planter, would you sow new seeds?

This is my 100th "poetry and lyrics" post! I saw that and I was like "really? only 100?" Then I remembered my tags don't go all the way back to the beginning, so maybe that accounts for it.

So this came from a couple things. My recent thoughts about wanting, and how desire makes it more apparent that the inside of me is as messily disorganized as the outside. The idea of "can you nurture the children of your actions?" and how intentions, acted out, "bear fruit" in sometimes unexpected ways. My cousin Kris's recent post. Real life, and people living it and doing stuff, makes a house messy, and pretending otherwise is an illusion! The only people you've got to try to maintain illusions with are the ones who expect you to be something other than real, who want you to live up to their ideas of what other people's houses and selves should look like. Know what? Those people are being lazy! XD Still, sometimes I suppose it's nice to "keep up appearances", even if only to be polite to people who can't, or don't have the spare energy to, handle the fact that real life is messy. It's a choice, though, not a necessity. Living life and making messes, though--that
is a necessity.
Oh, and guerre-de-noms is a kinda play on words. A 'nom-de-guerre' or war-name is a code name someone takes on during war. So guerre-de-noms would be a name war, a war about names. Cause as we learned from Socrates, when it comes to philosophy, definition of terms frequently IS the whole argument.

then live up to these promises
to whomsoever made
your little guerre-des-noms, this is
your garden in the shade

how does your garden grow, Contraire?
in tangled webs, of course
if, in the weeds, are flowers there
it's through no art of yours

you pay attention to the ants
the birds, the rain, the sun
but never shout or raise your hands
to stop a single one

from nibbling berries off the vine
and peaches where they fell
you write "more sweet are fruits of mine
than water from a well"

above the gate, which, leaning wide
reveals a thicket, swarmed
with hungry starlings, beady-eyed
and branches densely thorned

because you find it beautiful
what eats what eats should live
a place to stuff their bellies full
then fall asleep, you give

but where now are the ordered rows
the pathways paved with stones
stone benches carved with stags and does
for guests to rest their bones?

there's here and there a patch of moss
beside a gnarled old trunk
a chuckling stream to wade across
where some great beast has drunk

this wild explorer's art is yours
love what you don't yet know
a garden not for gardeners,
but for the things that grow.

a moratorium on musical moratoriums

I'm backdating this so it will be a proper Musical Monday, but in reality this is Tuesday, a little after noon. I'm at the local library near work, reveling in how nice it is to have a keyboard with a functioning letter "n" and "b"! This morning I had an appointment at my local Department of Human Services to apply for food stamps--successfully, this time. Last year when I was on unemployment I'd also applied, only to be rejected because my benefit amount was too large. Odd, really, since it wasn't all that much more than my current weekly paycheck, and at the old apartment the rent was much higher and I had all the utilities.

Ah, well.

I want to say a few things about music. This is, in part, inspired by Gin & Tacos' recent post, and the comments that flowed after it. By the by, I adored the OK Go video, and also Pachelbel's Canon in D transposed into the key of J was really delightfully creepy.

People do get attached to the music we liked as teenagers. For all that I've been out of my teens just less than a decade, this much I've found to be true of people who are in their 90s as much as those in their 40s. Anton LaVey called it "erotic crystallization inertia", which seems to me one too many adjectives. Though the phrase does conjure up the image of the personality as a kind of Freudian chemical experiment, which reaches a state of dynamic equilibrium and hovers around it thereafter. I prefer either mechanical or biological images for the personality myself, though metaphors, like music, are largely a matter of taste. I digress! One way or another, even though fond (or dismal) associations mean that time alone can never rob one's adolescent favorites of their appeal, over time one does develop a discerning ear.

'This band, this singer, this song that I enjoyed back in my day,' we'll say to ourselves, 'they were really just a re-hashing of the great so-and-so from a previous decade!' There's a certain exasperation that often comes with that thought, a feeling of having been cheated. 'How dare someone trick me into liking them, when all they were doing is something somebody else already did better?' To say nothing of the upstarts who have the temerity to continue composing, or at least performing, new material, long after one's own musical preferences are set. And as often as not, doing what seems to the educated ear to be a half-baked imitation of other musicians, perhaps from one's own preferred time period--who were themselves imitations. "A copy, of a copy, of a copy," as the fellow said in Fight Club.

