We were honored to host Chris Slaten, a.k.a. Son of Laughter, for the inaugural house show at North Wind Manor earlier this summer. Chris is currently working with producer Ben Shive on a new album, and the new songs peppered throughout the show gave beautiful glimpses of the full-length record to come. The night was also highlighted by familiar songs we've grown to love, and our song of the week is the title track from Chris's debut EP, The Mantis & The Moon. Few songwriters can craft such meaningful stories, let alone keep things as beautiful and lively as Son of Laughter. "The Mantis & The Moon" is a great example of why we all fell in love with this EP in the first place. “The Mantis & The Moon” by Son of Laughter from the album The Mantis & The Moon [audio:Mantis.mp3] [Use coupon code "Mantis" to get 20% off the EP in the Rabbit Room store this week. And grab your tickets to tonight's Local Show featuring Andrew Peterson, Buddy Greene, Ben Shive, and Lori Chaffer.]
[The following is an excerpt from my essay by the same title in the forthcoming Molehill, Vol. III.] Rembrandt is in the wind. The sea surges and swells. The little fishing boat has no hope of holding on to the churning foam below. The bow rides up the back of one white breaker while the stern dips in the valley beneath it and the next. Waves break over the sides. The half dozen men to Rembrandt’s right shout and strain at the sails, struggling to keep the ship from capsizing. The five men to his left plead with Jesus of Nazareth to save them. Rembrandt stands in the middle of the boat, his right hand tightly clutching a rope, and his left pinning his hat to his head. His name is scrawled across the useless rudder, as though this is his boat on his sea and they are all caught in his storm. He and everyone else in the ship are soon to be lost unless their leader intervenes. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt’s only known seascape, is one of his most dramatic paintings, capturing that moment just after the disciples knew they would die if Jesus didn’t save them and just before he did. The five foot by four foot canvas hung in the Dutch Room on the second floor of the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum for close to one hundred years. Everyone who looked at it saw the same thing; Rembrandt looking out through the frame to us---looking us dead in the eye. The terror on his face asked us what the disciples were asking Jesus: “Don’t you care that we’re perishing here?”
Hutchmoot planning is in full swing. We made the big announcement last week that Jill Phillip's will be the musical anchor for the weekend as she celebrates the release of her new album, Mortar & Stone (which will be available for pre-order soon). She'll be playing a full-band show on Friday night---you guys are in for an evening of fantastic songs. Hutchmoot sessions are nearly finalized and we're lining up a few extra guests and special events. No spoilers though. You'll just have to wait and see. Click here to take a gander at how the sessions are lining up. Singer-songwriter team Jenny & Tyler got together with Sara Groves and a whole slew of internet folks to record this awesome cover of U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Speaking of U2, what's everyone thinking of the new album? Last week's Local Show was a blast. The show featured Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips, Andrew Osenga, and Jeremy Casella---who realized once they got on stage that they all went to college together. We didn't plan that, but it was great to see old friends supporting one another. They closed the evening with a beautiful Rich Mullins cover, which you can see below. Tickets are now on sale for next week's show, which features Andrew Peterson, Buddy Greene, Lori Chaffer, and Ben Shive. The Local Show - "Calling Out Your Name" from The Rabbit Room on Vimeo. David Bruno has been reading his Wendell Berry. Check out Dave's post, "Sustainability & Place" in which he discusses the importance of finding a place and sticking to it. Easier said than done? Almost certainly. Worth the commitment? Dave thinks so. Let us know what you think. Jen Rose Yokel takes a look back at how she fell in love with poetry in a post called "Emily & I." We'll give you three chances to guess who "Emily" is. Hint: It's not Emily Rose---but wouldn't it be awesome if it was? Read Jen's post here. Dr. Rogers took a break from all his bow-tie wearing, grumbling, and waffle-eating to share some sage advice for writers. In a post called "Tradecraft: Seeing What You See," he points out that writing down the concrete details of what's happening around you often makes for far more interesting reading than you may at first suspect. Listen to Dr. Rogers. Smart he is. And speaking of Dr. Rogers, he's got a new (old) book available. The World According to Narnia has been out of print for years, and Rabbit Room Press has amended that situation. The book is now out in a brand new edition and is available wherever great books are sold. Not to be stopped at merely offering advice and writing books, Dr. Rogers also has an online writing class and an in-person seminar coming up. Click here for details. And yesterday, Joe Sutphin recounted the nearly-fatal tale of "Bonnifer Squoon and the Cat Hair of Doom." This should not be confused with the Dog Hair of Doom, which is, even now, lurking along the baseboards of North Wind Manor and awaiting the howl of a Hoover. That's it for now. Grab your Local Show tickets now. They are going fast.
