Monday, December 07, 2009

"If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes to wash the dishes." What's more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact, we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life."
- Thich Naht Hanh

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Only This Moment

I only just saw this for the first time yesterday, but after watching it a few dozen times I'm going to go ahead and call this one of my favourite videos of all-time.

Only This Moment from Röyksopp on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

random notes from the underground, october '09

despite what I wrote at the end of my last post, I'm just going to indulge in some completely pointless self-centered writing here...

So we're here in the middle of my favourite month of the year, and so far it's been a very cold and rainy one (we've had highs in the 40's most of this week). I spent these last couple days off here in the middle of October just wandering around to all my favourite haunts, past and present...

started Friday with a trip to an old pool hall I used to go to all the time in high school, where I got some pizza and watched a new generation of degenerates shoot some 8-ball in this smoke stained, run down rat hole. last time I was here shooting pool was probably around 20 years ago, listening to Whitesnake or something like that...

then I stopped in at Borders just to browse, and sometimes when you do this, you just get lucky... there in the bargain racks was Annie Dillard's latest novel, The Maytrees, hardcover originally priced at $25, slashed to $3. not the best cover-art I've seen on a book, but for 3 bucks who cares... and then I get to the cashier and she tells me that price is wrong. it's not 3 bucks after all. I'm prepared to argue the matter, give her hell if need be, false advertising / sticker price and all, when she tells me it's not $3...it's $1. I paid a buck for a new copy of a book by one of my top 5 favourite authors that I almost paid over 20 bucks for when it first came out. pretty happy with that, though I'll probably never get around to reading it...

Caribou coffeehouse had a raspberry mocha with my name on it, and a seat where I started a book with Frederick Buechner's name on it: The Book of Bebb - 4 novels collected into one thick paperback that I've been meaning to read since I bought it about 15 years ago. I'm now in the middle of about 7 books, and thinking of starting in on a couple more. something about October and the fall air that makes me want to dig into some good books...

What am I reading, you ask? well, even if you didn't, here it is:
Tao Teh Ching (John C.H. Wu translation)
Book of Bebb (Frederick Buechner)
The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (David Dark)
Zen and the Birds of Appetite (Thomas Merton)
Duma Key (Stephen King)
Henry and June (Anais Nin) (haven't picked this up again since summertime)
No Man is an Island (Thomas Merton) (been "reading" this for a couple years now)

onto this stack I'm thinking of adding Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (no, I haven't read all of these yet, and I've somehow managed to avoid most news of how it all ends, even to this day), and Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil (haven't read that one yet either. and yes, I just heard an astonished cry of disbelief come from a certain close friend of mine all the way out in Utah!)

My reading level has been shit these past couple years. I usually get through around 20-25 books a year, and I don't think I've even finished half that many these past 2 years combined. 2008 sucked worse than any year has for me in decades, and 2009 is slowly trying to get things back on track despite my resistance.

I've always considered the cultivation of one's inner-life to be of primary importance, and reading has always been an essential part of this. But I discovered last year that this has always been, for me, a by-product of my ease-of-life. I'm able to take the time to cultivate my inner-life as long as I'm not worried about my outer-life. But when I am suddenly worried about where my next paycheck is going to come from and how I'm supposed to pay off my bills and my debts, when I'm trying not to take too many sleeping pills with my whiskey, so-to-speak, the "luxury" of cultivating an inner-life flies right out the window. It's hard to finish the chapter you're on when the boat you're sitting in is sinking. like, maybe you need to put the book down and find yourself a life-jacket at the very least, like maybe the best use of your time at this particular moment isn't the reading of some more books...

...and this little experience has shown me something ("I've learned something today", as Stan would say at the end of South Park). There is a very insidious temptation for the cultivation of one's inner life to become an escape from, rather than a fuller engagement with, one's "real" or "outer" life. the phrase "so heavenly minded you're no earthly good" comes to mind. and it's hard to tell the difference, because the one can feel an awful lot like the other when you're doing it. But I think the true cultivation of one's inner life prepares a person better for the storms of life, perhaps becomes an even more important practice in the face of them. For some people, the hardships and worries of life actually fuel the pursuit of the inner life. but if it's something you have to put on hold till the storms pass, my guess is it was probably just another form of escape, a game, an illusion. Was it real at one time? I think so, but who's to say... What I do know is that I no longer judge people who don't take the time to read anymore, when most people (especially in today's economy) are worried about losing their jobs and how they're going to support their families. The cares of this life can choke the life out of your days...

