Who Loves You

“Against” is not necessarily a negative word. Nor is “close.” I was thinking about this when I jotted down the first verse of this song months ago. You can lean against someone for comfort or protection or just to feel cozy. You can sit close, draw close, in love; rather than close your mind or your heart or your door. The hard s or the soft s, the adjective/adverb or the verb – they all come from the same Latin root.

The prompt for week 48 of #songaweek2021 was “tell me everything.” When I sat down to write my song last week, I revisited that first verse idea and then looked up the prompt for development ideas. I wanted each verse to set up some sense of juxtaposition – things that feel at odds that actually aren’t in a true love relationship (which is not at all limited to romantic ones). So the prompt helped me write verse two.

As I was playing the first two verses the song felt a lot like a lullaby. The first verse felt reminiscent of late nights holding my second baby, who would wake up crying hard and long and simply would not be comforted. I ached for him to just relax into my arms, against the warm loving body of his mother, but he’d twist and fight until he wore himself out.

I can be that baby too, with the people closest to me. I don’t want to open up and share my pain and mess with you. I just want to blame you for it, pick a fight to use up some of this bad energy I’m feeling.

Verse two describes the kind of loving conversation I think crying babies like me most need – a listening ear and heart, a recognition that you can never completely understand but that you want to know me. “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” said Simone Weil.

The juxtaposition in the first lines of the last verse may feel harsh on the first listen. But we all know it’s true, in any and every relationship – and I think in the most deeply loving ones we find gentle honesty about it. The song ends with a reminder that morphs into a question that is also about paying attention.

Lean up right against me
You don’t need to fight against me
Come close, don’t close yourself away

Tell me everything
You don’t need to speak a word
I know, I’ll never understand

I am here for you
Until I am gone away
You know I’m not the only one
Who loves you . . .

Through the Hourglass

It was Thanksgiving last week, and I put off songwriting all week. The deadline to submit for #songaweek2021 is midnight Saturday. Around 4:30 Saturday I sat down to give it a shot. Nathan was nearby and wanted to collaborate so we tossed around a few ideas. Then I started strumming this song’s chord progression and spitting out nonsense words until I got to the title phrase of this song – “through the hourglass.”

At first it felt depressing to Nathan – everything falling through the hourglass, nothing to hold on to. To me the idea felt freeing – nothing in the past, including that moment right there that just whizzed past you – oh, and that one, and here comes – and goes – another one – nothing can define you or keep its hold on you.

We wanted to play with a “through the looking glass” allusion and Nathan was also struck by the idea that our actual lives are lived in the neck of the hourglass. Above and below us the glass is curved and it distorts our perceptions. So our last verse we played with the “wonderland” concept, lyrically and melodically. Which, the longer I live, rings so true. The passage of time just feels capricious and illogical. And I might as well enjoy the wild adventure of it – open my heart and my hands to give love a place to land for a while.

A disclaimer – because we were so close to the deadline and didn’t want to spend all evening on recording, I did a quick and rough phone recording only. Would have loved to add more instrumentation and vocal harmonies but ah well . . . time.

The way it was
the way it is
the way we wish
that it could be
The things we said
the things we did
the things that make
our history

Let them fall through the hourglass

The plans and schemes
the hopes and dreams
The big ideas
About everything
The roads we took
The ones we left
The bitter ends
And bright beginnings

Feel them flow through the hourglass

One two three four five six seven eight nine ten [6x]

So here we are
In wonderland
Where nothing ever stays
Quite where you laid it
But open hearts
And open hands
Are some of love’s
Most favorite resting places

All things pass through the hourglass

Sean

When I was ten, my family moved to Owatonna, Minnesota. We joined a Baptist church and my brother and I enrolled at the church’s private school, and that fall I began sixth grade seated behind a dark-haired boy named Sean, because his last name came before mine alphabetically. Although I never called Sean a close friend, those larger-than-life growing-up years he became to me like a sibling in a large family. We both, along with most of our classmates, remained together in that class until fourteen of us graduated from high school.

Sean was always making me laugh. First, because I’m easily amused, especially by the random and the strange, and second, because he was so genuinely funny – in a random and strange way. A little like living with a Far Side comic strip. There are two special words I will always associate with Sean. The first is jocularity because he would, now and then for no apparent reason, crow that word like a rooster, getting a verbal running start and then lifting off – “Joc-joc-joc-jocuLARity!!” And the second is gyrate, because he did, and was famous in the school for it (when teachers weren’t looking that is). Hands clasped behind head, hips swirling in decidedly un-Baptist fashion, easygoing grin lighting up his devilish good looks.

I say devilish good looks, and as Sean was famous for gyrations, I was famous for boy-craziness – but I never felt that way about Sean. He just felt like family I guess. In junior high he’d tie my shoelaces together or sneak up and steal the book I was reading; once or twice he pulled my chair away before I sat down. That’s the kind of ‘ship we had, and as we grew up the teasing smoothed out into a little private joke that he just inexplicably started one day and only targeted on me – a smiley face he named Mr. Chubbs. He would draw Mr. Chubbs on my paper or notebook or the chalkboard when I wasn’t looking. I would pretend to be terribly annoyed every time Mr. Chubbs mysteriously showed up.