This past February, the Wolf King team hit crunch time. I was in full swing, inking one illustration per evening after work and two per day on the weekends. I was also in the throes of finalizing art for an early readers picture book. I was on the home stretch and had reached a scene with the brothers and good old Bonifer Squoon, which I was anticipating with excitement. I began cranking away at inking the "Spidifer" scene and was about 75% finished when it happened. After one of my frequent dips into the inkwell I realized there was a small cat hair resting on my nib. Without a second thought, I blew a quick puff at the hair to toss it off. And then my eyes focused on the illustration below and the spray of black acrylic ink that freckled its once-pristine surface. My heart cramped. My instinct was to somehow brush this dust off of my drawing. But it wasn't dust, and I knew it. It was there to stay. I could barely believe it had happened.
Imagination is a serious business. It gives substance to our yearnings for something beyond ourselves. Imagination is what convinces us that there is more to the world than meets the eye. And isn't that the first principle of faith? The Chronicles of Narnia awaken the reader to the imaginative possibilities of the gospel that have been there all along. The Chronicles serve as a reminder that if the gospel doesn't fill you with overwhelming awe and joy and fear and hope, you may not have really understood what the gospel says." ---from the IntroductionRabbit Room Press is proud to announce that Jonathan Rogers' long out-of-print The World According to Narnia is back on the shelves. It's available through the Rabbit Room store and wherever great books are sold. Special thanks to Chris Stewart for the great work on cover design. Writing Classes with Dr. Rogers Also note that Jonathan has opened up a new section of his online creative writing course, "Writing Close to the Earth, Part 1," which is now open for registration. And on Thursday, October 9th, he'll be holding a one-day in-person writing seminar here in Nashville. It's called "From Memory to Story: Writing the Short Memoir"---and if you're coming to Hutchmoot, don't worry, class will adjourn in plenty of time to make registration and dinner. For more information about Jonathan's classes, visit his website. And click here to pick up your copy of The World According to Narnia.
Originality may be the most overrated of the writerly virtues. Much more important is the skill of seeing what's in front of you and rendering it faithfully. The world is a varied place; every person in it is a miracle; every setting is unusual; every event, every encounter is a thing that has never happened in the long history of the world. On top of all that variety is the fact that every observer's vision is unique. If you will allow yourself to see what you see, and then write what you have seen, you can be sure that originality will take care of itself. That's not an easy thing to do. Few people write what they have seen. More often, they write what they think they ought to have seen, or they shoehorn experiences and people into familiar categories. It's a hard habit to break; categorizing and sorting the firehose-blast of experiences and ideas that come our way is a necessary survival skill. But writing is different. Writing is a chance to release experience from man-made categories and say, "Look at this---this thing that exists in the real world." Writing comes alive when you do that. Oddly enough, faithful imitation is the front door to originality.
What did you love in your high school years? A band? A movie? A book that kept you up all night? It’s amazing how, in that fragile time between becoming an adult and still hanging on to childhood, those attachments you can’t explain can shape your passions for the rest of your life. If I think about it long enough, go back far enough, I’d say I write poems today because of Emily Dickinson. She’s a staple of the earliest literature classes, like Shakespearean tragedies and Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” the old stuff you have to read. Demure in photographs, with wide collared dresses and hair pulled back tight. But for me, and I suspect many other slightly awkward and shy teen girls, her poems burrowed deep into something I didn’t have a name for yet. My text books taught the “cleaned up” versions that toned down her eccentric obsession with dashes, but being drilled into memorizing “To make a prairie” and “I never saw a moor” stirred a sense of vast possibility.
The antidote to an unsustainable life is to stick around a place. I have been thinking about this a bit. At the university where I work, this semester I am teaching as an adjunct, handling the course "Sustainability In Action" for a colleague on sabbatical. Texts on sustainability tend to focus on the very real challenges of climate change and emerging economies and dematerialization. It is good to think about these issues when we think about sustainability, and to try to work on solutions to them. But preceding the sustainability problems that make news headlines comes a decision that regularly goes unnoticed. It is a decision by some person or persons to leave. Here is the versified form of what I am attempting to say.
People these days pack up to get to the next place. No one seems to stick around anymore. Who can say they’ve heard laughter after the decades; the same laughter that they’ve heard, over and over before, or the same tears splashing down on the same old floor? People these days hurry off to the next place. Everyone seems headed through a door.
