Friday, June 26, 2009
Emerson, the budding t-ball player, shook me out of my daze, “Mama, what’s wrong?”
I jumped back into parenthood, damage control voice and said something like, “One of my favorite, my favorite singer died.”
“Michael Jackson” The name was alien to my son and I shooed everyone out the door and into the car.
In the hours that have passed and due to the messages that have flooded in from friends near and far, I’ve been forced down memory paths I’ve not visited in years, let alone ever. I’m sure my experiences with Michael Jackson are no different than any others, but his passing has nudged me quite painfully into connections I not yet made about myself.
I grew up with parents who worshipped the Beatles and Motown. I was twelve years old in 1982 when Thriller broke and my parents bought me the vinyl record and cassette. My mom taught me about the connection between Diana Ross and Berry Gordy and the Jackson 5. Soon I was collecting all of the Jackson 5 records, my bedroom was covered with posters, I learned to Moonwalk, I studied every video.
I was a budding dancer at the time and had been dutifully attending my once a week classes at the local dance school, one of two in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, since I was 4. The school was a typical smorgasbord, send-your-child-to-dance-class-because-you’re-supposed-to outfit that taught tap, ballet, and gymnastics…all in one class. I was getting to the age where Jr. High, friends, and other activities were threatening to compete with my weekly dedication and I remember needing to decide whether I wanted to continue. Then Michael Jackson happened to me and there was no going back.
MTV became my new obsession and with our newly purchased $500 VCR that was practically larger than our TV, I spent hours recording, rewinding, pausing, freeze framing every move that exotic, funky guy made. Yesterday, as I was standing on that t-ball field, holding my 1 year old daughter while shagging flies, I remembered that I learned the dance from Beat It, step for step exactly, and willingly, used to show anyone who would watch. My parents used to have me do it on cue, I think there is a picture of me doing it up at a cabin, outside, during summer vacation, and I think I taught it to my dance class. The day before yesterday, I would have been embarrassed to admit that - but today, not so much. Why?
I spent most of last night connecting the dots and this is what I’ve come up with…I was good at it. It was the first time that I really realized that I loved dancing and that I was good at it. I loved dancing like Michael. Man, it felt so good and I became a really good mimic. I was able to pick stuff up off of videos really fast and reverse it so I was doing the steps on the right foot. I loved showing other people, seeing them respond and teaching them too. It was the first time that I really wanted to work at something and put the work into getting better.
There was so much to learn. The dancers in the background of these videos – who were they? How did they get there? This opened up the world to me. I learned the man dressed all in white in the Beat It video’s name was Michael Peters. He choreographed Beat it as well as Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield and the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. He studied at Alvin Ailey in New York City and died in 1994 of AIDS. Then the Thriller extravaganza arrived in my household. Me, my mom, dad, and brother sat perched on the edge of our seats. I think I was on the floor, cross-legged, as close to the TV as I could get. After it was over my mom said, “I can just see the wheels in your head spinning.” During the Motown 25th Anniversary special, when Michael did that wonderful live version of Billie Jean, my grandfather was over. He commented that his pants were too short and he looked like a girl. It didn’t matter. My parents loved it too.
Soon, the little dance school I was going to seemed too little. My parents and I decided that dance was going to be IT for me and I started to study seriously. Soon, dancing took up most nights and weekends. In high school, I started travelling to Minneapolis to attend classes twice a week. From there, I attended the University of Minnesota and obtained a B.F.A in dance. That led me to choreographer Danny Buraczeski, with whom I spent 11 years touring and teaching throughout the country.
So when the news hit me yesterday and I felt all at once conflicted about my sadness, I realized that I’d turned my back on Michael Jackson long ago. In my cluttered basement, I know there is a box, duct-taped together, with my Michael Jackson memorabilia. Posters, photos, magazines, a glove = the budding collector in me couldn’t part with some of this stuff. A few years ago, my husband asked me what I thought I was going to do with it. “I don’t know,” I said, “Sell it on ebay?” Even as I say it now, it does seem so weird. Michael got so strange and those of us who were his ardent supporters winced as the international media devoured him year after year. It was hard to keep the faith and I’d moved on to other obsessions – punk rock, grunge, love, work. Oddly enough, we lost two other icons during that time who suffered the same sort of life sucking exposure that Michael lamented – Kurt Cobain and Princess Diana. Both deaths landed on me pretty hard, and I can’t help think that talent and vulnerability do not make good bed fellows.
