Anthony Norman White - Freelance Writer

The Insufferable Writer

I change my mind constantly. One second I’m writing the outline of a new novel, the next I’m querying about a completed one, the next I’m retying terminal tackle to chase after steelheads, and the next minute I find myself setting up a closet as a makeshift studio to record an album I haven’t even written yet.

I haven’t played much guitar the last two years. I had a failed attempt at writing a bunch of songs two years ago. I had a month or so where I really wanted my old band, Pat Buchanan’s Hearse, to get back together. But it just wasn’t going to be possible. I hadn’t written hardly anything since my son was born. So I sat down to write a new PBH song and what came out was Once Surround. I made a demo of it to show the band, hoping that they would like it so much that they’d want to take it up and at least give it a shot at recording for real. It never happened.

Here’s what I had started. (I put the video together quickly so no judgement on it.)

 

I’m not sure of most of the lyrics. I lost the sheet I wrote them on. But the chorus sticks in my mind “Convoluted and confounded I was once surrounded”. At the time I wasn’t sure why I felt this way, but it unmistakable. I felt trapped, held back, and like “a dog in a pound”. But what’s interesting about these lyrics is that they’re in the past. “I was once surrounded” as if I was no longer. The song has a hopeful underdog feeling to it and the lyrics corroborate. It took a few years to put it together but I suddenly recognize why. This song, out of the hundreds that I’ve written and forgotten, has become extremely meaningful to me.

Right before my son was born I took a corporate job that had me on the road. It was a good job with great benefits and a pension. I couldn’t have asked for anything better at the time. I mostly traveled in the north east from DC to New Hampshire. I was home every weekend but usually pretty beat and didn’t feel like doing much. My wife went to work on the weekends waiting tables in a restaurant. Our lives were separate. I barely knew her or my my own son.

I missed his first laugh, first steps, first words, and other firsts that’s really  hard to think about now. It was difficult but this was life. I was frustrated and wasn’t sure how to express that. I fought with my wife. I withdrew from friends. I argued with my parents. In general, I was unhappy. But I thought there was something more to it. I thought that I was just unhappy being a father and another cog in the wheel of capitalism. I wanted out.

I went to a therapist and told her what I was feeling. She asked me a dozen questions and listened intently to my answers. I was waiting for her to come back with the fact that she had no clue what was wrong with me, that I needed years of therapy, probably massive drugs, electroshock therapy, and most likely a complete lobotomy. Instead she giggled.

“You mean to tell me you’re stuck doing a job you don’t like, missing out on engaging family time, and not creating, writing, or playing music? No wonder you’re miserable!”

I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t written or created much during this time. She convinced me that I needed to. “You’re an artist at heart,” she said and I swear at that moment  something changed in me forever. I had never considered that before. I had never even thought about really. I just thought I was a little kid having a hard time becoming an adult, playing in rock bands and reading poetry and dumpy coffee houses. Turns out, in a way, I am. But it’s not that I haven’t grown up, that’s how I cope with the stresses of everyday life, including becoming an adult, a dad, and a working professional.

So I was determined to get the old band back together. I made some desperate phone calls. No one wanted to listen. I thought if I just wrote a classic PBH track they’d have to come back! We’re were a good little punk rock outfit. They’d need to try it back on. I never felt so liberated as to play some rock and sweat it all out and feel better and get drunk and laugh and yell and scream and…have fun.

So I wrote Once Surround after a conversation with my friend Mike Leon. I pieced it together with a few riffs I had floating around and then once the melody hit me I penned the lyrics in a few minutes. I never really stopped to think about what I was writing. It just fit the mood of the song and my spot in life. I recorded the demo a few days later and then it got stored on an external hard drive and that was that. Until a few days ago when I found it.

I was once surround.

 

Anthony N. White - Pearl in the Apple Orchard

I Found a Pearl in the Middle of an Apple Orchard

Sunday was the perfect day for picking apples. The weather was warm and sunny, there was just a little breeze that made you wear a long sleeve shirt, and the air smelled like fall for the first time this year. There’s an excitement that takes hold when the leaves start falling and crunching under foot, a childlike nervousness that Christmas is coming soon and the snow will make outside quiet and moody.

My wife and I took our son for the thirty-five minute drive outside of the city of Rochester to the country, into Wayne County, the number one apple producing county in New York and home of Mott’s. We went to Lagoner Farms to ride the tractor pulled wagon, pick tree fresh apples, drink cider, and breathe in the beautiful scenery.

