I’m dropping a few chapters of my book in here at a time because I’m mighty, mighty undisciplined and it’s forcing me to do a last edit as if, you know, people might be reading it. That’d be you, friend. And it’s forcing me to update this website, which has been dormant for oh so long. Another good reason: apparently Randy Travis is about to drop a book about his “blessings,” so, I kinda feel like I should finally drop this book about my own. So many blessings!
If you have feedback good bad* or otherwise, you probably know where to find me. Sock it to me. I’ll be deleting old chapters as I go so the whole thing doesn’t sit here, so get it while it’s hot, limited time only, etc. ❤ – Nikki
*Be kind. It’ll get you far.
The human mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working from before you’re born and doesn’t stop ‘til you sit down to write a song. – Roger Miller
I am making Randy a mixtape, and that quote just really speaks to me. It really, really does. My mind, it goes and goes and goes all day. I can’t shut the damned thing up. Not even staring at the bottom of my fourth empty tumbler of whiskey is my mind bound to stop, nor when I shake the last drop from a bottle of wine. I’ve tried, but then my mind just goes all funny, and my thoughts start to feel good, happy, strange. The thoughts keep coming.
When it comes to makin’ sense of those thoughts, writing it all down? That part’s harder. Life’s too complicated. Drunk or sober, should a person even bother trying to make sense of their mind? I’ve tried to be more meditative, more mindful. That self tells me no, don’t try to analyze your mind – just accept that it is. But I’m just not that at peace with myself. Are you, friend?
Why are we here?
My guru tells me: I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leaving.
Willie Nelson attributes this saying to Roger Miller, who is one of my favorite songwriters. The man in charge of managing Roger’s publishing back in the day said of him: “The songwriters in Nashville would follow him around and pick up his droppings because everything he said was a potential song. He spoke in songs.” Roger would rattle off a line like, “If the wolf had ever come to our door, he’d have had to brought a picnic lunch,” to a fellow songwriter like Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, and then be all, “You keep it.” And the songwriter would put it in their own song, and Roger would refuse a co-writing credit because he was a nice guy like that, and then Roger’s publisher would be sad.
Or more accurately, Roger gave it away probably because he didn’t much give a shit. He was notorious for spurts of creative energy, followed by a whole lot of nothin’. Tales tell of his label locking him in a room and not letting him leave ‘til he’d finished the last line of a song that’d remained unfinished for far too long. Writer’s block? Apathy? Lazy? Perfectionist? Too full of booze and pills to care? Tortured? Depressed? Maybe all of the above. And his publisher likely wasn’t sad. Mad, frustrated, eager for Roger to get his shit together and make a buck is probably a mite bit more fitting.
I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leaving. Willie liked the line well enough to borrow it for the title of his 1989 autobiography. He also used it to close the very first paragraph of his 2002 book, The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes. The first line of that same paragraph reads, “They say writing the first line of a book is the hardest part. Thank God that’s over.”
You’re tellin’ me. I’m a total hack. When I’m stuck, I still rely on this one stupid literary device: Lead with a quote. See? Did it above. I think I picked up the strategy from my fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Koeman, who instructed in our earliest forays into writing book reports and essays that it is always great to lead with a quote, and it is always great to open a presentation by announcing one’s own foibles and failings. Did she commonly initiate action on our part by saying it was “great” to do something? In my memory she did, and she was young and hip and expressed an open appreciation of C+C Music Factory and her brother was one of my hometown’s few openly gay men at the time. He operated a hair salon and had allegedly done time in the clink for something to do with lots of cocaine, as I recall the ladies gossiping. Both this hairdresser and this drug will make appearances again elsewhere in this narrative; permit me my tangents, I swear I’ll come back around full circle, and it’s possible you’ll even notice and remember this tangent when I do. And if not, allow me to distract you with some more quotes, flash bang!
In any case, we thought Ms. Koeman was pretty cool for our small town. Was she a divorcée, too? Man, probably. Like seriously cool. Great, even. And because it was great to lead with a quote and great to start with a disclaimer, she had our whole class of fifth-grade students rambling about dog-eaten papers and missing sections of encyclopedias and moms who didn’t get the shoe buckles on our Pilgrim costumes right and research that didn’t begin ‘til the night before because, well, life was complicated for a fifth-grader and sometimes things got in the way, starting our reports on Sacagewea and Lewis & Clark and George Washington and George Washington Carver with the same routine of tired attributed passages:
Four score and seven years ago, having undertaken, for the Glory of God, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these present science: 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, for only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly until we thank God Almighty we are free at least. Listen with your heart; you will understand. – Disney Pocahontas
I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leaving. Willie in fact likes that line so much that he incorporated it into the lyrics of a song he released in 2012, a song he sang with Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, and Snoop Dogg, yes him, entitled “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
I reckon that’s a pretty good attitude to have about life. Not the being smoked by your friends post-mortem, that’s some weird Keith Richards shit right there, but rather, the line itself, I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leaving. I didn’t choose to come here, but darn it, I’m gonna see this thing all the way through. Even if my mom didn’t sew the buckles on my Pilgrim shoes quite right.
