I Am Love

“I don’t even know how to talk to people anymore,” I heard someone say recently. And I feel that so much too. Not that I ever really knew how to talk to people! But whatever progress I had made in 45 years feels stunted after one year of social distancing.

Emerging from pandemic life, I feel awkward and unsure and even afraid, a little like I did back in junior high – what will people think of me? What if I say the wrong thing? Practically any time spent on social media these days only amplifies those feelings for me.

There’s a lot more I could (try to!) say about how and why I wrote this song, but to sum up, this was one of the few songs I’ve written that felt mostly like a complete gift from the blue – the comforting words I needed just showing up in my thoughts when I most needed them.

You don’t have to be right, you don’t have to be smart
You don’t have to be what you are, you don’t have to be what you aren’t
You are completely loved, you’re forever forgiven
My great heart is enlarged by your wondrous existence

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

You don’t have to make sense, you can tell me what’s on your mind
You can never offend one who sees you from every side
And I love who I see and you’re not the only one
Take a look around, oh I feel this for everyone

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

In the end all that it comes down to is love in everything

And that’s what the world needs, that’s what everyone’s wanting
It feels impossible but with me nothing
Is impossible, no it’s never been easy
but it’s simple enough for a child to see

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

Cold Night In (Lovely Lost Cause)

Week 50! This is one of those songs where the suggested theme (from #songaweek2018) actually caused the song to be written. I wouldn’t have gone this direction at all if it weren’t for the suggested word, “metal.”

Not much I want to say about this song – I think we’ve all been here from time to time and know something about it. The cycle of love, the journey of living well. The bridge (“thieves break in and steal . . .”) comes from Matthew 6:19-20, that little passage about storing up treasures in heaven rather than earth. I interpret that not as sacred versus secular; but cosmic, big-hearted wisdom versus short-sighted, me-and-mine foolishness.

My heart’s made of metal
invincible steel
that’s why when you hold me
there’s nothing to feel

It’s a cold night in
It’s a lovely lost cause

I swam in the ocean
I crawled up on land
but there’s no harder journey
than the one to your hand

It’s a cold night in
It’s a lovely lost cause

Thieves break in and steal
Moth and rust corrupt

Come light your best fire
to melt me all down
I’m sick and I’m tired
But I’m coming around

On this cold night in
For this lovely lost cause

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

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

Hold Out For Love

“Regret” was the suggested theme for week 41 of #songaweek2018. I took it as a prompt instead of a theme this time. Possibly the thing that makes us best as humans is also what can bring us to our lowest point, and that is our need to love and be loved. But Bertrand Russell said “love is wise” (yes I did just mention this a few weeks ago – guess it’s worth repeating), and I agree. Although much of what we call love is not actually love, in our deepest and truest reaching out to one another, love does bring us wisdom. And so regret never comes from actual love. Pain, heartbreak, grief, yes, but not regret.

My mother has been preparing for a few years now to say goodbye to her mother Thelma, who we have been slowly losing to Alzheimer’s, and it’s looking like the final goodbye isn’t far away now. She’s my last living grandparent, and has always shown a special interest in my songwriting. Even as she began having trouble remembering people, when I would make my yearly trek across the country to see her, one of her first questions to me was inevitably, “are you still singing and writing?” The last time we were together she didn’t remember me, but she did sing with me, Amazing Grace.

This year I celebrated twenty years of marriage to Nathan. Anyone who’s been married this long (okay, anyone who’s been in a relationship with another human being for more than five minutes) will tell you it’s not all smooth sailing. I’ve learned over these years that there are inevitable valleys, where one of us will feel the need to approach the other and ask, “are you still with me?” Not because of any major issue, just a long gradual slide into autopilot I guess. And so even within long-term relationships, we hold out for love, and once in a while we lock on to it, and those times are worth the holding-out times.

This is some of the landscape in my head as I was writing this song. I had extra time to work on the recording, and decided to do a photo collage for the video. I included photos of each of my grandparents, cute kids and animals, and romantic love too.

