence. Thankfully music played a part of that. I saw a lot of great artists including Nick Lowe, John Prine, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, Madonna, Graham Parker, Wilco, Mark Knopfler, and Bob Dylan (Rochester, St. Paul, and Chicago) but perhaps the show I'll always associate this year with was Suzanne Vega's dinner show at the Dakota Jazz Club. She played a short set but as a learning guitar player I appreciated how her acoustic based songs proved that all you need to be an effective artist really is a guitar and an honest voice.
It was a few days after the show when I read about the death of Jenny Engh. Jenny was one of the three people I've come across in my life that I considered a mentor. Her death from breast cancer shook me up not only because she died far too young but because she always struck me as one of the most alive in the moment, energetic people I knew. Jenny had this incredibly rare ability to make whoever she was with feel like they were the most important person in the room, something not only I felt, but something her eulogizer shared to many nodding heads of agreement at her service.
The eulogizer also mentioned that growing up Jenny used to love to sing for her family and one of her favorite songs to perform was "The Streets of Laredo." I decided I was going to learn to play the song on my guitar. I searched for a good version to learn from and discovered that a couple of years ago Suzanne Vega recorded a version for a project to support finding a cure for breast cancer. The timing of discovering her recording and its purpose seemed a little cosmic and of all the songs I’ve learned, I notice I sing “The Streets of Laredo” with just a little bit more heart than any of the others.
I think of all the people one comes across in life there are just a handful that make you want to be a better person. For me, Jenny was one of those few. My fondest memory of her was when I worked for her at the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development. I was sitting at the receptionist desk when she came tearing around the corner coming back from a legislative hearing. She saw me, stopped in her tracks and said, "I just learned the meaning of life. It's to always keep learning." And with that she scampered off to her office. I thought about following her and asking her to elaborate but didn't. We kept in touch some over the years but I never did get around to asking her what prompted her to share the life lesson with me that day. I never forgot those words and the older I get the more I see she was so right. Life is about trying to learn more because that's just about the only way to continue to grow and strive to be a better person. I admittedly didn't always do my best at that in 2012.
When I developed a ringing in my ear a couple of years ago and went to visit my doctor for some relief the first thing he said to me was, "There are support groups for that." He wasn't kidding. It's been a couple of years of visiting every doctor and every specialist I could trying everything to get some peace. The last treatment western medicine had to offer was steroid shots to my eardrum. The shots didn't alleviate the buzzing any and left me feeling like I'll never know what a moment of silence sounds like for the rest of my life. Worse the hole from the injections never healed so this past June I had surgery to repair the perforated eardrum. Bad news: ringing remains. Good news: didn’t lose my sense of taste or control of my facial muscles- the two risks of the surgery.
A hearing aid has helped some but it makes the sounds of the world sound like they are coming through a cheap transistor radio. It reminds me growing up trying to listen to my AM only radio stations muffled through a pillow trying to hide my staying up far too late for the sake of music, from Mom. Some simple sounds (turn signals and footsteps) are amplified to a silly extreme. Modified voices and every day sounds are bad enough but to have to try to enjoy music this way knocks the wind out of me. Move over Beethoven (although I certainly have a deeper understanding of what it means to ring in a new year).
One thing about the past year is I have become more grateful than ever for what great teachers I am living with. Theo is endlessly entertaining and keeps reminding me what life might be like living with a puppy. His constant adventure seeking, playfulness, and need for attention keeps the house full of energy. If he can't have my attention he tries to interest one of his brothers who don't always take kindly to his relentless restlessness and his spaciness. But he is such a sweet boy and every day seems like it’s all brand new to him.
Diego-san agrees that this year is better left behind. The year started with his butt getting infected from being bitten by one of his brothers (Thompson and I strongly suspect who it might have been). Later he had issues with his anal glands not expressing properly (oh the indignity). This meant he got signed up for the veterinarian’s “with every five anal gland expression visits the sixth visit is free” program. Recovery from the butt biting incident meant a few days isolation and all of my attention both which Diego-san seemed to really appreciate and he became even more snuggly than he had been and he always has been my snuggliest boy.
Thompson is great at helping me keep things in perspective. I may have some ear and balance problems but he's a three-legged cat for pete's sake. The thing with losing a leg and being a cat is that it is really hard to be what you were supposed to be when you can't move around nimbly and quickly. Life is hard enough but when you've lost the ability to be what you were born to be, that's quite the burden. Sometimes when he tries to keep up with his brothers he has to use the side of his face as a fourth leg and that doesn't work so well. Playing with a catnip toy is a herky jerky struggle as he can't really bat it around without having to hop up and down all the while trying not to fall over. Still, despite being understandably tentative, Thompson is such a soulful boy. When he comes to sit on my lap I know it's because he really has found comfort and safety in his home and loves the occasional undivided attention from me. I can come home from a stressful day at work and all it takes is to see Thompson's trusting face and all the stress melts away. His purring and snoring are two of the sweetest sounds I'll ever hear.