On Wonder, The Muse, and God.

When I was a child, I was paralyzingly terrified of sailboats. As well as I can remember through my own recollection and talking with my parents about it, it began one night when my family was staying at my great-grandmother's house, which is spooky in all of the glorious ways old, low-ceilinged houses should be: cases full of glassy-eyed, staring dolls, antiquated beams which creak under even the weight of thought, and what I remember to be an immense, looming, full-masted sailboat atop the dresser in the room I slept in. I don't remember the boat except for in the one mental snapshot I possess, so I cannot tell you if it was equally as scary in the daytime, or if I had even seen it before my sole memory of it. I may have been carried to bed by my dad after falling asleep on a couch, but I really can't remember.

But what I recall clearly: waking in the dead of night with the glow of a little yellow light illuminating the aging sails and the brown hull and spider's-web of twine representing ropes from afar, so that a thrice-as-large shadow was projected onto the wall behind it. It loomed enormous, starkly real against the dark void of the room, and I think that this is what terrified me the most. It was unusually tangible, as opposed to most things which after waking are vaguely foggy, as though clouded by barely-remembered dreams.

In all honesty, the thing probably wasn't all that big or fancy, it just struck my small brain as something truly big, and not big like jets or mountain ranges, but rather something unspeakable. Something of the Sublime: great beyond calculation or fathomability. The Big of nightmares, oppressing not just a volume of physical space but more a measure of your soul.

But despite all my attempts to remain terrified of them, I began learning (though I did not know it at the time) that wonder, marvel, and the kind of fear these boats inspired in me were merely knots on the same strand, and it turned to fascination.

I began collecting models of them, as much as a ten-year-old with nothing but an allowance can collect something that requires money to amass. The fear that once nested in my ribcage and made my chest feel hollow was replaced with wonder, and it was no less potent. When I think about it, that is what I collected, more than boats. I had harnessed a source of sublime fear and turned it into wonder.

When I grew older, I encountered the British Romantics and realized that they shared the same wonder, and had all sorts of lovely ways of trying to express it. Wordsworth described a craggy mountaintop lit by splitting lightening above a still lake atop which he floated in a stolen boat. Percy Shelley dedicated hymns to "The awful shadow of some unseen Power." Lord Byron describes a vacant Coliseum so vast, so desolate, with such a history of violence yet where his steps seemed "echoes strangely loud." John Keats called it the Nightingale, because of its mysterious, elusive nature juxtaposed with its infinitely enchanting song. Mary Shelley created a veritable monster out of the stuff, which her character Victor Frankenstein, even after laboring over every inch of him, describes his encounter with it: "I had desired it [the animation of his creature] with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart."

You can hear it in the music of Sigur Rós, who sing sometimes in Icelandic, sometimes in nonsense, just because there is something that needs to be expressed but is bigger than mere words can handle. You can feel it in Hemmingway's "Hills like White Elephants" because to speak it would be to profane it.

The ancient Greeks called it the "Muse", The Romantics the "Nightingale." It is inspiration, and it is unbounded by human logic, unexplainable by empirical sciences, and untamable by any words or music or poetry that we could invent. It's wonder, sublimity, and breathless fascination that can present itself as crippling terror or as stillness after rain, and is the proper reaction to the things of God.

Yet still we think we can somehow grasp Him. We beg for the Truth, when in reality I cannot help but feel that Truth, all of it at the same time, would drown us in its crashing power. We talk to God, the designer of wonder and splendor, the operator both of joy that makes us light enough to fly and the kind of sublime terror that rots our insides, like He owes us an explanation. Cody Banette sings in the As Cities Burn song "Clouds": "I think that God isn't God if He fits inside our heads."

God Himself listened to 38 chapters of people bickering, reasoning, and trying to put words into His mouth before coming out of a whirlwind (!!) and speaking:

"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements - surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

What is man to do with this? In the words of my friend Ariel Parsons... what even? We react to these unknowable Grand things in whatever ways we can conjure: - With radical skepticism - saying that if we can't understand it and explain it and because human rationality eventually circles back on itself, we can know nothing at all. Perhaps there is nothing at all. - With microscopic probings - thinking that if we can perhaps understand the very small, can we possibly work our way up to the very big (although we do not even understand these very small mini-universes that make up the material of our bodies by the trillion). - With art - perhaps even forsaking the search for answers to the questions and instead trying to merely understand the spirit that makes us feel the Grand crevasses in our chests.

I am positive that the only reaction to an encounter with God - with all of the Truth and all of the Joy and all of the inescapable, sublime Terror - is as Isaiah responds in chapter six of his book. Next to the Source of such grandeur, man can only feel trapped on a boat without a mast in the sweltering heat of Horse Latitudes, unless, of course, he is provided with a Path. Unless he is given sails and a strong wind to push him home.

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.

>Nightingales

>I pause in the middle of writing a critical essay on a Joyce Carol Oates short story to take a momentary return to something not school related. When I say "in the middle of writing" I mean I've been sitting here trying to write it and have been highly unsuccessful and am therefore going out to get coffee after this. And Krystals.

I wanted to write about some of the big things that have recently been going on. Things with echoes farther reaching than I can fathom. God things that I love. Funk things that I hate. But I couldn't really do it quite yet, because it's all still so new and so in the moment and so over my head and overwhelming that I haven't processed it enough to make it coherent to anybody except for me. And the moment you start understanding me in my moments of babbling incoherency you should get yourself checked out, because you have surely been drug into the grips of insanity.

Speaking of insanity, I now have 4 (well, 3 and a half) songs written for the project I hinted at like 4 months ago. My projects seem to last a really really long time.

