Review: Bob Dylan, Live and Unrecognizable

Bob Dylan let’s you know what to expect right off the bat: “It Ain’t Me” is maybe the second or third song in his setlist. Besides it being a masterpiece of pettiness (“Leave at your own chosen speed” – damn.), he performs it to different musical arrangement than the original version. It’s nothing new for him, I suppose, to always slip away from the expectations set of him.

I bought tickets to the show less than 24 hours before it started, on whim while watching TV. “He’s going to be in Boston tomorrow, should we go?” asked my husband, knowing the answer. Should we go? Yes, of course we should, if just to say we’d seen a Nobel Laureate, an iconic musician, a legend.

The attendees at the show skewed toward the 55+ crowd, though there were plenty of young people in the crowd. We happened to be seated near a large number of young men, some in suits, many in an unbearable amount of cologne for a 7 p.m. start time. There were plenty of ‘hipster’ types and women with bandanas tied around their long hair in homage to the styles of the 60s and 70s. I wondered who was there as a diehard fan, and who was there like me – for the experience and the credit of saying you’ve seen Bob Dylan live. I wonder now who was thinking these questions about me when they saw me in my blazer and millenial pink flats.

All around the arena, bold white text glowed: “NO videos or photography allowed.” Announcements emphasized that you’d be removed if you were caught. As my husband succinctly noted: “Bob Dylan, always in touch with his fans.”  The ushers roved around the arena, scouring the seats for any sign of a dim glow. Get caught and that dim glow would be drowned out in the bright ray of a flashlight, a prompt scolding, and the shame from disobeying Dylan.

Mavis Staples opened the show, with an energy that can only be described as divine. Her performance was powerful, joyful, musical, and engaging; she shared stories between songs like she was preaching, like she expected us to want and need transendence. A quick trip to Wikipedia mid-show revealed that Dylan once proposed to Mavis. She declined.

A few minutes later, the stage was set: drums and an upright bass to the left, a piano to the right. Soft, golden beams of light lit the stage dimly. Five men in cream-color jackets and dark slacks, ties around their neck, emerged on stage, hiding behind their instruments. There was no introduction, no announcement, just a musical interlude as the men got into position and prepared to perform. And then he started. There were some enthusiastic screams coming from behind me, but for the most part, the crowd was subdued. With the exception of one 70 year old guy near the top of arena dancing to every single song, most people tapped a foot or nodded their head. Almost no one sung. Of the 15 songs played, only maybe four were popular, well-known songs. I’m a casual Dylan fan, at best, but he didn’t even play the ones I skip to get to the ones I like. My husband, who is much smarter and more culturally polished than I, knew only a few.

It wouldn’t have even mattered if you knew them, because you could’ve never recognized them. Again, this comes as little surprise. It took me a solid 10 minutes before I could determine which man on stage actually was Dylan. And while he was never known for enunciating, the gravel of his voice (good for modern Dylan standards) made it nearly impossible to make out the words he was singing. Halfway through a song my husband turned to me and said with a look of surprise, “We know this one. It’s Tangled Up In Blue.” Of course, it was set to an entirely different musical arrangement, but there it was: a famous Dylan song made nearly unrecognizable.

This is not to say it was bad. The music was good – his band was exceptional. Guitars, piano, upright bass, banjo, and more made their appearance in the show. But the result was half Americana mumbling and half lounge singers with a growl. Every pause between songs was greeted with darkness as the lighting shifted and a wordless interlude played, while Dylan changed instruments or position, preferring to take a wide-legged power pose with the microphone tilted heavily sideways, like he was some odd incarnation of Elvis. I’m not sure what to make of it. I forgot Dylan went electric, I think. And I forgot what he sang in the second or third song in its new, unfamiliar arrangement: “It ain’t me you’re looking for, babe.”




In listening to an NPR podcast, Hidden Brain, a recent episode tackled social media. One researcher noted that no adult posting on social media is naive enough to believe all we see; we know there is more below the (smiling, happy) surface. But we continue to post only the shiny, happy moments, he said, as a way to “prove our self to ourselves”. That is, we are constantly trying to validate ourselves and say, “Yes, I am truly happy. Yes, I am truly successful. Yes, I am where I’m supposed to be.”

I think recently, at least in my social feeds, there have been some crackling rays of honesty coming through. Troubles with pregnancy, or kids going crazy. Lost jobs, or maybe too much work happening. But even that is spun with an upside: Despite it all, I’m blessed. Sharing is caring. Mindfulness vibes, toward the good and the bad.

