The Admiration Society

Interviews with Interesting People

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Race, class, compassion and a conversation among friends: Eric “DJE” Jackson on Ferguson and America

On Sunday I gave a sermon titled, “Facing Our Fears: A Spiritual Practice.” The topic had been on the docket for a month, but after Mike Brown’s death and the subsequent police state in Ferguson, MO, I reworked the sermon to what could have been called “Fear and Ferguson: Talking to Each Other About Race.”

Two nights after I led the service, my friend Eric “DJE” Jackson called from Chicago. He had watched my sermon online. (It’s on YouTube here.) He took me seriously when I said white people, myself included, need to rise above the tendency to take the race and equality discussion personally, that we need to seek out and be present for the perspectives of people of color. He gave me the chance to listen.

I’m a talker. I’m a reader. But to simply sit down and listen — first for 40 minutes on the phone Tuesday night, then for almost two hours last night — was truly a gift.

This is a long but, I assure you, compelling read. When we were done, it felt like no time had passed. We could have kept talking and listening for so much longer. But it’s a start.

I encourage anyone—whatever skin color, whatever background—to put your feet up and experience one person’s heartfelt perspective on where America is, how we got here, and where we can go next.  

The Admiration Society readers, I’m pleased to introduce you to Eric Jackson, 43, a DJ from the South Shore area of Chicago’s South Side.

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Here we are at live band karaoke in Chicago circa 2008, trying to squeeze in for a selfie back before that was a term (L to R, me, Eric, and our dear friend Ky). 

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Here’s Eric and his dad in Chicago, after going to see the recent James Brown biopic.

Eric had never shared his thoughts on race or America or any of this with me before. We have been friends for eight years. We agree it is such a shame it took a tragedy for us to have this conversation.

We hope our conversation will help inspire more friends and neighbors and strangers to really talk, listen, and get to a place of compassion and unity.

ERIN J. WALTER: Thank you so much for calling last night and for agreeing to do this interview tonight. I’m really just excited for me to get to listen some more—and excited for other people to hear what you have to say, especially about the opportunity we have here to finally move forward with the race discussion.

ERIC “DJE” JACKSON: Whites and blacks come to race with preconceived notions. Sometimes you have to step back, not put yourself completely into it, not worry about, “How does this make me feel?” and instead think about, “What is going on and how does this situation affect others?”

I know what I’m going to feel, so I don’t always have to put it out there. I guess some people would call that biting your tongue, but I try to listen and take in another person’s perspective. That’s what people really want. They want you to hear it from their perspective, to understand—”don’t try to change what I’m saying, just take it in and see where I’m coming from.” When you have disagreements, a lot of times neither party is willing to step back and say, “I will see it from your perspective right now. You can listen to my perspective another day.” In the heat of the moment, everybody wants to strike with their best arguments.

EJW: Is that what you think is happening now?

DJE: America has been at this point before. Since blacks were freed in this country, it has been a situation of, “What do we do with them?” You can’t deport us. You brought us here. We’re here. But back in those times we weren’t even considered fully human, a whole person. When you have a society that looks upon another group of people as not really human, what do you do? We’re free: What? Tell us what? "You get 40 acres and a mule." OK, well, where’s my 40 acres and mule? “We can’t give that to you.” OK, well we’ll work. Pay us a fair wage. We’re no strangers to hard work. We’ll pick cotton—just pay us our wages. “No, we can’t do that.”

We keep getting to these crossroads negotiating with a group of people about how they’re supposed to survive in this land. “Just don’t bother us. Go do your thing.” OK, but when we do finally go off and make our things, we make our own cowboy town or something like that, corporate greed comes into play. “You’ve got your own little town over there. The railroad’s coming through town. We want that town. You gotta go. We’re not going to share any of that profit with you. Move along.” No, we don’t want to move along. We’ve got families here. And you get to this point where there’s violence and displacement.

Eventually people move. Then during the years of the Jim Crow era, it’s, “Y’all stay there. Don’t use our washrooms or water fountains. Two separate worlds. Black people over there. White people over there.” But white people were always crossing the tracks into our world. “Ooh, what are y’all doing down there? What’s that music y’all are making? That’s cool.” [Laughs.] We’ve always been exploited. Modern rock-n-roll, you wouldn’t have without Little Richard.

You always get to this point of almost wanting to have a discussion about racial equality and then it never takes place. 

Fast-forward to now. Even with the Rodney King situation, America was so on edge. It was a great time to really get this out—let’s talk about it. “No, we’re just going to give Rodney King some money, put him in front of cameras and have him say, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’”

No one has the answers. That’s the problem, I think. It’s such a garden of snakes. No one knows how to fix it. So let’s sweep it under the rug until later. Maybe people will forget about it. Maybe in another 50 years it will go away.

Same with the Trayvon Martin situation. I hate the fact that it always takes a martyr to get it going. Without those martyrs we don’t get to this point.

I’m so afraid right now — not of the violence and what’s coming down the pike. I’m afraid that once again people are going to get too frustrated and we’ll miss the window of opportunity. Someone on my Facebook was posting, “Can someone please stop posting these police brutality videos, I’m tired of it.” Well, imagine how tired people are who actually deal with police brutality in their lives?

EJW: Seriously.

DJE: Where are all the true community leaders? We need to have a real dialogue. The outrage and violence [in Ferguson]—it’s because of the violence that’s already there. I feel sorry for the parents of the young man who got shot in the streets. It shouldn’t have to be something like this that we have to piggyback [on to have these conversations].

We get to the point and we say, “See we’ve been telling you this has been going on.” I’m not down there in Missouri. I don’t know all the circumstances in that town. But this situation has made national attention to the point that you have to have the discussion. Because if we don’t have the discussion it’s going to go away and it’s going to happen again. It takes something extreme to get us to this point.

EJW: How can we have the conversation? What kind of conversation do you think needs to happen?

DJE: When it comes to talking about race, I’m not talking about just having blacks come with the golden list of problems of everything that’s wrong in this country. We know it’s messed up. We need to come to the table with how we can get on more equal footing.

What is it that these urban communities need? Everyone says it’s voting. But how can you fix it without the discussion—if you don’t know the needs of the people? If we get the communities to a level where they don’t fear or feel outrage… I’m not living in a fairy tale. I know we’re not going to be there right away… . But we at least need to feel respected and know that our rights are going to be protected as human beings. If we can get to that, we can have more discussion and get to a point of “you’re no different than I am” and figure out how to work together.

Everyone talks about the 1%. There’s more poverty-stricken people in this country than rich people. Why are we still taking orders? It’s a lack of communication. Whatever distraction there is — fear, hate — that distraction is not letting me see you and have compassion for you. That’s what’s missing is compassion.

