These Things Happen

My cold got worse this past week and landed me on the couch for a couple days (not COVID-19, I got a negative test). On Monday I mostly slept, and when my daughter came home from school she told me there was a 7 pm curfew in effect.

That’s how I learned that Daunte Wright, a Black man only three years older than my 17-year-old daughter, had been killed by police in the Minneapolis suburbs. More protests. One thousand National Guard troops called in by the governor.

As the trial of George Floyd’s killer continues here in these Twin Cities.

As we keep tearing each other apart with guns across this country. (Yesterday I wrote this song. Today I recorded it. Between those two moments, eight people were killed in a mass shooting in Indianapolis.)

As the virus we’ve grown sick of fights to keep its place in the world.

This is a ragged haunted open wound of a song because that’s what I have this week. I am grateful that the sun came out today, the first sunny day in too long. And that I finally felt well enough to get out of the house. I filled bird feeders and poked around in my gardens. I still believe. In spite of everything.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

So another man dies at the public servants’ hands 
At the point of the weapons of the so-called protectors
And another mother cries on the screens in our hands
And weary voices rage at the racist military-industrial-congressional war machine

Yeah these things happen
But these things don’t just happen

We’re under a cloud here down in the muck
April is the cruelest month except for all the others
Maybe our hearts are in the right place
But our lungs keep breathing in these toxic fumes 
And we spew them out knowing not what we do
And pointing our fingers and shifting the blame
And the world’s on fire with a deadly virus
And our country’s the sickest cause we deny it

Yeah these things happen
But these things don’t just happen

These lumps of metal they make us hard
Steel our nerves and rob us of compassion
Our original sin keeps us weak
Exposes our skin and lies about what it means
Till we want to scratch it off

And the government tries and the government fails
And the people go mad and the people go numb
And we try to believe and we try to behave
And the truth eludes us and we lose our way

These things do happen
These things happen
These things happen
And these things don’t just happen

Lamentation 21

Last night I turned off the news and played classical music while I made dinner. Sometimes no words, only music, is exactly what I need. This week, #songaweek2021 week 12, I wanted to make my own wordless music with the instrument I feel most proficient at, my voice. I used a black screen for the video so if you are so inclined, you may want to put the video on full screen – let your screen go black and feel the music. This is my cry of a song for this young year already freighted with so much grief.

White

Race is a fabricated social construct. And. In my country, race is an inescapable reality, as plain as the nose on your face or the skin on your bones.

White is a lie. And. White is a hideous truth that kills and steals and destroys.

“Black is beautiful” is a powerful idea that many people have needed to internalize to arm themselves against the ugly face of white America.

People need to repeat and believe that black lives matter because white piously proclaims that it doesn’t see color, white forgets and ignores and excludes and overlooks (and kills and steals and destroys).

We can all dream a world where white and black and brown are no longer categories for people. AND. We must do the hard work of facing the living truth in the here and now – and those of us who got dealt the white card have the furthest to go in this, because we’ve had the least occasion to notice that anything is wrong.

Each one of us is the only one of us, exquisitely unique in all of time and space. And. Every one of us is, like every other one of us, completely and thoroughly human.

In our shared humanity, in our singular hearts and souls, we can untangle and break the horrific bonds of race. Not today, not all at once. And not if we don’t see it for what it is, and listen, and tell the truth.

George Floyd’s killers must be arrested, charged, and sentenced. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Here’s my song for week 22 of #songaweek2020:

White tears are decorative
White grief keeps its distance
White guilt is optional
White passion lacks persistence
White promises are broken
White skin is thick insulation
And a most effective cushion
To smother a human soul.

You can download the song for free here – https://cabinoflove.bandcamp.com/track/white

 

Come Home

Friends! I’m still here. I’m very much here. All the time. You know what I mean, cause it’s likely you, too, are spending more time at home than you’re used to. And I’m used to quite a lot.

