The Corporate Question and the Twisted Pop Podcast

It’s a question I didn’t expect to hear from this co-worker. I’ll be clear. He is definitely my boss, but I know him well enough that I wouldn’t have expected to hear it from him. He said in all seriousness, “What do you want to do with your life?”

“What do you want to do with your life?” I scoffed at him.

The question has many forms often used in interviews. Maybe the most common form is: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

No matter the form, it’s always the same intent. The assumption is that this job is something that I actually want to do. I’m not saying that we don’t enjoy our jobs, but they’re jobs. I have a good job. Or maybe I should say that I have had a series of good jobs all of which I have simultaneously enjoyed and hated. Continue reading “The Corporate Question and the Twisted Pop Podcast”

Be The Boss – Phantom Buffalo – 2009

There are all these different ways to approach the same idea. And usually the simplest idea is the best. But experimentation is always the key to any progress. But I always end up coming back to the same idea. Consistency is really the key to a lot of things. The least confusing idea for this blog is that I write about a song every day. And when I can’t do that, I just simply can’t do that. I doubt that I will write about 365 songs this year. Maybe I will come up with another title for this blog. Maybe I won’t.

“To be the boss”

In elementary school back in Bryam Township, NJ, there was a math teacher named Hobb Engler. The local Little League organization is named after him. He was a big guy with a cigar. That’s how I remember him. I never had a class with him. But there were three female teachers around him in the 4th grade that would send their misbehaving students, especially male, instead of wasting the time of the principal. I got sent to his class once. I don’t remember what I did. I expected that I would sit in the desk next to his desk with my back to his class and the discomfort of the unfamiliar setting would be punishment enough.

“or carry my hat.”

But Hobb Engler’s methods were not passive. He told me to get up and write on the chalkboard while he sat in his chair. My handwriting has always been atrocious, so the numbers on the board were unreadable. But he had me carry on until the students were asking what the hell I was writing. Which he made me explain. The class he was teaching was one grade ahead of me, so I was a bit lost. And while I was incredibly confused, I attempted to figure out what was going on. I was engrossed in trying to decipher what I had written on the board when Mr. Engler said, “Mr. Lines? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Me, “What?” Engler, “It’s a yes or no question.” Me, “What?” Engler, “Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Me, “?” Engler, “Mr. Lines. It’s a yes or no question. Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Me, “?” Engler, “I think I have had about enough of you.” Me, “?” Engler, “Or you of me? Go back to your class and don’t bother your teacher anymore. Got it?” I didn’t bother her anymore.

“Don’t blow it away.”

To be the boss or carry my hat? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch? There’s not much of a choice is there. I think it’s a really important thing to ponder an incoherent question. It’s sort of the daily dilemma of the modern world. The riddle of affluence. The curse of the middle class.

“I want it to stay.”

There’s a lot of encouragement about bettering ourselves and being of service. But society and possibly survival itself don’t lend themselves very well to idealism, community, passion, intelligent discourse, etc. When it comes down to it, there is no right answer for anything. Any of the political or social issues that own large swaths of our consciousness. Tax cuts, crime, social security, defense, world hunger… There are answers, but the questions are largely incoherent. Requiring yes or no answers where long discourse and argument are concerned is largely unproductive. But when the problem includes threats that seem imminent and life threatening, then intelligent discourse gives way to panic and threats.

“But our little fire’s not doing okay.”

Phantom Buffalo fits into a particular group of Indie artists and labels that don’t seem to distribute their music very widely via the internet. You can order a record from the label, Time Lag Records, but that’s about it. Mexican Kids at Home, who I wrote about in my last entry is the same. They are on Wee-Pop records and they even told me that they don’t necessarily put mp3’s out on the internet. This all seems rather contradictory in a way. And really this song, Be The Boss, has been bothering me. But it finally reminded me of this story about Hobb Engler. And while the song comes off as a love story, it seems to be saying something about the fruitless endeavors of the creative fringe of society. We used to be just underground, but now we are marginalized. Largely with our consent.

