Thursday, March 14, 2013

Songwriting: Happy to be under the influence

Little fits of snow a-fallin'
and I'm tired and cold and ready for spring
Bigger changes are a-comin'
and it's time to let them come on and sing . . .

I'm ready for spring. I'm tired of shivering all the damn time. To speed things up, I gave myself a Southwestern moment for midday meal and made gluten-free (brown rice tortilla) chicken and three-cheese quesadillas. Something I haven't made since I went mostly low-carb, so about a year ago now. Very satisfying.

And as I ate I sat there reading a long article about songwriter Kris Kristofferson. Lots of younger folks only know him as an actor, but it Nashville he's revered as the songwriter who had an impact on how to write country songs the way Dylan did on other kinds of music. Yes, that important. Didn't know that, did you? Kristofferson changed everything, starting with what you could write ABOUT in a country, making things a lot more honest and realistic than they had been at the time.

I put Kristofferson's songs up there with any of the best of the twentieth century. Some of them you already know, although you might not know it because some of them were hits by other singers first. Kris was good friends with Johnny Cash, who had more than one hit from a song written by Kristofferson. So did Janis Joplin.

I will champion Kristofferson as a songwriter forever. I have learned a great deal about writing songs from him. See, he always wanted to be a writer first, which is why he went out and lived a lot of different kinds of life, in order to feed his writing. Back before MFA programs, that's how you became a writer: The Jack London School of Doing a Lot of Jobs and Gathering Experience. It allows you to write with conviction, honesty, and experience. It's still a better way to learn to become a writer than going to school. School has its value, don't get me wrong, including going to school for writing, but it can also be pretty inbred.

So today I think I'll listen to Kristofferson songs, and things like that. And then I think I'll sit down and write something. Maybe a new song. If there's an influence there, it's one I would be proud to acknowledge.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, March 11, 2013

Brother of Clouds

Knives in the eyes of the dark. These hapless watchers
ask you to tell them about it, but don't really want
to hear. Darkness frightens them. Flail and whip of
wanderer to them is but a horse long lost and foundered.
They you ask how you are but don't really want
your answer. To know is to make too real. Politeness' sake
is a ramp down to strata where ears have fossilized,
hardened of hearing, filled with cemented sand.

Silent snow falling on darkest green pine boughs
along the foot of cloudhidden mountains.
Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown. The old mountain
sage evaporates into mountain mist, leaves behind
a ceremony of blossoms whitening the trailside meadow.
Nowhere to go but up, unless it's out and suddenly
down. Down by way of being rejected by even land's law.
Grains of petals at the foot of his sandals. He waits
a long time for you to find yourself and return.
Stories the world is made of. Story the elements.
Single candle flame becomes a silver vase, hanging
in the darkness. Where's that lantern when it's hopeless?
What sign? A tarantula-dance of shadows shot with lightning.
Nothing hear but the last echo of hooves. Sinew
makes a bond that only bone can break. Rolling in
whitened fields of dry old bones, a single wild rose.
Where did he disappear to, the ancient one? Snow,
belling elk, alder branches, the fall of light
on a frozen water cascade. Spark and glint. Now winter.

We all fall down. All fall. Down into everything
that falls. Under what's fallen is compost and cinders.
Moss into rock-crumble, lichen into rusted bowl.
Nothing left of this battlefield once deemed so
important but empty eye-sockets of caved-in armor
where crickets live. Long thrum of rarest of locust.

If you say it enough perhaps you'll come to believe.
Convincing yourself comes after. Believing before saying
is tongues of gypsum crusting into still small sands.
No meaningful residency. Why this mountain? Why this sky?
This long road. This dusty trail. Marks of a walking stick
left behind even after the wind washes all else
to another valley, another desert lake. Walking stick
pocks in tempest sand. Ancient marks of a lost path.

