Thank you, Eddie Van Halen (and David Lee Roth).

In the 80’s, I was that girl in the jean jacket with the big VH logo patch on it. (Gen X’ers—you know, the one with the peroxide-bleached feathered mullet and the knee-high moccasin boots, smoking in the bathroom between classes.) I wish I knew whatever happened to that jacket! It went missing long ago, along with the spiral notebooks with the same logo etched into the covers by a teen fan’s ballpoint pen.

That feels like several lifetimes ago, and I haven’t really listened to Van Halen’s music in decades. When I heard the news of Eddie Van Halen’s death last week, I was of course saddened and mostly I felt for his son, whose heartbreak was palpable in his short announcement.

In the week and a half that has followed, more has come up for me personally than I ever would have expected. No doubt like many people who came of age during Van Halen’s heyday, revisiting and celebrating EVH’s music has meant revisiting those years in the visceral way that only music triggers. In perfect timing, last week there was a meme going around that says something like, “If visual art decorates space, music decorates time.” This has never felt more true.

How many fans have long love stories like this? I want to read them ALL. Here’s hoping mine finds a few die-hards who truly understand, and it makes them smile.

The “1984” album dropped during my 13th year. I had some vague knowledge of Van Halen before that—I think must have heard “Jamie’s Cryin’” and “Pretty Woman” on the radio. I remember hearing about Valerie Bertinelli’s marriage to Eddie Van Halen and feeling happy about that, since I grew up watching “One Day at a Time” and I loved her. Other than that, they weren’t really on my radar until “1984” came out and the “Jump” and “Panama” videos went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Very quickly after that, I devoured that and all previous albums, and these posters went up on my wall:

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(No, I do not still have them—I found these pics via google search!)

Their show at the LSU Assembly Center during the 1984 tour was my first ever concert. My mom surprised me with two tickets and let me and a friend go on our own. I wish I remembered more of it—mostly what I remember is being so beside myself I thought I might pass out!

It should go without saying that I was (and, come to find out, still am) a devotee strictly of Van Halen version 1.0.

I wasn’t necessarily done with Van Halen when David Lee Roth left—I was willing to keep an open mind (maybe). But then they hired that other guy who I’m not going to name, and from that point on, the band was DEAD to me. I would turn the dial in utter disgust when a song from that era came on. Seriously, it used to make me mad just thinking about it.

Meanwhile, DLR’s solo stuff didn’t much do it for me, and I started listening to more Led Zeppelin and other stuff. As I got even older, my musical taste got more eclectic. I guess due to a combination of all those things, I left Van Halen far behind in favor of more “mature” music. I don’t think I listened to them—other than the same few songs by chance on the car radio— for at least 25 years.

Now that I’m listening again, I do believe I was engaged in musical snobbery toward my own younger self. The day I heard the news, I listened to the debut album in its entirety, and it’s more than nostalgic—it sounds like perfection, song by song and as a whole. Example: I had completely forgotten about the part in “I’m the One” where they go from loud guitar and rock star screaming right into that barber shop quartet thing (and back again). I thought, “Holy shit, I wasn’t just a clueless kid with immature musical taste and a hormonally crazed DLR obsession. They really were that good, unique and talented.” As a band, not just a vehicle for EVH’s genius or a backdrop for DLR’s antics.

Over a week later, I’m still binge-listening to those first six albums. It’s a surprising and oddly life-affirming experience to hear songs you haven’t heard in decades (and in some cases had completely forgotten about) and discover that those songs actually live in your body, because you still know every riff, every lyric, every vocal inflection, and can still do a lot of the drum parts on the steering wheel.

