Following the Trail Where My Mind Takes Me

During the past several days—roughly three weeks and change—I have been more addicted than usual to music. Listening to a rich musical pastiche has mined my emotions and, in the process, helped to clarify them. I’ve discovered that tastes in music between people can parallel other intellectual and emotional preferences. Music and dozens of other forms of art—combining sounds and visual images and vivid colors and the buds of emotions that actually have textures like burlap and silk—can extract and put on display the elements of one’s innermost persona. Musical tastes, and perhaps other preferences for types of art, reveal where we have been and who we are. People who share a passion for music, regardless of genre, share a unique passion for life. That’s my opinion, anyway. And I’m glad I’ve documented that I hold it.

Yesterday morning, between moments of intense focus and vaporous mindlessness, I revisited some pieces of music that I used to find both strangely out of synch with sanity and exhilaratingly similar to how I think and feel. Some of that music is a collaboration between an extraordinary guitarist, Leo Kottke, and a bassist and singer, Mike Gordon (a founder of the group Phish). From the moment I heard it, I had to have the album, Clone. I knew Leo Kottke’s music, but was unfamiliar with Mike Gordon. Subsequently, I listened to that music several times a month, but over time, the frequency of my listening declined. Yesterday was probably the first time in a very long while that I’ve listened to that album and to some other of Leo Kottke’s spectacular guitar mastery.

These past few weeks my musical preferences have drifted toward blues and jazz, though I have listened to a lot of contemporary rock, as well as rock music and hybrids I can’t define from my youth. I’ve paid attention to lyrics of some songs listened to as a teenager and young adult; until these last few weeks, I’ve not known the lyrics. It’s like an awakening of sorts; sometimes happy, sometimes not so much.

Last night, I watched parts (the “sessions” recordings) of American Epic, described as “a documentary series about the first recordings of rural music in the U.S.A. and their cultural, social and technological impact on the world.” It was fascinating! The performers who participated in the program included Taj Mahal, Los Lobos, Elton John, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and many others with whom I was unfamiliar until last night. And some I know but who, this morning, I’ve forgotten. The performers showcased talents while being recorded on equipment that was painstakingly recreated; though used extensively to create recordings in the 1920s, none of the original equipment exists today. The project’s collaborators, including director Bernard MacMahon, spent ten years traveling around the country, interviewing family members of the musicians whose sounds originally were recorded on the now-extinct equipment.

I opened this post with an assertion that I’ve been more addicted than usual to music. I think my addiction is to emotion; music is one of the most direct paths toward unearthing emotions, whether fresh and joyous or long-forgotten and best left buried. I’m sure I’ve publicly admitted before my addiction to emotions, if that’s what “it” is. Emotional journeys provide texture for life, whether the grit and pain of profound sadness or the soft smoothness of passionate love. Some day, I will successfully coax myself into writing the autobiography of emotions; I think that would be an incredibly interesting undertaking; one that would force me to reveal the full spectrum (I use that word a lot, but not as often as I use “shard”) of my emotions.

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Love exists at the intersection of caring, compassion, and raw selfishness. I think true love, the kind that can emerge only from a foundation of respect and admiration and appreciation, too often goes unexamined. We fail to explore just what happened to make the seed grow. How was the seed planted? How was it nurtured and made healthy and strong? Maybe, rather than examine it, we allow ourselves to wallow in it, happily absorbing all its delights and dismissing the rest of the world while we experience its extreme comfort and luxury. As pleasurable as that may be, taking it for granted cannot guarantee its survival. We have to constantly explore it and replenish what sustains it. We have to invest energy and emotion and, above all, time in tending it. That’s my take on love this morning. I love to love.

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While I can drink many different kinds of coffee (unflavored, please), I am rather persnickety about what I drink at home. I really prefer French roast, a dark, rich, deeply flavorful brew. But “French roast” tells me only how it got to be what it is, not what kind of bean was used. Yet that doesn’t bother me. When I order an Ethiopian yirgacheffe (when that option is available), I expect a specific bean, a small, pea-like bean that’s been lightly roasted (maybe medium…I don’t know many details about coffee, only what pleases my taste buds). But when I order a French roast (my favorite), I don’t really know what I’m getting. Yet it’s usually quite good. Yet I say I am persnickety. Well, I am, with respect to flavor; but I can’t tell you much more than that I like French roast. And I know where I get mine. And I know its flavor is always completely dependable. Why am I writing about coffee beans? I haven’t a clue.
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I suddenly feel much younger than I did a month ago. I always feel younger than my actual age (by decades), but lately I’ve begun to feel young and energetic. If I were to lose about 75 pounds, I think I could be perfectly comfortable white-water rafting or running a full marathon. Well, there’s the lung thing; missing a lobe has an impact on stamina, so I might not become as physically active as I imagine, just by losing weight. But I need to lose that weight, nonetheless. Lately, I’ve become more vain; more conscious of how my physical appearance might contribute to or detract from my appeal to someone else. Vanity. I do not much like it, but we all store plenty of it in our minds. Overcoming vanity is extremely difficult and, sometimes, counterproductive; vanity has its place.

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“You make me want to be a better man.” That compliment, a quote from a film that may have a long history of predecessors, gets to the root of love, at least from the perspective of an imperfect man. The scene in which Jack Nicholson’s and Helen Hunt’s characters in  As Good as it Gets engage in an awkward conversation in a restaurant, moved me to tears (but then so damn much does). For whatever reason, men tend not to verbalize and vocalize such thoughts. I suspect they exist, though, even in the hardest, most macho-laced, masculinity-drenched men. At least I would hope so. But I’m satisfied to have such a thought and to allow it to unleash a torrent of tears (though I still wish I could stifle them long enough so I could unleash in private).

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Anyone going to the “World Tour of Wines: Destination Chile” event on June 24 could be in for a treat. My next-door neighbor, Bill, will display a piece of his artwork, an oil painting of grapes. The frame in which the painting will be displayed is adorned with wine corks. In addition to the art, I will participate by either reading a poem I wrote or listening to someone else read it. One of the organizers of the event asked me last year to write a poem to be read during the night (the request was last year; COVID-19 delayed the event for more than a year). I long since wrote the poem. I hope it will strike a chord with the audience. We’ll see.

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This morning’s provocation from my little black book, an anthology of quotations inspired by Zen, does not necessarily portray a physical place but, rather, an emotionally happy and fulfilling place inside me where I freely think about a new love.

Under this tree, where light and shade
Speckle the grass like a Thrush’s breast,
Here, in this green and quiet place,
I give myself to peace and rest.

~ W. H. Davis ~

There’s something about those words, something that speaks to me at a level few short quotations can and do, that makes me feel confident that I will be fine. I’m not worried about anything, just as long as my experience with nirvana continues, as I feel sure it will.

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My calendar today holds no unpleasantness. I like that kind of day; a day that feels freeing and open. Tomorrow is another thing entirely, with the time scheduled for a lung biopsy screaming for my attention. But not today. Today will be good. I can feel it in my bones.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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1 Response to Following the Trail Where My Mind Takes Me

  1. Hopester says:

    That line from As Good As It Gets has stuck with me all these years. It’s one of my favourite movies.

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