“Shameless”: First Ani DiFranco Concert

On June 6 I witnessed the magic of Ani DiFranco LIVE for the first time!! My lateness to the party is humbling. I’m 37 and have probably been hearing about her since I was 19, circa 2000. Where else, in college! I remember buying an 8 x 10 glossy picture on a campus sale of Ani sitting in a men’s bathroom, meditating in front of the urinals. She was wearing a black stocking hat, maroon shirt and yellow pants with black combat boots. Typical Ani, claiming a male space as her own. Sue Ellen was a fan, as have been the majority of the self-aware, Feminist friends I’ve known since then. I almost bought an album randomly once: it was “So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter,” but I was not adventurous enough at that age. I now own nine Ani albums, with “Dilate,” and “Not a Pretty Girl,” and “Binary,” among my current favorites..

Riseup

I am changed. I want to bathe in her lyrics and see her as many times as able. Where she plays, I will go. I want to allow all my feelings and work through them on paper. Her rampant courage flares up the writer in me. Most inspiring is how she seems to just accept all feelings: her lyrics demonstrate such range of emotion. And she is a live wire of energy, her arms strong as cables, her voice bigger than Donald Trump’s narcissism. Her freedom overwhelms you, sharpens you and wrenches open your heart. Her cargo pants with floral patterns defiant, it’s obvious they are true anachronisms.

And I realize that activism is not limited to marching, protesting and voting. It includes supporting artists like Ani whose identities are based in a strong sense of personal responsibility and yes, activism.

Being an Ani DiFranco fan is itself a political act.

It was special because my friend Leta and I went together in tribute to her daughter, Amanda (Andi), whose favorite artist was Ani. Even more magical, my ticket was a gift. Four years ago, Amanda left this world after fighting depression all her life. I like to imagine she was jamming with us, up in Heaven. But she was a singer and songwriter and tried to get some blonde dreads going. She only got as far as small braids with multi-colored rubber bands, but she went for it! Andi also admired Ani for her open bisexuality, as Andi herself was a young lesbian. She was boiling over with emotions and saw a role model in this powerful woman who had always stood against the grain, committed to being herself and running her own record label, Righteous Babe Records, the industry be damned.

And now as I watch Ani’s interviews, I’m struck by how much she reminds me of Andi, in turn. The kindness. The compulsion to look inward and wrench art out of it. The wildness in her. It’s calming. Another interesting angle to my story is that last year, Andi’s mother Leta saw Ani live and brought with her a letter about how much her music had inspired her daughter’s life. She included a printed out copy of one of two blogs I’d written about her. She asked the merch table woman to please deliver it to Ani. An astonishing two months later, she received a hand-written letter in response from Ani herself. This year Leta recognized that same woman at the merch table and thanked her.

I left work an hour early that Wednesday and arrived at Leta’s home right on time. We relaxed a few ins and we left to pick up two of her friends on the way, Rich and Dave. We took a small road trip to the Castle Theatre from Braidwood to Bloomington, IL; about an hour. When we pulled up we I was shocked and excited to find an old-time theatre with a big neon marquee bearing Ani’s name and her opening act. It was my first time driving more than an hour for a concert! It was even more exciting on a weekday. I had taken the next morning off till noon, knowing that I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep and we’d get back late.

Aniplaying

The night was perfect. I never expected the venue to be so intimate! This woman who has traveled the world and probably played to millions– Less than 20 feet away! My friends sat in the balcony but were cool with me being downstairs up front. It was GA and by the end I was front row, off the right. I’ve never been in an audience so diverse– mostly adults, but also families with small children. Babies. The core seemed my age and older but there were plenty of youngins– Ani is universal. It was the most chill, UN-produced show I’ve ever attended and I loved that about it. Her set consisted of she and her rotating guitars, her drummer, and an upright bass player. There were some lighting changes, and one image on a purple velvet curtain: RISE UP. A fist clenching lightning bolts.

How appropriate. And her talent is almost unfathomable. She doesn’t merely play acoustic, she beats them as a war cry. She plays harder than Melissa Etheridge, and that’s damn hard! She’s part song, part spoken word. Ani is soft and raw and always haunting. She crams so much content into her songs and delivers it faster than some rap artists.

My goal was to recognize a few songs in the set and I was FLOORED when the number one song I wanted to hear, “Shameless,” was the OPENING SONG! I had even commented it on the facebook link to her event that night! Someone, maybe Ani herself, had asked what songs we wanted to hear. I was the first comment.

