31 August 2015

Grief: Art and Time

Written 19 July 2015, 11.35pm. All references to elapsed time are based on this composition date.

Grief is a strange thing.

On one hand, I feel like I should be processing everything by creating art -- writing, dancing, something. That's how I escape everything else. But inspiration doesn't come... I'm not a total slave to 'the muse' but I've been doing this long enough that certain project ideas will sort of draw me in. I've gotten fairly good at knowing which ideas are ready to be concretely worked out and which ones need more incubation time. Lately though, there aren't really any ideas at all.

This is strange for me. Ever since I could read I've had writing ideas, and I've had choreography percolating in my head since I was seven. To suddenly not have that is so strange. It's like a part of me is gone -- gone beyond the stars where my friend and my cousin disappeared to.

I remember about five months after my friend's mother died, asking how she was doing and if she'd been doing anything artistic lately. She told me no, she hadn't really, the last time she tried to do something artistic she ended up painting an entire canvas black. It seemed odd to me at the time, but I thought Hey, people have different ways of processing grief. But now I can relate to that. The emptiness of everything, the trying to forget, the acute awareness that you feel nothing and wishing you could and then wishing you wouldn't. I almost have to forget what happened and the role they played in my life if I'm going to be able to get out of bed every morning, but if I forget them, all kinds of guilt comes crashing in on me at two-week intervals and I become a basket case. I can't go on like this.

The worst of it is when people seem to think that I should be over it. You don't get over this. You don't -- not ever. Even before it happened to me I knew that death changes everything in the lives of those close to them. And this wasn't just one... this was three in three months. The last was at the end of April... that's only two and a half months ago. Surely you don't expect me to be back to 'all's right with the world' yet? Who recovers from the death of a child? Who recovers from the death of a very close friend? Who on earth is over it in less than three months?

I know it's awkward. I know it's hard to know what to say. I've been (or at least tried to be) the comforter too. But please, please... don't expect me to be 'over it.' You don't 'get over' this. You just don't.

And in the absence of art to escape and now that I no longer even have time to listen to music anymore... don't leave me. I've lost so many people already this year, don't walk away from me if you can at all help it.

28 August 2015

Music Day - Tears In Your Eyes

Hold on to your hats, people.

Title: Tears In Your Eyes
Artist: Undercover
Album: Branded
Year: 1986
Label: Broken Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

When I first heard this song, I didn't breathe for the entire duration of the song. It grabs you by the throat, figuratively and almost literally. It's partly because it's just so fast musically, but it's also partly because the vocal is so raw and angry. I didn't want to miss a single word. It's a manic burst of speed metal that barely makes the two-minute mark but doesn't feel that short because it's so full of sheer passion... full of love and the passion of a broken heart.

In terms of vocal delivery, the inflections remind me of ¡Alarma!-era Terry Scott Taylor of Daniel Amos (specifically this song's 'Don't say you never knew / You knew exactly what to do' with 'Dead the innocent / Gone the hour / He needs you now...' from DA's Youth With A Machine or 'Please sit up straight at the table / And eat your words' from DA's Memory Lane).

How many times will you shut the door?
How many times must I be ignored?
How many times? again I try
How many times will I get no reply?

16 August 2015

Guests At The Banquet

This morning as I sat in the church foyer, people-watching, I noticed how... I don't know, inclusive? our particular church is.

You often hear people day they don't feel 'good enough' for church. We have songs like Casting Crowns' If We Are The Body and Does Anybody Hear Her?, Connie Scott's Come On Leah, L.S. Underground's Shaded Pain, Rob Frazier's Come On Elaine, all of which paint pictures of people who needed Jesus but were run out by the church. And this is true. This is all true. I've seen it happen. I was almost one of them. There are still far too many people who demand you meet their standard before they let you in their church. But that's not the point of this post.

I was looking around the foyer from my vantage point on the edge of it. I saw the greeters -- a black woman and a white woman -- talking and laughing together in the moments when there weren't people to greet. I saw Europeans, blacks, Natives, and Filipinos. I watched my (white) brother talk to his Native friend and my (European) father catch up with a young half-Filipino. I saw young kids (elementary age) talking to white-haired ladies and time-weathered men as if they were good friends -- and indeed they were.

I saw many people with walkers and canes, one in a cast, and several in wheelchairs. I saw a handful of amputees. I saw one half-blind woman get a coffee for a man in a wheelchair. I saw several people with tics.

The pastor was right in the thick of it. He sat at a table drinking coffee and talking with an autistic man and several old ladies. He waved and smiled at the man in a wheelchair, came and spoke with me (knowing I've been going through a lot), greeted everyone he passed by name with twinkling eyes and a warm smile.

