Tag Archives: James Primosch

The gift of synchronicity

The past week or so has provided a perfect moment of synchronicity for me, and I just have to share it with you.

I was having an email conversation with a certain composer about motets he’s working on, and he mentioned that he was working on setting something to a Thomas Merton text.

Labyrinth at New Harmony, Indiana

Every time I hear the name Thomas Merton, I flash back to a memory of standing in front of a plaque at a historic site in New Harmony, Indiana, reading a quotation from Thomas Merton that took my breath away. No, that’s too cliched way of putting my response to the quotation.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re reading something, or listening to something, or you see something, and you can feel all your cells being rearranged? That’s what the moment of reading this Thomas Merton quotation in New Harmony, Indiana was like for me.

The problem now is that I don’t carry the actual quotation around in my head. But almost as soon as I assumed that I probably didn’t still have a copy of this cell-rearranging quotation, I remembered going through some files recently and seeing not the quotation itself but a letter I had received from someone thanking me for using it in a sermon I gave once, back in the mid-1990s.

As luck would have it, the sermon was stuffed into the same file folder as the letter. There, on the last page, was this:

“As long as we are on the earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with another because this love is the re-setting of a body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things we can do about the pain of disunion with others. We can love or we can hate. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and sorrow that are the price of re-setting the bones. Hatred refuses the pain of reunion.” — Thomas Merton

Lovely, yes?

Fast forward to this morning, when one of my Facebook friends who is a musician posted a link to a beautiful David Wilcox song I hadn’t heard before, Farthest Shore. Let me just pause here to say that I can’t imagine life without my musician friends. There are those who are music makers, those like me who are thirsty listeners, and then there are the ones who are lucky enough to be both. Group hug!

Ahem. So, since my brain is always swirling with ideas to write about here, after I listened to David Wilcox this morning, I thought, “Hey, I’ll write about something that ties into this song. Wonder if I can find a video of him singing it?” While I didn’t find a video of Wilcox singing “Farthest Shore,” I did find a video of him talking about religion, cells, and his wife’s broken leg. That took me back to the Merton quotation, and reminded me to share it with you.

The video is nine minutes long, and unfortunately he doesn’t sing, and unfortunately it ends before he finishes his thought, but if you have the time, read the Merton quotation, then watch this video, and marvel at the gift of synchronicity. I hope it makes your day even only a little bit more, oh, harmonious.

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“Buzz gave him a complete chipmunk.”

Following up on last week’s post about the red-tailed hawks of 185 Fresh Pond Parkway, I stopped by the Hawks “R” Us strip mall on Tuesday to get a progress report.  Turns out that the middle hawk, Larry, took his first flight over the Memorial Day weekend (no doubt he was compelled off the nest by the holiday furniture sale at a nearby retailer.  Nothing says “Honor the War Dead” like buying a new sofabed at 40% off.)  I asked one of the omnipresent onlookers if she had managed to get a picture of the big event.  She growled, “No.  I was being harassed by a goddamn religious zealot who kept saying I should have my camera focused on the heavens, and not on a bird’s nest.”

Yes, well, do go on!  She then told me that Larry is surprisingly good at flying but he hasn’t gotten the hang of landing.  His inability to stick the landing has kept him from returning to the nest, which he apparently wants to do.   On one of his early flights, he landed on the point of the office building, just above the nest, and because there was nothing to dig his talons into, he slid halfway down, a la Charlie Chaplin, before taking off again.  If you click on the photo to the right, you’ll go to a very cool photo gallery that documents some of Larry’s first flying adventures.

A local nature blogger has been posting fairly regularly on the progress of the hawk chicks and the phenomenon of the human circus that has gathered around these birds.  I love his post from June 2, which you can read if you click here.  In particular, I love his account of Larry’s meet-up with his dad, Buzz, who gave Larry the chipmunk he had been carrying back to the youngsters still in the nest.  I love it so much I stole one of the lines from it for the title of this entry.

