Apologies for the dearth of posts over the last few weeks, but I just got back from twelve days, and 3,500 miles, on the road with my wife and 17-year-old son visiting college campuses. He is interested in pursuing a degree in astrophysics after graduating high school, and as we drove to California so he could ponder higher-ed options, I pondered how a studio art major (my wife) and literature major (me) managed to produce an astrophysicist. I have nothing against studying the nature and structure of the universe, but it requires more math than the tip calculator on my phone is capable of, so I’ll stick with poetry. On that long drive south, I also reflected on my 30 year high school reunion that took place three weeks ago in Juneau, Alaska. As regular readers know, I did not attend. Rather than join the festivities, I wrote a blog post about it, expressing my apprehension about reuniting with people I haven’t seen in 30 years.
I posted the article on the Facebook group page set up for the reunion, and the response was profound and humbling. In sheer numbers, it was the most viewed post I’ve published. Yes, I admit it, I monitor my post page view statistics…obsessively. Since I’ve gone to the trouble to put my thoughts out into the world, I like to know how many people read them, and I do get an emotional boost when the numbers tick up. I had hoped that I could measure my writing success based on book sales, but that’s proven to be an elusive measure. For example, my last royalty check was for fourteen cents, which makes it clear I’m not in a position to quit my day job. As a result, I watch the blog stats and pay attention to how many “likes” the linked posts get on Facebook, which is the only available proxy measure as to whether readers enjoy them. With each new thumbs up or heart icon that floats across my screen, I get a little thrill. I realize a “like” on a Facebook post is no measure of a person’s worth, but the numbers are often all I have to gauge the audience’s reaction to my writing. I guess, as I mentioned in that reunion post, I’m still a bit intensely desperate. Unlike the heavy metal bands I love, who get to hear the cheers from their fans every time they take the stage, I don’t get a lot of direct feedback on my writing.
I recognize I had a somewhat captive audience for that post. When a couple hundred old friends get together and are given the opportunity to read what amounts to an occasional poem about them on the Internet, odds are good they will read it, so the numbers themselves are anomalous. But it wasn’t the numbers that touched me, it was the comments. Dozens of my classmates, many of whom also did not attend the reunion, expressed appreciation for what I had written. Some said I had captured their feelings, including the fear and guilt they had about reuniting with the JDHS Class of ’87, and they felt better knowing they weren’t alone. I was told that a friend read the post aloud to the attendees, eliciting laughter and tears. It was a surprising response, as I had not written the post thinking this is what’s on everybody’s mind. I just wrote my usual self-deprecating observations, and it resonated. For that, I am grateful. It was a rock star moment for me.
The icing on the rock star cake came at dinner in Pasadena after visiting the CalTech campus, when I met with my very own groupie. Three years ago, a guy named Mike had found my book, Metal Fatigue, and tracked me down on Facebook via his wife Lisa’s account to tell me how much he liked it. We have been Facebook friends ever since, but this was our first chance to meet in person. At the heavy metal-themed restaurant Grill ‘Em All, we enjoyed obnoxiously constructed burgers. I chose the “Jump in the Fryer” – featuring waffle buns, cheeseburger, fried chicken, bacon, maple syrup, and sriracha – because us rock stars are all about excess. I felt some relief that Mike wasn’t a serial killer who had been plotting my demise for years. It turns out he is a city attorney, but my son was skeptical. After all, he mused, the best serial killers seem like respectable people. Ted Bundy was a lawyer, you’ll recall. Of course, we survived the evening unscathed, and I thanked Mike for tracking me down. Lisa presented me their copy of my book along with a Sharpie marker so I could autograph it. My ego was having a good run.
I thought a lot about gratitude and thankfulness that night. I am so grateful that my writing has had a positive effect on people, and I relished the opportunity to thank Mike and Lisa for reaching out to me. I’m not sure Noah Webster would agree, but I think gratitude is about appreciating what you have and thankfulness is about expressing your appreciation. That was on my mind the next day when I walked into the Rainbow Bar & Grill in Los Angeles. After a day at the Getty Museum, I made my fellow travelers follow me to the Sunset Strip so I could visit the Rainbow where one of my metal idols, Lemmy of Motorhead, spent his time when not in a recording studio or on the road. Lemmy died a year and a half ago, and it broke my heart. A bronze statue in his honor is placed at the back of the lounge, and I posed for a requisite selfie. I didn’t think it would help my husband and father credibility to sit in a seedy bar drinking Jack and Cokes for two hours while my wife and under-21 son waited in the alley, so I quickly took the picture and turned to leave the bar. I only made it one step before I saw Lemmy’s unoccupied barstool and the digital poker machine he played sitting on the bar. A rush of sadness hit me, as I realized if I had been here just two years ago, I could have walked into the Rainbow Bar & Grill, strolled to the end of the bar, and thanked Lemmy in person for his music, for being an important part of my life. I might have even gotten a selfie with him. I missed that chance, and I feel sorry for myself, but I also feel sorry that Lemmy didn’t get to hear a thank you from another fan. Of course, he heard a lot of thank yous in his life. Every time he took the stage, he would hear the screams of appreciative metal heads, but I think each of us needs all the thank yous we can get. Life is hard and short enough without them.
I am grateful that I have this outlet to put myself into the world a bit more publicly and for the kind words Mike, Lisa, and the Class of ’87 shared with me. I am deeply moved that others are thankful for what I’ve written. It is as special a gift as any I have received to be told that my words made a difference. I encourage you to reach out and thank an artist, painter, writer, dancer, singer, musician, teacher, friend, parent, or mentor who has inspired, supported, or moved you in some way. They will love to hear it.
P.S., Mike, don’t forget to do your heavy metal research on the early bands. I’ve provided a list of essential albums for you starting on page 228 of Metal Fatigue. I expect a full report the next time we meet. Go Dawgs!
P.P.S, The title of the post is a reference to the Scorpions song of the same name. The night before I left on the road trip, I saw a Scorpions tribute band perform, and they were amazing. Thank you, Second Sting, for rocking me like a hurricane.