I give a talk here at SōSI tomorrow at noon. I've been preparing to do something new, rather than a modified job audition. And I typically shape this talk, or attempt to shape it at least, center it around some kind of argument. This year I have been wondering about reframing, reconsidering the purpose of this moment with our generous, earnest, and eager students. Turns out, goes my thinking, it's not about looking like a great composer in front of them. It's about being of use to them in some way. So I've decided to show a few new things, just to orient to the range of work I like to do, but also show work that is in progress, to talk a little about the processes and recursions that are in play under the notes. And just like those processes often unfold in order to fuse two ideas, or reconcile them, this talk prep is attempting to fold in a background theme or concept: room/space/place. Where is this work situated in literal space? Basement, law office, studio, and the very room in which we find ourselves. Not necessarily in that order.
Why do I not listen to more music?
Deafheaven + Princeton Public Library + I finished my book. So I am in a weird sad happy celebration reflection kind of spot and this is just working for me but... It feels so rare that I actually do this. Listen for pleasure. Or if not pleasure then just listening as a practice, as a living response to What Is Going On.
Also there's this word I've been exploring, namely NOW, so maybe it's not so much about policy as it is about the fact that right now I need to listen to Sunbather, realized it, turned it on, and made note of it here. How many True NOWs can we stack end to end? Doesn't matter. Any single one is powerful enough to align the rest. Presumably.
I am finishing a book for The Operating System. Finishing as in 11 days away from the promised handover. This means that every time I am not writing I feel like I should be writing, which makes me not want to write so I don't and then we reread the sentence from the beginning and so forth.
Maybe though... there is a way to take what feels like procrastination, i.e. waiting for something to happen on the internet, and harness it into something productive like getting the word out about this very exciting new release on One More Revolution Records. And this points to a larger thing about distraction/procrastination/obligation: I don't know that the way through it is down the middle, with oppositional fury.
It always brings me back to the kids and how they will do what engages them forever, seemingly, without needing to remind themselves, and then when they are done they are done. How do I live like that? What would it mean to know what I want to do in any given moment and have permission to go ahead and do it? What would I actually do? What would my life look like?
And then there is that "if I could just" construction that I also always fall into. If I could just approach with the world with that sense of childlike wonder then I would finish my book, if I could just follow the thread, if I could just transform. Circling some kind of wisdom but still locked into old patterns. Around we go.
But then I'll write a sentence or a paragraph or even a section and ALL WILL BE WELL again. This is the process, everyone says. I don't think it has to be this way, though. I think it can be a playground, which is how I have set up the basement. Stations. Metaphorical climbing walls and swings and seesaws and you get the point. And I took my forever oppressive list and turned it into a Venn diagram. Three circles: Make--Sustain--Document. So running the moving boxes to the porch felt like practice, not like distraction or an interference with my real work. Keeping the house sustains me. It's important. And maybe, then, so is this. And all the Facebook posts about the record label.
Did I mention the label? And that something is coming?
Maybe these are related, maybe not.
The first thing is that I watch Max play--he's now into the one-person-band setup--and it makes me think of piano lessons and music lessons for younger students generally. His interest in music maps onto gross motor moves: michael jackson's dance moves, drumming, air guitar, etc. How do I tap into that physical interest of his? I suppose he is the receiving end of a strange experiment in nonintervention. Let him listen to whatever he wants whenever he wants, let him go at the instruments without offering instruction. If he ever asks I will gladly show him what little I know but for now, music time is just whatever he wants it to be. There is no one to tell him he shouldn't play massive clusters in the synth or hit the drums one at a time. And we'll just see what this turns into. I can see him locking in with a practice now; he's down here multiple times per day and he's actually making these pieces that are consistent across performances and really attentive to rising and falling in terms of gesture and form. So this is an ongoing question: how do I teach him, if he needs teaching at all?
The second thing is that progress is being made on Shake It Off and the pleasure of learning, the way it feels to have something in my body, or to feel it coming into physical knowing, is something I would love to convey to Max.
And to Miles! Who yesterday tore up the kiddo drum set before getting very quiet and intoning "marshmallow... marshmallow..." And I didn't want to move the camera from the TaySwif in progress setup, so I didn't record, and that was a serious tactical error.
Coming soon, maybe: some cut together footage of the learning curve. For me, not for the kids. The kids just shine.
It occurs to me that I have never done this before. By which I mean: learn other people's songs. I learned drum parts all through middle and high school but outside my ill-fated piano lessons, I've never really attempted to play anything by anyone else on any other instrument.
