Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Winter Squirrel, Musician's Lament

Here come two reality poems. There was such a squirrel. We did have a stare down. He thinks he won. I think I did. :)

A Winter Squirrel

You're staring again
As if I'm to blame, as if
I stole your whiskers
While you were sleeping,
Somehow in secret took them
Off you. "I'm naked
And you're a damn turd,"
Your stare says to me. But look,
Your whiskers are there,
Your gold undercoat's
Intact, and you look so fine
Sitting on winter's branch.

January 16, 2009 10:04 AM


This is a real lament. I had a breakthrough musically in the 90's. That breakthrough permitted me to return to music after putting it down in 1971 or so. Part of that departure from music was the block I could not get through. I had come hard up against some boundary that would not budge. I have of course thought about that and do have some understanding, too complex to go into. At the same time, there were other areas in my life that did not have such a wall. So I went there. I actually thought that the open door might lead to a huge doable lifestyle. I found a partner. I thought our partnership had momentum in it that would gather a crowd and lead to what we called a "Pythagorean Academy". It actually didn't go anywhere, but I did turn the work we did into the completion of my college degree in philosophy/psychology. I wrote a book to prove I had earned outside of school yet another 28 credits of at least upper division level if not post grad. After that was done, sobriety immersed me in AA culture and that service work carried me as it still does.

But in the 90's a couple things happened. I found my rhythm. I discovered that I could anticipate many musical forms and basically keep and even embellish the beat. Now I have Congas that I have played with pro musicians, but I am not really a Conga player. Then a woman came to my house, visiting my roommate. She sat at my cheap keyboard that I was using to explore whether I wanted to start playing. What she did blew my mind. She was a singer. She could not play. It was obvious that she could not play. What she could do was put rhythm and form into what she did on that keyboard and it so closely resembled music that I had an epiphany. I had music at the theory level and I knew what the notes are, white and black. I started noodling and realized quickly that I was MUCH better than she was. Obvious. At a certain narrow range of skills, I had been a master on the guitar. I started improvising in Eb on the keyboard, a remarkable key, and very difficult on the guitar except for downtuning. Now after nearly 20 years, I make music that might actually please others. Of course I am totally blown away still, amazed, overjoyed that the block was lifted.


Musician's Lament

After years, practice,
Patience in following you,
After quietude
And searching for place,
All this done blindly, content
With work on myself
On other deep needs
And the shallower concerns,
After all this time,
Now that I am old
And in my obscurity,
Now I get to play!

January 16, 2009 11:21 AM


  1. thanks for this. I love the word lament; I loved how you said that this was a real one; I loved that it was.

  2. Oh, Christopher, I am really touched by "Musician's Lament". I feel this in my writing. I know it's not the same -- you have had your breakthrough and are able to produce good music (I know, too late, too late...) I spent so much of my lifetime teaching others to write -- essays, arguments, narratives, never poetry, not poetry because there's nothing I hate more than bad poetry -- and here I am, producing bad poetry in the anonymity of Cyberspace, practicing in public. I feel that I've come too late, too late. I have nothing to say that hasn't been said by those who can say it with such grace that I shame myself. (Pity party? Not really, just the ultimate realist.) Maybe my lament is that I can't take off my Realist glasses and just enjoy myself. ;-)

  3. Harlequin...thank you. Yes it is a real lament. In my last few years I have struggled to keep up with a chorale called Unistus. I am just not musician enough, though I am close enough that they accepted me. But they didn't rehearse enough and I never felt quite comfortable until the very last minute.

    And then my age caught up with me and now I no longer can guarantee my voice and breath will be there on any given day. I am no longer dependable. Shit. I am a disqualified baritone.

    This was music at a step below the professional choir level.

    Karen, I am still not well rounded musically. I could never really call myself a master until I have several of the common styles under my belt, have the flexibility to sit down and play with anyone nearly anytime. Music is a community. I have fluency in one or two things as a solo player, and really good musicians could join me. There is a big difference of position in that. :(
    But that I can in fact play, :)

  4. It's funny, I see my teenagers in the squirrel poem :)

    Musicians Lament...oh yes, to have known then......sigh....but would we have appreciated it quite so beautifully had we not earned it?



  5. Michelle, you are quite right as far as the sheer joy is concerned. I do have an unending thing with this music I do now, the kind of glee a small child has as he masters a task and shouts out look at me, look at me!, Mommy look at meeeeee! I am just amazed that I can do it, and when I finish a particularly fine practice session I am filled up. But no one is there.

    One of the real things I lost when my last girlfriend sent me away so she could emigrate to Canada, I lost an audience. She was and still is proud of me, and she kind of bought that Playel grand piano for her living room as much for me to play as anything. She also restored my old guitar for me so I could resume playing it. She did many things hoping I would transform into the man she would want to marry. I never did that. But I would have married her.

  6. i like the BC Rich Seagull..... but i could so see you with a warlock.... it would be awesome.....

  7. Ghost, thank you for the great guitar. I have three currently. I have a Martin O-18, a parlor guitar I got for 800 bucks in 1967. I could probably sell it for 2k today. I have an Ovation acoustic/electric. I have a Korean made Epiphone electric.

    I would wander around my girlfriend's house wearing my Martin and practicing from room to room. Of course I would not be playing new stuff, just the stuff I already could. So it was really kind of like music.

  8. Her loss my friend, her loss.


  9. First of all, Christopher, I am totally and utterly in love with your impetuous squirrel. HA!

    And yes, I've been considering trying to learn music now that I'm all but 40. I know nothing. It is a foreign language to me. But I almost feel it as of late, perhaps as a whipser of something else. But isn't anything possible if you try?

  10. Erin, I used to teach guitar. I always had the feeling that there is a cut line between the people who are really good and the others who are adequate. If you are okay being among the adequate then it is worth the risk to go ahead. Perhaps you will not be like me and always have a judge inside. It is not that I judge myself harshly, but if I were not actually pretty good, I could not play at all. In the beginning the demand was relentless for me even though the actual discipline was not there. But I laid down a foundation that later, that now I stand on.

    There is indeed a great deal to learn, why it is a legitimate college major. On the other hand, it really is only about twelve tones in western music, and then they repeat. They relate to each other in very specific ways (chords and melody). The rest is body dexterity training and hearing training. Your fingers will dance in some real way within the constraints of matching finger position with notes and chords. The rhythm will always be the most primitive part. If you choose brass or wind instruments then breath control will join the dance, and mouth control too.

    It is hard but not impossible to be a musician without good tone discrimination. But you don't have to have anything like perfect pitch, not with the kind of tuning tools now available.

    The main part is good discipline. It will probably take two or three years from a standing start to get where other people will think you are okay, unless your talent and discipline are stellar. It took me eight years to be basically professional quality in a very narrow area of guitar music.

    I don't mean to make it sound grim because it is not, at least not if you can be patient and tolerant. I taught myself. It will go faster if you have a good teacher and coach. The teacher not only teaches but encourages. That would probably cut the time in half, from eight to four years, always depending on a really regular practice schedule. You will be training your body to engage in arbitrary patterns that will not easily become understood fluencies except by practice.

    It was worth it, but I also had two years where taking a couple hours several times a week was possible.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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