Now that my blog is homing in on its two-year anniversary, I know its most useful trait lies in the archives. I can judge where I am and how far I have come (or slipped back) based on the content and tone of my earlier entries. I do plead guilty to being a good writer and I turn that to my advantage by—in so many words—being myself as much as possible when I write. A few times I stray, but for the most part my goal is to write exactly what I feel compelled to write at any moment, nothing more and nothing less. What we feel compelled to do tells us most of what we need to know about ourselves.
I am writing this from Santa Cruz where I am playing in the Cabrillo Music Festival for the next two weeks. It’s good to be back here. I’ve had a few days to take in everything again. My last memories are blurry. Two years ago I was not home from Santa Cruz more than a few weeks before my life went into a tailspin. In the years before that I could smell salty air and roasting coffee for months, but two years ago everything cut jarringly to the sterile textures of hospitals, syringes and ICUs before I knew what had hit me. I had no time to reflect so I set things in a corner of my mind, not gone, not forgotten, just idling there abstractly.
The coffee. It’s the coffee, and now I understand. We drove the twisty CA-17 down from San Francisco Sunday morning and, like Odysseus beckoned by the Sirens, we wanted coffee. The barista was as pierced as she was opinionated. She must have pulled four or five shots of espresso before she thought one was good enough. It was worth the wait. $2.65.
The salt. It’s the salt in the air. Cars are crusted with it. Plants are hearty or they would never survive this. Even up in the mountains you don’t feel very far from the sea. The salt is everywhere. This is why the coffee needs to be so strong.
The grunge. This is unmistakable in Santa Cruz. There are isolated elements of it all over the place but it has a way of peacefully coexisting. Don’t mess with it and it won’t mess with you. I looked down one street and I knew we were in Santa Cruz again. A young woman on a bicycle riding away from us sported long dreadlocks, the kind you get from never washing your hair. I watched her curiously as she turned the corner and—wait!—that was a dude. [Slaps forehead.] Another man riding the other way balanced himself between two dirty plastic bags. He sat atop his creaky old bike and hunched, the two bags pulling him to one side and then the other. A gray wool cap with a pompom covered his head.
The sanddabs. I dream of these little flatfish in the dead of winter. When I run into a fellow Cabrillo musician out of season, the conversation takes a detour to sanddabs every time. “Ooooh, we gonna have us some sanddabs!” he always says. Sanddabs are to Santa Cruz what razor clams are to Oregon and Washington.
The music. And this is why we are here, no question. No coffee, salt, grunge or plate of sanddabs could lure us here year after year without the music. In two weeks of tightly packed rehearsals and concerts we play more new orchestral music than we would in five years with our regular orchestras. There is a white-hot energy that permeates the playing here. Every piece is a world premiere, a U.S. premiere, or a West Coast premiere. Everything is new, brand new, and we are right at the source. You can’t get closer to new music than this without getting inside the heads of the composers themselves.
Bad image. As for me, I’m doing all right after a few days of playing here. I’ve been conservative about how far to push it, and if I feel anything strange I just stop playing until it goes away. For the record, I’ve backed off from blowing about three times so far. Three times in three days is nothing serious for me. I’m going to bed and waking up in one piece.
The red dot in my right eye is SMALLER now, half the size it was when we left Grand Rapids. Since the partial retina detachment is caused by stress and anxiety, I wonder if I was more anxious about my return here than I will admit to myself? I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I wonder. Cabrillo was the last place I felt free as a non-patient before my apple cart upended suddenly. I wonder if I was afraid to find out what it was going to be like to be back, to be caught off guard with the knowledge that I couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe I was anxious about that. Again, I don’t know, but so far I feel like I’m keeping up with everyone and not—my worst fear as a professional—holding anyone back. I didn’t play last summer because of this very reason: too many variables with my fragile condition. This summer I still wrestle with medical issues but I know what they are. I know my limits and I know how to pace myself, now proudly back at the highest level I know.