Otherwise Known as Getting Old

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First of all, who the fuck can keep up with evolving music genre definitions and terms? Apparently not me. Over the past few years I have found myself getting into weird arguments with my teen-becoming-young-adult audiophile daughter. Arguments I obviously think I should win, seeing as I *lived* through the decades she claims to understand so well, at least in as far as music genres are concerned.

When I finally decided to troll around the interwebz (ie Wikipedia) (ie the new and improved arbiter of all things) to bolster my obviously correct viewpoint, I realized that a whole lotta somebodies have been waaaay too busy coming up with musical genre names and sub-categorizations that are… well… ultimately subjective IMHO.

And then we have iTunes. That tells me I apparently like “Chamber Pop”, which I had no idea even existed. Which Wikipedia doesn’t acknowledge exists. It is a real genre? Do I have to admit to listening to it in public? The world may never know. My daughter and I are certain to disagree about it, whatever the official answer. And I’m beginning to think there is no such thing as official when it comes to musical genres.

Don’t even get me going about punk.

When did punk rock become:

Anarcho punk • Crust punk • D-beat • Art punk • Deathrock • Digital Hardcore • Folk punk • Celtic punk • Cowpunk • Gypsy punk • Garage punk • Grindcore • Crustgrind • Noisegrind • Hardcore punk • Post-hardcore • Emo • Screamo • Thrashcore • Crossover Thrash Metal • Powerviolence • Street punk • Horror punk • Pop punk • Psychobilly • Riot grrrl • Ska punk • Skacore • Skate Punk • Post-punk • Gothic rock • No Wave • Noise rock • Alternative rock • Grunge • Post-grunge • Indie rock • Industrial rock • Noise pop • Nu metal • Post-punk revival • Post-rock • Post-metal • Sadcore • Shoegazer • Slowcore • Death metal • Goregrind • Doom metal • Folk metal • Gothic metal • Industrial metal • Metalcore • Deathcore • Sludge metal • Speed metal • Thrash metal • Crossover Thrash Metal… etc etc etc

I don’t mean to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I’m beginning to think I am one. WTF ppl?? Really?

In my day (oh my god here I go) we had five non-pop basic rock (not blues or r&b) genres: classic rock, hard rock, metal, punk, new wave. The bands that inched a little too close to commercial sound started being called “alternative”. Am I wrong? Was I asleep? When did I blink and miss the explosion of pretentious music genre naming committee meetings? I married a folk musician, had a kid, and forget to fiddle while Rome burns. Which any day now they are going to start calling a Slowgrind Riot Starter with strings.

I’m going back to sewing fabric together now. I call it “clothing”. I might listen to some gypsy folk crust pop wave while I work. Otherwise known as music. /rant

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Liking Obama

obamacat I have cats. Currently, I happen to have three living with me. I grew up with cats (among many other pets). Whether we lived in the country or in town, sidewalks or gravel, small yard or acres of woods, we had generations of cats, being born in our closets and garages, dying at home or at the vet’s office. I have always liked cats. As a kid they would cuddle in bed with me while I slept, curling up on my feet, snuggling against my neck when I was feeling bad, playing with string and toilet paper tubes. Cats are cute, cats are fuzzy and sweet, cats are fun.

About eighteen months ago I moved to a house in the country for the first time in many years. Within short order my three fuzzy, adorable, packaged-pet-food-eating cats began hunting gophers and birds like they had found cat heaven. For the first time in my life I started to really take notice of another side of my fuzzy adorable pets. I have watched them patiently wait outside the home of a den of veggie munching gophers, pounce, and drag the wriggling creature into my house where they gleefully play with it in it’s death throes, truly enjoying the long, slow, torturous killing process as if it was better than sex and food and episodes of The Sopranos all rolled into one. I have seen them make the kill with a primal mechanism in their eyes, then immediately walk away to come purr and sweetly rub against my legs with love and affection.

