My Pearl Jam tour buddies will recognize the title of this post as lyrics from Present Tense. The song is about putting away regrets about the past, forgiving yourself and living for now. That’s something I try to do, but it can be difficult to maintain on a regular basis when routine life events can lead me back to familiar patterns. On my trip to Amsterdam, I experienced a karmic incident that taught me the lesson all over again, and it relates to my book.
I’ve written before about how Pearl Jam’s example inspired me to follow my dream. What you don’t know is that the guys inspired characters in my book as well. The Achievers is set in 2029 Seattle. My heroine is the 16-year-old daughter of a famous musician who plays a role in the book along with his bandmates. The fictional band’s name is Analog Stain, and one of its guitarists is Mark Murray, an important figure in the trilogy. “Uncle Mark” looks like Mike McCready, guitarist for Pearl Jam, in my mind’s eye. I don’t know Mike personally, of course, and I don’t know any more about him than the average fan. I wasn’t trying to recreate him, I was merely paying homage (and it worked really well for my premise). Many readers will have no idea that Mike was a sort of template for Uncle Mark and probably won’t even think of him, but I know.
At 12:30 on our last night (we never adjusted to local time), I had just showered in the hope that I could relax and sleep soon as we had an early flight the next morning. Shannon was about to shower so I went down to the deserted courtyard of our lovely hotel to breathe in the cold Dutch night air before returning to the oppressive heat of the Texas summer. As I stood there, two vans pulled up to the hotel’s front door, and a bunch of kids poured out. I thought it was odd to see so many young children at that time of night so they caught my attention. I was ready to go back to the room anyway so I walked toward the door. The group of people was organizing itself on the front steps, and I was surprised to see that Mike McCready was the adult in the crowd. He was looking at me so I smiled and waved. I wasn’t going to bother him, and I was shocked when he came over to chat with me.
I will admit that before the trip, I had thought about what I would say to these guys if I were actually confronted with one or more of them. I was so surprised in that moment, however, that none of it came to mind. I thanked him (twice, I think) for what his music has meant to me. He noted that I was obviously from the States, and we talked about Austin for a few moments. He was very nice and cool. We shook hands (again, twice, I think), and if I remember correctly, I walked away from him. I bolted back to the room and told Shannon everything, but it was starting to slip away. I was already regretting that I had missed my opportunity to tell him about the very real impact he and his colleagues so recently had on my life, that their example had inspired me to chase my dream and that the inspiration had manifested in the pages of my book. I couldn’t sleep, and the regret wouldn’t stop nagging at me, even after returning home.
As I recovered from my jet lag, I sat down to compose a letter to Mike to tell him all the things I’d wished I had told him that night. I had family coming in and out, so I worked on it over a few days and finally mailed it (yes, snail mail–how quaint!). I don’t know if he will ever see the letter, but it helped me get past the regret. And who knows? Maybe this will open a dialog that a late night conversation on another continent wouldn’t have. Maybe it will end up being better this way. In my mind, Pearl Jam plays the soundtrack to my novel, and the lyrics to songs I’ve only mentioned so far will become very important in the next book of the trilogy. A girl can dream about the possibilities, and I’ve recently committed to pursuing those dreams.
Writing the letter was what I had to do stop the regrets, and it let me move on. The lesson here was to do what I had to do to let go of it, stop berating myself for not perfectly and completely articulating myself when faced with one of my heroes and realign my mindset to genuinely be OK with it now. And the happy result is that I can look back on the encounter and smile at the unknowable way the universe works.