Before I can begin, I have to admit something. I'm not a David Bowie fan. Or, I should say, I wasn't. I jumped on the train a little late, er, too late. More than any other musician or artist that has passed away in my adult life, David Bowie's ghost seems to be following me around. He managed to finally pin me down in an unassuming park in Jacksonville, Florida and sing to me until I could do nothing else but pledge my allegiance to this man I'd only seen glimmers of, previously.
No, I'm not crazy. It all started in West Hollywood. The day after his death, I was in Los Angeles, about to begin tour. We were at Slightly Stoopid's management company, hanging out. It's only a couple blocks from Sunset Blvd. Me and Torie didn't have a lot of time, but I was determined to see David Bowie's star. We ran the 5 blocks there and started walking backwards down the string of them all. I was trying to read the names upside down and was worried I would miss it. All I knew was that my Google Maps told me it was in this general area.
I was staring at my feet when I nearly collided with a group of people. They were in a circle and the middle was lit up. At first, I had no clue what it was and then it hit me, "Of course!" People are doing the same thing I am. I pushed past the thin layer of persons and came face to face with more than I had expected. It was packed with stuff....cards, teddy bears, candles, flowers. There was just a tiny little opening in the middle of the mound where if you leaned over, you could read, "DAVID BOWIE" People were pretty spread out. The area right around the star seemed to be reserved for people to come and go.
Everyone was silent. I could read portions of the handwritten cards. It was shocking. They were written directly to him, as if he was going to read them. "Thank you for everything you did." and "You changed my life". I had never witnessed anything like it. It felt eerie and weird. We got a call and Zach said we had 15 minutes to make it back We would have to run.
Torie was on the phone with her boyfriend and right as I went to take a photo, my phone died. I felt obsessed. I needed to take a picture. I wanted to remember this moment. I grabbed Torie's arm, drug her over to the spot where I was, pulled her phone away from her face and hit the speaker button. I could hear Kenny talking about his boss. Torie, looking guilty and terrified, was leaning toward the phone, just in case she needed to respond. Everyone had turned to stare at the scene we were creating. There was no noise, other than Kenny's voice and the phone was raised so high at this point, I think people thought we were playing the voice of David Bowie. In this freeze frame of a second, I snapped the picture, took it off speaker and whipped Torie around, running back in the opposite direction. This is that photo.
So, this is my addition, and true Bowie fans are probably rolling their eyes at it, but who cares. I wasn't a fan of David Bowie until he died. There. Fine. I'm one of those people. So be it. But, I at least have a damn good story to tell about how I came to be a fan. I think it will win over even the most pretentious of longterm fans.
My friend Patrick suggested a few coffee shops for me to set up at. I decided to go talk to Chamblin's Uptown used bookstore and coffeeshop. The owner, Jennifer, pretty much said yes, immediately. She mentioned that there was a David Bowie Tribute event happening all day Saturday at Hemming Plaza across the street and that I should come during that. After speaking with her, I couldn't help myself and I wondered around the isles upstairs, aimlessly. Only book-lovers will understand but it was intoxicating. The thin isles with books towering overhead...the strange and fascinating titles...the smell, OH THE SMELL! I focused on a section of letters by famous authors and thumbed through several volumes. I knew I needed to finish the books I have now before buying anymore, but I always feel like I'm leaving my child when I leave a bookstore empty handed.
On Saturday, My friends Torie and Whitney, who I am staying with, agreed to come hang out for the day at the event and help me if I needed. THANK GOD they came. But, we'll get to that.
They were loaning me a small table from their living room and it was the first time I'd ever used a table. I set up right outside Chamblin's, right as an author, who was doing a book-signing that day was posing in from of his poster. He talked to me about what I did and told me about how he used to copyright every poem he wrote. I thought that was rather odd, but just nodded my head instead of saying so. There wasn't a lot of foot-traffic and it didn't look like it was going to go well. Torie and Whitney came over from across the street and asked if I wanted them to see if I could set up inside the park, as part of the event. While they were gone, I wrote a poem for a young kid called "The Streets". He only had 75 cents to give me and after I read it to him, he said he felt bad about not giving me more. I told him, posting the poem on Instagram and tagging my account is equally as complimentary as money. Later in the evening, I saw that he had in fact posted it with some very kind words.
Tore and Whitney came back over and said they talked to one of the organizers and paid him 10 dollars to set up. The other venders had paid 20, but Torie talked him down, since I had no booth. God, I love my friends.
They helped me carry everything over and find a good spot. I set up in between the two stages, which turned out to be perfect, as they alternated throughout the afternoon. Immediately upon sitting down, an older Japanese woman came up to me and began asking me questions. She was extremely interested in what I was doing and after talking for a minute, sat behind me and watched. The girls settled down near her as well and it felt like my parents had come to one of my ballet recitals.
