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To the Thawing Wind

I’ve been having fun taking public domain poems and setting them to music recently. Here’s a little spring fever piece by Robert Frost, very roughly recorded by yours truly. May you very soon find the brown beneath the white, wherever you live in the northern hemisphere anyway!

 

Heaven and the music industry* have twisted themselves together in my brambled mind. I mean the heaven I used to believe in, and the music industry I used to dream about, and the way they both still affect me on a gut level I’ve not paused to think about before.

Something about being chosen, about higher-ups moving in mysterious ways, about knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time.

And clashing with that, having a voice and a soul that feel too large for my timid self, that come tearing out sideways if I try to box them up – but not having enough of the mysterious something – the look, the drive, the belief, the secret decoder – to make it with the gatekeepers.

Something about scarcity, about me and scads of people I know or have heard, who keep making music and living big soulful lives because what else can they do? – and the airwaves being just too crowded, the need for the higher-ups to choose only some, the ones who work the hardest, clamor the loudest, get born into the right family at the right time.

And how I don’t feel like I really want to be chosen in a system like that, and how I feel more alive outside the contrived paradise, where kids and old people and loud people and shy people and generally awkward people and anyone else below the industry standard are making their music and living their lives, sans audience, sans halo.

No mansion for me, and no platinum record. I’ll just be out on the front steps of heaven, singing my guts out** with the rest of the unchosen.

 

*Whatever heaven may be, this ain’t it; and “the music industry” is hardly such an easily-generalized monolith, and there are many highly successful musicians making music I love and doing good authentic work. This post is about opting out of elitist mentalities, wherever they crop up, and not letting fear of being unchosen keep us from being who we really are, making music whether anyone listens or not, searching our souls despite the disapproval of the gatekeepers of faith or tradition or clout in any form.

**“You’ve been singing your guts out / Is that not enough to do?” – I love this phrase from a Luka Bloom song, whose lyrics also seem relevant to this post: http://www.lukabloom.com/lyrics/riverside_album/the-one/

 

Extra credit – these songs:

 

 

Word Limit

[I wrote this after a school-morning parenting moment with my preteen daughter earlier this year. Sometimes I am just as amused at my words in moments like these as I am at my daughter’s!]

You absolutely adore your teacher, and he fiercely cares for his students. One day when I am volunteering in the lunch room you walk in and sit down, and you are crying. Your teacher confides in me that he doesn’t get it why you cry sometimes and can’t say why.

I get it. You know why, but it’s not a talking kind of thing. You and I sat on the couch this morning and tried using words to unravel the problem, but it only wound tighter, tightening along with your shoulders, along with my tone of voice.

Using words, we outlined the problem something like this:

You need to make your lunch so you’re ready for school.

I can’t. My life is so hard. I’m lonely. I hate it here. I want ramen noodles. Please buy me ramen noodles. We don’t have anything I can make for lunch.

I just went shopping yesterday. We have plenty of food.

No we don’t.

Yes we do.

No we don’t.

How have I failed so miserably as a parent? We need to leave this country. You need to see how most people live. You have clean water and more than enough food and a safe place to live every day. You get to go to school every day, and have few other responsibilities in life. How can I show this to you?

You hate me. I make you feel like you’re a bad parent. I need to leave. I’ll move somewhere else. You don’t want me.

Words, which I love, often fail me in my parenting efforts. So I close my arms around you, my dear miserable child, and close my mouth. Your shoulders relax, my throat loosens, and eventually, you are in the kitchen making your lunch and singing.

Yours Truly, Eeyore

Something I read once says that each of us can find ourselves in one (or maybe more) of the characters in the Winnie the Pooh stories. For instance, Eeyore with a dash of Rabbit and a smidgen of Owl feels like a decent description of myself. (In other words, sadsack with a penchant for agendas and a bit of a know-it-all.) But those three characters are loved in the Hundred-Acre-Wood, and the stories wouldn’t be the same without them. It takes a village, and all that . . .