While we're on the subject of narcissism, I watched a great movie this past week by one of my favourite film writers/directors (Charlie Kaufman), called "Synecdoche, New York". I can't do any better describing it than Cary did last year, so I'll just say, if you find yourself thinking about death more than twice a week, you really need to see this film! it's maybe depressing as hell, but I laughed a good deal through most of it, partly at Kaufman's humor, and partly because I related to more of it than I care to admit...

Today I went to the library and picked up a couple CDs, then went to the cider mill for some cinnamon donuts, cider, and a walk along the creek. it was too cold for any kind of real enjoyment, but I did my best to soak in the autumn sights and smells anyway (if you haven't smelled donuts frying alongside cider being pressed and poured in a building that is surrounded by falling leaves, you don't know what autumn smells like).

After this, I would've gotten a haircut, but they apparently close early on Saturdays, so I went to the mall like a girl and bought some shoes instead. almost bought a Depeche Mode Tshirt too, but I don't need any more concert tshirts just yet. maybe next week...

a short walk around an old neighborhood I used to love, then home for some late dinner and coffee. and here I am, at 4 in the morning, writing this dribble, as they say, "just to fuckin' write". I should just delete this whole thing right now and not subject you to any of this. but I think my narcissistic exhibitionistic side is going to win out today. If you're reading this right now, it has... and I'm sorry...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Written Life (or, "What The Hell Am I Supposed To Do With This Blog?!")


"The unexamined life is not worth living" - Socrates

"Your freedom is a by-product of your day's triviality...
What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing...
Write as if you were dying... What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?" - Annie Dillard (The Writing Life)

"No good for an old memory to mean so much today" - Night Ranger


At midnight last night, I stepped out into the windy autumn streets of my neighbourhood, lit with a nearly full moon in a mostly cloudless sky, and went for one of my many late-night walks, armed with a flashlight, phone, and pocket knife. The knife was a Christmas gift, given to me 25 years ago. I used to carry pocket knives around with me back then, mostly due to the bad influence of the books I had read as an adolescent - specifically Tom Sawyer, and The Outsiders. I remember once, in the autumn of '84, walking with Brian and Karen through the woods and neighborhood by their house late at night, when a car pulled up slowly by us. In a moment of typical teenage melodrama, fueled in no small part by having seen and read The Outsiders way too many times, I handed Karen my knife "just in case", thinking maybe it was a carload of Socs come to jump us or something stupid like that. I don't know what I thought she was going to do with it, but I vaguely remember us picking up the pace back to their house while the car pulled into the driveway it was headed for, probably only vaguely aware that we were even there...

I have countless memories from that, my 9th grade year, and they are among some of the best of my life. I have memories, but I have no written account of that year - none that I kept at the time anyway. I was simply living in the moment, unaware that those days would ever end. But end they did, as early as the following school year, which was one of the worst in my memory, and it was then that I came to the awareness that the times I lived and loved could and would end, that life didn't have a rewind button for us to go back and relive the best moments of our lives (or redo the times we really messed things up), and this was the seed that grew into my practice of journaling the days of my life. (it was also the beginning of my OCD music collection, as I collected nearly every song that was a hit on the radio during that year, discovering that I could at least relive a portion of those times through the music we listened to... but that is another blog entry). I miss those days sometimes and still wish, 25 years later, that I had kept some sort of record of them - something I could hold onto from that time, something to remind me...

My practice of journaling started out simply as keeping an outlined record of what I did that day, nothing too in-depth or serious. "went to movies w/ Brian & Karen, McD after, hang out at their house at night"...that sort of thing. In my senior year, I made a wall calendar with those little squares for the dates, and used that as my journal. The following year I bought a similar wall calendar, and for the next 7 or 8 years, with a new wall calender for each new year, my journal was right there on my wall for all to see, much of it abbreviated to fit in the tiny squares. The scrolls of my life story, which are still tucked away in my closet. If a day was particularly memory-worthy, I would dedicate a separate journal entry to it and denote "JE" in that day's square.

Somewhere along my early college days I was inspired to start journaling more as a spiritual practice. A friend from high school, Jill, was one of those people whose faith and life was of a kind that I aspired to, and when I asked her more about her personal spiritual practices, she told me that journaling was essential for her. After this, I bought a drugstore spiral notebook (college lined with yellow pages) and gave it a shot. It was the beginning of the reflective cultivation of an inner-life, a deeper awareness of the life I was living and the direction I was (and/or wanted to be) heading. I don't know that my journals have ever reached the promise of such a lofty description, especially back then when I was a teenage evangelical Christian (some of those early writings are rather painfully embarrassing to read now). But that was the path I started on back then, one which I still travel along and aspire to in my personal writings and reflections.