I can say that Jacksonville has given me the warmest welcome of any. Usually, people have at least heard about someone writing poetry on-demand, or in the case of Venice Beach, just passed another person doing it right up the boardwalk. But, not only had not a single person I spoke to come across this particular set up, they had never even heard of such a thing. It reminded me of the first time I'd heard that you could just sit out in public with a typewriter and write poems for strangers on the spot. It was like seeing it for the first time, again and was incredibly delightful.
A group of teenage girls came up to me and asked me how I came up with the poems. They didn't seem satisfied with my answer, "practice," but I stand by it. Sure, you have to have creative talent, too. But, if there's anything I've learned, it's that talent doesn't get you very far. You have to go through those repetitive motions and practice your craft if you want to be good. The poet that sat at Hemming Plaza was not the same one that was at Venice Beach. If I can be cheesy and predictable for one second, I'll just say, practice makes perfect.
Cameramen were strolling the crowd, one, a filmmaker, slipped me his card. Countless amounts of photographers snapped photos. People approached me, completely flabbergasted by what I was doing, taking photos with me and dragging their friends over so they, too, could get poems.
I don't think I've ever been so busy. I started writing subjects down on the business card the filmmaker gave me and numbering them. Torie and Whitney came up and started helping me cut more sheets out of my pad after I ran out. Torie also began greeting people and taking down subjects. At any given moment, I was typing up a poem for someone, listening to a random person that walked up tell me their life story and potential subject, keeping up with those already waiting on poems as they circled me every few minutes. The best way I can describe this scene is by using a metaphor. It's as if I am the restaurant, the hostess, the server, the chef and the food, all in one. I did not stop to take a sip of my iced coffee for nearly four hours.
Honestly, I never get tired. I never want to quit. I'm always sad when the day is over and invigorated on a deep level. If I didn't absolutely love it and know that I am great at it, the situation would have been a hectic nightmare. But, I feel as if I am the best version of myself when I am out there. I am the way I wish I could be at awkward family gathering. I'm in my element. I am empowered by getting to know these people and being trusted to give them this touching and overwhelming gift they have probably never received before. I am honored to get to know them in the short time we interact and I'll never forget their faces in that close, quiet and often scary moment that I am reading my words to them...for them.
People always surprise me and I've learned to just throw out any inclinations to judge upon sight. In this picture below, the man dressed in American flag colors was reading me a poem from his published book. He was making balloon animals for children and invited me to one of his local get togethers for street artists. He was one of the most surprising people I've met.
The woman that initially approached me when I got there was my favorite interaction of the day. Not long in, I turned around to see that she and my friends had struck up a conversation. A little while later, Torie came over and asked if I could please type her up a poem. She was a widow, a woman who had fled Japan and lived in a refugee camp in China. Torie began telling me some of her story and said she had dropped the ten dollars in her pocket and they could tell, wanted a poem very badly.
I had a line of people waiting on poems, but I agreed and hoped I could catch up. That didn't happen. They kept piling up and I kept putting her poem on the back burner so I could satisfy the people patiently waiting in front of me. After about 10 minutes, Torie came back over and said she was leaving. I immediately started typing up one in honor of one of my favorite poems of all time, "The Art of Losing" by Elizabeth Bishop.
As I finished, she walked over to say goodbye and I handed it to her. She looked stunned. I explained that Torie had requested it for her. Torie and Whitney were so touched, they stood anxiously behind her. I asked, the same way I always do, if she would allow me to read it to her. She agreed and leaned in. The music was very loud and I was nearly shouting. I couldn't tell how much of it she absorbed as she was very still throughout and wearing sunglasses.
I read the final line, paused and handed it to her. She fumbled with the paper, almost reluctant to take it. She began to say something, but was interrupted by tears. I could tell she wanted to say so much, but couldn't. I looked up at Torie and she was openly crying. There were people walking up, trying to ask me when if theirs was done and I just signed three fingers for three minutes. I wanted to give her my upmost respect and honor her with my full attention. She talked briefly about her past and her husband and how she writes poetry herself. After a long embrace, she held the poem to her chest and backed away. She said goodbye to the girls and left. They told me she had said she planned to frame it and keep it by her bed.
That experience was special in a new way, because my friends had experienced the raw magic of what I do. That sounds pretentious. It's not me that's magic. It's the universal language of poems. It's their ability to reach into someone's body and pull out their heart instantly. When these strangers bend down, lean in and listen to me silently, they aren't hearing me. They are opening themselves up and allowing themselves to be spoken to by that universal language some call God. Poetry is my God. It's my spiritual practice. And when I am able to give people that emotional, spiritual experience, I am a disciple for poetry. People that love something like I love poetry will understand this. We are all looking for ways to connect to God, pathways, the way that works for us. Not everyone is going to go home and dedicate their life to poetry or probably even pick up a poetry book. But, what they might do, and why I do this, is allow my gift to them, to be a gateway to their spirit, to God.