I was sifting through some past morning pages (I try – key word is TRY – to write a little bit every morning), and found the following few paragraphs. I think this is what was in my mind when I wrote the poem I published in the last post:

I’d like to write bright shiny things, because I want to have bright shiny things to show to other people. Bright shiny songs to pull out of my back pocket. Bright shiny blog posts to bring smiles and good vibes. Bright shiny everything so I stop looking sad and depressed.

But in truth, I am sad and depressed. Not clinically, not chronically, just characteristically on a consistent basis. When I am smiling or laughing, it’s real. But when I’m not, that’s real too. I’m sorry, but I’m one of “those people” – whose mind says, “what for?” when her heart says, “let’s dance!” Who loves a good starry night, a brilliant sunset, but feels the chill of dark matter and endless space out there beyond the atmosphere. Who sees the transcendent qualities in her fellow humans and herself, even as she sees great apes dressed up in finery, bodies destined for decay.

What I’m learning is to let the mind be what it will, but not to let it rule me. My heart, which knows in different ways, also has bad days, but they don’t always coincide with my mind’s bad days.

And my body, in which heart and mind experience life, has the best record for good days. It’s my eyes, my skin, my ears and nose and tongue that find delight without needing explanations, without needing a context of future and meaning to enjoy the life coursing through my body every moment.

Which Pooh character (or characters) are you? And do you notice harmony and disharmony in your own experience of body, mind and heart? 

Heart Embraces Mind

I am lying beside him in the dark
he is touching my arm in his sleep
my mind lies fretfully, spinning visions round
my heart – locked in my chest and forced to watch:
………..him, old, forgetful, needing me to help him through the day
………..in ways I haven’t helped anyone since our babies.
This is coming
mind whispers to heart
brace yourself.

This after a sumer Sunday spent with the children
………..she the preteen, filling out her jeans
………..dancing to pop music in the kitchen
………..he burning the last layers of baby fat
………..making jokes that make me laugh.
They are leaving
mind whispers to heart
brace yourself.

And I.Me.Myself
delicately
mind attempts in soothing tones to comfort heart:
I (including you – so we – who make me, myself) am dying,
but I will help you (so we, so me) brace my self.

Then heart
like a mother past ruffling
smiles a sunrise
touches the arm of mind
intones her lullaby:
I will not brace.
I will breathe
like I did yesterday
this morning
and a moment ago.
I (including you – so we – who make me, myself)
am living,

and I will help you (so we, so me)
embrace my life.

Now sleep.
Morning will come
As (you know and I believe)
It always does.

All Shall Be Well

My latest video has been a joyfully collaborative effort.

The words are taken from the book Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich, 14th-century English mystic.

The images are the attentive and skillful work of Kristen Kopp. I left southern Minnesota for the outspoken beauty of Colorado, but Kristen’s photographic impressions of my prairie home do gorgeous justice to the whispering wonder of that place. Treat your eyes and your soul to more of her work here: http://instagram.com/kristenannakopp

While I wrote the music and made a simple recording with acoustic guitar and vocals, my best-beloved, Nathan Bloom, sculpted the audio tracks into a fascinating aural landscape.

Deepest thanks to Julian, Kristen and Nathan for sharing your own unique vista on the world with me in producing this video!

Lots of things can inspire people to push to a new level.

You can see someone else do something amazing, and start to wonder what you may be capable of. For example, watching the Olympics. Or this guy. Or the last moments of last night’s Super Bowl!

You might have a drill sergeant or a coach or teacher or boss who yells and punishes and demeans you to draw those hidden reserves of strength from you. It works for some people, some of the time.

Or, as I poignantly discovered yesterday, love might do it. Love and joy and a bit of parental pride too.

silasrunThis kid, if he were your kid, might inspire you to do something you didn’t think you could. Maybe you have one like him. Or maybe you love someone else as fiercely as I love this kid, and then you might also know what I’m talking about.

In this photo, my son is a few years younger, but he’s doing the same thing he’s been doing every day, almost since he first balanced on those two legs. He’s running. Back and forth, lap after lap after lap. Muttering and shouting to himself, jumping, waving arms now and then, the star of the story in his head, pounding out the joyful rhythm of life coursing through his veins.

