Music For Having Babies

Having. I said having babies. As in: delivering. C’mon, people.

There’s not an event that goes by that I don’t notice the background noise. Even though I’m professionally seeking a career in writing, my first art form was as a musician, and so that kind of artistic process informs any other endeavor I take on. I’d like to think that a keen attention to music/sound is what teaches me, as a writer, to notice details and to explore the stuff behind the Stuff. Music is the fine art of layering–timbres, texts, rhythms, repetition–and so my biggest hope for my written work is that I can achieve the same kind of harmony (lots of elements happening in unison, but appearing as one cohesive text). George Harrison was a master at conceptual guitar-work. He didn’t rip it up like Hendrix, but I’ll always prefer the dense, deceivingly simple textures of something like “And Your Bird Can Sing,” more than any kind of “Purple Haze.”

With this in mind, you won’t be surprised that I put quite a bit of time making a playlist for the labor/delivery room while my wife and I were in the hospital. In order to leave some room for surprise, I let shuffle do the track-ordering. I know it seems narcissistic to say that it became our perfect, calming, tear-jerking soundtrack, because we already liked the music to begin with, but the beauty of music is that, due to its layering, it interacts with emotions and settings like few other art forms.

It’s a little long, and I’ll try to resist commenting on each track (they really did take on a new life in the context of new life). Here’s the list that got us through that first night of contractions:

  1. Eluvium: The Motion Makes Me Last
  2. Julianna Barwick: “Bob in Your Gait”
    1. note: when this list was re-shuffled for the birth, this was the song to which our son was literally born.
  3. Caspian: “Vienna”

  4. Joan As PoliceWoman: “Real Life”
  5. Caspian: “Our Breath In Winter”
  6. Neko Case: “I Wish I Was the Moon”
  7. Caspain: “Sycamore”
    1. note: this 5-song conjoining of our post-rock friends in Caspian with two of our favorite songstresses created an atmosphere that somehow summed up every heightened emotion in those early morning hours. The fear, joy, numbness, anxiety, longing–it was all there.
  8. Karen O & the Kids: “Hideaway”
  9. A Lily: “A Song for Ron Mental & Sidney Bishop”
  10. Sufjan Stevens: “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
  11. Bjork: “Hyper-Ballad”
  12. Sufjan Stevens: “Heirloom”
  13. American Dollar: “Starscapes (Ambient)”
  14. Sleigh Bells: “Rill Rill”
  15. Hem: “Half Acre”
  16. Tallest Man on Earth: “Wild Hunt”
  17. Sufjan Stevens: “To Be Alone with You”
  18. Sixpence None the Richer: “We Have Forgotten”
    1. note: the hipster-cred part of me didn’t want to admit this hold-over from the days when we listened to Christian music. But, really, this self-titled record (yes, the one with “Kiss Me”) is lush, rich, and transcends the thin veneer of shoddy mimicry common in 99% of Christian “rock.”
  19. Ólafur Arnalds: “Tunglið”
  20. Mogwai: “New Paths to Helicon, pt. II”
  21. Band of Horse: “First Song”
  22. Julianna Barwick: “Prizewinning”
  23. Sufjan Stevens: “Sister”
  24. Sigur Rós: “Hoppípolla”
    1. note: there’ll be no macho secrecy here. During the actual birth, when Alfie’s head was just starting to be visible, this song came on, and whatever semblance of “having it together” that I pretended to have was, utterly and irrevocably reduced to blurry-eyed blubbering.
  25. Kevin Drew: “Love vs. Porn”
  26. Sixpence None the Richer: “Sister Mother”

Happy Listening/Contracting.


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A Silver Spork

My son is almost a week old, and there are now 7 items in our house that have baby spit-up dried into it. We drove by the hospital today on our way to run an errand (with a baby in a car seat–still getting used to that kind of driving mentality), and we both were weirded out by how foreign the hospital already seemed. It’s as if we weren’t there less than 4 days ago, one of us in the weirdest and worst pain of her life. I guess this is about the time I invoke a cliche about time and it speeding by. But, the time has also seemed to slither by. If I was to wager a guess at this point, I’d say time was neither one speed or the other, but a ridiculous accordion that squeezes out discordant notes even when we register the chaos as a perfect harmony.