I went to dig out some of Michael’s music this morning and I realized that everything was still on cassette tape. I’d never replaced some my favorite albums of my childhood in the digital age. Luckily I married a dancer who also has a passion for pop music and between us we came up with Michael’s hysterically named HIStory disc. We’d been watching television coverage all morning and being a house without cable, we were tuned to the major networks who were doing a piss poor job talking about the music and focusing on the bizarre. “I want to hear from musicians and music critics!” said my husband.
So we shut off the TV, put on the record and moved the furniture. I could tell my four year old was waiting for this moment. He doesn’t see much TV to begin with, but the tears, images, and pontificating, we were watching, I could tell, was confusing. He wanted to hear his parents favorite singer who’d been oddly left out of his upbringing. The Way You Make Me Feel blasted out of the speakers, followed by Rock With You and it was dance party USA in our living room. My one year old giggled and Emerson was beaming from ear to ear. The music is celebratory and happy, and through tears I realized why this GenXer is so heartbroken. My childhood is over and this was the music of my childhood. As I go kicking and screaming into the dark night of marriage, parenthood, and old age, I miss how music like this used to inspire me. I know I owe my whole life, at least my professional life, to the music of Michael Jackson and how it made me feel. And as I introduce it to my kids and I see them react, I only hope that Michael died knowing that, aside from the hell hole that became his life, he brought such joy to people like me. I am a profoundly grateful and unashamed fan.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I know I've neglected my blog for a while. so much has been going on here, but I needed to sit down and capture this thought.
Spring, is for getting up early. Harriet has been sleeping later and better and I've somewhat caught up on my sleep in the past couple of weeks. Naturally this time of year makes me want to get up, get healthy, get to yoga or the gym, but money and the economy keep me here wondering what I can do for a half an hour before the house wakes up (if I don't wake someone up in the meantime).
This morning has been a dreamy mornign and I had to sit down and write "Spring is for getting up." It's dark and damp. The smell of a pot of coffee fills the house. Birds start their morning routine way before the first light of day begins. The news of the day gets poured into my brain. I finish just as the slightest hint of light appears in the east. Now the sky is painted with pinks and blues. One cup of coffee in my belly and a baby starts to babble away.
Spring is for getting up early.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Amy’s office was packed with Minnesotans who’d obviously gotten the memo about free food. They were taking up every inch, corner, and desk chair of available space. Most had decided to spend the day with their fair senator and looked like they’d been there for hours. All of the promised Potica (a Slovenian pastry they eat on the Iron Range) and Spam puffs were long gone. I knew quite a few people who toiled in the trenches for Amy over the years and it was great to see them and exchange battle scars. When they handed over the envelope with our golden tickets inside, a serious tone was taken. “The gates open at 8:00AM. You can start lining up at 4:00am. There are directions as to what train station to get off, but I can’t promise anything.” A lurker standing behind me said she was going to get there at 3:30. Whoa – these people were serious. Do we really have to arrive so early to get in line to ‘stand’? We were skeptical.
Amy was taking photos with constituents outside of her office. There was a long line and an aide handling the line and taking names. Amy seemed harried, like this had been a long day. Clearly people had been parked there since it began and they didn't expect this sort of turn out. Every hour or so she would invite people to come into the conference office where she gave a little stump speech. I listened from outside during one, and she was as good as ever. On point, charming, funny, and ticking off accomplishments. She clearly loved being a senator. Her husband John recognized us immediately and gave a warm greeting. We chatted about the party they had at their house the night before. I apologized for not being able to attend and he said to faggedabadit. It was crowded and went late and it felt like a college party. Amy caught sight of us and implored me (a few times) to go back and see her office. She recently had it redecorated and was very proud to show it off. I left the rest of our crew out in the hallway and made my way toward the back of the office to see Amy's personal office. It was beautiful and very feminine, done up in soft yellow's and blue's. I met Amy's new chief of staff Marjorie (her 3rd in 2 years?) and she said she recognized my name. After all this time? I'm still shocked to hear that the 4 months I spent with Amy still land on anyone's memory let alone get passed on by word of mouth. True, it was an eventful 4 months - 2004 Presidential election, John Kerry, hip surgery, 35 conventions - but I'm still surprised that anyone even remembers me. And being there also gave that little tug of regret. The voice inside my head whispers, "This could be me. I could work here. Look at how lucky these people are to be working in this city, at this time!" We make our choices, and I don't regret mine, but one can't help but dream.
