Sunday Report - from the archives
I wrote the below numbered ramble on September 3 2006, when I was 31 and living in Scotland. My habit back then was to put some music on and just write down whatever my thoughts wanted me to. The narrative runs and I take notes -that’s how it feels when it really gets going. I have tonnes of this stuff. It’s everywhere. More than 20 years of notebooks, files strewn all over my computer. It’s a bit of a mess. But I never know what to do with it. I don’t know where to put it and it won’t stop coming. Each number indicates a song change, but of course I didn’t write down the songs, so now their influence just floats ghost-like through the letters.
I wouldn’t have this typed up and available to share if it hadn’t been for Roark, who has seen the hoard of notebooks first hand. He asked to hear stuff so I looked for things. His creative pressure hose is at the same setting as mine and he has similar organizational skills, and so we began a game of archival ping pong. We’d get together, drink wine and read. Musical breaks so Roark could sing.
I wonder what the future will be like for artists like me and Roark. The ones who feel like they’re on the fringes, no matter where they go. From an old story perspective, it’s like standing at the edge of the forest and the village – can’t go one way, can’t go the other. Sometimes people come to visit who see you for who you are and you have the best times. But they usually have to go back to the village. Or some get lost to the forest. I guess we’re all standing in that spot. Except the artists know they are. Try to tell people though, and they look at you like you’re a conspiracy theorist.
When a people of a traditional culture is invaded, taken over, smashed apart, the shaman usually gets taken out first. The shaman is the story teller who guides the people with the tales of their ancestors and of the earth, which assists the community in making it through bad times, and sets a path for them to achieve their humanity. They are necessary for morale and for wisdom.
The modern world has so few shaman left. Most of our spiritual leaders come from books, if we look to them at all. We rarely ever see and speak to a living example of what we believe in. We don’t speak to our elders, we don’t speak to our artists. We leave them to the fringes, often in poverty, and we join the herd. I tell you now, I’ll be lost to the forest before I ever join the herd. I’d settle for a small village, with a forest nearby so I can dip in among the branches whenever I fancy.
Roark if you’re reading this, I call for a game of covid ping pong. From the archives. Pick a file, any file. Challenge to anyone willing to accept. Email me to let me know that you’ve posted something so I can read it.
1. We started at the end, all of our sunsets dripping upwards into space. The lemonade that had gone sour in the jug became sweet again, but by then we’d lost our thirst and were content with the painful caverns the heat had gauged into our lips. We became the ragged beauty of the second coming, the afterbirth of Noah’s guilt and great relief to have survived it all, albeit alone and shaking with fear. Wake up. We’ve got to move on. The sunrise is descending over the prairies. Loneliness waits for no one.
2. His knees wear the creases of the wood, and he’s already too weak from devotion to look up at the alter, so he hasn’t noticed the flowers are starting to die. There is a light in the room that is like dusk – the kind of light created when it snakes in through keyholes and dirty windows, dissipating into a dusty red gloom. This cabin is like a shell and he’s hiding inside it, rocking back and forth on the floorboards, knees raw enough to be worthy of a song.
3. Snake charmer. Somehow he got up to run across the desert. He’s lifting the flap to every tent, looking for the woman with the alligator teeth, the one who will grind for him the perfect potion. Before he leaves to search the next camp he dances three times around the dying fire, calling on the stars to lead him to her. He finds the river instead, and lies spread eagle in the icy moving machine of regeneration. His ears submerged, he hears her chant over the stones. The medicine men are all drowning. If you knew what was good for you, you’d dive in after them.
4. Some songs spend each note asking for forgiveness, turning over the stones of memory, flipping over the empty to try and dump out the ghosts. Some songs seethe with resentment and regret, the line between the two fanned out and mingled by time and the heat generated by tears.
5. I’d already gone far enough. David Lynch is still waiting, standing there with the door open. His blue suit looks perfect, but I can tell the hem is a fraction too long. I enjoy recognizing his shortcomings. It makes me less susceptible to the velvet couch he’s pointing to. The champagne is drunk straight from the ice bucket and we all wipe the Cristal mess from our lips with the backs of our hands. All the women smear their lipstick and wait to be kissed.
6. I don’t believe for a moment that this woman is innocent. Look how she doesn’t pick me for her team, and walks away laughing, casting me glimpses over her shoulder to make sure I’m standing there, utterly alone. She’s got angel’s eyelashes, they stir the stars when she blinks. The second half of this song is spent watching her sitting at her mirror, combing her long brown hair. She sings to herself “this undying love is who you are.” I’ve long since left the place she left me frozen in rejection, and am now standing in the place where Jerry and I made love on a sleeping bag, minus 20 nipping at our teenaged skin.
7. Finally a song that isn’t just isolation and the promise of divine, restless beauty. Spit fire at the world – a sip of lighter fluid and a match should do it. Call on the urban clans to dig up their flower boxes and hide their weapons inside the store bought blended soil. I’ve stashed my carving knife in a block of Sunshine mix peat moss. There’s a group of revolutionaries having a barbecue in the stairwell of my building. They’d better be careful or their manifesto is going to go up in flames. And then were would be be? Back in the park, wishing we’d left some of the fruit trees alive, because now there’s no more wisdom to pluck, even if we wanted to.
