The Highway

It has been many months since I updated this blog. I’ve been editing my latest book Monarchs… and it has taken up most of my time. I keep saying I’m going to write a little something, maybe share a poem or throw together a timely essay, but life gets in the way. And also, darkness. My brain is flitting back and forth between some very interesting colors, most of them residing between shades of gray and charcoal. Sometimes when its like that, I don’t feel like writing. Sometimes I write in a frenzy. It is what it is.

I’ve been brooding a lot lately on artists that leave us too soon, namely musicians. The darkness of rock n’ roll, toxic masculinity, and those among us who seem the hardest but are actually the most vulnerable. I’ve got an idea rolling around in my head…I’m not sure yet if “.deadrockstars.” is a short story, a novel, or something else. I’ve been immersing myself in artists whose talent was immeasurable but who didn’t always see their own worth, and left us frustratingly early. Scott Weiland, Peter Steele, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse.

I never, ever, not in a million years, thought Chris Cornell would be among them. But now he is.

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Chris Cornell died last night. And so I’m coming out of writing hiatus to talk about him for a bit. Because I can’t not talk about Chris Cornell.

I’m a kid who hit adolescence in the early-mid ’90s, so when you talk about Chris Cornell, my eyes light up. Was there ever a time when he wasn’t the fucking greatest? No, there wasn’t. That voice. He was the undisputed king, the best voice of his generation, hands down. If anybody comes at me with “he oversang”, I will fight them.

I’m going to attach several YouTube videos to this post, and I’m not sorry. The dude was in three bands, all of which were spectacular, released five solo albums and did countless collabs and covers. How could I choose just one to define him? I can’t, so I’m not even going to try. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be seeking solace in those YouTube videos, clinging to memories and nostalgia to get you through the pain of losing yet another one of our rock-god heroes. I’ll no-doubt leave out a bunch of good stuff, but you know how to find ’em.

Everybody knows Temple of the Dog, or if they don’t, they lived under a rock in the 90s. But even more than that collaboration, I always loved the song he did as AliceMudGarden (with Alice in Chains and Mudhoney), “Right Turn”:


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“Good Trouble”

I posted this on my personal Facebook page, but I wanted to share it professionally as well, because I think it’s a beautiful piece of writing, and what little hope I can find I want to spread far and wide.

This man is one of my all-time heroes. I look to him for inspiration and comfort often. I’m infinitely proud that he represents my state. And I was lucky enough to meet him a few months ago.

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John Lewis

Last night I rode my bike indoors but I wasn’t feeling it, because it was raining and I had a migraine and felt very deflated over the state of things. Geek that I am, I decided to read and ride at the same time.

I read this passage, and it struck me so hard. It brought tears to my eyes. Not only as an activist; not only as a writer (I wish I could write that kind of prose so vividly); but as a human. Just like that, my perception changed. Why hadn’t I been looking at it like this the whole time?

I want to share it with you, because we all need to hear it. Especially those of us who are activists, those of us who are tired, and those of us who despair. Especially right now:

“A]bout fifteen of us children were outside my aunt Seneva’s house, playing in her dirt yard. The sky began clouding over, the wind started picking up, lightning flashed far off in the distance, and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about playing anymore; I was terrified…

Aunt Seneva was the only adult around, and as the sky blackened and the wind grew stronger, she herded us all inside.

Her house was not the biggest place around, and it seemed even smaller with so many children squeezed inside. Small and surprisingly quiet. All of the shouting and laughter that had been going on earlier, outside, had stopped. The wind was howling now, and the house was starting to shake. We were scared. Even Aunt Seneva was scared.

And then it got worse. Now the house was beginning to sway. The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend. And then, a corner of the room started lifting up.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. None of us could. This storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky. With us inside it.

That was when Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands. Line up and hold hands, she said, and we did as we were told. Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the front of the house we walked, the wind screaming outside, sheets of rain beating on the tin roof. Then we walked back in the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift.

And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.

More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me more than once over those many years that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart.

It seemed that way in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement, when America itself felt as if it might burst at the seams—so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.

And then another corner would lift, and we would go there.

And eventually, inevitably, the storm would settle, and the house would still stand.

But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again.

And we did.

And we still do, all of us. You and I.

Children holding hands, walking with the wind…”

-John Lewis
Walking with the Wind

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A blurry but treasured photo of Congressman Lewis with my son (“how you doin’, young man?”). He gets it; the youth will carry on the work. We have to engage and encourage them.

