What We’re Fighting For

This week’s song came together from so many influences. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

Peace, please, peace.

Afghani woman on BBC Newshour, 13 August 2021

Won’t you knock down all the walls that we built stable? / Tip them over and restore them to sturdy dinner tables

Nate Crary, Messy Mass liturgy, “Only By Our Lonesome” song

“Once There Was” – a song and an album by Carrellee. It’s really only that phrase that influenced the line in my song, “once there never was.” Just playing with words.

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” by Pete Seeger

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .

Jesus, Matthew 5:3

You think you know all the right things to tell a fool like me
But I won’t hear you at all as long as this wall stands where a table should be

I am not so sure what we’re fighting for
Where have all the poor in spirit gone?

Once there never was all that we tell ourselves there was back then
Now is right where we are and right where we can begin to be again

I am not so sure what we’re fighting for
Where have all the poor in spirit gone?

“Peace, please, peace . . .”

We are stars and mud, spirit and spit fire and flood, brawn and brain
Ours are oceans unknown, deserts that patiently await the rain

I am not so sure what we’re fighting for
Where have all the poor in spirit gone?

How Long How Long?

Time is a funny thing. I would say this song was inspired by my reading of this Brain Pickings post detailing a letter Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother, except that I read the post after I’d already written the song. Here’s an especially relevant quote from it –

What moulting is to birds, the time when they change their feathers, that’s adversity or misfortune, hard times, for us human beings. One may remain in this period of moulting, one may also come out of it renewed, but it’s not to be done in public, however; it’s scarcely entertaining, it’s not cheerful, so it’s a matter of making oneself scarce.

Vincent Van Gogh

I don’t want to say a lot about this song. Just that in my 45 years I’ve come to know firsthand the immense value of the pause. Time truly can heal – but you have to give yourself to it, and sometimes that means removing yourself from the rushing river where everything else purports to be happening, and everybody expects something from you.

How long how long can you hold on to the pain?
When when can you let go and open up again?

Can you go the distance with these rocks inside your shoes?
Is there ever space and time to stop it all for a while?
Life is bright with colors but you only feel the blues
And everyone keeps telling you to smile

How long how long can you hold on to the pain?
When when can you let go and open up again?

Everyone’s a critic, every dog thinks it’s his day
Every day’s frenetic and a rest can feel like a crime
You rest easy honey, feel the cosmic cradle sway
Something good will happen in good time

How long how long can you hold on to the pain?
When when can you let go and open up again?

How long. . . ?

How long how long can you hold on to the pain?

Tiny Songs

I had a very frustrating couple songwriting sessions this week, with a tune/chord progression I just loved but try as I might I couldn’t find any inspiration for the lyrics. I spared the world a mediocre attempt at outlandish humor by calling it quits on a story song about aliens that may still eventually work out. (No wait, who am I kidding? Those lyrics will never again see the light of day!)

Then this little thing flitted in just about fully made, for me to catch and put on display for you. This is something I love about the song-a-week discipline. Every week (excepting dire circumstances or vacations), I will clear some time and space and see what happens with songwriting. And nearly every week, the shy wild muse shows up somehow, some way.

This is the second very short song I’ve written recently – I think I didn’t post the first here yet so I’ll include it below as well.

First, “Songs Left” for week 30 of #songaweek2021:

When the dust settles, when the smoke clears
When you and I are all gone from here
Will there be songs left for someone to sing
When you and I are all gone from here?
When you and I are all gone from here?

Next, “4:25” from Week 25 – a tiny song idea I had when the birds woke me up at 4:25 AM:

4:25 and the birds are singing
Wonder what’s there to sing about?
Go back to bed with a song in my head
Maybe someday I’ll have to find out

CoL@home

Yesterday my folk pop duo-sometimes-trio (aka family band) Cabin of Love released a new 7-song EP, CoL@home. It’s made up of songs I’ve written from 2016 to 2020 for www.songaweek.org. Three of them were written and recorded just this year, while we’ve been mostly staying home. The first track, “Slowly Exploding,” was specifically written about living in this new pandemic reality; and you can see us performing it in an upcoming TPT show set to air in September, featuring several artists and work they’ve made during this time of COVID-19.

So, without further ado, the album!

New Songs, Autumn, Fires

First snow this morning. Just a dusting, on the first of November. I turned 44 last week. And there are three people I’m holding in prayer right now – something I wouldn’t have believed I’d ever say again only a few years ago.

Also I started doing #songaweek2019 in September, and have skipped one week since then – a radical departure from the all-or-nothing way I previously approached it.

In other words, change. Impermanence. Flow. Autumn. I noticed the light is lower in my kitchen this week. I raked a million leaves yesterday. I have little brown spots creeping into the backs of my hands, new wrinkles on my neck.

