I have a playlist titled “Good Smelling Man Blues”. It is populated by Marvin Gaye, Etta James, Dusty Springfield, John Lee Hooker, etc. It is followed by the playlist “Working Man’s Blues” and then “Writer’s Block Blues”. What I’m saying is I listen to a lot of blues, men smell too damn wonderful for my own good, my family has always sweated for its living and writing is god-damned torture sometimes.
I do not know why I was formed into a writer but I was. I wasn’t exposed to blues or jazz or anything interesting when I was young but the first time I heard a guitar moan and cry and a trumpet wail, I knew I’d found my home. I don’t know why men so bad for me smell so heart-achingly good. Why I want to bury my face in the neck of a man and breathe in that smell until I’m dizzy is a question without answer.
Me, with a different brain, would have been so much easier. With a brain shaped for happy synth-pop, regional accounts management and appropriate love, my path would have been wider, clearer, less strewn with obstacles, boulders rolling thunderously down upon me, out of nowhere.
But and if didn’t happen. Other and whatever happened. Janis Joplin happened. Nat King Cole happened. Graham Greene and Maugham and Yeats and Woolf happened. Poe happened. Picasso and Pollack and Johnny Mercer caught up with me. Johnny Fucking Cash. Light, gleaming ruby and amber and garnet, through the bourbon in a glass happened. I wasn’t meant for the easy way. Lessons come hard. Life comes hard. Mornings come hard, one on the heels of the other, with no pause for me to catch my breath.
My family tree is full of frustrated would be’s, coulda been’s, and damn shames. Untapped intellect, unfed minds, left to set tobacco, pick cotton, grind a meal out of factory job, are what I see when I think about the people who came before me. Work and work and more work and outhouses and no new shoes for the babies and church and then work, work, work again, pinto beans three times a day. I’m not the first. I feel foolish, embarrassed by all I have, lucky as fuck. Stand up straight and put some grease in my skillet.
I place one foot in front of the other on the day’s path, shaking off yesterday, not worrying about tomorrow, making my way, making my life, more sure than before. I don’t mind the sweat. Pick up my bag. Time-worn, familiar pain is better than no feeling at all. Today is here. The sun is up. The wind is at my back. I woke up this side of the ground. Hope has not fled.