Roots

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Back in April, I stayed with my sister JoAnn – who lives in The Villages, FL – for nearly two weeks. All too soon, it was time for her to sign my travel didgeridoo and hit the road. Highlights included …

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Seeing this gator sunbathing on someone’s back lawn. I was out on the patio, at a neighbor’s social function with JoAnn. I brought along this baked ziti, which was a big hit …

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We also paid a visit the Morse Museum in Winter Park, which is exclusively devoted to the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Check it out …

 

Then there were my sister’s friends. These included people who popped over for dinner and those I got to hang out with at the local Starbucks. One of them is now a Facebook friend.

One night, JoAnn hosted a dinner for people who grew up in Meriden, CT. Back when I was young, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. But knowing who I am now means knowing where I came from. From these people, I picked up invaluable insights.

The Meriden person I really wanted to see, though was a certain Beth. Back in junior high, I think – when my sister was in high school – she had moved into our neighborhood from another local neighborhood. In nothing flat, she and my sister were walking to high school together.

In my eyes, Beth was definitely the coolest person I’d ever laid eyes on, and I don’t mean this in the standard cliquish cool girl sense. No, she exuded a certain Miles Davis cool. There was something in her look – straight long black hair, modish horn-rims, short skirt, dark stockings – something in her bearing and expression that made you want to listen to Beat poetry and read existentialist literature.

For two school years,  I would accompany my sister up our street. Then a right turn and a couple of houses to the left, and she would peel off to pick up Beth. I ventured a few houses further to rendezvous with my own walking buddy.

So it was, a good many days, I had a chance to view Beth from afar, and sometimes even close up. Who was she?

It turned out that a few years ago, she moved a few towns over from JoAnn, and the two picked up right where they left off. So it was that one day we headed off to her place.  She opened the door. “You haven’t changed a bit,” were the first words that flew out of my mouth. Different hair, different clothes. Same persona.

Her own jewelry and paintings graced the place. When she left Meriden, she made a beeline for New York and straight into the world where fashion and publishing intersect.

Over lunch at a local Cajun joint, I put it to her about how I found her so quintessentially cool. Funny, she commented. She was aware of her cool aura. Indeed, others had remarked on it, as well. But here is the kicker – she told me that she went through high school in a fog. In almost a state of disassociation, a trance.

Holy crap! So did I.

Months later, I’m still unpacking this revelation. My latest book, IN SEARCH OF OUR IDENTITY, devotes itself to the question of why so many of us feel so different,  like we don’t belong on this planet. Call us outliers, whether too nerdy or too cool, for various reasons we simply don’t fit in. The takeaway from the book is that until we find our own tribe of fellow outliers, we are always going to have issues engaging with the tribe that we were born into.

Yet, somehow, in a town long ago and far away, Beth and my sister had engaged. And eons later, here were the three of us at the table – fully engaged.

Looking forward to picking up more insights, but that means getting back to Florida. Maybe Christmas …

 

 

Reconnection …

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Back in early April, The Villages, FL …

“Force of Nature” is the best way to describe my old friend, Angela Vickers. I met her at a conference in the summer of 2000. Here’s what happened …

There was an annual DBSA (then NDMDA) conference in Boston. The D and B stand for depression and bipolar, respectively. The organization is run by patients. There is a head office in Chicago, but the real work is handled by volunteers at the grass roots. This mostly involves someone turning on the lights to a meeting room in a church basement or hospital or community center somewhere to arrange chairs and tables and spread brochures around, set out name tags and writing material, and maybe have a few bottles of water handy. This same individual is on hand to greet people as they arrive and to run a support group meeting.

Maybe the volunteer would rather be home that evening with his or her family, or holed up alone watching Law and Order reruns. Or finishing an important project or meeting friends. There are always better things to do, or not do. Anyway …

At the time of the conference, I had been putting out a depression and bipolar newsletter for a year. I had been leading a rather isolated existence, and the thought of having to make a good social impression had me on edge. Indeed, the evening before heading to Boston, I experienced a panic attack that mimicked a heart attack.

