Friday, February 27, 2009

Of warmer days and things that grow

In case you, like me, are in need of a reminder of what's to come. (Best when accompanied by When it Feels Like You've Never Been Gone, available here!)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In which the singer comes out

Hi I'm queer!

Well, most people would use the word "bisexual" to describe me, which is okay because it's accurate to say that I am attracted to women and men, and have had long-term romantic relationships with (people who identify as) both men and women. I just find that word "bisexual" so...either/or. Like... it doesn't really step outside of the idea that, okay, either you're This or you're That. Wait, you're not? Okay, then you're ThisandThat. A bicycle has two wheels. A biped uses two feet. I don't really walk around with a dude and a lady on each arm, you know? 

I don't know, maybe it's just not that sweet, "bi." 

And love, of course, is very sweet. The people I have loved have lots of things in common...passion for music, intelligence, a certain willingness to question the status quo, a love of animals, some capacity for silliness, an awareness of beauty, creativity, and a depth that is hard to articulate but immediately recognizable when you get to it. These things, along with open eyes and an intriguing combination of vulnerability and power -- oh and they have to give solid hugs -- seem to be the real themes of my attractions. Nothing about it feels either/or to me. *Shrug*

Anyways, so I like the word queer for myself because it encompasses variety and fluidity. It's inclusive. I like inclusiveness. Anyone picking up on a theme there?  I know there's a whole lot of political and sociocultural baggage that goes along with all of this, but really?  This is just a part of who I am just like how I don't have one favorite color or food because there is so much to love in orange and blue and purple, mac & cheese and raw oysters and kalamata olives.  I love what's worth loving and I'm lucky that my "chemistry" agrees with me.

So while I feel passionate about creating an inclusive world, I probably won't be stepping up on very many soapboxes here.  I hope that if I break any barriers, it will be through simple honesty about who I am, which is a perfectly flawed, beautiful mess of a human being.  

(That's right:  just like everyone in the world.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don't call it the ball thing (or What I need after a day like this)

An exception

I want to give you a coherent picture of The Singer and The Band.  Really I do.

But what I'm about to say is not very existentialist at all.  Really the whole problem with existentialism is that it lives in its head all the time and I suspect the truth is that life lives elsewhere, too.

Right this second, life is a sort of glowing tangle stuck in my throat because I feel deeply, oddly connected -- more than connected, entwined.  

I spent Sunday evening home alone with free reign of my domain... I cleaned up, did laundry, listened to music.  For the first time in probably six years I listened to Joan Osborne and got stuck on these lyrics:  

I dreamed about Ray Charles last night. 
And he could see just fine, you know. 
I asked him for a lullaby. He said, 
'Honey, I don't sing no more.' 

He said, 'Since I got my eyesight back, 
my voice has just deserted me.
No 'Georgia On My Mind' no more. 
I stay in bed with M.T.V.' 

Then Ray took his glasses off 
and I could look inside his head. 
Flashing like a thunderstorm, 
I saw a shining spider web. 

I dreamed about Ray Charles last night. 
He took me flying in the air. 
Showed me my own spider web; 
Said, 'Honey, you had best take care. 

The world is made of spider webs. 
the threads are stuck to me and you. 
Careful what you're wishing for, 
'cause when you gain, you just might lose.' 

What gives me the shivers is the fact that there are certain people with whom I have uncannily shared certain vivid images that have been meaningful to me for one reason or another.  Specific, deep-resonating images that floated into our minds in similar ways around similar times around similar feelings.  Actually until just now, I thought that had only happened (again and again over a period of years, actually) with one person...often during times of absence from one another.  

I believed then with all my heart that this kind of connection meant we were supposed to be together.  Right now I'm thinking that maybe some people, even people who will never really know each other, are just entwined.  There's a web they're both tangled up in on some deeper plane where image lives, which I hope is the soul.  

Can I still be an existentialist and hold out hope for the soul?  Some people call Emerson an existentialist.... 

Maybe the truth is we're all connected in the same web and some folks just have a truer vision of it.  Maybe under the silence, we're all thinking the same things.  I want this to be true.  I want to live under the silence for good and forget about the attachments on this plane that keep us all from truly connecting with each other:  Tear apart the apart we seem to think we are (which is the best line I've ever heard, even if TV on the Radio was talking about sex;  sex is just one way, albeit a miraculous one, to do that).  If anything in the world is true about me, it's that I want to live with a full awareness of how connected we all are.  That's why I gravitate toward people who speak openly, and even more toward people who dearly wish they could.  

But.  Sometimes -- like right this second -- life and its glow get stuck in my throat, too.

Friday, February 20, 2009

For the folks at home

Pictures from the 4 States No Dates Lonely Hearts Club Tour!  (Mom, click on the words!)

