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The yellow and red leaves of autumn are turning brown and falling. I am exhausted. Four years ago, today, my mother died in a car accident during Hurricane Sandy. It was in the final days of my first campaign for State Representative.
There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
Today, I’m running for State Representative again. It is a low key campaign this time. I reluctantly accepted a minor party nomination, with the agreement that I would not have to do much other than allow my name to be on the ballot. This would give voters a choice, the minor party a chance to keep their name on the ballot, and me a few chances to talk about what is happening in the public sphere.
I was reluctant to run because I knew that even with a full-fledged campaign, which is a lot of work, my chances of getting elected were minimal. I am running against the house minority leader.
I was also reluctant because there was something much bigger going on in my life. I was seeking ordination as an Episcopal priest. Yesterday, I hit a major roadblock.
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down
The Hamiltons move uptown
And learn to live with the unimaginable
My quest for ordination has seemed unlikely from the very beginning. I went off to college forty years ago, intending to study religion and become a minister. Money had always been tight in our family, and it was even tighter since my parents were going through a divorce. A high school classmate I had been fond of was brutally murdered during my freshman year and being off in college in a different state, I did not get the opportunity to mourn with my classmates. I had few friends, little support, and my dreams slowly fell apart. I became a philosophy major, dropped out of school and moved to New York City to write poetry. I supported myself writing computer programs, got married, had kids, and forgot my dreams.
In my brokenness and timidity I gave up my shot.
I worked hard, made a good salary, was involved in church, but slowly ennui crept in. My wife left me. I fell apart.
I remarried and my new wife gave birth to our daughter, my third and youngest. We struggled financially, lost our house in foreclosure, went bankrupt and moved to a small rented house near where my wife grew up.
I spend hours in the garden
I walk alone to the store
And it’s quiet uptown
It’s been quiet in Woodbridge. Slowly, I’ve gotten involved in town politics, made friends, and became involved in church again.
I take the children to church on Sunday
A sign of the cross at the door
And I pray
Slowly, I started writing poetry again. I joined a poetry group and share my poems with them and online. I went to a conference on poetry in the church and had deeply religious experience. I felt, more powerfully than anything else in my religious life so far, that God was calling me to ministry, to the ordained priesthood in the Episcopal Church, and I began my journey of discernment.
From the beginning it has seemed unlikely, unimaginable. How could a fifty seven year old college drop-out impoverished son of a Scotsman become a priest in the Episcopal Church? We are doing okay now, living pay check to paycheck with little savings, but the only way it could happen would be if God clears the way.
He is working through the unimaginable
His hair has gone grey. He passes every day
They say he walks the length of the city
Can you imagine?
Yesterday, I hit a major roadblock. It appears as if the way has not yet been made clear, and I must find a different path or destination. It has been a rough day. I’ve slept. I’ve written. I’ve walked. I’ve been to the dump. I’ve paused to remember my mother and still I don’t understand.
There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable
Election Day is coming up. Afterwards will be the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. Advent will come and then Christmas and Epiphany. I will wait. I will listen for God in hopes of getting a new sense of what I am called to. I will confess my sins and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Forgiveness. Can you imagine?
If you see him in the street, walking by her
Side, talking by her side, have pity
They are going through the unimaginable
I am home where Falcon Ridge meets the confluence of other rivers in my life. My notebook and mind full of thoughts to organize and post in my blog. Snippets of songs play in my head. Patty Larkin sings, “I read the Bible everyday, Trying to keep the demons at bay”. Brother Sun sings “St. Christopher protect us from the cold and stormy sea”. All of this is followed by “St. Anthony Lost and Found” sung by Gina Forsyth.
Soon, I will post more; poems that I wrote, reflections on various performances, and whatever else comes to mind, but first, I need to get back to my day job. I need to fit all of this into the greater journey; poetry group on Tuesday, an important meeting on Wednesday.
As I prepare for my daily get ready for work shower, different from that wonderful first, home from Falcon Ridge shower, I think, twenty-four hours ago, I was sitting on a hill talking with my neighbors and best friends for the weekend, preparing to put out the tarp I would sit upon for the rest of the day. I think of the song we all stand on the hill together and sing, as we head back home, “never turning back”.
Ticket sales for next year’s Falcon Ridge go on sale in February.
This evening, I went to hear Jonatha Brooke at The Kate in Old Saybrook. It is very late, too late for me to try and write anything very coherent, but I want to get down some of my thoughts, even if I’ll need to finish them later.
One of the songs she sang was parts of some of Woody Guthrie’s writing, including one with the words, “Finish Later” at the bottom. When I heard that, I knew that would be, at least part of my quick evening post.