8. Leonard Cohen was once idyllic and hopeful. Even in mourning he believed the boat would float. If he turns to you now and says “Let’s go walking,” you should go. He’ll point out the difference between an acorn and the rocks atop Mr. Goldman’s gravestone. You’ll take long strides in bare feet, and strands of grass will dart between your toes each time you step down, seemingly oblivious to all of their neighbours who you have just crushed. You’ll bounce back, you tell them. And you’ll believe it, too.
9. I can’t listen to this and not think of teenage years. Everything is flooded with orange light and there is a black glossy frame to the vision, like pieces of a record snapped off and glued around each memory. It’s like looking at a sunset through a jar of light honey, then sticking your finger into the sweet sticky sticky and swearing, as you partake in the long sucking process of licking it away, that you can taste the sun burning the dust on the horizon.
10. The paddle is in the water. It’s 6am and she’s off to find the otters. When she sees them they swim past, hissing, so she beaches the canoe at the island and prepares to create a new world. A lone deer has swum over from the mainland and it looks around with a bewildered calm, like loss and acceptance has crept in somewhere between running away from death and finding herself alone in life instead. The new queen gathers supplies from the belly of her vessel, while her disciple nibbles at the rosehips, which are so plump they look like bullets of regal flesh.
11. How many times have songs been used to call out to the dead? Through the fog, over vast expanses of calm sea, over the din of traffic and general chatter of commuters on their way to work. If you lift up this stone, a low, desperate sound will rise up to meet you. It will linger in your ears like the scent of sour milk that stays in the nostrils, long after you’ve dumped it down the sink. Camp out beneath the stars, leave the earth exposed, and let the song sing itself out. Just sit with it while it carries on, and eventually it will slip away, fall over the edge of the world like a sailor too tired of going in circles.
12. Fresh from the field. Take off your shoes, wiggle your toes, stretch out your numb fingers, nuzzle the tip of your nose into my warm neck. This is the table I’ve set for an autumn evening. I’m listless but the food is hot. Steaming soup, big bowl of carrots that I’ve tossed with honey, butter and dill. Think of the fragrant humidity of this room as you sit down for awhile. See – the windows are all steamed up. All the spices are trapped in here with us. Breathe.
13. Once I woke up and I was a gypsy on the run, stealing potatoes and turnips from the farms and then sneaking away into the woods, where my family waited for me. Fire glowing, they played simple instruments and I danced while the stew cooked and my brother skinned the rabbit and I saw the blood and I kept dancing, kept dancing while the stars came out, dagger points of light aimed at my heart and still I danced, spinning through the changing seasons, through the pulse of my life and death. Not once did I stop. Not once.
14. Drag queen in mourning. The lights still on her as she swoons and her wig flies off and lands on the tiles. Audience members gasp, but soon grow bored with her heroic demise and they get up to leave, bound for the jazz club across the street. The waitresses clear the tables and finally turn out the lights. A perfect shadow falls over her body, sequined dress like a frozen wave.
15. Slow motion lips, skilled in curiosity, move toward their target. How long can a kiss go on? The pressure changes so many times, it’s like a thousand new beginnings.
16. As I wind down, I would like to offer you this chance to stand in the protection of this humble grass hut, as the monsoon rain rushes down in front of you. You can stand just a foot way from a wall of tears, as the mud begins to stew at your feet, small rivers forming wherever there is a slit in the land. This is an opportunity to remain utterly motionless, barely breathing, so that the metallic scent of the rain and the sweet smell of love-punched grass is like a sheer blanket hanging in front of you. I am a vision of aroma. Breathe me in.
17. Deep under the earth, all of our memories are rotting, turning into new soil. In the spring, a stranger will till our history and plant geraniums, forget-me-nots, even roses. There is so much beautiful silence that we ache every time we bloom, and we wait for the times when she comes close to us, closes her eyes and breathes us in, pieces of our past lives sweeping into her lungs, filling her up with tears and joy.
March 5, 2004 (Song – the thing that should not be by Metallica)
I’m underground with Aron. The girl in the cage dances, the strobe light making her limbs move in quick bursts. Aron carries herself with her usual confidence, wearing red in a sea of black, her ivory legs a shock in the gloom.
She’s not listening to the music. She’s waiting to be watched, and she doesn’t have to wait long. They were all looking the minute she walked in. Men in black t-shirts clutch their beers to their chests and pretend to be untouchable. They would switch off everything they claim to stand for, if only she would want them for just one night.
All their energy is pulling, wanting her eyes to move to where they are. Only I know she’s blind in her right eye, and she’s without her contacts tonight. While the whole world is blurry, she counts on her own, clear image of perfection to guide her. She orders a drink. It’s strong and she pays for it by pulling a twenty out of her bra. It’s going to be a long night. The girl in the cage looks tired already.