Being an Indie artist, or maybe to do anything truly artistic (I’m not talking about making music for the corporate context that is dictated to us.), is like walking backward through life. The answer as a musician seems to be to get a large following, get signed by a major label and make lots of money. There is a different formulaic answer for all of the media that artists work in. And it’s ironic to contemplate all of these solutions, because all of these paths to success involve some step or element that most people don’t have access to. A very basic step in the music formula is submitting a demo. You need an entertainment lawyer to do this. To retain a decent entertainment lawyer, you need to cough up a very larger retainer (In case you didn’t know. Retainer = cash.) and also be connected to people that know lawyers well enough to recommend you to them. So you need an agent to make an introduction. Run your head around that one a bit. It’s enough to make you crazy.

Do you walk to school or carry your lunch? Really! So we know the answers. We really do. There are thousands of books written about how to do it. And even how to do it as an Indie artist. None of these answers reflect that the questions are incoherent. How do you break into an industry that no longer even likes what it does? The music industry doesn’t like music or musicians. The people don’t like themselves. No one likes what they do. We all point to the government as if the government wasn’t the biggest employer in the country. Even people that work for the government talk about it as if it is something outside of themselves. We largely alienate only ourselves because we are always who we are criticizing. The truly rich have sold us the dream of being rich, and we have laid down our only defense. Freewill. We feel like we don’t have any choices. We need everything the middle class dream has dictated that we must have.

So my first instinct when hearing music so far out of the mainstream that the labels that distribute it have basically dropped out of the contemporary methods of the distribution chain is to just dismiss it all. I actually said out loud to a friend that I wondered if they were members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. But then I thought about all of the things that I have said here. And really I am so full of shit if I come at it from this angle. The music is good. There are some really heavy metaphors lurking just under the surface. And I know for a fact that digital distribution only serves to expose more people to the music. It doesn’t even attract new people to the shows which is where the band makes all of its money. But no one makes any money off of the digital distribution except the corporations that offer the download service, iTunes, Amazon, Emusic.

So what does it matter. People downloading songs on their computers don’t really add a significant turnout to shows. Word of mouth. Scene buzz. That’s how people end up going to shows. The internet does hold a lot of promise as the great equalizer, but it isn’t the shoe in the door to the industry success that we would like to believe it is. So labels like Time Lag and Wee Pop are just choosing to reign it in. As are the bands that choose to partner with them. It’s kind of a smart strategy. It’s the community that has always been the strength of building buzz around music. But even if it doesn’t bring them bigger “market share”, there is some integrity in it. They are not playing the corporate game. The game where smaller players have to mortgage their future to buy into a new infrastructure that only benefits the larger corporations that own that infrastructure. These smaller players have their own rules and their own metaphors. They protect what they have when they drop out and say that they aren’t going to play.

“Even in our minimized world, we can survive girl.”

That seems to be it. There is so much promise in all of this new stuff. But I think a good deal of it is a waste. What was the original question that our modern answers are responding to? To be the boss or carry my hat? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch? Yes or no? I understand what he was trying to teach me. The teacher was there to do a job and I was being an asshole for making it harder. Teachers show up for work and most of the questions they are answering are incoherent. Their time with the students is short. The teacher isn’t the man. Just another victim of a senseless system. I get it, but if Hobb Engler asked me today, I would say, “No!”

Phantom Buffalo myspace page

One Man Band – Mexican Kids At Home – 2009

My friend, Mark, that I was in several bands with is one of the most interesting characters I have ever known.  But I hate to use a forum like this to tell Mark Pringle anecdotes.  There are so many of them.  But for the love of God, I wish I knew where to contact him.  He’s a strange guy, but one of the best friends I have ever had.  He wrote a song for me once that I have had in my head for over 20 years called We Shared the Same Song.  I have only ever heard him play it live, because that’s how our musical careers have gone.

“I don’t want to sleep in the corner”

You can only take my word for it that the music I have actually recorded for people to hear is a sad facsimile of the original work.  Mark and I tried to record several times.  Some of it sucked very badly.  Some of it was okay.  But the truth is that we could never keep it together long enough for actual decent recordings of our efforts to be completed.  We spent a long time writing songs.  The song was more important than anything.  But the end result is that there are few artifacts available for general consumption.

“where people throw stuff at me cause I’m smaller.”

We could work together for an average of 6 months before we were at each other’s throats.  I blamed him.  He blamed me.  And really, it would be easy for me to present a case about how hard it was to work with Mark.  But who cares.  In the end, I have nothing to show for the some of the most valuable creative efforts of my life.  And it’s a good thing I have a really good musical memory, because I have only heard the song he wrote for me a handful of times.  But I can easily recall all of it.  And it was perfect with just him and a guitar.  And as frustrating as Mark could be, he could really reach you with his music.  And when he did, he was easy to forgive.