Neither’s had an easy go at life – and one is dead – but Roger Miller and Willie Nelson are nonetheless the ultimate purveyors of tongue-in-cheek positivity, what with their upbeat songs about uncloudy days and traveling on the road again and kings of the road, all “Do-Wacka-Do” and “Chug-a-Lug.” Tunes telling of mid-market television station kiddie cowboys and songs advising against roller skating in buffalo herds (Roger Miller’s “Kansas City Star” and “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd,” respectively). Willie even covered that terrible song “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” on his 1988 album What a Wonderful World just four years after he sang “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” with Julio Iglesias, which happened to come on the radio just now as I’m writing this because that’s how totally connected I feel to Willie on most days. I can make cosmic psychic shit happen, see, with my radio.
I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leaving is an attitude I’m hoping to embrace and convey as I traverse my fourth decade on this planet. Fourth? Math. 0-10, 10-20, 20-30, fourth. That’s a lot of decades. It’s time I learned to finally be happy. Life’s too short not to be. And as Roger Miller once sang so sagaciously:
Ya can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.
Ya can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.
Ya can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to.
(All ya gotta do is put your mind to it. Knuckle down, buckle down, do it do it do it.)
Just do it, darn it. But this sort of positivity doesn’t come easily for me. I’m a big grump, a misanthrope. I’m easily annoyed, and have a tendency to grasp long and hard on to bitterness against folks who’ve done me wrong. But the wannabe-a-better-person in me longs for acceptance and peace – equanimity, I think they call it – and when it comes to my life’s own narrative, I’ve often relied on trying to at least have a sense of humor about it all, as I endeavor toward acceptance. I can’t say I always succeed, but goldarnit, I try.
I don’t know why I ended up here, in this time and place, but I suppose I’m happy that genes and jeans collided at such a moment that I could walk the earth in the same era as Willie. That although I never got to meet Roger Miller before his passing, I can still put needle down on his records when I’m feeling morose. And above all, I’m thankful that I have a magic ability to control the radio with my mind because goddammit no foolin’, just like that, Roger Miller singing “King of the Road” has come on.
Maybe that’s what I’m here for? Other than that, I’m not quite sure what my purpose is. Why some dumb shit has happened to me, and why I’ve chosen to do some pretty dumb shit myself. I didn’t ask to come here, but heck, since I am here, why not embrace it all and do what I can to leave a positive impression before The Party’s Over.
Now that I’ve ripped off Willie Nelson once, and also ripped off Willie Nelson ripping off Roger Miller, I’d like to dedicate my words to all the girls I’ve loved before because, let’s be honest, if you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time oh, Ms. Koeman, I can’t stop! Why is this the only writing strategy that’s stuck, rather than, say, tactics for constructing a compelling and straightforward narrative that doesn’t ramble on and on venturing down nonsensical tangents leaving my readers utterly lost, confused and uninspired.
On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again.
It was a hot summer day in the early 1990s when my cousin Tessa and I saw our opportunity, and went for it.
“Should we do it?”
“I’ve never done it before.”
“Me neither. Let’s do it.”
We were doin’ it. Tessa and I made our way through the crowd of people assembled in the park, and wrote our names down. We whispered feverishly between us about our plan. How were we gonna pull this thing off?
We braided our hair, in two pigtails apiece.
We wrapped red bandanas around our temples. Did we actually have two red bandanas on us? Sure, why not.
And when they called our names, we took to the stage.
Neither of us had ever sung karaoke before. Yes, we’re talking about karaoke now, why wouldn’t we be, have you met me? Okay you probably haven’t, hi, nice to not meet you, I love karaoke, I converse in tangents.
And this wouldn’t prove my last time singing karaoke, either, not by a stretch. I’d even sing karaoke again someday at my own wedding, some twenty-odd years later. I hate dancing. I especially hate dancing in front of people. And more importantly, I hate stupid traditions the meaning of which if there ever was one to begin with has long since lost all relevancy, and I hate living up to expectations which make no sense to me and my specific set of values. I hate people staring at me when I haven’t earned that attention by doing something, you know, notable, or completely stupid. I don’t like getting my picture taken by strangers. I hate it when people smile at me unless I’ve said something fucking funny or, you know, they wanna fuck me, and I them. I hate being cute! I hate being precious. Hate it all. This is kid stuff, not stuff for grown-ass women. Guess what! This is what happens at weddings. All of this basically comprises a wedding. It’s terrible. Why do people even do it.