But as C and I drove with the boys up to Duluth this weekend it became clear to me that this could be a really exciting project, and that it could be really useful in terms of connecting my fingers to my ears, and ears to brain, and etc. Maybe the lack of vocabulary I sometimes struggle with has to do with never having spoken anyone else's language.
So today I went downstairs and stripped the setup bare. We're back to The New Austerity means: voice, RS-09, kick, snare, hi hat, cymbal. And I tried to learn "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift. And it is SO HARD to figure this out for the one-person-band setup! But I'm documenting the learning process, video camera on tripod in the corner as I sound terrible but as the pathways start to build out.
And then? YouTube stardom! Only half joking. Being able to do this in real time with one body could make a good video. Post the finished product, and then a few skillfully-edited "learning curve" shots. Or maybe some crazy time-lapse Making of My First Cover. Followed by the same of maybe "She Said." But I'm trying not to turn this into another huge project. More an addition to my practice, or a reshaping of that practice, an awareness of other musics from which I can learn.
Also I am noticing that I am blogging here, which I never really do. But maybe... this is important, too? Isn' every other post on this blog about starting to blog more regularly? Here's another. And maybe one day it will be true.
Everyone, but mostly I am writing for Christie and for my Dad, because they--you--will find this post tucked away into the corner of my website, either on your own or because I'll no doubt tell you it's there shortly after finishing it. I should say right away that I am grateful that you read what I write and listen to what I make, that you seem to seek it out beyond what your spousal or parental roles require. That means a lot to me. And I don't want to try your patience by going on and on, but the day after feels like a lit fuse.
I come to the page to make sense of it; whenever I feel this impulse to write I write myself into a place that feels surprising, that sometimes even constitutes insight. It's almost the form; begin, and the ending reveals itself through the process. I have doubts about that form today. By today I mean two days later, Veteran's Day, because it has taken this long to say anything at all. Sitting with grief, not bending grief into a formula for action or transformation. Taking stock of grief, measuring it, getting to know it. Living inside of it because it is vast.
I wonder immediately if it's fair to call this grief. My life will change, but I won't get deported and my marriage won't be attacked. No one is going to carve a swastika onto our front door. A furious electorate rose up against 'the other' but I don't think it is talking about me. I am a liberal university professor but at this point the crosshairs aren't on my forehead. Maybe soon, but "maybe soon" does not feel like entitlement to grieve.
And yet. The physiology is grief. My eyes burn and I feel like I've been crying for days. I was sure this wouldn't happen. Not because of polls, either; when I filled in my ballot, literally when the pen touched the page, I felt this incredible solidarity with others who were doing the same and I was dead sure we would lift each other up. I knew it. It is hard to let go of something that you know in your bones. Maybe it's impossible.
That's something to grieve. The radical transformation of the known, the way we have to hear it in reverse. I talk to my students about this. Hear that beat drop? Hear how the thing you were feeling before, in the part of you that processes time in music, is actually not what you thought at all? This new event radically recontextualizes the understanding you thought you had. That's what this is. I am processing this in reverse. I am thinking of how much I didn't see.
These moments can galvanize what we believe. But right now, in this expanse of mourning, it is showing me what I don't believe any more.
Yesterday in the convention hall, after the exhibition area closed, the drumming stopped and it was quiet. We were leaving the floor and Michael Burritt started playing a marimba at one of the booths, with soft mallets, a piece he is going to premiere tonight. My friend Robert wrote it, and so he stopped to listen. I stopped with him, and soon others were doing the same, all standing together around a marimba placed there to sell marimbas. At a point in the piece Michael starts to whistle. The contract--I am playing a marimba piece, mallets on bars--gets torn up in that moment, but we are offered a new awareness, an enlargement of what we thought was happening.
It can work that way, too, out of making an offering. I will play this music. We will listen. We are holding each other up, and then, together, we get to rewrite the terms.
I want to rewrite these particular terms somehow. That might look like opposition. I expect it does. But I hope that opposition aims at a radical reframing of our understanding of each other. A way to absorb this moment not as the last move the artwork makes, but as a conceit, a provisional understanding that we will get to un-know, at a moment of expansion yet to come. Changing of terms. Breaking of contract. Not pushing the pendulum but smashing the clock.
Saturday we drove to Minneapolis and watched a cyclist get hit by a car. We were 10 feet away. It easy could have been our car putting someone in critical condition. Then we immediately tried on Warby Parker glasses. The human condition is wholly, wholly insane.
Now Orlando. So I sign petitions and share them on Facebook, and give money to Everytown. There has to be something else to do. Some other way. Write about it. Scream about it. Convince people. There is no moral value in doing nothing. But it's so much easier to throw up my hands in disgust because NOTHING CHANGES. Someone said Sandy Hook was the turning point. Once we accepted that, we would accept anything. Let's not.