Along the way, there have been many other people who have inspired and influenced my own journal writing. My friend Rachael, another person who had the kind of faith-expressed-in-life that I admired, actually let me read her journals sometimes. She probably inspired me to start buying actual hardback "blank book" journals instead of just writing my thoughts in looseleaf notepads. Her journals were the first I read that sort of modeled what personal spiritual reflection looked like in another person's writings. Over the years I have enjoyed, been inspired by, and benefited from reading the published journals of many great writers, most notably those by Thomas Merton, Madeleine L'Engle, and Malcolm Muggeridge (whose book "Like It Was" was probably the first of such published journals I had read, and was a key influence on my own writings post-college, in it's style and type of substance). I also found inspiration many times from a book with the unfortunate title "How To Keep A Spiritual Journal" (by Ronald Klug). This book is simply a basic overview of just about everything a person might write about in a journal, and served many times as a good kick-start for those uninspired dry times.

For me, the best kind of journal writing is a combination of recording the day's events (by that I mean personal events, not necessarily "the news of the day"), along with personal thoughts and reflections on those events and the course of one's life in general, seasoned with writings of a topical nature wherein one works out one's thoughts and feelings on any given subject of concern or interest - a practice that sharpens the mind and (among other things) makes one's conversation more lucid and interesting. It is both a means of reflection and of remembering one's life and those who shared it with us. And it has to be a completely free space, where thoughts and feelings can be expressed and worked through without editing or censorship - without fear of others reading it. This last bit is of course the most dangerous thing about journaling, as the written word is powerful, and can not only be embarrassing if read by others, but has the power to really hurt those who are mentioned in its pages. But I feel that for a journal to be worth it, this risk must be taken. And the paradox here is that, while writing, it is often helpful to think of it as something being written to someone else - an unidentified "reader". This helps add clarification and some sense of narrative, rather than just throwing down a bunch of disconnected and half-baked thoughts and sentences.

I remember reading in one of the Harry Potter books, where Dumbledore has a bowl where he would store strands of his thoughts (a "pensieve"), so he could separate himself from his thoughts and concerns and view them objectively, and I remember this resonating with me immediately as the essence of journaling.

One of the most rewarding things about keeping a journal over the years is being able to go back and read what I've written (embarrassing though this sometimes is). It is amazing to read some of the moments I have forgotten about, the details I never would have remembered, and also the perspective I sometimes gain from reading what a younger me once thought and felt, the struggles I was going through that either seem trivial in the light of the years gone by (knowing what actually happened as compared to what I was worried would or would not happen), or are struggles I am still dealing with these many years later. I've looked back at things I've written so many years ago, and I can't believe that I'm still dealing with the same thing, still worrying or struggling with this very same problem. And this, too, gives perspective on how to deal with these persistent problems. It can make me realize that the way I've been dealing with it or thinking about it hasn't done anything to solve things...time for a new strategy...or perhaps it's time to accept things and let go the idea that they are going to change, let go the burden of worrying about it. Sometimes this is discouraging, and sometimes this brings a sense of relief - a burden I've been carrying around for years doesn't have to be the same kind of burden anymore...

In late '96 I bought my first "nice" journal from Barnes & Noble (beyond the cheap hardback blank books I had been getting at Meijers), and kept what I still consider to be one of my best and most coherent journals, which incorporated all the elements I talked about earlier. I was, at the time, planning to move to Nashville at the end of the year, and perhaps that somehow focused my mind in a way that led to better writing. I think also, perhaps in a shallow or superficial way, that the quality of the book one is writing in, the look and feel of the journal itself and the quality of its pages, affects the quality of what one writes inside... though this can work negatively in reverse, when the journal is too nice and you feel that what you have to say isn't worthy of the book you're about to write it in, and so you leave its pages blank.

The following year, at a seminar at Cornerstone '97, things got worse for my growing fascination with journals.  Carolyn Arends was giving a seminar with her friend Bernie Sheahan, mostly on "books books books" (probably actually on spiritual practices, I forget now).  Bernie showed us the journal she had been keeping for the past few years (given to her by a friend with the inscription "Write your heart out", or something like that), and this journal was thicker than any I had ever seen before.  The only "nice" journals I had seen before that were always thinner, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 pages or so, and on the smaller side.  This one was a full-sized book, thick and blank (save for what she'd written in it herself).  And ever since then, I've been on the lookout for nice thick journals.  They've become more widely available since then (and I've purchased more than my fair share of them over the years), but for some reason I couldn't for the life of me find anything like that in the mid-to-late 90's and wondered where the hell she got that thing!  A journal the size of a real book! 

And so these were the beginnings of the snowball that started rolling down the mountain...

