THE LONG HAUL: Seeing Home From Abroad
The author during her recent UK tour.
I’m writing this month’s column on a train from Edinburgh to London. There are some lovely rolling fields out my window, populated by numerous sheep, and I’m trying not to sink into the headspace of my favorite sleep story, which involves a scene very similar to this one.
After so many UK tour cancellations, I never really allowed myself to get properly excited about this trip, a collaboration with one of my favorite Scottish musicians, the great Kris Drever. I didn’t actually believe it was going to go forward until my plane took off from New York to London. About two hours into my already delayed flight, the captain came on the intercom to tell us that we were going to be turning around and landing back in Boston due to a medical emergency. Obviously, the stop was necessary and I’m glad this person got the medical attention that they needed, but it was truly the height of irony. “This really is never going to happen,” I thought as we did a 180 in the air above the ocean. “I will never again leave this continent.”
Well, I did eventually make it to London, and over the past couple of weeks I have enjoyed one of my favorite tours of all time. There are some really great things about touring in the UK. The drives are very short, maybe 1-3 hours a day. The cheap chain motels let you check out at noon (!!!), and there are electric tea kettles everywhere. People still buy CDs, and on this particular tour I had the pleasure of playing Kris’ awesome songs and singing with him. On the flip side, you may not encounter a fresh vegetable for many days at a time, it’s perpetually chilly, and an audience may very well stare at you blank-faced for an entire show and not make a sound. Afterward, they will tell you how much they enjoyed it.
During the time that I’ve been away from the US, there’s been one of the most devastating mass shootings in our country’s history, Roe v. Wade is inches away from being overturned, and inflation continues to threaten the livelihoods of most citizens.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m allowed to shield myself from. Sometimes the news is so bad that I have to hide from it for days or weeks just to work up the stamina to take it in. I was absolutely determined to enjoy the experience of this tour, while back home 19 children were senselessly murdered at school and my government continues to allow the sale of AR-15s for recreational purposes. Is it possible to create our own realities? To filter the information that we take in such that the negative doesn’t constantly ruin the positive? Is that reasonable? Is that responsible? Is that allowed?
Sometimes I feel that there’s so much darkness that if I really look at it, I won’t ever be able to find the light again. It will simply consume me and render everything I do pointless and impossible to care about. Yet here I am on a tour of my dreams, loving almost every minute of it. Yesterday I woke up and found a song by Anna Tivel called “Blue World,” and I listened to it approximately 15 times. I’m listening to it again now actually. “You come to the heavy gate, and you open it all alone,” she sings. I’m thinking of those children leaving this world much too soon. Their parents poured 10 years of love and work and sleeplessness into those kids only to have them senselessly torn away.
How to feel? Grateful. Devastated. Inspired. Lost. Everything is pointless, and everything is perfectly terrible. So much beauty. So much darkness. I’m so far away from home, but I’ll never be able to escape the slow-motion free fall of my country.