January 23

This is a gratitude list I wrote a while back, after playing for a wedding in Chattanooga. Making a Gratitude list is a good way to keep self-pity and depression at bay. “Doc and Mary Jane” were the bride’s parents and my hosts in Chattanooga. After the wedding was over and most of guests had gone home, I stayed an extra day and enjoyed their hospitality, which included dinner out with a bunch of the bride’s family at a restaurant overlooking the Tennessee River. “Caroline” is Caroline Herring, a terrific singer-songwriter who also played in the wedding. If you haven’t heard her, you should check her out. “Extra $100” refers to an extra $100 Doc and Mary Jane paid me at the end of the trip. A satisfying trip all around.

Gratitude List:

Good time with Doc and Mary Jane
extra $100
meeting Caroline
mom
dad
jen
I have all my fingers, toes limbs
place to sleep
walk
sun
beauty
beautiful sun on my skin and others
people smiling at me randomly.
blueberries
broccoli

January 22

Do you wait for inspiration like a schoolboy waiting for a date to arrive, looking repeatedly at your watch, the night slowly turning purple with dusk, secretly hoping your date doesn’t show up so you can put on your sweats and watch “The Fall Guy?”

Oh yes I got oddly specific with that metaphor.

Speaking of the Fall Guy I saw Lee Majors once at a nostalgia convention.

Oh yeah once I went to a nostalgia convention.

I got on a bus at 10th Avenue and went to Baltimore.

THere were a lot of guys — it was almost all guys — excited about cowboys, batman, star trek.

There was lone ranger cosplay. I went to a lecture on Al Jolson.

Another lecture on Bugs Bunny.

Anyway I saw Lee Majors sitting in a chair, accompanied by his wife.

I remembered having a Six Million Dollar man action figure, in a red sweatsuit. Maybe you had one too.

And running in slow motion with Steve Austin sound effects.

And there was Lee Majors in a chair, having a rest and I was having a rest myself, and I didn’t bother him.

Anyway. Do you wait for inspiration and then go watch “The Fall Guy” when it doesnt show up?

Or do you chase it like a greased pig at the county fair? No that’s a bad metaphor. Or simile. It’s fine, but it hits a dead end because I’ve never chased a pig.

Do you chase it like your dog who’s gotten loose from the back yard? Who looks at you mischieviously and willfully, as if to say “I’m not supposed to do this, but I’m going to do it anyway,” and then runs as fast as he can, which is pretty fast, straight to the ill-tempered neighbor’s house. And you put on your Tennis shoes slowly, and half walk, half jog up the hill, and over the split rail fence, to retrieve your dog? Do you chase inspiration like that?

And then what do you do when you catch it?

Or does it catch you? That’s better. That’s always better.

Me, the greased pig, darting in and out of the legs of all the farmers at the county fair, squealing in fear and procrastination, or else.

I’m a sword in a stone or…

a shard of glass in a heel and inspiration has some tweezers.

That’s it, I’m — not a shard — but a sliver of glass in the heel of inspiration, and inspiration is bent over, with a light shining on inspiration’s foot, with a straight pin, trying to get me out, and I want to say, don’t worry about it, I’ll come out eventually. One day inspiration will find I’ve come loose.

Hm that metaphor doesn’t work so well.

Here we go:

My creativity is Lee Majors at a nostalgia convention. Sitting on a pastel hotel lobby chair, Blonde wife (Faith Cross, actress and model) by his side, looking at his watch, dreading the upcoming autograph-signing session in which he will sign headshots for a never ending line of middle-aged nerds at a Hampton Inn in Baltimore. Held in place by some contract or obligation, there is no escape.

Thinking, Lee Majors is, “I got into acting for the hot chicks and fame, not for old dudes in a stale lobby. What am I doing here? Honey, what are *we* doing here? How do we get out?” This last addressed to the wife.

