Minneapolis protest

I think everything that needs saying is being said by those whose voices need to be raised. I’ve been active on Twitter, trying to make sure the right information and the right perspectives are passed on. If you want to know where I’m at with the protests, the police violence, and then the fires and looting, find me there.

In the meantime, here’s a link of organizations that currently need support. Minnesota Freedom Fund and Black Visions Collective are both pointing folks who want to donate to these links as they aren’t getting the same level of exposure right now. So if you’re looking for a cause to support in Minnesota today, use these: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yLWGTQIe3967hdc9RSxBq5s6KKZHe-3_mWp5oemd7OA/preview?pru=AAABcpTi6i0*9FFWa8rhVq21iWql-vfD-A

Otherwise? The only thing that matters right now is:



Weird Sources of Wisdom 1: Labyrinth

As I was falling asleep at one point over last weekend, a line came into my head and stuck with me. It was one of those throw-away lines from a cartoon, and yet, as it crashed into whatever I’d been halfway to dreaming about, it made an odd amount of sense. Of course, I promptly forgot which line it was as soon as I fell asleep, but I remembered it happening. So I decided to start connecting the bits of wisdom I’ve accumulated over the years from odd places. These aren’t philosophers or classic writers. But you don’t have to be an ancient font of wisdom for your wisdom to be true nonetheless.

So, let’s start with Labyrinth.

If you’ve never seen it, you gotta fix that. Like now, today. Go find the movie and watch it. We can be friends again afterwards. If you just need a reminder, here you go:

There’s so much good in the movie, not just the fun and the puppets and David Bowie being the absolute king. It’s knowing who you are, where you’re going, what you really believe. Are you Hoggle, struggling to find the inner resolve to choose a path that frightens you? Are you Didymus, caught up how things should be done instead of looking to see how they can be done? Are you Ludo who just needs to be given a chance?

Labyrinth was one of the first VHS tapes I owned, and one of the first DVDs, too. It was also a soundtrack I listened to constantly my first year at college as I was on my own journey to figure out my way forward. But it goes farther back than that. Labyrinth was one of the four pillars — four shows/movies that pretty much defined how I saw myself and who I wanted to be while I was growing up. We’ll get to the other three another day.

So — the pieces of wisdom that Labyrinth embedded in my soul?

“Things are not always what they seem in this place, so you can’t take anything for granted.”

The little worm says this when Sarah is first running through the labyrinth. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it exchange, particularly afterwards when the worm makes its own assumptions (and thus doesn’t happen to mention that Sarah was face to face with a path directly to her goal). The labyrinth itself is always changing, evolving, and what was a path through turns into a dead end as soon as you quit looking at it. The only way through is to remain flexible on your feet and in your thinking. Question what you see, question what you assume, question what you think you know. And be prepared to be surprised.

“It’s not fair!”
“You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

It’s a harsh moment for Sarah, having her constant refrain called out. But Jareth is right — she DOES say it a lot. And, if you look at it, a lot of what Sarah considers “not fair” is really just “not the way she wants it to be.” “Fair” would be everything working out the way she wants regardless of anyone else’s needs or motivations. Sarah is self-centered, and doesn’t see that things that don’t seem fair to her are not therefore intentional slights or deliberate attacks — sometimes they are people trying to meet their own goals. Sure, Jareth isn’t making this easy for her, but he isn’t supposed to. Sarah is only the hero of her OWN story, not his. And when Sarah quits judging the actions and choices of others against what she wants, she loses a lot of her resentment, too. There are genuinely unfair things in the world. But there’s a huge difference between injustice and people getting in each other’s way by existing. A hero’s tale wouldn’t mean anything if everyone just got out of her path and let her win without a fight.

“The way forward is sometimes the way back.”

Okay, I like this one even though it’s trite. It comes from that “wiseman” with a talkative bird hat that Sarah and Hoggle meet after getting out of the tunnels under the labyrinth. Sarah asks for advice, and this is one of the lines he spouts while dodging quips from his hat. The hat insults him, but the point is still well intentioned. For me, I think specifically that it’s the emotional context where this works for me. Sure, I can push on, tackle the journey ahead of me without hesitating, but advancing my steps might mean unraveling me in other ways. Getting to the finish line and getting there with no spoons, fully burned out, exhausted — does it count as a win if I lost to get there? So I think it’s not just about realizing that sometimes you have to take a few steps backward to move forward, but also think about how those moves impact you on multiple levels. There is usually a way to move that won’t cut you apart.

