Many years ago I found myself in a slip of a restaurant in the West Village drinking red wine with the playwright Sam Shepard.
It was before I graduated school. Before I learned that red wine always leaves me on the bathroom floor. Before I ever really put to pen to paper and figured out just how much it was I loved words.
This is what I remember: Amy Winehouse was on the radio. We talked about horses, his farm, not being terribly keen on New York (my phrasing, not his). And when we walked down the street together he placed his palm against my neck in a way that I've spent every day since hoping some other man will do without me having to ask. I felt like a marionette in his hands and it was heaven.
When the night ended he kindly walked me to the subway.
And that was all.
What everyone wanted to know, right after, as I attempted to describe the event of pseudo-date with famed American Playwright, Sam Shepard, was if he spoke about writing--he's notoriously private about many things.
And the thing is, yes, he did.
I'm quite sure. My only hesitation is that through the muck and fuzz of red wine and that time in my life I don't remember terribly well, could I possibly have made the next bit up? I don't think so because what follows is fascinating and let's be honest, I'm not all that clever. He spoke of his love of music and how what he really wanted to do was be a musician--a rocker--and because he didn't know how, or couldn't, he wrote plays. And writing, just as he did--writing plays--was his music.
I've always been a late-bloomer. Slow to catch on or catch up. I now calm my parents by telling them I have a decidedly longer-arc and surely that's okay?
It was only after college that I fell in love with writing. Only after college that I thought oh, these delicious words that I spent so much catapulting out of my mouth into dark theaters, I quite like the part that happens before.
And it was in other dark theaters, after college, that I stood before stages feeling the literal vibration of sound waves in my chest and the weight of words--the goddamn weight of some very, very good and very true words.
It was love.
Two love stories. Happening side by side. Twin strands that braided together made one long rope that pulled me to dry land. Out of the great big blue and into my life.
I can't write music and I sure as hell can't make it. But everything I've ever written in the last few years has been an attempt at it. My graceless offerings that I lay at the alter of Art. This is my music--small essays made of little more than sounds and beats and that which I hold dear and true.
At the age of eighteen--still many years before meeting Sam--having just moved to New York and knowing nothing--absolutely so little about anything of import--most especially how much I had yet to know, my first boyfriend asked who my Ella was.
I didn't understand the question.
You know, who's your Ella Fitzgerald? What music absolutely undoes you? Hell if I know. Man, I can't wait till you find out. The finding out--that's the best part. I can't tell you how many times I've thought back on that moment--how many times I've written about it. I had no idea as it was being asked how that question would hang over me, inform what was to follow.
The search for Ella.
In the past few years I've come to say I found her in the folk movement of the Pacific Northwest. Or maybe the sounds coming out of London these last few years.
But on Monday night, standing on a little patch of grass in Central Park, listening to The Avett Brothers, I thought, oh yes, here she is, this is it.
Nearly nine years later and I've got my answer.
He was right. Damn, he was right. There's nothing like the finding out.