Flailing at the walls of the conventional. Pull back
from that cliff-edge, heart hammered into silver leaf. What
non-mystics never understand is gods-seeker's necessary
solitude. Whether mountain sage or respected diplomat,
apparently lost to the world or apparently lost in it,
each quiet solitary iconoclastic mystic needs to
to hear that still small voice. That voice drowned
in worlds of convention and rite. You almost lose
any ability to hear it when you spend too much time
in the marketplace of the mundane. There are no substitutes,
accept only the real thing, and we'll tell you what that is.
Even when you sink and fall again into cool relief of

      Always a risk to believe that words can save you. Always
tempted to record your journey in words, as though words
could contain any journey. You know they don't. You know
the unsaid, unknown, unspeakable, is more real, more true.
Mountain sage can go four months without saying a word.
When he comes down for a few days of gathering and harvest,
out of his lips comes an unstoppable wind, a raspy clear voice
with no words shaped, but meanings clear and graspable
as painted icons on stone cave walls. Nothing could be plainer.
Literally: nothing.

Get back up, from where you've fallen. So they shot off
your leg, so what. Bind the blood and walk anyway.
If you have to pull yourself along even when will fails,
bleeding a trail behind you from that belly wound,
you've found the right track. Nowhere near what
you think you're owed. Nowhere near inherited guides or maps.
Far off to the side of hard times and bitter fruit.
Pull yourself together even when each atom flies apart.

You have to come to stillness to see his trail-markers.
They are subtle, almost silent. Markers known
more by absence, by what is not there, what has been
removed. Look for the void in things. A single milkweed stalk
in a field of yellow daisies. An angled stone removed
from a pile of shingle beside a switchback. Fallen horses
could not be half so serene as this eaten grass. Look on
those days when closest to the edge of despair and self-death
for a marker towards which the wind is drawn, nature
abhorrent of vacuum, magnetic field in place of mineral.
Look. Here's where a stone once rested. Only an outline now.
So someone has been here, and left a sign.
Find it's absent shape in the dark damp stillness
where the wind replaces sense in the desperate night heart.

Lose your mind, just leave it by the trail.
Where you sat down to eat just forget to pick it up
and carry it any further. It will get along just fine alone.
Gradually quieting. Just forgotten. Why it ever mattered
no one anymore knows. Be absent-minded by intent.
Here's a gap in a row of aspen quaking with absence.
Higher up, a crag you can't see, veiled with unfallen rain.
Thunder's distant rumble almost as though clearing his throat.
Nothing could be plainer.

Labels: ,

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Hull Breach

from the Surgery Diaries

It becomes clear to me why having this ostomy makes me feel so unattractive. I'm fat, I've got an ostomy, I've never felt so sexually unattractive as I do now. And I've been rejected numerous times precisely because of the ostomy. Then again, what do you expect? Most people can't deal with things outside their normative boxes.

And I figured out why, this morning, knowing that friends have been sleeping together in the next room, and myself wanting to go nude today but knowing that I probably won't. I feel completely open and naked already, so why bother?

This isn't a warm-up to a pity party. It's a moment of clarity. It just happens to be about stuff most folks never want to have to think about.

It's that this ostomy is like a breach of integrity. A hull breach. The appliance is like a patch job on an oceangoing vessel, and you have spend a lot of attention on the patch job so that the ship doesn't sink. A breach in structural integrity. If you don't give it lots of attention, this ship will fail.

There are days when I hate it. Hate having to give it this much gods be damned attention. Hate having to think about it all day long, as it constantly demands my attention. Hate having to deal with it when the appliance does occasionally fail, ad there is a mess to clean up. I have lost entire days to this, where nothing else gets done. Some of my friends who have had friends with ostomies, or have themselves had a short-term ostomy, think they understand, and they mean well, but they don't, really. A colostomy is not the same as what I have, a high flow ileostomy. A colostomy is still a once or twice a day thing. But I have to empty the bag multiple times every day, and if I wake up in the night, usually then as well. It's like a demanding baby that won't stop crying. It's like a Siamese twin you cannot ignore. It requires hours of your attention daily. Not minutes. Hours. So there are days when it is hard not to resent it, even when you know it has saved your life and is keeping you alive. Even though I am grateful for being alive, and no longer have a deadly chronic illness, I have this shitbag now, and my quality of life is not significantly improved, nor has it reached the level promised to me when I first agreed to this surgical journey. Life hasn't always gotten better, although it is sustained. I am alive. I am still here.

