Wednesday Speed of Soul Conversation - We live in a culture of perfection. We should be right- we should be competent - we should not make mistakes. This limits us in so many ways. Living is a process, of getting it right, getting wrong, of circling around and learning something, and then learning it again. As an artist, I know that very little of interest happens if I always play it safe - or expect myself or my work to be “perfect.” Each day will present large and small chances to live more true to yourself - to love instead of fear, to say it instead of only thinking it, to try something that feels a little scary.
So today - Has there ever been a time you took a risk, and later said, “wow, that was scary, but I’m so glad I took the chance?”
Singing in the Kitchen
Singing In The Kitchen
My mother sang with full abandon.
When she was washing dishes,
With the kitchen radio.
She liked the old songs,
And she’d swing her hips,
Sashaying as much as a woman can,
When elbow deep in soapy water.
I would sit on the hardwood steps,
Filled with pride and wonderment,
Whisphering with sage,
Into my dog’s ear,
“My mother has the voice of an angel.”
My dog would agree.
Standing side by side,
On Sunday morning,
I was horrified,
In the way only a teenager can be horrified,
When her mother is singing,
Loudly and confidently,
Completely and consistently,
In front of her friends.
My mother was a cautious soul
Private and intentional,
And I am grateful
That she taught me how hold my little sister’s hand
And look both ways before I crossed the street.
But I am also thankful,
She did not know,
Or she did not care,
That her voice was not smooth
or perfectly pitched.
She sang anyway,
Because some things just have to be
Exactly what they are,
And a song must be sung
One way or another.
By Carrie Newcomer - Mother’s Day 2013
Speed of Soul Conversation Post -
On my facebook page we have an on going conversation on questions each week. Here is this week’s thought and question.
The Wednesday Speed of Soul Conversation Circle
There are several phrases that people say (with all good intention and desire to comfort) that have always troubled me. One of those phrases is “God never gives us more than we can bear.” I really do understand that this phrase is meant to give courage and remind us of all the times we struggled, survived, and remained whole. It is good to remember that even when we are struggling or wounded, that we do have resources (our own spirit, our community and loved ones, The Light that walks with us even in the darkest times).
But to me how the phrase is constructed implies a god that would intentionally “give” us the worst sorrows of our lives. Implying a god that is either very cruel or very capricious. Secondly, it implies that we must not fail, or fall apart, or be wounded in ways that it takes a life time to try to heal - that terribly wounded person must be outside The Light.
So I’ve come up with other things to say that hopefully convey my presence and the presence of something made wholly of Light. I usually say, “I am here for you, your loved ones and community are here for you-you are not a lone.” Or ” I know you are doing the best you can- what looks like help right now? ” Many times just being present is enough- no words are necessary. A touch or a hug is all that is needed.
So what do you think? Has this or other “stock” phrases of comfort troubled you because of their unintentional messages? Do you have an alternative phrase that better communicates your desire to be of comfort and help in times of struggle or sorrow?
(Painting by Julia Rogers based upon the song Three Women)
Three times this winter I walked my old dog, Sophie, to the veil between this world and the next. But each time we stood at the threshold, she lifted her greying head, looked at the thing, and thought better of it. She peered into the mystery and decided to walk back to her memory foam bed and daily walks to the creek and meadow just beyond the barn. It has been a hard winter for an old dog, the cold and ache of the season settling into her tired bones. For sixteen years, which is nearly 592 in dog years, she has placed her forehead against my chest, pressing it to the warmth and sturdiness of my sternum in quiet communion. With each near death excursion my heart has felt the wailings of loss. Each time I said goodbye and told her it was all right to let go. Each time I have assured her that she’d done everything a good dog could possibly do in one life. But each time she has said, “Oh God of meadows and woods and good dogs, grant me one more walk in the green, one more good sniffing of the meadow, one more pressing of my forehead in wordless love.” And each time the God of meadows and woods and good dogs has heard and answered with a kindly, “Yes, this time.”
