I took my son to Red Robin for lunch recently. A former student once referred to places like these as “breeder feeders”. Fisher and I sat in a crowded dining room surrounded by families with babies, at least one crying. We heard the “Happy Birthday” song three times. A football game played on the television above our table. Fisher is of the age and inclination now to watch, which is why I sometimes feel I have lost him.
After a few failed attempts to maintain a conversation, I gave up. I watched people while he watched the game. “There are too many of us,” I said. He wasn’t listening.
There is a precarious balance of wolves to moose on the Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Too few wolves, and the moose population explodes and depletes the island resources. Too many wolves, and they eat up all the moose and then starve to death. After several years with too much prey and not enough predator, and in the name of balance, the National Park Service is reintroducing wolves to the island.
This was what I thought about on the third Red Robin round of Happy Birthday: We are too many moose. Un-hunted, we must be deliriously bored. How else can you explain such a strange way to spend time – squished into booths under the din of televised games, eating processed foods and singing like robots with our pockets full of lint and change?
We are all spending time. We have no choice. We are born, and the clock starts. No matter what we do or don’t do, think or don’t think, feel or don’t feel, the years pass. Minutes like pennies drop through the sewer grate until they are gone. I have a hard time conjuring romantic notions about Time. It's not a bad thing.
It is taking me longer to record this album than it did the previous two. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because new songs keep popping out. I have fallen out of love with the older ones and want to replace them, but that feels wasteful -- ungrateful, even. I have 15 songs right now, and more coming. Contemporary listeners don’t have that kind of attention span. We fast forward through 30-second YouTube videos. I don’t know what to do with the excess.
Maybe it’s because my pieces are scattered. Some get lost; and when they turn up again, I can’t remember how they fit or function. I’m an artist. I’m a mom. I’m a school psychologist. I keep getting the message to integrate these things, that integration is the point of it. I am a whole being, after all. There is a way. But how obvious or obscure that way is depends on the day and how well-rested I am.
Last May, with only a week left of the '18-19 school year, I ran out of pages in my work notebook. With so little time, I couldn’t justify buying a new one, so I plucked my lyric journal off the piano as I walked out the door. Until this new year started, I had student notes scribbled among the pages of my songs. I ripped those pages out a few weeks ago and put them in my new planner.
I bought this new planner as the latest (the annual) attempt to pull my shit together. It’s black and faux-leather-bound with an accordion file built into the front cover. I shove papers into the pockets willy-nilly. A co-worker teased me about it when I opened the cover and the mess spilled onto the table.
She asked, “Can you explain what you have going on there?”
I said, “I cannot,” and we both laughed while I tried to find all of my lost things.
Sometimes I think if I put a feather in my hair, I would make more sense to myself and others. The feather would serve as an advanced warning system. A warning of what, I’m not sure; but I think if I wore a feather in my hair, nothing I said or did would surprise anyone. “Oh, I see,” they would say. And that would be that before that was anything.
Anyway… Time spent. The un-hunted moose. I don’t know why I write songs, and I don’t know why I am making a record, except that I have time to spend (I’m not sure how much.), and I can't come up with a good reason not to. Songs come out in the minutes I sit at the piano or the guitar, and they don’t seem to hurt anybody. Is that a good enough reason to continue? It will have to be, because I am not driven by much else, says the tired moose with the head cold, gazing into her own feathered reflection rippling across the quiet creek.
I return to the studio Tuesday.