I realized the other day, after buying another beautiful black leather-bound journal, that I seem to have a journal fetish (I can already hear some of you exclaiming "no shit Sherlock"). I have at least 25 journals of various quality on my shelves - some of the early ones no more than drugstore notepads, some just cheap small hardbacked books, all the way across the spectrum to a few beautiful leather-bound ones that cost between $50-80. Some (at least 10) are filled with my life and thoughts, and some are still waiting for the story that will be written in their expectant pages...

Which brings me to this blog, which I started over 3 years ago, and one of the reasons why I haven't written anything here for a while. Among other things, I've been struggling with what exactly I do and don't want to post here. I'm quite frankly not interested in adding another collection of "op-ed" opinion pieces to the blogosphere pile. Many others do that, and do it well, much better than I could. I'm not interested in pointing out the faults of others, using this as a soapbox to show how right I am and how wrong "they" are. I've hurt too many people along the way doing just that, and when I put my mind to it, I'm too good at tearing others down in the name of speaking the truth. and in those moments I'm not very good at all at realizing that I "see but through a glass darkly", nor am I very sensitive to the damage I cause when I rail against the place another happens to be in on their particular journey through life. We're all just groping in the dark, and for me to bash another for not holding the whole truth, when I myself don't hold it either, is just ugly arrogance at best. and I don't want this to be an exercise in vanity.

I also don't ever want my writings to be divorced from my life (which many "opinion pieces" can be). I want something of who I am to bleed through in these writings, for people to get to know me, a sort of invitation to join me along the way, perhaps by relating to or resonating with something I say, and feeling free enough to share something of themselves in response without fear of ridicule or judgement or argument (Lord save us from the shouting match). I have no interest in hitting people's "hot buttons" in the name of more "hits". I am interested in conversation, or more specifically, in relation. (That's kind of an odd way to put it, I know...) I guess I'm more interested in the kind of writing that could be called "personal reflection / meditation", with a healthy dose of memoir thrown in.

...and yet, I don't want to fall into the exhibitionism of spilling my guts out for everyone to roll their eyes at, where I vomit my feelings all over the reader so that they know just what I've been going through! I look over my entries from the past couple years and realize I've crossed that line too often. And this is where the practice of "keeping a journal" for others to read is contrary to my very foundational belief of how to keep an honest and worthwhile journal - complete freedom and lack of self-censorship. Writing with an audience in mind is a whole other ballgame, and I'm not sure that, as far as this blog is concerned, I quite know how to walk that fine line between the two extremes, while staying true to what I do - and do not - want to do.

But, when it's all said and done, I do think it's pretty cool to be able to "publish" ones writings to a potentially wide readership in a way that has never before been possible. and so I will continue to plug away at this (as time permits) and struggle with just what I might have to say here that is worth another's time to read. and I hope that you, dear reader, will feel welcome and free enough to offer your thoughts and opinions on what I share here as well (I'm pretty sure all bloggers, like all good indie rockers, love feedback!), while hopefully putting something of yourself and your personal story into the mix. I like to know why people think and feel the way they do, and not just exchange disconnected points of opinion. It's much harder to disagree with someone's life-path that leads them to a certain opinion (or "way of thinking") than it is to disagree with the disconnected opinion they put in front of them.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"My future starts when I wake up every morning . . . Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”
- Miles Davis

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
-Aristotle

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

...because you know if you play New Kids on the Block albums backwards they sound better. "Oh come on, Bill, they're the New Kids, don't pick on them, they're so good and they're so clean cut and they're such a good image for the children." Fuck that! When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children to listen to people who fucking ROCKED! I don't care if they died in puddles of their own vomit! I want someone who plays from his fucking HEART!
-Bill Hicks

...maybe we'd all be served a whole lot better by not worrying about profanity so much as looking for honest conversation across the generations about how all these prophets had something worth listening to and thinking about...

...clean is good for an addict, but rarely should it be found in the language of an artist, because the raw beauty and tragedy of life is never ever clean, from the moment we are born...

if education is that which leads to liberation, then some lessons in life deserve to be expressed in profanity. and some lessons are worth carving in stone.
-Cary Gibson

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Here I Go Again to another Judas Priest concert to see the opening band


This was my starting seat for Whitesnake when they opened for Judas Priest here in Detroit 2 weeks ago. I got closer (yes, closer) and fully centered about halfway into it (unfortunately my phone was out of picture memory). will probably be my favourite concert of the summer, and if you're a hater I don't give a flying flip what you think about that! :-P
80's metalheads represent... \m/

