Corona Daze: Sanctuary

In times of darkness and light, chaos and calm, we look to our artists to be our comforters, our prophets; those who bring light into dark places. They remind us of our shared humanity. They point us inward where we find the Christ within. They point our heads upward away from our pain. They point us outward away from our self-absorption and into the great, wide world whose pain is greater still. 

Carrie Newcomer is one such artist. As we look at each other both askance and with a curious mixture of suspicion and longing, may this song and the spirit which inspires it, become the growing embers of hope. More than anything else, may we be to each other, a refuge. In this storm, and any other.

Soon, but not yet.

As you have seen, I am a fish on the shore right now, flipping and gasping for words to write. About anything. I’ve learned at these times to read until my eyes fall out. Others are not in this place. They’re producing page-turning material worthy of our consumption and consideration. 

One such soul is fellow blogger and faith-er, Laura Jean Truman. In a writer cop-out for which I seek neither escape nor make excuse, I share her better words here. Go, read in pride as I did, how Advent is a time uniquely prepared for both the prophet and the artist. For the artist-as-prophet.

They speak the same language. Maybe that’s why so much of the bible is poetry? Yup. I think that’s probably it.

Laura Jean, thank you. My readers will too, I believe.

A little more of less, please

Writing is a good life metaphor.

typewriter.jpgThese are interesting days. I approach my life much as I do the page, with contentment but with trepidation. The clumsy plasticine oozing from my pen leaves me a bit numb. A little bored, to be honest. A stultifying sameness guards the words from taking on a life of their own, of actually taking anyone on any kind of journey.

This is especially true of poetry. Ironically, I find my greatest enemy to be the stronger, more captivating work of previous years. It is the equivalent of creative shadow-boxing, a grasping after one’s own ghosts. It is to hide from the potential of my own gifts. The glory days, whether in life or art, can straight-jacket us right out of good days now.

Life is often this way. In creative-artistic terms, this is so commonplace as to be ridiculously cliché. This haunting of the present by an elusively successful past can choke the life out of bold, new ventures. Even the very desire to try is rendered impotent. A sterility can only be achieved by writing. Shit, but still writing. When acedia takes hold it keeps me from even getting that far. Writing poorly is still better than writing nothing at all. Bad sex is still better than no sex at all!

frustrated writer.jpg

Does this call into question my dedication to word-craft? Do I need to turn in my lit-card? Have I become less a writer and more of a word-ler (word burglar)? I suppose the creative struggle can be compared to dieting. One can lose weight through amelioration of already good habits-in-stasis while destroying bad ones. But, for it to “take,” a completely different way of living is required. Sure, lose thirty pounds, buy new clothes, take a thousand selfies on a new, air-brushed social media persona. Eat McDonald’s and chocolate cake for a week or two afterward and one’s previous successes merely mock present realities.

“Look how well I was doing,” we crow. “The effort really paid off,” we chirp. “It’s about bloody time,” screams our waistband. We gaze with fondness and well-earned satisfaction at our accomplishment only to groan with the recognition that that was then and this is now. Shit.

It can be genuinely depressing to read poetry or other bits and bobs of writing from even a few years ago when I had over-weening confidence in an under-developed, largely self-indulgent output. Now, possessing some measure of success, a proven track record in this whole letters enterprise, I find confidence a bit shaky to say the least.

Perhaps this is a case of art imitating life. Never have I been so content with so little. Not that I have little. I have in fact considerably more of everything than I could ever use. But my requirements are far fewer than ever. My writing is undergoing massive change right now, too. It’s not as clever-turn-of-phrase-y as it was, relying instead on that which, though simpler, might actually say something. I guess I’m losing my desire and, frankly, the need, to write for the academy – words for lovers of words. Insider talk.

Now, I write because it acts like a shower. My soul gets buffed up a bit more. My heart gets a jolly good brushing and I feel refreshed. And, I want to tell people about it. I want people to know who I am so they can meet me here. A welcome mat more than a Hadron Collider of complexity. There is a loneliness in creating something only a handful of erudites with too much industry-speak in their tool-belts can enjoy. And by “enjoy” I mean quietly compare to their own far superior material. Ha! Rightly so.


