mindfulness, travel

Vocalese and changes of plan

If you’ve ever heard Moody’s Mood for Love, you have a good sense of how far a piece of music can drift from its original melody line, retaining the integrity of its original while creating something pleasing and new.

When you live without a fixed address like I do, practical matters sometimes require you to go back home. Remote working and video calls with friends can keep you functioning and emotionally connected, but there are some things you can only do with boots on the ground.

A pet-sitting cancellation last week put me in a spin of uncertainty. I needed some time in my home province to take care of business – doctor and dentist appointments, a few other pieces of adult housekeeping. I’d just booked my flight the night before, and now I had nowhere to stay when I arrived. The length of time I’d intended to stay was more than I’d be willing to ask friends or family for a place to crash, that old adage about fish and houseguests being an excellent rule of thumb.

A shame-based tenor started up in my mind. What do you think you’re doing, trying to live this way. There I go, there I go, there I go, there I go.

I can usually tune out these thoughts, as long as I have a roof over my head. Living as an itinerant pet sitter is unconventional, but it gives me rewarding experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have. It enables me, for some parts of the year, to splurge on delightful trips I couldn’t otherwise afford. The trick is to be adaptable to changes in other people’s schedules and keep a contingency plan in your back pocket.

But last week I was sick, my first full-blown illness in about five years. I was too sick to take a long walk and clear my mind for problem solving. All I had was a body full of sniffles and coughs, plus a head full of uncertainty.

I reached out to someone I’ve sat for in the past, my first thought because she was a previous harbinger of serendipity. While her plans didn’t align with mine this time, our conversation gave me some comfort. She makes an unconventional living, and she helped me to see my predicament in a more gracious light. I felt almost-glad for the rupture in my plans just because it brought me into conversation with her.

Alongside the tenor of shame, now I had a more serene alto line telling me to be still and sit with the uncertainty. I’ve been an alto singer since I was a little girl. Alto lines are boring on their own, but they add richness to the melody. And if you’re lucky, you might occasionally get to pull off the flourish of a minor chord or a grace note.

My problem solving looked like this: Do I scrape together the money for a high-priced ticket to somewhere I can live more cheaply for a few months? Somewhere I want to be, somewhere with nourishing sun and sea (cough, hack, sniffle)? Do I scrape together the money for an apartment in St. John’s, so I can keep my appointments at home? These were my two most-compelling options. With only six weeks to go, both were way out of budget.

It took only three days for mystery and time to come through for me in the form of two house-sitting gigs back home. The new sits require no pet care, and they put me at least an hour closer to the doctor and dentist than the cancelled sit had been. The new sits put me closer to my friends, too.

I guess “Moody’s Mood for Love” is a couple degrees removed from the referent song, “I’m in the Mood for Love.” Eddie Jefferson wrote the lyrics, deriving the melody from the improvisations of James Moody’s saxophone and Thore Swanerud’s piano in a 1949 recording. (I’m taking all this information from Wikipedia, arguably an improvisation of its own.)

The uncertainty is the piece of my life I can’t fully recommend. I don’t have a formula for getting through the times when the plans break down, except the one that tells me to wait and pay attention. Trust the invisible, providential intention of a composer – possibly a few degrees removed – and give the melody a chance to resolve.

And, maybe, never take your cues from the tenors.

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