The general consensus seems to be that all the really good songs have already been written. Not once, not twice, but many times, the most moving melodies revisited and scrubbed smooth and frictionless like a stone staircase made treacherously slick by the passage of many thousands of climbers. Various persons pointed out a couple of extremely cogent facts. There are, for example, a finite number of notes in the scale. And the scale we use, as evidenced by the weirdness of the "Canon in J", seems to be the one human ears are able to appreciate, through some emergent quirk in the mystical relationship between mathematics and biology. There are, furthermore, among the finite but enormous possible combinations, a still-large but much more limited number of melodies which are pleasing to the human ear and capable therefore of carrying the emotional weight of a song.

All of these melodies have been used many times, will be used many more times, and all of them are what patent lawyers call "known in the art" though they are not yet codified as such. Before the era of recorded music it would have been impossible ever to become acquainted with this fact as an individual, however obvious it is to the deductive mind. People before recorded music had to make do with whatever music-makers presented themselves, live and in person. Our enrichment in this respect is also our impoverishment. We now have the luxury to demand that every performer and composer present to us, not just the best that can be had in a given region, but the best there ever was in all the world.

Someone in G&T's comment thread mentioned a bit of trivia of which I had not been aware. Apparently at one point Bob Dylan (jokingly or not, I've no idea) proposed a moratorium on new songs. Seems a bit mean-spirited to me; "I've already withdrawn my money, so let the bank close now--screw everyone else." I didn't comment over there, partly because the conversation had wandered into television, where I'm not really fit to contribute, and partly because this is an issue I take very personally.

A moratorium on new songs might be a perfectly fine thing for a listener, who knows they have all the recorded musics of the world to explore. In that vast library of sound one could explore for several lifetimes and still find new things to appreciate. Such a moratorium would just about kill me, though. If that well ran dry, if I went looking for music in that secret place where all else falls away and could never find it again, knew that it was gone, it would be worse than losing a limb, my eyes, my ears. If I lost my ears I could still make music--likely not as well as Beethoven did when he went deaf, and not anymore with my own pipes. If I lost my eyes I would do almost nothing else. Eyes and ears and hands and feet and all, though, are means to an end. As Leonard Cohen put it, "magic is no instrument; magic is the end." Music is far from the only part of life which is magical, which is an end in itself to those who love it. Any one small life has room for only a few such. A person is fortunate who can lean on more than one, though one alone is just enough to sustain self and sanity in perilous times.

Melodically I know my limits; I catch myself echoing my own stuff now and then even after only fifteen years of working at it. Lyrically I'm on a more solid footing. Even though writers of lyrics have essentially the same kinds of things to say in every place and time, the evolution of language and culture ensure that those same human experiences will need to be described anew, those same truths must be evoked from slightly different angles of view. (I'm grateful to Amber, by the way, for quoting Kipling at me at great length and assuring me that even though it's not fashionable here and now, the world is not going to stop needing good poetry.) But even if I'd reached the limits of my competence and discovered my skill as a maker of songs to be barely mediocre, I would not stop. I would not consider it for a moment. I might, on the advice of trusted allies and my own conscience, decide to take my dim, flickering little work and "hide it under a bushel". By choice, I mean, and not by this stupid lack of the ready means to do otherwise.

But I would not be bullied out of making music by the mere weight of musical history. That sentiment is, frankly, more stupid and tawdry and designed to lead astray the innocent than the lyrics to A Simple Plan's Welcome To My Life. Music is not like chemistry, or math, where once a thing is discovered it may (must!) be done just the same way every time to achieve the desired result. Music is like cooking, like storytelling; we need at least a little of it to get through every day of our lives, whether we're aware of it or not, whether we participate in it actively or passively.

There are a finite number of tunes, of course. There are a finite number of edible foods, too. And certainly every possible combination of foodstuffs has been tried, whether by a world-famous chef or a curious and enterprising three-year-old. I despise the way the word "artist" gets overused these days, slathered liberally over everything that touches music. In much the same way, come to think of it, that bad lyricists harp on the word "love" when the four-letter word they really mean to use would get their silly song taken off the radio. But every really good creator of anything is an artist, any really good sandwich-maker or porch-builder or room-arranger, even if, like a janitor, all you create is order and cleanliness where once was refuse and filth. Love, skill and attention make the difference.