“You have no power over me.”

The whole speech Sarah quotes at the start of the movie and then in her final confrontation with Jareth has always meant a lot to me. I used to have it up on the wall next to my dorm room in college. There’s courage in it, and defiance, and endurance. But it’s that last line that really drives itself into my heart. Jareth is all-powerful, and yet he is begging Sarah to fear him. From her obedience comes his power. And it’s so true in the world. It’s SO TRUE. So much of the world is predicated on a complicated set of social contracts. “Don’t correct an authority figure.” “Be polite even if it means allowing someone else to be rude.” “Don’t make waves.” “Don’t make a scene.” It’s garbage, all of it. Of course, I believe in being polite, and in being respectful, and in generally showing kindness. But I’m not going to let the unwritten social morays keep me from asserting my own power. Social rules say not to stick your nose in if somebody is being bullied — but the power of a bystander stepping up and saying “Enough” is greater than anyone realizes until it happens. Expectations can pile up like bounders on your shoulders, but you don’t have to play by them. No one, NO ONE has the power to make you anything but what you choose to be. And to exercise that strength is to be oneself, fully and unapologetically. And, like Jareth, those who would demand obedience and find none are themselves rendered powerless.

“It’s only forever, not long at all.”

This is my favorite line in the “Underground” song. I used to hang onto the “No one can blame you for running away” part, but that was when I was still struggling to find my way in a place I’d chosen for myself. But that “It’s only forever, not long at all” has always stuck with me, too, and far moreso after I no longer needed to run away. There’s something flippant to it, but it’s deep, too. Because forever is just the series of the next one. Telling myself I’m going to do X thing every day for the rest of my life feels daunting. But telling myself I’ll do it “next time” and then, after the day after that, “next time,” and after that, “next time” — those next times DO add up to forever. I’ve seen it used as a model for people trying to get out of habits or get in them, from changing their eating patterns to exercise to prayer or meditation. Critically, it also works on dealing with something difficult. Sure, balancing a level of stress and seeing no end to it can crush you. But taking a deep breath and saying, “I only need to do this today” is liberating. And then, when tomorrow becomes today, “I only need to do this today.” It makes the longest and heaviest of loads something quantifiable, something limited, something within the scope of endurance.

Put that way, “I’m going to write stories forever” becomes too short. Because I only have today to write stories. And then tomorrow. And someday my tomorrows will run out, but the story ideas won’t.

Forever could never be long enough, put that way.

I guess, when you consider that this was a fourth of where I began, there’s no real surprise I ended up where I did. After all, I did find my way into the Underground, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather spend my forever.


Spring Defiance

It’s May the Fourth, which has specific relevance to Star Wars fans everywhere. It’s also the beginning of May, which some circles may connect with Jonathan Coulton’s “First of May” song, which is about something ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.


The beginning of May to me is the celebration of relentless spring. Having lived most of my life in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, April never really feels much like spring to me. There’s too many blizzards yet to hit (anybody remember a couple of years ago and multiple feet of snow being dropped on Minnesota?), too many cold snaps that keep the leaves from unfurling and the flowers from wanting to poke out of the ground. In warmer places, spring has come and the march to summer is in full swing by the first of May, but for my lifetime, May is truly the point of no return on winter.

(Which isn’t to say I’ve never seen a snowstorm in May. Unfortunately, I have.)

There’s something about that momentum, that refusal to backslide. Yeah, the weather may play tricks, but there’s no holding back the life and warmth and rebirth in May. The sun is brighter, the sunsets and sunrises more colorful, the trees are greening, and it is a rolling tide of life that will not be denied. Some people watch the spring rise out of winter and see a gentleness of life waking up; I’ve always seen it as an act of defiance.

“Ha. You thought the cold could stop me? I’ll show you!”

So it is doubly appropriate that Sarah found this PBS clip and showed it to me. Because the butterflies, no matter how delicate, survive even winter and return to flight. The cold can’t dampen their spirits forever, and once they begin to take in the energy of the sun, what begins as a trickle turns into a flood of flight and color — and nobody could contain them all.

