For the past few years I have spent most Thursday nights at a small brewery in my town called Ale Industries. Thursday night is open mic night. Music starts around six and ends around nine although, because it is a gathering of musicians, those times are subject to change.
Open mics are great. Anyone can play. If you get there early and sign up you can probably play quite a few songs. If you get there late you may only get to squeeze in one or two.
There are older guys who can rock the blues. Young women who write and sing beautiful songs. All sorts of performers in between. There are awesome bartenders who everyone loves. A host who sings songs of sex and heartache and occasionally the Muppets. And of course, delicious craft brewed beer.
I have met many good people there. After a few years it feels like an extended family.
And come January, it won’t be there anymore. Ale Industries is doing well. They have outgrown the little hole-in-the wall commercial building with a roll up door that has been their home since they first opened. They are moving their brewery to Oakland, over the hill and twenty minutes away.
Oakland isn’t far, but it’s enough of a drive that I won’t be able to make it regularly and when I go I’ll probably miss some of my fellow regulars who maybe also won’t be so regular.
The owners have found a location for a taproom in town, but it will be different. It will have new smells, a new layout, a whole new vibe. Which is fine – life is nothing if not change.
What I sat down to write about, what I’m finally getting around to, is the idea of change and memories. If you stop and think about it you will find that nothing ever exists but the present, the moment you are experiencing right now. That moment is razor thin. And it never stays still. Or maybe it does and we’re the ones that move.
In any case, what you did today, what you are doing right now, is in a real sense already a memory. Life is fleeting because the present is fleeting.
Living in the present is something that I am told the sages can do. For the rest of us, it is only during those occasional beautiful or terrifying moments, when you realize how small and fragile and strange and impossible your life is, that you truly understand the present moment and how precious and transitory it is. You can feel it deep in your bones.
I feel it now at the Ale Industries open mic. The regulars know that pretty soon we won’t be going to our old hangout, won’t be seeing each other in the same place anymore. We know that our routines and lives will, in a small way, change forever.
Usually we ignore change, even though it is all around us, driving everything and everyone in the world. Only when we look back over a year or two, or experience a big life event, do we notice the fact of change. For the most part we live our lives on autopilot, forgetting or ignoring the changes we are going through and the memories we are creating.
It is such a difficult thing. We may claim to embrace change, and clamor for new and exciting experiences and distractions, but deep down we want to control the change in our lives. We don’t want it to control us. We want to hold on to the pieces of the past we would rather not lose. But it doesn’t work that way.
The world will always change beyond our ability to control it. I suppose that’s what keeps it interesting. And somewhere in the midst of the drama and the laughter and the chaos of change is where we build our lives. We draw a circle around our memories and call the story they tell “me”.
I will miss Ale Industries and the time I have spent there. It already feels like I am walking through a memory when I am there. And yet life as always moves on. There will be new places to go, new people to meet. New songs to write and new memories to create. Therein lies the beauty of life.