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OK, here’s my ranking of those first (ahem, only) six albums:

  • Van Halen (debut album). Rolling Stone called it “one of the strongest debut albums in rock history” and I wholeheartedly agree.
  • Women and Children First. My #2 spot was a toss-up between this one and “Fair Warning.” I love them equally now that I’m revisiting all the albums, so the tie breaker is the one I loved more back in the day, which is hands down this one. For starters, how I looooooooved that cover photo! Secondly, I have visceral memory of dropping the needle on the first track over and over. (Remember when having a song “on repeat” required staying actively, physically involved?)
  • Fair Warning. As noted, this one was almost #2. Fantastic album. I think I’ve actually listened to this one the most over the last week.
  • 1984. The gateway drug. When I quickly started getting into the older stuff, I understood why many die-hard fans were not in favor “Jump” and the addition of synthesizers. But I loved “I’ll Wait” which is heavy on that. The guitar-driven “Panama” and “Drop Dead Legs” are two of my very favorites.
  • Van Halen II. “Light Up the Sky” is one of my favorites of all VH songs, which is why this came out ahead of Diver Down—another toss-up. But the album as a whole is “meh” for me, especially after the perfection of the first album and how much I love the 3rd and 4th
  • Diver Down. Some unexpected gems here for sure, (Secrets, Little Guitars intro, Big Bad Bill), but something had to be last on the list.

I’ve read and watched a ton of articles, interviews and videos during the google-fest component of my Van Halen binge. Here are just a few things I want to share:

This NPR Music article, The Astonishing Techniques That Made Eddie Van Halen a Guitar God, is a good, concise description of what was so special about his playing and invention of new techniques. It also has a short list of 5 representative songs for those who may want to check it out in a small dose.

I agree 100% with his song choices. In fact, before I saw this article, I chose three of the same ones to play for my kids by way of explaining what all the fuss was about—”Eruption” (obligatory), “I’m the One,” and “Mean Street.” My 10-year-old likes different types of music and was duly impressed, if not an instantly converted fan. My 14-year-old has a one-track mind for hip hop right now. He humored me, but also called it “your old head music.” LOL. Fellow Gen-Xers—would you ever have guessed future kids would call it that, back in the day?

I will say one thing strictly as a side note, since this is a whole other blog post, and if I were to maintain high standards in this regard, I would lose half the music I’ve loved my whole life. I’m trying to raise my boys to be anti-sexist (not easy in this world), and there is some incongruence between those values and some of the lyrics and behaviors displayed by many of my musical favorites. When choosing songs to share with my kids, I was aware of messaging about women that hasn’t aged as well as the music. I have very little objectivity here in sorting appreciation from objectification, since this music was in my DNA long before I was old enough to know better about such things. I had to think of it strictly as a parent and ask myself if I would feel the need to qualify anything for them and encourage a critical social eye as a preface to a particular song, in the same way I do with some of the current music they’re listening to. (I trust some of it gets through, despite the eye rolling and “I KNOW, Mom.”)  I chose other songs, since the point was to have them appreciate Eddie Van Halen’s guitar chops!

Ok, back to the fun stuff.

Here’s some restored concert footage from 1978 (opening for Black Sabbath in Fresno):

And here’s an interview with Eddie Van Halen that shows what a down-to-earth, humble guy he was. My favorite part was when he said the best thing  about his musical life was being blessed to make music with his brother and his son.

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It’s been an interesting week and a fun ride. The other part of this story is that I became a fan during one of the worst periods of my difficult and tumultuous adolescence, and this music brought me some joy and positive energy during that time. Despite all the healing work I’ve done, I still compartmentalize and disown that time to some degree. This has been a catalyst for another layer of integration—an unexpected chance to get reacquainted with this girl:

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In a very different way, this music is serving a healing purpose right now, in the present. Who doesn’t need a little pick-me-up during these horrifying times we’re in? This trip down memory lane is enabling me to spend fewer than 100% of my waking hours enraged by the Amy Coney Barrett hearings and terrified by the upcoming election. (And in fact, I’m feeling energized and ready to hit the phone banks—join me!)

