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the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

Katie // Philadelphia, Pa.

A singer/songwriter talks about food deserts, fear of death, and Weird Al.

Katie

The streets are crowded with pub crawlers, the night I pull into Brewerytown. It's a peripatetic festival in homage to the neighborhood's past, when its ten blocks housed most of the 700 breweries native to Philadelphia. Alas, between Prohibition and white flight, no breweries remain in Brewerytown since the last one closed in 1936.

Despite the neighborhood's gentle upswing toward gentrification, there are precious few pubs to crawl between; other businesses are welcome to carpetbag on the foot traffic. The garden shop, first on the block where I leave my car, offers a galvanized metal bucket of PBRs. Or did, we're told...it's nothing but flecks of ice swimming in dusty water, now.  All they have left is popcorn and apples.

The food truck parked on the curb is closing up, too, having run out of tamales. We end up in the back room of a bar, the kind that cultivates its pedigree between sticky concrete floors and hand-cut sweet potato fries. Halloween is coming soon--a B horror flick plays silently on a projector screen. 

Katie and Ben order food and beers; I'm a little skint, I tell them with a show of good humor. The real truth is I'm just afraid, victim to that recurring nonspecific panic that no paycheck in any amount can cure. In this state of mind, I'm mulishly stubborn about spending $12 for anything besides gas. I say I'm not hungry, and agree to finish Katie's burger when she says she can't eat anymore.

N 26th Street, brewerytown, philadelphia pa

This panic is too irregular to be blamed on that for which women's moods are usually blamed. It's nonspecific, coming as easily from an expensive cup of coffee as from a late notice on my school loan payment.

It makes me look at the world through the wrong end of a telescope. It makes me both desperate for work and unable to get it finished.

The only thing it's good for is the writing of impassioned unnecessary work...and that is terrifying, in itself, that I can't do my best work except when everything around me is burning down.

But I'm determined to forget it while I'm here. The last thing I ever want is to burden my hosts with my attendant insecurities. And anyway, I'm here to learn Katie's story about composing music that is effortlessly beautiful and unapologetically idiosyncratic.

I want to learn from her, if I can;  I'm prepared to be a little depressed, if I can't. That's inevitable when you know as many heroes and geniuses as I do.  

reading terminal market, philadelphia, pennsylvania

On Saturday, I accompany Katie on her weekend round of errands. It begins at Reading Terminal Market, for produce at Iovine Brothers, sausages from Martin's, and La Colombe coffee from Termini Brothers, where a man in running gear enthuses to the counter attendant and anyone else listening that "Termini Brothers is the best pastry in the world. In the world!"

Reading Terminal Market, philadelphia, pa

We eat ham-and-cheese pretzel twists from Miller's in a crowded central food court, where an old man plays Broadway showtunes on a Moog piano. I try to be unobtrusive, both in taking pictures of the Amish girls polishing the display cases, and in handling with my mounting anxiety.

On our way back, Katie asks if I noticed what a long drive it was to reach a grocery store. As a native Californian, I take long drives as a matter of course; I just assumed that we drove to those stores because she likes them best.

In fact, she tells me, they are the closest stores, if it's actual groceries you want. Philadelphia's inner neighborhoods are a food desert; because the family car takes the breadwinner to work, the bread has to be brought home on foot. This has led to the culture of the "corner store," which stocks lottery tickets and cigarettes alongside foods with a long shelf life. Kids around here grow up on Krimpets and Kraft macaroni, ignorant of what a potato looks like before it becomes a chip.

Still, the working-class vintage is one of the things they love about Brewerytown. Most of the folks on their street have raised multiple generations of families there, though there aren't many children on the block these days. Ben says he hopes to be part of curing that. (Though not firsthand…not yet, anyway.)

amish worker, reading terminal market, philadelphia, pennsylvania

Ben took up real estate after graduating from Temple, and found to his surprise that he loves it. Specifically, he loves helping people and neighborhoods find each other, and helping cure urban blight by directing the right people toward neighborhoods that could use a shot in the arm.

