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Playing in Baltimore. Credit: David Sill

March 30, 2017: Home

I’m home but I’m not home, I’m back in town but not for long. Two months of a tour in three acts with two intermissions.

A SOUL TO MATCH THAT’S RIPT IN TWO.
TUESDAY TO TUESDAY WITH MULTIPLE WEAKENDS
A MINUTE IN HEAVEN FOR A LIFE IN HELL.
I’D START AT SCRATCH AND WORK MY WAY BACK.
BELIEVE ME WHEN I MEAN IT. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.
            —Lydia Lunch, Adulterers Anonymous (with Exene Cervenka)

I arranged these tours in this segmented manner to accommodate Erin’s childcare needs and my medical needs. She had needed to plan around the availability of her partner and other supportive family members. I needed to plan to receive my nerve blocks: a volley of over a dozen shots of a local anesthetic in my neck, head, face, and shoulders, which I get every two weeks. That is, barring any medicaid shenanigans or neurologist scheduling mishaps, which frequently interrupt my treatment, which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Kafkaesque nightmare that is healthcare. The nerve blocks, in concert with Botox and a hearty serving of Gabapentin, help keep my chronic migraine and neck pain below 7/10, usually.

It would be melodramatic to call this hell, but it would be even more outrageous to call tour heaven.

April 2, 2017: Visiting Paula 

Paula working on her thesis painting. Credit: Beck Levy

I visit Paula at AU, where she’s working on her painting midterm. “Choosing what kind of boyfriend you want to have is like voting,” she proclaims.

April 5, 2017: Medical Visit

The nurse injects Lidocaine into my face and gives me gauze to hold against the bead blood that forms. I exit the office numbly. I sit still in my car. An irresistible thought appears: I keep fucking up and I can’t stop, I’m making things worse but I can’t keep myself from doing anything but. The thoughts cycle as though repetition is a form of logic. I stop feeling like a person. I realize that I’m having a panic attack, but I haven’t brought any medication for that. I call Lauren and she lets me talk real fast at her about how bad I am. She confirms that these thoughts have no basis in reality. It unsticks me enough that I can drive. I drive to my grandfather’s house, where my mother stays. I put on some of her clothes and lay down in a dark room. Existing is exhausting.

April 6, 2017: Face Masks

I spend most of the day incapacitated by the remains of yesterday’s panic attack, nauseous and uncomfortable being a person. I leave for tour tomorrow. Before I left, I wanted to vacuum and clean out the car, practice some new songs, load samples onto my sample pad and strategize about incorporating that into my set, and assemble the zines that I created as an alternative to the tape for fans who don’t have cassette decks. I haven’t done any of that, and I don’t feel capable of doing any of it tonight. So I try to focus on relaxing. It isn’t my strong suit. I pursue it with the same intensity that I direct toward action, so it becomes a violent, involved relaxation. Tonight that takes the form of three face masks, and tinting my eyebrows navy blue.

April 7, 2017: Baltimore, Md. at Joe Squared with Gauche, Small Axe, and LIP

I wake up later than I mean to. I’m at my dad’s apartment in Takoma Park, finishing packing my bags, when I get the news. It comes in the form of a text message. A family member who I am very close to has been diagnosed with something serious. My whole body feels like it’s sinking. There’s a churning in my chest, tightness in my throat. I’m not sure how to make sense of the news, not sure how to make sense of my plans, not sure what to do with myself.

I call my lifelong best friend, Sarah O’Donoghue, and tell her the news. “Fuck,” she says. She has questions about next steps, regarding the illness. I tell her I’m not even sure about next steps for myself in the next hour. Panic is catching up to me. We talk through my options. Don’t go on tour. Still go on tour. We figure out that, regarding the news, nothing is going to happen in the next week and a half that would require my presence. The only reason to not go would be if I just don’t feel like I can handle it. “Which would be totally understandable,” she says. I have no idea what I can or cannot handle. Recent life suggests that my capacity for suffering might be infinite.

We decide that I will try to go on tour, and if it doesn’t feel right or something happens back home, to just drive home. I’m not going very far this time. It is a sensible plan. I know that my whole family wants me to be on tour, supports my music, have been rallying behind me. Cancelling outright wouldn’t make anyone happy. Sarah thinks this is a good plan. I suddenly become terrified of getting off the phone and feel like I’m going to cry. “Will you come over please,” I say. She comes over.

Somehow I finish packing. While packing I find out that the venue for our show in Philadelphia, the Storefront, has been shut down. Somehow I coordinate getting us added to another show happening the same night. Somehow I convey that to all parties involved. I call Mary from Gauche to update her about the details, but she’s in the shower and instead Tariq picks up her phone. Tariq and I have been friends for 13 years. Hearing his familiar voice makes me blurt out the bad news about my family, instead of the good news about the show. “Fuck,” he says. Somehow I load up my car and drive to Baltimore.

The drive is mildly dissociative; my brain doesn’t record any memory of the experience. The show is at Joe Squared. I go to three wrong addresses at three different locations in the city before figuring out that the place is a block away from the first wrong address I tried. In this new reality, though, nothing that insignificant could get to me.

The venue is a pizza place, with the show space downstairs. It’s nice down there, a proper if small soundbooth, a small bar, a row of tables along the side wall. Somehow I get changed into my show clothes, somehow I set up my merch table. Somehow I order food and a glass of wine, and participate in a conversation about The Bachelor.

Two familiar, loving faces are among the first to arrive at the show. It’s Katie Langer and Liz Holcomb, former residents of the legendary Girl Cave. Both are my good friends, both are Cancers, and they both look at me with love. I’ve already texted them the news.

Small Axe is Esha and Alex. I met Esha because we were both in “Woman in E.” She played in the acoustic guitar chorus at the HGJ record release show. She always wears all red, always exudes intoxicating calm and the scent of vetiver. Esha and Alex both play guitar and sing. They play seated, facing one another. They sound kind of like the quieter Steel Pole Bathtub stuff, or like if the Fugs listened to a lot of Espers.

Sometimes, life is hard. Really hard.

I’m determined to play a good set, determined to be utterly present for it. If I’m not going to be at home with my family, if I’m going to do this tour, I’d better be putting my whole heart into it. I’d better be playing my ass off every night and making my family proud. I’m in a state of total concentration, in touch with my purpose, when I start playing and throughout my set. Esha joins me to accompany “July.”

Afterward I’m drained. I just want to sit down, drink the rest of my wine, and be with Liz and Katie. But it’s my first night with Gauche, so I go stand up front. People find them a difficult band to label, not least because they have a huge cast of rotating members. But I have no problem identifying their sound: they’re like a peace punk band. They’re like if Crass was sassy. They’re sassy Crass.