Anyway!

My newest column for my alma mater’s flagship publication, STILLPOINT: The Magazine of Gordon College, is available online. This time around, they asked me to weigh in on the issue’s theme: a tribute to our retiring president. While I was a student at Gordon for 4 years, and a staff member for 3, I realized I had little personal experience with our prez on which to draw. In the end it turned into a simple meditation on leadership. So, it’s light, and it’s certainly not the next piece of genre-bending creative nonfiction, but perhaps it’ll inspire you to go, I don’t know, coach a pee-wee baseball team, manage a Dairy Queen, or shepherd some ducks across the road. Or something.

Maybe I should stop trying to reflect so much.

OK! Here you go! Installation 12: A President Precedent:

When I graduated from Gordon in 2004, it was one of the hottest May days on record, turning our black robes into space heaters, and leaving my wife and me gingerly applying aloe vera to our necks for a solid week afterward. Despite the physical discomfort, I felt great pride for each decorated figure behind the podium, President Carlberg included. There was something powerful for me there, sitting in that skillet of a folding chair out on the quad. In that moment I may have been in pain, but beyond the temporal I sensed a far more eternal achievement circulating amongst the crowd.

And by “achievement” I don’t mean grades, internships or a corner apartment in Tavilla. Instead I speak of a subtext of success, of a transformation of the mind that moves a life into its process of passion—something for which there is no syllabus. It is why, seven years out, there are still things steeping and deepening long after my last trip to Gillie’s veggie wrap buffet.

That is the struggle of leadership: to retain a hold on the momentary while always looking and working towards the eternal; to not just pen the words but intuit the subtext. President Carlberg models this dual role, and it is that ability that will leave a mark not just on campus but also on the students whose minds are just beginning to percolate with vocation. Read More

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Enter The Alfie

Given the ominous all-caps declaration at the end of my 2nd-to-last post, I should let you know: Unto me, a son is born (6/1/2011 @ 4:13p.m.). And he shall be called Alfred James (or Alfie, to his new parents and imaginary friends). The government will be on his shoulders (although, I kinda hope not–with corporations financially backing candidates and a Senate that loves to squash funding for human services and the arts, I’m just a wee bit afraid of what kind of America will be there to greet him when his capacity for memory is introduced).

So far, fatherhood is:  x_- (don’t ask me what that means. It seems like it communicates a half-dead exhaustion, but I’ve never really understood how to use emoticons).

My experience being a newborn dad these past 5 days sort of transcends a blog post. There’s a lot to say, and a lot to say that millions of people have already said. Thus, when you try to tell other people about it who haven’t been through any of it yet, you’re not really telling them for their own benefit. You’re telling them because you still don’t quite believe it all yourself. You hope that by sharing it, it will mean that you’ll gain some necessary space to reflect. But, the changes and transitions are so drastically fast, I’d need to hire a little philosopher in order to keep up with the blistering epistemological velocity.

However, that doesn’t mean that this transparent writer won’t make his attempts to share his experiences (ok: the third person pronouns stop this instant). So, Matt Salesses–an amazing writer and fellow columnist at The Good Men Project–asked me to start a blog with him so that we could chronicle our paths into parenthood. Don’t think of it as daily bread, but as the stale crumbs lining some semblance of a path.

Check it out: New Dads Strut

Some of it is funny, some of it reveals our deep-seated anxieties (what’s a writer without his/her fair share of neuroses?), and some of it is lame and in-the-moment. But, such is fatherhood, as best as I can glean not even a week in.

So, strut along with us, even if it is with an awkward, stumpy limp.

ps: my wife is nothing short of a miracle. no further explanation necessary.