Supporting Your Local Artist – a Checklist

Happy 2017! One of my “goals” (not resolutions) this new year is to support the artistic and business endeavors of my friends/family as best I can. It is not always easy when one is on a budget, but as a person who has seen first-hand how hard it is to promote and sell yourself, I want to try harder to lend my support to my fellow creators.

Now is the BEST time to venture out of your comfort zone and really get to know the people around you who are creating and making things happen. Shopping local has wonderful implications for not only the person doing the creating, but the place in which they live and those they are involved with. We live and die by word of mouth. The more one can network and get their stuff out there and seen/heard, the more likely it is they can actually one day make a living doing what they love to do. Being part of an artistic community is so rewarding. Rubbing shoulders with other creative  individuals can really help your wellbeing, and you might just brush up on your own skills!

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Living in the college town I live in, there is no shortage of artists. The place is teeming with musicians, fashion designers, photographers, writers, dancers, singers, tattoo artists, painters, and every other manner of crafty person you can think of. I’m lucky to know some really amazing, talented folks. The only downside I sometimes see is how one-sided promotion can be.  I try my best not to do this, but even I am guilty of it from time to time. We get so caught up in our own endeavors that it’s easy to forget that networking is a two way street. I want to do better this year!

In that spirit, here is my guideline for supporting fellow artists in the New Year:

  • Attend as many shows, benefits and performances as I can. It will not always be possible to go to them all, and that’s okay. In the instance that I can’t go, take the time to thank the artist for the invite and explain that I can’t make it. This common courtesy will at least let them know they’re seen.
  • Read books by local authors. Seek out authors from the area.  Give them feedback. When reading works by authors I know personally: Share their promotions. Offer them support, let them know that I’m proud of their achievements. Review their work on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. 
  • Continue to promote my own work being carried by a local bookshop. Encourage people to buy it there. This helps promote their business as well as mine. 
  • Avoid any/all kinds of snobbery towards different mediums. Some will go the traditional route with an agent/publisher, some will self publish, some will publish all of their stuff on a blog. Any and all methods of art are valid. Snob-free zone. 
  • The same goes for music, art, etc. However they want to put it out there.
  • Don’t forget about open mic nights, poetry readings, etc. There are so many untapped artists out there just waiting to be discovered. 
  • Don’t just go to shows for your musician friends. If you can, buy a cd or a t-shirt. Invite your friends to go. Share their stuff on Spotify, Youtube, etc. 
  • When you can afford to, buy a painting. A piece of clothing. A gift basket. A box of handmade soap. Visit your friend’s Etsy shops and Ebay stores and check out their goods.
  • Enter giveaways – even if you don’t win, other people will see that you entered and it will help promote your friend. 
  • “Like” your friend’s fan pages, business pages, etc on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever medium they choose. It should be a two way street – why should they follow you if you don’t follow them? That being said – you are not obligated to endlessly support artists who do not support in kind.
  • Get involved with fundraisers, art fairs, auctions, group efforts. Not only will it put you out there, but it will be fun!
  • If you “know a guy” who might be a good fit for an opportunity, give them a shout! Connect people who can help each other. 
  • Collaborate! Seek out fellow artists to work with. Keep doing drum circles and jam sessions at your house. Write things with people. Join forces. Art is powerful, especially in numbers.
  • Be Encouraging! Always. Be interested in what people are painting, writing, tinkering with. Never make someone feel that their passion is boring or irrelevant. 
  • Sew. Draw. Build. Write. Knit. Cook. Snap photos. CREATE. Even if it’s “bad”, dabble in every medium that gives you joy.
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I used to have this t-shirt. So classy.

Now go forth and consume (and make!) some art!

Adieu

Adieu, 2016. Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya, as they say in these parts.

I wanted to write a post about all the influential celebrities, public figures and other notables that the world has lost this year, but my thoughts aren’t really coherent. There are so many angles that I could take, but honestly, so many other articles and think pieces are out there doing it first and better (this one in particular  that a friend sent me on George Michael spoke volumes to me, and I just loved it. Take a minute to read it. It’s good).

So I’m not going to attempt to eulogize Bowie or Michael or Rickman or Fisher, or to draw parallels between the many artists and creative minds we’ve lost. Though I have to admit, if there ever could be a plus side to a beloved celebrity passing away, it’s that everyone flocks to their work with fresh eyes, revisiting and dissecting their contributions, looking at them from a new place, falling in love with them all over again. If anything good could come of losing someone like David Bowie or Leonard Cohen, it is that. Mourning can lead to a renewal of love, a new appreciation. Discovery. In death, a rebirth.

