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AESU 616 Reunion (#2)

1 July 1979 (Sunday): Day 15

Copenhagen, Denmark – West Berlin

JOURNAL: Rose at 5:45 am then on to breakfast. Left Copenhagen at 7:20. . . . A note about the countryside here (and in France)—gently rolling and very green and now and then the blowing fields are broken by beautifully laid out sections of bright yellow flowers—a beautiful combination. . . . This morning is a little blue, a little rainy, and there was a rainbow. . . . Here we are on the two-hour cruise to East Germany. It is with really mixed feelings that I enter this Communist land; so far everywhere we’ve been has been free. There is a slight element of fear crossing this Baltic Sea. . . . Gulls seem to just hang above me on a string. . . . There’s a dark storm off the bow (starboard) and it’s misting rain a bit here. . . . We made the East German side and finally got the OK to go ahead. The EG countryside very pretty green and rolling but no one seems to live there. About 15 km from West Berlin we got first shock: cobblestone streets through a small German town. The shock—maybe 4 people on the streets, buildings are war torn and in ill repair, seemingly untouched since the war. After we passed through, for the last 5-7 miles to the border of WB, both sides of the road were covered by a massive Russian military camp housing thousands. It also seemed unrepaired from the war. In fact, the whole trip down here was dotted here and there with monuments of red and the red star. The first billboards we saw when we entered the country read “Praise to our Russian Brothers” and “Long Live Socialism.” Along the last 5 miles at odd intervals stood caped Russian soldiers, trying to look inconspicuous while watching the road. There were also a few towers of watch. . . . Another long wait at the border to WB. At least we don’t have to go through what the cars do: seats taken out, headlights, etc. . . . We finally came to the hotel. I’m in room #26 with Gary, Mike, Greg, and Allen. We had a great supper at some soccer-crazy place. Then we hit the disco and I danced all night. It is easy to tell that Michael cares little for East Germany. He always complains about “shitty” cars and roads and people lying! Shaved off beard. . . .

NOTES: 165 k of wall [?]; 16,000 guards

Many of the DDR border guards don’t like what they are forced to do by the Russians. The Russos take away all of DDR industry to help support their other children—DDR knows what it’s like in the West, but Russia has them down for now

1 July (Saturday): Day 2 of Reunion Celebration of 38th Year

San Diego, California

BLOG: In the morning, I walked on the Martin Luther King, Jr., Promenade. I hoped to breakfast at Richard Walker’s Pancake House, but it was too popular. A line of at least fifty folks extended down the block, so I went across the street to Skybound Coffee & Dessert Lounge for an Everything bagel and cream cheese. Then I stopped by Ralph’s, a grocery store in the Kroger family, and picked up three apples for Leesa. Later in the morning the 616ers met in the lobby and caravanned to Torrey Pines State Reserve, where we hiked in the amazing hills above the ocean, walked along the sand below the escarpment (inside joke), and eventually bought lunch from a Japanese food truck and ate on the beach. We went back to the Hilton Gaslamp around 3:00 and got ready for an early supper at Coasterra, a terrific restaurant in a spectacular location at the end of Harbor Island (which, I’m sorry, isn’t an island but a peninsula). We enjoyed after-dinner beverages and bowling at Tavern+Bowl East Village before going back to the hotel. Shaved off beard. . . .

That is a lie.

San Diego is a marvel! But a haunting echo reverberates between the Berlin of thirty-eight years ago, with its infamous and detested Wall, and being here in southern California, just a handful of miles away from what I assume is either the beginning or ending point of Trump’s proposed wall. While many might say that the Border Wall is different from the Berlin Wall, the two walls are essentially the same. Both stand for a shortsighted, even barbaric nationalism that is meant to divide humanity and keep it weak—to separate us from them, separate our souls from ideological systems, hearts and hands from pocketbooks, the forward-thinkers from the meat puppets who holler for dollars.

When we 616ers stood at that wall or passed through the legendary Checkpoint Charlie, we hurt for humanity. But the hope that the wall would one day come down—as it did ten years later, in 1989—and the idea that we might imagine ourselves as one world lived in us and in the stories of those we met at the Wall or on the other side of it.