All this is a casual, fairly superficial observation. This is what a newcomer would have seen if they had entered this church for the first time this morning. This doesn't even include the stories that I know lie behind these faces: the adopted child, the cancer survivor, the person with anxiety issues, the ladies whose husbands have left them, the widows and widowers, the foster children, the people with depression.

All these people with different stories and experiences and backgrounds, all in the same building, in the same network pool of friends and family. Many are 'broken' in the world's eyes -- witness the wheelchairs and walkers. Some are 'outcasts' -- the depressed, the divorcées. But here in this building, while they may not all be close friends with everybody else, there is a sense of camaraderie -- we're all in this together. Nobody looks down on the handicapped, the abandoned, the ones with mental issues, the ones with a different skin colour. Are we perfect? Nope. And that's part of what makes this a safe haven for us.

It all reminded me of a song.
The poor are coming
The lame are running
With their sleazy clothes and orthopaedic shoes
There's a harelip salesman shouting out the news
"Come to the banquet at the world's end!"
(Banquet At The World's End, Daniel Amos, 1993)

And an even older song:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children in the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world...

The Story Of How I Did Not Lose My Arms

In the spirit of a kinder, gentler, happier time (back when this blog had a name very obviously thought up by a fourteen-year-old), I shall now relate a probably-mundane story from my day.

Friday we were hanging trusses (that's 'roof parts' for you big-city pencil pushers). So I'm on the absolute top of a rickety scaffolding (on wheels -- blocked wheels, but wheels nonetheless) some two, two and a half storeys high. Below this rig is six inches of concrete. My dad is on the top of the wall to my right, and my uncle is on the wall to my left. On the ground in front of me is the telehandler ('crane,' pencil pushers). Attached to one of the forks of the telehandler is a chain -- wrapped around the carriage and hooked back on itself so the other end dangles free.

The process is as follows: a truss is carried over the ground to the telehandler and positioned so that the centre, the peak, is under the chain. The free end of the chain is looped around the centre post and hooked back on itself so the telehandler can raise it up to us.

These trusses are forty feet wide, and since they're made of 2x6s, they're kind of floppy. Hence three of us up at roof height -- to control the thing. Because I'm in the centre, I'm responsible for the tallest and heaviest point of the truss (a really smart place to put the 5'3" 150-pound college kid -- the centre of the truss is twice my height). The chain and I are the only things holding it upright until my dad and my uncle get some nails in (and even the chain has to be a bit slack so my dad and my uncle can make sure it's seated properly).

We developed a pretty good rhythm over the first ten trusses. So on the last one, the eleventh one, the telehandler brought the truss up to us, my dad got his end set in place but not yet nailed down, I grabbed one of the 2x6 'webs' near the centre to steady it, my uncle stretched out to grab his end. Something happened -- I'm not sure what, but my dad said later that the telehandler dropped the truss on the walls a bit abruptly, enough to bump it -- but I saw the chain on the top post of the truss come undone. The hook just jumped right off the chain. I saw blue sky where the grey chain link should have been.

Suddenly I'm the only thing preventing a 250-pound truss from falling several storeys to crush the telehandler and the operator as well as destroying the truss itself -- oh, and we're already two and a half weeks behind on this job. Every muscle begins to tighten, begins to brace for that terrifying few seconds when the truss will be pulling against me, trying to fall, before my dad or my uncle will be able to wrench it back -- if they even can, being twenty feet away from the balance point.

All this flew through my head in a split second as I watched the hook drop back into place on the same link of the chain that it had just left.

Those muscles that had begun to tense had not yet finished tightening as commanded. It all happened that fast.

The telehandler operator's response when we told him what happened? "Oh yeah, I totally planned that."

14 August 2015

Music Day - What Then

This is legitimately the best lyric I have ever heard Greg Volz sing.

It's a big-picture look at nearly every human endeavour we set out on. Business, religion, art -- all the things we get so wrapped up in and get so emotionally involved with -- all of them are called to account over the course of this lyric. None of these pursuits are inherently evil, but, as the great Steve Taylor once put it, what is the measure of your success? Am I expecting to swing out into eternity on the quality of my artistic output?

Title: What Then
Artist: Greg X Volz
Album: The Exodus
Year: 1991
Label: River Records
iTunes here; live version on YouTube here (fair warning: dude can sing, but he can't dance).

When the actors have played their last drama
And the mimic has made his last fall...
When the crowds seeking pleasure have all vanished
And have gone out in the darkness again...
What then?