A few days ago, the folks at Kickstarter emailed me a kind note, the subject line of which read “Happy Anniversary!” Kudos to them for reminding me that one year ago my “Hope, Alaska” crowdsourcing effort was successfully funded. I thought this merited correspondence of one form or another.
How are you? And where are you?
Some have dropped a line, or inquiries via social media, inquisitive emails, maybe even a smoke signal or two over the past year: Are you touring? Writing more songs? When’s the next record? How about coming to ‘insert city here’?
It’s (always) good to hear from you.
And, hmmm. Good questions.
Have you ever heard of tasseography? Of course you have. (Also known - I discovered last night - as “tasseomancy” or “tassology.” Yeah: Wikipedia.) It’s just the high falutin', $5 word for divining the future by reading tea leaves.
I’ve always loved when a character who can do that shows up in a story, book, or film. Some rest easier knowing the future’s written into the lines of their own palms and go track down the right oracle to read these to them. Others want a gypsy to reveal what’s coming their way by describing the hazy scenes drifting through a crystal ball. For my money, I think I could appreciate quietly, calmly relaxing into a cup of tea, after which the divining channel across from me eyes the spent leaves and shares what he or she sees. I think part of why I would prefer this method is because a cup of tea would make any good news all the better, and would doubly soften the blow of even the worst imaginable doomsday prophecy.
And what if I could read tea leaves? What a vocation! But I can’t. Rather, I’ve never tried, and not because I’m not curious, but mostly because some things you just intuitively understand about yourself early in life, and other things you come to more thoroughly accept as you age and grow into your soul.
Things like: These damn melodies don’t stop following me around. Along, too - like Pooh Bear, or some wild-haired Doctor Seuss character - with puzzling arrangements of words and lines. And they turn up most frequently - over the last few years - in autumn. Why is this? How is it that for the past few years, summer can feel like a terrifying, bone dry creativity drought, and then with the shrinking sunlight, the shock of yellow across the birch trees, and the arrival of the morning frost, I suddenly find myself flush in a cascade of…flow? But I have to watch what I say when I say “flow,” because I don’t know if it resembles “Flow” in the way that the-expert-on-Flow-whose-name-I-can’t-pronounce-or-find-it-in-me-to-look-up-right-now means it. (Maybe?)
Whatever it is, or whatever it has become - something about that nip on the fall air, and the sucker punch of those colors in the trees, and then the darkening of the sky (heavier clouds, darker mornings) - something in the swell of it all, along with rumors of winter, taps into some reserve of…hunger, of hot-blooded longing. I don’t know, a more practical human would probably go wrestle a moose to the death and take it home for the family to survive on moose burgers and steaks all winter. To the contrary, each fall, I incline towards the works of Annie Dillard and Mary Oliver. I comb the coastline in the rain, kick up leaves on the nearest trails during my lunch hour, drag the kids on aimless expeditions outside after school…to turn up who knows what, at who knows where. And wonder if some elusive something wants to show up. Or not.
I’ve started to wonder if it’s my own version of, well, not exactly tasseography, but something like it…Tasseography, that is, only if it allowed for reading the underside of the fall leaves you at random kick up or turn over in your romps through the woods.
Occasionally, in the act of romping and puzzling, Surprise lurks around the corner. Such as when, a few years ago, this came to mind during a walk in the woods:
She leaves me strawberry tops
And rose hip seeds
And gold birch leaves
I don’t remember now what compelled me in those lines, but I know when they showed up - in the midst of play, of Not Working - that I liked them more than things I was sitting down at my desk and Trying, Endeavoring to Write and Do and Make. Something about the shadowy, secret, uncertain location in which those lines were hiding struck me as a way more curious and interesting place than the bustling, mildly-anxious, and uninspired landscapes where too many chunks of my time are spent.
(Those lines eventually found a place in a song that became “The Victim Well,” the fourth track on 2012’s but so beautiful EP.)
