June 10 2018
"Poetry is the art of saying things you didn't want to know"
The Navigators and I recently performed at the alter of the Holy Trinity Church amidst the ghosts of our kneeling ancestors. In between the songs I read poems - scaffolding inserted to hold the space, poetry being "a language against which we have no defence" (David Whyte) massaging our hearts towards opening afresh.
I was reminded of the rote learned party pieces, the liturgies etched into every cell through repetitive Sunday communions, songs from the radio with every word sung perfect (don't ask me how or where or when each was learned). We are shaped into who we have become - slipping into being and arriving at each moment with those familiar carry on bags - often oblivious to choices which may have redirected our lives towards potent newness, cliff edges, falling and flying. Each moment being a reminder of what is being lived. And what is not.
Playing in the church was a beautiful reminder of how context becomes interwoven with each story told, each song sung. Being in a space that allowed for silence and listening, to deepen beyond the habits of a lifetime into something new and unchartered was a gift given and received with grace.
January 24 2018
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again.” Samuel Beckett
So eloquently put, Mr Beckett. A whole lot of headspace dedicated to motivational/self help could be freed up if I could just embody those words. Trying can so easily become the focus of a day - that place of pushing and forcing rather than allowing. On days of great doubt writing songs is never enough - there is lining up places to play, publicity, looking at ways to finance this hobby - the all consuming industry machine. And I fall into the trap of believing that the energy that goes into one is very different from the energy that goes into the other. To a certain extent that is true. However forcing and the pushing - whether it be with trying to finish a song or finding the next gig - comes from a place of lack. That there is not enough to go around and it’s all a hustle.
What Beckett so calmly reminds us is that trying and failing is at the core of growth. Wanting it to be good and perfect doesn’t work - messy works as does clunky, flawed and unresolved. In other words, what works is being human and our job is to get as honest with this living as possible. Through art we learn to express it without trying too hard to be fancy or clever, sticking as close to the simple truth as possible.
On asking for advice from a music manager once her answer was golden: write a good song. Simple but therein lies a life’s work. So that becomes the daily practice: to try, fail, no matter, try again, fail again. The rest will come.
October 9 2017
I will name the landmarks which remind me of home : Taranaki the mountain, all of the rivers which flow off him into the ocean, black sands. A shiny gallery which used to house the work of local artists once a year, the pub opposite, the people inside them both - ghosts included in the line up. My whanau - not restricted to relatives - ghosts also included. Those who have passed over (simple) or passed on (sometimes complicated - hearts don’t catalogue into chapters like books do). Ghosts - hosts with a G in front. G for Gin - have a tipple, or Generous - always got you, Gorgeous or Ghastly. All Gone.
Home is where the heart is - so learn to embody home. Different to being defined by where I am from - No Taranaki ahau (I am from/of Taranaki) No te iwi Pakeha . If I sit with myself and a cuppa in quiet I am home. Or play music, or dive into the abyss holding on tight to my hand, I am home. Diving into a lover feels like a different kind of home - more of a 2 bedroomed unit.
Grapple with words all you like but sometimes the answers don’t come along that way. I’m telling myself this after spending time away and on return still feel as if body and soul are separated. I’m home but there is lag. The magical no-man’s land, fluid and nothing catching. Heartstrings canopy above like power lines of love : down to the wire, charged and silent. Strung out between here and there, between me and you.
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maya Angelou
September 12 2017
I’ve been a David Bowie fan since about age 13 when with partially shaved head and purple died hair I took on the name Ziggy and went halves on the album with my best friend. I was recently reminded of his genius during a performance of Starman by Sven Ratzke at the Taranaki Arts Festival - the songs arranged and unwrapped from different parcels, the gift still exquisite. But what really got me during this show was that Bowie now exists as a different kind of star. Always other worldly, but I have to place him soley/souly there - no longer living on this earth.
And what of the billions of other stars who have left this planet? Not an original thought but when faced with the life sized holes these stars leave, asking what for seems a fitting response. They fill the sky with pin-pricks of hope - little twinkles of heaven - how I wonder what they are, where they are. Here but no longer. The unbearable is borne again and again by heroes with capes of grief wrapped around themselves, waiting to fly. It takes time, we hear. But starman has already left the building and what if the time you want is that again. If moving forward is not the direction - instead it’s back, bring him back.