I’ve learned a lot from this old friend, who without embarrassment or shame has asked me three times to walk with her to the edge of eternity, and then walk back. She takes help and does not feel she is unworthy or ashamed of receiving what is given in love. She has no ledger sheet of give and take. How hard it is for me to ask for help, even when I sorely need it. I worry about imposing. I wonder if I’m putting too much on that side of the accounts. In my darkest days, I have even feared I did not deserve such generosities. She lets me help. She allows me to feel useful and present with her, which enlarges my life and enlarges my spirit. This is a reminder to me that giving and receiving are not two sides of a coin, but rather interlocking pieces of a complete and whole heart.
She is grateful, and when her ability to run and swim left her, she was happy to walk, and then walk slower. She does not grieve what she does not have. She loves what is directly in front of her. She does not miss the show worrying whether or not she has the best seat. How many times did I hold tight long beyond the time to let go? How many times have mistakenly equated what I have with who I am? The life of a dog is now. A dog is grateful for what is, which I am finding to be the soundest kind of wisdom and very good theology.
In the taking of these three journeys, I have observed in myself an increasing inner calm and quietness of spirit. Our first trip to the doorway was filled with the buzzing white noise of grief. The second trip was very much the same. The third trip I started to hear something beyond the buzzing, a clear space, as quiet and smooth as still water. At first I thought I might be becoming numb. How much white noise can a person sustain until the ears must be covered? But this calm is not about me closing down, but rather, opening up to her last gift to me. I have passed through the white noise of loss and the human desire to grasp and hold on to her. I have watched her go to the river, dip in a toe and walk back – but not because she was afraid of what was to come, or a sense of feeling entitled to more. She walked back simply because it was not yet time. In the fullness of time we will all cross the river, and life gives us no guarantees to when or how this will happen. But this old friend has shown me how to sit in the sun, how to take one more walk in the green, enjoy one more good sniffing of the meadow. She has shown me how to love the now and be grateful for what is, and catch a glimpse of the shining brightness of daily things, which can only be seen in the awareness of limited time.
She has shown me a calm and quiet place where I can press my own weary head into the welcoming sternum of something made wholly of Light.
Remember the shaft of shimmering light
Coming down through the summer trees.
Remember the first wildflower blooms
And white oak seedlings
That make their muddy way
Up through the muddy ground.
Remember the roots digging downward and outward
And branches that lean their heads together
Murmuring at the end of the day.
Remember the wind that does not understand glass,
And the water that will insist upon finding a way
Wearing through the very bones and stones of the earth.
Remember that all these things are not decorations,
But a living communion,
A breathing remembrance
Of all things worthwhile.
Take up the cup of this earth
Drink it down and wipe your mouth with
The back of a grateful hand,
Give something back
More than the ashes you came from
And to which you will return.
Listen to the whip-per-will in the dusky light saying,
Bow as if in family grace with the pattering rain saying,
And even when there is no choice but to clear a path
Pay attention, and do not disturb
What should not be disturbed.
Or take what was never meant to be taken.
- Earth Day 2013
Thoughts About Stones and Bones
As Earth Day approaches I want to celebrate our connection to the land and to the natural world. I want to celebrate the landscapes we love and long to see. I want to celebrate that feeling that comes over us when we cross a county line and something in our very bones breathes a sigh and whispers “home.” I want to become more deeply aware that when I care for the earth, I am spiritually, poetically and literally caring for my own body and bones, and the body and bones of everyone one and everything I love.
So today - What is the landscape of your heart? Have you ever felt a landscape in your very bones? Is there one large or small thing you could do today to honor that connection?
In the gloaming,
In the blue hour,
As the last moments of light,
Slipped below the ridge top
Beyond the knowable horizon,
I sat on the porch steps,
Barn jacket and boots,
With my old dog leaning
For solace and balance
Into my shoulder.
She laid her grey head
at the vulnerable hollow
at the base of my throat,
And heaved a great sigh,
For even dogs are effected,
By the kind of beauty,
That eternally happens,
Whether we are paying attention or not.
In that long exhale of the day.
A fox, still clothed in thick winter fur,
Emerged from between the trees
At the wood line just above my home.
It sat down on the new grass and old leaves
And silently gazed
At the pair of us there.