I suppose that’s why I haven’t written in a long time. I’m not quite sure my own motivations in sharing – pictures, life updates, or my writing. I’m not quite sure if I kept posting I could honestly “prove” myself. To prove the comments of old report cards that haunt me: “Conscientious. A hard worker. Mature beyond her age.” My mind has been nothing like that lately.

For someone who writes and thinks a lot about mindfulness, I have to confess I am very sick of it. No one wants to say that maybe there is a time to be mindless – maybe it’s okay sometimes to just check the hell out. Well, that’s what I’d like to say. I spend a lot of my day engaging, and I need it to be okay to be mindless and self-serving sometimes.

There’s so little space for non-duality, for ambivalence, for *shrugs*. But I am tired and mindful and checked out and excited and uncertain all at once. I want to plant and tend to the roots, and tear them out to start all over. I want to end this with a sentence that seems sure and positive and hopeful, but nothing is coming.

Oh, well.

All Are Responsible

Today I pulled into my apartment’s parking lot, only to be faced with a knocked over, ragged cone directly in my path. There was enough space to go around it. Not much of a nuisance. The wind must have hit it with enough force, spilling it sideways. It dragged with it a twisted, tangled trail of caution tape.

As I pulled around it and into my parking space, I thought that someone should pick it up. Then I thought about how nice it would be if I picked it up. So I did.

Not, however, before stalling and almost ignoring my better impulse. My motivation to help this poor little cone, and subsequent drivers, took a hit when I saw a neighbor smoking nearby, pacing back and forth. He was closer to the cone than I was; he would be watching. What would he be thinking?

So I turned to head toward my apartment, then stopped. A prayer I find myself muttering again and again is my own little concoction I send up to the Holy Spirit: Let me give in to my better impulses. That prayer popped in my mind, so I spun around and with all my work bags dragging on my shoulders, walked to the cone to adjust it. (Now what would smoking man be thinking, with my hesitation and 3 bags?)

It’s so easy to ignore the small stuff. It’s so easy to think it doesn’t matter. Policy and politics matter; economics matter; war and famine matter. But the small stuff matters. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much,” says Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (16:10). How much more peaceful and wholesome would our communities be if we each lived with a deep integrity and careful attention to the small things.

“Few are guilty, but all are responsible,” wrote Abraham Joshua Heschel. I am responsible. And so are you. And living that responsibility is how life gets healed, one cone at a time.

A Workday Prayer

It is hard to cultivate creativity when you are so tired you can feel the vessels in your brain. It is hard to remain loving when you have a to-do list that actually has to get done, or you’d lose your job. It is hard to be a human and live a life as the poets imagine.

If Walt Whitman would like to write poems about my job, he’s welcome to try.

It’s enough to take the moments when you get them, and to sometimes hammer through – creating and loving and living as best you can muster. Sometimes love looks like a to-do list, and emails cc’d to as many people as can fit in the address box, and laying quietly on the bed.

We are fed the lie that holiness is grand, and that success is achievement of the highest order, and that mindfulness elevates beyond the cracks of life. That’s bullshit. To be holy and mindful is to be immersed fully and to fall headfirst into the cracks. I was struck by the weekend’s readings at Church which all made the similar point that we belong to one another. To love God is to take the meeting, to answer one extra email, to love your neighbor, in all their tedium.

Brave Little Yogi

I did a brave thing the other day: I went to yoga.

No, it’s not Firefighter-Level bravery, but it was – for me – big. I have been living in this small city two years now, not counting the four that I spent during my undergraduate years. It’s an odd place – gritty and working-class and “a dump” are all different ways I’ve heard it described. I think all three are true.

It dawned on me awhile back, while talking with my therapist at the time, that some of the anxiety I was feeling then was in part due to feeling lonely. I have a web of beautiful weirdos I call my friends and family; they are more dear to me than my own self. But they’re not here, in this city. They’re there, nearby, or over there, a little farther. Seen regularly, but still: not here. In the age of the Internet and constant job churn and endless graduate degrees, relationships get scattered. And with technology being what it is, it is quick – though not simple – to stay in touch, and keep the connections alive.

And so, I went to yoga.

Week after week this summer, I have driven by a cute yoga studio and been curious. So after a long week of babysitting (rife with “I don’t like you’s” because, no, chocolate chips don’t count as breakfast) I decided to sign up for a class. I figured the “Happy Hour Yoga” with a post-class glass of wine would be a good way to break the ice.

