Going Solo

Being alone feels revolutionary. I’m not talking about working in my office alone, or taking a walk alone, or even waking up weird and angry and spending the day at the beach alone, which is what I did on my birthday last year.

Full-metal solitude is the goal, the sort of solitude that obliges a brain to power down and allows everything else, parts that are silenced by a brain’s yammering about details and duties and deadlines, to power up. I want to turn myself on. It’s actually more complicated than that. I want to find out if I have an on switch, because I don’t remember the last time I looked and lately I’ve been wondering if mine is missing. Maybe I traded it for a comfortable life and three healthy kids. More likely I just haven’t been paying attention.

Everyone has a different idea about where they’ll have a good shot at finding themselves or being themselves or locating misplaced parts of themselves. For me that place is the desert, and I’m not sure why. I have pleasant-enough memories of Palm Springs swimming pools and concerts in Indio and an 11th-grade camping trip to the school headmaster’s plot of land in the Mojave, where we built a geodesic dome and my friend Chris wore my sister Nancy’s dress for a solid week. But I recall no defining or transformational experiences. I think I’m attracted to the desert for the same reasons I’m attracted to certain people. It’s open and striking and really dry. There’s nothing lush or indulgent about the desert. I’m pretty sure a lot of people would rather retreat to a mountain cabin or a beach house, but I find the blunt terrain of rock and thorn exquisitely moving. It’s unornamented and saturated with a sense of portent and possibility.

Wanderers who traverse developing countries on a diet of goat jerky and rainwater can smirk, but a week on my own in Joshua Tree rates as a tour de force adventure – not by virtue of any physical exertion or cultural opportunities, but because I’m here to work and the nature of my work is a mystery. So. What do we do when we don’t know what we’re doing? We surround ourselves with useful things, or rather the things we imagine will be useful, ranging from the utterly utilitarian to the wildly hopeful. New guitar strings. The style of notebook Oscar Wilde, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Henri Matisse used. Healthy food. A lot of wine. The GigBaby! iPhone app with metronome, four-track recorder, and drum machine. A few such items are already in the house when I arrive. One is a beautiful old wood stove in the kitchen that heats the main living area. It will prove to be both fierce adversary and invaluable ally.

On my tentative first walk through the place (many of the floors are made of rock so most walks through the house will be wobbly) I see a copy of Carlos Castaneda’s Journey To Ixtlan, the third book in a series that meant a lot to me when I was a teenager.

The book’s title is taken from an allegory about returning to a metaphorical home town, and the story delves deeply into lessons about disrupting routine and igniting will and stopping the world, an idea I could go on about but won’t. Not right now. Finding the book laid out on a night table is like finding a trail of crumbs in the forest.


Filed under: I am trying to write some songs Tagged: ,

One Comment

  1. bill boris-schacter
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Carlos Castaneda, to me, conjures up the image of a shadow. Not sure which book this was in, but at some point in his travels (both physical and spiritual) he gets lost in a shadow on a rock. I’ve done that. It’s an amazing experience. Liberating, spiritual and daunting… all at once. Truly the dark side of the moon.

    Reducing anything to its essence, and going down to basic existence, is always a worthwhile experience, whether you fill a notebook or not.

One Trackback

  1. By Pick a Chord, Not Just Any Chord on May 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    [...] rationality that obscures it. Hardly a songwriting how-to, but I’m angling for a way in and a Castaneda book was here to greet me and nobody will die if feel around for a spot. So I [...]

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