“I would normally throw stuff back”

Mark made a living a lot of the time in Albuquerque playing in coffee shops by himself.  He could throw down an open guitar case and pull in enough to pay bills.  And you could see it when he reached someone.  And he could do it over and over again.

“but it never seems to go down like that.”

Mark would do this thing where he would attempt to add additional instruments without adding additional people.  Part of that was just wanting to get it done and he played live so much.  Part of it was just Mark being weird.  Part of it was just that he generally had a bad time working with other people.  It would be really funny sometimes.  And he would talk about the Dick Van Dyke character in Mary Poppins.  The one man band.

“I just want to start a one man band.”

Honestly at the time, I had no idea what he was talking about.  It had been so long since I had seen Mary Poppins.  But in the last few years, I have had the opportunity to see Mary Poppins with my son several times.  I can’t help but think of Mark whenever I see that character.  And it always makes me think about some of the values Mark had in entertainment.  He told me one time about why he liked Chinese cinema so much, even beyond the Kung Fu movies we were into because the whole Albuquerque crew studied so much kung fu.  He liked that they were all so intense.  Every moment of the movies were so ‘lived’.  And he must have thought the same thing about that Dick Van Dyke character.  He was so alive.

“And write songs that people don’t understand.”

But it all makes me think of all the missed opportunities.  And really there are so many in my life.  As my friend Troy says, “We never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  But I think we really misunderstand which opportunities we were missing.  We always thought we were missing the business opportunities.  But really we were missing each other.  And yes, we were all pretty much handicapped mentally and doing our best to figure out how to overcome our disabilities.  But we already had the community built.  All we had to do was stay in one place and figure out how to work together until we had artifacts that we were satisfied with.

“I will finally be on my way.”

And I am using artifact in place of the term I would usually use to describe what I mean – product.  Because I am finding that this is the obstacle that I have been unable to overcome in my creative process – the eventual commercialization of my artifacts.  But this should have been the last thing on my mind.  But it was always the first thing that would kill any of our endeavors.  How do we make money doing this?  And the answer really is – you don’t.  You love it, and that’s the most you are ever going to get out of it.  If there is eventually a payout, great!

“But I still don’t have much to say about it.”

But that’s where we would all end up.  We have to eat somehow.  And we would all be desperate to make money doing something we loved doing.  So we would try everything and bite off more than we could chew.  And eventually we would be sick of that part of the process and each other, and everyone would scatter.  Back to shit jobs we all hated.

And really there are so many wasted words to try to capture what I mean.  I became a programmer because I got sick of being in an Indie band.  Paying $300 to $500 a month on a rehearsal space while living in an apartment with no furniture.  Money seemed to always be the thing that was missing.  “If I/We had enough money, then I would be able to put this whole music thing together.”  But we were putting the music thing together.  We were just starving half the time.  And the idea of being a programmer was financing my own music projects and eating at the same time.  A really novel idea.  Mark did the same thing.

I don’t know where Mexican Kids at Home got their name, but I like it.  I like their obvious dedication to acoustic music with no effects.  It’s this really sparse landscape.  An intentionally child like approach.  On first hearing, it sounds like they wrote the song five minutes before they started recording.  But even if they did that, which I doubt, it really has a much heavier message hidden in all that simplicity.  It’s so hard to listen to commercial pop music and know that there are so many people much more talented all over the place.  But it’s the lowest common denomenator always.  Sex and corporate success.  Fame and riches.  It’s a carrot in your face as a musician.  A vision of success sold to you as easily as a new brand of toothpaste.  That’s what is being sold by commercial pop.  It almost looks accessible.  Until you realize you need contact with an executive class that you will never have access to.  It almost kills you.

“And there’s some things I hate the most.”

And then a long time has passed and I realize all of this.  That my one man band killed my creativity.  That I didn’t begin with a vision of corporate commercial pop success.  I just wanted to write, record and tour music.  I got the writing part.  And one part that I overlooked whenever I had it.  Community.  And that community seemed like the easiest thing to walk away from every time.  And I realize now that it was the most important part.