(last year I went to Judas Priest to see openers Motorhead and Dio Black Sabbath, and missed Testament with much gnashing of teeth. but it was free for me, so there wasn't that much gnashing)

"Don't ever let anyone make you afraid..." (David Coverdale)

Friday, July 31, 2009

"... faith cannot for me be based on believing _in_ something but only being drawn into a way of being..." -Cary "Little Bird" Gibson

that syncs up quite nicely with my favourite concept of late from Karen Armstrong, that the word or idea "believe" at one point not so long ago wouldn't have made sense to people apart from a changed life. To "believe" wasn't to give mental assent to a concept the way we use the word now. which, I think, also fits nicely with Andrew's (or should I say Bruce's) latest post on evangelizing young children. which reminds me of something I heard somewhere recently about the "spare the rod and spoil the child" rationalization for hitting kids (and please believe me when I say that I am no anti-spanking spokesman... I sometimes whack em just for the hell of it), that the "rod" in that scripture is referring to a shepherds rod, which, though it may be used for the occasional whap, was primarily used as a tool of guidance. why people think that getting a child to repeat the sinner's prayer is the end-all-be-all of saving children from hell is beyond me. it doesn't make logical sense, and it doesn't make scriptural sense. only a changed life can do that, for any of us. and as Cary pointed out a moment later, such a thing is nigh impossible. for us.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"People must first of all feel accepted for who they are before they can risk change." - Lynn Wilson

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Stuff Christians like" blogs

Having grown up in the christian subculture AND having removed myself from it quite some time ago, yet still keeping an amused and curious eye on it, I found these blogs to be pretty damn funny, and spot on. Great observations!

Stuff Christians Like

Stuff Christian Culture Likes

"Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? ...we should all be wearing crash helmets". - Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Night Spirit and the Dawn Air

I've always been a night person, but about 7 or 8 years ago, I began staying up through the night into the dawn. That first year, during the spring and early summer, it was due to a fresh new friendship, a time when conversations lasted well into the night, the end of which was usually signaled by the first chirping of birds and light breaking through the long night. time to go home, call it a night, resign the life-affirming conversation to the status of "to be continued..." Since that time, those early morning hours have held a special place and meaning in my life, and the sounds of the first birds of spring at the crack of dawn is one of my favourite sounds to listen to. It signals the end of winter and the end of the darkness. Before going to bed, I will often stop by an open window and just listen...and watch the dawn come up. it is a moment of utter peace and calm, a silent moment before the noise of the day and the world break through in demand of one's mind and soul. I often pray at some point during this moment. more often I simply sit still and meditate, or more precicely, allow a spirit of meditation to wash over me and cleanse me for the day ahead.

I've never explained the title of this blog before now, and so I thought I would now, as a sort of compromise between original content and the quoting of others I've been doing these last few months. a bridge. I have writings stirring in my head, moments to catch up on here. for now, I'll simply shed a little light on the pretentious title I've chosen for these pages, for those who don't already know.

The title comes from one of my favourite books by Thomas Merton. It is the title of one of the chapters in "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander". When I read the title, I felt it fit me perfectly, for I am certainly a "night spirit" who is well acquainted with the dawn air, experienced enough to foolishly tell the time by its arrival, "foolish" enough to still be awed by it these many years later. this is an excerpt of the first part of that chapter, along with a quote by Aquinas which opens that section, a quote I find particularly important to remember and live by. I am yet still in darkness, I do not yet live nor love as I ought to, as I want to. But I am trying to open my eyes and see the light breaking through, on my better days, hoping and maybe even expecting the dawn to overcome the darkness. Asking God if I can "be" yet, if it is time...

"We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in the search for truth and both have helped us in the finding of it." -St. Thomas Aquinas

How the valley awakes. At two-fifteen there are no sounds except in the monastery: the bells ring, the office begins. Outside, nothing, except perhaps a bullfrog saying “Om” in the creek or in the guesthouse pond. Some nights he is in Samadhi; there is not even “Om”. The mysterious and uninterrupted whooping of the whippoorwill begins about three, these mornings. He is not always near. Sometimes there are two whooping together, perhaps a mile away in the woods in the east.

The first chirps of the waking day birds mark the “point vierge” of the dawn under a sky as yet without real light, a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence, when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes. They begin to speak to Him, not with fluent song, but with an awakening question that is their dawn state, their state at the “point vierge”. Their condition asks if it time for them to “be.” He answers “yes.” Then, they one by one wake up, and become birds. They manifest themselves as birds, beginning to sing. Presently they will be fully themselves, and will even fly.

Meanwhile, the most wonderful moment of the day is that when creation in its innocence asks permission to “be” once again, as it did on the first morning that ever was.