I entered a hotel ballroom where the opening session would take place, and settled into a seat in front. I tentatively greeted the person next to me and handed her my business card. That person was Angela. We couldn’t stop talking. She was serious and intense, but also a great laugher and joker.

In the years ahead, in places like Cleveland and Cincinnati, in Washington DC and Orlando and San Diego, our paths would regularly cross.  In between, we stayed in touch. She greeted me as “her favorite dance partner.” This originated in Cleveland, with an oldies band at a conference social function.

In addition to my newsletter, I now had a website going and was working on a book. Angela was raising mental health awareness amongst the judiciary and legal profession in her home state of Florida and was taking her message to a national audience. For her efforts, in the early 2000s, she received Mental Health’s America’s coveted Clifford W Beers Award.

In 2008, I opted to start leading a more balanced life. This involved cutting down on both my hours and traveling. Angela and I stayed in touch. She kept greeting me as her favorite dance partner. Inevitably, though, our lives started to diverge. Somewhere around 2011, we dropped off each other’s radar.

About two years ago, she let me know via Facebook that she had moved to The Villages in FL. Same place my sister lives. Now, here I was, at my sister’s place. Guess who I had to see?

She had changed, I had changed. But with special people, it’s as if nothing had changed. Reconnection is but a technicality. The connection was always there …

Golf Cart Tour, The Villages, FL

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From my visit, here, the first two weeks of April …

Back in the 80s, some developers actually figured out that if you put up decent places that people could call home, along with amenities and places to go, and made it affordable, people such as retired school teachers from up north might actually be willing to sign on the dotted line.

The Villages now has some 120,000 residents, nearly all of them retirees. None of them were born here, none grew up here or raised their families here, but all have made new lives for themselves here, and are building new communities in the process.  Into my sister’s golf cart …

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Eat my dust …

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This used to be a Munchkin tunnel …

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You gotta watch out for aggressive drivers …

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If there is no golf course somewhere in your field of vision, then you are not in The Villages …

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The week before, it was nothing but Harley’s outside the joint …

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This guy is in no hurry to get anywhere. Maybe that’s the point …

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Miles to go before I sleep …

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I’m at a friend’s in NJ. Lot’s of catching up to do. My last location was Baton Rouge, LA, with a didge buddy there. This was the last day of March, this year. Now I needed to be in the middle of Florida in two days. No time to poke around and enjoy the country. It was a straight haul down I-10.

The road has kind of been my umbilical cord. I picked it up outside of LA, where it took me to Joshua Tree National Park. I reconnected with it on my way into AZ, where it took me to friends in Phoenix and Apache Junction. Later, it took me into Tucson. I got back on it somewhere in NM, where it took me to White Sands. I found it again just before Baton Rouge, and hooked up with it again, just outside. A couple of days more going east, and both the road and I would run out of continental landmass.

If I made good time today, it would be a leisurely ride to my destination the next day. Good ol’ I-10. I really put in the miles …

Mississippi, Alabama, the Florida. I checked my map. A national forest beckoned. A couple of hours later, I had my tent up by the edge of a swamp. Trust me, God provides the best accommodations …

Hello, Again

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It’s obviously been a while since I posted. I’ve put in a lot of miles, had a lot of experiences. I’m at a friend’s in NJ right now. I’ve set aside time. We’ll catch up. In the meantime, here’s a photo my host, Leigha Cohen, shot of me. She’s an award-winning photographer and it shows. Ten years ago, she did the author photo for my book, Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder.

