Saturday, October 25, 2008

we are folded over

Vanderbilt – Like A Prayer Lecture 23 October 2008

the whole evening of music and conversation is gonna be podcast. i'll link it when it happens. in the meantime, the essay is hyperlinked with sources that are worth your time.

:: everything is broken ::
(an essay of sorts)

It has been said that,
Next to silence, music is the closest thing to God.

And I am here in this space speaking, not as a musician, for that’s not what I am, but as something like a writer-always-in-becoming.
I like words. And more than words I like the spaces between them… the ellipses that speak of the pauses and gaps – the unsaid, the words that fail us… the things we cannot utter… the confessions we dare not make. Our speechlessness… our silence.
And the art of making an eloquent point is the art of resisting what might slip out – of ::not:: saying what we ::really:: think or feel.

Shortly before his sudden death last winter, the late Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donoghue, was interviewed on American Public Radio.
His interviewer, Krista Tippett commented,
“…Celtic music… seems to express the greatest joy and also the deepest sorrow, almost indistinguishable from each other and yet both with a kind of healing force…”
John responded,
"One of the things I'm always amazed about Irish music, for instance, is how in some way the lines of the landscape find their way into the music, the memory of the landscape almost, the memory of the people too. And that in some sense, despite the sorrow that we've endured…
He went on,
"I love music…I love poetry as well, of course, and I think of beauty in poetry. But I always think that music is what language would love to be if it could…"

So, next to silence, music is the closest thing to God. And music is what language would love to be if it could

Another Irishman, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, violin player with my favourite band, The Frames, recently released an album called “The Hare's Corner"
As the tradition goes, at harvest time there is a corner of the field left uncut – a shelter for the hare. This imagery also speaks to the gaeltacht – those small pockets of Ireland where the Irish language is still spoken as the first language- like a temporary reprieve from the reaper’s blade.
I believe that Art itself can be as the long grass – a shelter. But surely community too acts in the same way – as long grass protecting us from the reaper’s blade…

My dear friend, Padraig O Tuama, a Belfast resident like me, like Colm, a native Irish speaker, and a fine emerging poet, shared with me this gift of a line from his mother tongue,

:: ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine ::

or in English,

:: in the shelter of each other, the people live ::

We don’t get to do this thing called being human on our own… the one thing we have in common is our vulnerability… as Frederick Buechner wrote,
“We need each other you and I…You, stranger who are no stranger.”

To be human is to be unique – to be separate, other, alone, apart. It means I can never get inside your body to look out through your eyes and feel what it is like to be you, just as you cannot feel what it is like to be inside mine and be me. What a horrifying blessing this seems...

At the end of Cameron Crowe’s movie, “Almost Famous”, Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing rock journalist Lester Bangs utters one of my personal favourite lines ever spoken by a human,

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world... is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”

But this being uncool with one another, this bridging the gap between us seems so elusive, so beyond us… most of the time we are concentrating to avoid, to resisting telling the truth of what it means to be human, of exposing our wounds… and much of the time being human is to feel unsheltered…
art is perhaps what gives language to the things we are too ashamed to say to each other for fear of being found out as being merely human. Or for fear that we’re not in agreement on the being uncool thing…

Music perhaps speaks to the silence between our words, and between us. It helps us express the inexpressible, which is perhaps just as easily called the divine… because that silence, that unspoken is the truth...
I could not write without music. I wouldn’t know how. I know no other way of writing than in the context of being ever inspired by what I hear… It is as if, for me at least, there is a conversation between music and writing…A kind of liturgical call and response…

So that when a friend makes me a mixtape, and there’s a Tungg cover of Bloc Party’s The Pioneers, with it’s opening line,

If it can be broke, then it can be fixed…
then I respond with poetry or prose on my keyboard, adding my words to the conversation – of what’s broken and what needs fixing… and the very act of writing becomes the fixing…
writing is repairing… the very act of placing words cheek to jowl become the art of survival… line by line one survives… to borrow from Wendell Berry, writing becomes one way of Practising Resurrection

Practising Resurrection… the daily act and sacred art of bringing what seems dead to life…

Where does our personal identity end and our religious or communal or creative identities begin? For we are surely all at our personal core at once religious, communal and creative.

It has been said that we are broken and wounded as human beings and that allows G-D to dwell in us, break into us, break us open.
Perhaps G-D is better understood as the wound itself… for it is that wounded part of us that is so often in need of shelter that yet can become compassion for the stranger if we dare to be uncool with one another. It is at least that this God-of-the-gaps-in-us seems at home within our communal and religious and creative selves – seeping out of our pores… in our confessions, our yearnings, our bleeding….

