random things, all done alone

it's a clear, sunny, cold, windy day here in new bedford. i think it's supposed to snow later.

i used to go backpacking with my friend, ken. one of the things i noticed when we would go on these trips was that although it always started out on great terms, things woud get a little tense around the last day of the trip. strained interpersonal realtions. whether it was two days or five, the last bit would be tough-ish. i mention this example because it was the first time in my life i noticed this phenomenom. it hasn't been the last, though. i've found it to be almost universal with everything. people just get ready for things to be finished up.

and so it is with grad school. enough of this crap already! i fixin' to bust, man!

something that makes this tougher is the place i've had to be in my head for what feels like a long time now. i've just crawled off inside my own brain and stayed there for what seems like a lifetime. i remeber back when alison was in school. she was largely inaccessble to me there for several years. well, i'm that way now, but with me it seems to be inaccessability in extremis. mostly becuase i'm up here by myself. whole days may go by sometimes without me speaking to another person. the thing i don't like is that i seem to search those circumstances out now. i used to be social. i used to like to talk to people. just shoot the breeze. with anybody. these days, i'm particular, and even then sometimes i can't wait to get away from conversations. this whole school experience seems to have fundamentally changed me in some way and i'm not pleased with some of the results.

well, it's not all that bad, but it still ain't good. i hope it passes.

this morning i woke up. that was a good thing. i made some coffee and played Ragtime Annie on the guitar. and then i thought "maybe i should call sarah and see if she wants to go for coffee and read the Times." and then i thought "naaah. i don't wanna do that." i went instead to the nash street flea market. alone. i saw people i knew there and hid from them.

last night i went by myself to see ricky scaggs at a...a...well, a playhouse, really. it's the place where concerts happen here in new bedford. doyle lawson and quicksilver opened. i saw people i knew there, too--and hid from them. before that i had dinner at the spicy lime. good thai food and right next to school. i sat facing a wall in case anyone might want to talk to me.

i didn't really intend to write solely about this state of aloneness. i'm gonna move on now...because of seeing the scaggs show last night, i wanna talk about playing music.

alright. so i'm here in New Bedford, Mass, right? massachusetts is not tennessee. one of the great pleasures of being from tennessee--and then going someplace else--is that you tend to be the one of the better, if not best, musicians in a crowd. and even when you're not, i've been in some areas of the country where you're simply given the "best-musican-here-simply-because-you're-from-nashville" award.

for instance, one time i went up to play in missouri. among several other gigs, i ended up playing for some cats at a political fundraiser. i sat in on guitar. there was a kid there playing with us, maybe about 12, 13 years old, a family member of the country band that was playing. man, he was great. truly, he could pick circles around me--had a b-bender and everything. still, everytime we took a break, all the older guys in the band would point at me and say stuff to him like "this guy's from nashville, willie. you can only hope to be that baddass someday." wille and i both knew the truth, though...

anyway. although i haven't found the whole mythologizing of the nashville picker to be as much of a given in massachusetts (after all, some truly great players have come outta here), it still carries a little bit of weight once you get away from boston and all the really gifted berkeley folks up there. i've taken advantage of it. never one to shy away from some creative embellishment, i've helped fuel the myth that all tennessee (and kentucky and virginia and north carolina) boys are issued an instrument of some type around the age of eleven.

so last night at the show i sat next to an older couple. besides them constantly asking each other "what did he say?" (doyle lawson's accent makes me sound like stone phillips) they were evidently boggled at the introductions for the band members. so-and-so's from whitehouse, tn, and pee wee's from rogersville, tn, and bobo hails from smithville,tn etc. they started saying "sheese! they're all from tennessee! they must put an instrument in every child's hand!" at which anti-social me leaned over and said "yeah, they do."


Anonymous said...

Just a quick comment to say both that I empathize with your description of the retreat inside your head grad school provoked and that it is possible to find your way back out of your head afterwards. I remember very vividly the times I felt like the effort of translating thought into speech was too overwhelming. I remember too the frequent feeling "this is not who I am." I'm a firm believer that graduate school draws out and intensifies neuroses/psychoses (depression, panic/anxiety, etc.) for many people, too. It can be both hard and helpful to deal with these tendencies as they get squeezed out (or in). I also really like David Wilcox's song about being "Inside my Head."

take care of yourself,

Anonymous said...

Yea Walter

Just a quick line.
I noticed the tendencies you are experiencing in Alison, Trey and Aaron. There was a period of time at the start and the end of a semester or school year where they had to "accelerate or deaccelerate" their brains or feelings to get into the needed mind set.
As they went from their junior to senior years, the acceleration time would take about the same (1-2 weeks) but the deacceleration time would be longer and longer (2-3-4 weeks).
We felt this was very natural because they were:
-getting tired of the "sequestered" life style of the student (grades, homework...)
-going through the necessary transition of pulling away
-getting ready to go to their next step

Each of them handled if differently.
-Aaron did his business outline for "Gridges" the last 6 months of his senior year and was ready to step into that new area almost immediately
-Trey changed his major, oh, 3-5 times until he felt he was ready to do something that interested him
-Alison, of course, kept going to school until she had all the degrees there were. During her deacceleration time and for some time after her last graduation, we would be together at, for example, a resturant and during normal conversation Alison would get a glassy look in her eye and something like this would happen...