I did what any sane person interested in this studio would do: I Googled it. And spent a few days looking at their Facebook and Instagram.  Would it be friendly? Or zen? Or filled with skinny Lululemon clones? Cut to a few hours before the class: scrolling through Instagram and Facebook (again) to see what kind of people go to this studio, as if looking at the website for the 67th time would make know who was there and what to say and how to act. Would I have to start conversations with people, or would they chat with me first? I very conscientiously picked out a cool Beatles t-shirt to wear increase the chance of having a “Go-To” tidbit about myself. (Writing that is embarrassing. The truth will set you free, but not without embarrassing you first.)

As I parked, I noticed the parking lot was not very full – fine, I’m 10 minutes early, just like the websites said to be if you’re new!! I approached the door sort of from the side, because for some reason, the thought of approaching it head on seemed aggressive and like it would shine a spotlight on me. It looked just like it did in the pictures online; good, this yoga studio is not filled with liars and people who use stock images. A good sign.

I entered to find only the owner and one other woman, and after checking in and an awkward little chit chat about how the owner and I are both Kates, I awkwardly hung up my sweater and took off my sandals. The class itself was great. I forgot that yoga in a studio kicks your butt because you can’t hit “Pause” on the teacher. Mentally, too, it was a genuine challenge for me to quiet my mind and match breath to movement. (I suppose that’s the real benefit of class – that call to be mindful and present in community, that call to resist the urge to compare and despair). I failed a lot, and forgot the names of poses, and definitely wore the wrong shirt because it was a more active practice than I anticipated. But there were also good moments.

At the end of class, we all went to sit in the lobby and have a very generous glass of wine. (My kind of studio!) I’m not sure why in my head, Happy Hour Yoga would be filled with lots of naturally cheerful, chatty women who would intimidate me by their sheer yoga bliss, or why I thought it would be like a cocktail party at work where everyone is looking to find that one person they can glom onto for the night. In my worry about how to work a room full of people, I never got the opportunity to worry about an intimate group of strangers. That was for the best.

I found myself with two women probably 10 and 15 years older than me, with probably a quarter of a bottle of wine in my glass, with a heart and ears open to listen. Am I going to brunch this weekend with these ladies? No. But I learned that the owner has two children, and another on the way; that business is slow to start; that my anxiety is dwarfed by her real risk in this venture. I learned that my fellow yogi uses her art degree and sculpture skills to arrange displays for Macy’s, and has tried every studio in the city. And I learned that doing the thing that seems hard is good and vital and not at all like you imagine. It is different, maybe better, maybe just what you need.

Living the Questions at the Kitchen Table

If you are lucky enough to get time for vacation, you know that the week leading up to time away is a slog. The hours pass slower, and slower, and slower, until the clock seems frozen. The work feels more tedious and all you notice is how tired you are and tense; how urgent a break is.

What a gift it is to retreat and relax. This past week I stayed in the Adirondacks with my entire family. The environment up there is stunning: dark curves of mountain against pale blue sky, every shade of green dancing on the leaves, lakes as rich as sapphires. My muscles began to melt, and the weight of my body relaxed. My mind was at ease, concerning itself only with what book to read next or what snack to munch on. Success was measured by how much time I spent laughing or laying in the sunshine.

When I am there, my heart becomes extra tender and I feel a sense of yearning: everything seems simpler up at the lake. I have always had a soft spot for the wilderness, which might explain why I moved to Kentucky after graduation or why I love the parts of the Gospel where Jesus retreats to find some solitude. I am introverted by nature, and a lover of solitude by nurture. The tall pines and the mist in the valley seem to protect and nurture that.

I am tempted by the dream that living in such a place would bring those things I seek most: freedom, peace, joy. If only I were there, not here…. If only I were able to retreat…If only I could get away from the anxieties of my day to day life. Life would be just that much richer.

But then I realize I am only dreaming. Life is complicated everywhere, and in different ways. And our human longing does not leave when we “escape” to anywhere. The questions are there – in the desert or the mountains or the suburbs – and they are waiting to be lived, regardless of the environment. The questions are there, too, in the midst of a busy work week or in folding four loads of laundry or in checking email at 7 a.m. But maybe escaping the ordinariness of our lives is the easy road. It is true that some have the vocation to live a solitary or secluded life, but it’s truer that most of us do not. It is harder to live the questions at the kitchen table than in an Adirondack chair with toes in the sand.

Clearly a time to retreat is necessary. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,” says Matthew at the start of Chapter 5. Luke 6:12 mentions that Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.” And yet it would be a mistake to stop there. What follows in each passage is a return to community and great wisdom: the Beatitudes. The yearning for a break, for a little clarity and simplicity, is a call to Wisdom. We need to heed that call, but we also need to recognize what that wisdom is for: the here, the now, the ordinary community in which we find ourselves. We need to heed that call for our own peace, and for the world’s.