Even from a balcony, even in the midst of quarantine, the soul can still fly. And if all I can do today is fly and refuse to be pinned down by the state of the world, then that’s what I’m going to do. Today I am warm enough to shake off my wings and soar.

See you in the sky!


Diamond and Rough

The patterns of how I listen to music are a little strange, I’ll admit. I can go a year without ever feeling the urge to regularly play anything less than upbeat except in very specific circumstances (meditation, a writing playlist associated with a story, etc.) and then suddenly find myself pulling out all the slower, sadder, more contemplative songs in a single rush. Part of this, I think, is that I tend to prefer happy, energetic music except when I’m in a downswing. But also, I am one of those people who strongly reflects internally what is happening around me externally — so happy, cheerful, kickass, positive music helps me create a positive feedback loop to carry me into that same mindset. So I listen to slower or sadder music far less frequently.

And yet, when I do, it never fails to have an impact on me.

A second circle in the Venn diagram that is how-Kelly-listens-to-music regards source and/or language. I have a deep and abiding fondness for songs that come from something I love, so I have a lot — A LOT — of soundtracks. Especially with vocal music, I find that I can attach very specific feelings to songs that happen during particular scenes or sung by certain characters, and they stick with me long after the shine is off the original source. A movie I wouldn’t bother sitting through for a half-decade might not speak to me, but that one song sung in that one dramatic moment can still bring me to tears.

Since I watch and enjoy a lot of anime, there is a whooooole list of wonderful songs that can evoke those kinds of emotions, but whose language I don’t understand (other than a word here or there). For those songs, I try to learn them — both to sing the Japanese correctly and to be able to recall at least the broad strokes of the translation. As I said when I wrote about the poetry of Izumi Shikibu, Japanese poetry really speaks to me, and song lyrics are no different. They may not always readily translate to English words, but the feelings are universal.

If there is a third circle in the Venn diagram, it comes down to songs I can really sing. There are lots of songs I can sing, but they don’t always work in my range. Songs sung by men in the low tenor range mean I have to sing them up the octave, and that is not always the right choice. Some women’s voices just don’t match for mine, so even if we share the range, I sound like a strangled turtle trying to put together the same notes. And there are some songs I just love, but would never really want to sing except for myself with nobody listening (see all songs about sex, for example).

One song that has spoken to me since I first heard it is “Diamond Crevasse” from Macross Frontier. It’s such a moving song, the sorrowful and loving lament of saying goodbye to someone too soon, too unexpectedly. It ends with a line which is translated as “I wish the planet would whisper to me that I’m not alone.” Since I first heard it, it seemed exactly the song to express loss and love and the loneliness that comes with grief.

In a COVID-19 world, there’s a lot of grief. Even for those who have not (yet) lost people they love to the virus, we have all lost something. We have lost hours, days, weeks with the people we love whom we cannot see in person, cannot hug, cannot console. We have lost days in the spring, birthdays, evenings of sunsets gathered around a meal. We have lost a kind of innocence, the certainty that the world works the way we predict. We have lost mental health and resources, jobs, patience, and hours of sleep.

I had been thinking for a while about starting up posting songs on YouTube again, just idly, but that idle fancy took on new life when choir rehearsals stopped. Apparently I can’t go that long without needing and wanting to sing, to share music, even if no one is listening. And singing to myself at my desk or while doing chores just didn’t fulfill the need sufficiently. So I combined my feelings about COVID-19 with the songs I wanted to put into the world, and I created this:

The words are mine, in that I interpreted the translation and rewrote it to fit the actual rhythm of the words. Japanese can, beautifully, say so much so simply, but it still does so in a lot of syllables. I had to add and stretch a lot to make the words fit in the melody correctly. But I tried to keep it as directly tied to the original as possible.

I recorded the audio in our bathroom, singing into Sarah’s laptop, which has the best microphone of the working microphones we currently have available, and then filmed the visual separately a week ago as the sun started to set on our balcony. I still think of it as “emoting off a balcony” and I’m sure it looked funny from below, but I had to do something. Just standing still and singing facing the camera didn’t do the song justice. You can’t see that I have streaks of purple and pink in my hair in the style of the character (Sheryl is sung by the artist May’n) but they were there. We took a total of four takes, and this was by far the best of them, both in terms of lighting and in terms of me not getting weird.