I’ve still been writing a song a week – started up again last fall, but haven’t been posting them on my blog much (or at all in 2020 it seems!). You can find them all here – soundcloud.com/julia-tindall-bloom/tracks and here – youtube.com/juliatindallbloom.

It would make a whole lot of sense for me to get back to blogging regularly again right now. I just might do it! We shall see . . .

But today I wanted to share this song I wrote a few weeks ago, which a fellow song-a-week-er beautifully embellished. My original recording was just vocal and guitar. Nik Newark (www.niknewarkmusic.com) took that original recording and added an orchestra. I wrote the song before things in the US were shutting down and “shelter in place” started to become normal life for so many here. In fact I wasn’t totally sure what the song was about or why I felt so driven to write it. But listening to Nik’s version today, I find it very comforting, and I think we all could use some comfort right now, so I wanted to share it with you:

When it feels like you can’t do anything right
and you would cut your hand off
just to spite your fist
When all you know is everything’s gone wrong
you try to keep your head up
you’re fighting to exist

Come over here child
Come home to me
Come on back now baby
Come home to me

When you hold out just to watch it burn down
and everything is ash now
dust to dust
When you’ve waited all your life to make it
and everybody’s gone now
dust to dust

Come over here child
Come home to me
Come on back now baby
Come home to me

When you were quite sure you knew just where things stood
and then they just lay down
and died

Come over here child
Come home to me
Come on back now baby
Come home to me

No Hard Feelings

This is one of those songs I’d categorize as a cautionary tale, a vision of what the wrong thing looks like. I think it’s about apathy, about what we stand to lose when we choose to stop caring. Maybe a nod to T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.”

Except, of course, for the moments I quoted in the second verse – Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech envisioning racial harmony, Woody Guthrie’s song about roaming and rambling freely across the land, Carl Sagan’s poetic musing about our fragile home. These are moments of vision, passion, generosity – moments where people cared.

More of that please.

All we ever were
All we can become
Wrapped up in a moment
Setting with the sun

No hard feelings
It’s as easy as walking away
It’s the kind of simple stupid thing
That people do every day
No hard feelings
They just flow with no effort from me
Down the river of what might have been
Out to the salty sea

Small step for a man
I have a dream
This land is your land
Suspended in a sunbeam

No hard feelings
It’s as easy as walking away
It’s the kind of simple stupid thing
That people do every day
No hard feelings
They just flow with no effort from me
Down the river of what might have been
Out to the salty sea

November Psalm 2

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted a song called “November Psalm.” Last month on a personal retreat, I reread  God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, and was newly moved by it. This month I finished listening to season three of the podcast Serial, which follows the justice system in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, for one year. And currently Nathan and I are watching Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War, which often feels like a nightmare before we go to bed.

These are all, to some extent, influences on the song I wrote for week 47 of #songaweek2018. The suggested theme for the week was “justice.” Life is – and always has been – torn up with suffering and death, so much of it senseless and unjust, so many lives seemingly forgotten, moments of agony buried beyond human memory.

But not, I believe, beyond the memory, presence, love – and redemption – of God, who John F. Haught in God After Darwin calls “the boundlessly redemptive future” (I added the bold font below for emphasis):

The fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution now appear, in the perspective of faith, to have always been seeded with promise. From its very beginning this extravagantly experimental universe has been bursting with potential for surprising future outcomes. And the undeniable fact that life, mind, culture, and religion have emerged out of the barely rippled radiation of the primordial universe gives us every reason to suspect that the cosmos may still be situated no less realistically within the framework of promise than of tragedy. Even prospects of eventual cosmic doom are not enough to defeat the proposal that nature’s present indeterminacies are the repository of promise. The so-called “heat death” that may be awaiting the universe is not inconsistent with the notion that each moment of the entire cosmic process is taken perpetually into, and preserved everlastingly in, the boundlessly redemptive future that faith names as God.