My fuzzy adorable pets are sociopathic serial killers.

I voted for Barack Obama. Well, to be honest, I voted for Barak Obama in his first presidential election. I donated to his campaign in both elections, but when it came time to stand in the polls the second time around I found I had misgivings. I couldn’t bring myself to vote against him, or in fact to cast a vote of confidence for any other candidate on the roster, but I could not, in good conscience, cast a vote for him either. I could not really articulate to myself in that moment the exact reasons why, but there were too many ambiguities, and if I was genuine with myself, I could find no one in whom I had real confidence as a leader, nor as a representative of my interests in the political sphere.

That really is not a new phenomenon for me. The year I turned eighteen and could vote for the first time in a presidential election, the choices were between Ronald Regan and Walter Mondale. I wrote in a vote for Bill the Cat and Opus the Penguin from the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed. It seemed as equally absurd as the choices being offered up. The prime motivating factor in elections where I have voted for a presidential candidate on the roster has almost always been in order to vote against a candidate I was more opposed to. Choosing the lesser of evils. I have accepted that as a reality of modern politics for a long time.

When Barack Obama was first running for president I experienced for the first time the sensation of liking a presidential candidate. He was articulate, he was educated, he was diplomatic, he was reasoned. He supported the end to don’t ask don’t tell. Obama talked health care reform, and social equality. Obama talked ending the war in Iraq and torture reform. Obama talked environment. He seemed smart and nice and fun. A good man, a good husband, a good father.

Since Barack Obama has taken office there have been many disappointments. I’m not terribly naïve. In today’s world there are bound to be almost nothing but gray areas. I pay a slight amount of attention to most ins and outs of the political news. Most of it seems like the lurid breathing of some distorted mythological beast. I focus my attention on trying to make small choices in my own life that support a sustainable way of life as a human being. I try to choose actions that say no to nihilism, that say yes to living lightly on the planet in reasonable non-violent accord with other life forms. Sometimes I wish election pamphlets would offer choices as simple as “check here to say yes to trees” and “check here to say no to murdering children” and “check here to avoid ruining an ecosystem”, but of course it’s never that simple.

However, the most recent news cycle dealing with drone strikes in the war against al Qaeda, each approved personally by Barack Obama, has caught my attention in a sharper way. According to the New York Times the drone strikes have included, “15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.” Obama is knowingly issuing kill orders on Americans and children on foreign soil.

I don’t for one moment think this is anything new. I have long understood the concept of “collateral damage” and the vast moral gray area that appears as soon as you say yes to one justified reason for resolving conflict by violent means. As a human living in the 21st Century I turn this dilemma over in my psyche with regularity. I don’t for one moment think I have something world shaking to add to the conversation. I am simply marveling at my own capacity to regard someone like Barack Obama with a kind of affection, to feel that I “like” him, when all evidence points to his acting in the real world in the capacity as a sociopathic serial killer.

I guess if I were a gopher, or a bird, or a Yemeni Muslim cleric, or the mother of a 15 year old American Islamist on foreign soil, I might “feel” differently toward my cats and/or Barack Obama. But then again maybe not. Maybe it’s in the nature of sociopathic serial killers to be able to foster a kind of palatable affability. Isn’t that how they continue to be able to operate in a world filled with other feeling beings? Like a Klingon cloaking device, sociopaths fly in under the radar with charm and intelligence and cute fuzzy faces. Isn’t that the premise of the character Dexter? Isn’t that just how it is?

Maybe I’m a little late to the party. Maybe at the age of 47 I’m finally unfurling one more layer of willful naivete. Truth is, I still like my cats, and I still feel that warm fuzzy feeling, whatever you can call it, when I look at pictures of our president. The only difference now is, I suspect that that feeling is really beside the point.