On Saturday, Silas toured the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and the athletes and stories he encountered inspired him to start his own training. On Sunday, he announced that he would run around the block 20 times. Nathan went with him, and used his phone’s Strava app to track it.

Ten laps around the block, and Nathan was done. They had gone 2.5 miles at an average pace of 9:38 per mile. But Silas wanted more! He had said 20 and he meant to do it. So I said I’d go.

Six and a half years ago, I decided it was time to get back in shape, and so I started running. My first accomplishment was running one mile without stopping. Over the years, I pushed until I was regularly going on ten-mile runs, and my average pace peaked at (or dove to?) around 9:30 per mile (which is nothing special, but for recreational running, respectable enough).

Then we moved to Colorado, where the air is thinner, which makes running harder – and since we’ve moved here, I’ve never run further than six miles at a time, or at a pace much less than 10 minutes per mile. Lately, I’ve been averaging closer to 11-minute miles, and hardly running more than two miles at a time.

Which, of course, is fine. Even great, relatively speaking. And I’ve been content with that.

But then, yesterday, Silas wanted someone to run ten more laps around the block with him, and as he had already worn out his dad (who, to be clear, is in great shape but just not much of a runner), it appeared to be my turn.

Knowing that just two days before I had eked out two 11-minute miles, and that Silas had just rocked two-plus miles at a pace of more than a minute per mile less than that, I wondered how this might go. But, he had just run two miles, and I was coming in fresh, so maybe these next ten laps would go a bit slower.

I brought my phone so we could track our pace on my Strava app. Since Silas didn’t have a good way to carry it securely while he ran, he emphasized that I needed to keep up with him so he could get an accurate reading of his pace.

I said I would.

And we were off.

The kid showed no signs of slowing down.

“Pace yourself, now, Silas! Remember you’ve got to keep running for ten laps! And you’ve already done ten so you may be tired.”

“I know, Mom. I’m fine!”

“Great!” But I wasn’t so sure about myself. Legs felt fine. It was the lungs that protested. I concentrated on breathing, and keeping up with Silas.

We counted the laps as we passed our house. “One!” I panted.

“Nine more to go!” Silas joyfully shouted.

Help! my mind screamed.

We made it to four.

“Only six more now!” piped the happy little athlete.

Six more! But we hadn’t even run six yet. We had run four, and we were going fast, and I was breathing hard. When we had actually gotten to six, we would still have four more – as much as we had just run – still to run! How was I going to manage?

“Are you getting tired, Mom?” Silas asked as we turned a corner and I began to breathe especially hard.

“Not really, just having a little trouble breathing! How are you doing?”

“Great!” chirruped the cherub.

“Awesome!” cheered the panting mother.

We ran, and counted, and ran, and talked a bit.

And then, somehow, we were at nine. One left! I could do anything now!

And we did. We sprinted for the finish, and I stopped the app and insisted we walk just a bit to cool down, and when those ten laps were complete, my phone told me we had just run 2.5 miles at an average pace of 8:54 per minute.

Even in the flatlands, even on short runs, I rarely saw the number 8 for a minute-marker in my average pace.

My boy had just run five miles in a little over 45 minutes, on a whim, in the mile-high Colorado atmosphere.

And, probably more remarkably, he pushed his mother to shave two minutes off her average pace – not with inspiring platitudes, not with barks or insults – but with something much more powerful.

He did it by tapping into the love I have for him, and sharing his absolute joy of running with me.

This morning, still basking in the glow of yesterday’s achievement, I went out on my own and ran an 8-minute mile, and another 10-minute one to finish out a daily run.

I didn’t know I could do that, not before yesterday, not before I ran with Silas.

Who knows how serious Silas will be about continuing his “training”? I hope we can keep it up together for a while at least.

But whatever the case, and far beyond the realm of running, I learned something deeply important yesterday – that if you want to break through to a new level in anything, or help someone else do so, love and joy might just be the ultimate motivators.

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