I made my way back to the others. Joe's boss, the Mayor of St. Paul Chris Coleman and entourage had arrived and the mood was jovial and heightened. Amy recognized the Mayor with all the fanfare he deserved and a few of us plotted our next move. Food and drinks. At this point, my friend Leah Drury arrived with her mom. She and I belong to a fringe group of women who call ourselves Progressive Women for Democracy. What fun to see all of these people out of Minnesota, happy, celebratory, making the pilgrimage to our nation's Capitol for a party and a prayer. A prayer of thanks.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Their train stop was one stop from Reagan International Airport. Anyone questions the convenience, comfort, or civility of commuting by train is just crazy. There is something so downright gentile about riding in a train that bus riding just doesn't get you. There's an informal quality about bus riding. Since you're all riding while facing the same way, why not act up, yell things out, talk loudly, and dare people to turn around andstop you. On a train or subway or, in the dreams of many St. Paulites, light rail, people face different directions, holding each other's comfort in their hands, points of focus are scattered instead of with pin point focus on the back of an anonymous bus driver's head.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
As most know, tickets to the inauguration were free, but you had to contact your Congressperson. It's been well documented that demand was far greater than supply. I took a chance and called my former employer, Senator Amy Klobuchar's office. (Here's my disclaimer for those who don't know. I worked for Senator Amy Klobuchar as her campaign manager when she was Hennepin County Attorney. She wasn't yet running for Senator, but was running for everything at once.) I was told to send an email stating my case, how many were in my party and who, and why we wanted to go. I think I remember hearing that there were 5000 requests for tickets and she only had 365. Our other metro area congresspersons, Betty McCollom and Keith Ellison both got 12 times more requests than they had tickets for.
When I received the confirmation email at work that fateful day, I think my co-workers on the 3rd floor could hear me screaming from the First Floor. I was elated, shocked, and it solidified that, “Man, I might actually get to go to this.” Sure, plane tickets were bought, but I always felt like something might stand in our way of actually getting there. I also assumed that having some place to stand, a section, a patch of grass, would make it seem official. Like I was really there, counted maybe, instead of just being out on the mall where it would be every man for himself. That's what I thought. And boy, in hindsight, was I wrong. Soon to be dubbed The Golden Tickets by the media, we knew we had secured something special…or did we?
I soon received an invitation to Senator Klobuchar’s office for “A Reception for Minnesotans attending the Inauguration”. It was from 10:00AM to 4:00PM on Monday, the day before the inauguration, at the Hart Senate office building Room 302. The email instructed that those of us, who received tickets through Amy’s office, should plan to pick them up during the reception.
Joe, Scott, Jen and I spent the morning lazing around. I actually slept until 10:00AM! Those of you who are parents understand the outrageousness of this statement. Joe got up at 8:00 for 2 hours of uninterrupted reading time. Scott was still struggling with some jet lag issues from PAKISTAN and had no problem sleeping in. We flew in the night before and missed the "We Are One" concert. How were we to know that the Concert of the Century would be planned exactly during our flight time? After a mid-morning breakfast at Brueggar's Bagels accompanied by lively conversation about parenting, Pakistani culture vs. Russian, and the similarities of non-profits, we showered and headed to the train for our first ride into the capitol and to Amy's office.
The two images you see posted here, are the instructions that came with our tickets. We were assigned to the BLUE ticketed area and we were able secure tickets for Scott and Jen in the SILVER area.
This is Scott's wife Jen.
This is their living room in their beautiful home in Alexandria, Virginia.
Joe and Scott have been friends since their early college days at the University of Minnesota. In fact, Joe has an amazing group of 5 friends who remain close even though every one of them lives in a different state, Virginia, Montana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and us in Minnesota. As a woman who's married into this posse, I find it a peculiar place to be at times. I think most of us who have married these men have felt some sort of exasperation bordering on awe at times when one of these fellows have appeared in our lives, unexpected, and they are able to pick up where they left off with none of the baggage that sometimes comes with female reunions. It's a beautiful thing - friendship like that, and this was one of those times we were so grateful for an excuse to lean on it. It was also a reason that Joe and I weren't beg, borrowing, and stealing to get into one of the Inaugural Balls. We had these awesome friends to catch up with and could have our own little party with them.