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mammal love Next door to me, out here in the wild, west county pastures of Bloomfield, are two separate properties with corrals. To the south is a family that keeps goats and alpacas. To the west is a broken down little paddock with an ancient blue roan horse, blind in one eye and sway back. When I first moved here over a year ago, the alpaca property hosted one youngish, chestnut quarter horse. The roan and the chestnut for months on end spent all their time at the one corner where their pastures touched, leaning over the gate to touch their necks to one another. If the chestnut was taken to another part of the alpaca farm, the roan stood at the gate, banging the metal lock and pining after his friend. It was sad, but entirely endearing.

Recently, the owners of the two horses got together and decided to have mercy on the poor beasts. They struck a deal, and the chestnut was finally moved into the paddock with the blue roan, where they now live happily, hanging out in all parts of the field together, necks touching, swishing flies from one another’s faces, clamoring for hay in the morning, nickering contentedly at night.

For the past few months I have been like that blue roan at the fences. My closest friend in recent years has been going through Difficulties (with a capital D) that have made it necessary for him to barricade himself more and more often into his Tower of Power, don his suit of armor and keep watch on the battlements, night and day. Coming to understand this posture has been a whole learning curve in and of itself for me. Historically, boys are a giant enigma to me. So it has taken some time to really get that withdrawal and unavailability in this case mean absolutely nothing beyond their function to him during a bafflingly arduous and painful interval in his life. Really coming to understand that has been a journey. Getting that has made things easier. But it’s still not all.

Perhaps I’m a little late to the party, but I’m really experiencing lately how important the closest people to me are, in terms of how calm, happy, centered, and well I feel on a daily basis. Well duh, you might say to yourself. But really, to someone like me who has struggled with human relationships her entire life, its a bit of a thing to marvel at. Perhaps for those who managed to form close relationships early in life, maintain them, and enjoy the comforts of a steady group of close humans who never wander far off, it’s not something they much need consider. Its taken for granted, perhaps, and part of the landscape of their lives. I think of my grandparents, who met as kids, married young, and stayed together their entire lives. They complained about one another a great deal, but in the end, when my grandfather died in February of 2005, my grandmother followed just a few months later. On a basic, primal, mammalian level, they were joined like a pair of horses in the traces. What is it the Christians call it? Ah yes, “equally yoked”.

My daughter became an adult over the last few years, graduated high school, fledged (awkwardly and with difficulty), and now lives on her own in town, going to school, working part time, carefully and slowly finding out about herself and life. The center to my life for the past twenty years is no longer here inside the four walls of my home where it has been. That basic mammal rhythm, with it’s stresses and comforts, has dissolved and transformed. Romantic relationships I have formed over those years never blossomed into cohabitation. Close friendships I enjoyed fell apart. My closest friends, across the board, I watched succumb to the ravages of drug dependencies and the inevitable fallout of those choices. My own shortcomings unable to salvage whatever friendship might have been possible regardless. I have close family, but not here in my town. For whatever reason, the current reality of my life has become a huge empty space where basic mammal comfort used to be. I live alone, fifteen minutes from town. I am between lovers. It’s just me and my cats at the moment.

So the loss, even temporarily, of my closest current friend during the tides of everyday life, I feel extremely intensely. How much I rely on the most basic thing, mammal touch & the presence of another human I trust, I love, I enjoy. So often these days I notice the absence of the most simple comforts: someone I care about just here inside my four walls and that one person I hold closest at the end of the phone line like a motion of the stars and moon, reliable, constant. Are you still here? I’m still here. How about now? Yes still here.

Meditation practice is helping me hold it with an open heart. Compassion for my own emptiness. Acceptance of how it just is. Last night I came home and stood on my back deck under the stars, listening to the horses in the field next door snuffling together in the dark. They sounded contented. Being human I remembered when they strained over fences, pining and thought of how one of them is old, and wont last as long as the other. I thought of what it might be like for the chestnut when the roan is gone. Being horses they snuffled happily in the moment, as Wendel Berry said, “not taxing their lives with forethought of grief”. Maybe it’s time for me to get a dog.