“Lee, get a hold of yourself. You’re here because you agreed to be and you’re getting paid. Just smile and say thank you, pose for the camera and it’ll be over before you know it and we’ll be back in Hollywood before Sundown tomorrow.”

Lee takes a deep breath and pictures those brown dry hills, drenched in sun. If he closes his eyes he can smell the eucalyptus drifting on the breeze through the canyon. Mm.. A nice hike will be good when he gets back. Maybe tonight he will walk for about a half hour on the treadmill in anticipation. “Thanks Honey, you’re the best.”

So that’s it. My creativity is Lee Majors about to sign autographs. Deep Breath. Smell the eucalyptus.

January 17th (Mary Oliver)

The poet Mary Oliver died today. She was one of my favorites. Her stuff is so effortless (or seems so) and simple (well, not really, but again, seemed so). I guess good art seems effortless and simple. Her stuff is full of observations of the natural world. I love the way she sees. Sometimes I don’t know how to write about what I see, and I look at the way she writes about what she sees, and I’m thankful and content to let her see for me. It’s ok to rest and let others see for us.

Here’s an excerpt:

At night
under the trees
the black snake
jellies forward
rubbing
roughly
the stems of the bloodroot,
the yellow leaves,
little boulders of bark,
to take off
the old life.
I don`t know
if he knows
what is happening.
I don`t know
if he knows
it will work.
In the distance
the moon and the stars
give a little light.
In the distance
the owl cries out.

In the distance
the owl cries out.
The snake knows
these are the owl`s woods,
these are the woods of death,
these are the woods of hardship
where you crawl and crawl,
where you live in the husks of trees,
where you lie on the wild twigs
and they cannot bear your weight,
where life has no purpose
and is neither civil nor intelligent.

Where life has no purpose,
and is neither civil nor intelligent,
it begins
to rain,
it begins
to smell like the bodies
of flowers.
At the back of the neck
the old skin splits.
The snake shivers
but does not hesitate.
He inches forward.
He begins to bleed through
like satin.

Mary Oliver, excerpt from Rain (7 The Forest)

January 16th

I went running today. I just felt it. I’m tempted to put “running” in quotes because I don’t go for very far or for very long. But I’m thankful to have run because there was a time when I wasn’t sure if I’d run again, and now I can’t even remember why. I think it was an ankle problem. My ankle hurt, and so I didn’t run but walked instead. Then one day suddenly my ankle didn’t hurt anymore and I found myself running again. Thank God. I’m truly thankful to be able to run. Not far, but enough to get my heart rate up. I ran on a trail that goes through the woods. I avoid the pavement and like running on the soft pine needles. There were people out. A person — maybe a couple — in a hammock. People walking dogs. People watching children. Another couple sitting, and the man kept trying to put his head on the woman’s shoulder, and she kept moving her body so that his head couldn’t rest there. She liked him, I could tell, but didn’t want his head on her shoulder. A homeless man was lying a bench with his coat over his face.

I was listening to Aerosmith. Hm. If you’re judging me for listening to Aerosmith, it’s ok. I’m judging myself also. I downloaded a playlist of “80s” (in quotes because not every song on the list is from the 80s) music and there was Aerosmith on there, so I listened to it. It had been awhile since I listened to any Aerosmith. I was surprised to find what sounded like a piccolo trumpet at the end of “Love in an Elevator.” Surely a Beatles influence. A piccolo trumpet is what you hear in the middle and at the end of “Penny Lane.” The Beatles had been searching for an instrument to play an instrumental part on Penny Lane but hadn’t found what they wanted. Paul McCartney saw trumpeter David Mason playing Bach (I think it was the Brandendburg Concerto) on TV and got producer George Martin to call the man. They invited him to come to Abbey Road the very next day, which he did. Paul sang the part he wanted to Producer George Martin, who notated the part and gave it to the trumpet player to play. Reading that story is how I know what a piccolo trumpet is. I know a lot of Beatles trivia. Anyway, it’s not hard to imagine that Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler is a Beatles fan.