I can’t speak for all black people. My god, I sure can’t do that. But from what I observe, we don’t have compassion because we’re continually lied to. When you get lied to so much, and railroaded so much, you tend to lose that compassion. The compassion, I believe, is going to have to come from white people. White people are going to have to have that compassion and say, “We’re going to do this” and stick to it. Not feel pity. Not feel pity. Not guilty compassion. Just, “we know you don’t get a fair shake and I’m going to figure out how to use my white privilege to help you.”

When you have compassion in place, then we can move forward. Both races will then see, “you’re not the problem.” If you have a person of one skin color living in house A and a person of another skin color is living in house B, and the king is causing the problems for both houses, but the houses are not allowed to talk to each other, the king is up there saying, “I’m glad they’re not talking to each other, because if they ever find out, they might come after me.”

This thing is bigger than just race. It’s about the haves and have-nots. Look around. We have to fight in Congress just to raise the minimum wage. “Oh, we can’t do that.” What do you mean you can’t do that? You make millions — billions! And you can’t give me a living wage? You’re putting a boot on my neck.

I really don’t worry about the white people in my neighborhood. The simple fact that they live in my neighborhood means they’re in the same situation I’m in. If anybody had a choice to live where I live, they wouldn’t be here. If someone said you have three wishes, pick anywhere you want to live, the best scenery, whatever your heart desires, it’s not here, the heart of the ghetto. 

So it’s not about — it’s not just about — race. It’s not just about color. It’s about rich and poor. The people who are supposed to protect us — “to serve and protect” … Well, you see all the examples of police brutality and you have to ask questions. If you’re shooting unarmed people—if you’re not “serving and protecting” us—who are you serving and protecting? So, now you have to look at the money. Follow the money.

It’s so sad to see people tear up their own communities out of frustration. But these incidents keep coming back around. If you don’t learn a lesson, you’re doomed to repeat the experience. Obviously we keep repeating this experience because obviously somebody is not learning the lesson.

EJW: What do you think the lesson is that people are not learning?

DJE: Compassion. But it’s hard to ask the people who are being oppressed to have compassion, so it has to start from the other side. That’s not necessarily saying it has to come from white folks, but it has to come from the people with money and power. Still, that’s almost like asking a corporation, “Could you please start being nice to us?”

You might say, how do we fix this? I feel you can vote until your fingers turn blue. It’s going to do something, but it’s not going to do everything you need it to do. Everybody comes out to vote on the big league election, for the president. But the elections you need to worry about are the ones for your alderman, your congressman in your area.

What do they call it in Austin?

EJW: City council.

DJE: OK, so city council—start making those the elections to watch. You can get at your alderman. You can go knock on the door and go, “Hey! You’re fucking up!” You can go tap on the window of the office and say, “Hey! What are you doing? You’re messing up!”

You work up from the community level. Start getting your community together. You start putting your city council on alert, like, “Hey, we’ll vote you on out of here! If you don’t do right by us, you won’t do but one term here.” When they catch wind of that, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with. You gotta send that shot across the bow that if you run for office, you’d better do right by the people. 

When it gets to the presidential point, the game is already rigged. Go back to when George W. Bush was going to leave office. You talk about missing the golden life raft! That was the moment! When George Bush was finishing out his term, everybody was mad. Everybody was feeling the pinch. It was like, “Oh my god, this dude is messing it up for me and I’m white! He done messed up the whole game!” That was the one time I know in my short little life when I felt like, “Wow! Change can really happen!” Everybody felt like that because everybody was in the same boat. Everybody was getting screwed over at the same time. That was the opportunity for discussion about race and this and that, because everybody was just about on the same page finally. 

And I hate to use those little conspiracy words, like “they” and “those” because it makes you sound like a nutball. [Laughs.] But you know what I’m saying. The haves, that 1% that have money, I think they actually saw, “Hey, if we don’t get control of this situation, it’ll all come crumbling down.” They played the one card they had: “Let’s simmer this down. Let’s give ‘em a black president.” Everybody was walking in the street, smiling, like “Yeah! Yeah! Black president!” [We both laugh now because, both living in Chicago at the time, we remember. People of all races truly were high-fiving on the trains on their way to work in the morning.

And now come to find out, he was just a puppet head. I’m not dismissing the work he has done, but it’s nowhere near what people expected and hoped for. 

So that’s when I get back to the point of violence. I don’t condone it, but it’s very necessary sometimes. It’s a shame that it is. But when you get to the point of rioting — not looting or smashing things but protesting in the true sense of the word, and not just walking down the street singing “We Shall Overcome” — we have to show that we are really upset. 

Have you seen the movie Network

EJW: Yeah, totally.

DJE: You have to get mad. You have to be upset. You have to be frustrated. You have to say, “Enough is enough!” People are getting frustrated to that level because now you’re at the end of your rope. You’re like, “I don’t care if I get arrested. I’m going to make my voice be heard.”

Hip-hop songs used to talk about this all the time. That’s the reason why I used to love rap music. It’s so sad that I can constantly find a rap song from the ‘90s or even the ‘80s to describe what’s happening 2014. True rappers have been telling you this is happening, this is coming, for so long. 

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DJE, far left, at Chicago Hip Hop Legends ReUnion 2013

They’ve been doing all these simulations of urban combat, urban assault. They’re coming for somebody. I don’t know what it’s going to be, if the whole civilization is going to be on lockdown. But if we don’t start coming together as a unified people, it’s going to be too late. We’ve got to stop letting the distraction game keep us from coming together.

The media is owned by big corporations. How are you going to get someone to be biased against their boss? It’s not going to happen. They report what people are supposed to hear so they stay pacified. That’s why I love people like you who write their own little blogs and spread the word themselves. If you keep relying on corporations to tell you the news, you’re going down the wrong path. Right now, people who eat up the mainstream media, those are the zombies in The Walking Dead.

EJW: So what’s your favorite news source?

DJE: Quite honestly, I don’t have a favorite news source. What you have to do is what you’ve been taught to do—No, I can’t say that because they took it out of the urban schools. But there used to be a time when they taught you this: critical thinking. “If you sit around doing some critical thinking, you ain’t working. And we want you working.” What I do is I examine information. That’s what everybody should do, instead of just taking it. God gave you the best tool on earth, your brain. You need to start using it. 

Bottom line? The truth is the truth, and the truth will always stand out. The truth cannot help but stand out. No matter how many lies you surround it with, the truth is like, “What’s that right there?” With lies, you can poke holes if you ask the right questions. But the truth, no matter how many times you flip it, smack it up, rub it down, the truth is what it is. [Laughs] The problem is deception can get people off the track of what’s truth. How you discover that is—when someone leads you down the wrong path, they gotta keep putting the path down in front of you so you can keep going. You have to do long-term thinking. It’s like CandyCrush. 

EJW: I’ve never played CandyCrush.

DJE: Well, no matter how far you get on the game, they keep adding more levels. It’s like a game you can’t win because you can never get to the end. The truth is at the end, and the truth should never be that hard to find. If it is, you know you’re being deceived and you need to step back and re-examine. In CandyCrush, they just keep adding levels. When I figured that out, I stopped playing.

