Friday, June 12, 2015

How Asheville Can Win The Battle of Busk

When a friend asked me while we dined on salads what I thought of the busking situation in Asheville, I almost choked on my salad.  "We have a busking situation?"

He told me he'd seen the article in the New York Times. Again: almost choking, "New York Times is writing about buskers in Asheville?"

I love this so much for so many reasons.

The fact that we are in the 9th most food insecure city in America, the fact that people can walk around this town and not know we have a large African-American population scuttled away on the outskirts as a result of demolishing 2000 homes in the city center, the fact that we don't have affordable housing in town, all this aside: we make the Times for our "busking situation."

This is why I love Asheville. This is why you really should move here: we have a busking situation.

We have music everywhere. We have music outside t-shirt shops that print quotes by great songwriters on their organic cotton and complain about the musicians outside on the their sidewalk. We have music outside banks. We have music in the alcoves of galleries and jewelry stores. We have music in the park all the time, and we have music all night long on the sidewalks to sing you back to your parking deck where you will no doubt also hear music in your car.

As an (ahem) award-winning historian of this lovely city, I have to tip my hat to the people who feel the need to "do something" about our "busking situation." I am not wearing a hat though so I will not. The busking situation is classic Asheville. It simply is. This is a city that is so rooted in music that no one will ever ever stop the busking because it is actually impossible to stop the music. These mountains are made of music. The people here--well, the people who have been here a long time--have been raised on music. Music just is part of the brickwork of our early 20th century architecture, and it's just part of the gorgeous landscape we look up at through our office windows then escape into when evening comes.

To get more specific, Asheville was designed for healing and for song. This is the land of breathing, where people who could not breathe came to so they could. They came here also to drink moonshine, to dance on the verandahs of gorgeous hotels. They came here to play.

That kind of energy does not change.

People made money elsewhere and simply brought it here to make beautiful homes and to get in touch with the one of the strangest natural resources known to man: mountain magic. The best translation of this magic has always been either in the cooking or in the music. Last I checked one would have to have some health department permission to serve up the first of these on the sidewalk, but last I heard one needs no such permission for the second, and that's because music poisons nobody. Music hurts nobody. Music doesn't even touch you, unless it's in that, yes, magical sense, in your heart, your soul. Maybe it makes you move. But that's not harmful. That's what we call beauty (even when it's not perfect!) and it is good for you.

There's beauty in the simplest presence of the slightest attempt at making music. It's the beginning of something. If someone has a song to offer, well they are in this world welcome to sing it. Rather than viewing it as an affront to the image of the city, we'd be much better off accepting it as the city, because that is exactly what it is.

This is a city of music. Before it was a city, it was just the music. Sometimes, if you're in the right frame of mind and heart, you can hear that. And maybe if you're really in the right frame of mind and heart, the frame in which this city was first formed and the frame it really wants you to remember as a vital and still-needed part of your life, you can dance to it.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Free Time

Remember in elementary school when after an in-class exercise was completed the teacher just said, "Now you can have free-time?" Maybe it was just three minutes, but the idea of it felt like a patch of blue sky through a firmament of cloud. During free-time, I could doodle without being told not to. I could lay my head on my folded hands on my desk, I could talk with my best friend quietly in our third row seats.

My daughter mentioned free-time to me yesterday. Having completed a two-hour standardized test in less than one she had two hours of free-time in which to de-standardize. Disallowed markers for drawing, she was permitted a book, which she was happy to have some quiet time read. She also folded her blue sweatshirt on her desk and took a little nap. "It was nice to have some free-time."

I had forgotten about free-time.

I have had unscheduled time. Plenty of it. As a university professor my classroom time is far outweighed by what has become nearly constant prep time as I read, update, prepare course content and, most importantly, keep up with my students' lives and stories. Sitting at my laptop to accomplish all this, I also am checking emails and notifications on social media, often opening several channels of my varied lives at once, and they accumulate on my screen until I am actually doing ten things at once. This makes me feel inspired, on top of everything, and I'll often get two or three ideas for new projects (this blogpost for instance) so that by day's end I have consumed my time with busy-ness even in moments when I might have taken a break.

I am reintroducing the concept of free-time to my vocabulary to prevent this from happening every day.

Free-time means I am not at the computer. I am not even writing (because writing, for me, is work-adjacent).

I am at the piano or in my car on the Blue Ridge Parkway (after dropping my child at school). I am sitting in a chair or the hammock in my garden with a cup of coffee or tea. I can be reading if the book is not a book for a course I am teaching. I am lying on the grass letting my thoughts drift.

Right now I am aiming to have 90 minute segments of free-time in both morning and afternoon. The purpose: to break free of technology's accumulation, to let my brain relax, to bring a little bit of childhood forward into my adulthood, and for no other purposes than these.