Also, the video doesn’t do justice to the fact that it was COLD out. My sweater (a frankensweater made by the awesome sluagh on Etsy) kept my arms warm, but the bar under my hands was ICE COLD and it did not improve as I touched it. I had goosebumps on my goosebumps, and poor Sarah, who was operating the camera, was colder still. Between tries, we had to duck inside so I could hug her a while.

But it came together, and that’s what really matters.

I have a hard time listening to myself sing — all I hear is everything I do wrong. Similarly, I can’t really speak to how I look on camera because I only see imperfections. It’s a song called “Diamond Crevasse” but it’s hard for me to think about my own performance because all I see is the rough. That’s just me and my insecurity; it doesn’t mean it’s true. And even if the whole song was rough, there is still sparkle somewhere in there, and I have to hang onto that. After all, even if I totally screwed it up (and I don’t think I did), the song itself is still beautiful in any form.

And, no matter how I feel about my looks or my sound, I know I put my heart into the song. I put all that loss and grief and missing people into it, but also the love I have for everyone I can’t be with right now. The first time I practiced it with the English words, I had to stop as my throat closed up and I found myself getting teary thinking about how many people I long to see again. Even in the last take, the one Sarah mixed into the audio, I think you can still hear when I quit being a stoic performer and started to feel what was behind the words. “Diamond Crevasse” is a song about loss, but it is a song about love first. And I sang it out of love, as well as missing all the people I miss. And that’s the only part that really matters.

I’m going to try to do more of these, and Sarah might even do some with me. Together, we’ll put together the happy songs to make people smile, or the quiet ones that reflect our feelings. Or, maybe we’ll write our own instead. Either way, we need music. And I need to put it in the world.

It’s long been my belief that we can put good into the world even if it only touches a few people, but that good is no less valuable for its small impact. The world could use every single particle of good we can give it right now, and I may not be able to serve in big ways, but I can feel a song and share it. If nothing else, I can do that much.

And maybe, if I keep singing off my balcony (or waving while emoting) I’ll be able to help someone else remember that they are not alone upon the planet…


Powerful Gay Music

Sorry about missing the last couple of Mondays. In spite of sheltering at home, there’s still a lot going on, including a new and positive, albeit heavier load at the job, and generally keeping myself and Sarah on top of our health and emotions and needs.

Also, Friday was our 17th anniversary, as I ranted at length on Twitter.

17 years is a long time, and yet it flew by. I look at Sarah and still get all twitterpated, not butterflies in my stomach nervous, but more “holy CRAP I get to hang out with this perfect person who I adore and I never have to leave her side!” It’s a heady feeling. I never get tired of walking into a room and knowing she is there. It never feels like I get tired of her, or would like a break. Even when things are tough, I could more easily quit having limbs.

But I already did this ranting on Twitter, so that’s enough for now.

Instead, have this beautiful short from YouTube. It popped up at exactly the right time, and Sarah and I both enjoyed it immensely. Sometimes the simplest stories are the ones you need, and this was precisely the fairy tale we wanted on our anniversary.

(Also, I HIGHLY suggest watching it with captions on. Thus the infinitely appropriate to Sarah and I title of this entry.)


When we look up sometimes

It’s beautiful and sunny in Minnesota today, and I actually managed to sleep some last night. I haven’t looked at Twitter in more than 24 hours, and so I’m feeling okay.

So here’s a happy song. It makes me feel a little better, being reminded that there are still beautiful moments in the world even when it feels like everything is going to hell. And that the only thing that can lift me up right now is myself, if I “keep on keeping at what [I] love.”

I wrote more than 6,000 words this weekend. So I definitely did something right.

The only thing I can control is myself, and sometimes not even that. So I’m going to let the happy song play, and put whatever good I can summon into the world today while I’ve got it.

The sun is shining, and today, so can I.


March: Into isolation

I am actually typing this a close to a month after the last update, realizing that this month of chaos has been one I entirely missed on the blog. To be fair, the world right now does not look the way it did a month ago.