It would have been a good day to listen to Penny Lane. The sun was out. Spring isn’t far away.

Gallery

January 15th

This is a tree on the golf course by my parents’ house. I come here to meditate and pray. It’s good, meditation and prayer is, for what ails you. A woman walking her dog came by and said hello; It was getting dark so I could barely see her. I said hello back. I prayed and meditated for 10 minutes, which is how long the session on the app (yes I use an app) is, then a different woman came by, and it was dark by this point, so I could see even less. I said “hello, again” before realizing it was a different woman. She didn’t say anything back. I suppose this might be “my spot.” My spot to come to pray and meditate. A friend told me she had read a book on Christian meditation in which the mantra you say is “Maranatha” or “Lord Come.” Sometimes that’s what I say when I meditate; other times I have a prayer I’ve adapted from AA, in which I ask God to remove various defects and replace them with virtues. It helps. It really helps. I went to an AA meeting today. It was good. Packed room. I sat next to a guy who tried to rob a liquor store and did 5 years in prison. I felt. Well, compassion, and also, only 5 years? It seemed light. And also that, as many bad choices as I might have made, that’s one I never did, and I wonder how desperate you’d have to be to make that choice. But I’m glad he is making better choices now, and I’m glad there is redemption for him, and I hope peace. it feels a little wrong to share his story, but since I haven’t given any identifying information about him, I think it’s ok. Thanks for reading, everything’s going to be ok I think. Love, JH

January 14

Remember the woods of our youth.

You ran you had a friend.

Secret places.

Rocks. A rusty swingset. You swang on the swing.

Past become present. Back and forth

Your sister sang something. “Casey jr’s back casey jrs back.”

Exhiliration. She showed you the way to so many things.

The woods contained. Seclusion mystery, possibility. Safety, possibility.

My friend and I were space cowboys like Han solo and luke skywalker. We went to a cantina. My friend had a Shirley Temple. I had never had one, [in fact I had my first Shirley Temple only a few weeks ago and it was darn good]. We didn’t care who was whom. Now I know Han was cooler. Less whiney, in the movies.

Though I think I’d like Mark Hamill better in real life. More [ironically] down to earth. Feet on the ground. Very approachable, for a star.

It’s still there. The mystery, in the woods. Though it’s elusive and you can’t force it and it’s not like it was when you were a child. The mystery, the wonder will come to you if you seek it out.

Some days it’s barely attainable. Some days it’s not attainable at all. The mystery in the woods is like the mystery in writing. Like good writing. Some days the good writing doesn’t come, or comes very very slowly.

I told you about my cold locomotive sitting in the desolate railyard.

That’s my image [if I may ruin the mystery] for my own immobilized creativity.

The locomotive wants to be chuffing and pumping and hissing with steam and noise and thunder and velocity: roaring down the track to where it’s supposed to go. But.

It’s sitting in the desolate railyard. Heavy. Weighty, man. Locomotives are so heavy. Iron Horse. Maybe it’s rusting, vines through the cowcatcher.

I have to get it moving. It’s my project. To get it fired up and hoisted to the track and cleaned up and loved on and doted on and manned and oiled up and full of coal and whatever else you need.

I’lll get there, it will get there.

Anyway, creatvity. The mystery and wonder in the woods. You can’t chase it. It won’t come to you faster if you run after it, except it will. I’m wrong about that. It *will* come faster if you chase it. You *must* chase it. You have to wait for it too though. Like God, also.

January 12

Vain, I’m fatter than I want to be.

I raked leaves with my father today. They were wet underneath with all the rain of December and some of the rain of January. They were dry on top.

We raked them into a blanket which I bought at the nearly new store for 3.99. (That day, I bought the blanket and a filing cabinet, and I played a bunch of pianos, all of which were badly out of tune).