“Listen to the radio and finding it hard to breathe.”

Mexican Kids At Home myspace page

I Don’t Know – Ozzy Osbourne – 1981

Yes.  I’m going to write about Ozzy now.

Three different people that found me on Facebook have said that one of the things that stands out in their memory of me 25 years ago was Ozzy Osbourne.  I was apparently an Ozzy freak when I was 11.  I do remember that shirt with the Blizzard of Oz album cover that I probably wore until it had holes in it.  And I have to admit that any of those songs from the first two solo albums with Randy Rhodes, Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman, still do it for me.

“People look to me and say”

I wrote about this song in my online journal in 2002.  I knew that I was eventually going to have to write about Ozzy in this blog.  I figured I would wait until I was really busy.  Then I would find that journal and paste it here with some minor edits.  I remembered it as the same kind of writing I am doing here.  But it wasn’t.  Apparently my writing has improved dramatically.  That or I just hate everything I do after a couple years.

“is the end near, when is the final day.”

So in my writing about music, I have to touch on this particular subject about fathers.  There’s a kid I know who is 10 right now.  His father isn’t around much.  He loves Greenday.  He knows everything about Greenday.  Boys need their fathers at this age.  And unfortunately a lot of fathers, for whatever reason, aren’t around for them.  I can see that Billy Joe sort of fills this role for him.  It made me think about this particular age when my father wasn’t around.  I didn’t like him anyway.  But that’s what got me into the whole fantasy anyway.  I didn’t like him.  When my father didn’t fit the role, I fantasized.  And in a way this saved my life.  How often does an actual father give nothing but profound advice and wise words?

“What’s the future of mankind”

I would never have said, “Oh I think of Ozzy like my father.”  I just listened to his music like he was saying something to me.  There were two others that were just as big an influence.  John Lennon and Jimmy Page.  And I will write more about them another time.  But Ozzy fit this particular period of time.  And the records were coming out right as I was hitting several crises in my life that left me completely lost.  So while I was still in New Jersey, Ozzy was a huge part of my life.  And obviously I drove my friends nuts with his music.

“how do I know I got left behind.”

Then we moved to Texas.  Texas scared the hell out of me.  And Houston was still a part of Texas back then.  Now it’s a large urban metrolopolis.  You have to drive a long way from downtown Houston to get to Texas.  But in 1983.  Big trucks with gun racks in the rear windows.  Dumb rough necks with large belt buckles.  Drunk rednecks.  Cookie cutter suburbs.  Mexican food.  Everything was unfamiliar to me.  It was like moving to another country.

“Everyone goes through changes”

When we drove into Houston in 1983 in our Buick Regal with New Jersey plates, a pickup truck pulled up next to us on the freeway and rolled down the window.  A redneck leaned half his body out of the window while going 65 MPH and motioned for my mother to roll down her window.  When she did, he yelled, “You guys from New Jersey?”  My mother, “Yes we are.”  Redneck, “Well welcome to Texas.”  Mother, “Thank you.”  Redneck, “Now go home!  YEE HAW!!!”  Um…  This actually happened.

“looking to find the truth.”

As I have documented in several blog entries, my first year in Houston was miserable.  My brothers seemed to adapt easily.  I was too loud.  Too abrasive.  Too insecure.  Too afraid of this redneck backwater ass hicktown.  I was terrified of everything.  Then something Ozzy had done the year before in San Antonio changed my life.  I don’t know why it occurred to me in 1984, because I’m sure I knew about it when it happened.  I just don’t think the significance caught up with me until I had some context for it.  Or maybe I was just tired of being afraid and connected the incident with my desire to be done with my fear.

“Don’t look to me for answers”

Ozzy pissed on the Alamo!  Ozzy walked up to this shrine of Texas history.  The ultimate symbol of Texas pride.  Hiked up his skirt (he was wearing his wife’s dress for a photo shoot).  And pissed on the Alamo.  It was a revelation to me.  Like he did it on purpose, which he certainly did not.  He was way too drunk that morning (and I’m talking almost noon) to know that he was pissing on something significant.  My fear of everything Texas seemed irrelevant at that point.  I’m afraid of Texas culture, but Ozzy just went and pissed all over it.  Go Ozzy!

“don’t ask me – I don’t know.”