Reconnecting …

Jam Down On the Levee

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Here I am, in Baton Rouge with my friend and fellow tribal member, Corwin. We met at a didgeridoo gathering in Oregon back in 2015 and became Facebook friends soon after. Okay, I’m going to tell you a thing or two about the didgeridoo you may not know …

The didgeridoo is known for its signature low drone. For accents and sundry effects, practitioners toot out assorted trumpet notes (typically an octave and a bit above the drone) or “drop” down several tones. But these tend to be transitory and subordinate to whatever is going on with the drone.

Then various virtuosi such as Ondrej Smeykal began seriously messing around above and below. Then a couple of innovators went totally nuts.

Will Thoren, for instance, developed a “drop octave” technique that exploits the didge’s capability to deliver what I can only call subdrones, a full octave below the drone. He makes didges with special mouthpieces to facilitate the process, but mastery of the technique is fiendishly difficult.

It turns out my host not only rocked it in the subdrones, but he could circular breathe down there as well. Knock me over with a feather. This is part of the joy of jamming with another didge player – there is so much experimentation and innovation going on that life is a constant succession of opening presents.

Meanwhile, the wildly creative Dan Flynn has opened us to the possibilities in the trumpet range. Most of us are content to squeak out what we call the first and second trumpets. Dan actually belts out lengthy stratospheric passages. Not only that, he manages to tease out in-between notes.

Okay, independently of Dan, while playing in drum circles, I developed my own trumpet style, albeit far more basic. Very quickly, I realized that if you wanted to be heard in a drum circle, you needed to go trumpet. Drawing from my trombone experience from way back, I would improvise my own horn riffs.

Somehow, though, I never regarded my drum circle didging as part of my “real” didging. That began to change about three years ago. This sets the scene for our jam down on the levee.

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Here’s a pic of the Mississippi and its levee as seen from a small park in downtown Baton Rouge. Early one evening, Corwin and I took our didges down to the waterfront and began honking. Next thing, Corwin is laying down a line in the subdrone range – kind of like a funky bass – and I’m answering with my trumpets, swingband trumpets, no less.

NO DRONE!

“No drone!” I’m exulting in a wildly exuberant fit of unbridled enthusiasm. We’ve just wrapped up a brief duo. Here we are, I point out, both playing an instrument identified by it’s tell-tale drone, two didgeridoo players – and not a single drone between us!

Okay, maybe one or two, but very brief and just for accent. In effect, we turned our didges inside out, and – since I’m the one chronicling this – I’m going to say this is a historical first. In all the thousands of years of the didgeridoo – no drone!

A celebration is called for …

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Southern blackened salmon with asparagus, lovingly prepared by Corwin. The potatoes and avocado are my contribution. All too soon, it was time to go. A new signature and inscription to my travel didgeridoo, then, having made history, on the road, to whatever the future may hold.

Sound the trumpet, sound the trumpet, sound the trumpet!
Sound, sound, sound the trumpet till around
You make the list’ning shores rebound.
On the sprightly hautboy play
All the instruments of joy
That skillful numbers can employ,
To celebrate the glories of this day.

– Henry Purcell

Because you know I’m all about that bass,
‘Bout that bass, no treble
I’m all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble
I’m all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble
I’m all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass

– Meghan Trainor

God and I Have Issues

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Even Texas eventually has to end. At the end of a long day of driving, I eventually pulled into Baton Rouge. But not without a lot of unwanted drama.

Here’s where Google Maps and every navigation system is totally useless: Google Maps correctly told me a right hand turn was coming some two-and-a-half miles away. What it didn’t tell me was that before that happened, I would find myself on a holy-fucking-shit deathtrap of a bridge hundreds of miles above the Mississippi, fighting off a panic attack.

God and I have issues. If God had been on the job, this never would have happened. It gets worse.

So, here I am, in fierce traffic on what amounts to a flimsy scaffolding a zillion miles above a body of water immortalized by Mark Twain, not to mention Paul Robeson’s excellent bass-baritone voice. My brain is “in case of emergency, break glass” mode. This is when I shout for all hands on deck. Angels, spirits, denizens of the ether, everyone. You up there! Look over me! Get me off this bridge alive!