It seems like more and more of my writing is falling into the finish later category, ideas for blog posts, parts of poems.
It made me think of a poem by Billy Collins about unfinished poems by Paul Valery, January in Paris. These partial memories make me think of another poem by Billy Collins, Forgetfulness.
But this is a digression. Another song Jonatha Brooke sang was about her mother as the Alzheimer’s took hold. “Are you getting this down?” her mother would ask her. I’m trying to get some of my reactions to this evening’s music down.
One of the things she spoke about between songs was about that doubt that wracks all writers. I touched on this doubt in a recent blog post talking about Lent and The Accuser. It relates to my daughter’s book, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something. I’m sure there is material here for me to explore in my discernment process. Where does art, being a creator created in the image of The Creator, yet tormented by doubt about being good enough, a good enough writer, among other things, fit in?
One other song she sang was about when her mother went into hospice and she wasn’t ready. She sang about The Last Call, and Red Molly’s song “The Last Call” came to mind. Poetry, music, art, woven together with doubt, uncertainty, reconnecting art to daily life, reconnecting spirituality to art and to daily life.
There is so much more that needs to be written about all of this, when I’m not over tired, when I have more time. So this, too, will end with
I can’t remember when I first came across Edna. It was probably during a high school poetry class, or perhaps scanning through an anthology. She didn’t make much of an impression. Years later, I saw a one person play about her. It was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which I went to regularly back in the 80s. It was a long time ago, and I would often see five or six plays a day, so I must admit, I don’t remember much about the one person play, other than that I enjoyed it.
My next encounter with Edna St. Vincent Millay was as I was listening to the emerging artists selected to play at Falcon Ridge in 2015. One group, was Liz and the Family Tree. I had problems finding them; eventually finding Liz Queler and Seth Farber and their album, The Edna Project. Like with my experience of Edna at the Edinburgh Festival, the songs from the Edna project blended into the mix of the twenty four emerging artists. I enjoyed them, but couldn’t especially remember any of them. In my notes about the emerging artists, I shared a link to their webpage and Facebook page, and simply stated that I hadn’t found a favorite song from them yet.
In December, Liz contacted me on Facebook saying she had just come across my blog post and offered to send me a CD. I must admit, I don’t listen to CDs much anymore. Most of the music I listen to is streaming, but I accepted and when the CD came, I had to figure out where to play it. My laptop doesn’t have a CD player and the CD player in the family room hasn’t been set up for years.
It turns out, however, that my car does have a functioning CD player, and I was looking for something new to listen to on my commute. So, for the past several days, I’ve been listening to The Edna Project repeating on the CD player for an hour and a half each day as I drive to and from work.
I guess a good way to start to think about The Edna Project is to wonder, what would it be like if Edna St. Vincent Millay were a twenty first century singer songwriter? What would it be like, if she trekked from her place in Austerlitz over to Hillsdale?
My teenage daughter has grown up going to Falcon Ridge. She kicked along to the music of Jian Ghomeshi in her mother’s belly. Later, probably when she was around five, she ran up to Dan Navarro to tell him that her favorite song was “Teacher Teacher”. Then, it became Freebo’s “She Loves My Dog More Than Me” that was her favorite song. As she approached her teen years, she started listening to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and has now moved on to My Chemical Romance, Fallout Boy, and Panic at the Disco. Their music surrounds her just about everywhere she goes.
As I listened to The Edna Project, I could not help but think what a better place this world would be if more teenaged girls listened to Liz Queler and Seth Farber singing the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. There is a nuance and subtlety in their music that is missing from most pop music, and there is at least as much romance and intrigue.
So, what songs do I like best from The Edna Project? I’m still not clear. They mingle together in my mind. “There will be rose and rhododendron … The chilly apple from the grass warmed by your living hand … Blessed be death that took my love… like a fish scale or a butterfly’s wing…but, oh, the little hill they took, - I think I am its mother…wonder what sort of people could have had this house before … I will plant bergamot at my kitchen-door…we neither kissed nor spoke …If I can’t be sorry, why, I might as well be glad…scattering the blue dragon-flies… I knew her for a little ghost …”
The CD is still in my car player, and I’m wondering, what other collections of sung, or even read poetry can I find next? I’m listening to Billy Collins read his poetry aloud, and looking for other poetry to listen to in the car.
Not only would the world be a better place is more teenage girls were listening to The Edna Project, but more poets and songwriters should too, and there should be more projects like The Edna Project. It seems like putting Emily Dickinson’s poetry to music other than the Yellow Rose of Texas might be a good step.