I came to know Wendell Berry at the wrong time in my life. My husband and I, with three children in tow, had just barely ... Read More
My son is in bed sleeping peacefully, finally. After several days of him being lethargic and downright cranky with a cold, I did a fatherly thing and took him to the doctor’s office this morning, whereupon the boy was diagnosed with a pair of ear infections. “Oh, so THAT’s the problem!”, both parents cluelessly exclaimed. Antibiotics underway, he is sleeping quietly, the first in quite a few nights. Parents are tired, but still awake.
Danielle is sitting at the dining room table – currently a makeshift sewing workspace – and is making a few burp cloths, baby blankets and a hooter-hider (for the discreet nursing mother) for a friend’s baby shower tomorrow.
She usually puts things off until the last minute. Tonight is no exception. The woman procrastinates like no one else I know. No one, that is, except for me. There are a couple of lights on in the house, the wood floor under her work area is a tangled mess of discarded fabric scraps, thread remnants and snippets of rick-rack, and she, occasionally singing along with her iPod, has no idea I’m writing about her now. I like that degree of obliviousness. I like that she knows how to sew. I appreciate the massive skill she possesses in this arena. Not many people know this about her. She’s really good at it, and if asked, will downplay her skill each and every time, and will also be quick to point out her various works’ minute flaws rather than the solid fact that she took sundry pieces of fabric and material and sewed them together to create something unique and handmade whereas there was nothing but remnants before. She will always overlook the finished product for the immaterial flaws which no other eye will notice but her own. She, like me, is a perfectionist. It drives me bonkers, both hers and mine. She makes people out of strangers, and keeps ragged stitches from ripping.
I have been working on a new song for the past 3 days. I’ve had the chorus stuck in my head ever since its melody first entered my brain; usually a good sign. I am taking a break from it now in hopes that writing something else, something about this moment, here and now, will wend its way into the verses of the song on which I’m working. I’ve played this particular chorus over and over, ad nauseum, throughout the house walking around the place with 12-string guitar in hand, humming it and outright singing it aloud at times. My wife has led on that she’s pretty well ready to hear something else. Although she did admit to me earlier today that this same chorus has been stuck in her head too. Ah, a doubly good sign.
I wrote a sweet little song about my wife 10 years ago that, in the end, turned out to be a cajun-zydeco, redneck two-step. I’ve been thinking about this the past few nights I’ve played that song at shows, and realized that I haven’t written her a “love” song really since then. Hence, the new song. I remember how easy that earlier song came to be; in a frenzy of pen to paper (ah, the good old days), a stream of consciousness. I rummage to find things to say now, not because I am without things to say (well, barely), but how much more vital choosing the right words is to me nowadays, and how words carry a greater weight than they did 10 years ago. I am struggling to say something new, something that has maybe been forgotten, something hidden deep in the veins of the cloistered self. To uncover and say something that is neither neurologically inept nor saccharine sweet; that is the work I find myself embroiled in. I find that harder to do these days because I feel like I’ve used so many words, almost as if I’ve used up my vocabulary. Plus, I hate repeating myself. I have always been a person of few words, never really knowing what was too much or too little to say. Silence always seemed the wiser choice.
But silence can get you into trouble too. It is quite a common occurrence, whenever I offer my thoughts to a group of people (this happened just the other day in a meeting of fellow singer-songwriters), that I manage to hear myself saying who-knows-what and then realize that what I said was ridiculously idiotic and made no substantial sense, nor offered anything new to the conversation. The group passed over the thought as if it were never uttered. Probably a good thing. I am painfully self-aware and have the confidence of a snail. It is in moments like those that I, already a man of few words, feel I say too much.
Beauty in this world is not always an easy quality for me to see. I often have to make myself look for it, it seems, the older (and crankier?) I get. How many times have I found myself cursing the ground I walk upon, cursing the fuel companies for nearly $4 for a gallon of gas, cursing people, cursing the skies when they rain too much or too little, cursing the words I choose or choose not to say. It takes work to train the eyes to see what may not be readily visible or what may be lurking beneath the surface of things. After all, the spiritual world is supposedly paralleling our own, just out of sight of our own narrow field of vision and our own comings and goings.
Here, I consider my wife’s sewing skill, and how she must first wash the various pieces of fabric she will eventually sew together because, if not, they will tear apart upon first washing of the finished work. It is an age-old truth. New wine into old wineskins. New life into old lives. New sight into old eyes. Saying nothing of threadbare souls, fat men and the eyes of needles, button-holes or Singer sewing machines, thank God for wordlessness, for stitches, and a seamstress to create something out of nothing.
Eric Peters, affectionately called "Pappy" by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He's a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he's not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he's touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.