scared thrilled scared thrill scared thrilled

I find most things in life both scary and thrilling. I suppose I should hope it's always this way, but sometimes it feels like an awful lot of work.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Musical Bones

People sometimes talk about having, or not having, a “musical bone in their bodies”. I wonder sometimes how true it might be, that music is carried deep inside, in the marrow, and passed like life itself from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters.

My grandfather was a Mennonite, which is (loosely) a sort of Canadian version of the Amish, and I am now officially in trouble for such an insufficient explanation. It was Western Canada in the early 20th Century and life in a Saskatchewan Mennonite colony was tough. Mennonites are sober and pacifist, and the music (strictly acapela) which drifted as a mist from their churches reflected the seriousness and dourness of life on the frozen prairies. My grandfather, with his brothers in tow, chose another path, riding from town to town on his horse with a violin on his back and a six-shooter stuck in his belt. Like a minstrel outlaw, banished from church and community, with steel that glinted from his eyes, he played in barns and halls across the Canadian prairies.
He spent his life as a carpenter and owned the enormous, gnarled hands of those who built houses before the arrival of power tools and nail guns. I remember the rough feel of his palm on my head as he told me “You look like a girl. I’m cutting your hair.” He had a rough touch. But his home was filled with instruments, brass and woodwind, guitars and violins, drums, a marimba, and when he touched them there was only gentle sighs and tenderness.
By the time I was 19 my grandfather had long since died. Most of his instrument collection had been floating in our house for years. That winter my brothers and I packed some of Grandpa’s guitars and amplifiers into our Ford Topaz and drove to Nashville to start what turned out to be five years of recording and touring as a band. His amps have blared into the night in every Canadian province and almost every American state. But that was another life and, amazing how it seems this way, must have happened to another person.
I recently visited my parents in Canada and I brought back to Seattle my grosspappa’s lap steel guitar. I bought a steel slide today and some finger picks that look just like the ones he kept in an old coffee tin. I hope I can hear him when I touch the strings. And hopefully the music in my bones will remember when it was inside Grosspappa, and how he opened his body’s rough-hewn cage and let it out like a dove.

Monday, February 16, 2009

first of the blueberry sessions. working stiff.

I get stiff in this chair, with my fingers splayed across the keys like they're covered in vaseline. I stretch my neck to catch the freshest glimpse of the screen.
It was re-entry for me, like a meteorite. Like a srone I fell to this chair and I'm stiff from the flight.
A mainsail flaps just beyond the windowpane, clean like the wings of a dove and the smell like the sweat of strange lands, the tamping of dust by the tropical wash on the sands.a promise of masterrless days, stubbing my toe on a cobblestone laid by a slave. A sailor's curse I lay on the stone, though I own one myself and before I was born its identical twin sat listless and still in the dust on some shelf in ny room.
And I'm not sure what's to be done, right? It seems so easy to fall as a stone. But really, truly, the stars that shone as suns on the way down could never be matched by the fuzzy points that crossed my eyes when my poor old head hit th ground.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How one should start

I’m not sure how to start this story. Maybe it should start with a hooded silhouette and the shadow of exhaled smoke moving across a brick wall. Or the feel of the saddle on a thirty year old motorcycle. Or a white and pointed curve of leather over a foot with a round worm-scar, and the leather swinging and placing over dirty spots of sheep’s blood and leaking trash. Or the scratching jump of the line on a hospital computer monitor. I’m not sure where, but I think it should start.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

the Wind and what it brings

I've just finished reading an incredible article from the New York Times Magazine

It's a tell-all from a serial (in fact professional) blogger, and it's worth reading through all ten pages.

My relationship with my blog (and everything else) has developed in the two years that its been alive. I've often wondered about its value for me, for others, for the canon of online self-flagellation. I have always preferred two-way conversations and I confess to checking for comments a lot. I don't know who reads this thing. Some of my friends, some of my family, some people I don't know. I have bounced back and forth between conservativism and full-blown narcissism but to this point have refrained from betraying anyone. Yet I have often wondered, should I sell the farm and really write all that's floating, ricocheting, through my head? The last post and its "vaguaries" makes me feel impotent and listless, and I hate this. But what's the alternative? Taking liberties I have no right to take? Or do I, indeed, have the right? This is the only life I've got, after all.

Let's just say I am at a cross-roads with my blog. I have to question my desire to tell you everything. (And there is much more to tell you than what you've read.) The terrain where I was raised suggests that I owe many things to many people, to God, to the planet. How do I balance that with making my own way through this world? How do i become "a man" in my online presence? How do I become a man in my real life presence?

I've spent most of the last year wandering the globe "like a half-dead zombie" (to quote my brother) trying to come to terms with some of the developments of my life. I had specific goals for the months I spent in Africa, and amazingly some of these have been realized. I find myself changing, moving. And I just need to quote quickly from the article I mentioned up top:

"But even though this sense of disconnection from my old self and my old life was confusing, it felt mostly good. After all, what was so great about my old self and my old life, anyway?"

It's taken out of context, sort of. Anyway, the sentiment is important. It's important for me to write it down and publish it online so that I can see it and mark it as a milestone. It may be indirectly important to you, if you know me and would like to understand me better. If you don't know me then it may or may not be important. You have to be the one to answer that.

The nights are cool in Paris and I'm sleeping like a baby, now that I'm no longer on the malaria meds. I'm going to bed now. Thanks, Emily Gould, for walking this bizarre path and for telling us what you've learned from it.
Friends, goodnight. Others, goodnight.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Leaving Africa

After three intense and unforgettable months I am leaving Africa. Tonight I'll take Royal Air Maroc, leaving at 2:40am, to Cassablanca and from there to Paris.