All week I’ve been thinking about these birds learning to fly, and how flying seems to be easier than landing, at least at first.  It makes me wonder if animals can curse.  Surely, if there were reason to let fly with a string of obscenities, it would be when you’ve landed on the point of a roof, and you begin to slide down awkwardly and unintentionally, all while being photographed and ogled as though you’re on the red carpet at the Oscars.

There’s a reason that sports commentators gush about someone “sticking the landing” – it’s hard to do.  When Sheerah and Lulu were learning to walk, whenever they lost their balance and toppled over, their dad would go into baseball umpire mode and say “Safe!” while making the accompanying “Safe!” signal with his arms.  I always thought that was a brilliant strategy – way better than rushing over, picking the kid up and saying, “It’s okay honey, try it again!”  The “Safe!” signal is, generally speaking, a true statement to a kid learning to walk that she is safe, in a “no blood, no foul” type of way.  And it’s an entertaining diversion from whatever minor pain or embarrassment a kid who’s learning to walk might feel at falling down for no apparent reason.  And today I’m thinking it’s the hawk equivalent of being given a complete chipmunk.  Just forget about how you look while you’re learning to do this hard thing.  Get out there, try it again, and whenever you manage to land, no matter how it looks, you might just get a complete chipmunk!

Maybe there ought to be a Complete Chipmunk Award for trying something new, where you may (or may not) end up like looking like a complete idiot, but at least you had the guts to move outside your comfort zone.  Heyyyy, wait a minute…I’m a writer, I hereby declare such an award!  I’ll have to figure out the criteria for earning the award.  Or maybe I’ll keep the criteria a secret, so they can change over time to suit my whimsies.  For now, the Complete Chipmunk Award does not come with any golden statuette or cash prize.  Fercryinoutloud, folks, I’m a writer not a financier.

I’ve been listening a lot this week to songs from Peter Gabriel’s “Scratch My Back” project.  I’ve been a huge Peter Gabriel fan since my teens when he was with the band Genesis (the first incarnation of it.)  I love all sorts of things about this project.  Mostly, I love the variety of songs Gabriel covers, his self-imposed restriction of no guitars and no drums, and his idea of asking the artists he covers to cover one of his songs in return.  Initially, Gabriel’s plan was to release both albums simultaneously, but there have been delays in completing the album of others covering his songs.   The idea of making so much more than a covers album, of using the project as a springboard to collaborate with the artists he’s covering, even if the project doesn’t quite unfold the way he had originally hoped – that is what wins Peter Gabriel my inaugural Complete Chipmunk Award.  Well, that and I got all tickled at the possibility of mentioning Peter Gabriel and the word chipmunk in the same sentence.

I highly recommend you go here to read Gabriel reflecting on each of track of “Scratch My Back.” Compare this project to Renée Fleming’s new album “Dark Hope”, of the renowned opera singer recording cover tunes from the so-called “indie rock” world.  Or don’t compare the projects.  I have, and I gotta tell you, Renée, Peter Gabriel makes your project look like a bald-faced attempt to make a record that appeals to a bunch of different demographics (and by “demographics” we mean “wallets,” don’t we?)  Renée might be eligible for a Complete Chipmunk Award if she took my blogging buddy James Primosch’s advice and recorded an album of contemporary composers such as George Crumb and John Harbison.  I love Renée Fleming’s work, but, really, does the world need yet another cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”?  This hot-head says no.  No chipmunk for you.

Here are two videos about the “Scratch My Back” project.  This first one is about Peter Gabriel’s recording of Bon Iver’s mysterious song “Flume,” and of Justin Vernon’s (a.k.a. Bon Iver’s) recording of Gabriel’s “Come Talk to Me.”  I love that Vernon included a banjo in his instrumentation for “Come Talk to Me.”  I’ve never thought of a banjo as an instrument that conjures up yearning, but I think it works here, the way he uses it.  If these songs were on vinyl, I would have worn the record out by now, just from the last week alone.