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The day after the news broke, I attended yet another Zoom meeting, and the participants were asked to do a quick check-in about how they were doing. I said I felt pretty amazing due to the dopamine flood from all the Van Halen I’d been listening to. When I noted it was a bit odd to feel that good since I should be mourning, someone said, “That’s how we mourn. We listen.”

I love that.

RIP Eddie Van Halen. Lots of love to his family, friends, and fans.

©Copyright Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2020 All rights reserved.

21 Days from the Old to the New Normal, Week 3: #StayingAtHome, Sitting with Paradox (and catching babies!)

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Part 1 of this series can be found here. Part 2 is here.

The Weekend: March 14 and 15

Saturday morning, a friend suggested we meet up at a basketball court so the kids could play. I’m thinking, that’s OK, right? It’s just my younger son and one other kid. My husband Gurpreet says he thinks we should shy away from that, especially with contact sports, and in general we should keep everyone at home. Yet again, I’m thinking this is nuts, we’ve gone from no crowds to no school to no small gatherings to no get-togethers with even ONE kid? But he was spot-on about not going to India. That gave me pause, along with having just experienced an entire week of safety thresholds changing by the day.

Moments later, I got a message from another mom on a group text. Her son was already asking to have the usual small group of boys over—what did we think? I replied that our “family policy” was evolving in that moment. One of the dads said his family was observing strict social distancing and suggested Google hangouts instead. He shared the article many people reading this will have already seen, “Social Distancing: This is not a snow day.”  I was convinced.

Despite the background anxiety, we had a nice weekend, relaxed and harmonious. We cooked a lot, took a long walk together, played Pandemic (because what else?) and actually won for the first time. Even though the reason behind it was nothing to celebrate, I set out to intentionally appreciate the empty calendar and whatever blessings this mandatory downtime and togetherness might bring. I listened to my boys chatting and laughing before bed and playing basketball together (thank God for our little backyard “court”!) and felt grateful for their relationship, since they would be spending A LOT of time together.

I got nostalgic for our homeschool days and in a way looked forward to having them at home again, especially the relaxed mornings, something I missed from those days. With my husband working from home and our kids being older, there would be no child care issues, and with all the assignments from school and me not having to curate or plan anything, I thought, this will be a piece of cake! (Let’s see if I end up eating those words.) And nothing would start for a couple weeks anyway, since they would be on spring break.

Knowing I wouldn’t have to plan everything, it was even more fun to make a short list of activities we could do within the current constraints. Providence Preservation Society self-guided tours. A walk on the beach followed by researching piping plover conservation. We would go find the harbor seals.

Monday, March 16

Did I say relaxed? Harmonious? Relishing the blessings? Even a little excited? Right. Welp, that was short lived.

Monday, reality set in. Not going anywhere, and who knows for how long. No friends, at least not in person. No team basketball. All together, at home, all the time. There was fighting (them with each other and me with them). Yelling (me). Complaining (everyone).

After dinner, I dragged everyone, kicking and screaming, out for a walk. It was just the reset we all needed. I asked them, “How would you describe this time to beings from another planet?” My older one said, “It’s like you can do anything you want, but at the same time you can’t do anything.” That resonated with me, as it did seem this time would be a strange combination of freedom and restriction. When it was my younger one’s turn to describe it, he said “Boring, boring, and garbage.” He’s usually articulate and wise beyond his years so I don’t know what happened there, but at least he said it with good humor.

We talked about how although we are all going through an adjustment to this new reality, people all over the world are suffering and dying and many others have lost their jobs. We told the kids—at the same time, reminding ourselves—it’s OK to feel disappointed about things we are missing, but relatively speaking, we have nothing to complain about. And what can we learn from this time about living in the moment, adjusting to the unexpected, and not taking the future for granted? What can we do to serve others?

Tuesday, March 17

Off to work in our office to do outpatient visits. This was the first day I wore a surgical mask for all patient care. It felt awkward, particularly in the outpatient setting. I felt compelled to apologize to my patients for the mask and explain that I was not sick, it was just the new protocol.