It might have happened. It almost happened. But it didn’t happen.

Here, in San Diego, as we 616ers stand less than twenty miles from Trump’s wall (will he put his name on it, every 500 meters, in towering gold letters?), we hurt for humanity, knowing that the idea of one world over separate and warring nations will not come to pass, not in our lifetimes at least. And this holds true, I believe, even if the Border Wall is never built. The commitment to the idea of a wall is enough.

[Many of my Christian friends and family will say that we are in this situation because the world has forgotten Christ and thus can do no better than we’re doing. While that might be, it might also be that we have never known Christ. A significant disconnect exists between our supposed faith and the Christ we’re supposed to have faith in. The world need not be judged for having turned from God and Christ; judging is not our job. If we take Christ at his word, we’re to love God with all we are and all we have, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Most of us aren’t good at either of these acts of love. The old song by The Teddy Bears, from 1958, the year I was born, says, “To know, know, know him / Is to love, love, love him.” I’m afraid we don’t “know him,” and that is why we don’t “love him”—he is our God and our neighbor. (See Luke 10:25-37 for the official definition of neighbor.]

AESU 616 Reunion

In June of 1979, nearly fifty randomly-grouped college students from across the USA (with a couple of additions from Canada and Argentina) left home and gathered in London, England, for a grand tour of Europe led by a company called the American European Student Union (AESU). My group was to begin its experience together on 16 June, and so the tour company tagged us as AESU 616.

We bonded during that magical summer, and over the years, a core group of AESU 616ers, en route through “17 countries in 53 days,” have remained close and in touch, meeting periodically—perhaps every four to seven years—to continue growing up together. Most people have at least one friend (family member or not) with whom time apart makes no difference. No matter the length of separation, they meet and pick up right where they were, as if no time intervened. That’s us.

So, thirty-eight years later, twelve or so of us—some with spouses who are now considered part of the group, as Leesa is—are gathering in San Diego, California, meeting for the first time since 2013, when we gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, on the occasion of another reunion—that of the band Cody.

Once upon a time . . .

30 June (Saturday): Day 14

Copenhagen, Denmark

JOURNAL: This morning brisk like an October day at home, very windy. Left hotel for city tour (guide Lona), Church of Our Savior, gardens of parliament Library, Churchill Court [?], the Little Mermaid in the Harbor, Grundtvigskirche (bought mermaid), found our Hotel is named for the founder of Køpenhaven. . . . Later on to Hamlet’s Castle in Helsingborg, got a nice look out over the “Eastern sea” to the coast of Sweden. Now to lunch. . . . had beef sandwich, ice cream, and some strawberry Danish . . . on to Fredricksborg Castle, which was great . . . wrote postcards home . . . beard coming along but I look kind of scraggly; no one here I have to impress . . . back in Copenhagen, I went to get some groceries for the trip to W. Berlin tomorrow; then back to the hotel to rest awhile before 9:00 “dinner”; afterwards to a porn shop to get cultured, then to a store for a real Danish Tuborg beer. Then to sleep. . . .

30 June (Friday): Day 1 of Reunion Celebration of 38th Year

Johnson City, Tennessee, to San Diego, California

BLOG: Leesa and I rolled out of bed at 5:45, but while serious about getting the first leg of our Summer 2017 travels underway, we didn’t hurry with focus as we should have. WAZE told me that we needed to leave by 8:18 AM to reach the Atlanta airport by 12:45, which seemed plenty of time to make our 2:30 domestic flight to San Diego. We left around 7:50, putting us ahead of schedule.

Or so we thought.

Here I cannot but pause for a word about the value of the human over the app. On Thursday evening, in preparation for the second leg of our travels, I dropped off my guitar with friend Sharon Barnett. She asked if we were packed; I said we weren’t but we were close. She asked what time we were leaving; I said around 7:30. She said we should leave earlier; I said we were leaving 7:30 at the latest but would try get out around 7:00. Then WAZE told me what it did, and I relaxed my 7:30 plan.

