This week’s weather on the Oregon Coast seemed to be one continuous rain storm, making it hard for me to distinguish one from the other when I look back. There was that one day when it rained, or wait, am I confusing it with that other day it rained, no wait, I think I’m thinking about the other other day it rained. Days such as these can force you indoors, which in turn can force you into the same bored home activities. So, beyond confusing days that had similar weather, you find yourself confusing the days you watched TV all night.
I opened up the week saying farewell to the annual Choir Camp, watching their staff entertain with silly skits and songs. I had a chance to share in their closing communion as well. I took my bread, dipped it in the juice and tasted what’s come to be the familiar sensation of bread soaked in sweet grape water. I walked over to the window of Sherlock Lodge and stood prayerfully looking out the window overlooking Smith Lake. I recalled many times at Lakeshore after communion I looked out those tall windows of the “Sunroom,” onto Kentucky Lake, contemplating the beauty of nature and my place in it all at that moment in time.
It’s interesting when you travel or move what you take with you, what will translate, what won’t, and what will be morphed into some other version of itself. You really begin to figure out what is ingrained in you and what was just some habit that wasn’t that crucial to you. Sometimes things you thought were essential get left by the wayside because they are too heavy. Sometimes things you barely gave a second thought before, surface and won’t leave you alone.
I’ve been listening a lot to Sturgill Simpson this week, and those songs have stayed stuck in my head well after hearing them. Sturgill is a relatively new country artist who you’ll probably never hear on a mainstream country station. And actually, he probably wouldn’t want to be called a country artist, but he definitely has a heavy country sound. I don’t like hardly any mainstream country music, because I feel like most of it is a cartoon version of what is truly country. I think most of what you hear on the radio is pandering, and even though I don’t always outwardly come off as being from “the country,” I am, and I feel a little insulted by what country artists are trying to sell to people who actually get “country.” Anyway, Sturgill Simpson is raw, he’s roots, and he’s also a bunch of other stuff. But, he definitely sounds like the people I know from the country. I hear Waylon and Willie and outlaws. When he sings about hard drinking and low days, he makes you believe that he actually knows about it.
I say all this, because cranking out this music so much has made me think a little bit about identity this week. Being in Oregon has made me take a little more ownership of my “country,” and my “Southern” side. Not that I’ve ever not wanted to own it. It’s more that I find myself embracing the parts of myself that make me an outsider wherever I am. Since I really came into being this version of me that I’m in, I find myself resisting fitting totally into anything. There’s something very attractive to me to distinguish myself. Lately I’ve been thinking about how these parts of me that know the South, the hole in the wall diners and bars, the twang in everyday language, the kindness and the boiling anger–how these parts of me help me have that unusual sort of identity I like to imagine myself having.
The truth is that there are versions of all that stuff here. My summer staff last year listen to country music as much as anyone I know back home (weird, right?). But, there are certain things we know in one place that just don’t feel the same in another place, no matter how many times you play them on repeat. Those things have to take on a slightly different identity, mean something slightly different. I realize that the work I do here, the person I am here will mean something different than it did in Tennessee and Kentucky. And, of course, I want that to some degree or I wouldn’t have picked up and moved here.
These rainy day weeks, these days spent a little too long in front of the screens get you thinking a lot about what you’re doing, who you’re becoming, how that fits into the current surroundings. I think about all the people, places, musicians, movie directors, and even animals who have had a hand in making me who I am. I love that I’ve gathered up who I am from so many different influences. It makes it easy to appreciate a lot of different stuff and connect to a lot of different people.
My Friday Lenten fast was physically pretty easy as these things go. I didn’t find myself weakened like I was last week. I went the whole day without eating until dinner and felt pretty comfortable, slowing down like I needed to, and finding a real comfortable happiness in going without. In the afternoon, I got out the grape juice left by the Choir Camp after they used one cup for their communion. I’ve found a key to not completely tanking on a fast is to get plenty of fluids. I took a deep gulp of the juice, and the taste was big. It was a moment that felt like my tongue’s equivalent to Dorothy walking out of black and white house into the technicolored Oz. During that rush of flavor I tasted what I always tasted when I taste grape juice, but it just felt so much deeper, like I was tasting better than I normally do.
That’s why I’m doing these fasts during Lent. It’s why I’m trying to hold myself to doing something unique each day, where there is something special and notable in each one. It’s why I spend so much time thinking about who I am, who I’m becoming, where I’ve been, where I’m going. I want to do it in such a way that I truly taste it, that I get at something realer than what will just pass, what we can get by with. When I recall it, when I tell about it, I want people to be sure I’ve lived it, I want them to know I was there and deep down in it.