An eternity …

Whew! Deliverance. Thank you, God. You are forgiven. We’ll talk later. Wait …

To my horror, I find myself on a ramp, heading straight back over the bridge. This is the work of Google Maps, with God’s apparent approval. This time, I am driving directly into a brilliant orange globe of combusting helium that poets and meteorologists euphemistically identity as a setting sun. Now you’ve done it, God.

When everything around you fails – breathe. I literally find myself breathing my way back across the Mississippi. Another eternity …

Now, here I am, off the bridge, in some shipyard, Google Maps pointing me over the same accursed bridge a third time. One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi …

I clinch my jaw, I release the brake. Once more, into the breach.

This time, when I reach the other side, I deliberately turn left when Google Maps tells me to turn right. I drive into a neighborhood with real streets and places to turn around. Google Maps resets. I double-check. It is not taking me back over the bridge. God is making Himself scarce. You bet.

I arrive at my destination a few minutes later, the back of my shirt drenched in salty sweat. My ordeal is over. I should be grateful. But as I said, God and I have issues.

Through Texas

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My plan had been to get through Texas as fast as possible. But Texas is way too big for that. I entered the state via the scenic Guadelupe Mountains …

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Then the landscape turned harsh …

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And the warnings turned Biblical …

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After hours of unremittingly bleak country, I unexpectedly came across a state park situated in the dunes off I-10. I got my tent up just as the sun was setting …

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Two days later, not far out of Fort Worth, at a campground by a lake, I woke up to a flat battery. That is when I got to meet Frank and John …

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They were loading their truck nearby and very kindly came to my assistance, and got me up and running. I told them a bit of my story. This moved John to request a prayer. We bowed our heads as he thanked the Lord for bringing us together this day and asked the Lord to look over me on my journey. Hard to hold back the tears.

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A couple of hours later, I experienced a joyous reunion with Kinike. This was supposed to be a quick breakfast. Instead, we wound up going on till 3. Kinike is a legendary mental health advocate. It’s been at least 12 years since we last saw each other. Once we got talking, we couldn’t stop. And of course we had to have a didgeridoo-ukulele jam in the parking lot. This is what life is all about. All too soon, it was time to go.

A final night in Texas, beneath the pines …

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Road-Running Through New Mexico

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I would have loved to have stayed in New Mexico much longer, but I now needed to stick to a strict schedule. My drive-by visit didn’t do the state any justice, but the good news is that it will still be here next year.

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Here is the view waking up in the mountains outside Silver City. The day before, I had woken up to a blazing desert sun in southeastern AZ. Then back into the desert …

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White Sands National Monument. I was looking forward to viewing this wonder under a night sky, but a fierce sandstorm squelched this plan. Here’s the storm from my campsite at a nearby state park …

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It was only after the storm died down later that evening that I was able to pitch my tent. In the meantime, I strapped three didgeridoos over my shoulder and visited my new friend, Becky. As you may recall from an earlier post, she and her three kids stumbled upon me playing my didgeridoo among the ruins at Montezuma Well. We instantly hit it off, and through Facebook discovered our paths would be crossing again. We both rolled into the campground within minutes of each other.

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The boys, by the way, were naturals on the didge. Mom was pretty good, too. Husband Rob took the photo.

Later, dinner inside their RV. Plus pokemon and lots of good conversation. All too soon, it was time to go …

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What a difference a few hours and several thousand feet makes. New Mexico is full of surprises …

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Hours later, a sense of flatness asserted itself. Below, minutes from Carlsbad Caverns, where I was about to pitch my tent …

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Soon after, the flatness unexpectedly opened up into canyons. Then, before I knew it, I was on foot, 800-feet below the ground …

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A few hours later, this happened …

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By then, however, I was already looking forward to late this year and well into next year. New Mexico, I will be back.