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Rock, paper, and socks
The other morning, posting a picture of my favorite socks on Instagram, I suddenly thought of Irving Penn’s elegant, if not illuminating, photographs of cigarette butts. Perhaps it was the sense of seeing something talismanic in the commonplace. Penn picked smokable stubs off the street, pocketed them, then elevated the discarded objects aesthetically. In seeing the photographs I imagined these twists of paper and tobacco contained the thoughts of the smoker. In the same way, I also wondered if socks hold within their fabric the dreams and destinations of those traveling on foot.
I always wear the same kind of socks. They are Japanese, light cotton lisle with a bee embroidered just beneath the cuff. When I slip them on I often think of the bees and how they pollinate, keeping the cycle of life turning. I sometimes worry as I don’t see them very often. They seemed to be everywhere when I was a child, even in the urban backlots of Philadelphia. I loved bees and trained myself to remain composed when one lit upon my bare arm. To stay still and if stung, take a breath, then calmly remove the stinger.
I appreciate all the small things that serve me. My travel cup, my glasses, a pocket fountain pen and midnight blue ink cartridges and my cowboy bandana. Sometimes I just stare at my things. How did they come into being? Who thought of stitching the first socks or forming a bowl of clay or binding the pages of a notebook, each blank sheet a possibility. All these beloved objects travel with me when I tour, as vital as my black boots and jacket, microphone and electric guitar.
Lately, daydreaming about touring, I think of the festival sites where thousands of people gathered together. I think of tramping the stage like an agitated wolf filled with adrenalin. Yet I tend to linger on the hours that follow. It’s the solitary rituals that stay with me, back at the hotel, when I take off my boots, soak my bee socks in the sink and search for a late-night detective show in some foreign language, preferably without subtitles. Before turning in, I lower the shades, rinse out my socks, and hang them on the towel rack. Then I fill my cup with water and place it bedside, next to my glasses, pen, bandana, and notebook. The simple yet precious objects essential to the stirring and the quelling of the unstoppable imagination.