It was busy, as expected, and sometimes my first reaction to crowds is to recoil, becoming a little hesitant about even going, thinking that somewhere along the lines the size of the crowd will ruin the day. The bigger the group of people the better the chance that someone detestable shows up and irritates me, my acting skills have always been sub par in those situations and I often where my heart on my sleeve.

We walked around to get the feel for it and I decided to get in line for the tractor ride while Ruth followed Pi around the playground. It was the greatest playground ever, a real working farm playground with wooden swings, piles of bailed hay, and a big sandbox filled with trucks and diggers. My son was ecstatic.

I stood in line just behind a group of four. They were younger than me, but not by much and talked about how one couple was trying to have their first baby. It was nice to see them out doing something family oriented before having their first family. I know I rarely did before Pi came along. But I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation, partly because we were standing close together but also because I hated them.

They complained a lot. Pretty much about everything; how hot it was, how long this line was, how expensive the apples were, how crappy the city was, how stupid some movie was, how terrible some football game was, how awful their jobs were, how terrible their car was, how cruddy the food was at some restaurant was, and how bad, in general the world is all the time. It just didn’t seem to stop. I started getting itchy and hot.

We hadn’t been there for very long and my mood was foul. I thought about leaving, but I saw Pi having the time of his life so I tried to block it out. I was doing a miserable job of it when they decided to leave. They thought it was taking too long for the tractor to return and pick up more people.

“Why go out there and pick the same apples they already have on the front porch for the same price”?

One of the girls actually asked, “Do you guys even care about picking apples”? And everyone agreed that they didn’t and left the line. I was just happy it got shorter and quieter.

We boarded the little wagon pulled by a small tractor. The driver was a pleasant man that resembled my father. Pi even asked if it was Papa. Once we started pulling away from the farm, the sights and sounds were plenty and I started to forget about the “Fairport 4” as I nicknamed them because of a group opine about how much better Fairport is than all the other towns around Rochester as if they’re all different countries with strange new economies, currencies, and customs.

I enjoyed being out in the middle of a field, even with strangers, as we left the wagon and weaved our way past them into empty rows of trees, just the sun and the gleam of red and green apples, faint voices curling over the rustle of leaves, the occasional burst of laughter or a child yelling out for joy. We were having a great time and Pi really enjoyed taking the apples out of the tree and crunching into them, more than that, my wife and I felt “home” amid the quiet pews of trees and the alter of the country. It gave us a feeling in our hearts that we were closer to where we grew up, where our childhood memories reside, and where we finally figure to belong.

The pearl was still hidden, probably coyly peeking at me from underneath the vinegar scented apples that had fallen down to reconnect where they came from. I was lost in the day, conveniently absent minded, relaxed, and for the first time that day, happy.

Anthony N. White - Pearl in the Apple Orchard
Anthony N. White – Pearl in the Apple Orchard

We finished picking our apples and boarded the wagon to head back to the farm. They make their own hard cider, which we had before, and it’s very good, so we were headed back in to sample the new versions, sit out in the sun, let Pi play on the playground and have some late lunch. Ruth even had someone on the wagon take a family picture on the way back, the blue sky and red apples in the background looking more like a cartoon than reality.

The wagon ride was quiet, the bumps and ruts in the road were methodic, and my son was sitting contently in my lap, my left arm wrapped around his waist acting as a seat belt. I took my right hand and rested it on Ruth’s knee, her warm hand gently resting on mine and we rode on. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back, and let the sun soak in.

That’s where I found it. I found the pearl right there. It was never hidden, but rather out in the open, not in the convalescence of the “Fairport 4” but rather in the very fabric of the reality of the day, a gentle Buddhist mindfulness that enlightenment doesn’t come from silently meditating alone, but can come when it’s least expected, because that’s when you’re most ready for it.

The adjective of the pearl comes from Jack Kerouac, who went searching in his infamous book “On the Road” for the same thing. Although he found it just 100 pages in. It seemed like an odd time to find what you were looking for so early in the novel, and it took me until this past Sunday to figure out what he meant.

Little pearls of wisdom can be found and saved for remembrance somewhere later in life. My pearl in the apple orchard will remain in my mind’s pocket, and someday, I’ll be old, or sick, or both, and pull that pearl out, running it through my fingers and it will feel the same; the same weight from my little boy on my lap, the warmth of my wife’s hand on mine, the gentle rhythmic bounce and hum of the tractor, the unmistakable feeling of the bright, beautiful autumn sun warming my bones, and I’ll be happy all over again.