And put them into a wheelbarrow and wheeled them to the woods and lifted the woods so the leaves fell into the woods.

We took turns raking, pushing the wheelbarrow, and pausing to lean on the rake and look into the middle distance at the road and the neighbor stealing gravel from the road to put in her yard.

We tried not to get too much gravel on the blanket, because it was heavy enough, with all the wet leaves.

I caught a whiff of the smell of the leaves, and it was a good smell that reminded me of past Autumns, even though this is January. It reminded me of my Father and my sister and raking leaves into a pile and jumping into it.

We were finished before long, and my father and I went to the Rock store to buy a flagstone or two, for the top of the sidewalk where it meets the road.

The Rock store is usually open til 3, but today it closed at 12. Winter Hours.

My father had heard of a different rock store that someone told him about, so we went to look for it but found nothing.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and did a search but found no rock store.

So we drove to a nursery and went in and my father either asked about rocks or looked at plants, I’m not sure which.

Then we got a hot dog with onions, chili, and slaw. We split a bag of fries. The crinkle cut kind.

At the hot dog place was a couple who had never been to the hot dog place. I asked where they were from, expecting an answer like New York or CT, given their accents, which I judged to be Northeastern. They were from Pinehurst, though.

My father and I came home and I went to work on some music. My father went to get the leaf blower.

He wasn’t finished. There were more leaves to get, to blow into a pile to be raked later.

January 11th

I don’t want to write.

So with apologies to myself and forgiveness for myself

Maybe i won’t.

I won’t catalog the mundane and the malevolent, the execrable

and the sublime.

But you kind of have to catalog them. you have to be specific.

To be vague is to give you work to do. Tedious work at that.

I could tell you about the young woman and man who got into my car, and I gave them a ride.

To make them interesting you have to catalog particulars. To make an image.

Well I will tell you this. His orthodontist was his first girlfriend’s father. And he said “He knew my mouth better than she did” and it was funny and slightly off-color and slightly weird, and it feels weird to relate it here. So personal. And weird.

And I have different types of folks reading this — not too many of you — maybe 20 or so, but you are all different, and I wonder what you will think of me that I related this.

Or what you might think if I related what I really think, about this small inconsequential thing, and about bigger things which I think are consequential but might not be.

Anyway, well. There was a distance between them. A coolness, and she didn’t want there to be a coolness, but she was too cool to let it be known that she knew there was a coolness and that furthermore she didn’t like it. So she maintained the small icy chasm between them and so did he. But she wanted the chasm closed and he was fine with the chasm. And you wanted to tell her to save some time and ditch him, but of course that would have been inappropriate. “You can drop us by the mailbox,” she said with a slight icy remove, as they opened the doors to get out. So much icy remove in the car, and I was glad I wasn’t getting out with them. They didn’t tip. Few people tip, really. Least of all young people.

I’ve got my own icy remove in my own self. That cold locomotive waiting to be stoked. Sitting out in the desolate rail-yard. Gleaming in the moonlight.

Or maybe it’s a pilot light which has gone out.

Once in Brooklyn our pilot light went out in the winter and the house got very cold.

The landlady’s son, Dimitri, called me. Told me to grab a flashlight and walked me through turning the pilot light back on. It was touch and go but we got it to come on, and he cheered over the phone.

Dimitri could — can — fix anything — is an inventor and inveterate tinkerer. Fixing engines, air conditioners. A breeze-in-and-out-er. He breezed in, breezed out. He’s breezy and women like him. Everyone likes him. He called me J, which isn’t that unusual. He breezed in, cup of coffee in hand, at 2 am, said how’s it going J, breezed out. He was always driving his big Dodge Ram truck out to the Hamptons or up to the Catskills, or down to the coast of NC, as it happens.

My landlady has 4 sons, all of whom have (or had, as some of them are greying) dark wavy hair. They are Greek. They kind of look, more or less, like the actor John Cassavetes. Good-looking boys.

