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

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.

BioShock and Harry Potter in the Same Breath

Since apparently I've been on this "how is it you can't see what I see" kick, we'll keep going with it. It is disgusting how much of a sucker I am for good writing. When I read or see or hear something that just drips with lexical fluidity or a fresh voice or an appropriately complex story made to sound as simple as a front-porch fish tale, there's a small nerve inside my heart that gets caressed and rubbed back to life. People are unknowingly drawn to these sources of deep emotional warmth without realizing why, and can easily pick "good" writing out from "bad" simply because something makes it stand out from the abyss of modern culture.

There's a touch of something Real to it.

Obligatory Header Number One: Contrasting Examples In my line of thinking, good writing (and good guitar tone... but that's a different story altogether haha) reflects God, whether it means to or not. I drafted something like twenty sentences before settling on that one, because I figured there had to be a more eloquent way to put it... but I don't know that there is, and I think that the point of this post is to explain why.

I recently read the entire Harry Potter series over the course of like two months, and it only took me that long because I had a thousand other things that I should have been doing. Also because I drug out the last few chapters simply because I didn't want it to end (a technique I learned from my Grandmother). Because I'm a man, I don't cry at stupid things like dumb books </burly voice> but if I did, it wouldn't be because of any particular character that JK Rowling crafted or any exotic location she dreamed up, it would be because of the grace she employed in using "ordinary" circumstances to tackle heavy subject matter. It was the ease with which she dipped you into her imagination and the clarity that drenched her language. It was the fact that I disliked Harry's character, which I think was deliberate on her part, but found myself still rooting for his cause and touched by the loyalty of his friends despite their disapproval of his methods because they rooted for the same cause. It was the way that she had the entire series planned before publishing the first book.

It was the way that she demonstrated excellence at her craft.

For the complete opposite side of the coin and the source I will use as my second example, I recently played through, for the first time, the game BioShock. I started it out of curiosity because I had read a review online and I could get it straight from the Mac App store. What I found was a terrifying vision of a very possible future completely consumed with image-making, genetic alteration, and obsession with physical perfection. Where aesthetic is god. And this story captivated me.

Because my readers are less likely to be familiar with this than with Harry Potter, I'll side-chain briefly to give you the lowdown on what this game is about and why it is interesting. Hang on, because it gets kind of sci-fi. Years and years ago, Andrew Ryan, the embodiment of Ayn Rand's idealistic philosophy called Objectivism, built a city at the bottom of the sea where creation and self-perfection could be uninhibited by moral and social boundaries. He harvested stem cells from sea slugs that could be used to genetically modify specific parts of whoever ingested them. People gained the ability to produce electricity, fire, ice, etc. from their hands. They developed telekinesis. They thickened their skin, sped up their legs, strengthened their minds. But, like the businessman that he was, Ryan, completely controlled the supply of these gene "drugs". The rich could afford them and the poor became junkies for the stuff and like that a class war was waged. The city fell to the overwhelming amount of people fiening for more, called "splicers", and, in the alternate, dystopian, steampunked history of 1960, the story of BioShock begins.

Unbeknownst to the majority of those who play it, it is a story drenched in the terror of a Godless society. The imagery is abundant: the genetic modifiers are called Adam. The tonic you need to use more of the Adam is Eve. The city is appropriately called Rapture, and the welcome banner to the fallen Rapture reads: "No gods or kings, only men". The consequences are clear and the horror is palatable.

How Gamers and Nerds Got it (Partially) Right

Both of these stories, completely opposite of each other, can be used to illustrate what I'm talking about. I think about the intricacies of these creations, neither of which was written by people who claim to know the same Savior that I do, and, without meaning to, they both demonstrate qualities reminiscent of my God. Rowling and Ken Levine accomplished something most Christians pathetically overlook - excellence and intricacy. By pouring themselves into their creations, the final results were beautiful. By laboring over minute details which are simply packed into the Potter series, Rowling accomplished a masterpiece. By telling "simple" stories soaked to their roots with passion, they related the mundane to the supernatural. The story of persisting for good in the face of unspeakable (literally... they couldn't say his name) evil and the futility of playing God were told with fresh voices and beauty.

