Ringing in the New Year

It’s 2023 and here I am, finishing the last of an Irish Whiskey cake leftover from dinner last night. Perhaps I’ll be healthier tomorrow, but probably not. New year, same old self.

The myth of renewal when one year changes over is based in nothing outside our persistence in believing it. January 1, 2023 is just the tomorrow of December 31, 2022 and will be the yesterday of January 2, 2023. Nothing more, nothing less. But, of course, what makes the promise of New Years real is the strength in which we believe in it. A resolution is not a revelation, it’s just one more decision to see through (if you can) except if it becomes the decision–something like filing for divorce or quitting your 9-5 job to pursue art. But, this type of monumental move is often made once in a lifetime, if at all.

I once declared well-intentioned resolutions every year, but the only one I ever really kept was to moisturize more. Trivial but important as we all age. This tradition ended when I authoritatively announced (a little wobbly, after the clock passed midnight at Stookey’s Club Moderne) that 2020 would be the year I traveled more and regularly rode public transit! As you can imagine, that worked out great. And while I don’t put the same weight onto one year moving into the next like I once did, there is still something special about this time of year.

Maybe it’s the weather that encourages us all to stay inside or our communal decision to slow down around the holidays. As a society, it feels like we let each other have a break. In this spirit, I did a wild thing and took two whole weeks off starting on December 19th and ending tomorrow. It’s the first time I’ve put work aside to be intentionally unproductive since my father died in 2010. Grief makes you want to disappear into something. Some people shoot up, others drink, I worked as many hours of the week as I could physically bear so I wouldn’t have to be alone with myself.

We have an unhealthy commitment to overworking here in the United States, so it was fine that I dodged my grief by dodging myself like this. Ambition is rewarded, no matter how blind. In the meantime, I lost my grandmother (2013), my mother (2018), a beloved uncle (2019), the woman who launched my career (2020), and a surrogate mother (2022)–all but one to cancer. I lost my health (2013/2020) and let go of anyone who reminded me of what I once had as well as both childhood homes (2012/2020). I no longer had a foothold in Southern California, a place I’ve come to love more every minute I’m away from it, or a firm grasp on who I am as a woman of flesh and spine and memory.

In the meantime, I lost myself. So, I am work and work is who I am, because I am now unmoored and what I was is no longer grounded on this earth. What I was is buried six feet beneath the soil of five separate cities, none of which I live in.

So, I put down roots in San Francisco and bought a home in 2021 with what will always feel like money I did not earn–money my father earned and never had the chance to enjoy. In what I hope was the right move, I bought a single family home despite being childless to have room for everyone I lost, and have space for everything they left behind in my inheritance. I bought a home in which to host holiday dinners, despite the fact that I cannot cook (although am trying) and am a “single woman, not divorced”–a category I checked several times in my mortgage paperwork that would have been absent had a man been signing in my place. I bought a house so I could finally bring the people I lost above ground, introduce them to the living I am trying to keep close, and be at home with myself.

On December 25, 2022, I hosted a baker’s dozen for dinner in this Doelger home that was last sold in 1956. We cooked a 16-pound prime rib roast from an old-school neighborhood meat market called Guerra’s, drank all the alcohols, and laughed extremely hard about something I can’t quite recall now but know, for a fact, was hilarious. And after that, I only left this home for walks on the beach in between the rains. I read voraciously like I haven’t been able to in years, listened to records annotated in my mother’s handwriting, watched movies new and old, cleaned a house destroyed by holiday merriment, and spent quality time with my cat. I found comfort in silence, in stillness, with momentary breaks of chaos evoking that scene in Home Alone where the extended McAllister family has pizza the night before they leave town.

