"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.
“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 straining too hard - whether it be trying to finish a song or finding the next gig - comes from a place of lack. Believing there is not enough to go around, that 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.