So someone who read my intro might be wondering, what does any of this have to do with David Bowie?
I'll answer you...you imaginary critic, you.
I've heard David Bowie songs, a few of them at least. I know the red lightning stripe. If I would have had the chance to go see him live, I probably would have gone...probably. But, throughout the day, more than 20 bands were playing David Bowie songs and nothing but it. I kept grabbing at strangers, yelling, "Is this David Bowie?! I love this song!" I couldn't believe there were a dozen or so songs I grew up listening to and still love to hear that were all David Bowie. With each new song, bellowing through the crowd, I could hear people screaming. I could hear the familiar sounds and felt in awe of the sheer number of hits. They had all seemed so different before, but now it made sense. I was piecing this man together throughout the day. It was like I was on a Bowie journey through time and I was falling in love.
His music was like food for my brain throughout the day. Without realizing it, I was listening to the lyrics, singing along and typing a poem at the same time. In one poem, I actually quoted a lyric from a song. In another, the phrase "Sun King" stuck itself in there and I realized afterwards that it came from a song.
But what I realized, is that the way I feel about being a disciple for my art, almost like paying my rent to the creative gods, I have developed an understanding for musicians and what they do. Obviously, being on tour helped a little, but that was the rough, real-life side of the art. Doing my poem store is like writing a hit song and performing it perfectly, over and over. Oh that doesn't sound fun to you?
It's a goddamn nerve-wracking blast.
Bowie was seeping into my creative cauldron and in a weird, twisted way, all of the dozens of poems I wrote that day, were co-authored by Mr. Bowie.
Not that I haven't worked in loud environments. Venice Beach and Las Vegas don't exactly allow you any quiet moments to think. In Venice, I would purposefully sit next to musicians in order to train myself to focus. In Vegas, there was crappy pop music blaring somewhere above my head. I know how to tune in and tune out at will and It wasn't easy.
But this was different. I didn't want to tune out. I was allowing myself to stay tuned into the music in some instances. It's really hard to describe but it's like lucid dreaming for your attention. I am in control and I can turn the dial of particular noises up or down. People will be trying to get my attention, standing right in front of me and I will never know it. David Bowie's creative ghost found his way in.
I have him to thank for Saturday. So, even though I'm a little late, thank you. Your music lives on, and has now changed form. This is my card, though not handwritten. When I saw your star, I didn't know I would, too want to say those things to you. That moment ignited a journey I think I'm going to be on for a while. I've got a lot of catching up to do.
This is my favorite Bowie song, which I didn't know was a Bowie song until Saturday. I'm really going to give my age away here, but I was obsessed with it after watching A Knight's Tale with Heath Ledger and never knew who sang it.
When a band started playing it that afternoon, I literally yelled at a stranger walking by, "Is this a Bowie song?!" To which he paused, looked down at the sign that said, "Bowie tribute bands!" shook his head and laughed, "OH YEAH IT IS!"
After returning to Jacksonville from touring, I connected with a friend from Fairbanks, Alaska who also just so happens to be here. Patrick, travels full time in his Toyota Sunrader (of which he remodeled himself), with his dog Opal. It's kind of a weird story, but he was the person that encouraged me to do PoembyBecca. I dare suggest that if he hadn't beaten me bloody with his practical minded thinking when I was in the initial planning phase, I may have well given up and could, right now, in a parallel universe, be tamping a light roast espresso blend for someone's soy latte, wondering what could have been.
But, that would be giving him a hell of a lot of credit, and I'm far too prideful to be doing that.
Patrick is incredibly resourceful and inspiring. His website, PatrickFisherProject.com contains his blog about traveling, Miles To Go chronicles his adventure of attempting to pay off his student debt while traveling and living in the Sunrader. He's far better than I am about keeping up with it and I've been loyally reading it nearly every day since he left Fairbanks in July. (Clicking on the links will take you to his pages.)
I also have a soft spot for Opal. When Patrick traveled for work, he sometimes asked me to watch Opal for him. Her and my roommate's dog, Pink became best friends and we went on many adventures. Opal has three legs, but you would never notice. She's a feisty, bulldog and great dane mix and has pulled her leash so hard I fell down...on more than one occasion.
Patrick is quite the bold bean. Everytime I talk to him, he's got advice like, "Why don't you just ask them?" or "Are you going to do that thing you said you were?" Questions that make me squirm, but ultimately, push me to be a better person and remind me how grateful I am to have Patrick as a friend.