Besides being a short walk from the art museum and the Schuykill River, one of Brewerytown's principal virtues is the abundance of porches. A front porch like theirs, Ben tells me, is a highly coveted find in downtown Philadelphia, where most homes have only a stoop. It more than makes up for the neighborhood's foibles, such as the dereliction of certain buildings, or the 19th century plumbing, which he acknowledges as affectionately as a car collector might describe an Edsel.

Nevertheless, as a conscientious husband, he couldn't leave his house alone without a good dog in it. He explains this the first night, after we get back from the art-walk, when Teddy, the handsome Rottweiler, meets us at the door and backs me gently but firmly into the corner with the weight of his muscly flank.

"Is he guarding you guys from me?" I ask Katie, submitting until I know what it means.

"He's giving you a hug," she answers.

teddy, philadelphia, pennsylvania It could be the rain, but with each day that passes, I'm having a harder time breathing through my anxiety. It's not that I don't have money--beyond a seventy-dollar oil change, I've spent almost nothing since arriving here. It's the fear that even if this month shakes out okay, next month might not.

It's the shame of letting this fear keep me from tangibly thanking Katie and Ben for their hospitality.

It's the congestion in my chest, when I consider trying to purge these feelings by acknowledging them.

It's the humiliation that, in the five years since I'd last seen Katie, I am still a fish on the line of my own emotions. 

Katie

Part of why I admired Katie so much, back then--beyond her being beautiful, friendly and easy to talk to--was that she saw life past the four-year limits of our cloistered little school. We met each other on our way out--she was about to take a gap year, and I had just graduated. I'd also just quit my diet pill habit, and it was finally sinking in that my year-long obsession over a nonexistent relationship had got in the way of planning for...well, anything. 

Katie spent a lot of time sitting beside me while I cried hysterically; she invited me along to pool and movie hangouts with her friends who were staying in town for the summer.

In brief interludes where I wasn't engrossed in my own problems, I learned a little more about her background: she'd grown up in a family of five, with very young, idealistic parents, who took their whole brood from Lewisburg, Pa. to Hampshire, England to spend four months at a commune for Christian intellectuals.

They returned to Pennsylvania, but set their sights on Lancaster as a place to cultivate the conscientious living practices learned in the commune in an urban setting. Her dad took a job in college ministry; from the age of 12, Katie remembers their house as full of students discussing culture and creativity and spirituality. She and her siblings were homeschooled, sang in community choirs, and navigated the city on foot.

Interstate 84, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

An uncle gifted Katie with a secondhand guitar when she was 13; she learned her first chords from a book of Christmas carols. Soon after, she began writing her own songs, modeled after an artist whose memory makes her cover her face, giggling:

"Really dumb songs. I don't even want to say it….do you know who Weird Al is?"

Katie even wrote him a fan letter, detailing the parody tunes she'd written after his model: one about the Guinness Book of Records, one about squirrels. The letter was sent right back to her; Weird Al's website, she discovered, specifically forbids sending him ideas. 

"They actually circled my stuff and sent it right back to me. ...Maybe it's a copyright thing?"

At 16, Katie discovered the potent cultural cocktail of Spin and KaZaA. Consulting between these two, she made mixtapes to accompany her daily paper route. Some of the college regulars in her home introduced her to emo, to Nirvana, Weezer, and Radiohead. In between leading worship for her church youth group, she played a lot of guitar in her room.

"I really wanted to be in a band, so bad, but didn't know anybody." 

katie

At a school as small as St. John's, it's easy to acquire an identity for talents much smaller than Katie's. If you walked into the Gilliam dormitory during the afternoon lull between classes, you could hear eerie harmonic scales floating down from the third floor. My friend Freya said she used to keep her window open, even on chilly afternoons, in the hope of catching Katie at practice-time.

Katie is shocked to hear that I have these songs in my possession. She gave me a copy of her demo CD, just before we parted ways that summer.

