Whitney Booth – Just Me and Taylor

At our Feb 2016 theme “Alone,” co-host Whitney Booth delivered a delightfully funny “confessional” piece on her love of Taylor Swift and that time she went alone to one of Tay’s concerts…as a grown woman. 

Just Me and Taylor

In the last few years, I’ve learned to do a lot of things by myself that I might otherwise always do with a friend, boyfriend, or a large group of folks. Going to the movies is a pretty easy one — I mostly want to be left alone  when I do that, anyway. When I used to travel alone for my job, I got used to dining out by myself — sitting at the bar is faster than waiting for a table and I would almost always end up having a conversation with someone. It took a bit of gumption to decide on it, but traveling by myself has uncovered some of the deepest joys I’ve yet to know in this life. 

Live music was one of the big draws that attracted me to Nashville twelve years ago, and in that time I’ve dragged a number of friends along with me to shows all over town. It’s obviously way more fun when both parties in attendance are equally excited about the concert or share a love for the artist, and that’s been the case a lot of the time, but not always. When I was dating someone for a long time, I got used to having a go-to concert companion. I knew that I could buy two tickets and we would both go and it would be fun, but when I was single again, that changed. Sure, I still had lots of friends I could call up and invite, but for some of the bigger shows I wanted to see, the tickets would go on sale so far in advance that it was hard to make any firm plans. 

I looked to my fictional mentor for all things hopelessly romantic, Ted Mosby, for direction. When Ted Mosby receives a wedding invitation, he RSVPs for two, even when he is single— it’s a bold act of hope that by the time the wedding rolls around, he’ll be in love, or at least excited about the possibility of love— maybe even with the mother of his kids. Following suit in pure Mosby fashion, I started buying two tickets to shows without a specific guest in mind —who knows where I’d be several months from now?! Pulling a Mosby felt like a way of breathing life into my hopes and putting those possibilities out into the universe — not that I was so hard up for a boyfriend, but it was nice to think about how much fun it might be to take a really great date to this concert ten months from now. And sure, I’ve ended up selling a lot of single tickets and standing next to a stranger, wondering then if this person might be my soulmate before quickly deciding “no, probably not.”

In the summer of 2013, I was spinning in a delayed whirlwind of Taylor Swift fever. I’ve never been a big fan of country music so I suppose it makes sense that she caught my attention at a point in her career when she was leaning almost fully pop. Like a lot of folks, I had decided Taylor Swift was a whiney girl whose subtlety in breakup anthems left us wanting. I hadn’t ever really listened to her until she dropped the single, “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which I listened to approximately 26 times in a row one afternoon. It wasn’t until that year that I became obsessed with one song at a time until I was fully enamored with her Red album, which I had ripped from a 9 year old’s CD copy while I was working as her nanny. Taylor Swift would be playing three nights at Bridgestone Arena that September and a lot of my friends were going, but the tickets had gone on sale over a year before and all three nights had almost sold out immediately. There was no chance of me jumping in with a group of friends who had been planning on it for so long, but I was wearing that album out and was already experiencing serious anticipatory FOMO. I had to go. In a fit of Taylor-fueled excitement, I grabbed my phone, searched for a single ticket on Ticketmaster, and bought it.  

I hesitated to share my excitement with a lot of people because I knew I’d be met with the dreaded question, “Who are you going with?” At this point, I hadn’t been to any concerts alone. Many of my friends wouldn’t flinch at the news of my going out solo, but this was not my typical genre or taste and there was something inherently creepy about a 27 year old woman going alone to a Taylor Swift concert. With another adult who wears Taylor superfandom with pride? No big deal. With a group of kids squealing with excitement to see their favorite star? Not weird at all. Alone? At this show. A little weird.

But the night arrived and I had shared with a few trusted comrades just how out of my mind excited I was. I put on my red lipstick, chugged a Coors Light in my kitchen, and drove myself downtown. I gave myself a little bit of time so that I could have a drink at the bar at Merchant’s beforehand, so I parked in a garage and took my time walking down Broadway, smelling the cigarettes and spilled whiskey from ten thousand nights before, feeling the anticipation that hung heavy in the dusky downtown air. I ordered a cocktail at Merchants, all the while breathing deeply and reminding myself that there was nothing weird about being alone and doing something I wanted to do, believing that this would be a great night and that I had everything I needed — ticket, red lips, ID… well, almost everything. I sprinted back across Broadway, bargained with the garage attendant to let me out and back in without paying twice, sped home to grab my ID and tried again. I went straight to Bridgestone this time, directly to the beer line, which was delightfully short at this Taylor Swift concert, since her fanbase was still mostly underage.