EJW: What is missing from the reporting and analysis you see right now?

DJE: The window is closing. I’m curious: How are they going to pacify the people? You know it’s coming. We don’t know what it is. But they need something so everybody says, “Oh, it’s OK now. Go to sleep now, little babies.” I’m not saying we need to go on forever in the streets. People in Missouri need to get some kind of organizing—some kind of organization needs to come along to keep dialogue going. It can’t be like, “The cop goes to jail! Yay! It’s over!” If that happens, a couple months from now you and I are going to be on the phone having another conversation. It has to turn into real dialogue.

The mainstream media is trying to figure out how to pacify people, like, “Let’s get a hold of this situation.” And then what interests me is the mass amount of deception that’s still going along with it, the misleading information. The way they always portray the young person that got killed—the way they released the police information [Darren Wilson’s name] but also, “here’s the video of the guy robbing the store.” But from what I understand, that video is not even him. The media’s job right now — they’re creating the air of doubt — so when the case comes out the kid is painted as a thug or a criminal. But none of that matters because there’s no reason why a young person with no weapon should be shot six times. Even if he did rob a store for cigars, what would justify shooting him 6 times? 

Anybody can look like a thug. And on top of that, it’s trendy to look like a thug. Let’s be real about it. Society plays this game. They sell these images. You’ve got your Justin Timberlakes and your Justin Biebers dressing urban because they think it’s cool, and then they charge you oodles of extra money to look like a thug. If you want to look poor, if you want to look like a thug, go to the Salvation Army, buy a box of used clothes — let me stop playing. Come on. They are selling you an image and people are buying right into it. I’m selling you a thug image and you’re playing your game at your own risk. You’ve got to get away from stereotype snap judgments.

EJW: Is there anything else we talked about last night that you’d like to get on the record tonight?

DJE: I would like people to understand that this is not an isolated incident. It’s not, “Oh, this young man is so uppity or crazy or on drugs.” You have to understand that this can happen to anybody, not just a black person. Anybody. Hispanic, white, Asian, it can happen to YOU. It’s just that when it happens to us, no one speaks up for us. When it happens to white people, someone is there to file charges and get their day in court and get money and maybe the cop will get fired. But we don’t have that.

The system is broken and it needs to be reexamined at the local level. People, understand, you have to get at your councilman. At your alderman. At the local level. If we keep trying to go fix the top, it’s never going to get fixed. 

You can file your reports, but if enough people go to the alderman and complain and say, “Your election is coming up,” they’ll get the message. It’s not a threat. It’s just saying, "Why do we need you if you’re not taking care of us? Your job is not to oversee us. Your job is to take care of us when things aren’t working."

For everybody, understand, slavery is still alive. The plantation is just the whole country now. At first you used to be able to see that if you went past the fencepost, you were off the plantation and they would send the overseer to come get you. Now there are no borders. It’s an economic slavery. Everyone is in the same boat because of the economic engine. It’s an economic slavery, so to speak. That’s the best way I can put it. [Book recommendation: The New Jim Crow.]

It’s so sad. I feel so sorry for the parents of this young man and parents of Trayvon Martin and parents of anybody who had to be the martyr. Because we have to piggyback this frustration on top of that. In actuality, everyone should be enraged because this cop did this terrible thing, but it’s packaged with all these other things. Why does someone need to get killed? Why does someone have to die to get to this point—to piggyback all my other frustrations on top of that? It’s too much to dialogue. 

The dialogue on diversity is a long one. It’s not a short one. It’s a lot of clearing weeds. It’s going to take some time, probably another generation, to make sure checks and balances are in place, because it’s so ingrained in this country. I know I might sound like I’m somebody who hates this country. No! I love this country! But I know it’s not meant for me—at least that’s how I feel at this moment. And I know other black people wake up feeling that way.

KRS-One put it best, “We are like homeless people in a country.” Ignorant people say, “Why don’t you just go back to Africa?” We’re not from there. We’re not of there. But we’re not from here either. It’s like, “Dang, I’m not even home at home.” The best comparison is like being a homeless person. We can’t be kicked out. We can’t be deported. But we almost can’t be here either. It’s a long, interwoven discussion about black people in America, and that’s the discussion no one really wants because no one knows how to tackle it. 

Every time it gets pushed off to another generation, it gets deeper and deeper. Nothing should be that big. Nothing should be that complicated. But it is. How do you unwind this thing? I don’t have the answer. Maybe one of your smart readers can answer. How do we tackle this? What are the questions? I find if we ask the right questions, we get better answers. It’s like playing a crazy game of Jeopardy. What’s the right question to ask? That’s something people have to sit and think about long and hard.

At some point this country is going to have to accept us. You say you do, but you don’t. At some point there’s got to be true acceptance. Having a black president is not it. This country is so driven by the economic engine, what has to change is releasing some of that wealth from the upper class. This is not just for blacks. 

I genuinely believe people don’t really want much. People have this dream of being rich, and the only reason they really want to be rich is because they’re tired of being poor! You get tired of getting up every day just so I can live “comfortably,” but I’m stressing about bills. When I start talking to people, just really talking to them, most people don’t really care about being rich. But if all my bills can be paid and I don’t have to worry about getting money together for getting my car fixed—if I knew I had some money saved, my kids could go to school, and I could pay for things and take an occasional vacation—most people would take that. They just need enough, enough to be satisfied. I don’t need my gold house and my rocket car like on the Simpsons. [Laughs] I just want to buy groceries and take kids to the doctor and enjoy a few trinkets without worrying, “Did I go over today?”

If the people who have all the cards in their hands would release a little, it would get easier to have this discussion. Right now they have us fighting over crumbs. It’s sickening. It’s tiring.

Why does the corporation have the same rights as a human being? Why is a corporation considered a person? That needs to be shut down. That’s what we can tackle once we get unity. We need to get unity at the bottom and then we can challenge these policies like “a corporation is a person.” I don’t need a book to know this stuff. I’m just paying attention.

EJW: Thank you so much, Eric. I really appreciate your time.

DJE: How was it, on this journey through my mind? [Laughs.] I don’t usually let people come in, I just took you around the hotel lobby and down some hallways.

EJW: Ha! Thank you for letting me in. [Pause.] There is so much to unravel and it’s so complicated and—

DJE: No, really! How was it?

EJW: It was awesome.

DJE: It’s a good thing to have somebody documenting. It’s really sad that more people can’t take the time out to document, especially in our community. Obviously white people do that really great. All movies are is white people telling their stories. We’ve got more than 100 years of white people telling their stories. It’s easy for me to say, “I kind of know you because everything here in this country is you and I’m kind of forced to learn it.” Our big blockbuster movies—I mean, watching white people is even our enjoyment! We go to the movies to watch you guys! I watch you all the time! [Laughs.]