All wisdom seeks to collect and manifest itself at that blind sweet point. Man’s wisdom does not succeed, for we are fallen into self-mastery and cannot ask permission of anyone. We face our mornings as men of undaunted purpose. We know the time and we dictate terms. We are in a position to dictate terms, we suppose: we have a clock that proves we are right from the very start. We know what time it is. We are in touch with the hidden inner laws. We will say in advance what kind of day it has to be. Then if necessary we will take steps to make it meet our requirements.

For the birds there is not a time that they tell, but the virgin point between darkness and light, between nonbeing and being. You can tell yourself the time by their waking, if you are experienced. But that is your folly, not theirs. Worse folly still if you think they are telling you something you might consider useful – that it is, for example, four o’clock.

So they wake: first the catbirds and cardinals and some that I do not know. Later the song sparrows and wrens. Last of all the doves and crows.

The waking of crows is most like the waking of men: querulous, noisy, raw.

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword is taken away, but we do not know it: we are off “one to his farm and another to his merchandise.” Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static. “Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend.
-Thomas Merton

Friday, May 01, 2009

"complicit in manufacturing the sentiment"

I'm not really a Jane's Addiction fan, but Jessica Hopper wrote some killer lines in the Chicago Reader this week reviewing their new box set, and I felt the need to share my faves here:

To believe that Jane’s Addiction headlining Lollapalooza again is somehow historic, to be psyched about this recurrence, is like masturbating to the memory of losing your virginity. Sure, it was meaningful when it happened, but 20 years down the line, it’s a pity if this is what’s getting you off. If what was our pinnacle then is still our pinnacle now, it reflects pretty poorly on how we’ve been spending our time.

Why this campaign for our sclerotic hearts and minds? Perhaps it’s because we’re the last generation to come up thinking of music as something we’re supposed to pay money for, and they figure they’d better milk us till we can give no more.

But we’re not exactly the passive victims of this scam. To believe, to attend, to spend is to be complicit in manufacturing the sentiment that reunions like this depend on. To be nostalgic for a time is to assert that it’s worth remembering—that our generation mattered. And we’re happy to allow our sense of our own importance to be used against us as a marketing tool.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

a couple of things a little bird told me

I realize that at some point soon it will get rather ridiculous for me to keep posting things that Cary has shared with me, an abdication of my responsibilities as a blog-keeper, but I really liked these quotes and wanted to post them here. I will return with original content one day soon, but for now she is saying better things than anything I have to offer...

"i think this world puts far too much onus on success, celebrity, achievement, power and the things that feed our ego and narcissism. there is no measure of character to me worth anything than how we treat others. To be human is to be relational. If i can’t be kind and giving, then I am not being the human being i was born to be."

"i'm fairly certain that most of the pain and hurt in people's lives is caused by not being able to admit we are scared of being hurt, not believing we can be loved exactly as we are, and keeping others from seeing our vulnerabilities and instead pretending we know what we are doing. we humans seem to have an unending capacity to push others away at the very moment we need each other. but we think we're different because we have different tricks for avoiding being known and loved. in the words of Adam Phillips, 'we are most creative in the ways we frustrate ourselves'."

-Cary Gibson

Friday, March 06, 2009

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Taft Diary Interlude: A bit of video history

Friday night at the taft was loaded with expectation. this was a reunion that fans had been dreaming of for 10 years now. New fans only heard the rumours of those "early days" if they knew anything of them at all. Since the break-up, guitarists have come and gone in the group, but none (until the recently added Kenny Hutson) could even hold Ric's guitar strap. Beyond just his amazing and legendary guitar skills, he added something to the mix that is indescribable. An attitude, a way of being... And Brian holds a groove like no one else can. The chemistry and the magic of that original line-up was just something special. Here is one of my favourite songs done by that original Over the Rhine, from the year I first heard them, for the sake of context. Comparison may be the thief of joy, but the camera also doesn't lie. This song from those early years kicks ass! see for yourself...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Taft Diary, pt. 4 - Lost

Anne Lamott says the two best prayers she knows are "help me, help me, help me" and "thank you, thank you, thank you"... There is another prayer (that may be akin to the cry for help) that seems to pour from me more than either of these two right now: "I'm sorry...I'm sorry...I'm sorry". It is a recurring thought this past year, one that comes from my heart almost unconsciously. I'm sorry. perhaps it precedes "help me". The piano resonates throughout the theater, and resonates with my thoughts, my emotions. Mea Culpa, I feel lost...