This is a rare thing,
To see a fox just so,
For these creatures are private and wild
And most often seen as a proud flash of red
or vanishing flanks.
The fox and the dog considered one another,
Without longing or regret
The wild and the loyal,
Content in their choices to be
“I am fox, and I could not have been more fox than I am.”
“I am dog, and I could not have been more faithfully dog.”
And with a nod of tribute
And this act of confession,
And the rolling of ears
And lowering of white lashes,
In the very last flash of the setting sun,
The fox walked away.
He did not look back
Leaving an open space
Shaped like question mark.
Time is Kinder to Poets Than Rockers
By Carrie Newcomer
Time is Kinder to Poets Than Rockers
By Carrie Newcomer
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the largest music gear and instrument trade show in the country. I had been invited to attend this conference by a couple of old friends who happen to be two of the more renowned experts in early human history and stone age tools, and who also happen to love rock and roll, guitars and gear. When you think about it, it does make sense that these two Stone Age scientists would be fascinated with music gear and instruments, for these things are essentially the offspring and modern outcome of what was started so long ago in the form of stone axes, arrowheads, and clay vessels and log drums. Their first motivation is about the love of music of course, but it’s joined by a love for the tools and items we human beings continue make with our hands. We still turn metal, wood, plastic, string, and the modern synthetic equivalent of goatskin drum heads into tools humans used to create that communal, primal energy called rock-and-roll. I happen to love tools myself. I can get lost in a hardware store for hours thinking about what kind of sculpture I could build with this unusual metal fob, interesting bolt, or elegant bend of plumbing pipe. What treasure could I create with that hammer, a collection of strong mason tools or a penknife and key grinder. An art supply store can claim my attention indefinitely, with its shelves of neatly laid out brushes, pencils, paper and paint, rendering me nearly helpless with potential. I can also get lost for long periods of time in a good cooking store, with their walls of tools for very specific and sometimes esoteric food preparations. And, being a musician, I have a deep love and appreciation for a finely built instrument. Admittedly I’m not so fascinated by music gear. But the tool thing, I totally get. So at the invitation of these true believers in the evolutionary place and significance of modern musical tools and their makers, I went to the Los Angeles NAMM convention.
Upon arrival a person is first stopped still by the shear size of the show, covering what would amount to four floors, each the size of a couple of football fields, filled absolutely to bursting with booths and displays. Each booth, enormous, large or small has been set up by individuals and companies trying to sell their music related products to store owners, gear dealers, wholesale instrument distributors, school music programs, sundry rock bands and individual artists. These booths display a wide variety of all the physical stuff that surrounds the creation and presentation of music in all genres and forms (albeit in the L.A. location there is an obvious focus on the rock and heavy metal genre). There are booths displaying fine hand built instruments, beautifully tooled Humbocker pick ups, a whole floor of cheap knock offs from china, acres of guitar amplifiers, computerized recording equipment, cellos, violins, banjos, ocarinas, whole show rooms of Bosendorfer pianos, concert sound systems complete with grinding Flying V guitars and Marshal stacks, Pro Tools mixing boards, computerized light shows and a high school auditorium sized stage set up for showing off concert sound gear systems by a company called Peavey, which had hired greeters (kind of like how Wal-Mart hires seniors to stand at the entrance and say hello) but in this case at the door you are given brochures by a cloud of smiling nubile young women dressed in tiny leather skirts and halter-tops, thigh high fish net stockings, black and red stilettos, draped in silver metal chains and crowned with the requisite long straight glossy black or platinum blond hair.