You don’t watch us. Y’all like the way we sing and dance. You will listen to us. You might not understand what we’re saying because we use a lot of slang. [Laughs.] You know I say that with good intentions. But y’all don’t watch us the way we have to watch you.

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So much love and thanks to Eric “DJE” Jackson, and to anyone reading. Please share the link and tell us about conversations you are having, questions you’re asking, and opportunities for action. - Erin

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Erin J. Walter is a writer, mother, musician, activist, and Master of Divinity student at Unitarian Universalist seminary Meadville Lombard in Chicago. She lives in Austin, Texas. You can follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter. 

Eric “DJE” Jackson is a Chicago DJ. Check him out online at http://reverbnation.com/dje. (The last photo above is his DJ logo.)

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Remember

Last night marked two years of the Silver Lining Salon, my women’s group devoted to fostering professional and creative growth for mothers of young children. One of the themes we keep revisiting is that of kindness to yourself—striking that balance of motivation and patience, reframing the harsh words we hear in our heads to give ourselves the level of understanding and support we give to others.

Last night, after our usual individual check-ins, one of our 11 members led the monthly activity. Sarah asked us to write to ourselves using not just a kind voice but a mindset that is as clear and patient and forgiving as we would be with a young child.

"Ha! That’s not how I talk to my kids!" I blurted, breaking the rule of conscious listening. But I knew what she meant.

Thinking of my future career in Unitarian Universalist ministry, particularly the pastoral care element of that vocation, I jotted the following on a glorified bar napkin at Radio. After a few minutes, we each read ours aloud. We always find resonance in each other’s shared writing, even when our personal goals and circumstances can be so different.

(The typed version follows, but I think the gritty photo versions always make it more real. Those water spots are what happen when I’m cleaning the kitchen counter and suddenly remember, “I told the group I would type this up!”)

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Remember

Just listen.

Listen …

Listen some more.

Then maybe ask questions.

Maybe.

Presence is often enough.

Don’t ever pretend to know what you don’t know.

Always tell the truth, especially about your beliefs.

It’s fine to believe differently.

Just show that your heart is open. Just come to every day, every person, every everything with humility and love.

When people need a leader, embrace those gifts.

When they need a listener, listen well, listen longer; let there be silence.

More silence.

More.

Presence will be so much,

more than enough.

(I share this wee bit of scribbling so I remember it— but also in the hope that it sparks something in one of you reading right now, reminds you to speak kindly to yourself, reminds you that you are more than enough.)

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Erin J. Walter is a dancer, writer, singer, and bassist, activist, and obsessed watcher of The Mindy Project, living in Austin, Texas. She is embarking on her Master of Divinity degree from Unitarian Universalist seminary Meadville Lombard. 

Erin is a board member of Girls Rock Austin and once wrote a song at Ladies Rock Camp based on another piece of chicken scratch from a Silver Lining meeting. She highly encourages you to get a women’s (or men’s) group going, especially if you are a parent.

You can follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter, and you can share this with others any way you like. XOXO

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picklesandkickles:

The ride from the airport to Oahu’s North Shore was an hour long — not ideal after a full day of flying from Austin with rowdy, delirious kids. But halfway to our hotel, the pineapple and coffee plantations ended and we started to see the sand and ocean out the shuttle bus window. Kickles, age 2, lit up and started cheering.

"BEACH! GET OUT! BEACH! GET OUT! GET OUT NOW! BEEEEEACH!"

He went on like that, loudly, for the rest of the ride.

When we finally arrived and checked in, we ran straight to the water. No shoes on and it was already past the kids’ bedtimes at home, but rules schmules. This is vacation!

Before Kickles even reached the ocean, he got distracted by a couple of shallow, muddy puddles in the path. “Puddles! Puddles, Mommy!” He started jumping and splashing in them, sat down in one, grinned at me, then hopped up and tried to do a headstand in the middle of the puddle.

When he finally stood up, his entire forehead and front half of his baby-blond skull were thick with mud, like he was wearing a toupee that slipped too far forward. And the brown sauce was running down his face into a perfect mustache and goatee.

Kickles dashed into the calm waves, throwing sand with Pickles, and causing a sunbathing Canadian woman to stare and giggle.

“He would’ve been satisfied with those puddles up there,” I told her. “Forget the ocean.”

“Oh!” she said. “I thought he had dipped his head in a bowl of chocolate.”

This is how you know you are in paradise — when it’s totally plausible that toddlers are dipping their heads in vats of chocolate (and strangers are cool with it).

Kickles repeated this crowd-pleasing routine every day we were at Turtle Bay. I checked the guidebooks and confirmed that it was definitely the Cutest Thing That Has Ever Happened in Hawaii.

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So.

Now that your sweet tooth and uterus are both aching, how about some Real Talk about Traveling With Young Kids?

What no one can properly convey to you before you become a parent (and what nonparents can’t and arguably don’t need to understand), is that on top of the money, time, and effort required for anyone to travel, vacations with young children are major work. People who say otherwise are lying, delusional, have different standards than I do, only one child, a marijuana prescription, a spouse/nanny who does the bulk of the parenting, and/or their children are older and they have forgotten the real deal.

The word “vacation” does not have the same meaning it had when you were footloose and child-free, up late drinking, snowboarding whenever, no naps or food allergies or who sleeps in what bed with the sick kid to consider. (If you disagree, congratulations. You are the exception to the rule. Now keep it to yourself. Like people whose babies sleep through the night from day one, no other parent wants to hear from you right now. Thanks.)

As I type this with my right hand, my left hand cuddles my pitiful, sleeping toddler—who was up in the night vomiting after sneaking cheese from the hotel fridge and who also suffers from painful, sandy diaper rash and a touch too much sun (on top of the discombobulating 5-hour time difference between Texas and Hawaii). Every half hour, he wakes up, yelps “WAAH! OW! NO FAIR!” and then mercifully drifts back off.

Even without barf, in many ways vacations with kids are far harder work than anything at home because there’s no school or YMCA child care, the routines are off, the food is weird, you can’t get rice milk or sunbutter on the island, and so on. For stay-at-home-parents, their 24/7 job continues, just more intensely on the road. For parents who work full-time outside of the home, the first few days of travel with young kids can be an exhausting, stressful jolt bordering on an existential crisis.

I’ll never forget the despair of my first trip as a parent, and I see the shell shock in the eyes of other moms, especially those returning from a first “getaway” with a preschooler and a new baby.

So if it’s hard, why do we do it?

Because it gets better. And it is worth it. SO WORTH IT. In ways you can’t imagine before you leave—and may not fully appreciate for years to come. Some trips are more worth it than others (and I highly recommend alternating family trips with adults-only and solo travel). We took Pickles to Asia for 18 days when she was 18 months old, and it was unforgettable.

