IMPORTANT NEW NOTES FROM JUSTIN:
US Tour Day 88: In–Flight Blessings
I slept on my flight from San Jose to Los Angeles, exhausted from a few weeks of family and loved ones and learning and fun in the San Francisco Bay Area. I'd not slept well in many days. Not that this last restless night was different from the smear of restless nights I've endured since my breakup with Andie. But, this day felt so much worse. Each cell in my body down to the very marrow of my bones cried out, "I am so tired. You are a complete asshole for doing this to me, Justin Winokur. If I wasn't just one cell I would definitely do something malicious like slashing the tires on your car or instigating a breakout of painful sores all over your most tender bits to show you my displeasure with your unrestful behavior." In this state, the forty minutes of sleep I got while stretched across three airplane seats did nothing to quench my bodies long–accumulating thirst for rest.
However, flight number two—from Los Angeles to New Orleans—was completely unlike my first flight of the day. Flight number two turned out to be yet example of one of these great times that I am learning to accept as regular in my life—amazing, superlative, noteworthy.
So first there was the airport. Los Angeles airport was way too busy for me. So many people, so much noise, so much commotion. My brain was set to the off position, so my body worked on auto pilot to bring me to the nearest seat after I departed my plane. My body assured me that I would just sit in this chair and figure out my next flight later. My brain slept while my body told the eyes to look at the schedule of flights. Lucky for me my next flight was about five feet from where my brain was sleeping!
My hands and arms worked against gravity to remove my iBook from my backpack. They opened it up and sat it on the lap. The lap said nothing and did nothing to respond. The problem is neither did the eyes or fingers. There was no typing or clicking of the mouse button. My body did its best and was waiting for the brain to kick in. But, it just didn't kick in. The body locked in a holding pattern, waiting for something to tell it what to do, since its usual master—the brain—wasn't really available.
It's lucky I met Harri James at that moment or I may not have even made it onto my plane. She sat next to me and started chatting with me about her airline ticket. This soon devolved into a product brainstorming session where we came up with the idea to have custom snow globes—you know, those stupid knick–knacks that take up shelf space and that always have something stupid inside like a plastic molded diorama of St. Louis or a picture of your nephew's ugly baby (not that there exists any non–ugly babies, but still)?
I thought it might be nice to have custom snow globes that you could put whatever you want into. This soon turned into me describing cramming a dead pet kitten's head into a snow globe. Harri riffed off of it, and she came up with the combination urn/snow globe idea. What better way to showcase the dead (and to give the very clear message that it's pretty cold in hell) than in the fantastic new urn/snow globe? We smacked our perverse ideas back and forth like badminton players, not playing to win but playing for fun.
People started to line up to board the jet, so Harri picked up her things to go join them in the queue. "If you want to keep working", she gestured to the open iBook on my lap, "you can come get in line with me when you're done." Wow, what a nice person, I thought. I nodded thanks.
She got in line and called across the terminal—half like a mom and half like a wife—"Honey! I'm over here in line! Come on over when you're done working!" She'd dropped into a character which we hadn't discussed—it was like some self–referential inside joke based on experiences and ideas not yet invented. What kind of person was creative and funny enough to generate inside jokes where there wasn't even an inside and drop into characters mid–air?
I'd planned on writing more before I got on the plane, but I really had to find out more about this person named Harri, so my arms and the connected hands gathered my things and the legs carried it all over to the line.
She told me a bit about herself. Harri James has been a script supervisor on shows such as Alias and ER and is most recently pursuing her own film–making career—writing scripts and making her own features rather than just doing behind the scenes on other peoples'. I've been fascinated with the inner workings of the TV and movie industry forever, so I was excited to hear more—especially from this charming character. And, of course I said yes when she asked if I wanted to sit next to her on the plane.
I think the flight from LA to New Orleans was five hours. But, if it was I didn't notice. It was the shortest five hours of my waking life.
We talked and talked and talked. I told her about the record I made in Sweden last year and how I approached the producer of my dreams even though I didn't have the kind of money to work with a producer of his caliber. And, tears creeping out from the corners of my eyes, I shared the story of how my readers, friends, and loved ones donated money to me so I could fly to Sweden to make the album.
And I told her about my trip. It started out as one thing, an experiment in writing. My original goal was to meet with new people through my web site and stay with them and write about it. From there I would eventually publish the journals in a magazine and make a book. But, about ten days into the trip it turned into something else. The trip was no longer about writing or experiments. On one magical night in Los Angeles I realized that my trip was about something much more—it was a trip to learn about changing the world.
As I shared more and more with her she asked more and more questions—about my family, my life, my upbringing, my music, and this trip. What is the thing you have enjoyed the most about this journey? What have you learned from the people you've stayed with?
And she asked a lot about my creative career. Have you considered selling this to a magazine or making this into a book? You should really get a book deal from this. I'd thought about that, but I've never gotten a book deal so I really had no idea where to even start. We're going to call this agent I know at this firm and talk with him and then we're going to get in touch with this manager, because maybe they could help. She had a sincere eagerness to help me, and it washed over me like a wave of warm hugs.
We got to talking about making my CD and she asked if she could buy one. I explained the physical products weren't done yet, so she insisted on pre–ordering. A grin cut all the way through my face—it was my first pre–order for the album! I said, "I have an idea. I'll let you buy the CD now if I can give you a CD–R copy right now so you can start listening today. Then, when the packaging is done I'll send you one of those, too. OK?"
