Hands in Pockets

Parents want to protect their children.  It’s not really a conscious thing – it’s instinctual.  So, oft times, the conscious things we say and do to reign back our kids are rooted in the bone-deep need to protect and preserve.

All these years later, I still vividly remember innocent looks, the carefree laughs, and children piled atop their cousins – all sleeping soundly after hours of boundless play.  These memories are precious and priceless, and I still feel the echoes of need to defend and extend that carefree zone.

Then comes the first look of real fear when the true world is finally noticed; real emotional pain caused by someone they opened their heart to; the first brick placed and mortared into the wall that nearly all adults eventually build.  Every true parent’s heart sinks at the sight of these because they know that every effort to protect their cubs will be like holding back the rising tide with a broom.

Yes, I remember the loss of my own innocence.  But even more clearly, I remember the look of sadness in my mother’s eyes when she realized I was no longer her little boy.  Mentally, she wrapped her arms around herself because holding me no longer offered the same comfort as it did in my youth; it ceased to soothe.

Now, I see my adult children – such a dichotomous phrase – and I loathe to admit that my arms are no longer long enough, my words do not easily balm, and my smile does not relieve the tension in their shoulders.  I feel impotent.

Now there is FaceTime – Thank God? – and in that small screen I see my son calm and soothe and protect his own children.  I sense the invisible tether between them, and I shiver at the knowledge of it’s tenuousness.  I see the same things when I see my daughter’s doting and soothing and fierce protectiveness of her young puppy, knowing full-well that this is practice and a precursor for when she has her own children.

And again, I feel helpless because I know the pain they will both feel when their children reach “that age”, and the separation begins.  I feel helpless because I cannot protect them from that eventuality.

It is a cliché truism that parents must, at times, figuratively put their hands in their pockets and allow their children to experience pain and failure and other mini-disasters so that they may learn how to face them, deal with them, and grow from them on their own.  And as true and necessary as this may be, there is absolutely nothing easy or matter-of-fact about it.

There is, however, one unchanging fact: Our children’s tears and pain and anguish will always be paired with our own, but are rarely-if-ever seen by them because they are no longer there.  They are too busy with their hands in their pockets, watching their own children grow.

As it should be.

Musical Conundrum

Music was the first thing I recall being able to call “Me”.   I was 8 yrs. old when my adopted Grandma Beth gave me a guitar.  It quickly became a means of expression that flowed directly from my inner-self to the world.  I’d never had that before, so I was a really excited by it… and a little freaked out.  I’d already been repeatedly told that I wear my heart on my sleeve – that everyone around me can instantly see and feel my emotions simply by looking at my face – so did I want another means by which people could so easily “read me”?

I eventually got over the hesitation and learned to embrace this gift of expression, and it helped me later to more easily embrace similar outlets that came from drawing and writing.

One thing, though.  Drawing and writing (essays, short stories, un-finished novels) are much safer because the expression isn’t 100% “You”;  it’s “You” mixed with the empathetic guess of what your characters are likely experiencing, feeling, and struggling with.  Music, on the other hand, is much more direct.  Much more personal.  Much more “You”.

And this is even more true when it comes to writing songs.

Every song I ever wrote was very nearly a 1-to-1 with whatever I was feeling at the time.  Oh, I could modify the words to deflect and disguise some of the emotion, but the music and the overall tone of the song was 100% the emotion of the moment.  If I was in love, than the song was completely a love song.  If I was pissed off, then… well, you get the idea.

For many years, I refused to write new songs because my wife had hijacked that process.  Just as I was learning to extend myself, experiment, and diversify my song-writing ability, she squashed that process.  Every song had to be about her – and every song had to be a love song.  There could be no negativity without retribution.  There could be no imagining of other people’s circumstances in my music because it was instantly and firmly attributed to “me”, and there was no meaningful discussion or concession that songs could be about something other than my life.

So, instead of running the love-song treadmill, I decided to simply stop running.  I didn’t even pick up my guitar for many years.  My musical growth stopped.  My songwriting exploration ended.

I’ve since transferred this urge and attempt at internal and external exploration to writing stories.  I’ve started many – and finished very few – but the process itself is the most important.  It challenges.  It satisfies.

But from time to time, I still yearn to explore with music.  To write songs about things I no longer feel, or things I’ve never felt, or things I wish I could stop feeling — and to write them without fear of retribution or guilt.

John Paul White is one of my favorite song writers.  He’s raw and quirky and magical.  When he decided to leave the Civil Wars, it was very obvious that there was a personal struggle there that overwhelmed him emotionally.  He says that he couldn’t write afterwards because of the fear of what would come out. He was afraid that he’d write something that might hurt his wife or his family or show some part of himself that he wanted to keep hidden.  In the end, he finally decided to let “whatever” come out and write whatever his soul guided him to write.  He made a deal with himself that these songs would be his alone – not to share with anyone else.  He felt that once he had exorcised these songs from his soul, then he would be able to get back to writing music that he felt good about.

The funny thing was, it was these exorcised songs that he put on his next album.  They’re very personal and angry and confused and painful and mysterious.   But they’re him.  He feels no need to explain them – only to sing them.

I so desperately want to get back to my music – both playing and writing.  So, using JPW’s method, I think I’ll write whatever my soul guides me to write.  I may never share them with anyone, but at least I’ll clear out the blockage I feel and – hopefully – make way for a new path of expression.

We’ll see.