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Hold Out For Love

“Regret” was the suggested theme for week 41 of #songaweek2018. I took it as a prompt instead of a theme this time. Possibly the thing that makes us best as humans is also what can bring us to our lowest point, and that is our need to love and be loved. But Bertrand Russell said “love is wise” (yes I did just mention this a few weeks ago – guess it’s worth repeating), and I agree. Although much of what we call love is not actually love, in our deepest and truest reaching out to one another, love does bring us wisdom. And so regret never comes from actual love. Pain, heartbreak, grief, yes, but not regret.

My mother has been preparing for a few years now to say goodbye to her mother Thelma, who we have been slowly losing to Alzheimer’s, and it’s looking like the final goodbye isn’t far away now. She’s my last living grandparent, and has always shown a special interest in my songwriting. Even as she began having trouble remembering people, when I would make my yearly trek across the country to see her, one of her first questions to me was inevitably, “are you still singing and writing?” The last time we were together she didn’t remember me, but she did sing with me, Amazing Grace.

This year I celebrated twenty years of marriage to Nathan. Anyone who’s been married this long (okay, anyone who’s been in a relationship with another human being for more than five minutes) will tell you it’s not all smooth sailing. I’ve learned over these years that there are inevitable valleys, where one of us will feel the need to approach the other and ask, “are you still with me?” Not because of any major issue, just a long gradual slide into autopilot I guess. And so even within long-term relationships, we hold out for love, and once in a while we lock on to it, and those times are worth the holding-out times.

This is some of the landscape in my head as I was writing this song. I had extra time to work on the recording, and decided to do a photo collage for the video. I included photos of each of my grandparents, cute kids and animals, and romantic love too.

Nobody has to tell us, we already know
The road to the heart of another is hard
Nobody has to show us, we just have to go
And come back alone and wiser

All of our lives we hold out for love
Hold out for someone to hold on to
And once in a while we lock on to love
Hold on to someone who holds us too

Nobody stays forever, as everybody knows
The music we make with another must end
Nobody can prepare us to let a love song go
And come back alone and wiser

Nobody knows the reasons why everybody hurts
we wake in the darkness and can’t feel the light
nobody needs convincing that loneliness is worse
Than coming back alone and wiser

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This song started with an idea I saved on my phone in August, which ended up being most of the melody and one line of the lyrics (“talk about the weather while I pull myself together”).

In trying to fill out this idea, I read back through my journal for the year and came across a dream I had shortly after being at my friend Troy’s funeral. That became the second verse.

I had a tune idea for the chorus but couldn’t come up with any words, so I searched through the public domain poems I’ve got filed away for possible writing use, and decided on “What If You Slept?” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The poem is italicized in the song lyrics below.

This is another song that certainly needs more work, but I’m not sure whether I’ll ever come back to it. Week 40 of #songaweek2018 was a week of getting the job done, not making a masterpiece!

It has turned out to fit well with this week’s weather though. And as always, I’m glad I took the time to write.

Today I feel I’ve said it all before
So let’s just talk about the weather while I pull myself together
My big ideas are a bigger bore
But how bout all this rain that’s falling?
Is it cold enough for you?

I dreamed my heart got buried with my friend
and that I didn’t even know it but that’s why I was stoic when they
Laid him down in the April ground
And how bout all this rain that’s falling?
Is it cold enough for you?

What if you slept and what if
In your sleep you dreamed

And what if in your dream
You went to heaven and there plucked
A strange and beautiful flower . . .

Some days all we can do is make it through
Just smile and talk about the weather try to keep it all together
Why is it home looks better when you’ve left
And how bout all this rain that’s falling
Is it cold enough for you?

. . .and what if when you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?

 

At my church our pastor often starts the service by leading us in taking a deep collective breath, literally. Silence, breath, space.

Last week, week 39 of #songaweek2018, my song was inspired by the contrasting sources of episode 656 of This American Life, about immigration policy and practice under the Trump administration; and the policy and practice of my church, whose website declares what it lives out: “Welcome. You already belong here.”

This past summer a group from our church attended our denomination’s nationwide youth event. One memorable idea from the event was that if a new person walks up to your group and you’re not sure if you have room for one more, make room. Say “pull up a chair,” invite them to join you and expand your circle.