Alison would raise her hand and say..."oh, oh, teacher call on me, I'm ever so smart".
I would look at her Mom and then smile clamly at Alison and say something like... "OK, Alison, uhh... who wrote uhh... "Where The Red Fern Grows"...
She would nod and say quickly, "Wilson Rawls, published by Laurel Leaf in 1984"
She would look expectantly at me and I would say... "Correct, you get an "A".
She would smile with a kind of glazed look in her eyes then continue eating.
This only lasted for about 6-8 months but she would never remember anything about it afterward.

I think what you are feeling is normal. Hang in there... See you soon

The Dad

Kenneth said...

Did Skaggs talk about how Halloween is satanic? He may be a hell of a picker, but I can't abide Ricky Skaggs. Someday I'll write a blog post about how much I dislike Ricky Skaggs.

Walter said...

it think someone, somewhere reigned scaggs in a little bit. his only biblical reference was to II corinthians--and even that, mercifully short.

i have heard from some fairly reliable people the reason he kinda disappeareed fom popularity there for a while was that he had alienated everyone with his constant proset..procestaly...procila..his constant religious talk.
th-th, th-th, that's all folks!

Walter said...

thanks, the dad.


Kenneth said...

I think Skaggs has a bad attitude generally. I was at the "Opry" one time when he was hosting the Jogging in a Jug segment, and he repeatedly mocked Jogging in a Jug, which is some kind of dietary supplement. Now I've never hosted the "Opry," but I have to figure that badmouthing the sponsor is one thing a host shouldn't do. Not that I care about Jogging in a Jug, and with a name like that it's eminently mockable, but he just came off as sour and contemptuous and unseemly and ungrateful. I also liked him more when he was a regular country singer -- "Highway 40 Blues," etc. -- and not so much designating himself Bill Monroe's heir apparent. Okay, I think I just wrote that blog post.

Walter said...

maybe it was resentment because jogging in a jog didn't work for him. he was big as the side of a barn the other night.

Walter said...

damn. jug.

Anonymous said...

Your post made me think that in my third year of grad school I started listening to the blues. I honestly hadn't made that connection, but I think its valid. Grad school is definately lonely-- endless stacks of papers, hours of reading journal articles and the outcome of a dissertation pending on literally thousands of lines of SAS code that all theoretically is coded and analyzed correctly. All this in a supposedly 'social' science!

Anonymous said...

I would also add grad school produces nutty behavior. My dissertation advisor proudly shows a STATA program he wrote that would calculate the quantity of ingredients he needed for any combination of meals he would make during a given week. No sane person does that for 'entertainment'.

Personally, I developed a hobby in extremely rare minerals and gemstones. I memorize and study crystal properties. If anyone from the proleteriat finds out, I'm doomed!

Cate Bush said...

W, Random thought. I really like your profile picture.

I'm thinking about you as you transition out of grad school. I totally relate to the "hiding from others" phenomenon. This too shall pass.


Alison said...

Also random thought: Walter's mom has a crush on Stone Phillips. And Kenny G.

genabear said...


What if you find yourself hiding from people you know when it's not a function of grad-school-created withdrawal?

I don't do it a whole lot here, since I've not lived here long enough to run into a lot of people outside of their normal contexts, but I'm certainly one to decide whether or not I want to interact with someone else.

Now, it's possible that Dorie from high school didn't recognize me 5 years after graduation when we were across from each other pumping gas at the local two-pump gas station....but I'm sure the voice in my head praying "please don't talk to me" helped.

Anonymous said...


That would be technically classified as either agorophobia or social anxiety disorder by psychologists. Possibly also just natural introversion. Or, in the case of just the nutty person that used to whap you everyday or saying a word with more than one syllable, completely rational and self-protecting behavior. Maybe even self-preservation if you remember them as the person voted most likely to wind up with a state mandate to sit on 'Ole' Sparky'

Anonymous said...


It may be different where you were raised, but in East Tennessee kids all got rifles. If they DIDN'T get them a "bar" by age 6, they were assumed short-sighted and given strings (fiddle, banjo), a jaw harp, or an empty jug. I wasn't coordinated, but had some ability, so I got a jaw harp. Northerners and city folk think I can do wonders with 'braces!' Hee hee!


Trey said...

I don't ever read any blogs, but this comment is a direct response to Dad's comment.

I think what you said is very pertinent and thoughtful. And humorous. And monkey. Monkey sandwich. Squid MoonPie Asphalt Corncob.

Anonymous said...
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