My friend Beth Gilmore told me the other day that a teacher once said of words,
“You know why you call it spelling? Cause you are making spells…”

There *is* a magic quality to language. Perhaps with music even more so. I believe the spells we are conjuring are an attempt to tell each other the truth, that so often we feel like everything is broken… music and art are how we attempt to fix things… to magic redemption…

Art if it’s worth anything at all is an attempt at honesty, that life is both immense joy and deep sorrow and that these two can seem inextricable and so often their combined weight is unbearable… in the shelter of art, as in community, is an attempt to speak of what it’s like to be out in the field under the swinging arc of the reaper’s blade…

We are attempting, always failing and always driven forward by the dissatisfaction of that falling short, to play that secret chord – with its minor fall and the major lift

That divine secret is perhaps best said in silence, and after silence it is music and after music it is our words… music, poetry, prose… these things are how we express the things we so often wish we could tell each other when we are an :: honest uncool shelter :: to one another…
Collaboration is the space where being in art and community weave and where we flourish in the expression and shelter of togetherness…

:: Honest broken art and honest broken community are shelters,
and they are shelters to one another ::


(with sincere thanks to Steve Mason and Charlie Lowell for beautiful broken spontaneous musical accompaniment. performing words without your collaboration is gonna seem a kind of loss)

:: everything is broken ::
(a poem of sorts)

everything is broken...

and each new ending

that is its own beginning
starts in pieces

love ends
heart stops
blood freezes
time on hold
life ceases

we’re shattered
shard and sinew
all sharp edges
of dis-comfort
plucked into
fractured apartness

broken barely standing
from so much
falling and landing
this'll take a whole lot of mending...

like bone striking tile
pieces scattered so far
beyond reach
or will
to weave together

broken like plates
gaping with fault lines
when peace
ends in battle
we left are known by
these creases
in doubled overness…
for folded over
all of me
misses you
in parts

screams are like
as words fail us
we legion
clinging to the surface
for you to come back

We who
Want… nothing
Need… nothing
Feel… nothing
hope… nothing
love… nothing

We, who scratch:
Expect nothing
Get nothing
Give nothing
Have nothing
Grieve nothing
Regret nothing

and we lie,
"be nothing
stop loving
so you'll

stop hurting"

but then,
someone within
“Come out!”

magic-ing redemption
is what the Saviour did…
and surely Lazarus died again
but it must have felt like practising resurrection
all the same

dragged from grave
from tomb
no birth from womb
no wet rush
into gasping air
but dry rasping
like old bones in spasm

“Come out,
come out”

shrugging off shrouds
a cross a threshold
back through a door
meant for exiting

“Come out”

can i meddle with the hinge?
keep breathing?
keep loving?
keep bleeding?
keep living?

for still He sings…
less Saviour... more Demon,
“Come out,
come out
take off the death clothes
and let him go...”

everything is broken
and each new ending
that is its own beginning
starts with resurrection
in pieces


it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah...


something's moving

so. my two weeks in Nashville rapidly approach their end.
this has been an amazing leg of the trip. words like nourishing and nurturing and challenging and affirming and inspiring come to mind.

so by way of invitation from David and amidst serious cheerleading from he and his angel-in-crime Sarah to get back to the page with seriousness and commitment, i found myself speaking at a lecture that was more like conversation in Vanderbilt Divinity School a couple of nights back. i'm gonna post the words i shared in the next post. one part essay one part poet riff on the theme of :: everything is broken ::
the dust is yet to settle and i find myself in a bit of resistance to an overwhelmingly gracious reception. not quite sure where in me to let the affirmations sit in the aftermath of "doing what it is i do while surrounded by those i would want to describe as seriously talented" ... it was a humbling experience and i enjoyed getting to chat with folks after. for those who are visiting these pages as a result - welcome, pull up a chair.

i'm gonna try and pull together a playlist of the songs that were performed to post here. a thought provoking night and what i hope will mark the start of an ongoing conversation within and beyond the divinity school...

in the meantime, i think i may have reffered to this track recently. i find myself coming back to it on the ipod so that it's fast working it's way up the "25 most played". *flawless* songwriting by my measure.

:: live the wish ::


Saturday, October 18, 2008

gently does it

so. this fine autumn afternoon finds me just turned 35 and in Nashville; sitting once again at my favourite table at one of my favourite haunts drinking some of the best coffee i know and finding my way back to the keys... stopping by way of this journal once more as if to practice sitting words cheek to jowl in sentences...

vintage clothing, mural painting with Sarah, conversations everywhere i turn, music on the stereo and staying in Julie's cabin are all weaving together and pulling at threads within me - drawing creativity back up and out... something that was beyond me these past few months is returning -- reawakening from coma that has felt not-so-much like apathy as inertia...

the penumbra of desire returns to enfold me as i keep vigil and a steady calm hold where all-too-often i've found myself spinning in longing and i yet still i find an honest passion walk back in like a long lost friend and wrench me into each new day with expectation... that oh so evocative feeling that one simple touch of lip on lip could birth bounty like the box lid being flung open once more...

it's a heady feeling to be alive on days like these... strange how heady is never so much a sensation of the mind at all but of all the body singing in want... it all feels so close to touch and yet not...
the space between is a thin place... i feel myself wanting to ease and ooze out of my pores... to drip from my own fingertips... to swallow and be swallowed... on that threshold where one can't tell if this is sinking or soaring... the desire for the liminal bothness of where i and you become this e-merge-ing iyou in spite of ourselves...

some things are beyond naming... and these days i'm not trying to do anything but sit with hands open as if receiving the fragile power of the eucharistic bread like a bird's nest...

no sudden moves. some moments in life might be for sliding into...