High Country Weather - James K. Baxter
Alone we are born
And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow-mountain shine.
Upon the upland road
Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger
June 17 2017
I have a friend who reminded me of how how to take communion. Drinking wine (and in my case tonight bread with smelly French unpasteurised cheese) reflecting, unpacking and then eventually finding forgiveness and redemption. Allowing the space to grow and unfold, uninhibited by past action, thought or feeling.
My Grandad was good at this. He enjoyed a regular tipple and knew the value of taking pleasure in simple things - like playing a record, both sides until memorised, the scratches becoming part of the soundtrack. Years later I'd hear the same piece of music on Spotify and wait for the place where the needle jumped. Or he would slowly prepare a meal, usually from the garden, with the ritual of an aperitif before dinner. Then the tricky selection of wine...which leads me back to my friend who recently gave me a bottle of my Grandad's favourite pinot noir.
If I drink this alone and reflect am I communing with God? I wonder. Or am I just getting tipsy on a Friday night? And does it even matter? Does the presence of another moderate or exacerbate?
So I cheers to my friend, to Grandad and to all the other great loves i have known. Light headed I loosen my grip on the day, myself and let things unravel a little, allowing the blur of edges rather than the hard lines. To a perfectionist, that is an act of of forgiveness and trust.
Then, packing away the remnants of bread and wine i am reminded of all of those last suppers that i have had: singing to Grandad as he was waiting to die, closing the door of my heart to a lover, or leaving a city, community, job saying "I'll be back" but knowing that I never would be.
And sometimes, when you look at it like that, life could become to feel like a series of losses, with the common prayer being "I am special, spare me this".
But I never truly believe that, so tonight instead I'll pray for grace.
April 6 2017
To return again and again to an honest relationship with the self is daily work for me - being a particularly good storyteller the narrative gets off course quickly. It's uncomfortable and it's messy to do. But once that relationship gets muddled and jumbled nothing in life fits anymore.
Growing up it was the thing to have an autograph book - where you would collect people's signatures and little quotes like "By hook or by crook, I'm the first in the book" (followed by the inevitable "by egg or by bacon I think you're mistaken). One aunt wrote :
"To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
To live in accordance with my own truth even when it goes against the grain of those I love is the rub. But to let them do the same requires an even deeper honesty and it's where life gets mixed up if the clarity around what is gets lost. I write my life of pain over and over on my face and wear it like a mask.
I was reminded of this after a friend showed me some video we are making for a new single. Looking at the footage I wondered where I had gone as my face showed only the story of grief. The remaining narrative was left out. The joy, lightness, fun - the happy stories.
So my friend made me laugh and pulled out those parts which needed a good airing. Gave some perspective, threw in some swear words for good measure as if to say "This is what life is - happy/sad, life/death, beautiful/ugly, dark/light. Inhale it all."
January 9 2017
Apparently it’s not uncommon to be drawn to a lighthouse. In a way that is what they are designed for - to attract our attention and guide us safely. To land us. Safely.
The sailor blown by a mistral wind, the traveller who walks in wanderlust seek out a lighthouse at times. To settle down, rest, reset the compass and learn to navigate by a different star. Then off again for the next passage.
Talking to a new friend the other day he said he needed “a base to come and go from”. Being a musician he spent a large part of each year touring, travelling, living abroad - that which nourishes the need for change, new, movement. But sitting alongside was the need for a constant - his lighthouse. The tension between is what gives juice to living. If I am filled only by one of these cups, my drink tastes too watery or too syrupy. The right combinations and I am sated.
I’m still in my lighthouse - adjusting navigation charts, watching the stars and waiting for the wind to turn. It’s been a safe shelter from often stormy weather and the solid walls, flashing light and vigil watch have given insight and held me well. But there are too many ghosts of broken hearts, loss, grief, yearning and a lighthouse is not built for joy. It’s a solitary place for watching and listening to the details of life, but always here to land me safely home again.
Time to move on. Welcome me, my Light House.
October 19 2016
I have lived next to the ocean all of my life, learnt about the ebb and flow of tides, currents and waves, the different smell of the water as seasons change, deep blue moving closer into shore or muddy browns after rain. Rocks and sand, footprints and dog prints... who walks beside me now?