Bumps in the road (or air or ocean) be damned, we travel. This is why:

-To see the kids “bathe” in holes they dug together in the sand;

-To watch them with their grandparents, aunts, and uncle and wonder how soon we can afford to buy a hacienda where we can all live together (because by now the kids open their eyes every morning and after every nap and immediately ask, “Where is the family? Can the family come hang out in our room?”);

-To see Pickles collect flowers and notice colors and get so excited at the idea of going on a helicopter ride that she dresses herself as Supergirl (with a makeshift cape made from a Frozen towel and hair clips) the minute she wakes up;

-To behold Kickles in Those Puddles;

-To see the world and our family with new eyes and to start our curious kids’ lives out in a wondrous and worldly way;

-To see Pickles make a new friend in the hotel pool and gradually build up swimming confidence with the girl while I get to eavesdrop on their delightful conversations (Frozen is universal);

-Plus a zillion other little reasons I can’t think of right now because I am tired and typing fast before Kickles wakes up again. But my heart knows and my kids know, and that is what counts.

—————-

This is my favorite memory of the trip so far: On our first morning in Hawaii, the kids were wide awake at 3:30 a.m. despite the late bedtime. (It would’ve been 8:30 a.m. in Austin but eventually you quit counting.) We tried to get them back to sleep. No dice. We let them watch iPhone Netflix cartoons for a bit, just so we could stay in bed.

Then, just before 5 a.m., I had a fleeting thought: “I hope I get to see the sunrise while we are here.”

I paused and let it wash over me again. I hope I get to see the sunrise while we are here.

What a crazy, jarring wish. Here it was 5 a.m. My son had boundless energy. I had no idea when exactly the sun would rise, but for crying out loud, WHY WAS I TRYING TO RESTRAIN HIM IN THE HOTEL ROOM?!

We threw on clothes, kissed the drowsy rest of the family goodbye, and ran gleefully toward the ocean. The sun was peeking out just a bit, enough to feel like it was morning and not night. Kickles returned to those favorite puddles and we splashed in them together, running, holding hands, counting each one of the ten aloud as we went SPLAT.

And then the sun came up. That glorious sun over that glorious ocean. That moment where you have no qualms about using words like “holy” and “sacred” and “blessed.” Kickles and I watched the sun come up together as we squished wet sand between our toes.

I couldn’t believe I almost forced us to stay in the room for no reason except routine. It was such an aha! moment, a spiritual shift. I said a huge prayer of thanks for this trip and the change of thinking that led us to the sunrise, a change that could perhaps only have happened here, traveling. I am still saying thanks for it. I want to try to remember it at home, too.

A few hours later, Kickles and I napped together on a pool chair, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the waves and of my husband teaching Pickles how to swim. I am positive I felt my heart grow with every breath.

It’s work and it’s not always this idyllic. But this is why we travel, and I’m so thankful we do.

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picklesandkickles:

Roosters woke us up on our first morning in Kauai. The kids were whiny about wanting to watch cartoons, so I said, “Want to go look for lizards?” I was proud of myself for thinking to say that. I’m not normally a “let’s look for lizards” mom.

The best thing about vacations could be how they magically get you to think and see and feel in new ways.

I figured Kickles would go for the lizard idea, maybe, and we’d at least avoid the sunrise bickering by splitting them up for a bit. To my shock, both kids leaped up, threw my phone aside, said “YEAH!” and slid off the bed.

We went for a great walk, racing through the grassy plantation grounds, Pickles collecting gorgeous flowers unlike any we see at home, Kickles leading the charge to get sandy at the nearby beach.

But it turns out Pickles heard me wrong when I said, “Who wants to go look for lizards?”

As we put shoes on, she nudged me. “Mommy, let’s go! Let’s go! Time to go find dessert!”

"What?"

"You said we could go look for dessert."

Des-sert. Li-zard. I guess they could sound similar if you were just waking up. All I could think was, “That’s my girl!” I could sure go for dessert at dawn too.

I tried not to laugh at Pickles. There are no restaurants on the grounds, we have no rental car, and we desperately need to walk to the store. The kitchen is empty. I don’t blame her for hearing what she wanted to hear.

"LIZ-ards," I corrected her. "I said we could go look for lizards."

"Oh."

I am proud of her for joining us on the walk even after the dessert disappointment. And we certainly found lizards. LOTS of lizards. When I walked off the path, every step I took sent a creature scurrying under a big crunchy leaf.

It’s been a few hours, and I just heard Pickles in the living room, making strange whirring sounds. I peeked my head in from the balcony. “Whatcha doin’?” I asked. She had ketchup packets on the tile next to her. “Oh, I’m just making chocolate,” she said, moving the ketchup around in a mixing fashion. “Then I’m making rainbow chocolate swirl cupcakes for the family.”

That’s my girl.

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I am a dancer. What are you?

I had a thrilling epiphany last night when I stepped away from my regular Zumba routine and tried West African Dance at Ballet Austin. This epiphany made my heart grow a few sizes. Ready for it?

I am a dancer.

I am a dancer!

I AM A DANCER!

Does that sound small or silly to those of you who know me? Like, sooo obvious? Or the opposite? Perhaps you have seen me dance, tsk tsked, and thought, “Heh. Well, at least she is enjoying herself.”

I still vividly recall the morning after a 7th-grade dance, a girl coming up to a friend and me at our lockers and laughing, “Ha! Y’all thought you could dance!” That dis didn’t exactly scar me for life, but I was mortified and  never forgot it. (Because I did think I could dance. I thought we all could.)

When I joined the YMCA a couple years ago, I never intended to take Zumba. I stumbled into it. I made friends, learned the routines, and it took over my life, gradually, until one day I woke up and noticed a clear pattern:  Fridays and Saturday were frequently my toughest days, emotionally—in part because there is no Zumba. (On Sundays I got by with all the singing and clapping at church.)

It turns out, I need to dance. Because I am a dancer.

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That’s me in black, second from left, with some dancer friends at the Y.

Why do I share this tonight? Because I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard friends talking about writing or music or running or anything, and I’ve piped up with, “Oh, are you a guitarist?” Or, “Ooh, you’re a writer? Cool!”

And the response has been:

“Oh no! I’m not really a musician. I’m not any good.”

"Ha! No! I’m not a runner. I only jogged that 10K."

"I wish! I haven’t had anything published. I can’t really say I’m a writer."

Listen, y’all. Listen up. I didn’t ask if you were a fast runner, or a good musician, or a paid writer. Forget the adjectives. Please. I am not going to time your sprint or make you play me a sonata. (I don’t own a stopwatch and I wouldn’t know a sonata from a minuet.) I definitely don’t need to see a pay stub.

You can go ahead and call yourself what you are—even what you aspire to be—no matter how “good” you think you are. The nouns are what matter. What are you? Who are you? Own it.

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(I’m the blurry one in this photo because I am dancing—like the dancer that I totally am.)