So I wore the same dress 4 nights in a row, so sue me.  I changed my tights!  Besides, there were NO DATES, remembah?  So who ceahs if I stink?

The mess

Several years ago I took a class at the University of Kentucky on theatre of the absurd.  As it turned out, I took it at the same time as a class on galactic astronomy (did you know the Milky Way is on a collision course?) AND at the same time as a class on Milton's Paradise Lost.  It was a deep semester.  Anyway, the man who taught the class on absurdism was a brilliant, kind, wonderful man who asked us to be curious and to call him Pat.  Pat had a soft voice and a gray beard and wore plaid shirts.  

One day in class, he sat on the table in the front of the room and told us this story:  It was 1969 and, like much of the rest of the country, Pat was depressed about the state of the world.  A friend invited him to go to some music festival up north, hoping it would shake him out of his funk, but Pat declined.  Instead, he went hiking with another friend.  They spent the day walking through the woods, then stopped by a stream, got naked and cooled off, smoked some pot, and fell asleep on a boulder warmed by the sun.  When they woke up, they were completely covered in a thick blanket of monarch butterflies who'd stopped to rest, too, on their southward migration.  Pat said this shook him from his funk in a way Woodstock could never have done.

Before that class, in my previous incarnation as a philosophy major at a crunchy, small, liberal arts college,  I was certainly exposed to Samuel Beckett. We watched Waiting For Godot in the evening session of Existentialism; someone probably brought a case of may have been the prof. (Just kidding -- the prof only drank snooty Belgian beers.)  But it was really later on, in Pat's class, that I was properly introduced to the playwright.  He gave us Tom Driver's interview, "Beckett by the Madeleine," published in Columbia University Forum (and excerpted more fully here, if you're interested.)  

I think about the passages below a lot, especially when I sit down to write and find myself overwhelmed by the project of transforming life into narrative.  This is what I was trying to get at a little bit in THIS entry:  whether we are literally writing a story or just trying to understand our lives in our own minds, we end up carving that narrative out of the buzzing bombardment of details that life actually is, like Michelangelo bringing the form of a body up out of a huge slab of stone.  It works for our minds, which appreciate familiar shapes, but is it really anything like life at all?  

Last night I sat at my writing table staring out at the snow alternately whooshing and hovering under the streetlight outside my window, wishing I could truly translate it into words.  It, the tangle of telephone wire, the blank lit third-floor windows of the homes across the street, the empty matchbook I took from a bar in Madison eight years ago with gold text shining under the desk lamp, my sheets swishing in the washing machine in the next room, the cramp in my second toe, the static-induced fluffiness of my bangs, the click of my fingernails against the blue plastic pen I held -- and there, you see?  What form is this?  A list that only barely skims the surface of an experience as simple as trying to write after everyone has gone to sleep?  I give these details life and millions of others fall by the wayside, and still the state of my mind -- the anxiety, what was at stake in that moment -- is elusive, ineffable.  For me anyway.  So far.

Here's what Beckett said:

The confusion is not my invention.  We cannot listen to a conversation for five minutes without being acutely aware of the confusion.  It is all around us and our only chance now is to let it in.  The only chance of renovation is to open our eyes and see the mess.  It is not a mess you can make sense of.

What is more true than anything else?  To swim is true, and to sink is true.  One is not more true than the other.  One cannot speak anymore of being, one must speak only of the mess.  When Heidegger and Sartre speak of a contrast between being and existence, they may be right, I don't know, but their language is too philosophical for me.  I am not a philosopher.  One can only speak of what is in front of him, and that now is simply the mess.

What I am saying does not mean that there will henceforth be no form in art.  It only means that there will be new form, and that this form will be of such a type that it admits the chaos and does not try to say that the chaos is really something else.  The form and the chaos remain separate.  The latter is not reduced to the former.  That is why the form itself becomes a preoccupation, because it exists as a problem separate from the material it accommodates.  To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.

Yeah, good luck with that.  Actually Beckett did pretty damn well.  If you're interested but can't find his plays being performed around town, you're still in luck because of this awesome film project.  Waiting for Godot is done so hilariously well and Happy Days, directed by my favorite, the brilliant Patricia Rozema...well, it's beautiful.

One more thing.  Pat, wonderful professor and kindred spirit, passed away last year.  I don't know what to say to describe the heartbreak of this because, honestly, I kind of refuse to accept that he's gone.  Some people are just alive.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Another story soundbyte

"A thinker is someone who stifles.  A feeler is the one who gets stifled."

Another quote from Amanda Michalopoulou's I'd Like.