It's tricky, their layering, because they are poetry disguised as music. They are music disguised as poetry. It's poetry in the Romantic sense of it, for it is grasping at something sublime which I, myself am unable to express.

That being said, the video posted below is the song beginning the project. It's just me and an acoustic guitar, which means that there is so much more to come in the final recording that this is really just a preview. The finished product may bear only slight resemblances to the skeleton laid out, but it is a skeleton indeed. And you, dear internet, are my poor man's publisher, editor and most apt critic.

The song is called Nightingales. It deals this concept of a God struggle, the "fear and trembling" Paul talked about in Philippians. Even if none of this ever takes off the ground, it is at least therapeutic for me and about the only way I know how to say it. Words aren't enough. Music isn't enough. Together they really aren't enough either, but I don't really know how to do anything else.

So bear with me through the roughness and perhaps it will be polished come the end.

Nightingales 

Rest for the weary, burdened, and alone
Open arms awaiting your return.
If only you’d return

Rising together, we guillotined the king,
Erased the promulgation that destroyed who we have been.
Now we’ll be who we have been.

Our freedom: inspiration, (though) from our outstretched, broken arms
Bereaved by the deceased who made his home among the stars.
But Your eyes were in the stars

We’re nightingales in daylight, we’re sheep in wolven skin
And still we wait in hiding to draw the hunters in.

I fell inside, I felt alive, I fell in love all over again
I felt this side of feeling alive and I fell in love all over again
My inhibition fell aside and I fell in love all over again
I fell inside, I felt alive, I fell in love…

But the shadows creeping down the hall,
My purloined bravery’s defeat,
The way I saw them climb the walls
Forced me to retreat

Face down, under cover, where I’ve seen this all before
The monsters stretch their claws from within our wretched souls

*Edit: Youtube was being extraordinarily difficult to deal with, so click here to see the same video, just in a different location.

*double Edit (I never do this): I recently posted a slightly more produced version here

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.

>The Road

>The only lamplight at the end of the street

Filters green as the cadence of dream.
And a boy and a girl,
As he smokes and she twirls
Cast shadows that dance in the heat.
There's a moon in the sky that encircles the night
Though it's shy behind clouds filled with rain.
And somewhere the noise
Of the girl and her boy
As they laugh becomes echoes again.
And the woman in her doorway with a peppermint glow
Stands, shaking, and looks at the road.
In a window a flicker, a silhouette bigger
Than the figurines watching the screen.
His arm wrapped around her
His steady heart pounding
With her cheek on his chest, sound asleep.
Somewhere away and across the lane
A jazz singer's timbre sustains
And it cuts through the thickness
And causes homesickness
And transcends the words wrought in vain
But its waning mundanity
And subtle profanity
Is all He can hear or explain.
So he sits without words in the light that is thrown
From a van carrying weary men home
And the woman in the doorway with the peppermint glow
Embraces her man in the road.

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.

>Existential Quandaries

>

I really apologize to my core audience right now, because this page has been terribly empty for the past couple of weeks. It seems that every time I sit down to try to write something, there is some unforeseen obstacle waiting for me to get the hint of productivity before hijacking my thought process. Most of the time it comes in the form of realization that I need to write some paper I completely forgot about in the jumble of nonsense that is flooding my life, and other times it comes in the form of a wave of paralysis that creeps from my toes to my eyes and covers my brain with this blanket of inescapable and crippling exhaustion. I tell myself that when all of this school stuff is finally finished and I can do things like sleep or sit down again, everything will get back to normal and I'll become reacquainted with the Muse once again.

Until then, I suppose I'll just share this one thing that perhaps somebody out there is battling as well. Matt and I were talking the other day on the way to band practice about this matter of Existential Quandaries and struggling with the notion of all of the "rest of our lives" crap. It was one of those moments of epiphany, whether for good or bad, and got me thinking about just how superficial and petty most of the problems we are faced with are. I look at the people around me in college, being JUNIORS and SENIORS who still talk about how they can't wait to "party, bro" and the people desperate for any sort of income acquiring a job that is perfectly fine but perhaps full of customers that are, as they put it, "unbearable," and they quit without having any sort of backup plan, and I wonder just what they're trying to prove. Trust me, I'm the last person to defend the Capitalist system or to say that we've got it right over here, but I do recognize that in order to survive, there are a number of hoops that you just absolutely have to jump through, and if you don't like it, nobody is keeping you here. 

So, I went up to my room and for a brief moment heard the whisper of that elusive Muse and sort of returned to my poetry roots for a minute. You can read if you want :)

Existential Quandaries

There is this breeze, they tell me.

They say it moves the trees

And even if I find it,

I'm not the God it heeds.

Mine's not the soul it feeds.

They tell me this is calming:

The swaying, leafy blades,

And nature has no quandaries

Yet garners acolades.

It brushes arms with fate

And doesn't look away.

They say it comes as whispers

And illuminates the night

As little lamps in children's

Cribs - rocking, creaking, slight,

Instilling what is right.

They say it bases reason

On what the Breather sighed.

That plans are executed

With ease beyond our minds

And we but seek to question

His perfect, flawless time. 

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.

>Prose is for Pansies. Or, My Political Views

>listen to the voices
as they lie into your ears
with the soft facade of peaceful sleep,
abating lucid fears

listen to the cadence
of ten thousand pulsing fists
with the liars mixed amongst the sane
and saints with masochists

listen to the rise and swell
of thoughts inside your head
while they toe the line of manic / fixed
hating you instead

listen to the space around
what's left of what was yours
with the shiny words that glimmer from
their numbing, dulling swords

listen to the whisperings
of formless, talking heads
implanting what you think and feel,
not feeling it, instead

I don't know. Maybe I was just bored haha

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.