Ten years ago today, I published the first entry of a new blog.
I named the blog Song of the Lark, after Willa Cather’s 1915 novel about a Midwestern girl who, as she grows into adulthood and her artistry, gains and loses much.
That first entry served as a thesis statement for every bloggy thing to come. It focused primarily on my inability to decide whether I should be a writer or musician or historian or an improbable combination of all three. I was 21, and these kinds of questions held a panicked urgency. I remember feeling as if an arbitrary hourglass I couldn’t see was running out of sand.
The next ten years were unimaginable in every way. I embraced everything I loved, on the blog and off. Dreams I didn’t even know I had came true. (And to be fair, some of the biggest nightmares did, too.)
I haven’t written here since the summer of 2019. Which…isn’t surprising. I’ve just had nothing to say, or else I’ve never felt that I was the best person to say it. For a while, I chalked the silence up to personal busyness. Then I was horrified anew at the constant devolution of social media and everything connected to it. Then the pandemic struck, and like the rest of you, I watched the field that I thought would always be my ballast sink beneath waves, unceremoniously. That was when I really felt the silence, and the sheer size of the ocean.
I knew everyone else was in their own lifeboat, some leakier than others, watching the wreck at the same time I was. Even so, I didn’t really want to reach out. It hurt to see others hurt. I think I thought the least painful way out would be rowing to shore by myself, and trying to forget that the sinking had even happened. I rowed a long way. I’m good at lying to myself.
I filled up the silence with other sounds. Did other things. Became another person, or at least a variation on an original theme. Made other friends. Fell in love in a new way. Wrestled with realizations. Wrote more than I’ve ever written on the blog. This time, it was all fiction.
I didn’t thrive, by any means, but I survived. Surviving in these times is not nothing. However, the faster the needle mark on my upper arm fades, the more intensely I’m panicking to find a purpose. When you step out of the darkness into the light, what exactly will you be looking for?
Because the brutal truth is: in this year of crisis, I didn’t need music in the way I always assumed I would. What I needed was the love it made me feel, the spirit of connection, the camaraderie of it. And there’s such a lot of love in the world, and there are so many ways to find it.
The forced break, and everything that happened during it, has also opened my eyes to how much in this field is so deeply, fundamentally broken. I need to think long and hard about where I want to invest my self. I need to think about where I’ll be useful, and where I’ll be happy. Ideally, somewhere I’ll be both.
(This doesn’t mean I’ve fallen out of love with music. I haven’t. And it wouldn’t be fair to make any sweeping generalizations about my future when I haven’t been to a concert in two years. I just… When it comes to understanding what drives me to get out of bed in the morning, I don’t want to impose any false horizons.)
Now that I think about it, it feels – again – like an hourglass I can’t see is running out of sand. The further away I get from her, the more I relate to that 21-year-old from 2011, slowly understanding that what she should feel and what she is actually is feeling might be two paths splitting apart.
I wish I could go back and tell her the hourglass never existed.
And I wish I could know it still doesn’t.
Long story short, I’m not sure what’s next. I’m closing my eyes tight, trying not to be afraid of what I might see once I open them. Then, eventually, I suppose I will embrace what I love, whether that be something in music, fiction, non-fiction, history, politics, activism, the woods, who knows. Doing what I loved worked out nicely for me this last decade, truly. Most people live a lifetime without seeing the adventures I saw in my twenties alone, nearly all of which I wrote about here, and I’ll always be grateful I was so lucky. Starting this blog not only made my life livable; it probably saved it. It was the single most consequential decision, and the single best decision, I’ve ever made. And that wasn’t because of the art. It was because people are good.
So maybe everything will work out over the next ten years, too. I’d like to think so. I’ll try to keep coming back more regularly to share if it does. In the meantime, I spend too much time on Twitter, so if you really want intermittent updates, you can catch me there.
In that first entry ten years ago I quoted Lady Leonora Speyer, Pulitzer Prize winning poet and concert violinist, who in 1919 said in an interview, “The bird, the wind, the sea, the heart of man, all sing: the musician writes down the melody, the poet the words; the song is God’s. If you have a message and can give it, and can reach another soul with your singing, then all is indeed right with the world.” Especially emerging from this pandemic, when so little seems certain, when there’s just an exhausted desperation to cling to anything that even sounds like wisdom, I hope she’s still right. I think she is.
“The past closes up behind one, somehow,” Cather mused in The Song of the Lark. “One would rather have a new kind of misery. The old kind seems like death or unconsciousness. You can’t force your life back into that mould again.” Then, decisively: “No, one can’t go back.”
Even after my blog updating petered out, whenever I’ve been able to, I’ve been working on a very big project. I’ve been too quiet about it and too coy, and I shouldn’t have been, and I apologize for that.
It’s a profile of composer Louise Bertin, whose relatively obscure story is worthy not just of a blog entry, but an entire HBO miniseries. It spans two generations of political upheaval, media dynasties, wealth, poverty, Romanticism, revolution, disability, Paris, Victor Hugo, Hector Berlioz… Her story is a key to so many other kinds of stories. My attempt to do her life justice has resulted in an obsession with late-eighteenth and early nineteenth-century France, which is a time and place that I hadn’t been that interested in before, and consequently, the background reading necessary to understand has taken a long time, just because I just have so much to learn and synthesize. But I promise that the entry has been percolating, and I have dozens and dozens of pages of retyped color-coded notes, and pounds and pounds of (expensive) books. It will not be a short entry. To tell the story I want to tell, I’ll probably need the word-count of a novella. We’ll see. In any case, expect that…sometime in the next decade. I hope so sincerely that you’ll find it worth the wait.
Comments are off because I have a backlog of them to answer and I’m not up to adding to the pile. Take care of yourselves, friends.