Part of me, you are a part of me I never want to lose
Hard for me, this is too hard for me, maybe I can't get through


The loss of a close friend, their presence...that sense of home, of safety, comfort, groundedness, of shared moments and the hope of moments yet to share... I recall all the times I loved poorly, or not at all, the times I took them for granted (which is the dark side of trust), the times I lost my patience or temper, the times I judged and criticized and condemned...and I'm sorry...

Broken down, we're all so broken down...

I thought my life would be different by now. The place I find myself, the place I find I've lost myself... the wasting of time and the burying of talents I let atrophy, the apathy, the despair, the isolation, the near loss of hope. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't turn out to be what you were hoping for, I'm sorry I let you down. I'm sorry there isn't more time to get things more right. I'm sorry...

Listening, you're always listening, I don't know what to say

I could sit in a room with those I love and care about the most, knowing that our time is slipping away, that one day they will no longer be here, but right now, in this moment, they are here, I have this chance to be here, with them, right now, and I find I don't have much to say. I'm sorry I'm not better at this, I'm sorry I don't know how to make the most of these moments, I can't conceive how sorry I will be when you are gone...

What will I miss the most? Pray that I'm haunted by your ghost

I meet people here who are some of the nicest and friendliest I've known, people who have been through some hard shit in their lives and maybe have a weariness that could use kindness instead of criticism or harshness. People who have only been abstract names on a screen before now, people whose personality had been mostly a projection of my own lack of imagination, and after I meet them, and discover who they really are, I'm sorry for any time I've been more concerned with being "right" than with being kind. I'm sorry for the irritation my argumentative nature has stirred up in the past. meanness in the name of humor...judgement for the sake of Ego...and I wish I could take some of those words back. I didn't know them or the struggles they endure. and I'm sorry. I'm sorry I lost you. I'm sorry for the wall I helped build between us, before we even had a chance to begin...

I know much of this is just something akin to self-pity, much of it is an unnecessary beating myself up for things that are out of my control. Life happens, and people make their choices because of themselves, and their world doesn't revolve around reacting to me. But still...I need grace, and mercy, and sometimes I practice these things, and sometimes I drain them from others. Sometimes I just feel lost...

These thoughts run through my mind as Karin sings "Lost", one of my favourite songs from Ohio.

"afraid that I'm anything but fine...
Lord, I feel so alone now...Lord, I feel so lost..."


...except these aren't the words to the song. There isn't even a song called "Lost". All day I'm telling people "Lost" was one of my favourite songs that they played, and they give me a blank look. Like they don't know what I'm talking about. Because I don't. The song is called "Professional Daydreamer", and though it is one of my favourite songs from Ohio, I haven't listened to that CD in years and so forgot the name (and apparantly the lyrics). Perhaps it is the mark of good art that we can hear in a song what it is we need to hear. Perhaps it is simply the mark of Karin's vague annunciation, coupled with my dark and depressive imagination, looking for darkness in the broadest daylight...

The actual words to the chorus, when I find them out, make me think that there is a symbolic replacing of the old for the new happening here. The real lyrics are something of a response to my imagined lines. It is probably about as close as I'm going to come to a God speaking to me in an audible voice...

"Alright, it's alright now... Alright, it's alright..."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Time

One of my all-time favourite songs from one of my all-time favourite bands off one of my all-time favourite albums. The concept segments of this video are so-so imo, but that live footage of Undercover at their peak reminds me how overcome with excitement and anticipation I could get at a concert back in the day. Undercover always delivered some of the best, and Gym's guitar playing is just legendary. almost gives me the chills just to see this and remember being up front at Cornerstone for their late-night concert. Undercover is nothing if not intense.

Time

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A Taft Diary, pt. 3 - Meeting The Orchard

The first noble truth of Zen Buddhism is that life is suffering. In practical terms, this means (to me) that we cannot escape suffering, or discomfort. The Zen approach to this truth is to learn to sit with whatever state of being you find yourself in. If you are angry, observe the anger without judging it as "bad", just "be angry", but be aware of it. If you are uncomfortable, rather than squirming to find comfort, rather than running away from the discomfort, sit with it and "be" uncomfortable. If you are sad, don't try to "not" be sad, just experience sadness, but with awareness. Sit with it. Observe it. And recognize that it is ok to feel what you are feeling, that you don't need to feel "something else" (or worse yet, the judgemental "something better"), that this "unpleasant" feeling is not going to kill you, and it may have something for you that you can only find in the moment. And whatever you do, don't forget to breathe!

Another Zen approach I have tried to learn over the years is something I first read from Thich Nhat Hanh - "Present Moment, Wonderful Moment". Not wanting this to be something else, not judging this moment with our own ideas of how it "should be", but receiving what this moment has for us, letting it be whatever it will be. "it is what it is" is one way of saying this. it is only in our minds (creating illusions) that this could be something other than what it is. Karin offers a similar quote of wisdom on Sunday: "Comparison is the thief of joy". but I'm getting ahead of myself...