Ed Sheeran was opening for her on this tour. I didn’t and still don’t care about him, but I have never experienced a surge of positive energy and excitement like the one I felt when I pulled back the curtain to walk into the stadium that night. Red blinking signs filled the seats, girls screamed at Beatles-Ed-Sullivan Show decibels — I’m not remotely ashamed to share that I teared up a little. I couldn’t remember a time when I had been in the presence of such genuine excitement — I’m not sure that I had ever felt the magnanimous joy and enthusiasm that filled Bridgestone that night. 

…Until about an hour later. 

I don’t know if any of you have ever been to a Taylor Swift concert, or if you have an idea of what to expect from a big stadium show like this, but I was not prepared for the level of sheer, nonstop entertainment and unadulterated fun that would keep me on my feet, dancing and singing for three hours straight that night. Say what you will about Tay, but I love her. She works hard, she shows incredible amounts of kindness to her fans, and during her concerts, she’ll give at least one breathy, impassioned speech about loving yourself and how that, with the love from your friends, is so much stronger than all the mean things that people will say about you when they try to tear you down. Oh, and she moves through the air on a floating pedestal while she does this— to get closer to the nosebleed seats! She’s amazing and seeing her perform live only magnified my admiration for her. 

The great thing about being alone at a concert is that, instead of turning to your friend who might not like these songs as much as you, you just look ahead, throwing your fangirl arms in the air and singing as loud as your lungs will let you because this is for you. You don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself. Sharing this with someone equally excited is, perhaps, the ideal situation, but I learned that night that it’s a close second. And it’s followed even more closely by a third option that I doubt I’ll ever find in a more truly joyful form than I did that night. My seat was in the first section off the floor, about halfway back from the stage — to my right was a group of four people about my age, with whom I hoped desperately to blend, and to the left was an eleven year old girl. 

She and I had shared some excited glances earlier in the night, but as Taylor moved through the stadium, dazzling us with her best songs, both old and new, our communication of squeals and claps and jumps-in-place cemented our connection. We mirrored one another’s dance moves, including series of dramatic, head shakes to accompany each “trouble, trouble, trouble”. She lost her mind when Ed Sheeran joined Taylor on stage for “Everything Has Changed’ and I lost mine when Taylor sat at her enormous piano and flung her hair back and forth in “All Too Well,” stirring my emotions and undoubtedly racking up a sizable bill with the chiropractor. During a set change, as Taylor spoke about love and loss over vague lead-in music for the next song, I turned to my new friend, leaned down to her level, and shouted, “DO YOU THINK SHE’S ABOUT TO DO LOVE STORY?!?” She did. And I cried at the key change. 

A bunch of my close friends were somewhere in the room that night. I could have easily texted them to meet up in the lobby after the show, but I didn’t. There were 19,999 other people with whom I was now permanently bonded by this magical experience—their energy would be impossible to forget and their screams would ring in my ears late into the next morning. I had made a new little friend who I would never see again. Love filled the room and spilled out onto Lower Broadway. But being in that sold-out arena, in that square foot of dance floor in section 104, in my body, with a belly full of expensive beer and a heart full of joy, I was alone. I was alone and I was grateful. I was alone, just like every other person that night who stood up, strong and sure, screaming loud enough so the person with whom she was never ever ever ever getting back together would hear.

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Cary Gibson – Something Unexpected

Here is the lovely story from Cary Gibson at Tenx9’s November event, “Something Unexpected”

How I Discovered A 14 Syllable Synonym For Love.

 :: For Joel ::

The 1964 Disney movie Mary Poppins – a political manifesto about the dangers of unfettered capitalism on the human soul – is also a story about the power of imaginative language to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.,

Crucially, it’s discussion of the word, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” instructs us,

So when the cat has got your tongue
There’s no need for dismay
Just summon up this word
And then you’ve got a lot to say

But better use it carefully
Or it may change your life
One night I said it to me girl
And now me girl’s me wife!

You may think this story hasn’t begun. It has. Hearing the story, as you imagine it, it becomes fiction and yet, no less the real for it.

Our story begins – once upon a time – the 20 May 1845 to be exact –

the day Robert Browning met Elizabeth Barrett. The courtship and marriage between these two writers was carried out secretly & by correspondence, fearing, quite rightly, that her father would disapprove. Is that true? Surely every story, once it’s told and retold, is a fable.

This story has no ending. Not yet.

If we get our wish, the ending will be fatal. Because like every love story, it will in time, one way or another, become tragedy.

This story might prove that endings are rarely endings, because unless something horrifically unexpected happens, one of us will still be here to keep telling our story.

I told our story to a woman at a party and she responded, “What a wonderful tale to tell your children.”

I don’t have any children. If I were to, well, that would certainly be something unexpected. The true story already becoming fiction – being told to children born of another’s imagination.

Ours is a story about stories & the love of stories. And the love of a very blurred line where fact and fiction meet… of embracing everything as true. Everything.

And how stories are like maps. And that the only true map would be a map on a scale of one to one: an exact replica of the place being mapped. Because when we put things into words we fall short of the truth.  A story is an impartial map. And everything is fiction.

