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Archive for the ‘Writing life’ Category

I used to scoff at my brother-in-law for being a vegetarian. Now I mostly eat vegan.

When Bill Clinton was elected president while I was in high school, I was afraid the world might end. In 2016 I voted for Hillary.

I’ve argued about all sorts of theological and philosophical points over the course of my life, most adamantly against some of the very things I used to believe myself.

I changed my college major three times.

I planned to not have children. Now I have two.

For a while I thought I was done with organized religion. Now I sing in my church choir.

I used to wear my hair like this:

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As Paul Simon sang, “I was wrong, and I could be wrong again.” (“Sure Don’t Feel Like Love,” from his album Surprise which that girl in the photo may not have liked but I happen to love.)

“Family” was the theme for week six of #songaweek2018. I didn’t have much interest in working with that theme, as I feel like already half my songs are family-related and it’s not even anyone’s birthday or anniversary or Mother’s or Father’s Day this week!

I built this song from the first two lines which I’ve been storing in my “scraps and starters” list for years. And now that it’s finished, I think there’s a lot of “family” going on around this song after all.

Last week the Super Bowl came to Minneapolis, and for that reason Westboro Baptist Church chose my hometown of Owatonna, which is on the freeway 70 miles south of Minneapolis, as a Sunday morning stop on their way to agitate at the big game. They demonstrated at a number of churches during Sunday morning services, including the one my in-laws attend.

I don’t agree with Westboro Baptist. I also don’t agree with my in-laws and their church on some things. But our extended family across the country joined them to pray for that morning, and my father-in-law reflected to us afterwards in a text message:

Much has happened in me spiritually through this. Pride comes so subtly. Grace comes so abundantly from God and [God] wants us to have that same grace. God is even changing me.

Do you hear that? That humble and gracious attitude? That’s the stuff that keeps extended families coming back together despite all kinds of differences.

We can always find ways we don’t see eye-to-eye with other people, including our own family and friends – and including our own past and (if we could foresee) future selves!  But if we can keep this attitude of grace, of “I could be wrong,” it’s easier to see heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul, human-to-human. And that’s where and how real change happens anyway.

It’s okay to lay our weapons down. We can still hold strongly to our beliefs and values, and even talk about them with people who disagree. We just don’t really need those weapons of pride, guilt and shame, bitterness, contempt . . . they never work well at getting the point across anyway. They become the point, and everybody loses.

And besides, that thing you think and feel so strongly today, may just end up on your future self’s cutting room floor. But better that than another person.

I used to get injured more often
back when everything had a point
I went around hammering nails into coffins
at least I think I did
at least I thought I did
but I could be wrong

I used to go throwing my lot in
with the causes I fervently felt
These days I feel lots of nothing
at least I think I do
at least I feel that’s true
but I could be wrong

How many miles must I walk in your shoes
until I can feel your soul?
How many words should I leave unsaid
so I can finally hear you?

I’m starting to sense I’ve been spinning forever
orbiting the light
Sometimes I’m stupid, but sometimes I’m clever
at least I think I am
at least I hope I am
but I might be wrong

Winning the war isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Conquerors can’t afford love
So I’ll stand in my faith and I’ll lay down my weapons
Cause I could be wrong.

 

 

 

 

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To be frank, writing week five’s song for #songaweek2018 was not among my favorite songwriting experiences. The theme was “lies” and I just wasn’t feeling it, but I had nothing else in mind so I decided to work with it anyway.

I did love basking in the warm sunbeams radiating through my south-facing windows as I wrote, and feeling/hearing the warm tones of my old classical guitar as I focused on more intentional finger-picking than is my usual habit.

The lyrics are only minutely autobiographical, but that’s something I love about songwriting. I’ll probably never write a novel, but I’ve created plenty of stories – and characters – through my songs. “Write what you know” is good advice, but it’s not exhaustive.

I think this may be the first time I’ve posted a video made exclusively with my phone. It was late when I was ready to record and I wasn’t feeling terribly interested in taking it further, so it was adequate for this week.

Lie to me
lay the words
down like snow
cold white melting in the light

Say you care
like you care
hold me close
locked tight secrets in the night

Now I
have had
enough
of this

Look at me
face the truth
you plus me
will not ever add up

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November 2017 has been hard on some people in my life, and many more I don’t know. My beloved Uncle Bill died, leaving my dad the only surviving member of his immediate family. A few days later my sixth grade teacher who was also my friend’s dad died. And just last night I heard the news that another friend lost her mother. All of this as the world around me died too; leaves crumbling to dust, humans gathered for prayer in churches and mosques destroyed by guns and bombs aimed by other humans.

I wrote this song in the midst of all that loss, all that death. Which is why, I’m sure, the song insisted on quoting the Song of Songs, “love is as strong as death.” I’m going to keep believing that, and aiming to live like it’s true.

