Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Morning inspiration, in the form of a revisit with singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn.

The migratory life finds me between projects right now -- the semester is over, the new book is out being read, other writings in progress but not pressing (yet), and we leave on our two-week winter road trip from Colorado to the UP of Michigan in a few days. So I can afford to carve some slabs of relaxation and savoring of the home space. Sarah and the kids are still in school, so after they head out for their days, I start mine with a slice of peace: A soak in the the hot tub. (You can read the story behind our backyard hot tub here.)

This is a guilty pleasure, this 8 a.m. hot-tubbing thing. And I felt guilty. Which I think is kind of sad -- that we have such an over-worked work-ethic that carving spaces of appreciation and quiet and relaxation and good, healthy, inefficient indolence are tainted with the constant subconscious keening, saying "You could, you should, be doing something useful ... " But I fought bravely, and climbed into the steaming pot.

Heavy, chill air, and a heavy, low, dense cloudmass overhead. Snow forecast, and this is how it starts here in the southern Rockies: A landmass of cloudbank slides over the valley, the air thickens, a smell of warm air wafts in ... And soon flurries fall. I can feel it coming as I sink to my neck into hot water, cup of hot coffee at hand and a radio next to me. The radio is tuned to XM. XM's channel 133, to be exact -- called XMPR, satellite radio's version of public radio -- for its "Bob Edwards Show." (NPR made a grievous error, and XM a major score, when the network pushed out Bob Edwards and he moved to the up-and-coming satellite radio service.) And there, soaking in the morning, sipping coffee, checking out the slow-arriving change-in-weather, I became reacquainted with an old hero who had slipped off my radar screen.

I fell into -- much like falling in love -- with Bruce Cockburn back in the mid-80s, about the same time I began falling into my own writing career (this more like falling down a flight of stairs). I was immediately hooked and soon mesmerized by Bruce's combination of virtuoso folk/rock acoustic and electric guitar work, and thoughtful, lyrical song writing. And his music was always growing, changing -- exploring -- yet never failing to make me both think and feel. True sorcery: the ability to move another person's awareness to new territory. That ability to weave both conception and perception, idea and sensibility, taught me the power of that path of art, and it became a compass bearing for my own work.

And isn't that what heroes are? Those who offer compass bearing for our own intentions and endeavors, because of their style, their sensibilities, their choices, their attitudes?

Bruce was a hero for me because his music was so celebratory, of life, of spirit, of experience. And also because fought, his music alighting upon -- and setting fire to -- issues ranging from American policies in Central America, to the destruction of the rainforest, to the religious right, to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. And he's my hero because, when quizzed on this so-called "issue hopping" (sound familiar?), he perhaps said it best: I write about one thing: love. And I love many things. And that which you love you also want to defend. So all those things show up in my music. (No quote marks there -- I pull that phrasing from memory -- but still his response never left me.)

That said it best. And said what I needed to hear. Because that's what I've since aspired to be as a writer, and as a liver -- one whose truest art is just day-to-day living: to abandon to loving things, things that really matter; and to be willing to engage with the world and fight for those things. And, from there ... well, no plan beyond seeing what that loving and fighting brings. And no aspirations -- oh, schemes and visions, for sure, but nothing really needed -- beyond the doing of each day. And to appreciate and share with and learn from those doing that same kind of living -- heroes, both well-known like Bruce Cockburn, as well as those encountered in my personal world, those who love and fight, in their normal, small, every-day ways.

Those, in my book, are the real heroes.

Thanks for the reminder, Bruce. This soak's for you.