I also heard “Not a Pretty Girl,” “Dialate,” “Play God,”and “Gravel,” and several others I didn’t recognize. My only complaint of the night was that the other fans weren’t very generous in helping me identify songs during the set. They were all in their own Ani world. It seemed if I didn’t know, that was my problem. I frequently ask those around me at shows for help identifying songs and most people are happy to help.

But otherwise, it was a dream. The merch table was well-staffed by one woman and she was friendly and patient. Everything was reasonably priced and affordable. Her latest album, Binary, was $15 dollars with beautiful packaging. Shirts were $25, whereas most venues jack them up to $35 or $40. She had $1 and $3 stickers. Old albums, live DVDS. I had brought money to spend and commemorate the night. I love my shirt and her new album.

I felt like the best version of myself there. Before the end of the show, I ran upstairs with Leta and the boys. On the drive home, we were all in awe. I even met a new friend in the lobby and we added each other on faceook.

How many more times can I see Ani perform? I can’t wait to find out!!

I Get It : Finally!

I’m really good at keeping busy.

I like helping out and doing things for others. But this year I’ve really noticed that without even realizing it, I was still putting myself last.

I’ve been “single” for years. But most of that time, I was actively dating or looking for ways to meet someone. Wishing. Praying.

I was fine doing things alone– going to dinner, the movies, staying home and enjoying it.

And I kept so busy.

I was singing in the choir at my parish. I was attending political fundraisers and meetings, phone-banking, canvassing. My Sunday mornings were for Mass.

I was always there for my friends.

But the best friend I’ll have is myself. Why am I so quick to change my plans for others?

Slowly this year, I’ve been clearing my schedule of those obligations. Even Mass. I’ll go when I feel like it, but am not allowing myself to feel guilty if I don’t.

Instead, I’m going to run as much as I’m able. That’s my priority.

I’ll meet God outside, and worship him in motion.

Like any adult, I know how to push myself. Through fear, confusion, sickness, exhaustion.

But have I ever truly set an ambitious goal and believed?

No.

All I saw were obstacles. I won’t say they were excuses– I was terrified to fail. So I would just not even attempt it. And sometimes depression crept in, manifested in over-sleeping.

But running is a natural anti-depressant. Endorphins are real!

My initial reaction is one of caution. I get that from my Dad. He’s wonderful, but he’s not the best at encouraging me when I want to try something new. And it’s understandable. He’s suffered a lot of loss. I’ve battled health problems all my life.

But I’m changing. I’m realizing that’s just the way he’s built emotionally- and it makes sense for him. And that I don’t need his approval to motivate me.

I was in this mind-frame of asking for permission.

But now I’m giving that permission to myself!

I don’t need to even tell him. I can just do it.

I can do what makes sense for me, even if he doesn’t get it.

My dreams are bigger than his: and that’s okay.

A friend at work approached me about a race yesterday. He knows I run… sporadically. This friend is a consistent runner– even in the winter! He has a training regimen.

Months ago, I had approached a different friend about running this race with me. She wasn’t game– I just gave up on it.

I’m going to sign up for it: the Solider Field 10 Mile in Chicago on May 27.

So what if I don’t finish it?

I can still do my best. And I’ve finished every race I’ve run thus far.

Instead of sleeping in on weekends, I want to go bed earlier.

I want to rise and run.

I usually like to sleep in on weekends. But if I had a date or some fun plans, I’d get up.

What if my fun plans were running?!

And now I get it! The true FREEDOM of being single: constructing my life 100% around ME.

Without obligation or guilt. I will never have that kind of freedom again later in life.

Just what I want to do. It’s not selfish. It’s necessary.

I deserve this!

Even with casual dating, you have to block out time for this person. You talk to them after work, they may text you to check in during the day. You plan dates– you invest hours and days and weekends getting to know each other.

In taking this time for myself without dating on the table, I’m putting ME first. I’m saying that the biggest priority is what *I* want to accomplish.

I won’t let myself feel guilty about saying “no” to social invitations. Or going home early.

I can still make sleep the priority– by regulating a bedtime and schedule.

I’ll build socializing into running. I’ve got three months to train.

I have no idea how, but that’s the adventure.

And I’ve got running friends to support me.

Friendship and a 5K

This morning I woke up early and ran my fourth 5K! My friend Jen and I ran together. It was her first.

And I think it was my favorite one thus far.

Because neither of us cared about our time or being competitive.

We were just doing something to be healthy and to hang out together.