Night falls in the city

All the little creatures scurry home to bed

I’m out on the sidewalk

Rehearsing all my hopes in humankindness

Cold November comes again

I hold my candle in the wind and feel everything breathe

Trees lean over houses

Stripped and swaying in diminishing dreams

I’m barely believing

Keeping life like mindless habit

Old November sighs and moans

I drone a lullaby for wonder joy and innocence

Take heart, my soul, my mind

Take courage armed with love

For love is as strong as death, (as death) as death

I still carry the memories

Of the moments that I never understood

I’m not looking for answers

Just a knowing look from some other face

Scarred November’s not surprised

I feel familiar in her eyes

Hard November bides her time

I feel the weight of all the years

In her nonexistent tears

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It’s been a few months. Of leaving Colorado, loading all our stuff in storage and living in my parents’ basement, looking for houses in Saint Paul (we finally got the fifth one we offered on), getting kids launched into new schools, updating drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations, you get the idea.

We’ve been moved into our new house for just over a month now, and we’re starting to get reacquainted with living in the Twin Cities, eleven years after we left it. There is so much going on here, and I’m excited to dig into it! Last Saturday we went to hear The Salt Vine and Annie Mack at the Aster Cafe; Tuesday night we sat in on a dress rehearsal for Sam’s Son, an upcoming musical; and last night Nathan and I biked over to Humboldt High School to hear the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra give a free concert for residents of our neighborhood – and then on over to Wabasha Brewing to sample beers from our most local brewery (we were not disappointed – Cathedral Porter and Darktober, mmm!).

I’m eager to start playing music here again. We’ve got some big renovation projects happening in our house that will take a lot of our attention for probably the first year we’re here, but I’m hoping to at least get out and hit a few coffee shops soon.

In the meantime, here is a very rough laptop recording of a song I wrote this summer. (We haven’t gotten the recording equipment set up yet.) You can glimpse our gutted kitchen through the doorway behind me! Reminds me a little of this video Nathan and I made years ago in the house we gutted in Owatonna.

Lyrics:

You’ll never recognize your life’s undertow

That subtle subcurrent stays hidden

Till what you should have done a long time ago

Meets what you are because you didn’t

Keep your eyes open wide

Wear your heart on the outside

Clowns and cynics clog our pocket scrolls

We search for angels on the airwaves

We trip and tangle in the threads of trolls

Ensconced in our respective enclaves

Reach your mind towards the light

Hold your soul through its dark night

Keep your heart open wide

Wear your eyes on the outside

Of all of this cursed and kissed existence

You may not feel it for a long hard time

But joy comes ever back around

And nothing beautiful stays in the lines

And demagogues eventually fall down

Raise your voice through the haze

Hold my hand through these dark days

Keep your ears open wide

Let the best songs inside

Of all of this cursed and kissed existence

 

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Day 37 in my “Leaving Loveland” challenge.

I have always loved front porches. Our big old Victorian house in Owatonna had one, and I spent many afternoons out there reading or writing – a good bit of my work on Frankenchurch was done there. And plenty of not-working too.

Here in Loveland, our smaller house has a smaller front porch, but it still has one, and I’ve taken full advantage of it, often with my faithful doggy companion Cody.

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I’m hoping my front porch luck will hold as we look for a house in Minnesota!

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It’s the last day of another year, and here is my last song for #songaweek2016.

In the middle of writing it, I realized I was quoting from the Bible, the gospel of John, when Jesus is talking to his disciples about getting ready to say goodbye, and he leads up to something I hold as central to my faith – that his followers will be known by their love.

Here’s hoping that maybe in 2017, that can become a little more true.

It’s been an amazing year of songwriting, and I look forward to reflecting on it a bit in another post, as well as making a central list of all the songs and highlighting some of my favorites.

Here’s my song for week 52 of #songaweek2016. Oh, and PS – if you or someone you know might enjoy trying this challenge, check out #songaweek2017.

I go out into the night
I go out I go out like a light

In a little while
you will look for me
you will look for me
and I won’t be there

I go out into the night
I go out I go out like a light

In a stranger’s face
in your daughter’s voice
in the love you share
you’ll know me there

I go out into the night
I go out I go out like a light

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Well, how about a little country flavor? Here’s my song for week 51 of #songaweek2016. One week left in this year-long challenge!

Today I don’t feel like a love song

today I just wanna be loved by you

today I feel somehow we’ve gone wrong

today I just want to be right by you

baby, baby, baby, baby mine

tomorrow feels already faded

yesterday holds all our lovers dreams

we’re cynical hardened and jaded

impervious to juvenile extremes

baby . . . mine

let’s take these scraps and scars

and start again for the umpteenth time

forever feels empty without you

so right now please fill up my arms with you

and cover my aches with your kisses

and breathe here with me in the space we keep

baby . . . mine

 

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