Not all men?
I say this to you:
Show your work.
Not all men?
I say this to you:
Show your work.
We take it on faith that the days are getting longer
though the nights seem as dark and the air seems as cold
We choose to believe that the light’s getting stronger
although all it sounds like a quaint fairytale of old.
We do not sigh or yearn for the simple old times
though it is always tempting to polish up the past
We instead choose to live, to embrace the darkling day
though our faith needs sharpening and our kindness won’t last
We know that this darkness brings some tests of courage
through the cold we prevail though our hearts are undone
We put our feet to the path, wave farewell to the summer
though this journey is ended, a new one has begun.
Smith’s essay in the New Yorker spoke to a thing that I’ve known for a very long time. I’ve been a singer most of my life. I was the music director for a UU church. I sang in a very large semi-pro symphony orchestra. I sang many, many solos for contests and won a lot of prizes. I sang in a Celtic folk band, in a 60s revival pop band. I helped facilitate many folk nights, caroling parties and etc. I’ve stood up before audiences so many times that I can’t even begin to count them. Many of those I did a capella– nothing but me and my voice before the world. Smith says:
and in the end I had to come to terms with the truer nature of my duty. Why do we commit our work? Why do we perform? It is above all for the entertainment and transformation of the people. It is all for them.
Occasionally as a musician (or as a live theater performer of any kind) one gets a perfect moment. They never come in the solitude of a practice room. Only with the participation of an audience can we suspend our disbelief and enter that transcendent performance where everything is beautiful. That moment exists beyond our understanding, and we create it with the audience. In those moments, we become vessels of the transcendent. It is a highly addictive drug.
Musicians, especially singers, often look like the most egotistical people one could imagine. Indeed, many times we are. I think that even in those cases when it appears that we sincerely think that we are “the shit”, as the kids say now, it’s all armor. And here, listening to Patti Smith, both in her essay and singing at the ceremony, perhaps one gets a glimpse of what that ego is, and why we need its armor. It is armor against the world, against the music, even. The music demands perfection, and yet it demands even more than that. It demands ours whole heart, even as it fills us to the breaking point. Sometimes we break, right there in front of you. Sometimes even a lifetime of practicing and performing doesn’t save us from the music, the pain, the beautiful horror of it all. All the contents of our heart and soul spill out. And that, my friends, is real music. No perfection required.
Years ago, when I was younger and childless, I used to have what I called “refugee” Thanksgivings. People without family or far from their family or on the outs with their family would end up at my house, eating traditional Thanksgiving food off my mother’s china (service for 12, Stylehouse Miniver, straight out of the 1950s). It was my way of honoring my family traditions, and also a recreation of the mythical “family” Thanksgiving as it should be, instead of how it actually was/is.
We have our families of choice, like the ones of my long ago “refugee” Thanksgivings, and we also have our inescapable families of birth and marriage. Each kind comes with its own measures of grief, dissent, love, and laughter. Many people crave that ritualized, mythical family experience that we’re led to believe is conjured up from stuffing and cranberry sauce, while simultaneously fearing the shadow family dynamics that almost inevitably accompany any such attempt. It’s often unclear where your boundaries should be drawn.
My advice to you is this: Make the choices which best offer the comfort and joy of the season to you and your nearest and dearest. Do not participate in dysfunction that eats at your soul and makes you dread the season. Be as kind as you can while maintaining your own boundaries. And if you are able, gather your “refugees”. Make a tribe. Reclaim the sacred myth, and make it your own.
Some of the saints in my life don’t look very saintly
examined under the lens of churchly piety
But I tell you that with their words and deeds
with their loving hearts and helping hands
They have shown me more of God than any prayer book
and given me more Grace than any hymn.
Algunos de los santos de mi vida no son muy piadoso
Mirado con la piedad ordinaria
Pero les digo que con sus palabras y hechos
Con sus corazones amorosos y ayudando a las manos
A mí se ha revelado a Dios más que cualquier en los libros de oraciones
Y para mí se ha dado más gracia que cualquier himno.
(Please forgive my beginner’s Spanish!/Lo siento por mi principiante español)
Someone I am acquainted with opined on Facebook recently that because you can manipulate data to seemingly “prove” different and even often opposing results that there is no such thing as “truth”. One person’s reality is just another person’s re-imagined data set. I’m not certain if this misunderstanding is a direct result of the Age pf Big Data, or if it’s simply a byproduct of a young mind maturing and realizing that “objective truth” is a much more elusive concept that one might wish it to be.
Here’s the thing, dear readers. Let’s go at this gently as so not to frighten to death our secret lizard brains or monkey minds or inner caveman, whatever you call your primitive hind-brain that keeps you breathing and wants up to be up and down to be firmly down– no messing around with metaphysical anomalies allowed.
The way we experience reality is indeed entirely subjective, cultural, and rooted very deeply in the way we name things. Take for example, Pluto. Is Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet? A minor planet? A Kuiper belt object? A TNO? We can quibble endlessly about definitions, pop science’s influence on public opinion about Pluto, and even the need to call that hunk of rock out there anything at all. It doesn’t change the nature of the thing, only our perceptions, and maybe our understanding of the thing.
If someone became convinced that Pluto is really an alien spaceship that was going to come to earth soon and take the souls of the worthy away to a better place, however, we’ve turned down a path of subjectivity which is not only poorly supported by the available data set, but is dangerous to the believers and those around them. Think of those people who committed suicide because of similar beliefs surrounding the comet Hale-Bopp.
So all subjective opinions about reality are not created equal. We owe it to ourselves and others to evaluate the various subjective realities that are postulated to us carefully. Like followers of Asclepius, we must pledge first to do no harm, for we are the physicians of our own realities. And secondly, we always need to keep in mind that an actual, true reality is out there even if we perceive it, to steal from Saint Paul, “through a glass darkly”.
Keep polishing that glass, dear ones. Keep polishing.