Plus, it’s sponsored by Guardian Angel Services, an organization both of us care about. We’re both in social work.

Jen and I have been friends since freshman year of high school– 1995. That’s 20 years! Holy cow.

The event was called Angels Against Abuse, and before we ran there was a speaker. She talked about how she found the strength to leave her ex-husband, the man who was “the father of my children.”  She repeated that last phrase emphatically– and I got it. Wouldn’t that be the primary arrow aimed at any woman trying to move on and escape an abusive relationship? Aren’t women always pressured to forgive all because they are expected to sacrifice not just her happiness, but her own well-being and safety in the name of keeping the family together? She said she knew if she didn’t leave, one day he would kill her. The most incisive moments for me was when she read excerpts of the love letters he would write her after the abuse. The promises, the begging, the hope he would spark that he really did want to treat her better. Her belief that *she* was the one who could heal him– he’d had a rough life.

She credited her counselor with helping her manufacture courage to start her own life with her children– safely. That counselor was her advocate at each court date, all the way until the divorce was finalized.

Afterward, they hugged. I was definitely tearing up.

And subsequently, the race stated.

There were times she needed to slow down and walk, and there were times that I did. And both of us are happy to comply and wait until the other was ready to run again. We’d talk a little.

And she was always positive, always fun!

It was equal. And both of us suggested running again to the other and encouraged each other to keep going.

We were also laughing because we got hit with not just substantial wind resistance, but rain!!

It was really coming at us! Luckily I had a hoodie from the event, but I was soaked. My toes were squishy in my shoes.

I joked that we were “hardcore” runners now! I I felt like such a bad ass.

Crossing the finish line was such an achievement!! I’ve never had to deal with so much weather in a run.

I did see my time at the end,  but didn’t make particular note of it.

Then we grabbed some refreshments and snacks, thanked each other for a great race,and went our separate ways.

Neither cared about how we ranked. We had achieved our goal!

And now it was time to go home and enjoy it.

In two weeks we have another 5K, in Chicago. Cannot wait!!

The Only Way Up a Hill

is to run.

Sure, you could walk.

But tonight when I went for a run, there was something magical about gunning up as fast as I could.  I felt strong and young and free– and I didn’t have a time limit or someplace to go.

In three months, I haven’t had any blisters or blackened toenails. Partially because I have yet to break serious mileage but also because I invested in good shoes upfront.

But man, the exhilaration! I ran up and down and across–

a big hill, a bridge, a small foothill.

Repetition. I was my own coach!

I was shocked how much I enjoyed it– especially on the wooden bridge crossing the river. Hearing myself pound those boards, the feel of the wood giving beneath my feet– yet knowing I’m totally safe.

Tonight I let myself deviate a bit from routine.

I loved the drill of it, seeing people out with their kids and dogs. I loved being one of those people just out enjoying nature, passing the other runners and bikers. There’s an unspoken kinship.

If I’m slowing down to walk, seeing another runner lights a fire under me to get back to work.

I’m in all my neon running gear, totally clashing.

I’m listening to ’80s pop on Pandora, singing along as I go.

I could just imagine Dexy’s Midnight Runners crooning instead,

“Come on A-MEE, oh,

I swear what he means, (what he means,)

at this moooooo-ment,

you mean everything…”

Or, bless them, Heart:

“How do I geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet you ALLLLLLLLOOOOONE? A-looooooooooooooone…

I’m chasing that famous runner’s high. And it seems to kick in around 2.5 miles for me– I feel like I could just keep going, if only I let myself. By then I’m sweating something glorious, my heart is banging, my breathing has evened out– my legs and feet don’t hurt at all.

Tonight I made it 3.46 miles in 47.16 minutes.

I’mma get there!

Five miles. It’s gonna happen before summer is over.

Cinderella’s New Shoes

Today I felt like Cinderella.

But it was better than going to a ball in some fragile glass slippers.

And way better than trying to impress some prince.

Today, I bought my own magic shoes. No time limit!

I decided to invest in a new pair of running shoes, buying from an excellent store specializing in just that.

The store staff asked me to walk, and he watched my feet. Then he analyzed the way I walk and said he’d return with shoes meeting my needs and we’d proceed by process of elimination.

My feet were also measured–it’d been so long since I did that!

He must have returned with 10 different boxes.

I tried them all, and then asked to see Adidas. I assumed I’d leave with my go-to brand.

But in the end, I chose Nike.

I love the way they fit–plenty of room in the toe box, still snug in the heel. Great arch inside.