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Courtesy Entertainment.ie

I was listening to George Michael in the car today – ‘Freedom ’90’ on repeat – because that’s a damn good song and I don’t need any excuse to belt it out at top volume (sorry to my passengers). Just before the song segues into the chorus at the second verse, I realized the lyrics I’d memorized decades ago contain an interesting line:

I think there’s something you should know.
I think it’s time I told you so.
There’s something deep inside of me.
There’s someone else I’ve got to be.
Take back your picture in a frame.
Take back your singing in the rain.
I just hope you understand.
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man.

My grin burst out of me, y’all. Because life is so full of serendipity. George just died on Christmas. Days later, Carrie Fisher. And the day after, her poor Mother succumbed to what was essentially a broken heart. Beloved Debbie Reynolds, made famous as the first “America’s Sweetheart” in a movie called, yep, Singin’ in the Rain. No doubt that George line is a reference to that film (a quick Google search just confirmed it). Just a coincidence, surely, but when you start watching those viral videos of George Michael rehearsing a Queen song back in the early ’90s, who is that standing in the back, cheering him on? None other than David Bowie, who also died this year. Rogue One is currently in theaters, the latest Star Wars installment, and whose indomitable spirit cloaks that entire movie? Princess Leia, played by none other than Carrie Fisher.

Those little mysteries of life, the way that people are connected and interwoven, how their art intersects and merges, even in death – I find that magical. I find that comforting. And while it’s all mere coincidence, it is those little quirky sparks that light the fire in an artist’s belly.

I’ve heard a few people going around naysaying these past few weeks, seeking to remind us all that there are more important things going on in the world, that thousands of people die every day and only a small fraction of them are celebrities. That we need to get our priorities in order and stop grieving over people we don’t know.

To that I say, bah. To love a musician or dancer or painter or author, to mourn their death, to honor their life, does not mean that you care less about anything else. It doesn’t mean you’re shallow or wrapped in frivolity. What are we, if not made up of the things we love? When we mourn the loss of an artist, we mourn who they awoke in ourselves. We mourn the music, the writing, the art that shaped us, made us cry, made us shriek with joy, made us wail, made us think, made us angry. We mourn our own learning. We mourn our own becoming. There is nothing wrong with that. Don’t let anyone trivialize the things you love, or tell you how to love them.

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Listen to Carrie. Carrie is wise

So as I get ready to close this year out tomorrow (with more than one beverage, I assure you), I’ll be toasting those artists who moved me, inspired me, and shaped me into who I am today. The quaint, southern introspection of Harper Lee, the childlike mirth of Gene Wilder, the soulful gravel of Leonard Cohen, the brass balls of Carrie Fisher, the wholesome temerity of Debbie Reynolds, the unapologetic, drenched in purple, stark sexiness of Prince, the brooding, mocking intensity of Alan Rickman, the tough-and-yet-vulnerable crooning of George Michael, the other-worldly sex and sage of my very favorite artist of all time, one orange tinted, androgynous alien David Bowie. And so many others. I’m an artist who is grateful for artists.

Time is a construct and it’s all in our heads, but as an artist, and a fan – one who has seen more than my share of creative minds, icons and legends leave this earth this year – I say  a hearty “fuck off” to 2016. Goodbye to the Dumpster Fire to end all Dumpster Fires. Onward to next year, where I’ll continue living, loving and creating unapologetically, to honor those who came before.

(And if David Bowie really is colonizing Mars with super creative empaths, I’ll be the first one to buy a ticket to that space shuttle).

O.T., Walt, and some Butterflies

Pfew.

It has been a month, or thereabouts, since I’ve posted any content on this blog. I feel bad about that, but I did warn you all…

I haven’t really been in the spirit of self-promotion or blogging lately, and haven’t written much, to be honest. I did manage to win NaNoWriMo this year, rounding out at 50k words somewhere around the 18th of November. And I’ve been steadily plugging along on the novel, doing a tad of editing and revising here and a good bit of writing there. I’m nowhere near done. I’ve written 103 pages and I’m halfway through the novel (and that’s being generous). I do this. I know I shouldn’t, but I do it anyway. I am much too wordy, I write far too much, and then when it’s time to cut, I scream and rail against it.

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Well, I earned it, so I may as well show it, eh?

I do very much enjoy what I’ve got so far, though. It’s drastically different than anything I’ve ever written, so much more so that it makes me incredibly nervous, far more nervous than I was while writing Aroha – which is weird, because that was a work from my heart that was ten years in the making, and due to the subject matter, really should have given me fits. It did, but not like this novel does. I want so desperately to get this one right, to really say something with it. I suppose I want it to mean something. I feel a tad overwhelmed, and out of my element.