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Wrecking My Life

Last night out with some friends I was asked why, if I had a deep and powerful spiritual practice some years back, why I gave it up. Huh, leave it to friends to ask the hard questions. In the moment I cited getting burnt out on sitting in circles burning sage, and getting embarrassed by being so openly odd, wanting to become “normal”. Both of those are true, but in thinking about it this morning on my walk I realized the deeper, realer, more important answer is… I wrecked it on purpose.

Okay, so… I’m an alcoholic, right? Yup. Still am. This January will mark (g-d willing) seventeen years of sobriety. But at my core, I carry a secret beast that craves self destruction the way howler monkeys crave mangoes. For a long, long time I tried to figure out WHY. I thought if I could identify the root of this little character defects, I could pull it out by said roots, and be free free, greatgodalmightyfreeatlast! Wrong. Truth is, there is no there there. It’s like chasing electrons. The only answer seems to be… I’m an alcoholic. It’s kind of a relief actually. It’s like accepting that I’m never going to be an astronaut. Or a ballerina. Or a figure skater. It narrows the field in a calming fashion.

So… back when my spiritual life was really taking off… back when I was becoming an urban shaman… back when I practiced at my altar many days per month, and walking at Green Gulch was a normal part of my breathing life… things were getting really good. I was in the first five years of my sobriety. Eating organic. Playing music. Enjoying a wide circle of great friends. In school. Kicking ass, taking names. I was writing, getting published, performing, raising a young daughter, doing Waldorf parenting, getting well.

It seems very clear now… I had no idea how to live that way. It freaked me the fuck out. Things got too good, way too fast. I had to wreck it.

I picked a relationship with an unavailable man instead. One who would disappoint me and ignore me. One who would criticize me and find me wanting. One who would abandon me frequently.

I picked a friendship with a woman who was too scared of life to walk her dog, who spent most of her time living through her computer, who controlled most every aspect of our friendship together and hoarded me in her cave, almost demanding that all other humans be excluded from our world together.

I gave up everything else, including organic food, my spiritual life, saving the world from environmental destruction, and most every other aspect of life that had lasting and sustaining value to me. I traded them for a shallower, shinier, high sugar content laden, caffeinated, one dimensional version of a good life. I got naked on the internet and had a lot of really weird casual semi-sexual encounters with near-strangers. My life got very very odd, for quite a number of years.

Flash forward a buncha years… boyfriend married someone else… best friend buggered off out of state and burned our friendship down… being naked on the internet didn’t make me a rich porn star, in fact I lost my house, my investments, and finally lost my business. My daughter survived her childhood, but the teen years were a passage through the valley of the shadow of death.

I’m a poster child for alcoholism. Except it’s not just the drugs and alcohol that destroy lives. It’s the ISM. I can wreck things sober too. Watch me. It’s my mutant super power.

But now… now I’m waking up again. Even a big fuck up like me gets a second chance. Somehow I’ve been lead back again to my own interior. What else is there? All else is fleeting. But my connection with a power greater than myself, that remains. It can get very, very thin at times. I can lose the sight, feel, smell and sound of it. So it’s taking time to reawaken. Like pulling on a thread, in the dark, gently, gently. I don’t want it to snap.

Maybe this time I won’t freak out when things start to get good. Maybe this time I will be able to sustain a slow emergence into the light. Maybe this time I will know where to go when my nasty little beasty wakes up and wants to burn shit down. Feed it cookies. Laced with benedryl. Go back to sleep beasty. I choose life.

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Stealing Ducks

This morning I found myself embroiled in a strange tiff with my studio landlord. A misunderstanding over lines of communication, mostly, but as I attempted to set clear boundaries and advocate for appropriate financial privacy with him, I was startled to notice how unreasonable he appeared in our email conversation. Unlike the laid back fellow I had been dealing with over the past year. I was preparing to consider a vacating of the premises and consolidation of resources. However, finally he called me by phone and chose to confide in me that he was not in his best mood due to the fact that someone, last night, stole his wonderful duck.

