47. The Art of Being Extra

After forgoing my Monday workout to practice for my show most of the day, I heard the construction workers outside grabbing something from their trunk. As I slightly parted the blinds, I saw the banged up, wobbly vehicle just inches away, casting a shadow over my tiny Smart Car. A stack of ladders was precariously ratcheted to the side of its overfilled bed.
Having dressed in running pants and a sports bra but never actually seeing it through, I threw on the closest covering I could find—a robe—and headed outside to move my car; attempting to save it from an almost certain pummeling and its drastic depreciation in value. As I walked towards them and told them I’d be out of their way in just a sec, the head of the group turned to me and replied:
”Aw, I’m sorry to wake you miss, we’re already finished! You shoulda waked up sooner! Ha!”
I trudged back inside and hurled the robe onto the bed. That’s what I get for looking like Hugh Hefner at 5pm on a Monday.

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Even when I was poor and scraping by between tours while living with four other people, I would always end up finding a way to make the most of things. Be it the kindness of others through gifting me a bottle of wine at a gig, or my fastidious planning for that one fancy Whole Foods ingredient, I would (and still do), relish those moments when I get to be just a bit much, as some would lovingly put it. When I say extra, I’m fully aware that this is not a nice thing people say. According to current slang; most girls call each other “extra” when they’re too much to handle…too emotional, too obsessive, too needy, etc. I’m probably using the term wrong.
To me, extra is going to the dentist for my second cleaning in 4 months, fearing I won’t have my new dental insurance overseas for a bit. The dentist then tells me I could brush with baking soda to prevent staining, so I head to the mall to finally give Lush’s powdered toothpastes a whirl. There, I pick up a few bath bombs and a Food & Wine magazine. Two hours later I’m at Sharon’s house, in the bath with my magazine, enjoying freshly powdered teeth—all because the dentist I didn’t need to see for another few months told me to try baking soda in addition to my regular toothpaste.

When I lived in the little yellow house on Wedgewood Avenue, next to the public garden, each year I would find a new herb to learn about, or experience a new plant that was seeded the previous year when the local college had its annual city-beautification field trip to my backyard. We had an understanding: they used my water to irrigate their freshly dug plots, and I would sneak out in my bathrobe to take a few herbs whenever I pleased for whatever little recipe I attempted that evening. One year, there was english camomile, but it was soon choked out by a ravenous spearmint bush planted too closely. Before it disappeared, I got enough to make one tiny cup of fresh tea, which tasted exotic and grassy: unlike any dried-leaf tea I’d ever experienced. Another year in the garden, there was a tremendous squash vine that cascaded over the hillside, lying dormant for years until it yielded a gorgeous, coral-colored bounty. Some squash grew to be as big as my arm. Of all the discoveries, my favorite was the blackberry bush at the back corner of the lot, underneath the old oak trees throwing shade on a steep grove lying thick with twisted brambles and a feral netting of emerald-colored leaves. One spring the leaves were glossy, and birds found most of the ripest berries on the topside of the thicket. But each morning, I would scoot outside in my house shoes while my Mr. Coffee machine puttered dozily in the kitchen, carrying with me a small, empty bowl. I would crouch down, careful not to disturb what may have made its home in the bush, and I would pick six to seven fresh blackberries, some nearly the size of my thumb, to eat with honey in my morning yogurt. Most days, when I needed a moment to mull over a song, or to feel inspired, I would mill around the paths and take stock of what was growing, what had yet to flourish, what had disappeared, and why.

One night, as I was getting over a guy who had taken nearly all of my self-worth out the door with him, I was desperate to get my groove back. Who, I thought, is the person I should be looking to for a little gumption? One name came to my rescue: Dolly Parton. I hatched a plan: I would make the most difficult recipe in my Glamour Girl cookbook—eggplant parmesan—no matter how long it would take me, and while doing so I would watch every. single. movie. featuring Dolly Parton, until I felt better.
I started out, slicing the eggplants and tossing them with salt (salting as much eggplant as I was throwing loose salt all over the kitchen), while Best Little Whorehouse In Texas played on my laptop. While the eggplants ‘sweated’, I opened tins of San Marzano tomatoes, chopped onions, and peeled garlic. These were the days of limited counter space and limited cooking experience, so this was a mighty feat for me to accomplish. Before long, the whorehouse was closing thanks to an ultra-conservative tv personality, and I was breading eggplant to fry in a pan next to my simmering marinara. I had no knowledge of the “wet hand, dry hand” method to frying, so by the time I was finished with this stage, I had thick, sticky breadcrumb gloves and three plates of fried eggplant resting on paper towels. My poor, tiny sink was completely out of reach by now, piled high with every pot, plate, and pan owned by the house (everyone but me was out on this Friday night). I was shredding parmesan and slicing buffalo mozzarella by the time Dolly sang “I Will Always Love You” to Burt Reynolds in the hot Texas sun, and attempting to find my sink when the movie came to an end, while a hulking eggplant parmesan baked in the oven. After over three hours of work, I changed my clothes and sat on my bed with a bowl of steaming Italian food, a ten-dollar bottle of pinot on my bedside table, and watched Steel Magnolias.