Obviously I'm not just a feeler; I'm not bemoaning my own suffocation.  But I do know the wrestling that goes on between the two.  Singing my heart out in a club helps me get out of my head.  It's a good thing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Playlist for the night drive home

I'm working on a blog entry about love and the color blue and Leonard Cohen that's going to blow your mind.  In the meantime, I wanted to share this playlist with you, which I quite haphazardly (read: drunkenly) threw together Friday night on the ride home from Portsmouth, NH (cool town, by the way, with a flipping awesome thrift store by The Muddy called Second Time Around).  I know it's eclectic (read: random), but I think it's kind of inspired -- it definitely made the 3am drive totally dreamy.

Family Tree :: TV on the Radio
In the Sun :: Coldplay & Michael Stipe
Transatlanticism :: Death Cab for Cutie
So Damn Lucky :: Dave Matthews
The Limit to Your Love :: Feist
A Dustland Fairytale :: The Killers
Crown of Love :: The Arcade Fire
Coconut Skins :: Damien Rice
Blackbird :: The Beatles
Chicago :: Sufjan Stevens
Mysterious Ways :: U2
Phenomena :: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Tonight :: Smashing Pumpkins
Elsewhere :: Sarah McLachlan
The Moneymaker :: Rilo Kiley
Paranoid Android :: Radiohead

Monday, February 16, 2009

Which underlies everything

Mark/BP (Bass Player) says my fatal flaw is a stubborn belief in the underlying goodness of humanity. Maybe he's right.

I did write the lyrics to "Where the Living Starts" -- lovingly known around the office as "The Asshole Song" -- whose chorus is:

Everyone in the world is an asshole
But underneath has a really good heart
So let's air it all out then let it all go
This is where the living starts

These lyrics came out of the loss of a very important friendship in my life, and my ongoing struggle over the next several years to reconcile the substantial beauty and joy of that friendship with the betrayals that finally ended it forever. I asked myself over and over, how could both be true? Was it the best friendship of my life or was it the most terrible deception in my life? How could it be both? The answer I finally accepted was that it could be both because human beings are both: "We cheat and deny, we scowl and deride, but we can still choose the loving cup."

Loving people and accepting love from other people is hard. Maybe it's the hardest thing. We are fundamentally separate, so the question of whether or not we can believe in other people -- whether it is possible to bridge the distance between us -- is ultimately something we cannot know. What do we have to go on? We have the other's word, our own self-knowledge, and our understanding of people in general -- trusting in any of these things requires a leap of faith.

Maybe it's a foolish leap. Maybe it will be my undoing, as BP tells me it will. What I know about myself is that underneath all my bullshit is a pure desire to connect. What I believe I understand about people in general, and what I really mean when I sing the chorus of "Where the Living Starts," is that this desire is our common bond, no matter how many ways we find to refuse it. I believe in the end, when we give our final words before the executioner, those words will be of love.

So the only thing left to question? The words themselves -- the word of the other. So much rests on this -- our ability to communicate with each other, our willingness to speak and accept truth. But then, there's nothing on which I'm more likely to stake my life than words.

(Okay, maybe love, but then, as I think I've just concluded, for me words are love, just like food is love to my Italian cook friend Nick.)

Those who know me won't be surprised this is where I ended up: words matter. Any blog entry on any topic runs the risk of ending up here, if I am the one writing it.

I read a line in a book this morning -- I'd Like, by Amanda Michalopoulou (which I recommend highly). "I'd entered hundreds of homes whose owners had endless shelves of books and believed in words more than anything else in the world." I read that line in the middle of the page and felt less alone in the world -- more connected to those hundreds of fictional people, to the character who'd met them, to the writer who told me it was so, and through her, to humanity.

This, too, is why I write, whether I am writing lyrics, blog entries, stories, or a few words scribbled on a coaster I dug out of my purse to tuck under someone's windshield wiper. This relentless word-love comes from the same source as the rush I feel singing for a bouncing, dancing crowd, which is the same source of the lightning that strikes my core when I meet the gaze of the person I love, which is nothing less than the desire to connect, which underlies everything, which is -- you got it -- where the living starts.

Friday, February 13, 2009

My serpentine line (or not)

One day several years ago I was walking along a sidewalk.  A friend was walking her dog behind me.  My father had called and I needed to speak with him for some reason, so I was walking along ahead of my friend and talking to my father on the phone for a little stretch.  When I got off the phone and turned around, my friend asked, "Were you doing that on purpose?"  I had no idea what she meant, so she informed me that I had been swerving back and forth from the left edge of the sidewalk to the right edge of the sidewalk and back again and forth again in a long serpentine line.  I hadn't even noticed.