At the start of the week of March 9th, the spread of COVID-19 was starting to make real ripples in the world.  We weren’t in lockdown then, but that week was when we started to really think about it.  By the end of the week, Sarah and I managed a pretty intensive grocery run, figuring we weren’t going to want to get out to the stores again for a while.  That Saturday, the 14th, we had a gathering with volunteers from CVG.  We were in the same room, but there were fewer hugs, no handshakes, and a palpable difference in people’s body language as we got used to stepping one more pace back from each other.  We didn’t, then, know anyone who was sick.  We figured the world would have to go a little quieter, that people wouldn’t hang out as often — but not that no one would leave their homes.

Sunday the 15th, Sarah and I celebrated Ostara with our Clan.  We had our traditional egg hunt and the giving of chocolate.  It was also a celebration for me, because Friday the 13th had been my last day at the previous job and I was taking a week off before embarking on a new phase in my career.  We played games until 11pm-ish, glad for the big dishes of food and company.  But even then, we were still talking about seeing each other sometimes.  Not often, but sometimes.

Monday the 16th, Sarah changed her mind, the of us to really declare a full lockdown.  She asked me to cancel all hanging with people, and pretty much forbid me from running errands or doing other tasks that might put me into contact with others.  She worries because she knows I’m vulnerable.  We took off in the car to deliver Ostara chocolates to those who hadn’t been able to come, and we spent a little time wandering around Northfield because we were there anyway.  But we felt a little bit like we were the odd ones out.  After all, kids were still going to be in school for a day or two, and the distancing was more voluntary than necessary.

That whole week went by in a blur, partly because we both got hit with absolutely horrific seasonal allergies, and partly because the news in the world was rapidly worsening on every front.  The common areas in the condo closed, cutting off access to our pool and workout room.  Schools in MN shut down, ostensibly for a longer spring break, but the rumblings of something more permanent were present.  By the weekend, March 22nd was supposed to be a ConCom meeting and instead it turned into a series of video calls because everyone who wasn’t “essential” was staying home with almost no exceptions.  Runs for food and basic necessities still happened, but most people had not set foot out of their homes for days, Sarah and I included.

That’s also the point when I started to recognize the effect of isolation on myself and took to ranting on Twitter.  But COVID-19 cases were mounting everywhere, and I was still vulnerable, so I assured Sarah I would not break our quarantine.  We set up calls twice a week with our CVG team just to hang out virtually and keep each other company.

Then I started work at the new company, and the last full week of March vanished into a rush of learning new systems, new names, and trying to do it entirely remotely as the company (and many others) had sent everyone to work from home without exception.  The economy was suffering hard, and all indications were that things were getting worse, not better.  Deaths were piling up, and hospitals were out of PPE.  People were sewing masks out of t-shirts.  Unemployment shot up.  Fox News quit lying about the pandemic.

Sarah and I started trying to do something musical or meditative every other day or so, trying to keep ourselves balanced and positive in a world sliding down an exponential curve to hell.  I wrote a new translation for a cover of “Diamond Crevasse” from Macross Frontier; Sarah is still mixing/balancing the tracks before we put in a visual aspect and post it online.  I started a oneshot on my list from years ago.  I got my first paycheck, but the company also took a hit.  I realized I was going through cycles of not sleeping 3-5 nights, then sleeping well for 2-3 with no appreciation for which nights were in front of workdays instead of weekends.

And now here we are.  March has ended, and April begins with the world fully in the grip of COVID-19.  We haven’t hugged anyone but each other since March 16th.  Haven’t spoken to someone in person other than the security guy in the building when picking up packages or the chiropractor since March 18th.   Haven’t run errands, living 95% off our badass grocery run with 1 instance of delivered food, since March 14th.  We wash our hands between loads of laundry because I have to touch the machines down the hall.  We meet our CVG folks on Tuesdays and Fridays to chat, and the choir has started doing “guided rehearsals” over the internet.

People have said this is like a war, but I think it’s more akin to exactly what it is — a natural disaster.  And so I’ve been reminding myself of the Survival Rule of Three.

You can only go three minutes without oxygen.  Three hours without shelter.  Three days without water.  Three weeks without food.  But you can only go three seconds without hope.  If you lose hope, you’re lost before you’ve begun.

