Turning New

The Seattle sun comes in the windows on 17th and Thomas, shedding light on sills thick with many coats of paint, through the frame green leaves fidgeting absently in the foreground of the power lines, brick buildings, and the brightly colored old houses of the Pacific Northwest. The city and the mountains are as clear as can be, far clearer than my journeying through the Rockies, vast expanses shrouded in particulates from all the fires. This is the Seattle that wooed me back in 2000, saying nothing about the soggy pants and shoes, freezing digits, and endless low gray ceilings that awaited me.

This summer has been vast – no other way to describe it. My head if full of colorful experiences, each one clamoring to be written about, each worthy of its own personal essay. Perhaps this is the relative novelty of being able to not only participate in life, but to remember the experience. My world not too long ago had become very small. As a woman recently said about her hometown in southeastern Colorado; the sky isn’t just above you, it’s all around you.

When I look into the current collage in my mind, I see the rolling partially forested hills and mountains of Idaho, endless sage brush, streams running along side gravel roads on BLM land. I see new roads crisscrossing Wyoming, I see traversing back and forth along the Great Divide from Colorado all the way to Montana. I see small towns that have plenty of life in them, local coffee shops and outdoor music, murals and local pride, the overwhelming views that are their every day backdrop. I see tiny headwaters turn into mighty rivers; some clear and renewed high in the mountains; some dull, sluggish, and sickly on the platts from pesticide runoff of endless monoculture. The whole earth struggles for balance and sustenance in the ways that it has learned how, struggling to adapt, struggling to comprehend the entire massive ecosystem to which it belongs, struggling to feel some sense of serenity in the absurdity and to reconcile all of our highly subjective existential purposes.. It’s a big beautiful wonderful mess – we can only be where we are, we can only do the best we can with the tools we have. There would be no need for creativity if there weren’t any problems to solve.

I survived my first sober Song School at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons CO (not to be confused with Lyons OR in the last post). It was actually my sixth year, says Ingrid the historian, which was a little bit of a shock to me considering my sorry lack of coherent memories from the first five.. but hey, we can only be where we are. I think I made enough this year to seriously tip the scale. The week started with one of the greatest gifts I have ever received: I wrote the song “Flowers” on Now Take Flight about a woman I met in a songwriting workshop, and our goal was to write the other person’s story. I finally finished hers in rehab last year, and she teamed up with another fellow song schooler and completed mine. I was struck by the incredible significance of their effort – they took it upon themselves to walk in the shoes of a transperson, they even researched transgender issues to really understand as best they could, they spread out into new musical genres that seemed to suit the message, made many remixes, and just generally worked their asses off on this project. In the moment I couldn’t think of any greater gift they could have given to the trans community. It was truly a humbling moment to be sitting in the back seat of their car listening to their incredible labor of love on the stereo. I felt truly loved and seen, and felt that together we had made the tiniest dent in the breakdown of the great “us and them” conundrum of our time. Big thoughts for seemingly small gifts, but it was not small to me.

The rest to Song School was similarly packed with opportunities to connect with people, to bear witness to their defining experiences, to let them bear witness to mine. Awesome music, new skills, new friends, new networks, new understanding. I was able to really reconnect with my love of music and why I do it, with the skill of this craft that I have developed since I was a teen. I’m happy to report that it didn’t all get lost in the haze and the tumult (I may be the only one who needed that reminder), neither was it just a product of severe emotional turmoil and mental illness. One important shift was the re-framing of playing music as providing a service. At the heart of it, that is what it’s all about. Good business is all about providing goods and services, and art is one of the oldest known professions in the book. It isn’t about going way over the line either, into some martyr state of existence – it’s a service to everyone involved, and that includes myself.

I haven’t been back in Seattle in about a year, and an eternity. I walked around Capitol Hill and let the memories come – so many apartments I lived in, my friends lived in, parties held in; streets I walked down, businesses patronized, buildings no longer there, Broadway’s now gap-toothed skyline of gentrification’s turnover in full swing, complete with cranes, condos, and empty store fronts waiting to be endlessly occupied and vacated; so many experiences from so many different times of life and lifetimes. Not one familiar face on the street, mine familiar to no one. My history here is only evident to me. How many lenses of personal history are also associated with this very neighborhood, these very streets and buildings.. uncountable. It is dizzying. Among the many ways that I grew in this town, I also struggled immensely. Sobriety seemed completely elusive despite my best efforts, and there was no way I could wrap my head around the idea that things could actually be different. And here I go, walking down the street, sober and fairly well adjusted, digging my life and comfortable with the slow but steady passing of time and the change it brings, grateful for every card I was dealt… What the hell happened??!!! What happened to the self-absorbed, fuck-it-all, last man standing, wounded dog battle cry that I once was?! I used to rip through this city drunk and righteous as if it owed me something like I would never die, speeding and over caffeinated and swearing at everyone, cigarettes butts flying out my window every ten minutes, hell bent on being in control of my reality at all cost.. Now I am concerned with balance, art, service, health, and seeking the truth of the way things really are, convinced that the whole of existence is really all gravy. The seriousness has drained away, the panic and bewilderment has subsided to acceptance and contentment. I am astonished and flabbergasted, completely dumbfounded at how far a perspective can really shift.. I knew people changed, but damn! Many associations aren’t without their sting, but the whole experience is far greater than the individual feelings, and feelings are also just feelings – as shifting as anything else. I am again at ghost boy status – a stranger to many, with very little history of this new lifetime under my belt, with nothing better to do other than be here now. What a trip; truly the wildest trip I have ever been on, and that is saying a lot. I’m into it.

I am overwhelmed in the best of ways, happy to be riding such awesome waves. I am also very much looking forward to playing music for the Sunday webcast at Empty Sea Studios, I hope some of you tune in and check it out! Music is turning new again.


8 thoughts on “Turning New

  1. Joe, Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! “we can only be where we are…” sounds like a song title to me. lol
    So glad our universes merged. Keep doing what you’re doing. All the best, Nick

  2. Thanks for continuing to share your writing, Joe. Can hardly wait to see and hear y’all on the webcast tomorrow!

  3. Joe, Thank you for sharing for your highly personal journey with us. It is another form of service you are doing. As a fellow friend of Bill , I have grown in my journey as well. This last blog was one I needed to hear for myself as I continue to climb out of my own abyss. Please know the inspiration you provide in the world. SOOOOOOOOOO looking forward to CG in Arcata in September. I will come say hello at the break. Best to you.

  4. πŸ™‚ Thanks! It is so good to read that you are doing well – not just for the moment, but it seems that truly, deeply, something has changed within you and allowed you to love yourself as you are, in all your glory! If there is one thing I would have wished for you since we met, it is that. Love yourself, Joe, and share that love – you are worthy, and the work you do is important. The concept of music as service is really liberating and also humbling, isn’t it? I wish you the best in all you do, my friend!

  5. “nothing better to do other than be here now”

    On of my favorite mantras is “Be Here Now”. I think you’re doing a fantastic job at it Joe!

  6. Thanks Joe for sharing your Seattle and vast experience of travel. How great for you to”see” so much! I was so glad we could connect. I just returned from my Minnesota adventure with Lisbeth and Kirsten. Hope the webcast was successful.
    Love, Aunt Ann

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