Yeah don’t ask Ozzy.  And make fun of Ozzy all you want.  I feel some genuine affection for him on his Alzheimerish drug addled aging reality shows.  Ozzy was there for me when a lot of adult men in my life were completely gone for whatever reason.  And for all of the caricature that is made of his accomplishments, Ozzy defined a genre of music.  He defied some of the more educated protest music of the 60’s with direct political protest that named the war machine for what it was – war pigs.  And while he seems completely lost and his music hasn’t been compelling to me in years, I still see him as a metaphor.  And there is no way that the power of his lyrics and his performances weren’t intentional.  Not with that much consistancy for so many years.

“Nobody ever told me I found out for myself.”

And all of the talk of family values on the right.  This is what it looks like when some families stay together.  Just a hodgepodge of affection, loyalty and dysfunction.  And for all of the criticism of his public figure as a father, he stayed there with them.  Which goes a long way.  Loyalty goes a long way with me.  Showing up no matter how screwed up you are.  Showing up and apologizing when you didn’t show up before.  My standards aren’t too high where this is concerned.  Show up high if you have to.  But just show up.  And Ozzy and Sharon figured out a way to make it work when they really didn’t have to.  And then they were still able to see enough humor in it to make fun of themselves.

“Ya gotta believe in foolish miracles.”

And all of that “Prince of Darkness” crap.  It’s such a great metaphor.  He started out criticizing people with these ranting lyrics about how they were evil.  And then because of his presentation and his lifestyle, people started associating him with the idea.  Then his career evolved into playing the evil metal guy.  It’s all so funny in a way.

“Don’t confuse win or lose – it’s up to you.”

And that’s what I learned from Ozzy.  No one is going to live my life for me.  There’s a whole world out there.  It’s up to you.

“Asking me who to follow.  Don’t ask me.  I don’t know.”

buy I Don’t Know mp3

The Mother Of All Funk Chords – Kutiman – 2009

One of the times I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance , I was living in Boston and coming to terms with the idea that there are so many people trying to be heard.  There are so many voices in this world.  So many needs.  I became very depressed.  The idea of Quality as expressed by Persig in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, seemed to be directly responsible.  Only certain voices were worth hearing as defined by some incredible esoteric formula.  I thought of all of the people that are truly talented.  But the average attention span for digesting and owning media in a human’s brain isn’t capable of hearing everything.

This depression lasted for quite some time.  I guess in some ways I am still not over it.  It led me to another set of conclusions about working.  Especially working in something satisfying and monetarily rewarding.  I thought about all of the food that is delivered to us at our supermarkets.  How many people who plant or harvest corn play the guitar?  How many can sing?  How many have musical aspirations?  Or dream of themselves in better circumstances where they entertain people with their talent?  But someone has to plant the corn!

Around this time, there was a guy I helped produce plays with in a small Brookline community theater near Boston.  I mainly did the music, but I did other things as well.  He was a chemist at MIT and his other dream was producing classic plays by Chekov and Ibsen.  He was doing these things.  One day a male lead quit.  He was very talented.  He was from India and in scrubbing his Indian accent to get more parts, he had mastered a giant array of accents.  He had a master’s degree in theater.  He quit the play because he got a job managing the Dunkin Donuts right across the street from Berklee.

The MIT Chemist guy was telling me about this.  He seemed kind of flabbergasted by the whole thing.  Why would someone do something like that?  Give up a part in a play he had always wanted to be in to manage the Dunkin Donuts?  I kept asking questions to draw him out, because this point of view seemed so absurd to me.  Finally his responses led to, “I don’t know.  The guy has no dreams.  He’s never going to have a house or a family or a couple cars in the garage.  I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to accomplish.  You have to stick with something.  You don’t give up.”  I was really speechless, but I did manage to respond, “You know.  Someone has to manage the Dunkin Donuts.  When people go to the Dunkin Donuts and want coffee or something, someone has to make sure that happens.”

Yes there is a separate idea of intention.  If you intend to be a farmer or a Dunkin Donuts manager, then you should be those things.  But how many people accomplish what they set out to accomplish.  Certainly there are career paths that are almost set in stone.  Become a doctor – follow this path.  Become a lawyer – follow that path.  But outside of doing something like that, there isn’t so much certainty.  And for some people, the idea of certainty in life is a death sentence.  I could hold my hand up to be counted as one of these.  Perhaps it’s some kind of pathology that makes this happen, but more than likely it’s just different personalities.