Besides the established owners and makers of revered brands and items, who shook hands and met their appreciative public, there were the new makers and owners hoping that their new tools would be the next preferred brand of the upwardly crankin’ rock elite, there were also the sales staff dressed appropriately for the wares on display, as well as working musicians in every other booth, hired to come in and use the wonderful gear or to impressively play the impressive instruments. I have to tip my hat to these musicians. It was a tough gig for sure, playing covers of Journey and Styx tunes on the show room floor, rocking there hearts out while people wandered by, playing guitar or drums or electric bass amid a din of sound amplified to a deafening pitch. DJs were scratching away and celebrity guitar and drum gods of heavy metal endorsed products and signed drum heads and glossy photos of themselves posed with instruments, effect pedals and hot looking women. I even saw man at a Goth rock gear booth dressed in a costume that looked half transformer, half anime robot wizard, complete with platform vinyl boots, scary stegosaurus spines capping his shoulders, a silence of the lambs mask and what looked like silver underpants, doing photo ops with passer-byes in front of a row of guitar cases shaped like coffins. There was a cacophony of sound, light and studded jackets at this show totally dedicated to buying, selling and celebrating the gear that promises to make you famous, help you play faster, better and harder. There were the people working the shows, the Japanese electronics guys in suits, the press with cameras and interviewers camped out in media booths, there were former roadies selling heavy duty wheeled road cases, there were the bewildered and slightly overwhelmed observers like myself. But then there were the musicians not working the show, but attending the whole glorious carnival, two hundred thousand rockers on parade. At a certain point I just sat down on the ground, back to the wall to take in a fascinating procession of humanity that almost defies description. This is when I was glad I am an aging folk singer and poet and not an aging rock and roller. It’s hard enough getting older in an entertainment/ music genre that still thinks learning a song from an old guy with no teeth in the hills of Appalachia is a badge of coolness. It’s hard enough trying to remain relevant in your art, when you know that everything has been said before and probably with the same chord progression. Hard enough to continue to make songs, to keep at it because this is the work of your heart and soul and because you believe that the most important things can be said more than once, and from different perspectives. Its hard enough to know that even though the old guy with no teeth in Appalachia is cool, that as a woman in entertainment you still need to stay thin enough to be taken for younger at a distance.
But Rock and Roll is all about youth, beauty, excess and pleasure. Rock and roll is about sex, and those engaged in rolling and rockin’ are young and smooth and restless, they are tough and daring, they don’t have double chins or kids at home. They hook up with groupies and other rockers; they don’t hook up the DVD or Apple TV units to the cable box. In a crowd of unnumbered rockers, there were many musicians who fit all above-mentioned necessary criteria, but there were also what seemed to be about an 80% ratio older rockers to younger rockers. I saw women dressed in truly skanky looks-like-real-leather tight pants with thick 1980’s Cher-singing-on-the-navy-transport gelled ringlets. There were women who’s muffin tops had grown to fully baked family sized loaves of white bread, women who had figured out their sexiest feature (or what 15 years ago had been their sexiest feature) and were exploiting it with an air of wild abandon. There were insanely huge breasts pushed up and falling out of leather corsets, long slender legs striding out from skirts that barely covered falling derrières. There were young rocker men who were sultry and trying to look bored (and failing) in their impossibly skinny black jeans and hipster glasses, Hispanic guys in low slung pants and baseball caps, dred locks and tattoos that reached from shoulder to wrist, southern rockers in skull and cross bone, wife beater t-shirts and camouflage pants. But again, walking down the hallways with their rocker girlfriends rambled the 80% older rocker dudes. These were men who were still wearing long fling-able White Snake hair and dock martins. Some were wearing 80’s Motley Crew eyeliner. Some were going bald, and had opted for the shaved head with the long goatish beard look. They ambled decked out in black and black and more black, but instead of displaying the bare-chested sweaty allure of their twenties, they had taken on the tough sinewy look of too many drugs, or the comfortable and friendly spread of too many years of too much beer. I was a bit overwhelmed with the whole parade of many hopeful musicians, long past their rock-n-roll prime, trying to fit into the tight pants and bustier’ of their glory days. It was like watching thousands of grown adults doing the middle age morning mirror gaze, the side ways glance, best angle, I-don’t-really-have-a-chicken-neck-yet, appraisal. The only difference is that most of us do our sidelong glance in the privacy of our own blue tiled bathroom.