What Sharon was able to do—and WAZE wasn’t—was to consider the Atlanta factors of humanity . . . lots of humanity . . . in cars . . . lots of cars. . . and rain . . . lots of rain from Greeneville, South Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia, . . . and lots of humanity in lots of cars, humanity who cannot drive their cars well in lots of rain.

Suffice to say, we confidently left at 7:50 and missed our flight in Atlanta.

After some rather aimless wandering around in the Atlanta airport, trying to figure what to do, we finally encountered the Delta Angel, whose name I wish I could remember and whom I wish every lost Delta customer in Atlanta could meet to set them on the correct path toward their destinations.

We had standby status for the 5:03 flight and got on it easily. All the tension of the five hours since noon was gone. Leesa even got Delta Preferred seating.

About forty-five minutes from San Diego, I saw Russell Welday come along the aisle, making his way to the restroom in the back of the plane. I looked a few rows up and there stood Vallory Welday, one of the AESU 616ers. We joined them when we got off the plane and mooched a ride in their rental car.

After checking in at the Hilton in San Diego’s Gaslamp District, we joined the earlier arrivals at a place called La Puerta for food and drinks, laughs and reminiscences. The La Puerta gathering: Vallory/Russell, Lynne, Judy, Steve/Scott, Valerie, Linda/Tino, and Moose/Leesa. (I am Moose.) After some great street tacos and a couple of Negra Modelas, we headed back to the Hilton, Russell and I talking science fiction along the way. Then to sleep. . . .

 

Complaints

Sometime back of this, maybe in 2015 or early 2016, I began being unable to talk myself out of being worried about the world that I live in, the world my sons live in, the world my granddaughters live in. Cliché as it is to say, these are troubling times. We somehow learn to live with the worry.

So I began writing some lyrics. I don’t do that well keeping up with the scraps of paper on which my lyrics often begin, so I can’t remember now which set of words came first. But I’m fairly certain that Psalm 46:10 followed quickly on the heels of the song’s first “worried.”

In the summer of 2016, Leesa and I were in the Czech Republic, and we were each assigned–along with the rest of our group–to come up with a piece of scripture that was particularly important to us. Leesa immediately went to the verse in Psalm before we realized that our assignment specified that we select from the New Testament. But during that moment when Psalm 46:10 was her choice, I played her the snippet I had of this song, then untitled.

Since then? Well, a lot has happened to the world since last summer. During the winter, I pulled out the lyric again and began working on it. I also began working on some rather sparse music music that would stay out of the way of the lyric.

So, here’s the lyric:

Complaints

I toss and turn in the dark of night
Then I’m up and turning on the light
I’m worried – O Lord, I’m worried
Why do I hurt and struggle with pain?
Why can’t I shake grief out of my brain?
Why are this body and this mind so frail?

No answer comes from the thundering whirlwind
Or from a burning bush kindled by a lightning strike
But from a still, small voice that says to me,
“Be still, and know that I am God.”

I fuss and fret about the Great Unknown
I spend these dangerous days afraid and alone
I’m worried – O Lord, I’m worried
Where is the next monster with a gun?
Where will I hide? Where will I run?
Where will I land if I’m blown to kingdom come?

No answer comes from a thundering whirlwind
Or from a burning bush kindled by a lightning strike
But from a still, small voice that says to me,
“Be still, and know that I am God.”

When sleep doesn’t come easy
When the floor creaks in the hall
When the kitchen glows in laptop light
And the clock ticks on the wall

And when my heart feels heavy
When I breathe only in sighs
When my dreams wake to suspicions
That my truths might just be lies

No answer comes from the thundering whirlwind
Or from a burning bush kindled by a lightning strike
But from a still, small voice that says to me,
“Be still, and know that I am God.”

I made a little video one night when I was home alone. I’m lit by “laptop light” with the lyric onscreen. I never watch Fox News, but because I blame that organization for a lot of the anxiety people feel these days, I decided to have it playing silently in the background. Completely unplanned, Henry Sanchez, the alleged rapist from Rockville High School, appeared on the screen just when I was singing about “the next monster.” My iPhone filmed the whole thing.