Last night's Local Show was pretty incredible. Thanks to Andy Gullahorn for leading the team and to Jill Phillips, Jeremy Casella, and Andrew Osenga for such a great evening of music. Jill played some new songs, Andy played some funny (and some heartbreaking) songs, Osenga played an old favorite ("The Ball Game") and some new favorites too, and Jeremy reminded everyone why Death in Reverse is such an awesome album. Special thanks to Arthur Alligood who was a good sport and played a new song when we asked him, and to Randall Goodgame for the Dylan tune. The evening wrapped up with the group covering Rich Mullins (the second Mullins cover of the night), and we even got it on video for you (sorry about the audio quality). Thanks to all who came out to last night's show. We hope you enjoyed the evening as much as we did. The next show is on September 30th and features Andrew Peterson, Ben Shive, Lori Chaffer, and Buddy Greene---but there's no telling who else may show up. Tickets are available here.
I know it's been a long time coming, but it's finally time to announce this year's special Hutchmoot concert. Jill Phillips is both one of Nashville's best songwriters and one of its most extraordinary vocalists, and she's been working on a new record for most of the past year. There's no firm release date yet, but I can tell you for 100% certain that on Friday night, October 10th, at Hutchmoot 2014, folks will be treated to a full evening of Jill and a stellar band of players performing the songs from the new record (and more). If you've only seen Jill perform solo, you're in for a special night---prepare to be blown away. The new album is called Mortar and Stone and those who have heard the new material know this record is going to be yet another fantastic collection in Jill's line-up of classics. We couldn't be more delighted to have Jill play such a big part in this year's moot. Don't have tickets to Hutchmoot? You can also see Jill (along with Andy Gullahorn, Jeremy Casella, and Andrew Osenga) tonight at The Local Show (tickets available here).
I'll go ahead and assume everyone's already heard that U2's new album, Songs of Innocence, is available for free from iTunes. That's a great deal right there. I'm a giant U2 fan and I'm still waiting for a chance to listen to the record. My fingers are crossed. The release reminded me of this, though, which I meant to share several weeks ago. It's a cover of U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," by Jenny & Tyler, with special guests Sara Groves and a virtual choir of internet folks (anyone here in that choir?). It's pretty darned awesome. Check it out.
There's less than a month left until Hutchmoot 2014! I can't believe how quickly it's sneaking up on us. Ninety percent of the sessions are set, and I'm hoping to get the website updated with the schedule very soon. It's time to start making name tags and printing linocut folders, so look for an email later today to confirm the names associated with your tickets. I've been contacted by a couple of folks who are trying to sell their tickets, so if you find yourself in need of one at this late hour, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll see if I can put you in touch with someone who might be able to help. Next up: The Local Show. We had a packed house last week for the first show, and the songwriters treated us all to a great evening. We got to hear new music from everyone involved, which was pretty darned awesome. A personal favorite was a new tune from a grumpy Eric Peters (is there any other kind?). The next show is coming up this Tuesday, and the featured songwriters are Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips, Andrew Osenga, and Jeremy Casella. Tickets are on sale now. $12 in advance, $15 at the door, or just $5 if you are a Rabbit Room member. Come out and enjoy the show. Here's Randall and his wife Amy at the September 2nd show singing one of the best songs ever: Sam Smith is "Sticking it to God" in his latest post. We're not entirely sure what "it" is, but we hope he's not using duct tape to do it---that stuff is almighty painful when it comes off. In all fairness, the subtitle of the post does hint at meatier fare: "Rebellious Stories as a Cliche to Play Against." As his editor, I choose not to point out that the correct subtitle would have been "Rebellious Stories Against Which to Play," because that would seem rebellious and I don't want Sam to play against me or duct tape me to a pole. His post, however, is far more edifying than this description would lead you to believe. If you're feeling like a rebel, don't click here to read it. Jonathan Rogers' The World According to Narnia has been out of print for years, but Rabbit Room Press is rectifying that situation. The new edition is in the final phase of production and we should have them in hand within the next week or so. Pre-order now and we'll get your order in the mail just as soon as the books arrive. Available in the Rabbit Room store. Jen Rose has a new post up called "The S Towns" in which she reveals that there's an actual town called "Seekonk," which was named after one of the entries in Pembrick's Creaturepedia. Okay, that last bit isn't entirely true, but we wish it were. All Seekonking aside, Jen writes about the need to sometimes get lost in order to really know where you're going. Read the post here. We gave away quite a few tickets to this past week's Tokens Show. Congratulations to the winners. We hope you enjoyed the show. I know I did. The topic of the night was "Shame and Presence: Fig Leaves, Truth-Telling, and the Encumbrance of Things Hidden"---did you get all that? Well, over the course of the show, we actually