Leaves flash and fade
Trees fall asleep
Ice puts down roots
But not as deep
As my love for you
That cannot be erased
As hope and beauty
And unrelenting grace
Selah

Days come and go
Night wears on
Cold comes to stay
But not as long
As my love for you
That burns eternally
As peace and justice
That set the captive free
Selah

Worlds form and die
Stars breathe their last
Time marches on
But never past
My love for you
That never can forget
My heart holds you
And never will forget
Selah

It’s Just Life

[Don’t forget to vote!]

The chorus of this song was a random idea I’ve saved for a couple years. I didn’t have a sudden burst of inspiration for week 44 of #songaweek2018, so I went back over past notes and found this idea saved as a voice memo. The only thing I changed for this song was “why we carry on” which initially was “why you carry on.” Otherwise the words and tune you hear in this chorus are exactly the original idea around which I built the rest of the song.

So many influences here. The general political climate in our nation. The mass shooting in Pittsburgh. A moment at a stoplight with a homeless man. My plodding through a volume of famous and obscure works by H.G. Wells. The Pale Blue Dot poster that hangs by my desk – a cherished gift from a friend.

This song is constructed slightly differently than my – and many songwriters’ – standard format of multiple verses, a repeated chorus, and one bridge somewhere after the middle to break things up a bit. You could say it either has two different verse formats, each repeated once; or one verse format repeated twice (“So talk to me . . .” and “oh sing to me . . .”) and one bridge repeated twice (“what a waste is there . . .” and “if I hadn’t rolled my window down . . .”). And a single repeating chorus.

The tune for what I’m calling the bridge (“what a waste is there . . .”) actually grew from another quote that didn’t make it into the final song. It came from a G.K. Chesterton book I’m also plodding through, the Father Brown mysteries. (Why am I such a sucker for books by dead Englishmen with initials for names? Besides H.G. Wells and G.K. Chesterton I’ve also read nearly everything I can find by P.G. Wodehouse. And then of course there’s J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot. Apparently a trend of their time and culture. Along with the cringey moments of racism and sexism their readers must stumble through.)

But the Chesterton quote – I loved the way it flowed so much that I copied it into my notes for possible later use: “I knew Jupiter Jesus out in Denver; saw him for weeks on end; and he was just a common crook.” (from “The Miracle of Moon Crescent” in The Incredulity of Father Brown).

I sang those words till I had a tune and chords I liked for them. Then as I worked further on the song, I tried to keep them intact as my first bridge, but eventually had to “murder my darlings” and let those words go from this song. Maybe they’ll show up elsewhere someday. I just think they’re too good to only be used once, now that they’re in public domain!

Not much more I want to say about this song except an emphasis of one main idea in it – that sometimes when everything feels dark and wrong and impossible to set right, it’s good to step back and look at it all from a wider angle. In the grand scheme of things, every atom matters. But I can’t see or feel how much it all matters until I roll down the window, put down the phone, embrace life with an active presence and all my senses. That’s when life feels more approachable, manageable, liveable, too.

The videos are all from the International Space Station, downloaded from this website – https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/BeyondThePhotography/CrewEarthObservationsVideos/. I didn’t set out to do this, but I think you won’t see any views of the United States here. That feels like a timely reminder for me and my fellow citizens, that the world doesn’t actually revolve around us.

So talk to me
So tell me how it goes with you in these dark days
Before the dawn
And stay with me
Believe me when I say to you it’s coming soon
Keep holding on

There must be a reason why we carry on
We’re here a little while and then we’re gone
There, there, it’s alright, it’s just life

What a waste is there of exquisite things
The young are the food of war
We are just a mote of dust

Oh sing to me
Open up your soul and let the truth fly free
Into the night
Be not afraid
The killers have no power over shining stars
And rising suns

There must be a reason why we carry on . . .

If I hadn’t rolled my window down
I’d never have seen his smile
And he was just a homeless man

There must be a reason why we carry on . . . 