By that Friday, the next time I worked in the office, it was clear no one needed any explanation.

Wednesday, March 18

Back at the hospital for 24 hours. Birth happens. Babies will come out the same way, always, no matter what else is going on.

My midwife student and I were busy. We had four births and another woman in active labor besides. In the early evening, I received a text from a colleague. She had just heard that until further notice, our hospital would not allow any medical or midwifery students, in the interest of reducing “nonessential” personnel. I decided that since I had not yet heard this by any official notification and my student had already established relationships with all our patients, I was not throwing her out on the spot. She would finish her shift, and I would keep this information to myself until the morning so she could care for our patients and attend their births without being upset.

She did a fantastic job. When I told her in the morning that she wouldn’t be coming back until further notice, she was disappointed but had been expecting it. Some of her classmates at other clinical sites were already gone. A couple of weeks later, it would no longer be up to the individual clinical sites. The school itself would soon suspend all clinical training for their students.

I do not envy decision-makers in this situation. I pray for them daily and I know there are many considerations going into every difficult decision that I may not know about. I had trouble with this one. This exemplary student has decades of critical care and labor and delivery nursing experience. Even as a new grad midwife, she could hit the ground running after graduating in a few short months—just as we may be facing a provider shortage due to illness and quarantine. We are pulling health care providers out of retirement, and yet here we are hitting pause on the training of new ones who would have soon been ready to step in and fill urgent needs.

I wonder if we would be doing that if we were not facing such a dire shortage of PPE, needing to save every scrap for those of us who are currently licensed to provide care. This makes me angry.

Thursday and Friday, March 19 and 20

The week’s end involved a lot of contemplation and discussion with family and friends about what this time means—for now and the future. A larger conversation was emerging about how as horrible as this crisis is likely to get, it also has the potential to catapult us into a reordering of society that could result in a more compassionate, creative and just world.

Like so many people, I was determined to appreciate the opportunity for more family time, more time for care of the home and creative projects, and simple enjoyment of nature and reflection. At the same time, I wanted to take care not to spiritually bypass the horror of what is happening around the world and increasingly here in the U.S. I always struggle with what can feel like the perversity of personal gratitude while other individuals and entire populations of people face extreme hardship. To some extent, I always live with the question: am I doing enough to be of service in the world—not only to do my part, but also to deserve to enjoy my life? All this is intensified now.

The freedom of unstructured time alongside extreme restrictions. Collective and individual blessings alongside collective and individual anxiety and grief. It was clear this time would be nothing if not a lesson in living with paradox.

Gurpreet said: Imagine? Something  a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair has brought the whole world to its knees.

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 

Part 1 of this series can be found here. Part 2 is here.

 

“They Grow Up So Fast.” On memory, and remembering, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

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My boys, when they were four (the Hubble Space Telescope phase) and one.

“They grow up way too fast.” It’s so cliché, you’re probably rolling your eyes as you read it. We all know it, and yet when we’re in it, in the day-to-day of parenting, we forget. So even if we have a knee-jerk “yeah, yeah, I know” reaction to the cliché, how do we actually remember this thing we all know? As our children grow up at dizzying speed, faster with each passing year, is there any way to counterbalance the feeling that it’s getting away from us, without holding on to them—or the past—too tightly?

Most mothers of small children have had some version of the following experience: you’re in a public place and your toddler is melting down while the baby is screaming (or substitute some other flavor of wildness and chaos that comes with parenting small children).  An older mother, or a mother of children older than yours, gives you that knowing smile and says, “They grow so fast—hang in there, savor every moment!”