Words have so much power. I affirmed that for myself a few months ago when I wrote that I am going to be a minister. (Not “I want to be a minister.” Not “I am going to try to be a minister.” Not “I am going to school for ministry.” I am going to be a minister.) Just putting it out there on this blog helped make it real. You offered your support, I got my applications done, I got accepted to grad school, and summer classes started today. Naming what I wanted — what I am — made a huge difference.

Know thyself, you know?

(And for goodness sake, don’t be the person who tells someone they aren’t really a runner or a race car driver or a cook or a dancer. Please don’t be That Guy, the one who turns joy into embarrassment, love into shame.)

Obviously, these are simple concepts in theory. In practice, they can take a lot of, well, practice. (I don’t know about you, but I never learn something on the first try. When I inevitably forget I am a dancer, will someone please remind me?) It took me years of grooving mostly in my house, then two more doing Zumba in public, before it finally hit me how important dance is to my daily happiness and my sense of self.

You may not be sure what your noun — your special thing — is yet. Or maybe you knew once and forgot. Tonight I’m just suggesting you be on the lookout for whatever it is that is so you. You might not even be the first one to notice it. You might be too close to you to see it. In that case, when someone says, “Oh, are you an artist?” perhaps don’t correct them. Instead try responding with an enthusiastic, “Yes, I am!” See how it feels.

Tonight, I will strip away the adjectives—all those apologetic caveats and qualifiers—and name who I am. Now or whenever you’re ready, I hope you’ll do the same. (And if you’re so wise that you already know yourself inside and out, be a doll and help a friend figure herself out.)

Let’s create our own world. Let’s claim it.

Here I am!

I am a dancer.

I am a writer.

I am a singer.

I am a bassist. 

You know what, I am even a songwriter. 

BOOM.

Feels awfully good. And who is going to tell me I’m not? Some kid by the lockers? I don’t think so.

I know better by now. I know who I am, who I was all along. I am a dancer.

So … .

What about you?

What are your nouns?

Who are you?

I would love to know.

—————-

Erin J. Walter is a dancer, writer, singer, and bassist, among other nouns, living in Austin, Texas. She is embarking on her Master of Divinity degree from Unitarian Universalist seminary Meadville Lombard. She is also cleaning out her garage. Today she found the 50 Cent and Fiona Apple CDs she forgot she was looking for, and now she cannot stop thinking about Finoa’s “Better Version of Me.” The best part is when it goes, “I am likely to miss the main event / if I stop to cry and complain again / So I keep a deliberate pace / Let the damn breeze dry my faaaaaaaace.”

You can follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter, and you can share this with others any way you like. XOXO

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I’m doing Summer Innanen’s 10-Day Body Confidence Makeover. I’d never heard of Summer, but derby-writer-badass Melicious recommended her. Since I consider body acceptance a part of my ministry, I figured I’d test it out. 

A dear, beautiful friend was in tears this week over her mother calling her fat, and that also reminded me, once again, how important radical love and acceptance of our bodies and others’ bodies truly is.

Which brings me to this photo! The first day’s challenge was a closet purge. No prob. The second day? Smash your scale. Smash it! With a hammer! I was skeptical. I hate to throw away usable things, let alone destroy them. So I sat with this idea in the very back of my mind all day yesterday. Could I? Would I? Smash the scale? It didn’t seem necessary. 

Then I woke up this morning, on the day of my daughter’s 5th birthday party, and it hit me. Damn right I want to live in a house with no scale! I want my daughter to grow up in a house with no scale! What a concept! NO SCALE! I mean, it’s not like we use it much anyway. 

So this is my scale, at the top of my donation pile, back of my messy car. It goes to Savers. Don’t worry. The Care Bear stays. :) 

#10bcm Viva la revolution!

I’m doing Summer Innanen’s 10-Day Body Confidence Makeover. I’d never heard of Summer, but derby-writer-badass Melicious recommended her. Since I consider body acceptance a part of my ministry, I figured I’d test it out.

A dear, beautiful friend was in tears this week over her mother calling her fat, and that also reminded me, once again, how important radical love and acceptance of our bodies and others’ bodies truly is.

Which brings me to this photo! The first day’s challenge was a closet purge. No prob. The second day? Smash your scale. Smash it! With a hammer! I was skeptical. I hate to throw away usable things, let alone destroy them. So I sat with this idea in the very back of my mind all day yesterday. Could I? Would I? Smash the scale? It didn’t seem necessary.

Then I woke up this morning, on the day of my daughter’s 5th birthday party, and it hit me. Damn right I want to live in a house with no scale! I want my daughter to grow up in a house with no scale! What a concept! NO SCALE! I mean, it’s not like we use it much anyway.

So this is my scale, at the top of my donation pile, back of my messy car. It goes to Savers. Don’t worry. The Care Bear stays. :)

#10bcm Viva la revolution!

2 notes

My SXSW: Against Me!, Pitbull, 50 Cent, K-Pop, Lady Gaga, Butch County, and much more

I’ve been attending South By Southwest on and off for 20 years—since I was in high school and you could go get a music wristband at HEB after school for a whopping 15 bucks.

Obviously, a lot has changed. (Austin was practically traffic-free back then, at least relatively speaking.) But I had an amazing time this week, my first stint covering the festival for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper (where I used to work full time on the Metro desk) and its online arm, Austin360.com, along with a slew of incredible writers, photographers, editors, online producers, and more.

We all felt incredible sadness for the victims, families, witnesses, emergency workers, and community affected by the fatal crash on Wednesday night. For those of us awake and still working and enjoying music in those wee hours, confirmation of the two deaths was a huge, horrible shock.

Night turned into day, hearts were heavy, but the shows went on. Some victims are still in the hospital days later, getting an outpouring of support. Austin is a special place to be a music lover and live music supporter, even on the worst days.

Without further ado, here are links to, and excerpts of, what I wrote for the Statesman and Austin360 during SXSW music week. Plus some favorite photos. (My own band played SXSW too.)

MONDAY

The Statesman music team’s picks for the week: I’ll be scouring these again after the dust settles, looking for new music recommended by my colleagues. I already know I want to spend more time with a slew of female-driven bands on the rise.

TUESDAY

K-Pop Night Out thrills diverse capacity crowd

EXCERPT: "It’s universal," said Jackie Sue Guana, 26, of Austin. "The K-Pop community is growing — it’s awesome."

Guana DJs an occasional K-Pop night at Elysium and attended the SXSW showcase with regulars and friends from a local K-Pop DJ collective Demographics, which she helped start after struggling to find K-Pop in Austin clubs.

"We call it Demographics for a reason," she said. "It’s not just Koreans. I’m Hispanic. It’s very diverse—K-Pop is for everybody."