My beloved David Bowie, who I will quote every time when given half a chance, always said that when you’re just out of your depth, that’s when you produce your best work. I hope that applies when it comes to me. I’m treading water in the deep end right now, and those words are my floaties.

For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to think of what to write, what sort of post I could do that is relevant to what’s going on in the world right now, how I’m feeling about things, the holidays, etc. But I’ve come up blank. All I’m working on creatively is this, and I’m not much in the headspace to write thinkpieces right now. We’re all just so tired, aren’t we? So I decided instead, as my little holiday gift to you all, to post a tiny snippet from the prologue of my novel. This is likely the only excerpt I will post, as I’m holding this one a lot closer to my chest than my other writing. It is still becoming.

I give you O.T. and Walt, twin brothers from Five Forks, my brain babies, for whom I have very high hopes. And I would love to hear your feedback.

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“Daughter of Farmer who will be Resettled – Wolf Creek, GA 1935” by Arthur Rothstein. I snapped this photo out of an Erskine Caldwell book because I fell head over heels in love with her (it was mainly because of the shoes, but also – her expression slays me).

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Fire/Wall

Hi, all.

The North Georgia sky is hazy and gray; it has been for a couple of days now. I’d be perfectly okay with this (it fits my mood this week), if it wasn’t for the fact that the mountains, my beloved North Georgia mountains, are burning. So are various mountains and ridges and forests and patches of land from Florida to Kentucky. The southeast is on fire. It seems like such an obvious symbolism that to call it a metaphor feels kind of trite, but there it is.

And Leonard Cohen has died. I’m no expert on his work, but I enjoyed him, and sought solace in the song “Hallelujah” and it’s poignant (and perfectly written) lyrics more than once. I know he was a revered musician and songwriter, but to me, he was an example of the quintessential tragic poet. Read one of his songs like a poem – the lines actually breathe. They have an energy and crackle all their own. That is real magic. He will be so very missed.

If April is the cruellest month, then 2016 is the cruellest year. Watch our best creative minds, thinkers and artists flee us, their mass exodus a warning call – this earth is not a good place anymore. That’s what it feels like, and who can blame us?

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There is still hope among the ashes, I think, but it can be hard to dig it out when the coals are hot and our eyes are burning.

This morning the fifteen year old girl who still resides behind my eyes somewhere decided to come out for a visit, and write down one of her angsty poems. I don’t claim to be the next Leonard Cohen, but I thought it was pretty indicative of the way I – and so many others – are feeling right now.

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Growing Up With You.

Here it is, the end of October in Georgia and it finally feels sort of like Autumn. I’ve got my cup of Earl Grey, a raspberry linzer cookie, and I’m wearing a pair of white chucks that I bought over the weekend – now orange is the only color I lack in my ever-growing collection of Converse All-Stars, because I am a madwoman who collects things. I’ve started my new novel, a week before NaNoWriMo kicks off, because true to form, I always start things early. So far I’m liking what I’ve written. It may be short-lived, but I am breathing deep and just enjoying right now.

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Told ya. #obsessed

I’m in heavy music-listening mode right now, too, which always happens as the seasons change. You can find me driving, music blaring, singing along and dancing badly, on any given day of the week. Music is my life-force…that and reading. When I’m doing both, you know I’m heavy in creative mode and that my brain is working overtime, trying to absorb every little bit of inspiration and sustenance it can. It’s kind of like expecting a child – a weird analogy, I know – but your entire body is involved in this creative process, forming a new life, limbs, heart and eyelashes, and it takes all the nutrition, sustenance and mental stamina you have to produce that perfect thing. So is writing to me. Many writers need the quiet, for everything to be focused solely on their work, but not me. I need background noise, a cacophony of music and books and life tumbling at me from every direction, to singularly focus on my work. It’s a type of mania, and I welcome it, after long years of trying to hide my quirks and double down on a more organized way of thinking. Once I embraced it, I started to bloom.

I’m pretty much exclusively listening to Daniel Johns at the moment. You’ll know him as the blond baby of a frontman for Silverchair, or perhaps the enigmatic and mysterious singer in the Dissociatives. Yeah, I’m showing my age. And when I sat down to write this post, I thought, “Really Lillah, another post about a musician you admire? They all know – you’re obsessive about your music, it influences your writing, blah, blah blah.” After all, I’ve been down this road before – Dwight, David and so on – but the truth of the matter is, music is inexplicably knitted into my writing and vice versa (and so it is with books, with reading, too) and I cannot separate the two. When I’m in creative mode, I’m listening to my tunes. And when I’m listening, I want to sing back in praise, in thanks, to the artists who have helped me along the way.

