Grasshoppers, Work, Music ~ Nashville, TN
I found a giant grasshopper in the tub this morning before I washed myself. I thought, immediately, of the fable the grasshopper and the ant. My first impulse was to save it. And my second impulse was to question whether I’m playing too much, and need to get to work. The universe communicates in odd ways.
I jetted into Nashville a couple days ago, and I have one more day left. This has been, by far, the most fun I’ve had in any city. Ridiculous fun. I found out recently that it is second only to Las Vegas as a destination for bachelorette parties. The city touts over 150 live music venues, and most of the gigs are free. For a city of around 55,000 these are good odds. The median age is 33. It's comfy too, I was pleased to find a few great coffee shops, including Portland Brew in the Five Points area of East Nashville, and Barista Parlor over in Germantown.
The nights here are seem a bit more dramatic. My first night here I hit the Oddyseo, an acrobatic Cirque-de-Soleil run by Cavalia. The show runs under a big top with horses, trapeze artists in swinging hoops and gypsy musicians. It was an expensive ticket, but I relished the way that horses could walk in pinwheels, and girls could stand on the backs of two horses walking side by side. After so little time with horses in Lexington - and so much time at bourbon distilleries - I thought it was a requirement to see some trick riders.
Before arriving, I booked a ticket to see Tanya Tucker and the SteelDrivers at the Grand Ole Oprey House ~ again, no cheap date. But the story of Nashville is the story of the Grand Ole Oprey House, a venue that began in the 1890s as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. The venue was part of what saved the town from pioneertown standoffs and alcoholism. On Sunday services, the venue's pews held near 2000 people. But after the great space was built, the construction debt had to be paid, and the directors began to host evening shows. For over 50 years, Lula C Naff managed the venue, for budget, publicity, and more. She helped set up the radio show and choose musicians like Johnny Cash and Elvis who then became famous. It makes sense that Country Music overlaps with religion and church values, in large part due to this venue. The venue downtown closed for a few years in the 70s, and then relocated up the Cumberland river as the new Grand Ole Oprey. The same space still runs shows, inside the stained glass windows, but now it's called the Ryman Auditorium. From what I hear, the spirit of the Grand Ole Oprey is the same in the new venue. I hope so, I loved the feel of seats like pews, and as a past musician, I can still be so moved by good people on stage.
But probably the most raucus fun was last night, the unplanned adventures of a single girl in Nashville. I went downtown and wandered Broadway, a street lit up like the Vegas strip, until the live music pulled me into Honkey-Tonk Central. A Sam Hunt song pulled me in, and it drifted easily into George Strait. I was surprised to know almost all the songs the cover band played. The musicians on stage hustled the crowd more than any street hustler I’ve seen, demanding $20 for any request – and getting it! At the bar, I met my travel buddies for the night: Kelsey, from Chicago, and Jody from Australia. My new friends invited me to go to Coyote Ugly, and true to form, we all ended up dancing on the bar with the bartenders. It has felt so indulgent. And so delightful.
So when I saw that grasshopper, it made sense that I felt a tinge of guilt. I didn’t come here to spend a fortune, but I have. I don’t know anyone who lives here - yet. Nashville was a late addition to my itinerary. Yet, it’s had that pulse of potential that I’ve only felt in cities like NYC or Los Angeles. This is a city where dreamers come to let loose. There is a layer of fantasy and prayer here that pulls in people who’s real worlds aren’t quite in line with their imagined worlds. Here people put their talent to the test. This is music city.
So here I was, standing next to the tub in my Airbnb in East Nashville, trying to catch the grasshopper to take it outside. It’s not an easy task. I followed it with the plastic tub stopper, hoping to encircle it for rescue. It jumped and jumped, the restless critter. Little Hoopla wanted to get involved in the rescue, but it wouldn’t have been rescue if she did. After a few minutes, I finally snagged it and took it outside. When I came back to the bathroom, I remembered that there had been ants in the tub the morning before, and in fact there was still a lone ant this morning. So the cosmic metaphor isn’t entirely clear. My take was that it’s time to re-envision what work means to me.
This morning I woke from a dream wherein I’d been hired by a new principal, and stood at a table for back to school night, clueless about what grade I was teaching, how many sections, or even the location of my classroom. Right now my teacher friends are all memorizing names and setting up classroom protocols. I am dancing on bars and catching grasshoppers. This is the third autumn in my thirty-some-odd years when I wasn’t settling myself into a classroom environment. It’s peculiar. Learning has been my occupation for all but three years of my life. Learning in cubed rooms.
But so much learning happens outside of those rooms. Still, I’m feeling a quiet sense of guilt that I’m not doing the work I’ve always done. The work of researching, reading, and planning arcs of experience. The work of finding and sharing the pith and nuance. The work of charming my pupils. The work of listening to new people who seek guidance. It’s not that different from what I’m doing now. I am committed to the act of discovering and sharing new ideas, but I have to hammer it into my head that it’s as valuable here as it is in a classroom of sleepy seventeen year olds. Artists, writers, philosophers and musicians have all had to hustle from the beginning.
What gets to be called work anyhow? What can we be paid for? Isn’t it up to me to determine this? My good friend Alexis Sottile just published an article about the women who may run for office in the next presidential election, and I’m reminded how for centuries, the work of women was home-work: child rearing, housekeeping, etc. It was, and is, just as valuable as the work of any Fortune 500 business. It’s just smaller scale. It’s just what kept, and keeps, us alive as a culture. It’s strange how, even in 2017, the occupations that relate to caretaking, to youth, to the home, usually pay far less than those that don’t. Women still get paid less than men. I am writing this not as a political rant, but as an observation of society and social casting structures.
But the point here is that I feel a subconscious pull to work, and I have to redefine what that is. The gnawing sense that I should be elsewhere, doing something different is ever present. But that’s exactly why I’m on the road. I am elsewhere, learning. And the work I’m doing now is writing. It’s putting faith in something that’s been in the subcurrent of my soul forever. It's going entrepenurialista. It’s believing that if I do what I love, the funds will come after. Isn’t that what they say? That’s what I say. The first work of all is inhabiting the moment, paying attention. And since I’m a writer, in the next step is in writing it down. Then, well, you'll have to wait to see what comes next.