Here’s the simple video:

Peace!

Sunday Thoughts

This semester I’m teaching ENGL 3280: Mythology, based on the plan laid out by our department’s veteran teacher of this subject, Mark Holland. In preparation for this semester, I sat through his entire course last fall, and my syllabus, at least for the early weeks of class, mirrors his. This means that my students and I are spending the first several meetings on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Originally published less than five years after the catastrophic end of World War II, the book represents Campbell’s attempt to show us that, despite the brokenness left spinning helplessly in the wake of the war, the world’s myths and mythic heroes suggest to us that, as humans, we are more alike than different.

So, it’s a Sunday afternoon in January. I don’t follow professional football that closely these days, but it’s not difficult to feel that this is the dead week between the NFL conference championships and the Super Bowl. It’s cold, for the South, and snow falls from a gray Southern sky. I’m sitting here letting the Roku screensaver slide across the TV, and I’m thinking that in the next hour or so I’ll pick up Campbell and go over the reading for the coming week’s classes.

But here on the cusp of the new week, I find my mind hasn’t yet let go of some particular passages in last week’s assigned reading in Campbell’s book. It’s appropriate for this Sunday afternoon (turning evening)–appropriate and, to be honest, discomforting. He’s writing about the Christian church and its problems with the teachings of its namesake, to whom he refers in the passages that follow as “the World Redeemer.” “The world is full of . . . mutually contending bands,” he writes,

totem-, flag-, and party-worshipers. Even the so-called Christian nations–which are supposed to be following a “World” Redeemer–are better known to history for their colonial barbarity and internecine [relating to conflict within a group] strife than for any practical display of that unconditional love, synonymous with the effective conquest of ego, ego’s world, and ego’s tribal god, which was taught by their professed supreme Lord. . . . (134)

Campbell follows this with Luke 6:27-36, which begins (I’m quoting from The Message here), “‘. . . I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.'” Along about the middle, the passage includes this difficult command (as phrased in the Common English Bible): “‘Treat people the same way that you want them to treat you,” — yes, it’s that pesky Golden Rule. The passage ends with this (again from The Message): “‘Our Father is kind; you be kind.'” These are not suggestions, not it-would-be-great-ifs. Remember English grammar. We call sentences structures declarative, interrogative, imperative. These statements from Jesus are imperatives. And what’s a synonym for imperatives? Commands! These are new commandments that go along with that other new one: “‘Love one another. In the same way I loved you, love one another'” (John 13:34). I can’t help but take note of the period after another. No ifs–if they love you, if they’re like you, if they don’t threaten or scare you or want money from you. No buts–but love only as far as you’re comfortable, but love only as long as they don’t piss you off or disgust you, but love only if they do what I say (where I is understood as implying either our individual selves, our group, or this “World Redeemer”). The Other to be loved needs no qualifications. I can’t forget a powerful sentence I recently encountered in Albert Holtz’s From Holidays to Holy Days: A Benedictine Walk Through Advent: “The banquet of the kingdom is open to everyone who is willing to sit down with anyone.”

Back to Campbell. He has some particular words to say not just to individual followers of the World Redeemer but to the churches into which we organize ourselves. Please read it slowly, carefully:

The good news, which the World Redeemer brings and which so many have been glad to hear, zealous to preach, but reluctant, apparently, to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children. Such comparatively trivial matters as the remaining details of the credo, the techniques of worship, and devices of episcopal organization [relating to church government, particularly that using bishops; Campbell was raised a Catholic], are merely pedantic snares, unless kept ancillary to the major teaching. Indeed, where not so kept, they have a regressive effect: they reduce the father image back again to the dimensions of the totem. And this, of course, is what has happened throughout the Christian world. One would think that we had been called upon to decide or to know whom, of all of us, the Father prefers. Whereas, the teaching is much less flattering: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” The World Savior’s cross, in spite of the behavior of its professed priests, is a vastly more democratic symbol than the local flag. (135)

As Campbell writes about the “trivial matters” that we make central to our faith and worship, I’m reminded of a scene from the Robert De Niro / Jeremy Irons film The Mission (1986). Two groups of monks sit down opposite each other to debate. We hope that their topic is significant — maybe, how do we learn to love one another as Christ loves? Instead, if I’m remembering right, their topic — while perhaps important to them and their Order — was ultimately “comparatively trivial”: did Christ, or did He not, own the clothes He wore?