Ocean dwellers are given to prowling - we like the sea at night with the moon on it's back. Rips and flotsam become a magic silver stream, seen clearly at last.
I'm pulled by water, and it is pulled out of me. Like this quota to be drained away through blood, sweat, tears. Eventually I figured that out instead of pretending that a desert was fine to live in, all dried out with scaly skin - I need to drown in the depths and learn how to come up for air.
Sitting under the stars the sea is loud tonight, a sound that comes with a rising swell and slight onshore wind.
Words which have been deleted from this post include control, change, fear, trust, memory, stories, too much and not enough. Place them side by side and it's a bit like a join the dots picture : you see the outline of the image already. You see. You sea. Like the ocean prowling heart, you start to see a little more clearly what is.
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
By John Masefield (1878-1967).
September 21 2016
'We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”. (Henry James)
I am practised at being vague, wordy, clever. It is a safe place to write stories from, avoiding impeccable honesty. Much easier to rely on the quick, slick, lick of a fox's tongue over slivery language or let aloofness masquerade as mystery.
But the personal can be a narrative for the universal, so here are some musings on jealousy and competitiveness around creativity.
A tricky subject as those feelings bring up the ugly ducking part in me - small, unworthy or too much of the wrong thing. The fear that there is not enough lake for us all, and those damn swans are gliding around with their hundreds of Facebook likes, while I go kick-paddle, kick-paddle flap flop.
Acceptance of being in the dark/on the lake is crucial as it has helped my understanding of why create art. I believe in "the alchemy of music" (to quote Adam Mcgrath) and how it can transform an ugly duckling into a swan. That tackling life with a creative heart leads to a far richer existence and that doubt and uncertainty are an inextricable part of this. Our gifts are unique and best shared. Learning to glide gracefully with the other swans - all of our feathers shining - is part of the deal.
I do get ruffled and anxious, hard to leave the nest some days. But looking across the lake, the view is beautiful and my heart leaps to see you gliding towards me.
September 10 2016
Last night I went to an art gallery opening and was reminded of the great community that graces these events. It's a mixed bunch - always has been - but I'd like to think that most people there genuinely believe that art should hold a place of signifigance or at least be a presence in our small town. We could resort to grey - but we choose colour. I was also reminded of the upcoming local body elections and how we lost a wonderful councillor Lance Girling-Butcher because of his outspoken support for the importance of art in our community. He's running again this time around and has my vote.
These days there is so much to pull us away from the present moment. An art gallery can provide a space for the soul to practice truly seeing. To be with an an object, look, absorb and hold it with the inner gaze.
Music also creates this space. My soul isn't nourished in sound bites, but by records played in their entirety, lying on the floor by the fire, maybe with a friend but most often in solitude. It's here I get to truly listen to "that still small voice" and what it has to say. I grew up with this practice - James Taylor, Carole King, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Anne Murray, Billy Joel - meditations on my parents record collection.
I look at you so often but do I see you? I hear you speak, but seldom do I truly listen. Maybe if I practice coming to my senses with inanimate objects I might do a better job with people.
August 30 2016
I have been struggling with loosing my voice after not being able to shake a cough and cold for what feels like a long, hard winter. I cling to new crimson flowers on the magnolia tree outside the bedroom window in the hope for a change of season soon. It is a scarey place to be, loosing your voice when you feel like you have only just begun to find it.
Today I was at a rest home singing like a very bad Tina Turner - rough, hoarse, strained. And I'd really wanted to sound good. Be good. And there it is, the trap which trips and catches me every time : How to care but not to care.
I was talking with a friend the other day, one of those rare conversations when you find out something you didn't know about yourself. "Being put on a pedestal is a distraction" I said. It confuses me with what I do. He talked about his choice to make art full time, acknowledging how blessed he was but learning not to apologise for that any longer. Both of us sensing the trips and traps of the road.
To care but not to care.
Then today speaking with a woman about the dignity of serving and the mana that place holds if our attitude is not one of servitude, a glint of something came. Looking around the rest home at staff - doctors, nurses, "carers" - I understood a little bit more.
How to care but not care.
Anything which we love can so quickly become a chain around our foot, or in my case a noose around the neck.
Today I've loosened the rope of perfection by singing like Tina Turner with a trembling heart in a room full of angels.
Learning to care but not to care.