Being extra, to me, is about doing the deceptively difficult things—the things that most people wouldn’t take the time or energy to do. For instance, it’s spending a Friday night and a week’s worth of limited grocery money on making a really hard recipe. But I was proud of myself in the end; and it wasn’t half bad. I happily ate it for dinner the whole week. I felt good about myself; and that, plus Dolly’s tenacity and charisma in the face of tragedy, made me a more whole person after it was all said and done. I get how people could find this exhausting, which is why over the years I’ve grown so comfortable being by myself. Not everyone wants to search for specific spices from an Indian market on the far north side of town, or wake up early on a Sunday in New Hampshire, the last morning on tour, to get a burger I must have again before traveling back south. I could very easily go to bed earlier each night, but instead I stand at the mirror, and go through my facial routine, product by product: remove makeup, cleanse, tone, sometimes do a mask, moisturize, spot treatment—and at the very end, I spray a little rose petal water over my face and apply rosewater-flavored lip cream, like a fancy spa. When I was younger, I loved trying different soaps from Lush Cosmetics. I even got a soap dish for Christmas from one of my roommates, on which I piled ten differently colored bars, each for a different day, or a different mood. I have no clue why I care about things so much. The easiest explanation is that when you live a life filled with goodbyes, you start realizing how valuable every moment can be, and how fleeting most become. I’ve become a connoisseur of moments, of experiences, so that I can remember these when the time comes to make a hard decision: like saying goodbye to that sweet woman in Florida who gave me a bed to sleep in for a week, even knowing I’ll probably never see her again; or feeling at the very top of the world in one moment, and then walking off stage to feel my lowest. One must learn how to make the mundane feel extraordinary, or they’ll chase some great high straight off of a cliff.

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It’s a Monday in Nashville and it’s balmy…not too hot. In ten days, I’ll be gone. My apartment is almost entirely empty, save for my box spring and mattress, sheets, and a closet full of clothes. My wine girls will be coming over soon.
Earlier in the day, I had driven way out to East Nashville for the soul purpose of cheese and sliced meats from Porter Road Butcher. I’m lucky to see the cheesemonger at his station and not helping anyone else on this slow weekday. He asks what I’ll be needing, and I ask for the best cheeses he’s got. He slices hunks from a wide range of products, using different knives for different consistencies; some cheeses are white as snow, while others look and taste like solidified caramel. One cheese, “Ewephoria” (har har), hits my tongue and melts instantly into a pool of liquid dreams. My knees slightly buckle at the experience. I look up at the man, who nods in acknowledgement. After spending a long time tasting, and coming up with a spread of five aged delicacies, each distinct in flavor and constitution, we switch to charcuterie. I try a prosciutto, handmade in the Italian style from a Tennessee farm closeby. I try a salami cured in red wine. In their fridge I find olives in a housemade brine, and choose two different styles of crackers from the shelf. The cheesemonger is pleased, earnestly asking me to take pictures and let him know how everything goes.
Back home, I lay a densely woven Indian blanket across the north corner of my empty balcony. I place my solar-charged mason jar lanterns in a circle around the blanket, and drag my potted plants, each chosen for their anti-bug properties, closer to the circle, creating a ring of protection against pests. Inside, I assemble the board, placing each cheese next to its label and a fitting jam or mustard compliment nearby. The ladies arrive, each bringing their own bottle of good wine. I present the board as the sun staves off the cool night breeze. It’s been nearly two years that I’ve had this wine group. The night is filled with laughter, glass-clinking, and nostalgia. A bottle of white, then red, then a small bottle of slightly sweet, sparkling Lambrusco. We stay outside, enjoying the moments, until the lanterns flicker on and we lose the sun entirely. It’s all over before I know it…but that didn’t make it any less great.