The last two weeks of being mostly alone with myself wasn’t part of a resolution but is hopefully part of an evolution moving towards…I don’t know what…contentment? I hope to be a person at ease with her regrets and failures, measured in context with her accomplishments and the realization that what she does can have impact but that she, in the grand scheme of things, does not matter. As Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail said, “I lead a small life–valuable, but small–and sometimes I wonder: do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

The person who will eventually cure cancer will matter. The person who, with an apron on and a cat in her lap, writes this blog post that a few people will eventually read does not and will not matter. So, you’re probably wondering, why write a blog post at all if nothing matters? I suppose it boils down to this: I release this as an act of courage but mostly as an act of writing. This remarkably productive unproductive time has allowed me to recapture a part of my life before loss that was, and is, elemental to who I am. I rejoined my life as a thinker instead of a doer, met myself as an artist and not a nonprofit administrator. I don’t have the audacity to think people will care about anything that is found here on Nostos Algos, but I do think that a single act has a greater chance of becoming a habit if it’s made visible. For someone to be a writer, they have to make a habit of writing–of synthesizing the things they see and read and and hear and feel by pouring it all into words with regularity.

I want to be a writer who is seen as an artist free from her motives as a museum professional. When you’ve spent 12 years trying to disappear into ambition, visibility this naked is a revolution.


See & Read: I Am Here For It

I Am Here For It

You are not what you see, but what you say and do
As I am not what made me, but what I make happen - now and next time
We are lips and tendons and tastes
And I am yours to wreck and rebuild
If we choose to stitch this life together in sinew and scotch tape

This is temporary
This is everything
         I am here for it

I want you to absorb me in my wetness
Drink me and drain me and dry me off
As I love you from a distance, up here
Words coming out wrong, wanting to sound strong 
But only managing to graft grammatical particles
In place of the automatic poetry that moves me

Transitions are not temporary
They are everything
         I am here for it

So move with it, move on:
One step forward and two paces back
Into this blurred nightscape extending beyond us all
My heart fouled by thoughts, 
My brain fueled by feelings;
I am all mixed up

This is temporary
This is everything
        I am here for it

Because tomorrow is a mindset we allow
It’s a mechanism used to understand unknowable things
Like God and grace and luck and liminality
Pressed against the panels of a room vented by music
Where people have been before
And here I am, WAITING

Transitions are everything 
They are not temporary
         I am here for it

Image credit: 
Robert E. Lee 
(Richmond Artistic Photographer / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
OpenSFHistory.org, wnp28.3354 

See & Read: 11/4/2015

(C) Nicole Meldahl, 2015
(C) Nicole Meldahl, 2015

“I adore you as much as the vault of night, / O vessel of sorrow, O deeply silent one, / And I love you even more, my lovely, because you flee me / And because you seem, ornament of my nights, / More ironically, to multiply the miles / That separate my arms from blue immensities.” — Charles Baudelaire

Getting Bunburied in Cincinnati, Ohio

Skyline view of Cincinnati from the 600 block of Main Street.

Looking back on our recent trip to Cincinnati for the Bunbury music festival, there were as many low-lights as there were highlights. This is a festival in its third year, and the event’s new organizers, PromoWest, still have much to learn. Rookie mistakes include a security team that asks about weapons on your person instead of checking for them; too few water stations in an unforgivably hot and humid climate; poor sound quality at the smaller stages; and a “craft beer village” that served us Stella Artois–a brand owned by Anhueser-Busch, the world’s largest beer manufacturer and distributor.

My favorite oversight was the poor signage and lack of visible staff at the start of the festival. On Friday, my little group entered the only marked entrance a few hours after opening, and walked into a Kafkaesque scene in the parking lot. Without any direction, attendees had formed a web of lines TO NOWHERE, some of which snaked into the ends of other lines and moved nonsensically in circles. People were hot, people were missing beloved bands, people were hangry. Some people were stuck outside for an hour or more, while craftier festival goers walked straight through the gates with ease as the only two visible staff members stood near the entrance and did nothing to control the situation. This was an amazing social experiment. Thank you, Bunbury, for proving that society descends into chaos within minutes in a vacuum.

In truth, these are all fixable deficiencies and some were on the road to remedy by the third day while others will probably (most likely…hopefully) be worked out by next year. For a note of positivity, the beer lines were short, and we weren’t packed into the festival grounds like sardines. Re-entry was allowed so we could come and go as we pleased (a fact that probably improved the bathroom situation immensely), and Bunbury was very kid friendly. In fact, there wasn’t one tripping teen, scared and lost in a sea of acid, to be seen all three days–a marked difference from Outside Lands. Most notably, the crowd wasn’t clogged with fashion bloggers and wannabe chanteuses looking to commemorate their coolness with Internet. This is because Bunbury hasn’t jumped the shark like Coachella, Outside Lands, or SXSW: all of which are now places to see and be seen rather than places to see and hear music. People actually came to the banks of the Ohio River to be with friends in the presence of live music; what a concept.