did get all that, believe it or not. It was a fine evening featuring music by Ellie Holcomb, Andy Gullahorn, and some crazy-talented kids called Brother Parker. Brother Preacher brought the comedy, Odessa Settles brought the soul, and Al Andrews of Porters Call brought the wisdom. Great show. Thanks for coming. Andrew Osenga recently released the second EP of his Heart & Soul, Flesh & Bone project, which many of us kickstarted. This time around the music's got a groove and Andy gave us a song-by-song breakdown of the record in Monday's post. Check it out, listen to the tracks, and pick up the EP in the Rabbit Room store if you like what you hear. What I want to know is whether or not the next EP, Flesh, is going to be entirely comprised of Bobby McFerrin-style music using only sounds made by Andy thumping his chest and beatboxing---because that would be awesome. Chris Yokel delivered a great post called "The Thin Places of Fantasy," in which he discusses the ache we feel for enchantment in our stories and our lives. If you've ever peeked at the back of a wardrobe---you know, just in case---then this post is for you. It's also got some Elizabeth Barrett Browning poetry to recommend it. Read the post here. From Smallest Seed is a new album put out by a whole slew of familiar songwriters. It's part of the A Rocha Project, and Sandra McCracken wrote a great post describing its origins. A Rocha is a great organization centered on creation care, something that goes sadly overlooked in far too many churches. The album features folks like Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips, Don and Lori Chaffer, Rain for Roots, Julie Lee, Buddy Greene, Sarah Masen, Sara Groves, and lots of others including Sandra. Click here to read about it and here to pick up a copy in the Rabbit Room store. And finally, Jamin Still has been painting a series of Christmas cards. He's been working on the project for a while now, but it's recently taken a slightly new direction. Click here to read more.
Here are the first few cards that I've painted. I took a lot of your suggestions and, well, take a look! This has been a fun project and I think I'm going to do more. One of the reasons for this is when I painted the squirrel, several people told me it looked evil---its eye creeped them out. But it turns out that its creepy eye is what made it a favorite among several other friends. You can't please them all. Or maybe you can. I figured, why not make another line of cards, a line of slightly odd and creepy Christmas cards for my friends who appreciate the slightly odd and creepy? And so that's what I'm going to do.
There are so many things to care about, so many broken things that need fixing, so many wounds that need mending, so much good waiting to happen in our world. As a songwriter by vocation and a biology teacher’s daughter, a couple years ago, I found myself standing (metaphorically) at the intersection of writing songs and hymns, reading National Geographic, nurturing my two young children, and performing as a musician. I made an album called Desire Like Dynamite which explores conservation, faith, and relationships. Nature. God. People. Three elements, one revolving dance. Around that same time, I met Peter and Miranda Harris, founders of A Rocha International, a Christian conservation organization. I found such resonance in their vision for hope and renewal in the world. I started wondering what a life that includes conservation could look like for me personally, and for our community in Nashville. To backtrack several years: I had been part of an annual retreat of songwriters in Tulsa hosted by my friends (and pop-star-harmony-singing-brothers) the Hansons. Each year, different songwriters were invited to come for a weekend to write in rotating small groups. It was a fruitful experience, and it sparked much growth and creativity from all the artists through the practice of collaboration.
Why would you go back to normal, if you found out that life could be so much more? If you found a reality so much better than what the world was offering you?
This is what some of the best fantasy literature reminds me of and points me toward.Now when it comes to fantasy, there are different kinds. There's the fantasy of a Tolkien, which immerses us in an entirely different realm from our own. Then there's the fantasy that starts grounded in the normal world then pulls back a veil into a realm of wonder. This is the fantasy of Lewis's Narnia books, of the Harry Potter series, and of some of my personal favorites like Stephen Lawhead's Song of Albion trilogy and, most recently, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Neverwhere. And while I love Tolkien, what I particularly love about these latter books is the way they reawaken me to the magic threaded through the fabric of creation. Alan Jacobs argues along these lines in a recent essay, “Fantasy and the Buffered Self”:
[T]he desire for a world resonant with spiritual meaning, of one kind or another, does not easily die — perhaps cannot die until humanity itself does. Technology is power, but disenchanted power. And so the more dominant mechanical and then electronic technologies become as shapers of the social order, the more ingenious grow the strategies of resistance to their disenchanting force — the strategies by which we deny the necessary materiality of power. In the literary realm, the chief such strategy is the emergence of fantasy genre.
Why is this drive to re-enchant ourselves so tenacious? Or even further, why is it important? The reason is that such fantasies, while not true, do point us to a truth about the world, that the physical is woven inextricably with the spiritual.