I need to believe in the power of open doors and extra chairs. But many times I find myself operating from the same fear and greed that motivates my country’s immigration policy – fear that if I open up, hold out my hand, offer a seat at the table, there might not be enough good stuff left for me.

That’s why the last verse is important – it’s not “we” vs. “they.” Even if I’m not making public policy or being unkind or unwelcoming, I can still find myself prone to hoarding and hiding.

And that’s at least partly why I still tie myself to a faith community, despite my skepticism, despite my personal history with spiritually abusive church environments. I’m still here because I need to remember I’m not the center of my life. And it helps me greatly to gather regularly with a roomful of other people, and breathe, and confess our failings, and affirm love and welcome, and begin again.

Face it, no one needs to go away
Hold it, there’s poison in the words they say
Let it sink in, I am not the living end
Open the door, pull up a chair, make friends

They twist the truth and crush the poor
They study war forevermore

Stop it, this drawing lines and closing minds
Keep it, that ancient faith that love takes time
Every generation new ears will hear again:
Open the door, pull up a chair, make friends

They devastate all that they take
Establish empires on heartbreak

Name it, this tendency to hoard and hide
Own it, my part in shutting out the light
Take a deep breath, feel the lifeblood flow again;
Open the door, pull up a chair, make friends.

Time for Love

Today I’m making pear butter, which is eerily ironic because I’m writing about the song I wrote last week which quotes the 12th Doctor’s farewell speech in which he says, “never ever eat pears!” and which gets even eerier when I add that the pears I’m using came from my friend Barb’s backyard tree; and that Barb and her husband Jon and my husband Nathan and I have been watching Doctor Who together since before the show revamped in 2005 because we were fans before it was cool. Oh yeah. Cosmic irony right here on a Tuesday in my kitchen.

This isn’t the first song I wrote inspired by my favorite time traveler. Here’s one we did for Doctor Who Day in 2010:

Oh and look at that, I’m playing the same guitar!

This also isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned the Doctor on this blog. I’ve done that multiple times, but this one feels especially relevant since the 13th Doctor (whose season starts this year) is a woman!

When I started writing week 38’s song for #songaweek2018, I didn’t have the Doctor in mind. As is often my habit, I started with a first line and just followed it for a while. There’s definitely talk of faith in here, and an ambiguous narrator. As it progressed, those last words of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor came to my mind (my favorite of which originally came from Bertrand Russell) and I wanted to include them in some way.

I don’t feel like this song is finished – it’s probably another I’ll come back to later. For now, here it is:

Oh I have loved you for a million years and more
With every atom of my ever-loving core
You are inside my dreams when I lie down at night
And in the morning you are shining in the light

How sweet the fragrance of your blossoms in the spring
How deep your beauty cuts, tattooing everything
How high your visions fly, expanding hearts and minds
How wide your seeing eye, before me and behind

Now I feel like I feel you now
After all this time
Not like I really know you, no
I hardly know you at all

Where do these days come from, where do the moments go?
Why must we say goodbye when we just said hello?
What keeps us holding on when everything seems lost?
Who can we trust to stick with us at any cost?

Hate is always foolish
Love is always wise
Never be cruel, never be cowardly,
Laugh hard, run fast, and be kind.

So She Sang

I got a piano! And this is the first song I wrote on it. I started with the first line and just tried to follow it through without too much analyzing. As I moved into the third verse (“she got lost to find her way”), I began to think about my grandmother who for the past few years has been living with increasing dementia. The song isn’t specifically about her, but in retrospect I think she’s there throughout. (Here’s a song I wrote for her 80th birthday if you’d like to see and learn a little more about her.)

Here’s my song for week 37 of #songaweek2018:

So she sang to hear the tune
She waited all morning for afternoon
And now the evening is drawing soon
All in the twinkling of an eye

We are birds that none can tame
Wild-haired children lost in our game
Moths drawn to circle eternal flames
All for a moment in the sun

We turn on an axis of wishes and prayers
While we hope against hope for the best
We dance till we can’t keep our feet on the ground
Till we float like a very last breath

She got lost to find her way
Abandoned the order of yesterday
And left her memories as they lay
All in a jumble in her mind

Oh the wind is in the trees
She cradles their seedlings upon her breeze
And where she lays them there they will be
All in the dark before the dawn

It’s Alright Now

In a very real sense we are shipwrecked passengers on a doomed planet. Yet even in a shipwreck, human decencies and human values do not necessarily vanish, and we must make the most of them. We shall go down, but let it be in a manner to which we may look forward as worthy of our dignity.