First off, don't worry. There's nothing tragic going on over here. In fact I am becoming more and more keenly aware of the abundance in my circumstances and in the world generally.
But I have been thinking about The Tragic Gap, an idea I encountered in a book by Parker Palmer. The rock and hard place alternative. Sitting between them until a third way opens.
This is bending my mind in the best possible way. So many decisions, or even just FEELINGS, hunches, statements of purpose, feel so either/or in my head, and now I have language for what it means to see that, hold both possibilities in the moment, and wait. I say that here to mark this occasion, and because my experiences of clarity are often followed by experiences of forgetting.
It’s Veteran’s Day and I’m flying to San Antonio. That would not be relevant except: a woman boarded the plane wearing a picture pin of a young man in a military uniform. I have no idea what this means. Except I maybe do. Did she lose a son? If so, that son has/had a younger brother, also on the plane, and a father, trailing behind managing the bulkier bags.
I found out after the fact that, while my brother was in Iraq, my father thought about attending a funeral for a fallen marine, quite a drive from my parents’ house. My mom was glad he ultimately decided against making the trip. She said he wouldn’t have made it home.
I called my brother this morning, as I always do on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. I never know what to say. “I’m thinking of you and I hope you have a good day” is the standard. There is a lot more to say, but it’s all so convoluted that I go mute.
My mom and dad flew home yesterday, and my brother came back from Iraq two times. It’s like we just missed being the family that boarded a little bit after me, by a day, maybe by an inch. From his stories I know it was inches. He could hear bullets whipping by. Not the shots. The bullets, the way they stir up the air when they are very, very close to you.
Polite phone calls and no picture pins. Moving along, attending conferences, one foot in front of the other. As I write this, Delta Airlines is saluting veterans over the intercom. We all applaud. They have a small token of their appreciation that they’ll be passing around throughout the cabin. A wing pin to put next to the photograph? She’s at my row with a basket of chocolates. The wrappers say “Remember Our Veterans. Nov. 11th,” and have circular stars and stripes, red white and blue design. Made only with Belgian chocolate.
What are you going to do when you get to that row, though? Give that family three pieces of only-Belgian chocolate, one for each survivor? It’s distinctly possible that the young man is away fighting, not dead. I could look up what this gesture, the picture pin, actually means, duly diligent. Something about the way they carried themselves, though, played into my morbid fantasy. Going forward, getting to their seats with “quiet resolve” and “fortitude” and “courage” and carrying a deep palpable sadness.
The man who drove me to the airport has lived outside of Northfield, Minnesota his whole life. He said he was “too stupid to leave.” No wedding ring. We listened to sports radio the whole way up, UofM just having hired a new coach who I gather had something to do with the “defense kids” because he now wants to spend more time with the “offense kids,” per the press conference. I picture this man all alone watching football in the frigid winter. I imagine that he is lonely and sad. I imagine that this young man in a picture on a pin is dead. I have a strong It Will Be Ok impulse in me. Sometimes I let it drop, and see sadness and pain all around.
For every “click like and share if you like the flag” there’s someone who has endured a loss I cannot imagine, or someone trying to absolve themselves of the guilt of survival, tragedy-free for the moment. It is this way in war and it is this way all the time. And once in awhile we make partial contact with that abyss, the one we cover in layers of It Will Be Ok, Everything Happens For A Reason. And you start inventing stories about sad taxi drivers watching football in the snow, or a family of four now a family of three. Tell me it happens for a reason, make an intercom announcement and then pass out chocolate. Balls of yarn to play with while the world burns. And we are the lucky ones, on the conqueror side of the line. Maybe “lucky” isn’t the word.
And yet. I know I’ll keep telling stories and keep making things, Tommy Cosh singing Mandalay, a line from a poem. Going down not fighting. Going down in song. I can’t articulate why and how that has moral value, I can’t monetize or quantify it. But I know it, because I want it so badly to be true.
Which reminds me of something I heard: if you have a band twitter account, and you haven't posted this week, you don't have a band twitter account. I say that not to value the sentiment but rather to mark the occasion of finally moving past it. And yet I am blogging! But it's not to "get the word out," it's to engage in the practice of marking time.
This weekend we do a video shoot (we=the mighty Mobius Percussion, the wildly talented Evan Chapman, and I) for a new piece of mine, Symmetry and Sharing. For a percussion quartet (the aforementioned mighty Mobius) that happens to sing, and happens to have SATB voices, by some miracle.
Meanwhile I am learning not to write something every time I'm asked. Instead I am focused in whole on F7s#4. Mysterious, no?