So I’m not always upbeat or positive.  I’m not okay, but nobody’s okay.  How could anyone be?  Most days I can manage my anxiety, push the dread and fear down.  I’m doing much better about controlling my access to social media and the increased stress that comes with reading the latest stats and knowing the current worst case.  Most days I breathe all day long, and I don’t cry.  Most days, I can even find a way to do something that makes me happy, either writing or singing or thinking about cosplay.  Most days, I’m not okay, but I’m surviving.  Most days I’m not breaking the Survival Rule of Three.

I can’t say more than that.  I can’t say it’ll get better, or I’m waiting for it to get worse.  I can’t say that I’ll be able to make it through if I get hit by a bad downswing.  There is no certainty right now.  There is only right now.

And yet, I know I’m one of the lucky ones.  Minnesota acted fast, and comprehensively.  I still have a job, and we can afford to buy the food and prescriptions we need without worrying about bills piling up.  I have a frustrating, hilarious, ever-challenging, ever-entertaining kitten to distract me and cause new problems to solve.  I am in isolation with the person I absolutely adore, the person whose presence never becomes tiresome, the person who makes me laugh no matter what, the person I trust with everything.  We aren’t sick.

And we’re still struggling.

I miss the FUCK out of the people I love.  I miss the FUCK out of hugs.  Out of hanging and watching anime.  Out of being able to cry on a shoulder, or vent, or poke somebody in the ribs.  When I get to life After COVID-19, I am NEVER going to take those moments for granted again.  I didn’t before, having been alone in life already and knowing what that feels like, but even so — it’s different.  A lot is going to be different.  Life BC-19 (Before COVID-19) and AC-19 will be alternate universes of one another.  I’m not sure in AC-19 if I’m ever going to touch anything in public ever again, if I’m ever going to be able to pick up housekeys without wanting to wash my hands before I touch anything else.

But AC-19 feels very far away.  And there’s a very real chance that, when I get there, I won’t be there with everyone who was a part of my life in BC-19.  That all of us will lose someone, maybe many someones.  That all of us will be marked, forever.  That we’ll emerge with new scars is a certainty.  How deep they’ll run, how hard it will be to heal them — only time will tell.

Until then, take care of yourselves, goddamnit.  I want you in the world when this is over.  I want you in the world with me.  Do what you have to, just survive.  Just not from this fucking coronavirus, but from the isolation and the fear and the struggle.  Be selfish if you have to.  Be kind whenever you can.  But just survive.  Hang on.  Be there to hug me someday again.

The rhythm of my footsteps crossing flatlands to your
Door have been silenced forevermore
And the distance is quite simply much to far for me to row;
It seems farther than ever before

I need you so much closer


Only Once

I have a weird relationship with poetry. Song lyrics, yes please. Songs speak to me, not just the music, but the words and their rhythm. I stand in awe of people who can write musical poetry the way Beth Kinderman can, for example — mine always seems to come out pale and thin.

But poetry that isn’t written to be sung doesn’t often work for me. Even when I have the random urge to write it myself, I rarely read it. And then, only the poetry of a few people. I grew up on The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky the same as everybody else who read it as a kid, and I can really appreciate the work and talent needed to get such humor into those tightly-worded lines. But it was Jack Prelutsky’s set of poems in the book Ride a Purple Pelican that stuck with me. Simple verses, just a few words on each page, but telling stories that were rich and deep; I still have my original copy of the book I grew up reading.

Aside from rhymes and poems meant for kids, though, I rarely find a poem I really like, let alone a poet whose work consistently speaks to me. I can think of only four poets whose work I voluntarily read: Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca, and Izumi Shikibu.

I came upon Izumi Shikibu’s work entirely by accident a few years ago. I was reading fanfic, actually, and one of her poems was quoted in the story. It made an impression on me, so I dug deeper into her history and her works. She was writing in a time period before the invention of the haiku, but in the same sort of style, so the structure of her words was utterly striking even as it fit a meter I didn’t immediately understand. Japanese poetry (and song lyrics, for that matter) is stark and delicate in a way I rarely find in English, cool in the way that Latin American poetry is vibrant.