One's art is one's passion is one's life, the love that binds us to reality and to the world and everything and everyone with whom we share it. The finished product itself might not be of very much to use to anyone but the maker. But whether it's "therapy poetry" or a spotless room needlessly re-cleaned to calm its inhabitant's nerves, it's worth the doing. It may be the act that prevents another act, one of needless destruction rather than needless creation. Or it may be practice, a taste of things to come, the first stumbling steps down a road that leads somewhere, anywhere, so long as it is a place better than here.

To be angry at someone for despoiling something you love is natural and, within limits, just. To be willing to destroy something you love because it has been despoiled is an act of cowardice. So let the people who are bad at making music keep trying, I say. And if they are not really trying but are merely content to be bad, then perhaps one day I will get ahold of them, and shake them by their lapels and roar at them until they think twice about casually misusing what gifts they may possess.

At work, they've got a computer upstairs with a lengthy playlist, a mixture of songs new and old. Some in each category, the new and the old (but especially the new!), annoy me to the point of baring my teeth at the speakers in the ceiling, and complaining of the songwriters' faults to any and all who will listen. (Welcome To My Life is naturally at the top of the list in the teeth-gnashingly awful category. Though I admit, to my shame, to having seen Simple Plan in person, I got almost no pleasure out of it and was glad I had a place to sit down.) I've thought very often of reinstating Musical Mondays as a place to voice my complaints in text. Apart from the lack of free time, one of the things that has stopped me is the thought that somewhere out there, there's a kid who doesn't know any better, for whom this song I consider third-rate and exasperating helped them in some way. Teased a kernel of truth out from between the floorboards in their mind, and helped them lift it up and carry it off to where it could usefully be planted.

Having an excuse to think it over in a different way, though, has been good for me. This is the internet, for dog's sake. If perfectly intelligent and forthright people can go around saying music's dead and we should shut off the rat faucet already, then by great Marilyn's bra strap I ought to have the gumption to scold the songwriters of today for being lazy, and for not upholding what I consider to be a sacred trust.

want. not wish, not lack. want.

For a few minutes there I regarded this feeling with suspicion. Crazy, rising up from the depths of my mind to drag my attention away from real life and down unpleasant bunny trails, has felt similar. I'm writing from a place which combines powerful emotion with a great tightness of the intellect, mind like a long-tensed muscle. So please excuse the flowery, rather than correct, grammar et cetera.

This feels like impatience, anger, resolve. Angry, not crazy. I want whatever happens next to happen now, now, now now!
I want to mosh.
I want to get respectably educated about a loud angry band and go mosh.
I want to see Local H again.

Oh, this wanting, it is dangerous stuff.

Sometimes my brain calls up the memory of gun oil and for a moment, I smell it. It is a comfort; reminds me of Dad.

I want to start an organization, a congregation. I want disciples awesome enough to supplant me and leave me in place behind the scenes in an advisory role. Disciples only in the sense of people who are trying to figure out the same sorts of things I am trying to figure out. They may or may not start out by listening to me. At some point, though, I want them to have enough of their own opinions, informed by experiment and thought, that we can generate a common terminology and have debates about things which are otherwise almost impossible to speak of.

It is as if, by giving myself leave to actively desire, I have opened a skylight on a room full of long-dormant lush leafy vined things that, of a sudden, all began to sprout and grow. Violently. Which desires to prune back, and which to let climb, bud, flower. I wonder. Which flowers would bear nourishing fruits.

Reminds me of a dream I had recently. Of which I won't say anything except that it reminded me strongly of a Miller and Lee quote, a commonplace in the Liaden Universe: Can you nurture the children of your actions?

Another dream, last night, ended with me looking at myself in a mirror. Always a good thing, mental-health-wise, when you dream your face in a mirror and it is your own face.

I want a place I can go to play my music where people recognize me, expect me, know me by name, are familiar with my catalog, give me sass when I'm off my A game. I know, now, how to earn such a role. If the place were of the right character and the scene spacious enough or nascent enough for me to be that person there without supplanting someone else, which I would dislike.

