virushead.net: the gaze of amy ray
Reposted with permission from Heidi @ virushead…
“Monday night I saw Amy Ray of Indigo Girls’ fame at Wahoo! Grill in Decatur.
We were having the rare dinner out, as Ben (5) was otherwise engaged. About midway through our meal, I noticed her walk in with three friends. It turns out that she had been a student of my hubby’s at Emory (!), but he didn’t want me to go over because I had already left to get the cellphone from the car, and the food had arrived. He wanted me to eat with him before the food got cold.
This bugged me because I had been interrupted from acting upon my original impulse – an impulse that only lasts a few seconds – to try to have a word. If I don’t act then – in the moment – then I think about it. If I think about it, I don’t do it (of course, sometimes it’s better for me not to do it). In this case, I had decided not to do it, but then I found myself walking over just to say a quick “thanks” on the way out. It was a strange night in a number of ways – I felt unsettled – and I thought that it would really improve things for me if I rallied the courage to do this. Yeah, it was selfish. Yes, it was rude and inappropriate behavior on my part. I worked one summer on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and so I know that you’re supposed to “be cool” around famous people – all the more so if you are actually an admirer of their work.
However, I also knew that I’d probably never again have the chance to thank her, especially for two songs that made a big difference to me in graduate school – Galileo and Virginia Woolf. I loved many of their songs, but these were my faves.
I haven’t really kept up with their music lately, but I’m thinking about going to a conference here in September that will include Emily Saliers (the other Indigo Girl – she’ll be with her professor Dad) as well as my favorite Christian, Anne LaMotte. I’ll probably pick up a few CDs in the next week – including Amy’s solo albums.
The Woolf song inspired my major interdisciplinary paper of the first year at Emory (a comparative analysis of J. Hillis Miller and Paul Ricoeur on Woolf), but more fundamentally, their music got me through some of the most difficult parts of my graduate school existence – no money, my advisor’s stroke, the dissolution of my program, etc.
I sang. With the help of the Indigo Girls, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Sarah MacLachlan, the occasional Blondie or Pat Benatar, and soundtracks like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, I was able to keep myself together no matter what went down.
From a distance Amy looked like someone I might have gone to school with – slightly gangly, she looked a bit younger than me. Actually, we are almost exactly the same age. We’ll both be 42 this month (Amy – 12th, Me – 15th).
I wish I would have managed to remember to thank her for her activism as well as for the music, but a strange thing happened and I couldn’t think of that or anything else. It wasn’t really a matter of being starstruck. I’ve had “brushes with greatness” before, and terrific conversations with people I have admired a great deal.
She was actually very gracious to me – especially considering that I had barged into what looked like an interesting conversation.
But here’s the strange thing: When she turned her head to look at me, she looked right at me, dead on, right into my eyes, and an image of her eyes burned through my retina right into my brain, where it remains. So struck was I by her piercing gaze – a kind gaze, but an incredibly direct one – that I felt stunned. Have you ever accidentally walked into a farm’s electric fence? Gotten a shock that knocked you back a few feet? It was like that.
I barely remember anything either of us said. It was a short conversation.
Her charisma depends on a face-to-face encounter, where the space between two people is defined.
I sometimes have a powerful gaze myself – but this was pure lightning…”