Why I Moved to South Beach, Why I Stay

Weekends like this last one prove I’m living in the best place in the world. My days were full of music, poetry, dog snuggles, and blue skies, along with church, a little laundry, grocery-shopping, and house-cleaning.

Yes, blue skies in January on the Oregon Coast. Right now as I write this, I look out my office window and see gold-tipped pine trees stretching into a powder blue sky unmarked by clouds. The alders are still winter-bare, but daffodil bulbs poked their heads above the soil this week, even though the storm season is far from over. From somewhere beyond the yard, I hear doves. Like the rest of the west, we’ve had far less rain than usual this winter, but unlike California and other western states, we have enough water, so that drought is not a problem.
It’s warmer back in California. I see weather reports predicting blue skies and temperatures in the 70s, and I miss those days when I could walk unfettered by heavy coats. But oh it feels good to lie beneath my electric blanket on a cold morning, and I finally have a use for all those sweaters my mother and I knitted over the years. And it feels great to sit in the sun under the Sitka spruce with Annie leaning against me, just enjoying being alive.
Yesterday I was up at 6 a.m. to lead the choirs through two Masses at Sacred Heart Church. It was dark as I showered and dressed and ate a slice of pumpkin bread for my hasty breakfast. But as I drove north on Highway 101, scanning the road for black ice, the sky lit up with pink clouds that turned bright red, a Hallelujah Chorus of a sunrise that made me glad to be here. The red reflected on the ice blue water of the bay and the ocean beyond where crabbers were pulling in their morning catch. After 17 1/2 years, the beauty of this place still amazes me.
More storms will come, weeks of gray skies, gray ocean, gray everything, of winds that tear at the windows and walls and sideways rain that stings like needles, but this is the tradeoff for those red sunrises and rainbow sherbet sunsets, for easy drives on roads without traffic at any time of day.
And for music and poetry. I don’t know whether it’s the ocean setting, the reasonable proximity to universities, or simply the lower cost of living, but this is a world of writers, artists, musicians and dreamers, and that’s a big part of why Fred and I chose to live here when we left San Jose. On any weekend, you can enjoy plays, concerts, art exhibits, readings, or dance performances. You can learn to blow glass floats, make beaded jewelry, or paint with watercolors. The Performing Arts Center and Visual Arts Center in Newport are busy year-round, and other venues to the north and south offer more arts activities.
It’s a place where one can get involved in a big way. A friend and I co-founded the coast branch of Willamette Writers a few years ago. Now I’m on the board of the Northwest Poets’ Concord, which hosts an annual poetry conference in May, and Writers on the Edge, which hosts the monthly Nye Beach Writers Series. I have a critique group which meets on Tuesdays. I have taken workshops, taught workshops, met famous or soon-to-be famous writers, and shared my work at readings, talks and open mics.
This last Saturday, we met for the Nye Beach Writers Series at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Covering the paint-stained tables of the art classroom with red silk tablecloths and battery-powered candles, we welcomed our guest author of the month, R. Gregory Nokes, for a talk about his new book, Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory. I ran the book table. After intermission, I ran the open mic. I read several of my poems, people loved them, and I felt fabulous.
During the day, I had time to sit out in the sun with Annie, to take a nice long walk, to catch up on email, clean my kitchen, play a little piano, and watch a movie on TV.
Getting up Sunday morning was hard, but then I got to play the piano at church, sing with two wonderful groups of friends, and chat over tea and donuts in-between. Afterward, a quick trip to the store, where I ran into several friends, as usual, a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, more piano, and more time in the sun before heading south to Yachats for the open mic.
Music, poetry and friends came together at the Green Salmon coffee shop, which is not open at night but allows us to use the space. Christmas lights still hung along the ocean-facing windows as we perched in our high wooden chairs. We laughed, we sang along, and we applauded performers taking the stage for the first time and veterans who came to try out new songs or just keep in practice. It was a safe place where people could screw up and nobody minded. “Do-over!” people would shout, and the performer would find the missing words or chords and finish in triumph.
Then it was time to make the long dark drive home, passing only a few cars on the way, keeping a lookout for deer or raccoons crossing the road. Time to light up the pellet stove, snuggle with the dog and fall asleep to dreams of music, blue skies, and words for a new poem.
I awakened to sunshine, blueberry muffins and another day of words, music, dogs and the most beautiful place on earth.
This is why we moved here. Sometimes I get lonely. I miss Fred like crazy, but this is why I stay.
I haven’t posted here lately. I’m working on compiling the previous five years of posts into a “Best of Unleashed” book, which will eventually be available as an e-book. But I will still chime in here, too, because I can’t help myself. If you enjoy reading my blog, please recommend it to your friends. Thanks for coming. Have a beautiful day wherever you are.