The song I wrote this week was partially inspired by the California wildfires, and then I read this article today and felt it could have almost inspired the song if time moved differently. Plus it references one of my all-time favorite reading experiences, The Tale of Genji:

We cherish things, Japan has always known, precisely because they cannot last; it’s their frailty that adds sweetness to their beauty. In the central literary text of the land, The Tale of Genji, the word for “impermanence” is used more than a thousand times, and bright, amorous Prince Genji is said to be “a handsomer man in sorrow than in happiness.” Beauty, the foremost Jungian in Japan has observed, “is completed only if we accept the fact of death.” Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth.

Here’s where I’ve been posting new songs recently – https://soundcloud.com/julia-tindall-bloom/tracks. And here I’ll feature one of them, also about impermanence:

 

Living (Catch My Breath)

It’s a bit hard to believe, but here I am posting the very last week’s song for #songaweek2018. Week 52’s suggested theme was “forest” and I did find a way to use it.

I stole a morning from a busy Christmas week schedule (played hooky from two of our numerous extended family events) and wrote this song, which was obviously influenced by the intense week of socializing!

Happy new year to all, and to all a quiet night 😉

I can’t see anything
Not the forest or the trees
just trying to catch my breath
And let it go again
You can’t say anything
That could make me lose my nerve
I’m just going to catch my breath
And let it go again

I’m living
I’m living
I’m living here

False starts and broken hearts
Somehow keep true love alive
You’ve just got to catch your breath
And let it go again

I’m living . . . now

Halfway to the end
think I’ll start again

Now I see everything
All the forest all the trees
just when I catch my breath
I let it go again
You can say anything
still won’t make me lose my nerve
I know how to catch my breath
And let it go again

I’m living . . . here

Each day brings songs to sing
hands to hold and roads to run
Just let me catch my breath
And let it go again

I’m living . . . now

Ride That Chariot of Fire

Oh this was another hard week for songwriting. Getting a moment to myself, and getting that moment to align with a moment of inspiration, just didn’t really happen this week. I like the first line, I think the chorus has something I can work more with, but other than that, this was an exercise in getting things done. I wrote and recorded and submitted my 48th consecutive weekly song for #songaweek2018, and I’m content with that.

Where have the years gone honey, did you hide them in your heart?
Come here, let’s just see what we remember starting from the start
Lake breezes, apple blossoms and happy holidays
Summer nights and winter morning blankets holding in the blaze 

Take each chance, children, that calls you to fly higher
Seize each moment, ride that chariot of fire

Blue skies were never promised us but they keep showing up
Life may be full or empty but we’re never left without a cup
Once we tossed those rose-colored glasses we began to see the light
And all that we’d been missing from the deeper beauty of the night

So many miles we’ve gone, so many roads left to explore
So many songs we’ve sung, and waiting in the wings, so many more

Let the Mystery Be

Last week (week 46 of #songaweek2018) was a disorienting blur for me. My laptop – which has become a sort of exterior brain that I depend on daily – needed repair and was out for most of the week. My main guitar wouldn’t hold tune very well so I dropped it off for some badly-needed routine maintenance. These are the two solitary items I’ve actually named when asked, “what would you grab and run with if your house started on fire?”

But I still had my classical guitar and a pen and notebook, and a few hours one day to write a song. It came together pretty quickly. Not one of my favorites of the year, but I felt pretty good at the end of my writing session.

Then the next day I was rehearsing the song and my son yelled from the other room, “Mom! You’re stealing another song!” He sang back to me the exact melody and rhythm I was singing for my first two lines. They were identical to Carly Rae Jepsen’s first two lines of “Call Me Maybe.”

I already had a sense that parts of the chorus were derivative of other songs, and knew that overall, the chords and rhythm were very simple and stock. I debated whether to change the melody of those particular lines, and decided that yes, even if legally I didn’t have an issue, artistically I did. Especially when I sang the song for my daughter later (who wasn’t around when my son made his observation), and she identified the same song with no hesitation when I asked, “does this remind you of another song?”

Ugh. I’m not happy with any alternative I tried for those two lines of melody, including what I sang for the recording. Good work, Carly Rae. That’s a catchy tune you came up with.

The lyrics are about those ineffable experiences we’ve all had – dreams, visions, moments of insight – that can’t be put into words, and that call us forward into the future, outward from our comfortable existence, onward to the next and the new.

Saturday I had both my laptop and guitar back, and employed them together to make this video.

I had a dream in the dark
It made a beautiful mark
In that moment between sleep and waking
But if I try to explain
It’d come out mangled and maimed
All of the treasure consumed in the taking
Shook in the shaking out

Let it live in peace
Let it live in me
Let the silence breathe
Let the mystery be
For another day

There’s things you’ve seen and heard
Can’t ever put into words
But when you’ve talked it all through they keep speaking
There’s music nobody wrote
More than the sum of its notes
The heart of every atom is beating
Faithfully keeping time

Set the music free
To sing in you and me
Let the silence breathe
Let the mystery be
For another day

Some things I’ll take to my grave
But that is not where they’ll stay
They’ll sprout and grow
and blossom and bloom
and wither and fade away

And scatter their seeds
Beyond you and me
Who in the silence breathe
Let the mystery be
For another day

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.

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