Know You

I wasn’t consciously thinking about #MeToo or the conversations we’re having around consent in this cultural moment, but as this song took shape I can see its influence.

Just this morning I finished the last in a three-part Radiolab podcast called “In the No.” Which I did not enjoy but forced myself to listen to for my own good, like going to the dentist or cleaning the bathroom. In general I don’t like talking about sex or seeing/hearing it reenacted (all of which happens in this series, including both staged and real audio recordings of sexual encounters), let alone discussions of BDSM (a main topic of the last episode).

But I’m trying to parent two humans who mean more than anything to me, and this is their world. I won’t – and don’t – always understand, but I want to be engaged and informed.

Though there were important moments of insight and perspective throughout the series, all my discomfort in listening was worth it for the very last few minutes of episode three, starting at 24:35, when Michael Lissack, director of Empowering Victims, said this:

“Unfortunately, [consent] frames the entire question the wrong way. Consent means that you’re giving someone permission to do something to you. We don’t do sex to someone else. We have sex with someone else. . . It’s the wrong word.”

And the very last words of the series, from an unnamed woman discussing her current relationship:

“It’s so nice to have a partner that can read your body language and be like, this doesn’t feel right, are you okay?”

“Consent” is legal language and an obvious and irrefutable baseline. It’s unconscionable that it’s taken us this long as a society just to get to the point where this is an expectation for everyone, including men in positions of power.

But as a measure of a meaningful relationship, consent is much too low a bar. I want to know my partner, in every sense of the word. And I want my partner to know me, and to want to know me. This is what I hope and pray for my children too, as they grow into adulthood and seek out life partners, to love and be loved, body and soul, heart and mind.

Here’s my song for week 43 of #songaweek2018:

Tell me all the things you think about honey
Tell me everything you know about love
Tell me all the jokes you think are funny
Tell me everything you know about love

I really wanna know
I really wanna know
I wanna know you

Tell me what scares you, what hurts and haunts you
Tell me everything you know about love
Tell me about the hands you couldn’t hold on to
Tell me everything you know about love

Tell me all the things you dream about baby
Tell me everything you know about love
Tell me what can make your legs get shaky
Tell me everything you know about love

I’m listening
With all my ears
And all my heart

Normal

I’ll be 43 this week. And still, I’m writing songs like this one, processing my childhood and the life that grew from it.

We are all shaped by histories we had little to no control over. Our agency grew as we did. Looking back at my history, some things seem especially strange now that felt completely normal then, as that was the only reality I knew in my short life span.

But of course I’m not unique in this. It’s a human thing.

There are several facets to the idea of “normal” in this song. There’s what I mentioned already – that what feels normal when you’re born into it can look anything but normal in retrospect.

Another facet for me, because of my particular history, is that I’ve struggled with feeling like a normal person much of my life – in two very different ways. First, when I was growing up inside fundamentalism, I learned that we the faithful were the chosen ones. We were “a peculiar people” and that wasn’t supposed to sound funny – because it was in the Bible, King James Version, which was the most highly regarded and the one I grew up with.

(We also believed that everyone outside our construct was destined to eternal damnation, burning forever in a literal hell. Sometimes I wonder if the “chosen people” idea was a way to help us cope with the horror of this belief. If you are constantly reminded that your “unsaved” family, friends, neighbors, grocery cashier, letter carrier, etc., etc., are doomed to that kind of suffering unless you can somehow convince them to join your club – I mean church – it might help to imagine them as somehow a lesser being than you are. Maybe they won’t feel the pain like you would. In this case I wouldn’t exactly call our outlook on “the unsaved” dehumanization because I think we were imagining ourselves as slightly above genuine humanity. We were “reborn,” “converted” – humanity plus. But it probably had a similar effect on our outlook.)

So that was one side of my struggle with feeling normal, the one I lived with while growing up in that environment.

