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“Music of the Spheres”

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Love Forward Talks

Written by Tulani Bridgewater-Kowalski for "Love Forward Talks" - November 11, 2023: "My Holy Land, My Heart"

When approached about participating in today’s event, I responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” But, after the yes, I had to figure out how to communicate on such a broad and profound topic.

My first instinct was to speak from a comfortable, professional position, but I wanted to dig - to be vulnerable.

The way my mind works is similar to the evidence boards you see on crime shows with threads in all directions and fragments in need of decryption. I began breaking down this big question piece-by-piece.

To me, the most logical starting points to find the answer are religion and career. Faith and money can be the best indicators of what we value. That’s why people are so touchy about their tax returns. Thus began my bumbling Columbo-like internal investigation.

First potential clue, religion.

I’m a spiritual person, but I’m rarely called upon to define my faith. Last month, I was completing a visa application, as part of a now postponed State Department tour to the Middle East. Among the questions were which religion I identified with and I was stumped.

After careful thought and a considerable amount of googling, I landed on Unitarian Universalist Buddhist. Apparently, that’s the closest nomenclature associated with my beliefs. It’s sort of a cross between “freedom and responsibility” with a side order of don’t be a jerk and leave things better than you found them. I called my mother to share my findings and we had a good laugh.

You see, I have a fraught religious background. My mother’s a lapsed Catholic, my father a lapsed Methodist, my former stepfather was briefly an Evangelical Christian. That could be its own talk. My uncle is Muslim, my aunt’s a Jehovah’s Witness, my aunt and cousins by marriage are Jewish, my spouse is Agnostic and my children are savages - another word for Gen Z.

Following the money and how I go about earning it, I thought about my professional life. I’m an entertainment industry multi-hyphenate…talent manager, music producer, writer, art director, non-profit lead, and a lot of et cetera. I joke I should have octopus wrangler on my business cards, because my tentacles are in many things.

These lines of inquiry were like viewing a solar system without finding the sun. I saw a collection of celestial bodies with their own orbital trajectories, related, interconnected, rich and complex, but where was the center? I needed a stronger telescope to zoom from macro to micro.

I reflected on my life over the past several years. At the onset of the pandemic, I was nearing personal and professional burnout. Having spent time in the abyss of a near nervous breakdown years prior, I knew to seek help…professional help.

I’m fortunate to have good, albeit exorbitantly expensive health insurance and I was blessed to be referred to someone willing to take me on. To continue the astronomy metaphor, the universe aligned.

My first session, I was asked what I wanted to set as a goal. I said that I felt like a circus performer. I was spinning plates, walking a tightrope blindfolded, singing with a flying monkey orchestra. I needed to get out of the Big Top. I wanted everything to stop.

The lesson there is be careful what you wish for and be specific about what you put into the universe.

When we plummeted into the misery of the pandemic, I was well into weekly sessions and the transition to telemedicine was seamless. This was invaluable, as I spent the first six months of lockdown unraveling concert tours, record releases, public appearances and such. My career deconstructed and fell fallow. My identity was so wrapped up in what I did, that I started to question who I was.

As someone who’d spent their life in a constant state of high-capacity multitasking, I compulsively filled the empty spaces. I expanded our non-profit program from one week to two and took it virtual. I started doing online interviews and a podcast. I launched a zoom-based daily writer’s room, began penning lifestyle pieces, and wrote a novel. I joined the business advisory board for a startup and learned how to create pitch decks and marketing content. I even did my taxes early.

After my unofficial workday, I was baking, hiking, binge-reading romance novels, crocheting, perfecting my Cioppino, and riding that awful Peloton. I was knee-deep in all this new and exhilarating not-work work. In short, I moved the Big Top into my home.

Then, I got sick. The kind of sick that requires a team, countless appointments, and leaves you with endless, terrifying what ifs. I had neurological problems. I started losing my vision. My heart was making my smartwatch angry and my cardiologist anxious.

Add in a few rounds of Covid, the devastating loss of several people I loved, having “the talk” with my kids who suddenly realized their homeland wasn’t safe just because of the amount of melanin in their skin, and the impending collapse of society writ large, I was a mess. It felt like a safari through several circles of “The Bad Place.”

Just when we thought all the curveballs had been thrown, our landlord died and her children decided to sell. With the moratorium on rents, it was impossible to find anything within our timeframe. For years, we’d been saving to buy a home and it seemed that the moment to leap had come. This meant we were house hunting under the least ideal conditions in one of the most expensive markets in the world.

The process was a perfect encapsulation of how my partner and I approach life. There was a complex color-coded spreadsheet with complicated filters and computational equations. There were maps with highlighted areas, pro-con lists, you get the idea. At the same time, I was negotiating the early termination of our lease, hiring movers, having multiple daily check-ins with our mortgage broker. It was stressful mayhem.

One day, my husband and I decided to take a break and go for a drive. We like to engage in what we call “adventuring.” We set out in a random direction with no destination and drive wherever we see something interesting.

After countless turns, music playlist negotiations, and a pitstop for snacks, we found ourselves transported. We were on a road that looked as if it was lifted from the Pacific Northwest. Meandering the curving streets, we passed a house with a “for sale” sign and sighed, knowing it was sure to be beyond our budget.

As a woman of a certain age, insomnia has become a frequent companion. During one sleepless night, I searched for the house on my favorite real estate app. It looked horrible. The photos were blurry, but what I could make out was not promising. The decor was…shall we say démodé. The carpet was wall-to-wall with a casino print. There was a scraggly vegetable garden with leggy, barren tomato plants. No surprise, it had been languishing on the market for months. Beyond those obvious deterrents, it was far beyond our budget. Still, I added it to the spreadsheet.

Weeks later, after exhausting our options and realtor’s patience, we asked for a showing. When we pulled up our kids were excited, until they realized the house in question was next door to the one they’d hoped and refused to get out of the car.

As we stood surrounded by chipped Saltillo tiles and faded whitewashed wood, we knew it was the house for us. It had a crazy kitchen with appliances ranging from the Mad Men Era to the late 80s, but it felt right. That dilapidated garden from the photos was worse in person. It had a few sad looking peppers, near-dead thyme, and those ever-struggling tomato plants. No matter, we were going for it.

I wrote a heartfelt letter, the written equivalent of the ‘kindly brontosaurus.’ If you haven’t already, do read Jessica Winter’s 2013 Slate article of the same title. It’s a hilarious and insightful ‘how to’ guide for negotiating with airline gate agents.

We spent days in protracted negotiations. At one point, I stood a covid-approved distance from the seller, a notable literary agent, who said, “I hate you a little, but I respect you a lot.” After a delicate dance of strong-arming, capitulating, and raiding our savings, the house was ours. More importantly, I had a home.

As someone who has moved house over fifty times, I cannot stress enough how foreign the concept a physical sense of home is. I had found my beacon, my star, my sun. I didn’t know that I’d been holding my breath my entire life, until that first night. Surrounded by cardboard boxes and bare windows, my entire being exhaled.

My solar system is a Venn diagram with home at its intersection. My Holy Land has a tangible location with a longitude and latitude. There’s open space, both real and intangible. I no longer feel compelled to fill every moment. I’ve chosen quality over quantity.

Now, I look out at my prolific tomato garden when I moderate my non-profit program or hold our daily Writer’s Room. Our children are flourishing and our home has become the site of sleepovers, pool parties, and movie nights. I wake each morning in gratitude.

To riff off the folk legends, Peter, Paul and Mary…my heart is where my home is and it’s flying monkey free.

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