As I was reading some of her poems, I came upon this one, and knew I would never feel poetry quite the same way again:

Even if I now saw you
only once,
I would long for you
through worlds,

It’s…so hard to describe how it makes me feel. I read the words and they echo in my soul, creating ripples of feeling that bounce and shiver, all without names. I feel it more than I understand it, and I understand it far beyond what I could ever describe. The only other single poem that has ever had such an effect on me is Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XVII:

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations that propagate fire.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way than this:

where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

I took bits and pieces from Neruda’s poem and pieced them together with a lot of help from Sarah to create the first draft of “Binary.” I’m not sure you can really look at the lyrics to “Binary” and see its roots here, but this is where the seed of those lyrics was born. And for good reason — “Binary” was written for our wedding ceremony.

If I had found Izumi Shikibu’s poem first, the song born from that seed would have been quite different, and it wouldn’t have been “Binary,” but the meaning would have been the same because they all circle the same feeling place inside my heart.

So now I’ve compiled a whole bunch of Izumi Shikibu’s poems and I’m trying to piece together another song whose shape is grown from her influence. The first draft is done. It’s dense and odd and the cadence is nothing like the kind of lyrics I usually write, but it is what it needs to be. Now, as with all song-writing, the lyrics go to Sarah. I give her the raw shape, the words and sentiments, and she refines them to something far better, smoother, and certainly more musical. Hopefully this will end in a new song for Candles Enough when we next perform (probably at CONvergence 2020).

But whether or not a song and a melody ever comes from it, Izumi Shikibu’s poem sits with me still, stirring through the odd space between heartstrings and finding secret corners to illuminate. With the last two weeks of chaos and change and nervousness and elation, the poem has quieted me, brought me peace, and centered me anew.

I’m leaving my job of almost 13 years next Friday. Two nights from now I’ll stand on a stage at a fundraiser and sing. Three weeks from now I begin a new job.

But none of that prickly uncertainty can touch me. Not with these words in my mind:

Even if I now saw you
only once,
I would long for you
through worlds,

I could go my whole life and never put 16 words (in translation) together with such beauty.

But, then, I’m not a poet, really. And those who are create their works hoping that someday, somewhere, one line or stanza or poem will shift the earth beneath the feet of someone. That their expression will become someone’s foundation, their lighthouse, their meaning.

Every songwriter wants that, too, I think.

No matter what song comes of the words of Izumi Shikibu and the inspiration I am drawing from her a thousand years late, I’m still writing it with the same hope that someone will hear it and feel. Feel what? That’s up to them. Just feel something.

I don’t know what I was meant to feel from this poem, and I still couldn’t even put it into words or gestures or anything but a helpless tempest inside to explain it, but I’m certain I’m not going to stop feeling it any time soon.


Stepping Up

Well, last Monday was a bust because I was unexpectedly in California, and this week has been largely dominated by the same. That, and a whole lot of painting in our condo hallways which makes my brain get woozy periodically.

I’m preparing for a pretty monumental life change — leaving my company of nearly 13 years to join a startup company in a completely new industry.

My job is the one place in life I tend to show the least defiance and courage, because ultimately taking care of Sarah and making money have to come first — so I have to swallow my personality just to make it work. Or, at least, I did. But change needs to happen and it needs to happen now.

I’ve passed the point at my current position of “busy but with some downtime to take a breather” to “frustrated beyond the point that it is negatively impacting my life” and that’s usually the last sign a person needs to get out. I haven’t been really challenged in a long time, and the more that goes on, the dumber I feel. I’ve always been the sort of person to rise with the level of difficulty — maybe not to the top, but enough to balance the rising waters, anyway. I was never a straight-A+ student, but I was a comfortable A- student at least even when I took the leap from public school to private, and then from high school to college. The difficulty rose, and so did I.

By the same token, when there is no challenge to meet, I sink. And not just with work or school — everywhere. My writing has suffered, and only now am I realizing the impact my job has had upon that besides everything else. My spirits suffer when I spend most days traveling the short spectrum between annoyed and ready-to-pull-my-ribs-out-of-my-chest-with-my-bare-hands frustrated. Spending my workday drenched in mud makes it hard for me to relight the spark inside for anything else.

So I’m making a change, and a big one.

