Here’s what happened when I left Joshua Tree: nothing.
I came home from a week in the desert with two unfinished songs and then I just stopped working on them. There are a lot of other things to do. There’s a website to feed, children coming and going, a freelance story to write, an aging dog who needs frequent walks. Life conspires against the tranquil stretches required for songwriting. Fierce adversaries like time and ridiculous adversaries like Facebook must be conquered daily. I am a weak opponent. This is why people hole up in hunting cabins and go on retreat and alienate their loved ones. Tom Waits says of family and career, ” It’s like having two dogs that hate each other and you have to take them for a walk every night.” I think that must be true for most people trying to straddle a domestic and a creative life. One thing I know for sure is it’s hard to get in the flow between a kid’s dentist appointment and dinnertime.
But I’m lucky. I know Gary Smith, who lives on a farm in New Hampshire with three sheep, a donkey, and a swimming pond. At Gary’s there is peace and quiet and a guest room. Amazingly, there is also a stash of electric guitars and amplifiers. Gary used to be in the music business; he made records with people like the Pixies and Natalie Merchant and Throwing Muses and Juliana Hatfield. Now he runs a community radio station. His is the sort of farm where you will see a gold record hanging on the barn wall and a middle-aged woman trying to write songs. I went to Gary’s after a month of accomplishing nothing at home with a goal: I would write a chorus. In fact I did not write a chorus. I thought I was writing a chorus, but it turned out I was writing a bridge. How do I know it’s a bridge and not a chorus? I don’t know.
The not knowing is weird and uncomfortable and that’s when I remind myself what the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said.
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.