The Church’s trivial pursuit Campbell references also puts me in mind of something Seneca tribal orator Sagoyewatha/Red Jacket (1750-1830) is recorded as having said in response to the missionary Jacob Cram’s attempts to convert the Senaca to Christianity: “BROTHER: You say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agreed, as you can all read the same book?” More-than-fair questions, I think. Sagoyewatha continues: “BROTHER: We do not understand these things. We are told that your religion was given to your forefathers, and has been handed down from father to son. We also have a religion, which was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to us their children. We worship in that way. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive; to love each other, and to be united. We never quarrel about religion.”

I don’t think it’s difficult to see that “trivial matters” cause division in Christ’s church — to which Campbell refers and which, for Sagoyewatha, undermine the supposed message of Christ. Similar “trivial matters” cause division everywhere else, too. We stand with “party-worshipers” that are like us, and we hate — yes, hate, or, maybe more fundamentally, fear — those we perceive as being against us or just different from us. Even if we don’t name or claim them out loud, all sorts of ifs and buts restrict our love — and, by extension, God’s love. Labels enable this. We are Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, white or black or brown, refugee or terrorist or patriot, piss-poor American or filthy rich American, white- or black- or brown-skinned, American or American Indian or Mexican or Turkish or Asian or Canadian. All labels. All “trivial matters.”

Stripped of our labels, we become humanized. Become human. Become humans.

We then realize that we are neighbors in this world. With a little imagination, next door is anywhere and everywhere; our neighbor is everyone and anyone. Without imagination, we continue to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” We all probably, if reluctantly, know the answer deep down, but it’s difficult to accept it. Check out Luke 10:25-37 for further guidance.

*   *  *
. . . And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love. . . .
*   *   *
Walt Whitman, from Section V of “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass

A Flute’s Tale

img_0748I’m trying to remember how, in 1978, without the Internet, I first learned about Muramatsu America, distributor of Muramatsu flutes in North and South America—not only learned about the company but ordered and paid for my flute without the Internet. Somehow I did all that. I was a sophomore flute major at Mars Hill College, in need of a good instrument that I could grow into as I studied and practiced. Over the following years, my Muramatsu traveled with me to Nashville, across the United States, to the Czech Republic.

But then I lost it.

On Sunday, 20 December 2015, I played in the small orchestra assembled to accompany Christmas music at Otterbein United Methodist Church, just up Roan Street from downtown Johnson City. I sang “Christmas Time” as part of the event, so I had my guitar with me as well. When the performance was over, I walked out into the dark neighborhood with the rest of the congregation, the singers and the musicians. I had with me my flute, my guitar, guitar bag and guitar stand.

I’m not positive about what happened next. Leesa and I had driven separately to the event, because I had to be there early for warm-up and rehearsal, so I carried all the stuff to my car. I lay the guitar stand on the trunk and—probably—put the flute on the roof. While I was loading the guitar and bag into the back seat, somebody stopped on the sidewalk to talk with me. Then Leesa came by in her car to say that she’d swing around the block and follow me. I’m guessing that I closed the back door and, without another thought, got in and drove away.

Leesa went the opposite way around the Northside School block and came in behind me on Roan Street as we drove toward downtown. I turned right on Buffalo and right again on State of Franklin. Then my telephone rang.

“Did you know the guitar stand is on the trunk of your car?” Leesa asked.

I pulled over near Pal’s and got out, put the guitar stand in the back seat and then was on my way again.

I must have assumed that the flute was already in the back seat with the guitar.

When I got home, I unloaded my stuff and, I guess, took no notice of my flute’s not being with me.