Now is the time that I tell you a couple of things you won't quite believe, but I assure you they are true. Scott works for the Department of Energy in their nuclear non-proliferation program securing nuclear weapons from crossing borders. The night before our arrival he returned from a 10 day trip to Pakistan and Armenia. Not too long ago, I think after Emerson was born, Scott stopped by our house while in Minnesota and he was busy learning Chinese because he was going to be doing some work in that country for a couple of months. During the late 1990's they lived in Russia (speaks fluent Russian) and he helped retrain former Russian nuclear scientists in other vocations so they wouldn't use their expertise on the nuclear black market. He used to work at the United Nations. He moonlights as a DJ and likes dance music too. See, I said you wouldn't believe me, and I'm sure I got a few things wrong and Scott would correct me, but I got the gist right. Scott's an important guy and it blows our minds every time we see him. But, to Joe, he's DJ Roko, from Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Jen is no less important, as she does work that heals souls while Scott's work heals our addiction to the toys of war. She's a licensed Social Worker and works as a group therapist and advocate for the City of Alexandria's sexual assult center. We hadn't seen these two for a couple of years, and they'd moved since Joe was there for Scott's 30th birthday. All great excuses to head to Washington for friendship, laughs, and a bit of history to boot. Admittedly, they weren't as geeked up as Joe and I were about the inaugural festivities, but they were excited about Barack and a regime change in Washington.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Two-thousand nine, the 20th of January,
I was there at the Capitol in the freezing cold
With two million others, feeling very
Warm and hopeful as the big drums rolled
And the man said the oath, so help me God,
And cannons boomed and all of us --- O God --- we cried
We cried, old, young, men, women, as we applaud-
Ed, we wept, America, for you justified
At last as a nation of by God true ideals,
Our true beginnings, to which we now return--
Created equal, justice under law --- one feels
That even in the cold, these fires burn.
And then the man and his wife walking down the street \
And the country moves to a strong and silent beat.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Part of our challenge was the Blue gate was pretty close to the Capitol. Most people were trying to make their way toward the back of the mall, away from the Capitol because that’s where the open, un-ticketed space was. We were going against the grain. By the time we found the Blue Gate the line was well formed. Under the banner, a big mass of people had clumped together and from that, a line snaked across the street and down the block. We joined the line about 100 feet from the mass. It seemed like a relief. Whew. We're here. we made it to the spot. Now, we wait. People continued to pour passed us. “What color line is this?” “Which way to the silver/orange/purple?” At some point we determined it was 6:50. I was looking down and when I looked up, I saw the faintest hint of the sun rising. “Hey, the sun’s coming up. It’s a new day.” Those standing around us marked the start of this day. It was 1.20.09. Bush’s last day. Obama’s first. We all hailed the marker, and the lump returned to my throat.
Views from our place in line - the image on the right was taken by some friends from Minnesota who's starting point at the Blue Gate was closer than ours. Notice the variations of hats. Note the fancy straw hat immediately infront of us in contrast with the facemasked bundle next to her. Click on the images for larger views.
The result was, not so many pics from the day before. You can bet that the camera battery was secure in it's charging spot when we clicked off the light that night. I'm sure I pulled another Bob Newhart moment, when I slightly inquired a few more times if the battery was actually in it's rightful charging spot. Each time was the affirmative and yes, I checked myself. I am totally capable of that.
The next morning as we were inching closer to L'Enfant plaza, the same damn low battery light was flashing again and the truth was known. The battery did NOT take a charge. In fact we were back at the same battery level as we were the night before when we both checked and double checked (okay triple checked) that the thing was plugged in. It said it was taking a charge. When the alarm went off the charging light was green which means that you're good to go. I sort of like it when inanimate objects give me the thumbs up.
What's a Spencer to do? Well, if you're married to one Joe Spencer, you have inherent knowledge that batteries get cold and freeze. What one needs to do is warm it up and it shall work for a few shots before shutting down and begging not to be used again out of doors. Go ahead, roll your eyes, I did too. But how does one warm a battery up when you're committed to standing outside for at least the next, oh, 6-7 hours? Yep - you put it in your pants. I know. I know! Go ahead and laugh. I would have too, if I wouldn't have been thinking of all of the human interest shots that I was missing, like the guy holding his hat on a stick while talking on the phone.
But here's the thing...it worked!
We are also relying on the awesome people we shared intimate space with for 7 hours. We took pictures of them, they took pictures of us, and we exchanged email addresses via frozen fingers and ink pens. The pictures are still coming in. Please be patient.