For the Weeds

It is the perfect summer day: 75 and sunny, with a handful of marshmallow shaped clouds dotting the pastel sky. Vacation is imminent and fruit is ripe and juicy. There’s still plenty of summer on the horizon. 

So why do I feel this way? Tired though I sleep well, needing something more in spite of deep gratitude and joy in my life. 

This past week’s Gospel had Jesus telling the people to let the plants and weeds grow together. Only at the end of it all will God then pull out the weeds and throw them into the fires of Gehenna. Scary language and scary when we think about the message in terms of good v. bad people, heaven v. hell. 

What struck me when I heard this though, two things occurred to me. First was God’s great kindness and patience. There are weeds? Let them grow. They are not a concern for now and so, not really a concern at all. A classic grown up move: “I’ll deal with it later, don’t worry about it.” The second thing that popped into my mind was an inward, mindfulness-based reading of the story. What if instead of concerning ourselves with good and bad people and God’s response, we turn inward? To our own good and bad parts – our good and bad thoughts, actions, feelings?

Thich Naht Hanh (among others) writes about approaching our bad, sad, and negative thoughts and feelings with a kindness and patience similar to God’s in this Gospel. Acknowledge the feeling with a sense of both friendliness and detachment, and the feeling loses some of its sting. 

God is kind and patient and is big enough for strange moods on beautiful days. I think he is inviting us to let these weeds grow in our lives without concerning ourselves with pulling them up. Let them grow, alongside the fruits and plants, and God will deal with it later. 

Mindful Babysitting

During the summer, I work as a babysitter/nanny to two adorable, challenging, wild little girls. The girls are 8 and 5, old enough to play together nicely, though the younger one is just barely 5 and still understands so little of the world (grunting doesn’t count as asking for help). The 8 year old has a host of special needs which makes things … interesting. Her anxiety and sensory issues lead to some interesting and challenging behavior. Luckily for me, these are the kids I love and the kids I work with regularly. Perhaps even more luckily for me, this is the year I am reading and learning about two particular topics: toxic stress in children and mindfulness-based teaching approaches.

While the kids I work with during summer certainly don’t have toxic stress (which is usually a result of grinding poverty, neglect, and violence), the big take away from some workshops I’ve gone to is this: kids respond in a way that seems reasonable to them at the time and kids often don’t know any better. Behavior communicates some kind of meaning and our job as The Adult is to help them express this meaning in better ways.  Many children have literally no idea what that means or looks like: what words should I use? What does “calm” feel like? Adults have to model it, over and over and over and explain it while they do. 

This summer is serving as a laboratory for me to implement some of the techniques and strategies I am learning through some great professional development reading. Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom, by Patricia A. Jennings, has a lot to say on responding to behavior using mindful awareness. Interestingly, most of the book is about what ADULTS need to do to elicit better behavior, through their own mindfulness and self-awareness. So far, here are some things that are working: 

  1. Routine: As adults, we can feel out-of-whack if our routines are impacted too much. This stresses our fight or flight response, impacting our cardiovascular system, immune system, cognitive function, etc. And we’re grown ups! – we have at least some awareness of what’s going on. Now imagine you’re 3 feet tall and you still don’t understand how to tie shoes or why cars have red lights on the back of them. Imagine every day is different and you don’t know what to expect. That can’t feel very comfortable, and adds stress to your tiny body. For some reason, we think of “routine” as a militaristic, no-fun concept. But routine can be simple for kids. Even the littlest sense of structure takes away a lot of stress for kids, especially those like the 8 year old I watch. She’s already anxious – let’s take some anxiety out of the environment by having some structure, like breakfast and lunch in the same time, same place. Small steps make a difference. 
  2. Don’t personalize the behavior: It is always amazing to me how irritated and mad I can feel at small children. They are so wildly frustrating sometimes that it is hard not to take it personally. For example, we had to clean our rooms the other day. The little one gets right to it, no help needed. The older one, though, spent time sulking and just lounging on her bed fiddling with the radio. My level of frustration kept rising as I kept reminding her what needed to get done. (“What a brat she’s being! Why is she making this hard?!”) Feeling my anger, I noticed it, took a breath, and tuned in. I again asked her to start cleaning, and sullenly she said she was trying to get the radio to work. I realized that she was jealous of her sister, whose boombox was playing loud Disney tunes as she cleaned. All she wanted was to have some fun like her little sister was doing. I offered her my phone to use instead (Taylor Swift, for the win!) and finally she got working. I could only help her solve the problem and tackle her job by being mindfully aware of my own feelings. If I stayed angry and took it personally, I would not have seen the situation in its full reality and found a solution. 
  3. Attacking behavior with warmth and love: Children are wildly perceptive. For their survival, they need to be well-attuned to subtle emotions. Unfortunately that means for us adults, they sense when we feel tense and frustrated and angry. So when a child is acting up, though it’s very easy to respond with frustration, that can often lead to a spiral of bad feelings and worse behavior. Using a key mindful technique of slow and deep breaths, I am able to help lessen my negative feelings and thoughts. Then, I try to really look at the kiddos: they are so small! Look at how soft their skin is. How do you get teeth so tiny? I tune in to the physical reality of their littleness and the frustration melts a little more. Now I can approach with more love: are you hungry? Can I get you water? Would you like help? Do I need to tickle or dance the bad behavior away? This doesn’t always work (sometimes kids are like adults: just grumpy and in need of wallowing) but it at least makes me feel more compassionate and helpful. 