Oh no! I said, Not Puddles!!!

What kind of deviant bastard would go around, in this day and age, stealing ducks? Especially on a Monday night?

Back in the Victorian Era, apparently, the crime was quite common. Duck stealing was prosecuted on a regular basis and could land the perpetrator with consequences ranging from whipping, fined a shilling, or bail… all the way to 10 years in prison, hard labor, and 14 years of “transportation”… which I have to assume means being sent to Australia. Wow, those guys took duck stealing seriously. And today, I can see why. My landlord was so upset!

I can understand. Some days I feel like my duck has been stolen, and I don’t even own a duck.

In Japanese culture, there is a concept known as “Wa”:

Wa, the principle underpinning Japanese society, is one of the key concepts necessary to understand Japan.  For most Japanese, Wa is a feeling close to perfection: a group situation in which everything goes smoothly, without contestation or ill will, everyone knows their place and act accordingly.

I heard this term originally from a recording engineer I worked with once upon a time that formerly traveled with the likes of Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. He was known to say from time to time, “Hey man, don’t fuck with my Wa.” I have loved that phrase ever since. Anytime I’m feeling peaceful and some negative Nelly starts to affect my mood, I think that phrase at them. Sometimes it even leaks out of my mouth, even though I’m pretty sure it sounds hopelessly hippie-ish… and almost no one knows WTF I’m talking about when I do say it. Not that that has ever really stopped me. The more anachronistic the better in my estimation. But I digress…

My landlord had his Wa fucked with in a serious fashion today. When a man feels unsafe in his community, in his home, in his own damn garden, that’s just mean. And poor Puddles, she might be someone’s lunch.

At the end of the day, I was just reminded… to tread lightly with my fellows. You never know when someone’s duck has been nabbed, someone’s world turned upside down, when someone’s Wa has been seriously disrupted. I should staple a note to my eyeballs. Walk lightly… speak with compassion… hold love in your heart even when you are at odds with someone you share space with.

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The Blank Page

Facing the blank page may, as it turns out, be the easiest way to meditate for this writer. I wake up in a head filled with chatter. The dream I just had, what that reminds me of, a song I heard three days ago that I hated in high school that won’t stop playing in my head, a list of shit I have to get done immediately, the fact that I haven’t filed my taxes yet, conversations I never had that if I had said something better how completely awesome I’d be now, a swimming pool I want to build some day… it’s ridiculous and endless.

But sit down at a blank page with the intent to write, and my mind goes completely blank. Suddenly I’m the stupidest person on the block with nothing to say. It’s amazing.

However, as Anne Lamott advised, breathe. Just take it bird by bird.

Writing in cafes is easier for me. Writing at home is like asking to be struck with insanity. Did you finish your dishes? That order for tarot decks is staring at you from the tack board against the wall. You should take a walk. Maybe baking a cake would be easier than writing this blog post. No one reads you anyway. Just go take a nap and watch Judge Judy.

In cafes the noise and bustle act like white noise. My focus returns. Maybe it’s because I’m so vain. In a cafe there are other humans around witnessing my greatness. Ooohhh, look at her, she’s a writer… oooooohhhhooo…. special. Perhaps it’s because I’m too embarrassed to give up quickly while sitting near other humans in a cafe. I have to look like I’m doing something important! Maybe I just get lonely at home. Certainly I’m very easily distracted.

Having finished this blog post I’m likely to say to myself, well, self, you accomplished that. I guess you can go reward your self with a walk and a muffin and some Judge Judy. Except Judge Judy isn’t really a reward. More like long slow torture. Maybe I’ll skip the Judge Judy and just stay here and write. Make some headway on that goddamn novel. Chip away at my magical thinking and turn it into something more like an actual life.