This is a big continent. I've fairly sprinted through nine (10 if you're counting Western Sahara) of its 54 countries. This is not a subtle continent and there are few private corners to it. It is overwhelming to all the senses and pretty much every adjective I know in the English language could probably be used to describe something on this trip.

I came to Africa to do some losing and some finding. It has been directed wandering. The most dangerous and frightening spaces have been the insides of my own heart and head. Africa has served as a physical backdrop for existential exploration. It's a dubious luxury, all this time for stewing, and I am a bit worn out from the experience. I have left no emotional stone unturned, at least of the ones that I've found. I can only hope this translates into a total and thorough experience of losing and of finding too.

At this point the world is open to me in a way I have never before known. I leave Africa tonight different than when I arrived. And I return to a world that is different too. Sorry for the vaguaries...

For now, my time at the cybercafe is up. I'm going to go buy an empty liquour bottle filled with roasted peanuts for the trip. Then I'm going to go home and eat all the fruit I bought before I get back to Europe and can no longer afford such luxuries.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Roll of Glory

For those of you who don't know, I really enjoy a good roll. I instigated a weekly bowling night when I worked at Canlis (best restaurant ever) and while it turns out bowling once a week is a bit much for all but the diehards (lookin at you jer and lin), the tradition remains, and I believe the crew still heads out to Sunset in Ballard every once in a while. I can only hope they roll a frame for me now and then!

I have seen Pétanque played in all the dusty corners of West Africa. In donkey poop covered yards in Maroc and muddy trash filled streets in Côte d'Ivoire I have seen the silver boules flashing in the sun like the winged heels of Hermès (reading Homer right now). American style bowling however, lacking the imperial introduction, has not exactly caught on in West Africa.

But some days ago, while exploring the crumbling and mouldy shell of what was once West Africa's premiere hotel, the Hotel Ivoire, I stumbled on, of all things, a bowling alley! The hotel is a fitting symbol for this once grande city, laid low by so much conflict, yet pressing on. Empty swimming pools, broken windows and long vacant corridors give a depressing site. It seems the old ship is holed below the water line (just finished a book on the US Exploring Expidition of 1838) but she refuses to sink. I was at the hotel to attend a lecture celebrating the release of a book about the most recent conflict here. It was a grand affair with numerous speakers and dignitaries speaking to about 400 people gathered in the hotel's cavernous and dank movie theatre. There were traditional village chiefs in attendance which was great cause they have the most unique sense of style. Confidence I guess.

When I walked in to the bowling alley I felt I must have been the first customer they'd seen in years. The old man in a faded vest and tie was sitting smoking behind a counter covered in dust and old bowling score cards. The alley itself was like a set from a film about old timey America. The boards were cracked and run with ruts. The balls were made of wood stained with oil. The ball returns were adorned with chrome fixings like Buicks from the fifties.

My first roll I went for a powerful twirl, slipped on the oily floor and fell right on my ass. My spinning ball caught the rough pine and headed straight for the gutter, about two metres from where I lay laughing. The man keeping score (a child of the electronic age, this is a skill I will never learn) gave a quick chuckle and marked me a 0. It took some time for me to figure the lane out. Spinners were impossible and I switched to the old straight roll after a while. Teddy Twisters were out of the question. My first game was a dismal 72. The second game a respectable 138.

I never imagined bowling as really proper exercise. But let me say, when you're bowling in 98 degrees with 85 per cent humidity you can expect to sweat a touch. After two games I looked like I'd fallen out of a boat.

That's it. End of the story. I miss you, bowling crew!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Rainfall on Tin Roofs

May 7th, 2008. Treichville, Cote D’Ivoire

I’m sitting next to a window in a third floor room in the offices of La Pierre Angulaire, an Ivoirian HIV/AIDS NGO. The air is cool thanks to a blessed air conditioner, yet I can still feel the heat of the morning air coming through the cracks around the wooden window frames. It rained this morning, and condensation rises from the colourful sizzling jumble of streets like steam from the busy woks at Thai Tom’s.

I have a friend in Paris who runs a gallery (of sorts) of all kinds of building materials. Sounds at first like a fairly obscure occupation catering to a very niche market, but thanks to a particular feature of today’s view over Triechville I can feel a small slice of empathetic excitement about what might seem like a less than thrilling topic: corrugated tin.

When I was 13 my parents moved the family to Belize, Central America so we could spend a year becoming infested with flesh eating worms and learning that the world is a big big place. Excepting a few vacation style forays, coming to West Africa has been my first return to the bizarre world of the tropics. As I moved South I began encountering familiar sensations, smells, sights, like old friends. Or maybe more like old acquaintances, as the gluey feeling of humid skin and the smell of molding shower curtains cannot truthfully be called “friendly”. It’s more like a high school reunion, or returning all grown up and barely recognizable to the hometown of your youth. Some reintroductions are glad, others distasteful and the rest just are. One of these reintroductions has been with corrugated tin roofs.

Corrugated tin is a colourful character; the local drunk or the old narcolept who falls asleep at town meetings and wakes with a jolt and a hearty laugh. Tin roofs run along an aesthetic continuum that starts out trim and proper and ends as shanty-looking as fingerless gloves stretched towards an oil-drum fire. Icing on the cake is when tin roofs are held down by old tires or trash. No matter how straight the cut or how even the rivetting, tin can never remain tidy. Entropy's posterchild.

And oh the sound in the rain! This is a friend for sure.