A couple years later, not in any kind of place (for a variety of reasons) to consider or begin constructing, producing, or investing in the lengthy, time-consuming process of making an album, other lines showed up and tugged on me:
The wind whips up the leaves
And a shiver dances through me
And I shake till I freeze
But then I burn like a star through the evening
( - “Olena”)
And these, too:
Creek side – a holy communion
Your blue eyes and the midnight sun
A red wine sky bathed the horizon
While the mountains
Walked along with us in song
( - “Book of Consolation”)
And then others, arriving at the eleventh hour - well after I had relented, caved to the idea of recording another album. These (who knew?) became a title track:
Northern Lights on the sea
Shooting stars through the bay
Nothing left to want or be
When everything becomes me…
( - “Hope, AK”)
(This is not to brag. I'm not always thrilled with these lines, or the songs in which they rest. I'm only trying to speak to...a process? To lessons learned? And to...places I've found wherein my blood runs a little warmer, heart beats faster...without "Trying" as hard, as relentlessly as I'm otherwise accustomed to doing.)
Many artists are well served by - and rightfully make a good case for - honoring their craft through ritual, through making intentional dates and times with the/a Muse. I can only advocate for such a practice. By giving one’s art form “office hours” - a prescribed, specific window of time, kind of the way a professor opens his or her doors to students at specific times of day - these individuals prove better suited for productivity, and ultimately - by some measure, their measure - “success.” In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s those individuals - the steadfast, scheduled, ritualistic creative types - who, as one memorable boss long ago presumed, “are making all the big bucks.”
Meanwhile, I think what I’m doing here is a long, rambling attempt to gather under one big umbrella the variety of good questions I’ve received this past year, though into a (albeit barely-) cohesive narrative. To address, in the form of a letter, everything from how it’s going to…gee, Bower, when/where’s the next record? The world tour? And more.
Here’s what I got:
It’s autumn again. In Alaska, the paper birch are already mostly bare. The coffee tastes best from now through March. The boys are in second and sixth grades. I left my midtown apartment this summer and we moved across town, back to the neighborhood where my 11 year-old was born in 2004. For now, for the time, single parenting puts a little cramp on touring out of state…and sometimes also in-state, too. I have a few ideas in the works for future prospects in the lower 48, but nothing firmed up yet.
But I’ve also rarely, if ever, fancied myself “an entertainer” - not in the way some friends and family members have made it their bread and butter, cash cow, etc. I do love a good room - even more so, an engaged and friendly crowd. I prefer small spaces. Houses even more so. I favor house concerts and the conversation that comes during these. And yet, I'll play almost anywhere I'm invited, too. Every room, like every soul, rests easier with a little music...
When it's all said and done, one of my favorite places in the world is a (home) recording studio. On its best days, a recording studio space offers all the "Beginner's" joy of an art classroom. Remember what it was like to paint or draw when you were in preschool? I don't. But in a recording studio, I'm convinced that it was a lot like that. And - from what I've seen of my own kids and their classmates in that setting - that's a way to be in the world that boasts good, soulful returns. Likewise, the recording studio reliably - over the making of these last two records - has revealed an essential, elemental truth about my life that (as you can see by now) is extremely difficult to put into words. Something about joy (even if the songs aren't always joyful), and about playing (versus Striving and Working), and feeling a hum, a low vibration in the heart stuff that for a moment tells you you're at home in your life.
In the meantime…It’s autumn. I’m hugging the coastline when and while I can. Every day, a new sky hangs over the ocean. I’m ducking into the bare trees, kicking up leaves, humming melodies.
On good days, I’m “a bear of very little brain” again. Sometimes I’m that lucky.
(I have two - no, three(!) - new songs that I like a lot. Fragments of a couple others that I’m not very crazy about - at least not yet…)
Meanwhile, you never answered my question:
How are you?
Drop a line.
And go kick up some leaves. Tell me what you see. Or don’t see.
Tell me what you hear.
Tell me what makes you sing...
nothing left to want or be,