Gerbils in Our Wheels

So I wrote this post early this morning in a fit of unsleepyness at the end of a discouragingly long span of time since my last. And I figured that the middle of a "fulfilling requirements" class in between work and work was a fitting time to publish it.

Got sick of the marching band and lost my head I am the straw that broke the camel's back Sometimes you gotta let it all out

I see you talking but I don't hear words I'm just a gerbil in the wheel, caught

Sometimes you gotta let it all out

-Lovedrug

I finally got to see Lovedrug a while ago in the dingy basement of a record shop in Nashville. Michael Shepard and I spoke for brief moments next to their merch table (which he was manning) where I told him that he and his band inspired me and that he should keep fighting the good fight and that I would buy and have bought all of his cd's from eternity to eternity and all of that cliché nonsense that he has surely heard a hundred times before.

Phase 1: Inspiration Riding Triumphantly on her White Horse I watched and listened that night to songs I'd memorized as if they were new; I was inspired all over again. I wanted a James and a Thomas and a Jeremy to be equally as passionate about the things I am and to be pumped to play in a basement half full of 50 people who knew every word to our songs and to realize that's more special than an arena full of people who had just heard them on the radio before. I wrote and prayed and began looking for these people who could get excited with me about nerdy things like tone and music for the love of it and songs that were songs, not regurgitated formulas for a twisted commercial version of success (look at how hipster I sound right now).

Phase 2: The 100m Hurdles Nights like those are beautifully dangerous. They create a little bubble in the passing of time where you neither become tired nor regain awareness of the still-turning world outside of it until it pops. It lingers like remnants of a dream in the recesses of your chest so that you remember specific feelings rather than actual events that took place.

It takes a minute to readjust your mind's eye to reality. As it refocuses, people for a minute seem horrific like trees because they did not exist for the hour and half previously. Work reappears from the happy fog. The night air loses its shine and becomes humid and closes its gentle hands around your neck so slowly you can't feel it until it is too late and already choking you. You still have all of those papers to write.

However, the dream is still fresh in your muscle memory. It has embedded itself in that place where you won't and can't forget it, for it is all that tethers you to the moment that was suspended before you set out on your drive back to the desert of the real. But all of the sudden, upon arriving back home, the music will just have to wait until you turn in that portfolio and change that projector bulb and write those chord charts and collect that paycheck and run that mile a day in the spinning tire in your cage next to the water bowl and food bucket atop the bed of pencil shavings.

Phase 3: The Gerbil in the Wheel Months go by and you can't even so much as type words on the internet or scratch them out with a dying pen on paper. You can only hum other people's melodies. You never even pretended that yours were better or even good but they were yours. Stephen Crane captured the feeling perhaps better than anybody:

"In the desert I saw a creature, naked, bestial, Who, squatting upon the ground, Held his heart in his hands, And ate of it. I said, 'Is it good, friend?' It is bitter -- bitter,' he answered, But I like it Because it is bitter, And because it is my heart."

But eventually you can't even partake of it, for all of your running on the wheel. For all of your changing of projector bulbs and fetching coffee grounds and showing up at class not to learn but to be counted present and your checking your pockets for the words that used to flow through you but now dangle like the carrot in front of a donkey tied to a mill.

And all the while your legs, and your heart, pump furiously.

Phase 4: Dawn A thought occurs to you: the wheel only keeps spinning because you keep running.  Your schedule is full but you take a chance anyway and all of the sudden you get new music (still not your own, but it's a step) and new people with whom to play it. People playing who love to play and people listening who love to listen. Your cage still functions without your constant treading on the rungs of the wheel and plus, now that rhythmic squeak from the joint is gone. You realize there is more to be attained.

The wildest notion appears as well: you don't even need that wheel in your cage. You just ran on it because it was there and now you question that decision in the first place. Don't get caught up with jogging on the treadmill if you want to run a marathon. If you were created to color, don't be content with the 12-pack of crayons. Don't even be content when you get the 200-pack with 12 shades of purple and twin sharpeners in the back. Don't be happy just because you get a bigger wheel - for it is still a wheel.

Horribly overused by teenage girls on Tumblr but relevant nonetheless:

"If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." ~Vincent Van Gogh

We were created by a creative God to be creative, not complacent. Complacency is a slap in His face. You were given something that you love to do, so for the love of Him who gave it to you, do it. Don't write because you crave fame, write because unless you write you feel incomplete. The same goes for crunching numbers and hugging strangers and feeding orphans and smiling and teaching dogs how to jump rope.

If we focused half of our attention on the things we were created to do than we do on comparing ourselves to everybody and everything around us, think of what we could accomplish. Beauty cannot be found in magazines, it must be pursued. Beauty is felt, not seen, and anybody who tries to say anything else is sadly lost to a generation full of people trying to be something that they are not.

I have heard people who claim to love the same God I do tell me they are not good at anything because they can't draw pictures or play the piano or make a really really good milkshake like somebody else they've seen. They are envious not of possessions but of love. They have fallen into the trap that says unless people are listening they are not successful... even though the people they envy couldn't care less if people are listening or reading or tasting or not. We must stop treading our squeaky wheels in our cages and being content with it and we must start doing what we love because we love doing it, and we can feel the Almighty smile when we get it done. Play your guitar not so people can hear you, but because you must play it.

I can't help but think that God would feel closer to us if we'd quit running our individual acts of worship by people first.

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.

>Meanwhile, in Tornado Alley

>A moment stolen away from the world of critical analysis and rhetoric and close readings of texts and parsing out of complex ideas to breathe.

