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
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
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
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
I’m a little behind adding my songs to my blog. This one was written for week 43 of #songaweek2021, the last week of October, two days after my 46th birthday. At the very end of the video is a little clip from a walk I took on my actual birthday, in the woods at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve. It was so quiet and solitudinous (if that’s not a word it should be) on a Tuesday afternoon. One of the few other people I saw that day was a woman riding a horse, talking on her cell phone and – would you believe it – singing happy birthday to whoever was on the other end!
I’ve always loved the woods. I wanted to name a band “The Woods” once. I said, “we could tell people, we’re lovely dark and deep!” This song is certainly a hat tip to Robert Frost (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and of course “The Road Not Taken”) and Henry David Thoreau (Walden – “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately . . .”).
I do quite a bit of songwriting in the woods. I walk and think and hum and make little voice memos on my phone. It’s something about the full-body movement, the fresh air, the sense of passing through a different world or state of being. Most of my woods walks are on the same two trails in my neighborhood, where I feel deeply acquainted with individual trees and every turn of the trail – the sameness is comforting – and yet, the weather, the seasons, the wildlife . . . means it is never the same. I think it’s a multisensory reminder of so much that is true about everything in life.
I go out walking on a cloudy afternoon Under a gray sky but I don’t feel the blues I’m taking my wild soul to the woods
I’m gonna treat her to bright October trees She loves the sugar and spice of dying leaves I’m taking my wild soul to the woods
And you with all your cares You just might like it there
We keep on going though wind and winter come When all around us are silent skeletons I still take my wild soul to the woods
She feels the heartbeat of life in everything She hears the music and teaches me to sing She only asks I take her to the woods
And you with grief and tears You might find comfort here
Some sunny morning I’ll find the first green thing And hear a warm wind whispering of spring And my wild soul will take me to the woods
We’ll go on rambles that widen with the days Through the meadows and round ten thousand lakes But my wild soul and I I and my wild soul Will always and ever love the woods
And you with heart so true Might want to go there too