Hugging the open mic in Yachats

Sometimes I think to myself that Yachats, population 688, is where all the old hippies from California have gone. Here you still find people with long hair, long skirts, tie-dye shirts and flowers in their hair. They gather for peace rallies and palm readings, craft festivals and Celtic festivals. They also gather for open mics. (Some say open “mike.” I disagree. Deal with it.)
I had had the note on my refrigerator for six months or so before I finally headed south on Friday night. Most of my music time these days centers around church music, but the new song circle in Yachats spurred me to check out the open mic. There, I could sing anything I wanted.
I have been to so many open mics. Bars, restaurants, coffee shops with loud espresso machines, community halls. Drunks, rockers, stoners, Bob Dylan soundalikes, kids just learning to play an instrument, pros reliving their glory days. Good microphones, bad microphones, no microphones. But I’ve been missing the open mic we used to have here in South Beach and my friend and former bandmate Stacy was involved in this one, so I thought I’d give it a try.
The usual venue, the Green Salmon coffeehouse, was not available, so we met at Ona, a restaurant on the west side of the highway. When I arrived a little before 7, not late, there was no parking to be had anywhere around the building. Parking at the grocery store down the road apiece, I lugged my guitar to the restaurant, arriving just as another woman was opening the door, and walked into a noisy, steamy-windowed, orange-walled room loaded with Yachatsians clustered on a variety of chairs and sofas. Stacy beckoned me to the last empty chair, right in the front row, just in time for the festivities to begin. We could barely hear each other talk over the roar coming from this room and the bar/dining room behind us.
You’d think I wouldn’t get stage fright after 30 years of performing, but I do. I get anxious, and I start thinking I’ve had enough of the music business. Why do I keep doing this to myself? I’m too old. These are not my people. Why drive all the way down here when I’m not getting paid? Yada yada yada. I have learned not to take these thoughts seriously because as soon I get behind the microphone, I will change my mind and want to perform every minute of every day until I die.
Our hosts started us with some guitar and mandolin with vocal harmony. Nice. Then “Rambling Ruth” played “Three Coins in the Fountain” on her violin, along with a couple of other oldies. Stacy performed with her brother and a friend. Delicious music. A brand new quartet of women got up and sang gorgeous a capella harmony about peace, love and . . . harmony.
I was number five, thirsty, and nervous as hell. I had been clutching my guitar between my knees for an hour. I had expected to plug my guitar into an amp, but there was just one microphone that nobody seemed to be using. I had pictured us at a white-tablecloth restaurant where we sat at tables and ordered food and drinks. I had thought I’d have dessert. But no, we were just packed in this hot room and told we’d have a break around 8.
The break came after number 4. I bolted to the bar and waited in line while the bartender with the braided beard served actual drinks to paying customers. He gave me a glass of ice water. Ah. That helped.
Then Stacy read a poem written by her mom, and I was up. “Sue Lick?” The MC looked around. Me. I hugged onto the mic, wanting to be heard. I started singing and playing. By the end of the first tune, some people were singing along. They laughed at my jokes, applauded, and made me feel like a star. They also quieted down for my second song, a new one. I couldn’t hear well enough to do the fancy guitar licks I had practiced, but I sang as well as I ever have. And the last song went over big. I said thank you about a hundred times and went back to my chair, feeling happy, wanting to do this forever.
Every act after that was genius. The poets, the woman who sang “Look to the Rainbow” a capella, Ian playing originals on guitar, the woman in the red velvet mini-dress and leg-warmers who fumbled through a song she just wrote on the ukulele, the guy reading from his memoir, the mayor leading us in Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.” Loved them all. Promised to come back next month.
I’m aging into an exact copy of my mom, but inside, I’m an old hippie from California, too.
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