I want people to walk away from me and say to each other, "you mean she's like this all the time?!" In a good way, though.

Life cycles through seasons, or rather, we in our dance with life throw ourselves into different things with different amounts and aspects of ourselves. It seems to me these changes are guided by what we are becoming, and how we go about it. I've gone through a long season of not writing out my changes as I go, not attempting to draw out a map behind me in words as I travel through time. I have been acting, doing, and when I've stepped back analyze I have kept it to myself. I want this season to end. And that will require a time of a different shape.

The burden and danger of desire is that what we desire, we do. What we do, we become. What we become, we stamp on the world around us, in the imprint of our presence on the people with whom we interact and the tasks we perform.

There are two ways in which you can believe you are unworthy to desire, and so shut off that place within yourself. You can believe, as I did for a time, that desire itself is a power you are inherently unfit to wield. That everything which grows from you must wither or spring up poisonous and thorned. Or you can believe, as I did for a time, that desire is too great a danger and a responsibility. That by taking it up you place in your hands a terrible weapon, which you dare not wield for fear of doing some great harm.

I do not think so much of myself, now, that I feel my mere desires to be a danger.

Fear--that formless, irrational terror that drives self away from self and out of reality--does not drive me anymore. Nor the smaller, more reasoned caution that served in its place, the extreme vigilance that kept fear itself in the background while I altered those parts of myself which generated it. Now it is not only acceptable to me to desire; it is necessary. Otherwise I would not have had the courage to attempt so risky a transformation!

I want to find out exactly how dangerous I am. The power that may be used to destroy may also be used to create, and a thing well-created serves and enriches far more than it consumes. I want to make things, and not only things which may be called art, works of the mind that each person must encounter in the quiet of his or her own awareness.

I want to turn locations into places. As in, "if you're looking for X, that is the place." I want to turn processes, interactions, people participating in groupthinks, into times. As in, "oh, those were the times when we were really getting X done."

I want to take some of this stuff I've learned how to do and use it.

the placebo effect

So I was noodling around on Mom's electric guitar last weekend when I went up to Elgin to visit, and came up with the line "I believe in the placebo effect", over a series of E-form chords that sounded bluesy. The line struck me as super cool, and I became determined to write this song and actually finish it. Over the past month or so I've gotten a boatload of first-verse-and-a-chorus fragments that I couldn't figure out how to complete. Maybe the idea's not strong enough to carry a song, maybe I'm not mentally in the right place to finish them--maybe I've just been spending more of my creative energy on other stuff. Who knows. This one, though, turned out pretty well.
I realized, practicing this the day after I wrote it, that it contains not one but two shout-outs to Radiohead songs: where I end and you begin, and I might be wrong. I've changed the tune in those spots accordingly, and it actually fits!:)

If you want an invisible friend
you've got to grow yourself a phone
and listen carefully inside your head
for any voice that's not your own
I say "operator, operator!"
but there's only music on the line
when I start singing on it later
cause it's stuck inside my head, it sounds divine

operator, player to be named later
I'll take whatever, whatever I can get
cause I believe in the placebo effect
I believe in the placebo effect
and it's working for me
working for me
working for me
ain't done yet

when the fear inside me rose up to my neck
I was relieved to be alone
there were just two things I was sure I could expect
to be rejected or be owned
now I know better; I've stopped trying to draw the line
down where I end and you begin
I try to sit back and appreciate
the miracle--we let each other in

come my friend, believe we'll never reach the end
of peace and harmony, love and respect
cause I believe in the placebo effect
I believe in the placebo effect
and it's working for me
working for me
working for me
ain't done yet

fake it till you make it is
a strategy that doesn't get much props
but taking on the world's only pretentious
if you haven't got the chops
no shame in just believing something good
just don't forget, you might be wrong
still every now and then and every now and then
reality will play along

change yourself
grow yourself
no one else
knows yourself

till you rise up, make them lift their eyes up
like the first raindrop that leaves your forehead wet
I believe in the placebo effect
I believe in the placebo effect
cause it's working for me
working for me
working for me
ain't done yet.