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Labels Are (Bird) Crap

As mentioned yesterday, I’m in the midst of a gap between temp projects, which means I have a bit more time to focus on writing. While I’m still not the kind of writer that wakes up at 5am and writes for two hours straight, I’m starting to understand what it means to ‘make time’ for art. In an MFA program, it’s easy to make time, because you’re hanging out with a cluster of people who believe in writing as much as you do. You can nerd out about John D’Agata and Eula Biss over coffee at 2:30pm on a Tuesday, and not feel the slightest tinge of guilt that most of your non-writer friends are in an office somewhere desperately looking for a way to make it to 5pm awake/alive. When the funding goes, so does the bohemian schedule, and you discover that being paid to be bohemian isn’t all that artsy at all.

That to say: I’m still trying over here, despite the lack of funding, and endless stream of cold rejections from literary magazines. You could call it perseverance, but you can just as easily call it naive.

But, let’s not think about that! I’ve written a new piece for State of Formation called “Staring At Birds”! It chronicles my fear of religious labels…and bird poop!

This marks the second piece for SoF where I’ve not worried about conforming to the brilliant, scholarly writing that the rest of the contributors are capable of, and instead am just doing what comes natural: form questions and images. I don’t know if everyone would still call it “interfaith activism” in the normal way, but I’m energized by it (see that aforementioned “naive” comment). Plus, it’s my attempt to be more transparent about not only the struggle to name one’s faith, but also to name the inexorable joy that it can bring in a way that I’ve not heard it expressed.

So, “Staring At Birds:”

Luckily, a bird has never crapped on my head.

There are times when I’m walking and I catch the sight of a flying bird, its wings akimbo and soaring more like a kite than a sentient being. I get that feeling of wonder—the kind of cheesy awe that will probably make me a “birder” in my twilight years. That is, I’m in awe until it flies directly over my head.

At this point, I crane my neck slightly, bracing myself for something. I stare up at the bird and I get scared that the mere act of looking at it will make its colon relax and unload into my brown hair. I convince myself that this is because I’m staring directly at it, daring it through animal ESP to just try and take a dump on me. I look away when I think about this too much, telling myself that since I’ve stopped challenging its authority over me, it’ll choose a more deserving, defiant target. My last thought before regaining my logical faculties and letting the silly matter drop is: what if it picks me because I’ve stopped staring? Read More

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Vicious Prawn Cycles

Oh. Well, hello. Didn’t see you there.

Apparently, I’m the author of this blog. I suppose that means I’m supposed to, you know, write about stuff. Sorry about that. (Nevermind: I’m not sorry)

My distractions of late have included a temp job that doesn’t smile kindly upon use of the internet, phones, or iPods, so my internet usage has been restricted to an email check in the evening, and then a 2-minute attempt to come up with gems of Twitter genius, only to have my wife say something that insinuates I’m addicted to crafting 140-character nuggets.

Well, I’m between temp contracts this week, so it affords me the time to remember all the things I’ve forgotten about. In some cases, this means I make homemade ketchup and baba ganoush. In others, it means I haven’t written much in over a month.(More stuff from State of Formation and Good Men to come soon, though).

When you’re looking for a job, it’s easy to become mr. sad-pants. That brief period of elation you get when you first re-read your current resume (I can do that? Wow! I’d hire me!) is quickly followed up with some maudlin self-deprecation (I did that? Wow! I wish I could remember how!). But, the real issue, for me anyway, has to do with creation. If I’m not making something–even if it’s hack-teaching myself to play the ukulele–I start to get a bizarre combination of anxiety and lethargy. Everything needs to happen now, but I don’t feel up to the task. I smell a vicious cycle! It smells like prawns!

In fact, any time I’ve ever had a full-time job, that same mix of creative stagnancy remains–I’m just too busy to remember why. I thought that as soon as a paycheck started coming in, I’d feel validated, alive again. But, after your 6th cup of commercial grade coffee in a clearly chemical-leaching to-go mug, you wonder why you still feel like sleeping until the next paid holiday (oh, right. I’m a temp–we don’t get paid to celebrate).