I guess to live better, we must learn to live on purpose. Correspondingly, to create better means to engage the process with trembling tenacity, even in the face of overwhelming self-doubt in one’s own ability.

I want to be the best writer, poet, musician – person, I can be. But it appears that what that means is a whole lot less words and a lot more conversation. Less erudition, more simplicity. Less academy, more living room. Less library, more kitchen table. Less bookstore, more backyard barbecue. Less thinking, more doing. Less of someone else, more of me.

Well, how about that. I just wrote myself out of my own funk. I rest my case.

My wife always tells me where to go

For guys like me who suffer from severe, chronic directional retardation, Diana Ross contributes the quintessential song, “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” It is an appropriate question for me since, as previously mentioned, I get lost easily. There’s an even more embarrassing reality here…

My wife is a professional cartographer.

She makes maps.

I know! How crazy is that, right? I like to kid her that, not only does she tell people where to go, but then gives them detailed directions as well. In my unredeemed moments when I’m tempted to tell some self-congratulatory stuffed shirt to go to hell, I know where to go for tips on the quickest way there. My wife is an expert in helping people get from A to B and back again. In this way she is a kind of geographical shepherdess, guiding the unwary soul away from the rocks of potential disaster to the still harbor front where rest and Daiquiris await (or tonic and lime in my case).

I’ve been a “professional” church music director for many years. Anyone who does what I do will likely share a similar scenario. When introducing oneself at parties or potlucks, the customary question aimed at one’s spouse is always the same, “and what instruments do you play?” The assumptions here are many, not the least of which is the very 1950s idea that to hire a man for ministry is to hire his wife and family as well. I’m the main guy, she the piano-playing-kid’s-choir-directing-always-polite-and-fashionable-dutiful-wife sidekick; a role for which she is rarely recognized and never paid. Once, while at a party with friends, a certain insistent lady kept pushing for more information on her singing abilities since “that’s what music minister’s wives do.” True to form, Rae replied with the astute comment, “is that the same for you since your husband is a carpenter?”

Well played, my dear. Well played.

She used to be bothered by this presumption. Thankfully, the perception of a thinly-veiled evaluation has worn even more thin over the years. Now we simply chuckle about it.

People have often asked me, why didn’t you marry another musician? I recognize that to be the accepted pattern. In actual fact, she knows a great deal about music and is a passable pianist and organist. We both share a widely eclectic musical palette; everything from Bach and The Chieftains to Sara Bareilles and Death Cab for Cutie. Tellingly however, our younger son, Graeme, once told her she had the singing voice of a goat and that even auto-tune is out of its league here. Dude…nice.

One must understand that musicians, or at least I, swim in a veritable sea of self-referentialism. Ironically, it’s what makes us good at what we do. Artists are generally brooding, too self-aware and then, pushy about it. I’m at the head of that parade. Don’t get me wrong, I love my artsy kindred spirits but, seriously, you really don’t want more than a handful in the same room at any given time, trust me. It’s simply too much Bohemian smug for most church potlucks to accommodate.

No, I’m quite pleased to have met someone who, instead, shares other deep passions of mine – history, geography, old languages, and rain. My undergraduate degree is a B.A. in Music with a major in Vocal/Choral Performance. Hers is a B.A. in History with a minor in Geography. In this curious mix, at least in our better moments, we have seen a much fuller, rounder, doubly satisfying concoction of passions and traits. It means that I can be the king of music, she the queen of history under the same roof. Instead of vying for attention, as artists are wont to do, we have the choice of being each other’s biggest fan.

Granted, this sounds great in theory. It doesn’t always work in reality. But, the lesson is clear. In our darker moments, a poem, joke or song from me can bring hope and cheer to an otherwise bleak situation. She reminds me that men and women have struggled with such darknesses for centuries and that safer shores were never that far away.

Now, when asked why I didn’t marry a musician I can simply say that I needed someone who would tell me where to go, how to get there and, in so doing, help this lost soul be found again.

I know of Someone else who does such things.