This breach in hull integrity not only makes me feel unattractive, it is proven to turn people away. No one wants to hear about it. It brings out in many people that same kind of uncomfortable avoidance and insecurity that you see when someone who has never thought before about their own mortality confronts a dying child: when what they have always taken for granted is called into question. People might care for you, but they no longer know how to express it. With an ostomy, even a hug can be a problem. You can have no idea how isolated this hull breach can make me feel. It is capable of denying me even simple basic human contact. How would you feel when you see even people who care about you become tentative about giving you a simple hug? When you need hugs more than you ever have before?

I am struggling with this isolation, even alienation, a lot right now. This entire week has been a battle to just stay afloat. Yes, its depression, shut up with the convenient and misleading labels. I struggle against throwing a self-pity party. I struggle all the more when I see everyone around me making contact, making connections, and I feel excluded. People ask me why my mood is not better, when so many things seem to be going well for me, or at least better. They want me to be upbeat and positive, and the best I can do right now is not be dark and brooding. Call it neutral bouyancy. Call it trying to trim the battleship so that the hull breach doesn't sink it.

A couple of months ago I wrote a song. It was one of these occasional pieces where I sit down at the table or piano, with no plans, then inspiration takes over and a few hours later I have a finished poem, a finished song, a finished essay, usually needing little revision. Experience has taught that I can rely on this kind of inspiration happening often enough to be pragmatic about it. I don't take it for granted, and I also know it will come over me a few times a year. So a couple of months ago, I sat down to play and started working. The words came with the music, at the same time, which is a little unusual. The song, more lieder than folk song, is titled "Still/Here."

It's a simple song, musically, but there's a lot of emotion in it. The song is about survival, about having survived death, on a level that's underneath the surface of the words. You are still here. You are still, here. What lies underneath a song like this is hard personal experience. Its not obvious in the lyrics, although as with poems if you look for buried layers of meaning underneath the metaphor you can find them. What have you survived, that you are still here. What have you lost, that returns to the light.

Last night, I performed this new song for the first time in a concert setting, before a room full of people who had never heard it before. You could hear a pin drop. It was perhaps a little scary. The song ripped something open in me, opened a door to these emotions and deep feelings I'm talking about this morning after. I felt naked. (I feel naked, still, lying in bed in the morning, here, not having put clothes on yet, and not really wanting to.) What small amount of the gift of bards that I might possess was in full operation. I really felt the song as I was singing it. Felt it on every level, more than I ever had. There was applause, although I pretty much ran off the stage. I had to step out of the building, and get my feelings back under control. You know, lest I be weeping uncontrollably, that sort of thing. Getting back to center took awhile. And I have been feeling open and vulnerable ever since. I got almost no comments about the song afterwards, which I don't know what to think of. It would not be the first time that an audience doesn't know how to respond to something of mine. I can guess why, and I don't feel like it at the moment.

I don't feel fragile or hungover this morning, the way an emotional experience can leave you the next day. I feel strong. I also feel very open and very vulnerable. I will be performing the song once again tonight, though I doubt it will be the same. I imagine it will be much more controlled, less of an upwelling of deep waters flooding. After all, the flood already happened, the waters are still settling. I am very much feeling my feelings this morning, so there won't be any surprises on that front. The emotional hull is breached as well as the physical. How do we go through our lives with these walls keep us so separated and safe? When that's an illusion, the grace of this wound, and it is a grace, is that I have no more illusions about safety, security, or boundaries. I don't take any of this for granted anymore.

I am still here. The rest of it is a matter for moment-to-moment attention. Keeping the ship afloat, checking the hull patch every so often, making sure we're trim and sailing on. It's enough to just be still here.

Labels: , , , , ,