Yes this is some kinda metaphor for my life and the way my path seems to wend its way forward.  Back and forth I go (like a good gemini) between the "opposing" sides of me:  Light and dark?  Rational and emotional?  Structured and flowing?  Practical and artsy?  Am I so dualistic?  If I am, why do I always seem to surprise people with my choices?  I came to Boston to write stories and save money, but I ended up singing in a pop band and, well, let's not talk about what indie rocking has done to my bank balance, shall we? Even I look back sometimes and think, "What the." 

Life can only be understood backwards -- Kierkegaard said that and I agree.  But what if instead of looking behind me, I looked down to see the path I've traveled as a heaven-bound corkscrew? Isn't a serpentine line what you'd get if you tried to unwind a spiral?  I only look snakey when I try to fit in two dimensions.  Remember how boring a slinky is when it gets all stretched out?  I do -- it spoils all the fun!  Well, that clinches it:  I hereby declare my life-journey to be not the sine wave of a flat-headed serpent, but the airstream of a daredevil barnstormer pirouetting into the sky.  Ha!

Doesn't change the fact that I only got 3 hours of sleep last night (2 states down, 2 to go!) but somehow I feel better anyway.  

Happy Friday the 13th.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Every moment of bliss

Last night I started reading Timequake by the late Kurt Vonnegut.  I have actually gone this far in my life without having read the man and now that I've started, I can't believe what I've been missing.  One bit that struck me:
My uncle Alex Vonnegut, a Harvard-educated life insurance salesman who lived at 5033 North Pennsylvania Street, taught me something very important. He said that when things were really going well we should be sure to notice it.
He was talking about the simple occasions, not great victories: maybe drinking lemonade on a hot afternoon in the shade, or smelling the aroma of a nearby bakery, or fishing and not caring if we catch anything or not, or hearing somebody all alone playing a piano really well in the house next door.
Uncle Alex urged me to say this out loud during such epiphanies: “If this isn’t nice, what is?”
Today I am wearing turquoise tights.  I am drinking strong hot coffee.  It is nearly fifty degrees and sunny outside.  I am leaving work early to hop into a car with my best friend in the world, fall in caravan-line with the rest of the fam, er, band, and head down to New  York City where it is 57 degrees and where we'll be making our debut at Arlene's and kicking off our 4 States/No Dates tour.  While in the C of NY, I get to see at least one good friend from college and my sister and I am hoping to get my hands on some crunchy french toast brunch in the morning.
So. Y'know.  If this isn't nice, what is?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why THIS Blue Heaven?

The philosophy:

Why This Blue Heaven?  Because this is the life -- the one life I know I've got.  

This is what I know I have:  this crazy, mysterious, chaotic, marvelous, baffling, ever-changing world -- the forests, the bums, the subway stations, the nuns, the schoolhouses, the soldiers, the carnivals, the movie stars, the cemeteries, the folk singers, the mountains, the professors, the oil rigs, the grandmothers, the rivers, the clowns, the reservations, the heads of state, the truck stops, the farmers, the mosques, the artists, the casinos, the junkies, the museums, the babies, the towers, the gods, the canals -- the daybreaks, the twilights, everything in between.

And the most curiously awesome part about it?  None of this mess means anything until I come along and see it, name it, paint it, sing it, choose it and tell it in a bedtime story or on reality TV.  It's up to me.

I don't know a thing about any afterlife.  What I know is this life, my life -- wide open for me to make of it what I will; why await a personalized heaven when life itself is my personalized chance to define and create paradise?  I have my two hands, my hot beating heart, and all the possibilities a world filled with 6 billion other hearts and hands can hold.  This is it.  This is everything.

The story:

Once upon a time, in the beginning, I became the singer for a band called The Fair Enough, which had been playing shows around New England for a couple of years.  As the line-up changed and the music evolved (and most alarmingly, since I was suddenly having to nix the phrase "fair enough" from my conversations), we decided:  new band, new name.  

We tossed around tons and tons of names.  (Other candidates I recall were Super Rosa, Waking Danae, and Surrender Dorothy...guess we were stuck on women's names there for awhile.)  After weeks of brainstorming and debating and googling band names, one night after rehearsal, Mark -- who had recently been invited to play bass for the band, and who had thus far mostly been responding to other folks' ideas -- dropped this on us:  "I've kinda always liked 'This Blue Heaven' for a band name."  

We collectively blinked.  What did it mean?  

Mark said, "Well from outer space the earth looks blue and I think it's a pretty cool place."  Then he shrugged.  Then I decided I officially dug our new bass player.  And then, after sleeping on it, we all agreed the next morning (give or take a few days for certain members, whose, erm, approval processes will most certainly be the subject of future entries) that we would be This Blue Heaven.  

"Make it so," said the band.  

And it was good.  The End.