Not only do I have it, I tell her, but I've listened to it over and over. The tremulous falsetto and gritty rasp of her voice, and the keening harmonics that bend where I least expect them to, inspire me with a mesmeric envy that resolves into helpless admiration.

It makes sense with what I remember of her, from school. Even before we officially met, I sensed about Katie a sort of distance from our college's commonwealth of misfits. She always seemed to be intently listening to people over the sound of something else that only she could hear.

I'd never been so happy as I was at our school, yet when I looked at Katie, I wondered if her discontent might be better. Having heard her music, I'm convinced of it.

I was happy because I was finally somewhere that I fit, in the company of other bookworms, learning from each other to cultivate and express great ideas.

But Katie, it seemed, was born already knowing.

 

brewerytown, philadelphia, pennsylvania

Actually, Katie tells me, she had a pretty awful experience of our school. She talks about it with an admixture of gripe and apology, the way Tony Chapman might talk about the Rolling Stones.

Like most freshmen, Katie had come to the school excited by the prospect of learning firsthand from Plato and Shakespeare and Descartes. But she quickly found herself frustrated in the socratic discussion setting. Where everyone else engaged in rapid-fire debate over the texts, she couldn't seem to marshall a thought.

"Seminar days were the worst. I hated it--I was totally intimidated. I enjoyed the readings, I felt like I was learning, I was taking notes…I wasn't not doing the work. I think I had very, very gracious tutors, both years. They were very kind to me, but they'd shake their heads at me in my don rag."

She laughs, rolling her eyes.

"I was like 'Bring it on, I know already.'"

After seminar, she would escape to the piano rooms in the basement under the music library, and play until two in the morning. Or she would go back to her dorm room, put on her headphones, and record different track layers on Garage Band. There was an urgency to writing that she'd never felt before. 

One of her dad's best friends was not only the director of music at their church, but also a trained jazz composer, "always doing really weird stuff in church." Katie was vastly influenced by what he listened to, and by his approach to creating music. So when he invited her, during her college winter vacation, to sing on his project of sacred songs, her concept of herself as a musician was revolutionized.

"I hadn't thought of myself as a singer up until that point. I listened back and got his encouragement, and I was like 'oh, I can sing! This is something  I'm good at.' That was the first time I thought about myself in that way. Having some backing from him, in some ways, I felt like I was off like a shot."

[audio mp3="http://www.theconnoisseurs.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/03-Backtrack.mp3"][/audio]

Many of the songs were, in fact, articulations of what she found difficult to articulate in class--treatments of the Knight's Tale, or passages about Beatrice from the Divine Comedy. “To Love Her,” a track that so far only exists on her long-lost demo tape, comes from Dante's Purgatorio, which she read sophomore year, in what would be her final semester.

Katie

It wasn't the easiest year back in her hometown: living with the parents, working a part-time job, answering questions about why she wasn't in school. But Katie had a single-minded goal driving her: to “do music”--play gigs, write songs and, above all, make a record.

Looking back, she can't define why that was so important to her. She didn't have aspirations for fame, or even for a career. The offers of a friend in marketing to help her define her brand made Katie extremely uncomfortable. All she really wanted was to "do music."

The small size and chummy nature of Lancaster makes it a surprisingly easy place to find gigs...or to create them for yourself. She worked at a burrito shop where she could plan and promote shows at will. She was even able to get a couple of gigs at the Chamelon Club, Lancaster's one rock club, through meeting the promoter there. She met other musicians who liked backing her or helping her record.

The hard part was deciding what to do, once the recording was done. Katie realized after it went into being mastered that she hadn't really had a goal beyond that.

"We had 100 physical copies, and it was on iTunes…it was really kind of anticlimactic. I wish I'd been able to promote it, but I was like 'Well, I'm in school now.'"