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If this picture of Johns doesn’t define the mid-to-late 90s, I don’t know what does.

It freaks me out to think that I’ve been a fan of Daniel Johns for the better part of my life (to be fair, they came on the scene when I was just an adolescent, and they weren’t much older themselves). But it’s true and I owe the guy a lot. It sounds stupid, but I honestly do. Just by pure coincidence, or maybe it’s me projecting my experiences onto someone else’s art (likely), but for every major turning point in my life, he has been there. A song always seemed to fit at just the right time. He has got me through some times. And while I haven’t followed his career with the same fervor as I have say, David Bowie, I have looked in on him from time to time with interest, always eagerly consuming his latest work and finding comfort and meaning in it.

I think the reason I love Daniel Johns (and Silverchair/the Dissociatives) so much is because I grew up to it. As he navigated his journey into adulthood, through pain and trauma, illness and wisdom, so did I. He’ll never know me, but he’s a kindred spirit all the same.

As a goofy 14 year old, already showing the beginning signs of anxiety, I listened to “Frogstomp” and wished I could be so profound and in tune with my feelings. When I was a young teenager, subsisting on nothing but diet coke and energy pills, trying not to gain a pound back after a lengthy illness in which I almost died, I found “Ana’s Song”.and discovered I’d like to be healthy again. After my Grandfather died and I thought I’d never climb back out of the grief (it was the first death of a family member I’d experienced, and because I wasn’t able to see him much as a child, I mourned the relationship we’d never have), I found “Miss You Love”, which helped me through. As I found myself in the beginning of an abusive relationship, in my early twenties, just having moved to New Zealand and having no idea what to do next, I listened to the “Neon Ballroom” album and knew I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I did. I recall long nights, holding in tears but letting Daniel’s haunting falsetto cry for me instead. As I began to get up the courage to leave my abusive partner and go back home to a place I wasn’t sure was home anymore, the “Diorama” album gave me some strength.  Home, feeling guilt for leaving and the fear of the unknown life I wasn’t sure I even wanted anymore, Daniel’s new project with the Dissociatives seemed to bolster me with its lyrics about the loss of love but carrying on in a new medium. “Straight Lines” talked of embracing yourself, and the things necessary to make yourself whole. And now, embarking on this journey as a writer, putting my stuff out there even when I’m terrified to, I’m loving listening to Daniel’s solo album, a far cry from anything he’s ever done, laughing at his butt-hurt diehard fans who hate it, and feeling so proud of him for doing the damn thing on his terms. God, I love it when artists push out of their comfort zone and do something wholly unexpected (I think I just found common ground between Dwight, Daniel and David – the three D’s who are not so unalike, eh?). And hey, my 7 year old kid and I have jammed out to the reworked Beatles tunes on Beat Bugs (which Daniel works on ) more than once together, so we’re finding that common ground. And so it goes.

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Growing older gracefully and eyeliner on point – I could use some tips, man. I’ve got the hat part down.

You guys, my eyes often glaze over when people write about music. I don’t read album reviews that much, and I only flip through the pages of Rolling Stone every so often. I don’t kid myself that anyone is interested in my musings on Daniel Johns any more than they are about Dwight Yoakam or Patti Smith or Bowie or Ma Rainey or anyone else I love and hold dear. I don’t write this to preach to the converted (who my age doesn’t like Silverchair? C’mon.) but just to further reiterate that music is so important. And that I’m grateful for it, for the artists who inspire me. It took me way too long to start honing in my skill, and actually start putting words to paper; I found every excuse. And I still do, if given half the chance. But when I listen to a song like “Forever and a Day”, I literally can’t stop myself from sitting down and putting my feelings somewhere, you know? The feelings consume, they overwhelm, and when that happens, I count myself lucky to do what I do. I have the tools to express myself right here, and endless inspiration coming out of my earbuds.

I get nervous talking like this, afraid my obsessive personality will show, that people will know how deeply I feel every little thing, how deeply I love. But it’s about pushing out of that feeling, swimming in the deepest waters, and showing who you really are, that makes the artist.

Thanks, Daniel, and all the rest.

Happy Autumn, and may you find your favorite album again, as beautiful and relevant to your life as you left it.

Lillah