This little passage from The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, written in 1950 by mathematician and philosopher Norbert Weiner, caught my attention recently when I read about it in my favorite newsletter Brain Pickings. (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/06/15/the-human-use-of-human-beings-norbert-wiener/)

The suggested theme for week 36 of #songaweek2018 was “strength.” I wasn’t trying to use it when I started writing my song. I started with a couple lines I had jotted down in a flash of inspiration a couple weeks before: “the first thing I can think of is the last I want to talk about / how whenever you walk in the room it turns me inside out.”

A favorite part of the writing process for me is feeling partially in control, and partially along for the ride as I work on (with?) a song and it takes its shape. I thought this was going to be some sort of love song, but it became more of a hope-in-humanity song.

It wasn’t till I was working on the third verse, at the line “so your heart won’t sink,” and I was thinking through the next line which became “even if we’re bound to drown” that I remembered the Norbert Weiner quote I had copied and pasted into my notes for later meditation. I pulled it up and let it guide me through the end of the song.

And so, I came around to singing about strength after all. The strength of being kind and decent human beings even if and when all seems lost. Our future – individually, as a species, as a planet – is and has always been uncertain, clouded in possible catastrophes. I hope we humans can be wise and motivated enough to do the good we know to do regarding environmental degradation, military oppression, human rights violations, racism, etc., etc. – all the problems clearly leading to a bleaker future.

And at the same time, I hope we can be good and decent people in our everyday interactions with each other and all living things, that we could take each moment as a gift and seek to live it as a blessing, no matter where we seem to be headed, no matter how grim the outlook.

I think a musical influence on this song is Patty Griffin’s “One Big Love,” which I had been listening to as covered by Emmylou Harris on her album Red Dirt Girl not long before I wrote it. And which is one of my all-time favorite albums, in case I haven’t mentioned it before! Oh, wait, I guess I have. Oh yeah, more than once.

As per usual these busy days of late, I would have loved to give this song more recording attention. But at least I was able to give it the writing attention it deserved. Maybe the future will hold enough space for a better recording.

The first thing I can think of
Is the last I want to talk about
How the ghosts of old romances
Can turn me inside out
I can’t recant my faith in
The way we used to be
Young and foolish
Starry-eyed and free

But it’s alright now
It’s okay
We’re alright now
For another day

You’ll never hear me disagree
That there’s no time like today
To do the good you know to do
And give your love away
Cause when you let it flow you’ll find
There’s more where that came from
Like a winding river
Like the shining sun

Down in the hollows of my heart
A thousand love songs ring
We’ll never finish everything we start
But we have our whole lives to sing

So tell me all your troubles
And I’ll pour you a drink
Something stiff and bitter
so your heart won’t sink
and even if we’re bound to drown
we can still be true and kind
One brilliant second
On the face of time

The Last Rose of Summer

Today my youngest went back to school, so for the first time in months, it’s just the dog and me at home. Which means I’m looking forward to giving some more focused attention to songwriting and recording for the remaining weeks of #songaweek2018.

And it also means that for last week, week 35, in which only my son was home because his sister had already started at her school, I took the quick and easy route for my songwriting so I could spend more time with him. We played a lot of Doctor Who Fluxx and then on Friday we packed everybody up and drove out to North Dakota where we camped with family at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the badlands of NoDak, which is a long desolate drive from most anywhere people live but worth it. Beautiful and even on Labor Day weekend, not too crowded. (Also we witnessed a bison stampede while hiking, with wild horses just meters in front of us!)

But I digress. The quick and easy route for songwriting means I pick a public domain poem I’ve filed away for possible future use, and I write a tune for it. The title of this one by Thomas Moore made it the obvious choice! (If you follow the link on his name, you can hear a recording of another song made using the poem and recorded in 1914. Makes sense that I’m not the first to set it to music.)

Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone:
No flower of her kindred,
No rose-bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie wither’ d,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?