But without certainty, there can be a lot of defeat.  And it’s unfortunate that there are so many careers that we immediately associate with defeat.  Barista!  Oh you majored in philosophy, but couldn’t hack it.  Or…  Oh you couldn’t figure out what you wanted to do with your life.  Here you are serving coffee.  But the aesthetic of a profession or wealth shouldn’t really indicate the level of success or happiness in life.  But it does.  And even when a shitty artist makes a lot of money and becomes famous, people take them more seriously.  Even when a criminal gets away with a large amount of money, society seems to give them some respect.

But someone has to be a foot soldier in Napoleon’s army.  And without the 100’s of thousands of foot soldiers, Napoleon is nothing.  Someone has to plant the corn!  Someone has to manage the Dunkin Donuts.  And when those people go home, they don’t dream the lesser dreams of the poor and defeated.  They dream the dreams of great people.  We are all great people.  And the more we let the mass marketing of corporations define greatness, the more we cower in defeat.  Paying taxes to subsidize wealth in ever increasing amounts, because somehow we believe that the amount of money a person makes or the level of fame a person has attained says something about the talents that person possesses.  I’m not saying anyone can do any job.  And certainly we want qualified people doing the jobs that are critical to our society.  But the inmates are running the asylum here.  We have reached a point where the only qualifications we think of as important are being rich and/or famous.

I don’t know whether Kutiman was thinking about all of these voices.  All of these separate aspirations when he began his project of splicing youtube videos into amazing works of art, but this is what it makes me think of.  More than ever with the internet, I am aware of all of the talent in the world.  All of the voices clamoring to be heard.  And Kutiman seems to have this awareness as well.  He seems to be saying, “I hear you in all your isolated loneliness.  Let me show you how great you are.”  And this metaphor is a jumping off place for a profound shift in consciousness that I think is necessary and happening right now in front of our eyes.  The Mother Of All Funk Chords is rising like a tidal wave.  All of our voices will be heard in ways we can’t control.  With meaning we can no longer recognize as our own.

Yes someone has to plant the corn.  But that doesn’t mean that his voice is any less important.  Because The Mother Of All Funk Chords is us.  In all our clumsy gracelessness, there is still a depth of beauty that refuses to be defined by our net worth.

download The Mother Of All Funk Chords

Born At The Right Time – Paul Simon – 1990

Getting back into writing after everything that has happened in the last two weeks has been ridiculous.  Where do I pick up?  What do I say about how profound everything has been?  Or do I just ignore it all and write as if nothing has happened?  There no way to ignore it all.  I feel like I live on a different planet.  I feel reborn.  I know things about myself that I never knew before.  I know things about the world that I forgot.  That I keep forgetting.

“Down among the reeds and rushes.”

I was forced to confront my limits in a corporate environment.  I realize now that there are some things I can’t do no matter how much you pay me.  I also know just how much my family means to me.  I know how important my children are to me.  I know what I don’t want to miss.  I know at which point I will lay down my life for another.  I know what brings me to my knees.  I know how little I really care about the events of the world.  I know how small the universe is…

“a baby boy was found.”

So I spent days searching for the song I was going to use as my entrance back into my daily writing routine.  But it was very difficult.  And it wasn’t coming to me.  Meanwhile, our baby was born.  I reconnected with my son.  As his trust grew, his arms thrown around my neck took on a deeper significance.  It isn’t that we grew apart.  It’s that he was obviously starting to feel a little rejected by everything that was happening to us.  Hospitals, a sibling is born, cousins going away, a different person to spend the afternoon with every day.  I vowed that I would never let my children feel this way.  I worked for years to overcome my own feelings of rejection.  His little arms around my neck is a catharsis.  A giant ‘Yes!  I am not going anywhere.’

“His eyes as clear as centuries.”

And I am left wondering about life.  There is so much of it.  There really is.  Everywhere you look there is life.  Even when considering larger systems – the world, countries, corporations, political groups, the universe, social cliques, hospitals – everything takes on the characteristics of life.  Sometimes only because we humans are observing and participating in the fate of all of these things.  Everything is alive with our dreams and aspirations.  Everything exists in the numinosity of our intent.