I didn’t miss it until Wednesday evening, when I decided I’d better practice my part for the Christmas Eve service. I looked for the flute everywhere in the house. And I looked for it at the office. Leesa and I got a key to Otterbein and went back late that night to look.

Nothing.

Any number of things might have happened to it, but I finally had to accept that I’d done something stupid and my flute was gone.

I went through Christmas, a trip to Durham and Wilmington, and a stay in Charleston, mourning the loss of this flute that had been with me for thirty-seven years. Friends put up flyers in the Otterbein neighborhood and then went back and took them down when they learned that was illegal. Friends shared my Facebook post about the loss and contacted local band directors. Friends visited pawn shops. Friends offered hope, sympathy and even money. Back from Charleston, Leesa and I took flyers and police reports to pawn shops in town. Then we waited.

Nothing.

In March, having heard nothing, figuring it was gone for good, hoping that some kid had found it and would become the world’s greatest flutist, I bought a nice Armstrong from my friend Nancy Shinn, who did all the maintenance on the Muramatsu and refurbishes used flutes for resale (check out Flutestar). It was so good to be able to play again.

Fast forward to 17 August 2016, almost eight months since I lost my flute.

It was late. I think Leesa and I had been watching Inspector Morse on Netflix. I decided to check my email before going to bed and discovered in my inbox a message with the subject “your flute.” It was from Nancy Jane Earnest, whom I’d met only once, in April 2015 during ETSU’s first Creative Writing Festival. I clicked on the email to find this note:

Hi Michael

I remembered reading about the disappearance of your flute several months ago. Today I was in Uncle Sam’s Pawn on Main St. near the Farmer’s Market in JC and looked at a flute that fit the description you had given, even down to the outer case. The flute had not been priced and put out for sale as yet, so I would get down there and look at it asap. Hope this is a good lead for you. A guy named Soupy showed it to me.

I went first to the police station the next morning to learn what the procedure for recovering the flute might be. The woman at the window said I should go look at the flute and, if it was mine, call 911. I thought this a somewhat frivolous use of the emergency system, but I went on to Uncle Sam’s, arriving there before it opened. As I waited, I realized that this was the one pawnbroker not open that morning in January when we were out distributing flyers. When the door was unlocked, I went in and found Soupy. I said that I’d been told they might have my flute there. He asked me to describe it, which I did. He then brought it to me from the e-bay staging area, where Uncle Sam’s was about to put it up for online auction.

The feeling I had as I took the case in my hands and opened it!

I called 911, an officer came, and in a little while he called and got a detective there. The flute was put on hold for 90 days, so, believe it or not, I had to leave it there at Uncle Sam’s while the detective tracked down the guy who pawned it. I was told that if the guy said he stole the flute, I could simply reclaim it. Not likely, right? Right. When located, he said that he found it, which fit with my report of its loss. Then it became a civil issue between Uncle Sam’s and me. Because I didn’t have the serial number, I couldn’t without question prove that it was mine, so the pawnbrokers felt it was their property.

Fine. A week later, when all was said and done, I paid $100 plus tax to get it back. I figured that was a relatively cheap price to pay for the stupidity of losing it in the first place. I walked out of the store and held it in my lap during the drive back to campus.

I wonder where my flute was in the time that we were separated. From what I could tell of the whole transaction, Uncle Sam’s took in the flute sometime earlier in summer 2016, perhaps as early as late June. In the middle of July, they corresponded with Muramatsu America to learn more about the instrument. I can believe that it was originally found rather than stolen, but I wonder who found it back in December. Where was it for those six months? Had it been pawned and redeemed once or twice in the meantime? Would a guy like that redeem it even once? Or did somebody else find it and intend to keep it, when this guy either bargained for it or stole it? It just seems to me hard to believe that he would hold it for six months and then pawn it for . . . $20.

Huge thanks to Nancy Jane!

Floating

The most momentous event occurring in these days when I’m getting this blog underway is the death of my good friend jb (Jim Baird, 6/22/1951 – 9/14/2015). But I didn’t want to post anything specifically about that event, because, for one thing, I’m still grieving and reflecting on jb’s life and, for another, death is currently on the offensive in the circles in which I run (and have run). The less preoccupation with the end of life, the better. For now, at least.