That September, she enrolled at Temple as an English major. Despite being completely different from St. John's, it was in many ways still the opposite of what she wanted from school: surviving on a giant campus, apartment-hopping among neighborhoods that had nothing like the community feeling and nostalgic quaintness of Annapolis, and navigating  her first real relationship only a couple months into the semester.  

And then she and Ben got married, and then they were getting settled in their home, their jobs, and life together. They buckled down to pay off their school loans. They started painting the kitchen.

Katie got involved in the music ministry at their church. She also began to help lead an artists' collective there, organizing workshops and exhibitions like the ones she'd grown up with, in her parents' home.

But inevitably, people would ask how music was going, and she would get irritated. She recounts this with some equanimity, but her voice quickly gets vehement in spite of herself.

"I always hated that question. 'How's music going?' 'What do you mean--am I playing guitar every day? Yeah.' I would feel so guilty."

We listen to the traffic swish past her front porch. A car slows down at the corner, bumping Rick Ross, and I try to rearrange my crumpled line of questioning.

I came to Philadelphia confident of hearing about her musical exploits in the past five years. I assumed that walking around the streets would be a progressive introduction to some cool musical subculture within the city. I thought maybe she'd have a show where I could see her perform for the first time.

In fact, she confesses, she'd hardly done anything with music since moving here.

Schuylkill River Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The effect of happiness on artists is well-documented by professional critics and blog commenters alike. (I still remember the contempt with which my friends and I discussed Coldplay's future after Chris Martin married Gwyneth Paltrow. ...And were we wrong?)

But it's not that Katie's music went downhill...it just kind of went out of sight. It wasn't exactly the fault of wedded bliss, either—it was, in fact, a preoccupation with maintaining that happiness.

Katie's demeanor is so easy and frank that when she confesses to a past year of chronic anxiety, it's a little hard for me to believe. And maybe that's exactly the problem—her anxiety is quelled in, as she calls it, "being with people" mode. 

But on her own, she lives with an underlying fear of losing someone she loves. It's not a new thing; as a child, she would lie awake, picturing scenarios in which her sister or her mother died. As she got older, she realized two things about this fear: that it was directly opposed to the hope she was supposed to have, as a Christian, and that God might be using it to crack her open.

A year ago, in winter, Katie decided to re-approach music in a different way. She had a lot of song fragments, a lot of musical ideas, but wanted to write about something more specific, something that really mattered to her.  

"I'm sort of laid-back…I don't have a lot of issues that I feel I need to express. I never thought I had anything to say. "

The first song she completed was a direct confrontation of her primary fear and frustration: that one day, Ben and she will inevitably be ripped apart by death.

 "I think since getting married, lying next to Ben and feeling his heart beat, thinking 'We are so vulnerable. At any point, this thing in his body could just stop, and I have no control over that.'"

Last September, during a vacation with Ben's family on North Carolina's Outer Banks, they learned that a girl from their church had gotten into a bad car accident on her way to meet her husband out in California. She, and her seven-month in-utero baby, both died.

Despite not knowing the family well, Katie was devastated.

"And I wasn't grieving for her. I just took it all on myself. It hit me so hard that at any moment, I could lose Ben. Or he could lose me. It disturbed me so much. So the next day I was preoccupied with it--I was just trying to memorize Scripture and praying through it.

"We went to the beach, and we shouldn't have been swimming--there was a hurricane coming out in the Atlantic. The waves were huge; a lot of surfers out. Ben's brother got sucked out into a rip current, like really far, a hundred yards.

"In my mind, we had lost him. I was like 'I can't believe this is happening. I was just thinking about this all last night, and now I have to face it for real.'"

Even though Ben's brother was fine—he kept calm and floated in with the tide, like you're supposed to—the incident shook Katie terribly. She spent the rest of the day depressed and anxious, while everyone else was rejoicing that he had survived. The day afterward was marked with questions she wrote down, one after the other.

"This isn't right…it seems like any of us could be plucked out from this life any time, and if that's going to happen, why do we try to preserve life at all? Why do we try to live a good life? Why do we love each other, if that's going to happen? I know we're supposed to partner with God in bringing restoration to this earth, but if he's going to restore it and make it new anyway, why do we have to play a part in it?"