I occasionally got mistaken for one of them. “You one of Joanne’s boys?” “Nope, just a boarder.”

One of them has a girlfriend who used to date one of the the Ramones. Or maybe it was the bass player from Blondie. Whoops I can’t remember.

One of them is a restaurateur.

One of them works for the City Planning department, and

One of them is in finance.

Right before I moved, this last, Charles, said he’d always contemplated leaving NYC. “Good for you for having the guts to try living in different places. Maybe one day I’ll try to live somewhere else. But I can’t help staying put.”

January 10th

Today I wanted to feel different and so I set off.

I had a work meeting during which I wanted to feel different. After the meeting I met with a friend. We sat in a coffeeshop and it was too loud so we moved to a fast food restaurant which was quieter.

Not a good friend. I mean, a good friend because he’s good and he’s a friend, but not someone I know well though maybe that will change. He wasn’t hungry; I ordered a chicken salad.

It came with a big bag of dressing but I could tell the chicken was already glazed with something sweet so I didn’t use the dressing.

We chatted about something I can’t talk about so what’s the point of me telling you now? I don’t know.

A man in a wheelchair said he had some advice for a man my age, and proceeded to tell me some stock to buy. “What are you, 26? You’ll be a millionaire by the time you’re 65.” I told him I was not 26, but 46. “Ok, maybe you won’t be a millionaire, but you should still buy the stock.” I was glad, as I always am, to be mistaken for someone younger than I am, but a little annoyed to no longer be a prospective millionaire. The man lingered. He wanted to talk. He wanted to know the relationship between my friend and me, without coming right out and asking. He lingered. “Do you two go to church together? You hang out a lot?”

“We’re old friends,” I said. He said “I’m sorry for bothering you,” and wheeled off.

My friend left to go sit in the carpool lane at his son’s school. I still wanted to feel different. I went to get a haircut at a place called Great Clips. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

In Brooklyn my go-to barbershop was the East West Happy Barbershop with 2 chairs and one barber, a Bengali man named Benu. He looked a lot like the actor Enrico Colantoni. I’d see him in the neighborhood and he’d wave at me. Sometimes I’d go to get my hair cut and he’d say “I saw you the other day, walking by.” Sometimes I’d walk by and wave at him.

He only charged $10.00 for a haircut and I gave him a $5.00 tip, every time. One thing about NY is, for me it was not so expensive. In many ways the cost of living in NY was less expensive for me than the cost of living in Durham and Raleigh, NC. It was a land of $10 haircuts and $1 pints of blueberries. In fact, one of the places I’d see Benu out and about was in the fruit market. I went to the fruit market almost every single day. I ate a ton of fruit.

Here in Raleigh I eat less fruit, because it costs more. Fewer blueberries, anyway.

I still wanted to feel different so I contemplated some things and some places and some people that could make me feel different, but I ended up going to the woods and walked to the lake and looked at the lake.

There were ripples in the sun, moving to the left. I could see them through a chain link fence which had a vine growing on it. So the vines were bisecting the chain link wires which were bisecting the ripples. Every line was being cut, or, was every line being connected? Connected or separated? I wasn’t sure and it put me in mind of the quote by Simone Weil: “Every separation is a link.”

I gave a talk on that quote once and I’d have to do some hard remembering to tell you what I said in my talk. It seems like a lifetime ago. But the gist of it is, if you feel far away from God, maybe your separation can be a link to God. For God himself was separated from God, in the person of Christ on the cross. Maybe separation from God is inextricable from knowing God — is in fact a means by which to know God. Maybe, in fact, separation from God is *the only* means by which we may know God. Not sure about that. But watching those ripples making their way through, behind, and across the chain link fence, I caught the merest hint of how I want to feel. A little joy-portal opened up somewhere, then slammed shut. But when it was open I remembered to thank God for the sun, which had turned a deep glowing orange, and was turning everything its same color.