50 Cent struts through medley of hip-hop hits

EXCERPT: "Where were the special guests?" a friend wondered. Indeed, it was just Fiddy for the party, but he was ably backed by a six-piece live band, including an especially energetic drummer who added punch to even abbreviated dance jams like "Candy Shop" and "Magic Stick"—a natural medley because they are, essentially, one fun song with two different names. (If you prefer to drown out the standard-issue misogyny of some of the lyrics, the throbbing live bass helped, too.)

50 Cent arrived on stage right on time Tuesday night—zero introduction, zero hype—and went right to it, working both sides of the stage, getting the audience to bounce, wave, and fill in lyrics on the biggest hits. Some quibbles aside, fans got what fans came for: Curtis Jackson in strutting, megawatt-smile form. Here was the man who made 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’—one of the most motivational mainstream hip-hop albums in recent memory—performing (at least a verse or two of) every jam: “In da Club,” “Patiently Waiting, ” “Many Men (Wish Death),” “If I Can’t,” “Poor Lil Rich,” “What Up Gansta,” “21 Questions,” “P.I.M.P.” and “Wanksta.”

WEDNESDAY

Against Me! SXSW set celebrates life on a night of tragedy

EXCERPT: Wearing skinny jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt with a photo of a woman’s breasts on it, the tall, tattoo-covered Grace started the show with her long red hair covering her face. But when she lifted the veil after a few songs, she flashed huge smiles, strutting and yanking on the microphone stand, reveling in the joyful energy of the crowd and feeding off the bouncing enthusiasm of new bassist Inge Johansson, formerly of the (International) Noise Conspiracy and Refused.

During one song, Grace reached out to the front row and took a young man’s face in her hands as she sang. “I love her so much,” he said, turning to friends behind him when the song was over. 

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No badge required: Buskers bring SXSW vibe to the streets

EXCERPT: On Tuesday night, solo drummer Rachel Jael had staked out one corner, banging away on white buckets and empty, upside down water cooler jugs. Jael, 24, is in town from Las Vegas for her second SXSW in a row. Why would she make the journey without even an unofficial showcase?

 “The people!” Jael said, as masses of music fans rushed past her in all directions. “That’s why I came back. They’re crazy and they’re the best part. If it weren’t for the people, there’d be no music.”

THURSDAY

Lady Gaga show part heartfelt inspiration, part gruesome spectacle

EXCERPT: "Don’t take my picture," Gaga instructed, moments after hurling sausage links into the crowd. "Just have a good time. The best part of South By Southwest is seeing people get lost in the music."

It wasn’t the easiest advice to take. Gaga arrived on stage Thursday night strapped to a roasting pole by black bondage belts. Not long after wiggling free, one of her many theatrical sidekicks, a woman named Millie, was straddling Gaga on a bucking mechanical bull and repeatedly vomiting green and black liquids onto the performer’s face, shoulders, and apron.

Some fans stood on their tiptoes to make sure they weren’t imagining things. (“Is the girl in black sequined hot pants really gagging herself all over Gaga?”) It was as repulsive as it sounds.

FRIDAY

My band, Butch County, rocks the Girls Rock Austin unofficial SXSW day party AND KILLS IT. :) It’s my first time playing with the all-female band, and I had a total blast. A former bandmate came up to me afterward and man-squealed, “You’re the all-female AC/DC!” A 19-year-old girl also came up to me after our set and asked if I teach guitar. I tried not to hug her and burst into tears right on the spot. Such a special afternoon. Thank you to all the friends and family who came out, supported our band, and supported nonprofit Girls Rock Austin!

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(Butch County: fist-pumpin’, high-jumpin’, hangin’ with punk heroine Exene Cervenka of X.)

Pitbull gives it all he’s got

EXCERPT: Before launching into his 20th and final song, Pitbull instructed the crowd Friday night. “I want everybody here tonight to give me” — and he paused for emphasis between each word — “every! … thing! … they’ve! … got!”

Note to Pitbull: Too late.

From the moment the Cuban-American rapper walked on stage at ACL Live for the iTunes Festival, every single person in the Moody Theater — from fans to backing band to dancers to lighting technicians to Pitbull himself — seemed to be giving their all and then some. The show was a master class in nonstop energy.

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(Good thing they sat media in the rafters. Otherwise I would’ve had to jump on stage with Pitbull and show my Zumba moves.)

Lady Gaga surprises crowd during Zedd

EXCERPT: Gaga didn’t sing, but she strutted onto the Moody Theater stage to huge cheers, waved to the balconies, jumped up and down, fist up and long, white-blonde dreadlocks flying… . At her Stubb’s show, Gaga told the crowd she’d been going all out at South by Southwest. ”I haven’t showered,” she said. “I’ve been drinking a lot, eating a lot. I’ve been seeing so much music I forgot to get a manicure.”

SATURDAY

All-ages, daytime events help families, young fans enjoy SXSW

EXCERPT: “Get on stage! Come on! Everybody! All the girls!” The lead singer of Oklahoma City band Skating Polly would not take no for an answer, eventually coaxing more than a dozen kids onto the stage at Cherrywood Coffeeshop during Friday’s Girls Rock Austin party.

The young music fans danced, sang along, and made a spontaneous, scuzzy noise on the punk duo’s instruments …

SUNDAY

I slept, went out for migas and a Bloody Mary (my first alcohol in a week, since writing and drinking don’t mix for me), did laundry for hours on end, and hung out with my husband and kids. It was glorious. Life is good, and I am so grateful for this exhausting, inspiring, and hopefully unforgettable week! Thanks for sharing it with me!

@erinjwalter 

P.S. - For crying out loud, it’s been such a crazy week I totally forgot that last Sunday I wrote this piece about “meaning it” at SXSW. Every word is still true.

———-

Erin J. Walter is a writer, musician, mother, and aspiring Unitarian Universalist minister living in her hometown of Austin, Texas, where she serves on the board of Girls Rock Austin. Prior to joining Butch County, she played bass in indie bands Second Story Thief, The Personals, The Hidden Mitten, and Pocket Cat, and sang with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club and Regrettable Sweaters. Follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter. Feedback welcome!

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SXSW: Here’s to Meaning It!

Many years ago, I saw Superchunk play Antone’s during SXSW. I went to the show with my own bandmates from The Personals, and we jumped and sang and got drenched in the kind of sweat that comes from the very best, most joyfully badass rock show.

After Superchunk’s set, we collapsed against a wall of posters and slid to the dirty floor, spent.

“That is what ‘meaning it’ looks like,” Adam, our frontman, said. “They fucking mean it.

And a mantra was born.

I thought I meant what I did before the Superchunk SXSW show, but now I had a name for it and a standard for what meaning it looked and sounded like. I had inspiration in my mind for when I misplaced my own umph. (Some other bands I think of when I think of meaning it: The Thermals, Lucero, Against Me!, Rainer Maria, Cyndi Lauper, Bikini Kill.)