So, enough thinking along that line.

One of the most interesting things I’ve ever done—and I’ve done it now three times in the last year or so—is sensory deprivation floating at Float Nashville. My most recent float was on Saturday, 26 September, less than two weeks after jb’s death, when I was in Nashville hanging out with Mark Chesshir, longtime friend and musical collaborator to whom jb introduced me back in the mid 1980s. (Mark and business partner Amy Grimes own and operate Float Nashville.)

In addition to friends like Mark and T. Michael Scalf, Nashville, to me, still is home to the memories and experiences related to my living there and working as a songwriter. So as I packed for check-out last Saturday before my float, my mind wandering randomly through the rooms of memory, experience, feeling, creativity and so on, three things—songwriting, floating, jb’s death—came together.

I was thinking about floating in two ways. First, I tried to grasp the experience for myself—what it’s like to float. I can think about this only after the fact. While many floaters seem to experience important breakthroughs in creativity or thought while in the tank, I find myself unable to think of anything as I float. My mind is blank. Even when I try to force myself to contemplate something, I can’t hold it for more than a few seconds before it fades to black. Not that this is a bad thing (I hope). I just won’t be able to add any tank achievements to the Float Nashville scrapbook.

Anyway, I was thinking about floating, about drifting out into some open space and encountering a presence there, a surprising presence and yet a comforting one. A few words came to mind, and, as such words have done for as long as I can remember, they began forming themselves into a lyric:

I am floating
Somewhere out at sea
Somewhere in the dark
On the warm skin
Of a water world
Under falling stars

I am floating
Floating in the blue
Of a cloudless sky
Above the earth
Warm and unafraid
Breathing in the light

And then there was that presence I mentioned:

But I am not alone out here
You are here with me
Somehow you are here with me

As these lines shaped themselves in my mind, I noticed that somewhere underneath them or on the other side of them was a second way I was thinking about floating. On the previous Thursday evening, when Mark and I were eating really good burgers at The Pharmacy, he was telling me his observations about jb’s last days, when he was in bed and largely unresponsive to the room and the people around him. And I began to wonder if that was, for him, somehow like floating in the sensory deprivation tank.

The lines above took on a relevance that seemed related not only to my tank experience but also to what I imagined jb might have experienced at some level in those last days among us. He was somewhere out at sea; he was floating in the blue. I hope he was warm and unafraid. I hope he found somebody there with him.

jb died just on the verge of autumn, my favorite time of year. But these words came more connected to my imagining of his experience of spiritual floating than to my remembering—or anticipating—my physical experience in the water and salt.

I am floating
On the balmy chill
Of an autumn breeze
Friendly faces
Speaking gentle words
In the autumn leaves

No, I am not alone out here
You are here with me
Somehow you are here with me

The lyric comes phrased in sets of three lines—a first line with four syllables, a second and third each with five. I have some simple music to go with this simple lyric structure. The song is not yet finished, but I hope it will be soon. I have a few other lines, pieces of ideas that will probably work, but for now I’ll let it all continue . . . floating.

Welcome to “Words & Music”

For a few years before I joined Facebook, I kept a blog called Writing Life, and I and my blog were part of a community of bloggers who read each other’s writing, kept track of each other’s lives and thoughts, even got together in the real world from time to time. The ease of Facebook eventually distracted our little blogging community, whose inhabitants eventually wandered away into the shiny world of the new platform, where we occasionally “Like” each other’s posts but interact relatively little beyond that.

Don’t get me wrong — I still like Facebook and plan to keep using it. We connect and reconnect with people from our past, present and future. We share laughs and griefs. We share news and information. Mostly we share pictures. It caters to our short attention spans. It’s great. And it’s fun.

But I find myself missing the blog.

So I’ll begin it again. I’ll try to post every week or two. And I’ll write about words (written and read) and music (written and heard). From time to time I might even repost favorite items from Writing Life.

Anyway, whether folks read or not, I’ll begin writing soon.