Before the concerts begin on both Friday and Saturday, I wander down to the front of the stage to see if I can meet and talk with some of the people I have only known online, at a place known as "The Orchard" - Over the Rhine's message board. I've met a couple people from The Orchard before, and this helps. On Friday, Kent is one of the first people I see there that I know from meeting in Grand Rapids a couple years ago, and he is also one of the friendliest people you will ever meet. He's also a music junkie who makes some of the best mix CDs from the seemingly unlimited amount of new music he continually discovers... Zayne is someone I first met at Cornerstone sitting front and center waiting for Over the Rhine. I talk with her for a bit, and she introduces me to Steve (who she drove up with from Nashville), one of the other "music geeks" at the Orchard....I also met Keith from NY, one of the nicest people online, whose concert resume' makes my head spin it's so good. I think he even went to the original Woodstock(?). I find out later that there are also people here on Friday night that I wish I had met, people I used to "know" online from the early days of the mailing list (pre-Orchard), especially Shelly and Snoop Dug, but I had no idea they were there, and I have no idea when I'll have this kind of opportunity again.

On Saturday night, The Orchard has planned to have dinner together at an historic bar/restaurant downtown called Arnolds. they've reserved the upstairs, and Bill, Heidi and I head there to join them. The place is literally right across the street from Ohio books, and I don't know how we didn't see it this afternoon. We head up some very creaky, narrow wooden stairs and rearrange some chairs to sit at one of the tables. At that table I meet Patrick, Steve, Trish, and one of the people I've been looking forward to finally meeting after talking online for years, Kylie Jo.
most everyone else has been here for about an hour already, and those first moments seem a bit awkward for us, as first meetings tend to be, especially when the others seem to know each other. It is one of the times I have to choose to just "be" in the moment, to just let it be what it is, to just sit in the awkward semi-silence of first encounters. Many years ago, two things helped me relax in "conversation lulls", one was the influence of Thomas Merton, and the other was a discussion group David Dark was hosting in Nashville, in which lulls in the discussion weren't considered something that needed to be filled, but rather moments of reflection, comfortable moments where people could sit with their thoughts without needing to "say something". Usually an uncomfortablness at social silence has more to do with one's own perception and lack of center than with any outward reality. The others are certainly friendly, and we do talk a bit about the concert last night and what's been going on this weekend, Patrick initiating a lot of the conversation, easing some of that out-of-place tension I feel. Kylie is a professional photographer, wondering if they'll let her in with a camera that size. I tell her about the Trinity House Theater that Bill runs and how it has the best background for concert pictures.

Having cheated back at the motel and eaten a sandwich so as to save money on food, I only get a salad, and I sneak a bite of Heidi's lasagna. Everyone agrees that the food is excellent, and after dinner we head to the Taft for night two. If we knew our way around here better, we probably could have walked, but it's noticably colder tonight, and driving a few blocks isn't a bad idea either.

Later on tonight, after the show, I'll have the chance to get to know quite a few members of The Orchard a lot better as we all go out to a local bar for drinks and Karaoke. I prayed last night for a deeper connection with others, for friendships to form and relationships to grow out of all this. For more than just passing small talk. May this not just be another weekend of concerts. May this be the start of something more. a beginning. Later tonight felt like an answer to that prayer. this whole weekend feels like a new beginning after a very dark year. like the darkness has been kicked at long enough and is finally bleeding daylight. Tonight I will be grateful once again, purely grateful, for the first time in quite a while...

But for right now my thoughts get lost, once again, in the music of Over the Rhine...

Monday, January 05, 2009

GreaterThan Magazine

I am now an officially published music critic. This past summer, at the Resurrection Band reunion show at Unity Fest on the other side of Michigan, I met a guy (Carl) who has this online music magazine, GreaterThan, which features a lot of the classic artists I love. The latest issue features Glenn Kaiser & Resurrection Band, and I contributed a review of that reunion show. You can go download and read the magazine here, for free (for now).

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Vigilantes of Love: "Resplendant"

How much of this was meant to be?
How much the work of the devil?
That's a question I've asked in one form or another for more years than I can remember. Discerning the voice (and work) of God from that of the deceiver, whether in the world or just in my own head.
Thanks to Aron for showing me this video via his blog. I didn't know this existed. one of my favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite artists...
How much of this is failing flesh?
How much the course of retribution?
my, my, how loudly we plead our innocence
long after we've made our contribution