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Posts Tagged ‘labels’

Recently I discovered the old news that a songwriter hero of mine had divorced from his wife of 24 years. At concerts, in song lyrics, she had always felt present, even when not physically there or mentioned by name. I had read dozens of interviews with him, and even had a few conversations with the two of them when my nonprofit day job included working with them at a summer music festival. News of their divorce left me feeling duped. I had been hopeful and naïve enough to see them as forever joined.

The aforementioned songwriter hero remarried a woman who also plays music and tours and performs with him. With this bit of observational data, my brain kicked into gear producing a theory about what makes love last, especially for artsy singer/songwriter types like my aspiring self. That brain, desperate to protect my own marriage, noted that just like Songwriter Hero 1, the longish first marriage of another songwriter I admire ended in divorce and sequelled with marriage to a woman who now sings and performs with him.

This led me to posit that love, at least for musicians, works best when the lovers share their life’s work. I thought of Robin and Linda Williams, Buddy and Julie Miller, and young but oh-so-fitted lovers Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte of Pomplamoose.

There it was – my comfort that all would be well for me and my marriage, because my husband Nathan and I make music together, and have been doing so quite happily ever since we met fourteen years ago. I shared the bracing news about my newly-composed theory of happy musician lovers with Nathan, who listened patiently to my list of loving couples and then said simply, “Sonny and Cher.”

Oh yeah, I said, crestfallen, and Sam Phillips and T-Bone Burnett. Oh, and Gene Eugene and Ricki Michele.

There are many more happy musician lovers and many more sadly parted ones who could be added to these lists, but just these were enough to get me off my work towards a grand unified theory of marriage for musicians. As an interesting aside, I learned only recently that Tom Petty was married for 22 years to his high school sweetheart, who he married just before he hit the road and got famous. Who would have believed an international rock star could last so long with one woman? I suppose we could discuss Bono too.

But let’s not. Instead, I’m going to rehash another post of mine. Labels, when it comes to human beings, are mostly unhelpful. No one I have mentioned deserves to be stuffed wholesale into the niche of classification called “musician” or “artist” or even “happily married” or “divorced.” These are descriptors, words we use to talk about what someone does or what has happened in their life or how we perceive things to be going for them at the moment. I don’t want to flatten people under labels.

I also emphatically do not want to flatten anyone, including myself, under the past. The book Nathan and I are currently reading together, God After Darwin by John Haught, is throwing its light all over my thoughts these days, including these thoughts about love and splits. Haught speaks of a metaphysics of the future. The future, he says, is always arriving, always presenting itself. This, he says, is the fundamental spirit of religion – that rather than calling anyone back to a “perfect past” (the mythic but poetically instructive Garden of Eden) God instead is drawing humanity towards a wide-open future.

Long after the adrenaline rush of first love faded in my marriage, the future keeps arriving, every moment. True, someone called Julia has been married to someone called Nathan for twelve years now, but confidentially, new people keep showing up in the house, and they don’t spend much time pining for the old ones.

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I answered four questions over the phone recently, for a political survey. Question 1: Do you support domestic drilling for oil? My answer: No. Question 2: Do you consider yourself pro-life or pro-choice? My answer: pro-life. Question 3: Do you believe the current economic crisis would be better handled by cutting spending or raising taxes? My answer: cutting spending. Question 4: Do you consider yourself more in alignment with Democrats or Republicans? My answer: Democrats.

But I don’t exactly sound like a Democrat. Better get my ducks in a row and toe the line. Except I don’t want to be a Democrat. Or a Republican.

Labels get us stuck. If I know that you are an “evangelical Christian,” whatever I have learned to attach to that label gets stuck to you too. Therefore in my unfiltered thoughts you probably are a political conservative and an anti-intellectual, have rather poor taste in music and books, and scoff at or at least feel suspicious of efforts towards care of the earth and social justice.

I know better, of course, but my familiarity with evangelicalism (having spent many years under that label) has bred contempt. It’s become all too easy for me to remember well my disagreements with the subculture of my youth and ignore the many digressions from these negative stereotypes.

Then, to escape the negative side of the “evangelical” label, I want to stick a new label on me. “Liberal” sounds good, or maybe “Democrat,” though I want to be more radical than that, so maybe “revolutionary,” but that can be a bit off-putting so maybe I’ll go for “postmodern” because that’s more open to interpretation, but I also hate sounding too uppity, want to have at least a touch of “down-to-earth”-ness, so . . .

Off I go searching for the perfect label, unthinkingly assuming that there is a platform or agenda out there that perfectly suits me, a pre-fab perspective on life where I will be right at home. Once I’ve chosen my new label, I will all-too-quickly stop thinking things through on my own terms and begin making intellectual excuses to accept everything that goes along with my new label. I’ll dive into the subculture under the label, suck up the energy and life, friendship and inspiration I need, but then after a while, familiarity will again begin to breed contempt, as I reach a threshold of living inconsistently with my soul, that deep inner self that Parker Palmer calls a shy, wild creature.

A friend recently told me she is finished with labels, and I’m beginning to feel I quite agree. Classify this – I homeschool my children; think evolution is the best explanation for the origin of the species; believe God is the beginning and the end of everything and love Jesus who is God with us and the rightful ruler of the universe; think it’s ludicrous that my nation’s constitution still does not contain an Equal Rights Amendment; oppose abortion; oppose the death penalty; oppose war for any reason; oppose killing or oppressing animals for food and will gratefully eat a burger if you are sharing it with me; dream of a world without gasoline-powered transportation and love motorcycle rides; find it shocking that our ‘superpower’ nation can build superhighways and start wars it hasn’t budgeted for but still hasn’t made health care a universal right for its citizens; think my nation’s government is bloated, corrupt and ineffective; denounce blind faith and am attempting to authentically live in the question.

In Labelese, I may be something like a Christian agnostic pro-life feminist environmentalist libertarian Democrat evolutionist conservative vegan freegan . . . and that’s a silly mouthful, so instead, call me human and let’s talk over coffee. My list above is a sampling of the opinions I currently hold, but they are like rocks in a riverbed, continually being reshaped by the flow of thoughts, conversations, information and experiences running over them. It’s my own riverbed, completely unique and just too sloppy with life to keep any label stuck to it.

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