This next video is about Peter Gabriel’s recording of Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” from the “Graceland” album, and of Simon’s recording of Gabriel’s anti-apartheid anthem “Biko.”  I love how Gabriel’s take on “Boy in the Bubble” plumbs the depths of the terror in the lyrics, and how Simon’s recording of “Biko” uses the slackly-tuned 12-string guitar to echo the clicking language of Stephen Biko’s Xhosa people.  Goosebumps.

Speaking of hot-heads, it pains me to send you to iTunes, because Apple’s proprietary approach to music distribution pisses me off, but sometimes you have to suck it up to support Chipmunk-worthy art.  Here’s where you can download “Flume” and “Come Talk to Me.” And here’s where you can download “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Biko.” I recommend you listen to them with the volume turned up to 11.

“If I hadn’t come, I would never have known how important it was to be here”

Isn’t that just so IT? So much of what matters in life, so much of the meaning OF life, flows from the act of showing up. Not necessarily because you think you’ll have a great time, or that you’ll even get anything out of whatever the IT is. Maybe you KNOW you’ll have a terrible time. Maybe you’ll never know how important it was to other people that you showed up. If you’re lucky, you get to know how important it is to other people, and if you’re REALLY lucky, you get to have a sense, maybe only a glimmer, or maybe a huge cascading fireworks of an AHA!, of how important it is to YOU that you were there, wherever IT is, bringing your particular you-ness to an event, a day, a weekend, even to a fleeting moment.

A lot of people showed up this weekend for SweetP’s institution as the 12th rector of her parish – the first woman and the first openly queer person to be chosen for this position by this parish. Some people traveled great distances. Some came with a lot of baggage (of various kinds.) Some brought only themselves and whatever they could fit in their pockets or purses. Some came with babies. Some came with conditions (physical, philosophical, emotional, psychic, etc.) that required them to make enormous, even exhausting, efforts to be there. Some were dressed to the nines. Some wore costumes. Some wore whatever they usually wear. Some sang along. Some didn’t. Many of us wept, some of us sobbed, some of us giggled uncontrollably, some of us were still, solid, and strong, and some of us were the emotional equivalent of a clown car, veering and lurching wildly among all sorts of states. Some of us were dressed as dragons. Yes, Internet, there be dragons, even — and maybe especially — in church.

The title of this post is something my sister-in-law said to me after we had processed to the back of the church during the final hymn of “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.” I think she exclaimed this as she hugged me shortly after I had come completely unglued when I hugged my brother. Poor guy, there I was, hugging him, and as I whispered into his ear the words, “Thank you SO much for being here today,” I was completely overcome with body-wracking sobs. I buried my face into his shoulder and, because I wear glasses, it felt a lot like I was smashing my face up against a window. Picture the sobbing guard at the gates of the Emerald City, with tears fire-hosing out of his eyes, but have him pressed up against a pane of glass. That’s the scene. Oh, plus, somewhere in there, I’m pretty sure my brother was holding me up. I bet I outweigh him, but he’s essentially all muscle, so I think it all worked out. I haven’t heard that he’s being treated for a hernia, so I’m assuming he’s okay.

The whole weekend, the day on Sunday, the ceremony itself, they were all like this weird combination of a wedding AND a funeral. All sorts of people doing the miracle of showing up, and lots of SweetP’s favorites: music, readings, flowers.

The church looked like it was decked out for a wedding, with red tulips and gerber daisies and other flowers everywhere. There were huge beeswax candles at the ends of every 3th or 4th pew. The place smelled so intensely of beeswax that I could have sworn that there was incense burning.