It was all stuff she knew had easy answers--she heard them in sermons, and it was repeated to her in conversations with friends. But suddenly it wasn't as understandable as it used to be.

"The thing about fear is it permeates everything, colors everything you're looking at." 

[audio mp3="http://www.theconnoisseurs.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/04-Apart.mp3"][/audio]

Later in the week, I finally break under the strain of my anxiety, and have to confess myself to Katie and Ben. I'm embarrassed of it; I don't like being this person even with my closest friends; I hate bringing this kind of energy into someone else's house. And when it's someone who I haven't seen since last time I was breaking down...well, you can imagine.

They're totally cool about it, of course. They listen to me. They take me out for phở, then drinks at a Mexican cantina that gets big points for trying. Their friend Will comes along, and I'm grateful for the presence of someone who doesn't know me, as I squirm under the kindness of those who do.

katie

Katie had no problem writing essays, in college, but bringing that articulation to artistry leaves her at a loss. One of her songs, "Apart," is a particular source of pride because she really cared about saying something (her fear of death), and managed to say it to her satisfaction.

So it's a little disheartening when friends, family members or fans tell her that she should stick with the "more poetic stuff"--that she should stick with the evocative sonic aesthetic where she excels.

She heaves a sigh like a lovelorn poet.

"I worked so hard to say something! I should try to say something, right?"

[audio m4a="http://www.theconnoisseurs.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/05-Spring-Rondo-DRD.m4a"][/audio]

As a listener, though, Katie doesn't pay much attention to lyrics. She's much more attuned to the meaning of sounds, especially those made by the voice. That's her favorite thing about the musicians she currently admires the most--Kate Bush, Björk, Chairlift's Caroline Polachek.

It makes sense that she'd find this the most natural way to write songs--using syllables to help a melody find its own shape, rather than using words to pin it down.

"I've tried to write a couple songs just based on phrases that come out of my mouth, and shaping the song around it. The sounds that are just wanting to come out of my mouth because of certain musical riffs and phrases. I'll just take it, and that'll be the title of the song, and I'll write lyrics on top of it. I don't even know what I'm trying to do with it. That's the problem I run into.

"I just respect good songwriters! Like Dave Bazan from Pedro the Lion--he is so efficient with his words. They are so poetic but so heartbreaking, in six words or something.

"Not all lyrics have to be like that," she allows. "I feel strong in making melodies, singing, arranging... But I do feel stuck, sometimes. I have melodies like crazy, all these pieces of songs, and I don't really know what to sing!"

I'm nonplussed. Not so much that she doesn't know what to sing--how else, I wonder, could she create melodies that leave the listener wondering what will come next?--but that it produces in her a frustration that sounds so much like my own. I was sure she must always know what she was doing, or at least trust herself in the process of doing it. If we can't reach some level of certainty in what we do, in the absence of making loads of money off it, how do we go on? Why suffer so much anxiety for the sake of something that we're not sure we're doing right?

Yet I can tell Katie that what she's doing certainly sounds right, to me. I wonder what might happen if we released ourselves from what we would like to be, and let ourselves run loose in the direction of what feels natural. Maybe we'd lose some sense of grounding, sure, but maybe we'd feel more free.

All this goes through my head in a moment, as Katie reflects aloud that maybe it just comes down to hard work.

"If I spend a couple days or weeks banging it out, writing or rewriting, sometimes the result is good. I just don't like the process as much as I like doing the music."

Katie

On their bedroom door, a hand-drawn chart hangs, showing their progress in paying off their student loans. I stare at it for several minutes in a mixture of envy and admiration. Earlier that day, I fielded a call from my own student loan company; the conversation went about the way it usually does.

Katie admits that the two of them simultaneously working is the reason they've made this kind of progress. Ben's job pays the bills, and hers—as a social services coordinator—goes toward eliminating their debt.