I decided to take Patrick to the island I grew up on, Fernandina Beach, or Amelia Island. I'd told my grandparents that I would come for lunch and tell them all about tour and asked if Patrick could join me. I've never (ever) brought someone to the island and was excited to see how awkward I was going to be about it.
Before we arrived, we stopped at the grocery store so Patrick could buy food for himself. No, my grandparents aren't jerks, he is a vegan and also obtaining from carbs and sugar during the week at the moment. He decided on a very enticing meal of avocado and vegan sausages. I secretly couldn't wait to see their faces when he pulled those sausages out. On a recent family gathering, my brother had convinced them to taste seaweed for the first time and I was lucky enough to have my camera handy.
Okay, back to the story.
My grandparents are very traditional. They are southern baptists and let's just say, there were manners that needed to be adhered to when visiting as a kid. They still call northerners, "Yankees" and have lived on the island their entire life and know everybody. Patrick, upon first inspection can be a little jolting to them. He is covered in tattoos and is currently sporting a handlebar mustache. At first, my grandma actually called him "What's his face" right to his face and hovered over him as he unpacked his sausages, head tilted back away from it like it might bite her.
After about 30 minutes of conversation, it became clear that Patrick was not a psychopath and they opened up about their lives, and the history of the island. Patrick talked about what he did for a living and where he was from and I sat there, grinning from ear to ear, thinking, "This is incredible". They asked a lot of the same questions to me about being on the road and when and where I am and will be. I know it get's confusing. It seemed a bit cruel to bring Patrick, who illicit those same questions and confused head nods. I'm just glad he was there to defer the always hilarious "Do you have a job?" "I am already doing my job" exchange.
For the past several years, when I visit, they take a portrait. I say portrait because that's exactly what it is. We find a spot to pose. My grandpa sets up the tripod and attempts to relearn how to set the timer on their camera. This process usually lasts for several minutes, interrupted by false starts and disappointment. After trying to give up, he usually figures it out and we take a few of the group. My grandma has a serious back injury and has been struggling to walk. Lately, this process has gotten harder for her and the last time I visited, we had to stop before we got it figured out because she was in too much pain, standing.
As Patrick and I walked out the front door, I had the thought, "I guess they aren't going to.." which was quickly interrupted by my grandma's voice behind me, yelling, "Let's take a picture!" My grandpa decided just to take one of us to make it quick. I couldn't help but giggle at the thought that Patrick would now forever be a part of my family's history and included in the network of pictures that get emailed out to cousins and aunts and nieces all over the country.
As we were getting into the car, my granddad came out, interested in Opal. Opal jumped out of the car and Patrick proceeded to explain her leg situation. She was friendly and excited, as always. Before we could leave, now fascinated by this strange beard, three-legged dog owner Yankee I'd brought over, he snapped one final picture of the two of them. I would love to read how they explained him in those emails.
We left and I took him and Opal to the beach and attempted to teach him how to find shark's teeth (no luck). It's a gift. Opal had never seen the beach, and she proceeded to try and drink the entire ocean, resulting in a lovely case of immediate diarrhea. I took them to the Pipi Longstocking's house, where the movie was filmed. It was such a bizarre feeling of wanting to tell him everything, but realizing it wasn't as interesting to him as it was to me. I actually caught myself pointing out a place of business that "used to be a Pizza Hut." Which, to my credit, was the talk of the town when it shut down. I showed him my favorite area to photograph, which I've previously featured on the blog. Old shrimp boats, seafood shacks, run down boats lead into the port and is dotted with rusted fuel tanks and lined by the graffitied railcars. I pointed out my great-grandpa's old barber shop, the oldest bar in Florida, the marina and for some reason, all the restaurant's I'd worked in growing up (a lot).
My phone was dead, and I wasn't able to take pictures, but I kind of liked it that way.
So, I'll just steal his photos.
I felt like a proud mom, pushing my little girl out onto the stage for her first pageant. It was pathetic.
But, I'm thankful Patrick humored me throughout the day. He was so gracious with my grandparents and so patient with my talkative tour. We talked about life and traveling and what it's like to live the way we do and have family that doesn't understand. It was good to be able to share that with a friend I've known for years and is living the same way.
We returned back to Jacksonville and did some grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, my favorite store on the planet. He said hey to the girls, whom he met when they all came up for my graduation in May.
I just realized this post reads like it should be dedicated to Patrick and I want to take a second to clear up any confusion.
Thanks for being a voice of reason and encouragement for me and politely smiling when my grandma called you "What's his face" and laughed at your food.
Follow him on Instagram: @patrickfisherproject