Some people (like this mom) hate this. They find it patronizing and invalidating and I get that, which why I resist the urge to say it myself—especially to people who are clearly struggling—now that my kids are getting older. It never bothered me, though, and in fact, I always appreciated the reminder. Because it’s so easy to forget, isn’t it, when things are hard? Or even when things are fine and routine but we’re on autopilot, caught up in the busy-ness and tasky-ness of life.

So, whether or not we want to hear it from others, how do we remind ourselves how soon these days, months, years, will be gone? Continue reading

Spiritual White People: Do we really want to help heal humanity? Or are we full of sh*t?

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Photo by Stephen Sandian on Unsplash

Spiritual white people: do we really want to help heal humanity? If we do, it’s past time to take a long, hard look at the ways we use spiritual beliefs to harm rather than heal.

Spiritual bypassing continues to show up in white-dominated spiritual/personal growth communities and wreak insidious havoc. Sometimes it’s empresses who turn out to be naked, like Danielle LaPorte or Marianne Williamson. Sometimes it’s emperors, like Tony Robbins. At least weekly, a lesser known spiritual entrepreneur—who may not be a household name but still might have followers in the thousands—uses their social media platform to push platitudes that deny and minimize oppression and legitimate suffering. This encourages their followers to follow suit. Just when I think I’ve said all I have to say on this subject, fresh inspiration is always right around the corner.

I’m talking to and about white people living in relative privilege who hold spirituality (not necessarily religion) as part of our identities and value systems. When I say “spiritual white people living in relative privilege,” I’m speaking about us as a collective, not as every single individual. So let’s practice observing our knee-jerk tendency to start concocting #notall type rebuttals, and then let that go, ok? On second thought, I do mean every individual, because we’ve all been complicit in some aspects, to some degree.

The following is a short list of beliefs and behaviors people in white-dominated spirituality/personal growth circles—including way too many “thought leaders” and spiritual business gurus—are very busy selling, buying and feeding each other. Continue reading

Spiritual Bypassing and White Fragility, By the Playbook

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Photo by Valentina Aleksandrovna on Unsplash

At the end of this essay are some links to pertinent articles, videos and books, mostly by women of color whose perspectives on this matter most. Also, on a time-sensitive note: on May 17, there is a free webinar for white women who want to do the internal work necessary to be part of the solution on these issues. More info and sign-up link here.

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Last week, Danielle LaPorte, one of the biggest names in women’s spirituality/personal growth entrepreneurship, launched a program with some marketing images that were racially problematic at best. When she posted her promotion of the program on her business’s Facebook page, numerous women of color (WOC) and white women in her target audience, many of whom had followed her and bought her products and programs for years, were upset and concerned. They let her know this with thoughtfully written, heartfelt (and yes, in some cases, angry!) explanations of why the marketing campaign was racist, and gave a wealth of educational links and suggestions for repair.

The original insult was compounded by her response to the feedback. She removed the images from online marketing materials and acknowledged the problem with her marketing campaign, but simultaneously implied the real harm was being done by the people giving the feedback rather than by her actions. Continue reading

Getting Unhooked: What Happened When I Took a Break from Facebook

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Photo by William Iven on Unsplash. Image description: smartphone showing Facebook log-in screen next to the words “social media” spelled out with Scrabble letters.

Facebook and I have a love/hate relationship. I’ve reconnected with people I never would have without social media, which has been (mostly) a blessing, and made new friends. I’ve seen some ideas that have changed how I operate in my daily life, like bullet journaling, and found some great parenting advice, insight and camaraderie. In the last couple of years, political and social justice actions have been facilitated or even made possible by Facebook. I’ve participated in some important and enlightening discussions (along with the many futile and exhausting ones). I’ve been educated, enraged, amazed and moved (both to tears and to action) by countless articles, blog posts, long form Facebook posts, and discussions I likely would not have seen otherwise. And this platform has allowed me to share my own writing. Lots to love.

AND. Facebook trips the wiring of my addictive tendency, which is always looking for a way to get reactivated, the minute I leave it unsupervised. Continue reading

Fear of February: How my winter depression shifted

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I really have no business living in New England.