When SXSW comes around, it’s easy to get bogged down in the traffic and the crowds and the Doritos. Some years I forgo the mania altogether. But on the years that I’m up for it, like this year, I am on a mission for one thing: meaning it. I am looking for more bands like Superchunk, in whatever genre. I am looking for more people who are in love on stage, so contagiously on fire that it makes everyone in the crowd want to up their game and create—art, community, friendships, noise, sweat, music. Meaning it is about creation in the very best way.

At the Ladies Rock Camp showcase last month, my camp band Regrettable Sweaters did a cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” (that we learned the day before the show). Early on in my yelpy performance [which you can see by clicking here], I interject some enthusiastic extra words. In the iPhone video, they sound like “a peanut!” or “the penis!” but what I said was, "I MEAN IT." 

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I totally mean it. [photo by Rudolfo Gonzalez, Austin American-Statesman, more of that great photo series here]

So, listen, y’all.

I know the music industry is not what it used to be to say the least. If there was ever a dream of getting “signed” at SXSW, I doubt it exists to speak of anymore. But you can still get “discovered” at SXSW. You can get discovered by other people who are passionate about music. You can do that 365 days a year in any city or town, or over the internet, but for a few days you can mean it in a very big way in Austin around other people who mean it too. That part is the heart of any music festival for me. (It was for my dad, too.)

The music fest hasn’t even started yet, and I’ve already discovered one band that means it. (No, it wasn’t Bieber.)

I found this band unexpectedly yesterday, when I was determined to take a breather from the fest (which started last week with Education, Interactive, and Film). My husband, the founder/CEO of Tsugi software company, was speaking at two SXSW Interactive events. I figured I would spend quality time with our kids (ages 4 and 2), clean house, and rest up for music week (which I’m covering for Austin360.com and the Austin-American Statesman).

The kids and I dropped Patrick at the convention center and headed to church. Within five minutes I found myself in coffee hour, talking to a band in town for SXSW. Of course. Turns out the singer/songwriter/guitarist of the band, Ned and the Dirt, is our minister’s son, and at the end of the service she had the blues-rock trio from L.A. stand up and wave to the congregation while she invited everyone to her house for a backyard concert and potluck later that night. (Two things Unitarian Universalists love: music and potlucks.)

Now, it’s no secret that bluesy rock is not really my thing, but checking out new bands is. So is avoiding cleaning my house. I went to the party and got to see three guys who love their music, playing on a tiny back porch (complete with a step stool to help people awkwardly get into the house for drinks and snacks while the band was playing).

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Ned and the Dirt, from Los Angeles, playing an Austin neighborhood during SXSW14

I saw these musicians entertain the gamut of kidsters, hipsters, and oldsters. When neighbors walked or biked by, Ned called to welcome them to the yard, offering pizza and beer. The band had CDs and shirts for sale on a card table, and Ned’s stepmom (Kiya Heartwood, another great musician—it’s Austin!) walked around with a jar to collect tips (AKA gas money). Ned had a banner on “stage” with the band name and promoted merch in between songs. After the show, he hugged friends and family and headed straight to the merch table and talked to people there.

Again, this all happened in a backyard at 5pm on a Sunday. The band was nice to everyone, and I could genuinely feel their appreciation for the people who attended their rock-n-roll potluck.

"Is it normal for you to have to stand up and be pointed out in church because you’re in a band with a minister’s son?" I asked the drummer after the show.

"I haven’t set foot in a church in 10 years," he said, smiling. 

Regardless of the style of music, Ned and the Dirt are my favorite kind of band—the kind that works hard, has fun, lets it show, and gives its all on the road. SXSW can bring out the unusual and wonderful in people who care enough and are brave enough to connect their music, in person, to a bunch of strangers.

When I talked to Ned at church yesterday morning, his band had two unofficial SXSW shows on the docket, plus the party at his mom’s house. I woke up today, less than 24 hours later, and his Facebook status said this:

“I just can’t believe how cool Austin has been so far! Thanks to everyone that came to see us tonight, and if you missed it or just had too much fun tonight that you don’t know what to do with yourself then you’re in luck! We’ve been booked for FOUR more showcases!”

He gave the dates and times of the shows [Click here for those] and closed with, “I DON’T KNOW IF YOU CAN TELL, BUT I’M JUMPING UP AND DOWN WHILE TYPING THIS!”

We can tell, Ned. And I can’t speak for everyone, but I love it. I love the enthusiasm of a band enjoying itself. We don’t all have the energy or the means to play 5+ shows at SXSW—there are kids and jobs (or lack of job) and, well, life. But when you’re in a place in your life to play a zillion times a day, I say go for it. Play on the corner in the morning, in the club at night. Just play. Play and mean it. You’ll inspire the rest of us.

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For my part, I’ll be making my debut with a new band, Butch County, this week. It’ll be my first time playing during South By Southwest since my days with The Personals. Butch County consists of five badass women playing badass rock-n-roll. I could not be more excited for Friday—and you better believe when we get on stage, we will be Meaning It.

I’ll also be thinking of Superchunk and Bikini Kill and Ladies Rock Camp and Ned and the Dirt and all the musicians and friends who make the music community special. This post is for them. 

Here’s to everyone who’s out there making the music they love at SXSW this week—and around the world. And here’s to the music fans who come out to support those performers, those fans who save up the money, summon the energy, and brave the traffic, all so they can jump and sing and sweat and mean it just as hard as the musicians do.

Everybody, ROCK ON! May you be meaning it in your own special way, wherever you are.

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Butch County plays the Girls Rock Austin unofficial SXSW showcase this Friday at Cherrywood Coffeehouse (show 11:30am-10:30pm, w/ Butch County 6pm sharp) and again on Friday, March 28 (9pm, Cheer Up Charlie’s). See you at the stage!

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Erin J. Walter is a writer, musician, mother, and aspiring Unitarian Universalist minister living in her hometown of Austin, Texas, where she serves on the board of Girls Rock Austin. Prior to joining Butch County, she played bass in indie bands Second Story Thief, The Personals, The Hidden Mitten, and Pocket Cat, and sang with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club and Regrettable Sweaters. Follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter. Feedback welcome!

P.S. - Here is the most I’ve meant something in a long time.

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Top 11 Reasons I’m Doing Ladies Rock Camp (even though I’m already in a band)

Off the top of my head:
1. To rock out!
2. To meet new rockin’ lady friends!
3. To learn a new instrument!
4. To get lessons in songwriting!
5. For the thrill of forming a new, all-girl band from scratch!
6. To keep building up the Austin women’s music community!
7. For the lunchtime performances and Q&A with kickass musicians!
8. For the thrill of writing a new song from scratch!
9. To perform at the most fun show ever, the end-of-camp showcase!
10. For a weekend-long break from being “Mommy!”
11. Because who knows what might happen!
12. To see returning friends from last year!
13. TO ROCK OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I know I said 11, but that wasn’t enough.

http://www.girlsrockaustin.org/ladies-rock-camp/