Tonight, I heard Arlo and Sarah Lee Guthrie at the Berklee Performance Center on their 50th anniversary of the Alice’s Restaurant Massacree Tour. Arlo told some stories I’d never heard before, and I cried when he sang the song he wrote 50 years ago after he first saw the woman who later became his wife, illustrated with pictures of her them, and the kids over the years and the song written by Janis Ian to Woody’s lyrics about his mother singing to him.
But memories of past encounters with Arlo over the years filled my mind. My first date at MIT was a trip across the Charles with someone I had just met at a mixer to see the “Alice’s Restaurant” movie which had just come out between Woodstock and the start of school. It was a class assignment for “Conflict and Community in America”; it seems we’ve done more of the Conflict and less of the Community than we should have over the past 45 years.
My next encounter was six years later in 1975 with my first spouse and two of our former housemates during a camping trip to Windsor Jams State Park. Other than an encounter with a bear and her cub in the woods, the high point of the trip was a trip to Worthington to hear Arlo Guthrie and Steve Goodman play at an outdoor benefit concert. Arlo sang Steve’s “City of New Orleans” at the piano, and I’ll never forget “Penny a point and no ones keeping score…” I can still picture the open field, the park’s small but scenic gorge, and the bears in the autumn woods.
Fifteen years later, my second spouse, few-month-old daughter, and I saw Arlo during the Alice’s Restaurant 25th anniversary tour on the lawn at Castle Hill in Ipswich. I still have the t-shirt.
Ten to fifteen years later, Arlo sang with Keith Lockhart and the Esplanade Pops for a Fourth of July Concert, specifically playing the No Trespassing verse of “This Land Is Your Land”:
“On the fence there was
A sign that said, “No Trespassing”.
On the other side, it didn’t say nothin’;
That side was made for you and me.”
I got up close enough to see him singing, and it was a great day, even though I was alone.
Tonight, I bet everyone
had a story of how they had encountered Arlo and his music. My favorite piece was the encore, where Arlo sang one of Woody’s last lyrics which he had himself set to music:
Tonight, I saw Alan Lightman’s “Einstein’s Dreams” at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge. It is about Albert Einstein’s thoughts as he is completing his third paper of 1905, the one on Special Relativity, and contemplating the implications of his new interpretation of time as a dimension. His thoughts on the passing of time drift toward the creation of forking universes resulting from the multiple possibilities of each decision we make, and this makes me think more deeply about the changes I have made in my life. Or rather the one big change. Sometime I talk about how my gender change has rebooted my life, and I think that it has. In several ways, I have started over from the time 45 years ago when I first realized that I wanted to be a woman rather than a man. At the time, I didn’t think I could do anything about it, so I didn’t. I suppressed the urge as much as I could and carried on, pretty enthusiastically most of the time, with a “normal” life. I got married twice, the second time for 23 years, had a kid, had a fairly satisfactory career and more satisfactory life of activities, but I wasn’t quite myself.
When I realized that I could carry off the change, in 2003, I started consciously moving toward the point that I reached eight years later, when over the course of a year, I started living my entire life as a woman. Unexpected results included looking and acting lots younger than I am. Tonight I realized that I have in many ways restarted my life where it was 45 years ago, with no partner but endless possibilities in front of me and the freedom to indulge in *all* of my diverse interests, including a few that I didn’t know that I had, such as strong interests in drama, singing, religion, and civil rights. Even five years ago, I would never have guessed that some of the major interests in my life would be going to a play a week, singing in a choir and a chorus (and being an officer in the latter), going to church every Sunday (and teaching theology and serving on committees), and getting involved in inclusion in American astronomy (two more committees). This on top of ongoing commitments to open space (chairing a greenway council) and bicycling (riding 20 miles a day and more committees). I even have more real friends than I have ever had in my life. My old path was rewarding in many ways, and my new path is rewarding in some of the same, as well as more. So I’ve lived in a small-scale multi-verse and hope to come out wiser from having been able to live through both sides of a choice I first made almost three-quarters of my life ago.