The other side has been in the years since, exiting from fundamentalism, and feeling like an outsider trying to learn a new culture. For a long time I didn’t feel legitimate, because I had missed out on so many of the experiences that were common to my generation’s growing-up years. I don’t have memories associated with the music and movies of my generation, because I wasn’t allowed to listen to that music or go to theaters. I was married before I was even offered my first drink. The wildest oats I sowed was an all-[cis, straight] girls strip-and-run through the woods in my college years. Once. I think we might have howled at the moon for extra tension release.

Deeper than that, I just didn’t learn the everyday street-smarts that many people get growing up in a less sheltered environment. I was naive, shy, fearful. All those years of working hard to keep a long list of rules had ill-prepared me to live in a world where the rules weren’t always so clear, if they existed at all. I went into every situtation wanting to know what was expected of me, what I needed to do to make people like me, and I couldn’t always figure it out.

Only in very recent years have I learned that in most situations, there just isn’t a list of expectations for me to check off. There’s nobody standing by with a clipboard grading me. I don’t have to perform in order to be deemed a real live human being. I just am. And so is everyone else. I’m nothing special, and I’m the only me there ever was or will be. And the same goes for you.

That’s what I mean by normal, at least as I was writing this, my song for week 42 of #songaweek2018: (Wow, only ten weeks left!) The suggested theme was “socks,” so I stuck in some socks for good measure.

I used to live in Indiana
In a trailer park on the edge of town
There was a field where we ran and played
And I liked to pick Queen Anne’s Lace

It was normal, all so normal
Like shoes and socks, baby dolls and blocks
And black and white TV

I used to pledge allegiance to the Bible
And the flags of my faith and country
Every morning at the Christian school
Where they gave us all the answers

It was normal, all so normal
I was good as gold, did what I was told
And I won a lot of trophies

That was a long time ago
I still don’t know what I don’t know

I’ve moved a dozen times since then
Geographically, theologically
I own a single-family detached dwelling
And I took my trophies to the thrift store

This is normal, all so normal
I’m a bona fide, genuine
I have always been and I will always be
like every one of you looking back at me,
An honest-to-God human being.

Open the Door, Pull Up a Chair, Make Friends

At my church our pastor often starts the service by leading us in taking a deep collective breath, literally. Silence, breath, space.

Last week, week 39 of #songaweek2018, my song was inspired by the contrasting sources of episode 656 of This American Life, about immigration policy and practice under the Trump administration; and the policy and practice of my church, whose website declares what it lives out: “Welcome. You already belong here.”

This past summer a group from our church attended our denomination’s nationwide youth event. One memorable idea from the event was that if a new person walks up to your group and you’re not sure if you have room for one more, make room. Say “pull up a chair,” invite them to join you and expand your circle.

I need to believe in the power of open doors and extra chairs. But many times I find myself operating from the same fear and greed that motivates my country’s immigration policy – fear that if I open up, hold out my hand, offer a seat at the table, there might not be enough good stuff left for me.

That’s why the last verse is important – it’s not “we” vs. “they.” Even if I’m not making public policy or being unkind or unwelcoming, I can still find myself prone to hoarding and hiding.

And that’s at least partly why I still tie myself to a faith community, despite my skepticism, despite my personal history with spiritually abusive church environments. I’m still here because I need to remember I’m not the center of my life. And it helps me greatly to gather regularly with a roomful of other people, and breathe, and confess our failings, and affirm love and welcome, and begin again.

Face it, no one needs to go away
Hold it, there’s poison in the words they say
Let it sink in, I am not the living end
Open the door, pull up a chair, make friends

They twist the truth and crush the poor
They study war forevermore

Stop it, this drawing lines and closing minds
Keep it, that ancient faith that love takes time
Every generation new ears will hear again:
Open the door, pull up a chair, make friends

They devastate all that they take
Establish empires on heartbreak

Name it, this tendency to hoard and hide
Own it, my part in shutting out the light
Take a deep breath, feel the lifeblood flow again;
Open the door, pull up a chair, make friends.