Nobody has to tell us, we already know
The road to the heart of another is hard
Nobody has to show us, we just have to go
And come back alone and wiser

All of our lives we hold out for love
Hold out for someone to hold on to
And once in a while we lock on to love
Hold on to someone who holds us too

Nobody stays forever, as everybody knows
The music we make with another must end
Nobody can prepare us to let a love song go
And come back alone and wiser

Nobody knows the reasons why everybody hurts
we wake in the darkness and can’t feel the light
nobody needs convincing that loneliness is worse
Than coming back alone and wiser

No Souvenirs

I like the word “souvenir.” I abhor gift shops, and am not one for keeping sentimental objects. But the sound and feel of the word itself delights me. It comes from French, which took it from Latin subvenire, meaning “to come to mind.”

It was the suggested theme word for week 32 of #songaweek2018, so I used it. I assembled a sad breakup song from some snapshots of my own personal experience mixed with imagination. (Don’t worry Mom, my marriage is good!)

I had a feeling it would come to this
That it wasn’t going to last
When I was dreaming of our future bliss
And you were pining for the past
And how you wouldn’t reach to take my hand
When I lay down with you at night
I had a feeling it would come to this
And now I’m sorry I was right.

I’m keeping no souvenirs
No souvenirs
From these bitter-sweetest years

You think we’ve gone as far as we can go
And now it’s time to take your leave
You think you’re better when you know you know
that you are unattached and free
I wish you all the life you’re searching for
I wish you’d search with me instead
You think we’ve gone as far as we can go
But I see so much road ahead

I’m keeping no souvenirs
No souvenirs
From these bitter-sweetest years

I’m not afraid to be alone again
I just don’t like to say goodbye
I know you’ll think about me now and then
I know I’m going to be fine
I know that love and light go with me now
I know there’s so much I don’t know
I’m not afraid to be alone again
I just don’t want to let you go

I’m keeping no souvenirs
No souvenirs
From these bitter-sweetest years

Let Love

H.G. Wells wrote more than sci-fi novels. I’ve been working my way through a free Kindle book I downloaded that contains 27 of his works, and the book I just finished reading is a novel called The Secret Places of the Heart. It’s about an Englishman in charge of the government’s fuel commission who feels like he’s lost his edge and goes to see a psychiatrist, who proposes they both take a holiday and go on a road trip together.

Sir Richmond, the patient, proceeds to fall in love with a woman he meets along the way, after having discussed with the psychiatrist his loveless marriage and his strained relationship with his current mistress. Archaeological ruins are visited and utopian dreams for society are discussed, and infatuation for the newly-discovered woman sneaks up on Sir Richmond and puts him into a restless half-dreaming state where he considers love.

The suggested theme for week 30 of #songaweek2018 was “love,” so as I finished reading this nearly-100-year-old novel, I decided to draw from it for my song. It being a work in the public domain, I really could let Wells be the main lyricist. I was especially drawn to this idea that love can create love, that love is not just a fleeting emotion but an active choice, a force that can work for our good if we make a place for it; that can cultivate love in us when our good intentions, or youthful infatuations, fail.

Below are the direct quotes from which I wrote the song, and after that the song itself.

“Love was music and power. If he had loved enough he need never have drifted away from his wife. Love would have created love, would have tolerated and taught and inspired. Where there is perfect love there is neither greed nor impatience. . .

“‘Flimsy creatures,’ he whispered. ‘Uncertain health. Uncertain strength. A will that comes and goes. Moods of baseness. Moods of utter beastliness . . . Love like April sunshine. April? . . .’

“. . . there is something about human beings – not just the everyday stuff of them, but something that appears intermittently – as though a light shone through something translucent. If I believe in any divinity at all it is a divinity revealed to me by other people – and even by myself in my own heart. . .

“It’s only through love that the God can reach over from one human being to another. All real love is a divine thing, a reassurance, a release of courage.”

Let love make love
Trust love to hold on
Love is music
Love is power
Love tolerates, teaches, inspires

Flimsy creatures
A will that comes and goes
Love like April sunshine
April snow

Let love make love . . .
Love is patient and generous

Uncertain health
Uncertain strength
Love like April sunshine
April rain

Let love make love . . .
Divine, a reassurance

Moods of baseness
Moods of utter beastliness
Love like April sunshine
April mud

Let love make love . . .
Love releases courage

It’s Your Turn to Live Now

This song came together quickly, and I didn’t feel very deliberate or in charge of its construction. Somehow I had this phrase “it’s your turn to live now” in my head, so I started there. I got the bones of the chorus down, and then felt compelled to look up the end of 1 Corinthians 13. The words in the NIV version flowed so well I used them mostly verbatim for the verses.