These things are hard to do largely because they demand a lot from us cognitively, emotionally, and physically. Mindful awareness of breath, doing body scans, and using other such techniques, though, are a helpful starting place. Through my jobs I am seeing that working on children’s behavior has to start from adults working on their own emotions and actions. So here’s to a summer of mindful experimentation and many, many deep breaths. 

In Genesis, there is this funny and beautiful thing that happens where stories repeat, nearly identical in nature, but the characters are different. What happened to Abraham now happens to Isaac. I’m sure there’s a reason behind it – layers of meaning rooted in theology and history. It means little to me though, except to be equal parts confusing and amusing. I’d ask more questions about this – why the repetition, what does it mean for Israel, or about God, or in my own life – but I wonder if those are even the right questions to ask. Or if I need the questions at all.

Questions are important and necessary; they demand and invite and bring light to the cracks in a text. But they have to be the right questions, or we don’t get anywhere. And if they aren’t the right questions, maybe it’s better to just sit and rest with the text.

At the end of my time in Kentucky, I sat down with my program director and a volunteer coordinator to  process my year of service and community. I remember speaking about how I admired the people there for their commitment to reading and knowing Scripture. Certainly, they read it in a different light and there is a danger to continually re-reading something like Scripture – it can start to feel like you know it, period, end-of-story. But my co-workers and housemates all had a regular, personal relationship to Scripture, which is to say they all engaged myth, story, poetry, wisdom – daily. I wanted that, I said, but it can be so tedious – after all, there are so many rules and so many “begets”. The programmer director, a woman whose relationship to Jesus was personal, hard-earned, and earnest, gave me this advice: “I just ask God to let it somehow speak to me, and then I read it.” That was it.

She didn’t sit with the Bible and a commentary; she didn’t interpret or analyze or underline – though at times these are perfectly valid and appropriate approaches. She read it and let it sit in her heart. I think of Mary, who “reflected on all these things in heart” when she, for whatever reason, said yes to God.

Sometimes the question is a barrier. A way to have some power over a text that is remarkably profound and confusing and important.

I’m trying to read the Bible, and I don’t recall why I started, and I’m not sure what I’m hoping to get out of it. I’m still only in Genesis. It’s slow-going. Reading it, I see how imminent God is; how poetic; how personal. He lets Abraham bargain for Sodom & Gommorah. He sends signs like rainbows, and compares his promises to the stars in the sky. Those are things in my world, here and now. More often than not, though, it seems to make little sense and I wonder if my understanding is doing anything to build my relationship with God and with my world.

I pray that it is. I pray that it’s making me see a little more clearly. I pray that even if it isn’t, I can be connected in relationship to these characters, and the scores of Christians throughout the ages who found value in this practice, and to this God who is, frankly, bizarre and still mostly unknown to me. I put down my questions for the time being, and reflect on all these things in my heart. Maybe it’ll work.



It’s two weeks into vacation and I’m finally going to say it: I’m bored.

I have a list of projects to tackle, and ample books, and a car, and, oh yeah, the Internet. But boredom is clever and can slip through the cracks. It settles thick on your chest and rattles your ribs. As I think about each of things I know I love doing, all I am meeting is a big wall of resistance. You know how Wile E. Coyote winds himself up, ready to finally catch Roadrunner, and then hits a wall? Or falls off a cliff? That’s how I’m feeling.

Each of these words feels so heavy to type. The words in my books seem foreign. I’d love to write poetry but I have less than nothing in the tank. There’s not even any sunshine to nap in! I can’t even be productively bored. But I suppose that’s the point sometimes.

“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder.” – Padraig O Tuama