I was born in New Orleans in August, in the middle of the afternoon. I could check what the temperature was that day, if that info is even available, but whatever. It was hot. We moved when I was just over a year old, and I spent a few years of my early childhood in Rhode Island. I can access a few hard details and events that stand out in stark relief, but most of my memories from that time are only sketches, shadows, colors, feelings. Vague images of snow angels are among those.

Before kindergarten, when my parents divorced, we (my mother, baby brother and me) moved back down south, initially to Mississippi where my grandparents lived. My mother remarried shortly thereafter and I was back in Louisiana—Baton Rouge this time (much less interesting than New Orleans, just as hot). For a couple of years at age 10 and 11, we had a stint in Indiana where I enjoyed the snow and don’t remember hating the cold, after which we were back in Baton Rouge.

Then, at age 13, my fighting spirit collided with family issues and catapulted me back to Rhode Island alone, this time without my mother and brother, where I arrived to live with my father, stepmother, stepsiblings and new baby sister—a process which was set in motion in February of that year. Continue reading

When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting

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Photo credit: StockSnap. Description: Woman with eyes closed and shadow across face.

I want to talk about something I witnessed last week in the online world.

First, a little background. A couple of years ago, I became increasingly aware of a pervasive phenomenon in the (overwhelmingly white) women’s spirituality/ personal growth circles I move in. I noticed persistent attempts to deny and disown painful realities by insistence (overt or implied) that we create our struggles with our negative thinking or energy or low vibration or fill-in-the-blank. I do believe the way we frame things in our thinking can be important to our well being and success, up to a point. I do believe we have some authentic choice around where we place our focus, and those choices can impact our well being and success, up to a point. However, I found the blanket application and oversimplification of these ideas to be profoundly negating of people’s life experience. It also borders on blaming people for certain external realities truly beyond their control.

I wrote a blog post at that time called “Anger and Spirituality Are Not Mutually Exclusive” in a stumbling attempt to speak to this thing I couldn’t name. I didn’t know then that I didn’t have to name it because it already had a name—Spiritual Bypassing—and there’s a whole book about it. I found this out when a dear friend put her copy of the book in my hands and said, “Will you please read this already? It’s what you’ve been bitching about for a year.”

Here’s the quick definition: Continue reading

Notes from a Radical Self-Care Weekend

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This past weekend, I was blessed to spend three nights at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the beautiful Berkshire mountains with one of my closest friends. There is so much to love about this place. The view of the mountains and lake. Dancing to live drums on Saturday (my very favorite thing). Yoga and more yoga. Time for hiking in the woods, sitting at the lake, journaling, and reading. The fourth floor sunroom, the labyrinth. The little things, like filling my water bottle with the herbal iced teas that are available 24/7 and the blankets in the bin on the big front patio, in case you forgot to grab your sweater or want to spread out on the lawn. Oh, and the beautiful, amazing food.

It’s a big place that draws 40,000 people per year. At this point, after half a dozen trips, I feel very much at home there, and at the same time, completely anonymous. It’s a strange yet comforting combination. Continue reading

6 Ways Bullet Journaling Makes Me Less Busy and More Productive

If we asked how many people feel perfectly happy with their organizational habits and systems, what percentage would say “yes?” Less than half, I’m thinking.

I haven’t written about my Kon Mari decluttering project in a while, probably because I haven’t worked on it since I did my kitchen this summer. That whole process is supposed to take six months. Since Marie Kondo’s book doesn’t acknowledge the existence of children and how life with them— and their stuff—might impact a massive whole-house purge, I added another six months for each kid. Even with that, I just passed my projected finish time. That’s OK, I know I’ll get it done. I watched the documentary “Minimalism” over the holidays and I’m re-motivated. Plus, I have a new system to keep me accountable and focused moving forward—bullet journaling!  Continue reading