“His silky hair was brown.”

We breathe life into everything.  We take a rock and hold it.  Our warmth changes it.  The rock is personified by our simplest actions.  Everything the rock does is new and significant.  The rock is separate and the same.  And I can’t help but think how much we do without knowing it.  How much of the raw power of life we breathe into things we consider inanimate and lifeless.  From meaningless drudgery to our most profound dreams.

“Never been lonely.”

And when we have children, we take the opposite view for granted.  That which we consider full of life is full of life because that is what is natural.  I see it now as the same as the rock.  We are breathing life into something inanimate.

“Never been lied to.”

If we leave life to itself, it fails.  But when we stoop down and dig our fingers into the muck and pull it close.  Share our warmth.  Trust in its existence.  Hope with everything we have.  Love like we have never loved.  That’s life.

“Never had to scuffle in fear.”

Like a musical instrument.  You can play and play and it can mean nothing.  Just some sound events arranged over time.  But at some point as a musician, you learn to breathe life into the instrument.  The same thing happens with writing.  Everyone knows the difference between just getting by and the breath of life.  There is no lesson for this.  And sometimes, we spend our whole lives unable to be affected by even our own most important moments.

“Nothing denied to.”

It’s so easy to miss all of this life.  It’s so easy to be an inanimate object in our own lives.  Not seeing how much life we affect.  How the rock lives.  How the lives around us are dependent on our intent.  The deeper significance of our lives is us.  We aren’t waiting for anything or anyone.

“Born at the instant the church bells chimed.”

It’s all right there.  The next right thing.  The outcome.  The conditions.  Even under the worst circumstances and the best.  We are part of a giant miracle.  An epic illusion so rooted in faith and love that we can’t even begin to separate ourselves from its origins.  Life is enormous.  And it has no edges or seams.  It can’t be defined or categorized and nothing can be removed or added to it.

“The whole world whispering born at the right time.”

So I decided on this Paul Simon song which holds a special significance for me.  Especially with my son.  Although the song came out over a decade before his birth, I didn’t discover the song until we were in Hong Kong.  And what can you say about a Paul Simon song.  Especially when he gets it as right as he does on this song.  There are so many to choose from.  I thought about him earlier and I was sure I would write about Graceland.  My mother gave me Graceland at a time when I was sure she knew nothing about me.  At the time I knew nothing about Paul Simon, and as a teenager, I was sure this was a dumb gift.  But Graceland became one of the most important pieces of my teen years.  And while there was a deep chasm between us in so many ways, this was a clear message to me that she did know who I was.  “Poor boys and pilgrims and families and we are going to Graceland.”  And Born At The Right Time is kind of the same story, but it holds a special significance for me about my son.  He is a living metaphor as we all are.  Our significance should not be lost on us.  And somehow Paul Simon reached for this emotion and captured it.  And I can see my son as a toddler dancing in our Hong Kong apartment with his total lack of self-consciousness.  So intent on living.

“The planet groans every time it registers another birth.”

So I have been at the hospital almost every night holding my daughter.  Feeding her sleepy mouth.  Vibrating her tiny body with my giant voice.  Humming a Dean and Britta song as a lullaby.  Her sleepy eyes look up at me like an alien.  A giant question.  She is too small.  She asks, with those dark blue eyes, if this is all worth it.  Is the world – with all its suffering and callousness, uncertainty and disappointment – all that great a place?

“But down among the reeds and rushes the baby girl was found.”

And I don’t know if it is worth it all the time.  But I do know that my two experiences with birth.  Watching countless participants breathe hope and love and … life into this tiny helpless ball of energy.  And it is so unorganized.  And we all pray to whatever we pray to.  We bring all of the mysticism of science and religion.  And we crawl around in the mud.  Digging our fingers into parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed.  We are reborn in this experience.  And nothing and no one is the same ever again.  The whole universe changes.  And all of the beauty that we spend all of our lives hiding from ourselves is revealed.

“Her eyes as clear as centuries her silky hair was brown.”

There is so much that can’t be said.  So many words to finally reveal that I can’t tell you.  It’s more than just moments.  It’s more than just knowing.  It’s more than just an emotion.  Or a smile.  Yes it’s all worth it.  And when you grow up and read this, you can tell me if it was worth it.

“The whole world whispering born at the right time.”

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