She doesn't love her job, but she likes the evenings when she gets home to spend time with Ben, watching movies, or just sitting together. It's why she finds it hard to carve out time to spend on music—it's easier to do if he's out of the house, with his friends. But if he's at home, she gets anxious about spending time apart. It also makes it hard to cultivate friendships; after four years of living here, and despite being closely connected to a lot of people through her church, Katie doesn't feel particularly close with anyone in Philly.

It's a catch-22. She doesn't like having a schedule stacked with plans and time commitments, but at the same time, she feels guilty about not working harder to cultivate relationships. So if something comes up spontaneously, she jumps into it. Being committed about a time to work on music is hardest of all, between those two constraints—it's hard to discipline herself, and it's hard to justify taking time away from relationships, which she knows are important. Philadelphia Museum of Art, pennsylvania

"I do feel a sense of guilt, like I shouldn't be spending my time focused on my music. I should be more thinking of other people, serving other people. That runs through my mind a lot: 'This is not a good use of my time. It's so inward focused, to spend all this time working on my project. I'm not out building relationships...'

She sighs.

"It's really tough to find integrity in it. That God could call me to do that and be pleased with it... Is God calling me to this? Or is it just something I want to do?"

"There's so much that goes into trying to discern God's will. I have skill, I have other people who affirm me, I have people who want to play with me, I have opportunities  such as shows, and I have desire. All those things should add up to it, right?"

Not to mention, she adds, a supportive husband who wants nothing more than to see her dive into her music in a way that really fulfills her.

"He purposely makes space for me, works hard for me, pushes and encourages me."

She gives an embarrassed shrug.

"So it's kind of silly that I would question it, right?"

I wonder if maybe it's that same thing I talked about with Rachel, back in Vancouver, two months and hundreds of miles ago--that feeling that there's a party going on somewhere that we're missing, that everyone's doing something fun without us. It's hard to keep a solitary commitment like working on your art, alone, with no guarantee of success and with life is going on meanwhile.  I wonder if this is the lighter end of Katie's heavy fear of losing someone: that life is short, and skipping out on it to create something feels wrong. Or, at the very least, selfish.

Maybe that's why it's so much easier to create when it feels like everything else in life is generally terrible. Then there's nothing to be afraid of; there's no worry of neglecting something important, or missing out on something wonderful.

katie

"I think that period of life at St. John's was so awful…you know how it is, when you have a lot of angst, emotions, some of the best stuff comes out."

Katie reconsiders.

"At least, stuff comes out--I'm not sure if it's the best."

Even if it is the best, it's galling to acknowledge it. The stuff I wrote during the summer we met, I tell her, I sort of hate to look at, even though it looks really good, to me. When everything real and immediate is unequivocally shitty, when I'm trapped or tormented by inadequacies in my job or relationships or other aspects of the normal, the only outlet is creativity. Then, like Katie said, I'm off like a shot; doubt can't keep up with me.

"That's exactly it," she agrees.

But as soon as things start looking up, I get stuck again. The fear of losing ground I've gained...especially when I know things can go wrong for no good reason...makes the risk of being creative much harder to take. It's like being really happy and really creative are mutually exclusive.

"Yes," she agrees, in one emphatic syllable. "That's the very thing I've been trying to work at, since we got married." 

[audio mp3="http://www.theconnoisseurs.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/05-Birthday-Wedding.mp3"][/audio]

"I've had some moments of weeping in my quiet time. Sometimes at night, I just get so sad… It's good, because in the end, I've realized what it all comes down to…"

She picks around for words, like a person finding their way across a stream.

"It's valuing Jesus, and knowing that life is in him; it's nothing else. I think I've never really understood that, or let that be the way that I see things. Just clung very tightly to what I have."

“God has been very active in my heart with this, making me more attuned to his presence. He's very clearly trying to show me something, and ultimately bring me closer to himself. So I'm encouraged by that."

brewerytown, philadelphia, pennsylvania

I wonder if she ever gets scared of what being closer to God might entail. She laughs sort of helplessly.