And they LOOK wicked! Plus, I was happily surprised how affordable they were. Less than I expected to pay.

I got a couple of other things to make my runs easier– a little stretchy belt pouch for my keys/phone. A book about getting started for beginners.

As I was ringing up, the cashier smiled and said, “You’ll be successful.” Why don’t ALL cashiers just close sales that way?? Positive reinforcement like that would work on me every time.

Hell, maybe I’LL start using that at work. I’m in sales.

But the best part was when I got home and laced ’em up for the first time.

I just meant to go on a quick run, but it ended up being a long walk.

I started in my neighborhood and kept going.

I ended up walking 4.1 miles– double what I’d run at one stretch this week.

I tried to download the Nike Running app my running partner is using, but apparently my IOS is outdated. So I estimated by plugging in the address with Google maps instead. Not a bad improvisation!

So I didn’t run, but I did break those shoes in.

And while I was walking, I didn’t feel worried about anything.

I just felt free. Hopeful.

Grateful.

This is the beginning of something new and good in my life, I can feel it.

It’s not about finding a prince, or a fairy godmother.

It’s about learning to run in my own– safe, durable– shoes.

It’s about writing my own ending and pushing myself to grow.

Go-Karts with my Dad: Breaking the Movie Tradition

My father is a man of routines.

This Father’s Day, I managed a small triumph! I got him to try something different. Usually, we just go to a movie.

But I wanted to interact with him– do something where we could have fun, move around, be silly. Not just sit in a theatre for two hours and watch a movie together, although I love doing that, too. Thankfully, we couldn’t agree on a movie.

I got him to agree to mini-golfing with me, and go-karts.

For years, I’ve been asking. But he really hates to venture out of the predictable. He likes to garden, do things around the house, work. Go to eat, go to a movie. Never likes to go to the city. He’s a very simple man that way– devoted to his family, his home and his work.

So it felt like such a victory to convince him to deviate from the standard plan!

And what cracks me up the most about it is that he didn’t wait for me at all. He didn’t slow down for me– but zoomed ahead! So many times in my life, he’s sacrificed so that he could be there for me. I remember in sixth grade, we went on a family vacation with some of his lifelong best friends and their families to Crested Butte, Colorado. I was a first-time skier. I took some lessons and quickly picked it up. My father has always been athletic. He could have left me with the other kids and gone on ahead with the men and hit the slopes at his full capacity. But instead, he waited for me. He watched me. When I snow-plowed down the mountain and fell on my head (three times!) he was there to pick me up. I think we were there three days, possibly four. By the last day, I was able to tackle a black diamond hill with him called The Resurrection. I learned to zig-zag, and to deal with moguls. He finished first, but he waited at the bottom for me.

Today, it felt wonderful to see that my 72-year-old father can still enjoy the go-karts! I floored it the whole time, but I could never quite catch up to him. In some ways, it seemed an apt metaphor for my relationship with him. He tackles everything head-on and just keeps forging forward, impervious to all obstacles. He’s been a model of virtue for me– he doesn’t do short-cuts.

His legs are much longer than mine. As a little girl, I struggled to keep up– it seemed I needed to take six steps for everyone of his! As a toddler he would often carry me on his shoulders and I felt invincible. I felt safe and proud to be the offspring of this bear of a man. As I grew older and began walking, I would hold his finger with my tiny hand and skip along with him. It was like a game. My father has large hands– he always talks about how his father’s were so much bigger, “like hams.”

How he managed to go that much faster than me when we’ve got the same karts, I’ll never know. I tried to shout to him, but the wind carried my voice away. Although I was a little sad that I couldn’t see his face and challenge him and yes, zoom ahead, another part of me was just so happy to see him enjoying himself.

A man who does everything methodically, the most practical man you could hope to meet. He will wait for every car on the road to pass, I joke, before making a turn.

Today I saw a glimpse of who he was before he became my father– when he was John, a younger man with less responsibilities.

Afterward, he was bragging about how he had given the younger guys on the course a run for it! Passed ’em all up, he said. And I hadn’t even noticed the kids– and I think there were some other, younger, fathers on the course with their own kids. All I could notice on the course was my father. He’s been the hero in my life. And he was there for me, with me– but he was also competing with the other men, because that young part of him is still alive. I’m so grateful for that.

As adults, the hardest part is letting go of your parents– loving them enough to give them space and freedom.

Because you know they’ve invested so much emotional energy and yes, money– in your happiness. In your future.