I am not going to turn this into another criticism of "God-culture" because 1) with the exception of a few areas, the content being produced has improved dramatically and 2) we are not here to create culture. What I am going to do is claim "popular culture" as yet another place we can see shadows of the face of God.

Go to the art museum downtown and get lost inside the level of achievement by the most diverse collection of men and women possible and tell me that you aren't overwhelmed with the presence of the Creator who gave those artists their brushes. Read Keats' Great Odes and simply try not to realize that when he is talking about the Spirit of Poetry (or the Nightingale or The Grecian Urn -- "Beauty is Truth"), he's getting at the very nature of God, and then feel sad that he never realized it himself. Surround yourself with city hippies and bands who just love playing music and tell me that the constant amid all of the chaos isn't the Source of music itself.

What I am going to do is claim that you don't have to be in a "Christian" environment to praise Christ. What I am saying is quit trying so hard to act like a Christian and instead act like someone grateful for an infinite gift they have been given.

While there is one very specific, narrow way to actually get to God, what I am saying is that today's age of agnosticism is unfounded, needlessly stubborn, and perpetuated by the blind. Unfortunately, I think that the same thing can be said about today's obsession with mediocrity.

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.

>Pfffft Goes the Weasel

>I have been given this curse of desperation to create, and sometimes I think it drives me crazy.

I want to craft the perfect album or tweak the perfect tone or word a perfect sentence or speak with perfect fluency or think with perfect clarity and when I can't, the river dams up. If you can't get one, the spring says, you can't get any. Catch a fish or they all swim away.

We were created creative beings, for we are like Him who created us. But this is a frustrated, downtrodden creative being. I'll toss blame to one side or the other, blaming school or work simply because they're there and they take up all of my time. The funny thing about creativity is that it exists outside of time and the excuse about being busy is a cop-out. You don't pencil in time on your schedule to be creative, knowing that if that lunch date comes along that bout with creativity will be bumped to next Monday. No, instead that little handle turns and you listen to the music and when it springs with a small hint of laughter and surprise you are caught off guard no matter what task is at hand. You can't help but react.

I think my box is defective, because I've been doing all the right things. I've cleared the table, dimmed the lights, focused all of my attention on the box in front of me, and I've been turning the arm now for endless cycles of "pop goes the weasel" waiting for the jack to make his surprising exit. But this monkey keeps chasing that stupid weasel around the bush and every time I stop to pull up my sock, the weasel is nowhere to be found.

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.

>How Does One Classify This?

>It blows my mind how drained I get during the school year. I have lost that spark of creativity, although I can feel it peeking out from around the corner, waiting for the smoke to clear from the decimation of my brain by papers, exams, drama, and stagnancy. I don't believe that it has completely gone away, but rather that it simply can't stand all the nonsense it has to put up with throughout all of the formulaic essays and encroaching deadlines that are (unfortunately) synonymous with life. I can feel my knowledge growing and my wisdom expanding and my general thirst for enlightenment becoming more and more unquenchable each day but I have noticed a simultaneous decline in outlets for it. I funnel all of the erudite energy into four papers due within a week of each other and I find it completely sapped. I understand why Thoreau had to disappear into a cabin that he "built with is own hands" to create his musings at Walden, why Kant found excuse to shut himself in his room for weeks at a time as an excuse for his physical deformities, why Poe resorted to maddening fits of drug-induced hysteria to draft some semblance of a cohesive story or poem or whatever he was writing.

On the upside, I had a series of conversations over the past week over vats of coffee and abundant shivering in the recently onset cold of Chattanooga that gave me hope for the reinstatement of the drive I had not three months ago for this album in production. I also am in talks with the roommate for creating in the first week or so of Christmas break the perfect work environment for writing the most epic masterpiece of our century, filled with sticky notes and devoid of personal hygiene, regular sleep patterns, and inhibitions of creativity. Perhaps I'll journal through that experience and share it, but for the most part I feel kinda bad about leaving you guys in the dark as of late, but I shall validate it in my mind with the assurance that you are all as busy as I am.

And I am open to suggestions about new formats for this thing, instead of a clump of words. Should I express these things in iambic pentameter to allow for ease of reading and comprehension? Haiku? Sonnet? Should I record audio versions and speak them over a background of soothing harpsichord melodies? Should I take up photography?

Should I become the leader of the Free World?

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.