So years later, as my soon-to-be husband and I would consult our music playlists and songs for a “First Dance” at our wedding, that all-important moment where people gawk at you while you fucking awkwardly shuffle around to some bullshit song deemed of great importance to your fucking relationship I’d say no. I opt out. I. Opt. Out.
“We have to, it’s what people do,” he’d reason.
“No fuckin’ way. I’m not doin’ it.” Cross arms stamp foot.
“Well, people are gonna be disappointed. Most other people like to dance, you weirdo, and they’re not gonna start unless we go first.”
“I know, I know.” But then, an idea. A brilliant idea. A compromise of sorts. “Let’s sing our first dance, and other people can dance to it. Not us.”
And we would. After the ceremony, and after the fried chicken dinner, our DJ/karaoke host/emcee/wedding performer (Don Williams’ “I Believe In You” is the song he sang before the vows) – who happened to also be my dad’s childhood friend – would cut the playlist to welcome us to the stage, a spot under a tent on my parents’ driveway in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Mason jar of expensive champagne in my hand and a Mason jar of beer in his, he in a cream-colored thrift store suit, me in an off-white, sleeveless tube dress purchased on clearance at J.C. Penney for twenty bucks, I’d place a too-small Stetson hat on his big ol’ head, and we’d sing Johnny and June Carter Cash’s bickering rendition of “Jackson” while our guests – not us – danced.
I don’t know if cousin Tessa has ever sung karaoke again, but now that she’s grown and has kids of her own, her daughter sure enjoys it and sings with me at weddings. Taylor Swift. She’s a fan. Or at least was, I haven’t seen her in years and kids are inclined to stop liking Taylor Swift at some point, I suppose. I don’t know any Taylor Swift so I’m mostly there for moral support because it’s fucking intimidating to sing karaoke when you’re just a little kid and not a borderline obsessive karaoke aficionado like me. And when we were her daughter’s age, Tessa and I sang Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” in the park on a summer day.
We picked it from the karaoke book because it was the only song on the list we’d ever even heard of. But that didn’t necessarily mean we knew it well. So we added the braids and bandanas for good measure, to ensure a successful performance. We stumbled through verses we barely knew, powered out-of-tune through the choruses we did, stress-sweated through our t-shirts, and then, it was over.
It went over like gangbusters, I think. As I remember it anyway, it went over like gangbusters. In my heart. This is how it happened in my heart and in my memory, and if it says so in my heart and in my memory, it’s my truth, and so it’s my truth to assert. Hey, there’s another writing strategy I’ve picked up on! Make shit up if you truly believe it happened that way or it otherwise gets at some deeper emotional truth even if the details tend to at this point be a bit fuzzy goddammit. As you can imagine, this is a writing strategy that elicits strong reactions one way or another in communities where writers, readers and Oprahs discuss such things. Hi, have you met me? Probably not but hello, I am your unreliable narrator. Tessa and I, our hair and bandanas, our rendition of “On the Road Again,” all went over like gangbusters.
The crowd of South Dakotans attending this outdoor festival jumped to their feet to applaud, lighters held aloft. Fireworks were released into the sky, but not until after a plane smoked out this message: Nikki + Tessa AMAZING. We were a hit.
I’m pretty sure it was on this day that I realized I loved country music. Okay, the reception may not have been as positively overwhelming as I remember it, but it was at the very least… warm. My people – the people convened in a park in South Dakota in the early 90s for some outdoor karaoke – loved country music, and so did I. I loved and still love its singers. I loved and still love singing it. I loved and still love country music’s lyrics, with themes that deal with all the kinds of stuff people I’ve known have dealt with. Mostly drinking. Not too much cheating, but some. Trouble with the law? Yup. Heartbreak. In spades. A little too much standing by your man? It’s possible. And mostly, drinking.
And speaking of drinking, cheating, trouble with the law, heartbreak, standing by your man, and more drinking, I’m making Randy a mixtape.
I’ve been talking to Randy for a lot of years now. Sometimes he talks back at me, and I’m making him a mixtape. It’s something friends and usually lovers or at least admirers do.
I’m not Randy’s lover – that day in my parents’ driveway with the karaoke, I married another person who was not Randy – though I do admire Randy more-or-less, sometimes more when I should do less. We’re friends, but I’m not sure he knows it.
When I say Randy and I are friends, maybe you ought not believe me. Maybe you’ll recall my somewhat imaginative and selective memory, and how I use it to assert my truth. My deeper truth. The emotional not factual one. Or maybe it’s just that Randy and I are not friends yet. But everything else I say is true. It’s all happened. Not in the future, but in the past, or sometimes the here-and-now. This mixtape starts with a song, a song Randy himself sings, a song he recorded then released to the public in 1987. I hope Randy likes my mixtape, and I hope you do, too.