Many gifts were exchanged. The night before, at the big family dinner we hosted for 18 of us crammed into the renovation project that we call home, SweetP opened some cards and gifts from the extended family. I had been wracking my brain trying to think of something significant that the girls and I could give her. In a phone conversation earlier in the week with my eldest brother (the same one whose suit suffered water damage from my sobbing episode detailed in the previous paragraph), he was telling me about a book I had first heard about a few weeks ago. He said that the first time he looked at it, he didn’t move for 2 hours as he pored over it. I knew it would be the perfect gift for SweetP for a whole bunch of reasons. So this is what the girls and I gave her:

Now she’ll NEVER get any work done! The Red Book is every bit as stunning as I expected it to be, and every bit as perfect as I hoped it would be.

But I digress. Back to the ceremony on Sunday. The last part of the gift exchange in A Celebration of New Ministry involves the priest giving gifts to her family. Before we went up to receive our gifts, I asked the girls if they’d be willing to huddle up and all put our hands in the center and do a cheer, like a team does before it takes to the court or the field. They nixed that, but they did agree to huddle up after SweetP presented her gifts to us, which was really all I wanted in the first place. I’m sneaky like that.

Several people came up to me afterward to tell me that this was the most intensely moving part of the service for them. Some people sought me out to say that they were especially moved by hearing and seeing the word “wife” used to refer to me. One of the small but mighty gifts of marriage equality is the witness to the power of words that a lot of people take for granted, words like “wife.” Conversely, I know that the opposition to marriage equality reflects an awareness of how powerful these words are, and betrays a deep fear of us queers having access to the power of such language. But THAT, dear Internet, is a topic for another day.

So. This family that I have, that the five of us have made together, quite simply leaves me speechless with awe, wonder, delight, and a deep abiding love that makes the very word “love” seem tiny and utterly insufficient. And this moment right here, when we all circled up, put our heads together, wiggled our toes, and laughed, I officially have no words for it. Still. Days later.

But enough about us. Here’s a hairpin turn for you. Check out the artistry of a young pastry chef who was born and raised in the parish and is now on the young adult leadership team! I had told her that SweetP’s favorite flowers are red tulips, so she created these edible tulips out of some sort of candy wrapped around jellybeans. Some of the cupcakes had the letter P written on them. Also, there were little white P’s created out of some sort of icing that were strewn across the tablecloth like confetti.

At the reception, I was approached by a man I didn’t know, who said something that made me realize that he was James Primosch, the composer who created the amazing setting of e.e. cummings’ poem “spiraling ecstatically” that SweetP chose as one of the musical offerings of the service (the EMI chorus sang it beautifully, with a bonus version offered in the morning service, for additional rehearsal purposes.) I’m not usually given to swooning or being rendered speechless by meeting new people, but I’m pretty sure I made a fool of myself when my hands involuntarily flew up to my throat and I gushed something to the effect of “Oh my gosh!!! You’re James Primosch!!! Thank you SO much for your work!!!” I don’t usually speak in exclamatory triplets, but I just couldn’t help it. Then I blurted, “I just know that [SweetP] wants to thank you” and before he could object I grabbed the poor man by the hand and dragged him across the crowded reception as though I were some sort of human cow catcher, pushing several well-wishers aside (no well-wishers were harmed in the making of this introduction.) I planted him in front of SweetP, and announced, “THIS is JAMES PRIMOSCH!!!” I sure as hell hope I didn’t also say “Ta Daaaa!!!” I’m pretty sure that stayed in my head, along with the sounds of trumpets announcing the arrival of an important guest to the ball. I was somewhat relieved to see that SweetP had a very similar response to him that I did, nearly sloshing her glass of wine onto all three of us as she struggled to free up her hands to greet him.

Speaking of spiraling ecstatically. Whoa. I need a deep breath.

Even though my reflections on the weekend continue to ripple, and our life in and with an amazing and complex parish is beginning anew, and my old job is ending, and my new job – whatever it is – is somewhere out there, this particular blog post needs to end. This song, “Rise” by Eddie Vedder, seems like a fitting song with which to honor both beginnings and endings:

P.S. Very special thanks to Duane Dale for the exceedingly generous gift of the lovely photos from the ceremony and reception that I’ve included here.