A feeble attempt to clear my mind turns out to yield only this incessant buzzing sensation behind my eyes, a byproduct of my overclocked brain and indulgent amounts of caffeine which keeps the shakes at bay. "I can't, I have stuff due tomorrow," a boy next to me says into his phone. I chuckle, he must be a freshman. Pretty soon that tomorrow turns to today and eventually he'll be sitting where I am saying "I can't, I have stuff due yesterday."

There is no trace of order here, in the tornado of Hamilton Barber's mind. No time for it.

It doesn't help that these big questions keep popping up here and there, through the tumultuous tossings of the sea underneath what's left of a rickety boat fashioned out of the remaining strands of my sanity. They don't have many words, as is characteristic of most important things, in fact, sometimes they come in the form of images. A man with a pipe holding a leather-bound book tinted slightly orange from the setting sun, his socked feet propped up on the railing in front of him, a slight breeze tousling his wafty hair, clumpy from having his weathered hands running through it while penciling in an answer on a crossword puzzle, looking down a valley to a building through a window to a frazzled college student scraping time out of the bottom of the filthy bucket he was handed. The question comes in the juxtaposition. The "how can these two exist at the same time, in the same world, with the same standards of living, with the same loves and the same texts and the same city?"

Interestingly enough, I think that the answer is also found in the same image. Well, perhaps answer is too strong a word. I'll say comfort instead. I can know that in a place where the frazzled college student claws his way to the end of another paper and digs his way to the end of another book and squeezes his way from appointment to appointment to obligation to obligation there is also a man on a hill with a book and a breeze and a palpable calm in his chest. I can know that in the midst of this tempest of things to do, somewhere the sun is shining and there is not a cloud in sight. Whatever problem you're facing isn't nearly as big as you think it is. It is not the whole world.

"In the chaos and confusion I know You're sovereign still," sing the lyrics to a fantastic song. I have things to do, yes. I have requirements, yes. I have deadlines, yes. But in the big picture? I'm still just a speck of a human on a speck of a planet in a speck of a galaxy in a speck of a solar system in a still expanding universe in the palm of an infinite God. Who am I to even think that my problems are the end of the world, no matter how catastrophic they seem at the time? If the things by which I am bounded (time) are controlled and even laughed at by my Father, what could I possibly gain from one second of worry? And just how small is my faith?

I swear, this blog is therapy.

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.

>I Would Call This "I Guess This Is Growing Up" But You Might Mistake It For Lyrics From A Blink-182 Song.

>So quickly we lose sight of things. It takes no time at all to lose everything you have worked for; it takes no time at all to forget the motivation which burned our hearts with passion what seems like years ago though may be mere minutes, hours, days. Goals turn into dreams, dreams turn into reaches, reaches turn into former flames, the ex-girlfriends of ideas (if you will). Passion falls by the wayside for "getting by."

Appeasing people replaces pleasing people.
Somebody sparking conversation over coffee turns into just something else to blog about.
I watched a video of a man speaking at a conference on how education saps creativity because we have been instilled from the time we could speak with an ingrained sense of hatred for failure, and what he said has begun a similar thought process for me. Learn math or you're a failure. Pass physics or you're a failure. Successfully read and comprehend King Lear by yourself for the final exam or you're a failure. Just about every moment, with the exception of a few breaks here and there, from the time we are 4 to the time we are 22 or 23 is spent chasing a very expensive piece of paper that has BS (read into it what you will) or BA on the top of it and puts us one step closer to getting a job at a desk with an impressive selection of neckties hanging in our closets and a weekly prescription to keep that stress-induced acid reflux at bay. A modern student of English will look at that previous sentence and note that it could be a run on, and not realize that I employ Middle English syntactical devices in my writing when I get on a roll because that's how our language was invented.
We spend all that time and money to become the people we swore as kids we would never become.
Picasso said "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." We take the pens out of the hands of kids when the ink on the paper becomes unintelligible and we arrest people drawing social statements in spray paint on abandoned buildings and we allow music to be degraded to literally the most embarrassing quality in the long history of the art and call it popular. Uniformity is not just encouraged but enforced with art school dress codes and religious dogma and this ridiculous necessity to have a pretty house with a nice table and sleek curtains and vacuumed rugs and a place for everything in our ever-expanding freezers. We even have the phrase "social norm." With this compulsion to be "normal," as it is, clearly, the ultimate aim for anybody wishing to fit into the society, we see the "abnormal" as a problem to be solved. A kid in class won't pay attention to the lecture presented to him and instead doodles on his desk, so we prescribe him Concerta rather than find him an art teacher.
I once had this overflow of ideas and words and expression... this music constantly dancing in my head and through my fingers and onto a page or a track or into the void of space, existing simply to exist... but it is dwindling. I now compile lyrics or make chord charts or request checks or pack up my boss's office when I could be locked in a reverberating room with a guitar and a notepad and a Bible to produce original music for an exponentially expanding church. I scroll past the 7 finished tracks out of 13 for a rather innovative concept album on my way to the music I listen to to focus myself to attempt to learn statistics. Meetings take precedent over motion and I find that the day is not long enough to get the things I need to do done, launching myself into an unflinching struggle to stay on top of things (which I have never been good at in the first place)...
All I can think of is how God created everything in its place for a reason. He gave birds a sense of awareness for the physical principals of drag when flying in a flock. He installed echolocation for bats and dolphins, alike. He created humans to think and to be creative and to exist in His image... which is an image of creativity. Look at your life and tell me that you are not squandering it.

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.