The next morning, waiting for my flight at LAX, I pulled out my paperback of Mary Oliver poetry. Mary Oliver, who is now in her 80’s, seems only to get more vibrant as she ages. Her poetry is filled with natural world images, reflections of life and grief, unnamable mystery and the curious process of aging. She asks all the right questions, and doesn’t tend to give any specific answers. I underlined several verses, and dog-eared three pages. “Hallelujah, I’m not where I started.” “I believe in kindness, also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when it is not necessarily prescribed.” and “What we love, shapely and pure, is not to be held, but to be believed in, and then they vanish into the unreachable distance.” I read these words of poetry about the musings of a life lived with more attention to depth and breathe, rather than height. I thought about how I’d watched that parade of aging rockers with a little uncomfortable embarrassment. But glad the experience had been without sadness, for a life lived for a passion and art, is never a sad thing, just sometimes a glorious and difficult thing (especially in tight leather pants). There was a good size part of me thinking, “You go girl, rock it and flaunt it like only a woman who has done some living can.” And no, that little bit of embarrassment never went so far as pity, since pity would mean I was personally above such follies and miscalculations, which I am not, which I say smiling, which deepens my mouth lines. For one thing I’ve found after careful years of publicity photo sessions and Photoshop, but now entering an era when every person you meet has a camera phone who takes uncorrected photos of you and Instagrams, Twitters or Facebook tags them to the entire world, that the best thing an aging musician (or person for that matter) can do is smile. It is good to smile big and wide. Smile because you’ve lived this long, and loved this long and hallelujah you’re not the same for it. Smile because striving for the happiness of storybooks or American idol, as well as finding all the elusive answers to the most unponderable things, has become less important than asking better questions. You smile because you believe in kindness but also in a little mischief. You smile because it will make others wonder how you do it. It is good to smile with a big toothy, shit eating grin and a swaggering neaner neaner, because youth had its perks, better eyesight and higher breasts being just a couple, but age has come in on swan wings. It has glided in with fully stretched white feathers and finally come to rest on a clear silent pond. You smile because there are now more days than not that you don’t feel the need to check your butt in the mirror before leaving the house and it is nice. You smile for all that has vanished into the unreachable distance and savor every sweet and salty lingering undertone.
Time is kinder to poets than to rockers. Although, it is true that the poet often goes unnoticed. Unnoticed because poetry rarely minces out on five inch stilettos or strides into the room all decked out in bravado and leather. The poet, if she is seen at all, will be watching a film of clouds pass over the moon, she may be weeping beside the three small stones unexpectedly found an old cemetery at the edge of the woods. The poet is playing with a pun or is living more than a little mischief. She or he is dressed in corduroy, a warm jacket and muddy walking shoes. She may still wonder and ponder the meaning and strangeness of dimming vision, but is she is cradling in her hands and drinking in a fountain of newly opened lilac blooms. She is smiling and weeping. She is loving every little bit of it, every little bit—every single little bit of it.
Never So Far - Poem
We are never so far
From any spirit,
Here or traveling,
As long as someone
Tells the story.
We are never so finely tuned,
Connected one to the other,
Than when we meet
“Yes, love is like that.”
Kindred Spirits - about the songs (Geodes)
Geodes actually had it’s origins in two different sources. The first was an essay I wrote about my neighborhood (a place the land maps call Penitentiary Hollow). Often my songs originate in an essay or poem I’ve written about a topic. It’s like the essay or poem circles around an idea, then the song condenses and hones in on the thought. In this particular essay I describe an encounter with Bill, my elderly neighbor, who grew up in this hollow and can tell you stories about each stand of woods and where along the creek his grandfather had a moonshine still. Bill is Southern Indiana salt of the earth, and in his own way an exceptionally kind hearted man (note: I kinda suspect that Bill may be Buddha in disguise). Anyway, at the very end of the story I bring in the metaphor of geodes. Geodes are so common in our area people don’t have to open them to know that there is always something shining inside - which can apply to people, and to the shining center of the whole world.
The second place of origin for the song Geodes was a song prompt. I’ve been part of an ongoing songwriting group for many years. sometimes we give on another challenges or prompts that stretch our skills. The challenge was to create a song that had no chorus, or based on something mysterious. So I combined the essay, the two song suggestions and the song Geodes was born.
The images in Geodes grow out of the experience of finding these amazing stones every time I go for a walk. And if I’m paying attention, there is always something mysteriously shining in everyone I meet, and throughout the natural world.