After high school graduation we went to different colleges and mostly lost touch, but then five years later I married Nathan, who grew up in Owatonna too and whose mother happened to be close friends with Sean’s mother, and I discovered that in Sean’s life outside of school, Nathan and his brother and Sean and his brother had all grown up together as friends. So Sean came to our wedding, and made me a card, a delayed punchline of sorts – of course it was Mr. Chubbs.

Over the years after that I’d hear random bits about Sean from Nathan’s brother who stayed in touch with him – he was painting, and traveling the world, and he settled in South Korea as a teacher. When I joined Facebook I found him there and requested to be his friend, but got no response. I learned later that he had thirteen Facebook friends.

Last month Nathan’s mother said that Sean would be coming to Minnesota to visit in a few weeks. I was looking forward to a chance to reconnect with him.

And then he died, by suicide.

I knew Sean as fun, and funny, and popular and attractive. But for most – arguably all – of that time, he was a child. When I last saw him he was barely into his twenties. I never really knew him as an adult. My brain wants a reason for this tragedy, and imagines that the expectations and potentially soul-crushing nature of adulthood were ultimately too much for him. But I can’t, and need not, know. I treasure his memory and found peace in singing to him this week.

On my first day of sixth grade
I was looking at the back of his head
Alphabetically it was always me after him
And all those years no one else would come between us
I think he was an old soul, a lover of Pink Floyd and M*A*S*H
“Jocularity” he’d shriek wildly out of the blue
So many strange delightful moments passed between us

Sean, rest in peace
Sean, rest in peace

We were never that close but we grew up together
In a little class in a private school in a small town
Fourteen children figuring things out between us
The last time I saw him he gave me a smiley face
And I’ve kept it safe, brought it every place I’ve called home
And all these years nothing else has passed between us

Sean, rest in peace
Sean, rest in peace

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text HELLO to 741741.

Out With It

Here’s a song for the beloved conflict-fearing member of a relationship. It’s not an anthem for the general public. We’re living in a moment that rewards or at least amplifies hostile venting in our public spaces, both physical and virtual, and that isn’t what I’m singing about here.

This is about the person who fears conflict, and so keeps to themself about difficult things, unresolved hurts, unrevealed personal truths, for fear of rejection or causing pain, or whatever other reasons. It’s about the value of opening up about these things in the context of a supportive relationship. I’ve been on both sides of this and I’ll bet most people have in some way, at some time. We’ve all been the person holding back an important but painful truth from a loved one, its persistent psychic presence growing heavier as we keep trying to manage it alone. We’ve all been the loved one who feels something is wrong and begs for openness, or has no idea something is wrong until the painful truth comes out in an often more painful and unexpected moment.

Also, would you believe it, I followed the prompt once again! (Week 45 #songaweek2021, “out of sight”). The video is a 1927 instructional video about using a dial telephone. I didn’t have much time for recording or filming this week but I much prefer posting songs to YouTube rather than Soundcloud so I wanted something visual to go with it. And the experience of talking on the telephone has always made me nervous, something like discussing difficult things with loved ones.

If there’s something you’ve got to say by God let’s hear it
Chances are it’s not as horrible as what could happen if we don’t
If you keep on trying to hide your troubled spirit
It’ll cut you like a broken bottle settling in your soul

Out with it, out with it
It’ll do you good
Out with it, out with it
It’ll do you good

I can’t guarantee that I’ll be understanding
But you’ve got to give me something to go on if I’m going to try
Time has ancient ways of making sense of
The words we heard in ragged moments that have passed us by

Out with it . . .

Here’s the truth, I love you and I’m with you
Nothing you can say hurts worse than finding I’ve been left behind
I know it’s hard to bring out in the open
But keep it out of sight, it might drive you out of your mind

Out with it . . .

Pink Balloon

For Week 44 #songaweek2021 I actually followed the prompt. I spent a good part of my songwriting afternoon working on a different song that just wasn’t coming together. Then I decided to set it aside and just try the prompt (“buy me a pink balloon”) and this song was written and recorded in about an hour.

Nothing earth-shattering, nice to have a light easy new song. Nathan has since come up with a nice electric guitar part so we’ll probably add this one to our performance repertoire.

If you are going to the fair
Buy me a pink balloon
If it gets dark out while you’re there
bring me back the moon

I’m not the girl you hoped you’d meet
But you still think I’m sweet
Why don’t you come and see me soon
And bring me a pink balloon

If you are feeling sad and blue
You can call me up
Maybe I’ll bring a pink balloon
And that’ll cheer you up

You’re not the man I dreamed I’d find
But you’re still on my mind
I might just go and see you soon
And bring you a pink balloon

Also, for further listening enjoyment, here is another song-a-week-er’s take on the theme, which I found really poignant and sweet.