Monday, October 8, 2018

A Night at The Anthem with Florence– My Spirit Guide

Out of the blue a few weeks back, Brad handed me a pair of envelopes. The first contained a card with a note that said I was "killing it" in the motherhood department. The second, this piece of paper:

The man gets me.

He'd gotten me a pair of tickets to see Florence + the Machine in D.C. I could take anyone I wanted. 

Naturally, I teared up. Because I love Florence. 

Brad knows I love Florence because anytime a song by Florence comes on I get all moony-eyed and sigh, "I love Florence."

The girls know I love Florence because anytime a song by Florence comes on a turn the volume up on the radio and sing along. Loudly. Frequently while dancing. 

"Is this Flo?" Lily will ask. Embarrassed and unimpressed in equal measure.

"Just listen," I tell her. 


"The dog days are over
The dog days are done
Can you hear the horses?
'Cause here they come."

Lily can only shake her head. She's much too practical for all this fuss.

I love Florence because her voice is both the mountain and the caverns underneath the mountain. It contains both the strength of a thousand mothers and the delicacy of a thousand butterfly wings. She's ethereal and earthly at once. And over the years her songs have girded both moments of joy and stretches of depression. Her voice has instructed me to let go of self-doubts and old hurts. Has called me to love deeply and widely. Both myself and others.


"Hey, look up!

You don't have to be a ghost,
Here amongst the living.
You are flesh and blood!
And you deserve to be loved and you deserve what you are given."

She's forgiven me when I haven't been able to forgive myself


"And the arms of the ocean are carrying me
And all this devotion was rushing out of me
And the crashes are heaven for a sinner like me
But the arms of the ocean delivered me."

I'd seen her live with my sister a while back when she was on tour for her album "Ceremonials." The venue was in the woods and the gathering was like church with Florence a whirling priestess. We danced, sang and celebrated being alive and being together. 

Being able to see her again in the midst of dirty diapers and long nights and laundry was a huge gift.

Finding someone to go with, however, proved to be a bit challenging. 

I'd initially asked my sister. But she wasn't able to find child care. Actually, none of my sisters were. I called various friends, but everyone had plans. Finally, I asked one of Brad's co-workers- a woman who I'd only hung out with a couple times before, but whose warm personality and sense of humor I connected with. Holly was game. As it turns out, Florence + the Machine was a bucket list show for her.

So Saturday night I donned my best shirt not covered in spit-up. I left my hair down and curly. And I put on uncomfortably bright red lipstick. Actually any lipstick is uncomfortably bright for me because I rarely wear it. But an occasion like Florence called for some red lipstick, I think.

Rare pre-show selfie. The fact that there's no spit-up
and that I'm wearing mascara must mean it's a big night.

Holly and I got on the road. I figured if we couldn't find something to talk about we could always fall back on the faithful standby: our kids. Holly has two adorable little girls. But, as it turns out, we didn't need to worry about conversation. 

We touched on everything from police shootings to the Holocaust Museum to the Senate's vote on Brett Kavanaugh. Apparently, we're both terrible at small talk. 

We also talked about how we'd both had conversations with our husbands in recent months in which they'd expressed how as white men, they increasingly felt as if they were under attack in our country. We both felt as if we were able to empathize with our husbands- because as women we'd felt as if we'd been under attack for millennia.

How fitting it was that we were going to see Florence– who captures the pain and power of women all at once. 

For me (and I'm pretty sure for plenty of others), The Anthem Theater in D.C. was like a pop-up sanctuary. A safe space for women and LGBQT and broken folks to sing and dance and frolic about– gauzy dresses and flower crowns optional. After the excellent opener Beth Ditto wrapped up her set, I found myself getting stupidly giddy. Like, I wasn't even trying to play it cool. 

By the time the band (The Machine?) walked on the stage I was jumping up and down yelping with glee. A guy nearby me was doing the same. 

"You look how I feel!" I yelled over growing cheers. 

"I love her!!" he gushed bouncing up and down like me. We were both a little misty eyed.

I'd warned Holly about the potential for these sorts of display. Luckily, she didn't judge.

I only got dorkier as the night wore on.

The band opened with "June" - the chorus "Hold on to each other" setting the tone for the night.

Part way through the show, Florence talked about the need for kindness and togetherness in the world right now. She was not overtly political and spoke in generalities- though given we were in Washington D.C. just hours after the senate approved a man accused of sexually assaulting multiple woman to the Supreme Court- it was hard not to feel as if she was referencing the day's events. 

She instructed us to hold hands with the person standing next to us. This was easy on my right side, where Holly stood, palm extended. To my left though was a middle aged man whose eyeballs I could feel rolling back into his head. He wore a baseball hat and a plaid shirt. Clearly his wife had dragged him to the show. He was grumbling to her about the whole charade. About how he didn't like being told what to do. I decided to ignore his crankiness. In the spirit of inclusion, I rested my hand over his wrist (he was balancing a couple of plastic cups). 

"Is this weirding you out?" I asked hoping to melt a little of the awkwardness.

"Nah. Takes a lot more than this to weird me out," he sniffed. Though his stiff body language said the opposite. 