I think this is a bit of backlash to the trendy term and idea of “adulting.” Also to the longer-held romanticism with childhood and childlikeness – Peter Pan never wanting to grow up, because growing up means selling out, losing your imagination, diminishing. I’m sure I’ve used this idea in my own writing from time to time, because I can empathize with it.

*But* this song is exploring the beauty and power of a person fully grown and fully alive – and in that very reality, forever continually unfolding, becoming, changing. Because that’s what living is – a process, an active evolution, an ever-reaching-forward, a dance, a song, a story. Now that does sound a little childlike – and I guess that’s why Peter Pan didn’t want to grow up, not because he saw maturity at its best, but rather what happens to too many of us when we “finish” childhood – we settle, harden, start to die instead of continue to live.

Here’s my song for week 27 of #songaweek2018. Nathan played along so it’s a Cabin of Love song. With an exciting photobomb by a cute kid.

It’s your turn to live now
Your time to breathe free
Your moment to walk in the sun
And stand on your feet

On top of the mountain
Of all the fears you’ve outgrown
It’s your turn to live now
Inhabit your home

When I was a child
I talked like a child
I thought like a child
I reasoned like a child
But when I became a woman
I put childish ways behind me

It’s your turn to live now . . . creeds you’ve outgrown . . .

Now I know in part
Then I shall know fully
Even as I am fully known

It’s your turn to live now . . . dreams you’ve outgrown . . .

And now these three remain
Faith, hope and love
But the greatest of these is love

Teeny Tiny Little Bit in Love With You

Well, at last – a happy simple song! Guess I was feeling a little drunk on spring which has finally come, in full force, to my part of the northland – and remembering the spring I met Nathan and how it felt to fall so hard in love.

Just a quick rough recording on my phone, made while facing the new sheetrock in the kitchen so I could enjoy a little natural reverb.

I don’t need to say much more about this song (for week 17 of #songaweek2018), except that tomorrow my beloved and I celebrate twenty years of marriage, and I’m thankful to be able to say, I’m still a teeny tiny little bit in love with him.

Oh, and yesterday we played it with our band and it was an instant success! I’m excited to perform this one.

There’s word going round about a woman you know
They say she’s trying to hide what she can’t help but show
so I looked her up and sat her down for a talk
But she couldn’t sit still so then we went for a walk
And the spring in her step and the thrill in her veins
And your name on an endless looping track in her brain
Told me everything I needed, yes the rumors are true
I’m just a teeny tiny little bit in love with you

She said she’d meet you tomorrow, tonight or right now
Don’t matter where or why, or what or how
It’s mainly just the who that she cares about
And you know that’s you, you’re the one who makes her shout
To the flowers and trees, to the birds and butterflies
About how you make her feel like she just opened her eyes
On a world bright with beauty and this radical truth
I’m just a teeny tiny little bit in love with you

I like to think of her and you in closer quarters
I like to think you’re thinking of that too
I hope that you and she could find a place to loiter
I hope you’re hoping for that same thing too

Well I suppose I’ll have to come down from this natural high
nothing lasts forever but the wondering why
but you could come with me on my hike back down
to my everyday life in an everyday town
And hold my hand and own my heart
and share with me a house and a car
Cause while it ebbs and it flows, this current stays true
I’m just a teeny tiny little bit in love with you

Today I Don’t Feel Like a Love Song

Well, how about a little country flavor? Here’s my song for week 51 of #songaweek2016. One week left in this year-long challenge!

Today I don’t feel like a love song

today I just wanna be loved by you

today I feel somehow we’ve gone wrong

today I just want to be right by you

baby, baby, baby, baby mine

tomorrow feels already faded

yesterday holds all our lovers dreams

we’re cynical hardened and jaded

impervious to juvenile extremes

baby . . . mine

let’s take these scraps and scars

and start again for the umpteenth time

forever feels empty without you

so right now please fill up my arms with you

and cover my aches with your kisses

and breathe here with me in the space we keep

baby . . . mine