Monday, January 26, 2009
There were a few African-American women in their sixties riding together next to us. It was clear they wore their warmest clothes for this occasion. They probably hadn’t donned these clothes in years, but had them in their possession for an occasion such as this. At some point they stood in the aisle, anticipating their stop. The train was making frequent stops in the tunnels, the announcer informed us, because other trains were slow in leaving the stations. The first clue of gridlock at 6:00 AM!! At some point the train lurched alive, sending one of the women backward into the arms of a much younger gentleman and he miraculously caught her. The jovial nature of the crowd had us all asking if she was all right, she was apologizing profusely, the young man was making sure she was all right, and all were nervously reassuring her that we all make that mistake at some point. The commotion died down pretty quickly, but some ice had been broken. We heard her apologize once more and he said, “No, no don’t worry about it. I hope I didn’t squeeze you too tight.” This blue down coat covered, stocking cap wearing woman responded, “You didn’t squeeze hard enough,” and gave a wink that sent all into stitches.
We laid our clothes out the night before (very un-Spencerlike) and layers went on, boots were laced and we were out of the house and heading to the train station by 5:30. As we silently walked, I thought, this is going to be a piece of cake. It was quiet in the sleepy town of Alexandria. We could see a couple of trains go by and they didn’t look choked with people. Perhaps the hysteria was all for naught. We entered the 7-11 for coffee and a doughnut. There was a lot of talk before hand about hoarding provisions, bringing water, snacks, toilet paper, but we were suspicious – Joe grabbed 2 granola bars from Scott and Jen’s house, we opted for the small coffee (a move celebrated 8 hours later when we were next to relieve ourselves) and two doughnuts - chocolate for Joe and an old fashioned for me. Five girls entered at the same time we did. They seemed to be college aged and we all exchanged greetings. One was from Iowa originally; one lived just around the corner. It was the first of many encounters that didn’t begin with “Are you going to…?” We all just knew. It was palpable.
We checked our watches on the platform. It was 5:45 AM. It was clear that the only people on a train platform, on this day, at this hour were headed just one place. The air felt warm with anticipation. When the yellow line train arrived we easily found seats (Scott schooled us on taking the more direct Yellow line to the National Mall rather than the roundabout Blue line. It would prove to be a slam dunk move) and breathed a sigh of relief to be on the train. No matter what, we were on our way. A couple of tears were shed as we looked out the darkened window as the capitol shone far off in the distance.
As I started to write, I realized that I was jotting this down as much for me and my family as it was to tell all the amazing things that we saw to those who couldn't be there. In the future, I think I'll be glad for it. So, it's long and it's not finished yet and from the looks of this blog layout, it doesn't look like I'll be able to enter it chronologically. I thought I'd better start posting some of my thoughts before the event started to fade from our collective conscious.
I titled it "Not for the Faint of Heart" for obvious reasons.
It was cold; true, we came from -20 below zero, and the first couple of days felt balmy. I even went to Bruegger's Bagels without my coat on, but after 6 hours of standing in virtually one place, moving forward at the speed of 2 feet per half an hour, the blood freezes in the lower extremites.
It was crowded; Joe and I can handle crowds. We've been to large public events, Lollapalooza, the State Fair, Grand Old Day. We've travelled to Europe where the europeans don't so much stand in line as they tend to move together en masse. I think the single file line was invented in the U.S. It's so civilized. But we were not prepared for what 2 million people looked and felt like. Before the event people warned of long lines and hours of waiting. Okay, not so much with the lines - it was more like the glut of humanity massing together, moving in swarms for the spot that could get them that much closer to the action. It was brutal.
The wait; I mentioned the hours of waiting. We were coming off a pretty intense holiday season and hadn't been away from our kids for a while. This was like a vacation for us. Come on, I was going have my husband's attention for hours on end without someone needing a diaper change, a refill on water, a "mama watch me", a request for the assembly of 10,000 little pieces of a game that would be played with for 4 minutes, and the demand for the explanation of why the baby cries in the car. We would not get bored. But the night before, some good friends suggested that we would never make it to the mall if we left Alexandria at 7:00 AM as planned. So, we awoke at 5:00 AM and headed off into the darkness to board our train at 5:45 AM. Later, when it was all over, we stepped off the yellow train line and checked our watches, it was 5:45 PM - a twelve hour adventure.
But to tell the truth, no one's hearts were faint that day. They were filled with hope, pride, excitement, and brimming with thousands of stories of what brought them there. Fuses were not short, smiles were in abundance, songs seem to burst from the crowds with little provoking, laughter, humor, and genuine huddle together-ness abound. Our hearts were full to capacity, waiting for the moment we could let them burst open as our country embraced the true words of our founding fathers and a dream was realized.