This week I’m trying to figure out what Selah is doing while aboard ship. Out on the dank waters. Pining after Thegn. Filled with fear, hope, dread and determination. Time to go into the cave. Brave the dark. See what my subconscious has rattling around down there. Promise you’ll hold me later when I’m nuts and want my mommy.

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Mending Nets

When fishermen can’t get to sea, they stay home and mend nets.  I don’t know where this saying came from originally, but it rung in my mind this morning as I sat home untangling yarn from my yarn basket.  When Crafters can’t get to craft shows, they stay home and organize their crafting supplies.

January, and the season for selling is done.  Most folks stay home and husband their resources this time of year.  Lick their wounds and wonder why they spent so much on holidays.  Wonder how to make it through to Spring.  Wait for the sun to return.  Wait for warmer weather.  Wonder how to keep the lights on.

I have much to be grateful for.  Last month was a godsend of activity.  I earned a record amount in my freelance work as an artist and designer.  My income as an artist matched my needs almost like the gods were keeping tally.  I have all that anyone could ask for: good friends, love in my heart, good relations with family, community, warm home, sustenance, surprises, safety, sanity… serenity.

In the silence following such business, it’s easy to feel empty and adrift.  I am grounding myself with small tasks.  Usually my mind wants to hurry up and figure it all out.  What will I do the coming year?  How will I make a living?  What is the best path?  How can I control it all?  But lately I am practicing not figuring it all out.  I’m practicing just sticking to the tasks at hand and allowing the universe to take care of the rest.  Scary?  You betcha.  But also a relief.  I’m no good at figuring it all out.  It takes a lot of energy to pretend I can.  Much better to just stick to what I know.  Like untangling yarn.

Here is a rune that I used to draw this time of year.  The internets drew it for me while I was searching Google for the source of that net mending quote:

Nauthiz = Constraint, Necessity, Pain

The necessity of dealing with severe Constraint ls the lesson of Nauthiz. The positive aspects of this Rune represent the limitations we directly cause ourselves; its negative side attracts limitations from those around us. Both are equally difficult to handle.  The role of Nauthiz is to identify our shadow, our dark and repressed side, places where growth has been stunted, resulting in weaknesses that we project onto others. Don’t take this world personally, this Rune is saying: Work with the shadow, examine what: inside you magnetizes misfortune into your life. When at last you can look upon Nauthiz with a smile, you will recognize the troubles denials, and setbacks of life as your teachers, guides and allies.  The need for restraint is unquestionable here. Drawing this Rune indicates that there will be holdups, reasons to reconsider your plans carefully. There is work to be done on your self. So take it on with good will and show perseverance.  This is a time to pay off old debts, to restore, if not harmony, at least balance. So mend, restore, redress – when fishermen can’t go to sea they repair nets. Let the Constraints of the time serve you in righting your relationship to your Self. Be mindful that rectification comes before progress. And once again, consider the uses of adversity.

Oh… yeah… exactly.

I have a garage and a home full of supplies.  Too many for my two hands to make use of.  I have ideas in my head more numerous than any human could fulfill in one lifetime.  Someday I want to find a way to share all these with others.  But that time isn’t now.  Now is a time for attending to things inside myself.  My own small sphere.  Mending nets.  Tending my wounds from the battle of single motherhood I have just come through.  The seas are done, finally, with tossing me about.  I didn’t drown.  I washed ashore and can walk again.  Getting my land legs back.

This month will find me sorting and organizing.  Letting go of things unneeded.  Getting down to brass tacks.  Finding the bones.  Exposing the architecture of my life.  I’m starting Step Four… a fearless and searching moral inventory.  Oh woe.  Oh whoa!  Oh wow.  I’m gambling on faith.  I’m fledging a gambol.  I’m steering a gondola.  I’m garnishing a fudge sundae.

This month I will turn 45 and celebrate 15 years sober.  Good round numbers.  One third of my life sober.  Still learning.  Still a newcomer in some ways.  Beginners mind.

When I come up for air I’ll let you know how it went.


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