Honestly, I have no idea how this will impact my life. I’ll have to work harder than I have in years, and yet my boss is adamant that he doesn’t intend for this to take over my every waking moment — no 60 hour work weeks or working all weekends. I’ll have to be sharper, more accountable, cleverer. I’ll have to stretch and screw up and try again on a daily basis. I won’t be able to spend my workday frowning at my computer and wandering over to YouTube. I probably won’t be able to spend it writing, either.

But I haven’t spent the last however-many workdays writing in the first place because creativity dies in this morass of boredom and frustration anyway.

It’ll be an adjustment, a big one. If my workdays fill up the way I anticipate, I’m going to have to actively carve out writing time in my evenings and weekends as I haven’t for a few years. I’m going to have to be more careful about scheduling everything from a daily workout to laundry to make sure I’m putting my actual job first in a way I haven’t for the last 2 years. I may even have to get used to traveling for work a tiny bit, at least once or twice a year.

But I’m ready for this. The new company is one whose mission isn’t just “make money,” but in fact rooted in helping other people, in building a better, healthier, more respectful world. That’s something I can actually care about. I’ve never since college had a job that paid money for something I valued, something I believed in, something I could feel. I think that will help me a lot.

But even so, I have reason to worry.

We’re singing a song for this season in the TCWC whose lyrics begin with:

What is the meaning of success?
What does it mean to me?
How do I get there?
Do I have reason to be scared?
Do I?

The song ultimately answers the questions by pushing forward, the refrain being “one step, take another step, step up.” It’s encouraging, and a pretty fun song, but it does kind of gloss over the part about actually being scared. It jumps from the reasonable human reaction of fear to refusing to give up, but there’s a piece that has to be overcome in the middle there.

And, yeah. Something of this magnitude, something that is job-related so it determines if Sarah and I are okay and can afford our lives…

Yeah, I have reason to be scared.

But I read something in a fic a little while ago that has been helping me a lot:

“You’re not nervous, you’re excited.”

It’s actually a real thing — biologically, the sensation of nerves and fear is pretty similar to excitement. It’s all in our human perception that tells us if that jangling in the stomach is a happy kind of sensation or a debilitating one. And while this might not work on generalized anxiety, for me, for a certain kind of fear, it does work.

While I’ve been interviewing for this job, when I was unexpectedly brought to California to meet with the company, all along I have reminded myself that I wasn’t nervous about talking to these people or making this leap, not scared to step way outside my comfort zone — but that I was excited to try something new and learn what I could do. It’s helped more than I can say. I need the reminder pretty frequently, but it’s helped. I found myself in a conversation with the company’s founder and I wasn’t afraid and nervous and unsettled; I was eager and enthusiastic, and that wasn’t false. It was my excitement in the place where nerves had begun.

Next week, I get to find out if this works on stagefright as well.

So there are a lot of unknowns about the coming weeks and months. Nobody knows how this change will impact my writing or my life — but it can only be a good thing, because the current state is damaging. I wish I could say that being stimulated at work would lead to a new burst of creativity and I would get back to writing the way I want. But maybe it’ll be more like CVG and it’ll take spoons I need for writing instead, and my production won’t increase even though my happiness and quality of life will. I don’t know.

But I’m willing to find out. I’m willing to walk away from 13 years of stability (and frustration) for something new and unknown. I’m willing to leap and figure out the landing on the way down.

It’s one step forward. One step up. It’s going to take a lot out of me, but it may give back even more. It’s a chance worth taking and a risk worth making.

I’m not nervous. I’m excited.

And it turns out? I really am.


Fried and crispy

I’m not quite sure what happened here. I had the 20th of January off work, and kind of forgot that it was a Monday, and I was at a convention the first few days of February so last week was spent catching up on sleep. I don’t remember why I didn’t post on January 27th. Probably I had a moderately acceptable reason. Oh well.

It’s been a weirdly long few days. Stuff has been stressful for Sarah and I both, and it seems like we only just get to catch our breaths before the next thing has to be handled. So I am, as I put it in an email, currently fried as fuck.

Therefore, even though I’m behind on entries, I’m giving myself permission to take another breath and look at the blue Minnesota sky and work on regaining some equilibrium. A little boring for anyone who actually reads this blog (all 4 of you, I think!), but you also know me in other ways and can always poke if you want actual entertainment.

Until then, have a song from cheerful anime of girls who are pop idols with magic voice power: