And At Once I Knew

***When I posted this, for some reason all of the html tags printed without opening and closing brackets and all of the text without apostrophes. So it looked like a mess. I have fixed most of it, but it was a weird problem that I've never had before, so if I missed anything I'd appreciate you letting me know so that I can fix it.***

I wanted to do something grandiose for my first contracted post not only of the year, but of, well, ever. Granted, it was something I imposed on myself and in no way has any kind of bearing on real life, but I still felt like it was kind of a big deal. So I've gone all week knowing that the deadline that I set in my last post was today. I sketched out the beginnings of some of those follow me as I try to figure something out posts and the I like to think about things like quantum physics even though I don't really understand it at all posts and the I want to make a list of the wonderful things of 2011 as we move into 2012 posts but none of it would flow.

I tried to force it. I wrote about forcing it. I tried to justify digging in the archives to find something worth reposting, but I felt guilty about that. I wrote about feeling guilty. I wrote part of my letter to men and hit a wall. Then I wrote about hitting walls. Then I came back to what I wrote about forcing it.

Of course, when I say I wrote about forcing it, I mean it came out like a bitter mix of poetry and yelling instructions at myself about how to escape writers block:

Just pound it out. Play until your fingers bleed, you need to change strings anyway. Play until the coating erodes and the callouses rip and one of you gives way to the other. It's like a drain that's stopped up, that's all. Play nonsense. Strum open chords. Pound that block away. Make it sound as dirty, nasty, offensive as you can. If music is what you're battling, write not music. Stomp every box and listen to the noisy, oscillating, overpowering signal hum amplified by the single coils and wait for the feedback. Turn it up. Make your ears hurt, make your speaker crack. Break something. De-tune as far as you can. Dogs had better be whimpering.

I seem to go back to music when things like this happen.

What you are seeing right now is a scarily accurate representation of how my thought processes unfold, which I find interesting, because I enjoy learning how other peoples thought processes go. I wanted to write about that.

I thought maybe an honest exploration of art and beauty, two things I think have lost meaning nowadays. But then I saw the trailer for The Artist that opened last year and realized that anything I had to say about art and beauty was fairly petty and irrelevant in comparison.

I wanted to make a list of things that I wanted to get done this year, but then I read about a man who threw 4,800 messages in a bottle into the ocean and got responses from most of them, and about this man who has taken a self-portrait every day for twelve years, through cancer treatments and paralysis, and all of the sudden my lists looked incredibly unimportant.

So I scrapped (or at least put on the back-burner) three or four pages worth of ink and hand cramps in favor of, apparently, these words telling you that I had plans to do something awesome and ended up doing some sort of meta-blog filled with things I could have written about. And then it hit me.

It hit at 12 o'clock last night, the night before the first day of my final semester of college, the night before the year that harbors touring opportunities and record label beginnings and graduation and promises of completed screenplays or short stories or poetry collections, on words embedded in a website that I just got done plastering my name across, just how much it isn't about me.

Justin Vernon sings in Bon Iver's song Holocene about vastness and sublimity. About the natural sort of sublime, akin to the interests of Wordsworth and Byron (whom you should know by now I adore, along with their contemporaries, more than any collection of literary period authors). The sort of thing David looked up at and asked, "who is this King of glory?" In the song, Vernon sings this line at the beginning of each chorus that doesn't punch you in the face, but rather settles quiet inside of the place that senses loneliness and houses doubt and interprets rhododendrons into the transcendent things Emerson saw them to be, and sits there until you can deal with it: "...and at once I knew I was not magnificent."

You have to hear it in the dark of a quiet room without people vying for your attention or pressing engagements looming over your head, because it is a thing of subtlety, as all beautiful things ought to be.

And once you hear it, you cannot un-hear it, but you wont remember until you're alone and listening only to what your brain has to say. You will realize that you tried all week to get something worth slapping your name on only to get frustrated and move on to wall-staring and coffee-drinking and creativity-avoiding because you can't shake that feeling that came all at once when you realized you were not magnificent.

This sort of realization isn't a bad one, I don't think, at least it isn't for me. I take comfort in the fact that it is not I who is magnificent, even though sometimes the self-worshipping part of me likes to try to convince me otherwise. I believe strongly in magnificence. I believe that it can be encountered and interacted with and marveled at and discussed and even argued against, though that doesn't make it any less real.

I even believe Magnificence has a Name to know.

Happy 2012, you guys. I'll see you here next week!


Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.

Bon Iver and the Revival

Almost exactly two years ago I was in Grant Park in Chicago with just under a hundred thousand other people finding myself quite a small, insignificant cell of an overwhelmingly complicated, breathing organism named Lollapalooza. I only pretended to know half of the bands that my fellow music loving Chicago travelers were so excited about seeing as we charted our days from stage to stage with highlighters, being sure to hit all of the acts we absolutely had to see or else the world would surely collapse, or something like that. It's like registering for classes."We'll have to leave Fleet Foxes early to catch the beginning of Coheed" or "Would you be ok with seeing only half of Animal Collective? of Montreal is at the Vitamin Water stage and I hear their finale is awesome" or "No, Hamilton. We cannot miss Snoop." And so on.

For those unfamiliar, a brief description of Lolla. There are somewhere around eight stages spread throughout Grant Park, between 50 and 100 bands, six headliners, three days, and the palpable promise of unexpected, out of place revival.

The resonance in your stomach as Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra cries "Oh God, I need it, for I was wrong again. Take me to the River and make me clean again. Oh my God, make me clean again, and oh my God let me see again"

The purple clouds painted behind a skyscraper skyline silhouetted by a massive, orange-glowing orb that no longer hurts your eyes to watch skirt impossibly far down until it disappears as the backdrop to Ben Harperplaying slide guitar in the city that has its own kind of blues.

The spark of this brief reminiscence: Friday was miserably cold. The rain started promptly at noon and let up just before the headliners took the stage that night, leaving the ground muddy and trampled by both feet and gaping, gathering puddles of filthy water. There was a grave-chilly breeze sweeping like the unwelcome arms of the angel of death off of Lake Michigan that all but stole the heart from inside of us. But the crowd packed like slimy sardines in front of the stages and sang anyway.

We were at the Playstation Stage, because that is where the crowd had swept us. It was off track from where we wanted to be, but outside the throb of people was where cold dwelt, and in there at least we didn't shiver. On the stage there were little stagehands like scampering minions ensuring all of the equipment was good to go before the band began playing. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver walked out first, humbly, barefooted. He carried a guitar in his right hand and a stool in his left and sat before the microphone and in a tone that brought warmth to all who heard it said "Thank you guys for standing out there in the rain. We are Bon Iver and we'd like to play some songs for you."

What happened then was one of those things that exists beyond coincidence. Justin sang the opening melody line to Woods (love this version) and the rain slowed to a drizzle for a moment before stopping completely. You could watch the crowd's heads look up momentarily and smile before watching the rest of the band members walk up to their mics and add in the looped, sweeping, haunting, awe-striking harmonies that gives the band its soul-aching sound. The crowd echoed back at Justin's beckoning, "what might have been lost" at the end of The Wolves (Act 1 and II) (around 2:36), but besides that, they were captivated in uncharacteristic silence and drenched not in water anymore, but in magnificent, melodious, devastatingly beautiful sound.


I begin this short section with what could be a step in an Aristotelian Logic proof when it is actually a proof in itself:

God = Love

Love has been horribly mistreated lately, mostly because it has been portrayed as something that exists in its strongest form between two people, or between somebody and God, or between somebody and anything at all . Mostly I submit that it has been mistreated because we have inserted ourselves into it, profaning perfection. How can we, with straight faces and hearts that do not break from the heaviness of the defacing of something beautiful, even say that we are worthy of Love? How did we arrive at the conclusion that Love is sex or feelings or friends or any exclusive category to which we can assign it? Why do we not teach "God is Love" as it should be taught: that being without God is being without Love? If He was telling the truth (as I'm fairly sure he was) when He called Himself Love and the ultimate reason that we are here in the first place is to find God, delight in Him and bring Him joy, how can we flippantly toss "I love you" around anymore?

How did we forget that "I love you" means "Together we are touching this thing that is much bigger than we are, and we should delight in that, because it is so much more important in delighting solely in each other?"

When Love lights on the shoulder of a human being, it is more beautiful than words or music could describe, but it has an effect, I assume, similar to the tranquil transcendency of Bon Iver during that break in the rain. Connecting with Love is connecting with God Himself, so the only way you can find it is by looking for Him. You can burn your dating manuals and Cosmo relationship advice, because anything we conjure - even what we call love itself - to try to mimic the existence of God will ultimately disappoint. You will find yourself in a world that has what it calls a love crisis when it's not a love crisis at all. It's simply what happens to our substitutes for God when we hold them up to the light.

Where you can find it I needn't address this, because the answer isn't limited by your search terms. Perhaps God will stop a rainstorm and sweep you up in sound to say "Hey, remember that I invented this, so connect with me." Maybe you'll see a stranger walking out of McDonald's with coffee and biscuits for a man with spiders nesting in his dreadlocks and God will remind you what acting in Love (in Him) is. You'll find it in everyday things that are beautiful in ways that are bigger than your tasks or debts or deadlines or your broken heart. Pretty soon you'll see God as the constant on the graph and we are the erratic heartbeat, only occasionally blipping high enough to see Him.

Edit: I urge you not to take this as a piece of new-age nonsense or a defense of the increasingly common and frustrating idea that finding out who God is is sufficient. I laid awake last night with this (perhaps) irrational fear that I could be construed for making a case for Universalism or that we can make a connection with God without going through Jesus first. If I come across that way, I assure you it is not my intention. Honestly, I was simply trying to offer encouragement to those who have been where I have or who have been plagued by seasons of doubt or questioning or borderline disbelief. We are so easily caught up in things of man and so quickly drawn into the political or philosophical realms that have been created around God that we forget to see God for who He truly is.

I just wanted to say that perhaps it'll take you packing close to hippies and headbangers listening to a band who doesn't know they're singing about God to realize that finding Him is less of a task than we make it out to be.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.