We survived the hand holding. 

During an introduction to "Patricia" Florence said the song was written about Patty Smith- except for the middle bit about toxic masculinity. The room erupted at the reference. 

"You're a real man, and you do what you can
You only take as much as you can grab with two hands
With your big heart, you praise God above
But how's it working out for you, honey?
Do you feel loved?"

The guy in the hat next to me bristled, glaring at the stage. 

I could hear him complaining to his wife at the end of the song. How he didn't come to the show to be preached at. Something about how he had three daughters and how he wasn't a bad guy and how he wanted to leave. It was as if he thought Florence was throwing the phrase toxic masculinity right at him. 

Part of me felt bad for the man. Clearly he felt out of place. Clearly he felt vulnerable being in a room full of people whose beliefs he assumed were opposite his. His defenses were up. 

Then, of course, part of me wanted to tell him that having three daughters didn't give him an inherent understanding of what it was like to be a woman right now. That while I guess it was his right to be offended by the bit about toxic masculinity in the middle of the song, living with it as a woman was 1,000 times more offensive.

Maybe had we been able to chat more, I could've told him how I understood what it was like to feel vulnerable. About the other day and how I was out for a walk in the broad daylight in my own neighborhood with the dog and Annie and how I passed a man I didn't know walking his dog. How the man randomly stopped and I walked on ahead. How I kept looking over my shoulder to see if he was following me. More than likely, he was letting me walk ahead so that Snacks would not continue barking at his dog like an idiot- but I didn't know that for sure. How originally, I'd planned to walk on the path through the woods because its prettier and cooler but how I decided it would be safer to stick to the neighborhood sidewalks. So I changed my route. And shortened my walk. How I always questioned myself for walking in the woods during the day with my dog and my baby. Was I putting myself at risk? We had, after all, had a flasher in the neighborhood in recent months. He'd been arrested and charged, but still. There could be others out there. And if and when I was victimized, how people could point out that I was, in fact, a woman walking in the woods by myself. And how that probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. Even though I brought my dog. Even though I wasn't wearing headphones in order to be able to be more aware of my surroundings. Even though it was the middle of the day. 

How only recently I'd come to understand how warped it is that I have to feel so guarded while moving about the world. That a man like him would likely never have to question the way he navigated this world- except for maybe the rare moments he's in rooms like these filled with women finding the power of their own voices. 

How angry I am for myself and my sisters and my girlfriends and my own three daughters and the women I know, that multiple accusations of sexual assault, a history of alcohol abuse and a lack of decorum while speaking in the U.S. Senate doesn't prevent a man from becoming a Supreme Court Justice. 

I could've told him about all that. 

But I didn't. 

The night was about Flo.

The man kept threatening to leave the show and his wife kept telling him not to. Trying to lighten the mood, feeling sorry for his wife I told the guy that it would be a shame to leave such a beautiful lady by herself at the show. He told me he liked the music, but didn't like that Florence chose to get political (she hadn't). I told him that even though he felt out of place, he was fine in that room. Nobody was out to get him. He then introduced me to Shelly and asked if I would keep her company while he went to the bathroom and to get a drink. And I said of course I would, because I could tell Shelly loved Florence as much as I do and that made us kindred spirits. I told him to make sure to come back. He said he would.

So Shelly and I danced like fools to "Ship to Wreck" and he left for a bit.  

After the show Holly and I talked about the man. She didn't have as much sympathy for him. She didn't have much patience for his behavior. She pointed out that Florence had not been political that she had walked the line well. (There is so much she could've said that night in that room. Instead, she celebrated love and togetherness.) Holly said that maybe if the guy felt stung by references to toxic masculinity, than he was someone who was most in need of being called out. She was right. 

Florence closed the show with "Shake it Out," which was perfection.

"Cause I am done with my graceless heart,
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart
'Cause I like to keep my issues strong
It's always darkest before the dawn."

And just like that she was gone - in a flurry of glitter and lace. The house lights came back on. The show had ended.

My voice was worn. My legs shaking. I was sweaty and that bright red lipstick all but gone.

Yesterday, I was back to being a mom. Grocery shopping and laundry. Covered in spit up. As Annie fussed at me, I sang "Cosmic Love" and "Dog Days are Over" to her. She'd calm and smile at me. I remembered the night before. How as I sang "Happiness hit her like a bullet win the back" the face I thought of was Annie's. 

Florence's new album "High as Hope" is lovely. While it doesn't have the grandness and mysticism of her first couple albums, I find I relate to it so much more at this stage of my life when the giant emotions and elations of my 20s have been replaced by the grounded steadiness of my 30s. She's reflective and wistful and grateful, I think, for simplicity and small joys.

In "No Choir," the last song on "High as Hope" she sings:

"And it's hard to write about being happy
Cause the older I get

I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject
There will be no grand choirs to sing

No chorus could come inAbout two people sitting doing nothing."

Inevitably, I think about my sisters. And how I wish they could've come with me to see Florence. But how the moments we tend to cherish the most with each other involve a cup of coffee and small conversation as our children laugh in the background. 

How lucky we are to have each other to hold on to.

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