The highest of highs, however, came from two bands I’ve seen on the west coast many-a-time. Father John Misty has been profiled on this blog before, and I don’t feel there’s much more to add. His pitch was perfect, his outfit on point, his set amazing and peppered with insights that skewered the absurdity of every band asking the audience “how y’all doing today?” as well as the weak explanation Bunbury gave for its choice of name. For the record, he renamed the festival Blimberskrimp. After all was said and done, he made two grown females swoon just by walking by them. I was one of those two females, the other was my lady compadre for the weekend. He passed us and we attempted to say words with our mouths but words that never came; then he was gone in the blink of a swoon. As soon as he was out of earshot, we released breathy, disbelieving screams and lost our minds just as it began to pour down rain with a southern fury. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that means Father John Misty conjured the rain. It was a monswoon.

As the skies opened up we stood in the rain like teenagers and watched Tame Impala play an epic set through the downpour. For a band that up until recently hadn’t seen any of its U.S. royalties, Tame Impala always plays an amazing show like none of that BS is happening to them. Listening to psychedelic Aussies while running losey-goosey in the rain with an equally stimulated crowd conjured thoughts of Woodstock in the best of ways. Especially for a Californian that had almost forgotten what it was like to see water come from the sky, this moment was seared deeper into my memory as each huge sweat-salty drop of water stung my eyes. I was blown away when they played the Fox Theater in Oakland a few years back, and blown away a second time here in Ohio not only for the quality of their performance but for their professionalism in finishing their set as thunder wailed, lightning flashed, and the rain incapacitated their keyboard. This is a great band; this was a great night.

Other than Friday, we didn’t spend much time at the festival because we’re jaded city folk who weren’t that impressed with the line-up, and the trip was more of an excuse to see old friends than an effort to see new music. I am 30 now and I wasn’t paid to cover Bunbury, both facts which de-incentivized fighting crowds to catch a glimpse of Snoop Dog or enduring the heat to hear a local band I can hear better on Bandcamp. Instead of trapping us by the river, however, Bunbury’s re-entry policy allowed me and my band of merry travelers to explore Cincinnati.

Did you hear that, American cities currently negotiating with festival promoters, and the festival promoters that try to rob us blind with over-priced food and drinks? By enabling ticket holders to come and go at their leisure they will spend more money within city limits, and be much happier, much less destructive people at the festival because the herd mentality has been usurped by the freedom of movement. We still bought plenty of food and beer at the festival, but we also frequented Cheapside Cafe, MOTR Pub, Park + Vine, Coffee Emporium, the Taft Museum of Art and Eden Park, among others. In addition, we Ubered everywhere–further injecting Cincinnati’s local economy with our out-of-state moneys. Freedom = Choice, Choice = Patronage, Patronage = Successful Small Businesses.

Our band of merry travelers in Eden Park.

Bunbury is a quaint local festival that sent us home feeling unsullied and sun-kissed with a side of musical memories. Cincinnati is a cool town grappling with the same issues of suburban flight, urban blight, gentrification, and the on-coming flood of hipness as are so many other American cities in the 21st-century. But there is an element of midwest charm in Ohio that compels even the hippest bartenders and baristas to be awesomely polite and authentically engaged with me, the customer. I had almost forgotten this was possible, living as I do in San Francisco where rudeness is now worn as a badge of honor–a way to stratify class in Northern California into hierarchies of unhip, hip, hipper, and hippest. I’m sure Cincinnati’s growing pains are not over and that the city’s gentrification is not appreciated by all its residents, but, from an outsider’s perspective, it was encouraging to see murals restored and small businesses popping up amidst empty storefronts, while other businesses remained in place and looked untouched by time.

If you’re looking for a relaxing pace of life and an excuse to catch up with old music-loving friends, Cincinnati is the place and Bunbury is the festival for you. Will I personally return to Bunbury next year? Probably not, but Goonies never say die and this lady is most certainly for hire as a freelance music journalist. We’ll see where the year takes us, but until then…you take care, Ohio–perhaps I’ll see you again some day.