Afterburn

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The hardest thing is to leave the work unfinished for the day. Sometimes I seek desperately for the validation of arrival, but every day ends with unanswered questions and unsolved riddles. I am hounded by my own creativity. There is no way out.

I know I’m doing this wrong. Three days ago, an artist retreat in Cleveland showed me a glimpse of truth: that love comes from being, not from work (even creative work); that I am already a son; that nothing I can bring about by my own will has the power to improve the vision or create “success.”

In light of this wrecking of my little castle, I’m having a hard time figuring out what to do. This seems to be my calling. Outside of time spent with people I love, making stories (and sometimes music) is the only thing that makes me feel alive. Somehow, in spite of the choked-up sewer that is my truth-conduit, the clear water of truth is coming out of me (sometimes). I have these abilities. I seem to be able to create this stuff. I hunger and thirst after the right way. I really do. How do I exercise these abilities without descending into narcissism and obsession? How do I give with these abilities, instead of taking? Is there any agency, any room for choice left to me, or are the successful times all the Spirit’s doing and the rest just the half-baked scams of my ego?

This past weekend, I felt the profound weight of holiness. It is a thing you do not touch. The selfish thoughts that sprang up in me looked away at once and held their hands behind their backs. Something of terrible power was in the room. At last, my spirit slipped into alignment with the deep logic of Love. There was no space to deny the holiness, nor even space to stand back and observe. Cultural rituals and anthropological investigation be damned: we were in the presence of the Most High, and it was pulsing in our vocal cords, our neurons, in the blank white walls of the empty sanctuary.

Now my head hurts and it is snowing again. I’ve mailed off the jury thing, hoping the claim of “non-resident of county” will excuse me. I still need to check the oil level in my car. I still need to get the thing repaired, too. I need to rectify this situation with 20 pixely-covered copies of my book—copies that have the old cover—copies that I hope to claim towards a credit on copies with the new cover. My publishing venture has twenty-four dollars in the bank, none of which is profit after cost. I am eleven hundred in the hole with it from last year, six hundred in the hole from this year. I am tired. I want God. I want a functional, chemically balanced brain. I want to stop feeling like I should smash things. I want God. I want people to read my books—not for my financial gain, not to get me famous, but because my books are true. They are about God and us and nothing more. I want God. I want to go back, or forwards—I am not sure which—to wherever God is.

I guess it is forwards. It’s never back. I know that. I know that.

Music and I

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Music and I broke up around 2010. We had always had a decent relationship, I guess, but it became increasingly apparent that the spark had faded. Since our commitment had never progressed beyond an unspoken “we’ll date—for now,” there was nothing to fall back on when our relationship hit the rocks. That year, I gave to music with a half-hour piano sonata, an album of pop tunes, and a senior composition recital. But music wasn’t giving back to me, and my efforts masked a deeper change that neither music nor I was aware of. Allow me a moment of melodrama: we simply weren’t in love anymore.

Actually, I shouldn’t say we broke up in 2010; we just became emotionally estranged, and I think it happened in 2011 or 2012. Can I change my story as I go? I’m just trying to process this. Music changed herself again (she always did—and that kept it fresh for a long time), offering me a role in an indie art-rock band. It was new and beautiful to play bass in Kairos House. I no longer had to worry about writing for classical instruments in a way that would make performers happy. (The classical world is incredibly provincial. “Not my job” is the prevailing attitude, and it’s most popularly applied to parts for one’s own instrument.) Now, in Kairos House, I could blast the living daylights out of my bass with a cello bow and headbang away my masculine angst. Not playable? Oh, we made it playable. It was loud, and it was fun.

But somehow, it came to an end. Life kept shrinking and needs kept growing. It wasn’t that the sounds of Kairos House didn’t speak to me. They did, but other music didn’t. In 2009, discovering Oceansize and Fleet Foxes had changed my life. In 2010 and 2011, these bands’ new albums should have been amazing. But nothing could match Oceansize’s Frames and Fleet Foxes’ eponymous first album. The muse, ever a fickle mistress, had not quite imbued these new offerings with that glorious golden Something Other. Each album sounded like the band that had made it; and that was the problem.

Addendum: Age of Adz gave me a glimpse of All Things Made New, but it was only a glimpse, and it faded inexplicably. Oh, and summer of 2011, music tried to woo me back with an incredible Bon Iver concert in Chicago. Hearing 2,000 people sing “what might have been lost…” has a way of changing your life. But after a few months of providing glorious sensory stimulation, Bon Iver, Bon Iver began to reveal a lack of spiritual depth. It was pure sensory form without spiritual function. I’d been had.

I was still giving back to music, but the relationship had turned somewhat abusive. Winter of 2010-11, I recorded a short album of morbid pop tunes eclipsed by mechanical noise. I called it Come, My Tired Machine, and never released it. I took music and I beat her with the noise and violence in my heart and head. But even under the bruises, she was beautiful. These are some of the best songs I’ve ever recorded.

By now, I’m sure I’ve thoroughly confused music. I am truly sorry for that—and yet, she’s been sending me mixed messages too. For my part, I never meant her any harm; I just have this recurring fear that if I invest too much in her, my writing will suffer. But oh, how part of me longs to make godawful noise on guitar again. That 50-watt Bandmaster is just gathering dust. Then there are those half-formed ideas of songs from last Fall, mouldering on the same harddrive that holds this Word document. There was something about a train sweeping by, and a lonely slow guitar tuned down to C and overdriven to hell. Yes, I’ll be back. Just give me time.

But even nowadays, the committed musicians in my life have kept me from abandoning music completely. They just keep cranking out good stuff. My fiancee’s cello playing has redeemed me on many a night of emotional sickness. My brother’s album, Strongheart, has spoken to me in ways that nothing has for several years. I absorb these sounds now without feeling the old pressure to Know Exactly What Is Happening or Produce Something Just As Good. And maybe that alone means that music and I will get back together, sometime soon; having grown older, wiser, and a little more cognizant of what we can and can’t do for each other. Maybe it isn’t over after all.

Hey music. How’s it going. I know it’s been a while… is this weird? Yeah, I don’t really know where to start either.