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 (email@example.com) 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.
This is the second of four EPs from the "Heart & Soul, Flesh & Bone" collection, each individual project being an exploration of a different genre. Soul is the kind of music I play when I'm just sitting with a guitar, thinking about something else. I've always loved old Van Morrison records, and I wanted to make music that gave me that same feeling. This collection of songs turned out to be mainly a love letter to my family. (And kind of also to my Strat.) These last few months have seen some major life change as I chose to leave my full-time touring-musician career for the 9-to-5 A&R guy gig. These songs are the obvious working out of a new set of goals and priorities. They were also about the most fun I've ever had making music. Shane [Wilson] got amazing sounds and Brent [Milligan], Jacob [Schrodt] and Ben [Shive] were the best band you could imagine. Also, this was the first time my entire family has participated in one of my records. That was a blast. Here's a bit more about each song. "Set Me Free" [audio:1_Soul_clips.mp3] Let's be honest. This one's mainly an excuse for that groove.
Thanks for all the entries, folks. The contest is now over and we've chosen four couples for the eight available tickets. The winners will receive an email in the next few minutes with details. If you missed out, tickets are still available at TokensShow.com. If you're a Rabbit Room member, check your email for a special treat. We'll see you at the show.
The next Tokens show is Tuesday September 9th at Lipscomb University in Nashville and we've got eight tickets to give away. The show---which the Nashville Scene calls Nashville’s Best Local Variety show and a “grass-kicking shred-fest” with “genre-bending creativity,” and the Tennessean calls “awesome” and a “virtuoso ensemble”---is a mix of music, theology, storytelling, comedy and---did we mention music? The September 9th show is titled "Shame and Presence: Fig Leaves, Truth-Telling, and the Encumbrance of Things Hidden." It features special guests Ellie Holcomb and Andy Gullahorn, along with old friends Jeff Taylor and Buddy Greene as members of the Most Outstanding Horeb Mountain Boys (the house band). It's always an entertaining and thought provoking evening and if you've never had the opportunity to attend, here's a great chance to score some free tickets. We've got eight tickets to give away. Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and put "TOKENS TICKETS" in the subject line (let us know if you are entering for 1 or 2 tickets). Tomorrow afternoon we'll randomly select eight winners by means both secret and mysterious. Good luck! Visit the Tokens website to learn more about the show.
There’s a string of three towns outside Fall River, Massachusetts that I nicknamed “The S Towns” because Somerset, Swansea, and Seekonk all line up along the highway as you drive toward Providence. (Technically, Rehoboth is in there somewhere, but for the sake of mnemonic I pretend it isn’t. Sorry, Rehoboth.) In my many visits over the past year and a half, I learned them by their names and landmarks. Somerset is across the Braga Bridge as you’re leaving Fall River, and the first thing you see are the power plant’s water cooling towers (we call them the “cloud-makers”). Seekonk has a freestanding Starbucks in a sea of Dunkin Donuts and the Irish jewelry shop where my engagement ring was found. I think I have relatives in Swansea somewhere. So there are The S Towns. I saw them laid out on a map the other day and it made more sense. Home is where you know how the roads intersect and you can always find your way back to family and a hot meal after a long day of exploring. You don’t have to worry about the oncoming night. You make your way, trust your instincts, and soon you can see the welcoming lights in the window.
Jonathan Rogers' new (old) book is heading off to the printer today and we thought we'd give you a look at the final cover, which was ably designed by our own Chris Stewart (who also designed the covers for The Molehill). Pre-orders are available here. We expect to start shipping the books in the next couple of weeks.