At some point, you want to give back to them. You want to repay them by showing them that you can do it. That they don’t need to worry, because they’ve done their job right as parents.

You want to be their friend, and not just their child. I think that’s the ultimate sign of respect– it’s a more reciprocal relationship.

My mother died when I was very young– and thus, he’s been both father and mother to me. He was a single parent for a long time– 10 years– until he remarried. He’s been protective of me also because I battled health issues as a young child and have certain medical concerns that most people my age don’t have yet. It’s made me more deliberate, more cautious, in every aspect of my life. But it’s held him back in ways, too. He’s not resentful about it, because he accepted his job as a father with grace and full responsibility. He’s offered financial assistance at times when I didn’t want to ask, but needed the help.

But now, I just want to give him peace of mind.

My father has the gift of youth– and I want him to enjoy it.

Frozen’s Elsa and Wicked’s Elphaba: Women Free and Proud

So I just saw “Frozen,” and I went alone.

And I’m so glad!

It was really the perfect movie tonight. I’ve been feeling a bit morose with all the snow and frigid temperatures. I’ve been avoiding going many places unless it’s work or absolutely necessary. Haven’t been able to see my friends as much. A bit o’ cabin fever!

And I’m delighted to find a Disney movie that champions the notion of “true love,” as that between two sisters– not just a romantic relationship.

One sister, Elsa, is ashamed her her powers– which she hides from everyone. She feels it’s a deformity, much like Princess Fiona did in “Shrek.” When she leaves the kingdom in a scandal, she breaks out into the wilderness and transforms into the truest version of herself. She rejected the facade she initially held for her kingdom– and came into her full power

Previously set to be queen of her homeland, she was in conservative royal clothes and hair.

Alone, Elsa blooms into a different kind of queen: one who smiles, who runs free with abandon. Her hair comes down, her ensemble transforms into something majestic. And without the fear of society’s reactions, she doesn’t have to wear gloves to contain her ice magic. She can let it go, with JOY. And she builds herself an ice castle, where she doesn’t feel lonely. She feels HERSELF. She’s not afraid. She’s relieved.

“The cold never bothered me anyway.”

And of course, her sister Anna comes after her–

I won’t spoil EVERYTHING. 🙂

But I love Elsa so much. I relate to her. She felt she had to be a certain way– stoic, perfect, for the public. Always in control. She was always composed, but never showed her fears. She dealt with things on her own. She was afraid of her own power.

That’s how I feel about writing. And this blog. I’ve built a certain image here. But I’m not perfect.

I’m not always happy. I get mad. I just don’t show it to many. I tend to pray and write and deal with that on my own.

Writing is a power that I don’t yet know how to manage, I’m still figuring it out. I’m getting a handle on managing a blog that makes me or less a public figure– even on a small scale.

I only share my true feelings with a small circle.

And I find a lot of love and support in my friends, especially my female friends. I have some great male friends, too.

Being single is like being in the wilderness. I’m still finding my way.

And winter has always been my favorite season, just like Elsa.

But that song, “Let it Go,” is ringing in my mind. Even more because Idina Menzel, one of my favorite actresses since “Wicked,” is singing it.

I haven’t loved a musical song this much since “Defying Gravity.” They’re both about freedom.

About trusting your own potential. About venturing out, alone. And Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, is a character defined by the her passion for justice– which left her feeling mostly isolated from her peers. “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,’ is a Gregory Maguire novel I’ve read several times. Elphaba Thropp is probably my favorite literary heroine. She feels isolated in every way. She doesn’t feel a spiritual connection to God, though her father is a preacher. She is keenly intelligent and sarcastic– but many bully her because she’s green. Because she thinks differently. She doesn’t find her purpose until she drops out of college and ventures away, alone. The book is so much more adult than the musical– darker, richer. It encompasses religion, politics, racism, and questions about the definition of evil. Does Elphaba have a soul? She doesn’t believe she does. But she spends her life dedicated to a passionate belief, though she stumbles many times. She endures a lot of loss. She doesn’t think her life amounts to much. But her legacy lives on, and we see by the end of the novel that her work mattered to many, even if she didn’t realize it was important at the time.

I don’t know how I got over here! But this is me. Wandering, connecting disparate things.

I like the way my mind works. It’s creative. It’s not afraid to roam.

And I like that Elsa stands confident and alone at the end of the movie. Just like Elphaba.

Both “E” names. Both played by Idina Menzel. Both wonderful role models for women.

Feminists.