 "I think I've just realized that on an emotional level for the first time, this fall: that submitting to him, because he is Lord of my life, is painful. It is a little scary, right? It's hard not to be scared of him."

She adds, assertively,

"I know that that's where I'm missing something. I know I don't understand his love in a way that if I did, I wouldn't be worried about any of this."

A poster hangs on the wall of the music room, which is occupied by amps, a pedal board, guitars and percussion instruments and, at the moment, principally by the futon I'm sleeping on. The poster is well put together; it reads “Katie Becker and the Bricklayers.” They are a group of guys, and despite being great musicians in their own right, they love playing behind her.

"There's no reason why they should be committed to playing with me," she says modestly. "I'm, like, basking in that."

In fact, she has all the support, both friendly and creative, that an artist could ask for. Maybe it's just a matter of taking charge.

"I think I'm reaching a point where I can work creativity into my rhythm of life by peeling other stuff away. Taking a step back from other commitments and kind of making it happen. There's not a whole lot I'm feeling upset about.

"It's not like St. John's--like 'I just have to go and write songs.' It's been more a discipline--'I'm good at this, it's really satisfying, I have guys who want to play with me. I should just do it.'"

"I do have these things I've been thinking about, struggling thing, it's given me things I want to write about."

With Ben's help, she put together a schedule of time to work on music. She also stepped out of her leadership role in the church worship ministry and artists' collective, in favor of writing and performing on her own.

Nevertheless, she wonders when it will stop feeling selfish, and start feeling justified, to organize her life around making art. Together, we speculate whether that comes as a result of age, or the balance of circumstances tipping to favor it. I tell her that sometimes I wonder if I'm going to be 75 and still needing to ask for couches to crash on.

"If so, that's okay!" she says gently.

It's not okay with me, I protest, especially when this project is never as good as I want it to be. And then, compounded with an inability to repay people for their generosity to me, it feels as though I'm asking the rules to be bent for me, while everyone else works a job they dislike so that they can support my spontaneous, artistic, itinerant lifestyle. 

"That's like assuming that people are supporting you begrudgingly." 

katie and ben's house, brewerytown, philadelphia, pennsylvania

That, I admit, is exactly how I've been feeling...especially toward her and Ben. I don't want to be a burden on other people. I don't like the idea of being the helpless freeloader, compelling good people to host me because they don't want to see me on the street, unable to offer anything in return but company and time.

"That's just as valuable," she says, "if not more."

 We're both silent for a moment. All we really have, as artists--anyone, really, but our artist selves notice it most keenly--is time. Time to figure out what we're doing, whether it's what we should be doing, whether we want to keep doing it. We take time from our arty work and put it into trust funds--side jobs, personal retreats, relationships most of all--hoping that it will bring back interest. But even if it does, its value may have dropped. Time is the most fickle currency in the world. 

Ben walks into the room.

"How's it going? Still interviewing?"

He goes to the bookshelf and comes back with a volume of Flannery O'Connor's short stories. Katie tells me she was part of a Flan-Con reading group during our last year at school.

"What?" I'm aghast at this lost opportunity. "How did I miss that?"

Katie shrugs.

"We weren't friends then."

N 26th Street, brewerytown, philadelphia pa

Leaving Brewerytown, on the first dry and sunny morning in five days, I page my iPod to my favorite song on Katie's demo. It's the one that I sometimes skip over, when its paradoxical combination of confidence and wistfulness is too wrenching for me to bear.

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In the past five years, I'd always kind of mouthed along phonetically to follow the tune; now, while sitting in gridlock on Interstate 84 I'm hearing actual words for the first time.

Right now with you, and then alone At one time I drove and drove I finally stopped, stepped out, was surrounded

Now I'm not home, I'm never home.

Isn't it funny, I think, that I never knew what the song was saying, until I came to the place in my life where I could really understand it.

rearview, philadelphia, pennsylvania

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