Before your lower lip starts to descend on my behalf, hold it right there! (well, don’t hold your lip for too long. It’ll get dry and crackly). The thing is: I’ve been asking for this lifestyle for years.

I need tension to wrench me out of my routines, to remind me that the war that happens inside humans is: to move, or to stop. The voice that tells us to move needs to stay louder. For some, it’s easy to hear their passion’s voice even amidst a 9-5. For many, it’s not. For me, it’s definitely not. So, even if it means writing a blog post for no apparent reason, with no apparent point, I’ll keep on, because this is how my passion packs a bag and heads to the gym, even on rainy cold days when it really doesn’t want to hear the words “squat thrust” one more time. (note: that was all a metaphor. I’ve never been to a gym, nor do I care to know what a squat thrust is).

Oh yeah! Now I remember the other reason why I’ve been so busy!

MY FIRST CHILD IS DUE TO BE BORN ANY TIME NOW.

So, there’s that.

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Chai & Brain-Babies

The more I read articles on The Good Men Project Magazine, the more honored I am that they let me contribute my own work here and there. They are doing some amazingly honest, brazen, and redemptive work  on what it means to, duh, be a “good man,” but that M.O. easily transcends gender. Being “good” doesn’t mean being a patsy or avoiding socially awkward topics like self-destructive depression or porn, and it also doesn’t mean giving up a healthy level of irreverent humor. I would sacrifice my cast iron cookware collection to be on staff there.

Speaking of cookware (and before I get to the link for my newest GMPM article), just wanted to give a quick shout-out to my ever-so-talented friend, Katelyn Luhrs, and the blog she runs for an awesome gourmet salt/food company. Katelyn was kind enough to write a post around a smoky version of traditional chai that I concocted. Considering food is a major passion of mine (there’s a whole organic chicken brining in my hallway right now), I’m pretty stoked to have my first original recipe up on the old internet. So, if you’re interested in spicy tea, check out the post over at the Salty Dog’s Blog about my Lapsang SouChai.

Well, that spicy tea isn’t totally out-of-context for my new GMPM piece, since the lynchpin of this expecting-father’s-paranoia reflection hinges on a sobering wake-up call over a hot sauced burrito. Let’s get right to it, then: The opening to “Pregnancy of the Mind:”

Since I’m in the midst of a job search, I have to pop back up north to my hometown of Laconia, New Hampshire, for a few days here and there to do some house-painting work with my father-in-law’s business. I’m usually gone for two or three days at a time, and each time I’m gone, my six-months-pregnant wife wakes up dry heaving.

She had a fairly textbook first trimester—a Magellan-like morning sickness that circumnavigated the boundaries of “morning,” a healthy heartbeat that prompted clichés from nurses like “he or she’s going to be a runner/gymnast/acrobat,” and cravings for things she hasn’t wanted since she was a teenager.

Continuing the most-women-experience-blank formula, her second trimester has found her with more energy and free of the a.m. queasies. That is, until I leave for the night.

“It’s so gross,” she tells me over the phone during one of my stays in Laconia. “There’s no food in my stomach when I wake up, so I just stand over the toilet hacking until I’m late for work.”

“Aw, that’s so cute,” I say. “It’s like our kid already misses me!”

“That’s one way to see it.” Read More

—Image via andymangold/Flickr

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(Free)Lance It

As promised, I’ve been working on filling out the back pages of WS, in the hopes that this blog will serve as an all-things-bp sandbox as well as a way to house discussion about my book-in-progress. After hours of inducing tendonitis, I’ve finally finished phase two: Freelance.

This new section contains links to almost all the writing gigs I’ve garnered over the last five years, and is broken up into two sections: Creative & Copywriting/Editing.

So: why not poke around a bit? You’ll get everything from my most recent take on interfaith work to a somewhat embarrassing radio spot that I wrote/voiced for a bakery called “Loafin’ Around.”

As always, check back for new changes (even if they’re a little spread out–I can’t afford to pay myself for my webmastery), and thanks for being a part of the conversation.

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