Where else could I begin?

Where and when we met?

Where we declared love for one another?

Or, where and when we fell into love?

The first one is easy. It’s a fixed point in time and space. We met at a breakfast table. In 1998.

But the second question – that’s a little more tricky – for we were in hindsight telling each other we loved one another in so many ways before he, and certainly before I realized it. So that when he did declare it, I was shocked.

So, when did we fall in love?

That really is impossible to tell.

You’d think it was easy. Because we have pages – that run into the hundreds. Each one dated, time stamped. They tell the story of what we came to call “asynchronous symbiosis”. He in one time zone, me in another. Emails sent back and forth, across an ocean, over several months.

Those letters – contained a story. A story we wrote together, in the form of a map. A map of what we called, “the canon.” The canon, contained,  & made everything in it, real.

We fell down a rabbit hole, or perhaps jumped into a chalk picture on a pavement, that took us to a place just left of Narnia, our letters growing increasingly frequent and fervent: ‘the canon’ mapped fidelity with Ray Bradbury’s wedding vow, ‘to always love dinosaurs’, an exploration of wonder was led by Doctor Who, an invitation to pay attention by Sherlock Holmes, persistence was found in Neverwhere, & comics, hegemony was in The Matrix, or the Inklings. Political interviews danced with poetry, which rhymed with history, which argued with doctrine and laughed at certainty.

The stories shared over days, weeks, months were being added to an imaginative wiki – in which nothing gets left out and everything is interlinked, connected by dotted lines…

And somewhere in the midst of that map, we began to write ourselves.

Letters (written weekly, then twice weekly, then daily, then twice daily) wove our  own stories with every story written since Homer’s Odyssey – to name just a few – marked in invisible ink where you and me, was becoming “us”.

Because reading those letters I cannot tell where we slipped from friendship and respect into shared meaning making and then flourished into mutuality, particularity, intentionality, fidelity, and continuance… LOVE.

So, perhaps we’ll say that, ‘This is how it happened…’

That on the 12th September 2009, my friend was on his way to a family wedding in Texas.

The night before he’d been out for dinner with a friend and after cycling home in pouring rain, sent me a poem – A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford, which opens,

 

If you don’t know the kind of person I am,

and I don’t know the kind of person you are,

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home, we may miss our star.

I woke in Dublin to that mail and sitting at my writing desk, I sent back a response to say that his nephew was marrying his bride on the anniversary of the marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, whose story of tragedy and hope is the source of some of the most famous lines in English romantic poetry…

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Barrett’s 43rd sonnet was appropriate for a wedding day. But this is what I then wrote to him:

Barrett & Browning also have significance because they surely are now living happily forever in the land that was created, and everyday grows and breathes, with the words and spirit of personal correspondence. A part of the canon-map that is as real and true and significant to that world of words as the terrain made from poems or audio-plays or novels.

(I like to think it is reached by mail-coach. And to reach that genre, one passes through cities built with office managers’ post-it notes and memos. Cities, which are saved from being eternally grey cold edifices because they are decorated by notes from loving spouses and children’s paintings sneakily slipped into briefcases on Monday mornings.

The city parks trees are made of the quotes and ideas and vacation postcards that are stuck on fridges. And standing atop soap boxes on the street corners, orators entertain and inspire passers-by with recitations of mottos from magnets – no longer tired clichés but spoken each time as if it were the first, and heard with eternally new ears.

 

And the land beyond – that is built on personal letters exchanged between families and lovers and friends and strangers kept apart by distance, and estrangement and war and prison walls – is spoken of by those who visit it as the most breathtaking place they ever saw:

Carved from such raw, unedited, deep emotions of love and fear and patience and hope that its majestic beauty is almost too much to bear. That’s the place where Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning dwell.)

A few short hours later, in Nashville, after very little sleep, his shoes not yet dry, and rushing to get to the airport for his flight to Dallas, he wrote back a brief, confessional note that irrevocably altered everything, with this closing line,

‘Love, which I’m using very cary-fully, and which is definitely changing my life’

Signed,

 Joel.

Faced with this imaginative declaration verging on a proposal, written only for me, in canonical terms that were unmistakably acknowledging I was already in some deep sense, his girl, I’d like to say I reacted with eloquence.

But I could only muster a hurried,

 

Holy crap, Batman.

 

Followed by 6 smiley faces.

 

Yes. That probably covers whatever words fail me right now…

 

Never have I felt the weight of the phrase,

“I think we are on the same page…” and am struck by the weight of it and

with speechlessness, which also seems to put us on something like the same page.

 

I just realized I have no map. I hope you packed crayons and some paper….

With the engine running outside, suitcase packed, he responded,

 

I do have a map. With lots of dotted lines. And boxes and boxes of

crayons, all of which are also, yours.