And then my day got even better. She reached into her bag and took out $50 and sat it on the open tray table next to our drinks. From behind the subtlest hint at a smile, she said, "I guess I don't have exact change. Consider it a donation." A tear welled up in my heart and I laughed with the joy one feels when they understand the true beauty of sharing moments and summertime and swimming.
This really helps me a lot. Thank you. There had to have been better words to describe my gratitude, but I couldn't find them. Maybe I'd put them in my checked luggage? I knew a story might illustrate, though, so I began with a visual aid. I tugged at the butt of my pants. See these pants? She saw. These used to be tight when I started this trip. Seriously, thank you. She got it.
She told me about her career and the movie she had finished recently. Like me, she had self–financed—with the help of the donations of others. We both were going the independent route, knowing that it is better to pay for everything yourself and recoup to yourself than to sign with a label and spend your whole life slaving to sell, sell, sell with no chance of ever recouping and the only available fates being debt and death.
There was synergy when we spoke—a sharing of ideas that blossomed beyond communication to a form of collaboration. After each spoken scene we would find ourselves inspired to do something new and different with our art. The format of my web site inspired her to do her one–man–show idea on the web rather than film. She would present the show in installments much like I do—with some added twists. And I started to see possibilities for growth, including spoken word, books, TV, and movies. Keep doing what you're doing, Justin. Someone's gonna pick this up for a book deal. She gave me ideas for cover letters to send to various magazines, springboards to opportunity.
Her kindness and generosity seemed to be without end—she shared her stories, offered enthusiasm and support, bought me a drink, and she even took out her DV cam, interviewed me and let me keep the footage!
I'd like to say that I was surprised by how lucky I was to have her life intersect with mine, but that would be inaccurate. First of all, I believe it's not luck. When you take part in a situation that comes out badly, like you crash your car or get your girlfriend's mom pregnant again you think, What an idiot I am! I can't believe I did that! But, why is it that when you take part in something great—some wonderful moments that hint at the greatness of life—you shirk your responsibility in creating that moment and say something like, Oh, that's lucky. As if you had nothing to do with it! In any case we always have some involvement in what goes down—we are not victims, we are not innocent bystanders. It's time we took responsibility for both good and bad.
So, it's not that I was lucky to meet up with Harri James in this way. It's more like fortunate with a dash of blessed.
And then there is the element of surprise. There was a time in my life when I was surprised by how much good I experienced on a regular basis—almost confused by the rainstorm of cool stuff I called my life. I'm not surprised anymore, though. I've looked at it from every angle, and I can find no reason to be resigned and cynical. Why doubt? I have observed so much evidence pointing to the fact that the universe we live in is one of abundance that I am no longer fazed when the best thing in the world happens to me one day and something even better happens the next day. And, with this the notion of coincidence has gone the way of the dinosaurs and the belief the earth is flat.
So, I wasn't surprised when I found out the man sitting behind me was the drummer for the classic rock band America. Excited, I said something which worked out to be the spoken equivalent of an exclamation point. He was pleased that someone as young as me knew who America was. We spoke about his career, and he told me he'd played on two number one hits and that he was near the end of his career—making sure to remind me that he'd played drums longer than I'd been alive. I nodded in agreement. It was hard to believe he was almost sixty, as his face bore none of the wear and tear than normally goes with goof balls and dope smoking and hanging out with chicks like Stevie Nicks back in the 70's and playing in a band that is old enough to be on 'classic rock' compilations they sell on TV.
After talking some more he asked me if I needed a drummer for my upcoming tour. I told him that I had a drummer for European shows, but that I needed one in the USA and I was hoping for someone a bit more seasoned—someone who really understood my older influences. He said, "I'm your man. Meet your new drummer, son. And, let me tell you something. I'm getting old. I'm at the end of my career. So, for you, I'll work for free."
I choked. Free? I always believed in the idea that you can get something for nothing. Well, not nothing exactly. You have to give lots to the world. And, when you do, things come back to you without there having to be any money changing hands. But, the idea that someone can provide a good or service without an exchange of currency is against everything we are taught (unfortunately). This guy knew better.
"So, what do you think? Like I said, my rates are cheap." I asked him if he liked Fleetwood Mac and the Beach Boys. He said he knew the drum line for every single song by both bands. I should have guessed. So, I asked him if he was fun to be on tour with. "You better believe it!" Hm, been on tour for longer than I've been alive, has multiple number one hits, somehow looks ten years younger than his age, and will work for free—was this man some sort of drum–cyborg sent from the planet of drums to assist me in conquering the world? I hoped so.
The plane landed. It was too soon. I didn't want the flight to be over yet! Of course, such a wish is as futile as wanting to be taller. So, I shook his hand and took a few photos with him and told him to expect a CD of my record in the mail. I said goodbye to Harri, and I walked off the plane. My feet were on the ground, but the rest of me felt like I was still somewhere around the comfortable cruising altitude, high above the everyday life.
It gets me to thinking: Why is my life so damned wonderful all the time? I mean, even when it feels bad it somehow manages to be really, really good. [This reminds of me of an analogy that my friend once told me: Sex is like pizza. When it's good, it's really good. And, when it's bad, well, it's still pretty damned good.] So, why is it? And, is life like this for other people? I guess the why doesn't matter—would it change anything if I could answer it anyways? What matters is that it's like this for me and I am so thankful that I want to shout from the street corners and tops of buildings and the highest cliffs at the top of my lungs to fill the airspace of the world with the acknowledgment of the blessings I get to taste.
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