Almost ten years ago I put my three kids to bed, told Jamie for the millionth time about my desire to write a novel, and with her blessing dug out my sketch pad to draw the first map of Aerwiar. I turned off the television (this is key) and sat in the recliner with my high school art supplies, eager to tell a story. As with any adventure, had I known how much work and time it would have taken, I might not have had the guts to start. I drew the coastline of Skree on the left, then for some reason on the right I drew another coastline and named the continent Dang. The expanse between was named the Dark Sea of Darkness. I grinned like the geek I was, sharpened my pencil, and began the work of filling in the details. Eventually, Glipwood sprang out of the map, and the Wingfeather children sprang out of Glipwood. But who were they? And why did their story need to be told?
If you’ve been hanging around the Rabbit Room for any length of time, you’ve read about two of our favorite things: Hutchmoot and Laity Lodge. If you don’t know what Hutchmoot is, I encourage you to click this link. If you don’t know what Laity Lodge is, click this one. If you’re not all that into clicking links and want the quick summary, here it is:
Hutchmoot is a yearly gathering in Nashville for people who like good stories, good music, good food, and community. Laity Lodge is a beautiful retreat center in the Hill Country of Texas where many in our community have experienced life-changing rest. Well, thanks to our friends at Laity Lodge, and in response to quite a few emails from those of you who are frustrated that Hutchmoot (capped at 135 registrants) sells out too quickly, we’ve cooked up the mashup of the century, and we’re calling it the Hutchmoot Retreat. It’s happening at Laity Lodge, February 20-23, 2014.
(Photos by Mark Bell)
On the north coast of Ireland there’s a town called Castlerock, where I left a bit of my heart. I’ve thought about it every day since our return to Nashville. In fact, if ever go missing from the States for a few years and you need to find me, it should be the first place you look. You may see me happily repairing an old boat on the beach, just like Andy Dufresne. The town rests on the white shores of the North Atlantic between crags and green fields. It’s flanked by the mouth of the River Bann on the right and an old castle ruin called Downhill Estate on the left. After a few days there my geek bells rang when I discovered that dear old C.S. Lewis came there regularly as a boy on holiday.
Since Northern Ireland is proud (and rightly so) of its connection to C.S.L. many places there claim to be the inspiration for Narnia, but none have as strong a claim as quiet little Castlerock, where a train pulls into the station every two hours then disappears into a deep tunnel at the edge of town; or where you can still see the window where as little boys he and Warnie likely watched the train steam past; or where you can still walk the path to Downhill and encounter castle ruins, or a tangle of forest called the Black Glen. “This is Narnia,” said my new friend Mark proudly as he talked about his family’s front yard: a field of waving wheat with Downhill castle off in the distance. In fact, here’s a great picture among many that Mark took just a short walk from his house.
We walked the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. People told me that of all the places on the island of Britain, Edinburgh was their favorite. I had seen London and Oxford, both of which have their own great beauty, so I was skeptical. But after a week there, I was ready to sell the house and move, even if the thick Scottish brogue was almost impossible for me to understand.
One of the highlights of the trip was the bus tour, led by a friend of a friend, a pastor named James (who supposedly was written about in Erwin McManus’s The Barbarian Way. The family and I sat on the open upper story of one of those red tour buses, rolling through the streets of the old city while James told us fascinating bits of history. Being a typical American, I of course asked him his opinion of Braveheart. I’ll save his answer for another, more testosterone-charged post.
After the bus tour, James asked if we wanted to “have a bit of a wander” so he could tell us more of the Christian history of the great city, which I’m glad we did. The stories he told were enlightening and terribly sad. At the end of the tour we stood on the main drag, the Royal Mile, next to a heart-shaped patch on the pavement called the Heart of Midlothian. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it.
Visitors to Edinburgh will often notice people spitting on the Heart. A tolbooth (prison) stood on the site, where executions used to take place. The heart marks its doorway: the point of public execution. Some people spit on the Heart. Although it now said to be done for good luck, it was originally done as a sign of disdain for the former prison. The spot lay directly outside the prison entrance, so the custom may have been begun by debtors on their release.
That may be true, but according to James it isn’t the whole truth. The Heart of Midlothian is now the emblem for a Scottish football (soccer) team, and much of the spitting comes from people loyal to their rival. Either way, in the space of about ten minutes we saw about fifteen people pass and spit on the heart without a thought. There wasn’t even a pause in their conversation or their stride. They spat without a glance, as habitually as if they were genuflecting in church. For luck? Spite? Who knows.
[I wrote this to encourage every single person on earth to purchase Beyond the Frame, the new album by Andy Gullahorn. Get it here. There's also a great review of the album by Jonathan Rogers here. --AP]
“Write it like you would say it.”
I can’t tell you how many times over the years that maxim has snapped me out of whatever florid garbage I was writing. It’s a good idea to emulate your heroes, to ask yourself when you get to the bridge, “What would Paul Simon do?” Or when you happen upon a guitar part which, miracle of miracles, sounds unique enough to try and build a song on upon, to ask, “How does James Taylor get into a part like this?” Steal boldly, I say.
But most often, when I’m scribbling in a notebook the nonsense that I hope will become a not-unbearable song, when it’s late and I’m sleepy and I’m stuck, stuck, stuck, I remember these words: “Write it like you would say it.” It usually opens the door to the lyric I was looking for. It keeps me from putting on airs, which we’re all prone to do. People can spot a fake a mile away. It’s the difference between reading a speech from a podium and looking someone in the eye and telling them “I love you.” It communicates to the listener that you’re not pulling any punches but you’re not blocking any either. “Trust me,” it says. “This might hurt, but if we make it out alive we’ll be better for it.”
[Editor's note: This post was written about a month ago. Do not be led into a space-time paradox by the opening line.]
[All photos by Aedan Peterson.]
Can I tell you about last night?
Part of the reason for this self-indulgent post is that our time in Wales is possible in part to an anonymous donor, and this is the best way I know to show my gratitude. We’ve been gone for more than a month now, and so much has happened that I won’t burden you with the details. The highlights: a wonderful 3.5 weeks in Sweden, during which time I made good progress on The Warden and the Wolf King and visited the ruins of the cottage where my great-grandfather was born. Then I got a kidney infection, an illness that knocked me out of the game for six fevered days and ended in a hospital visit on the island of Gotland. I recovered, and we pushed on to Norway, then hopped across the channel to London, where, like good Americans, we did everything we possibly could between the four concerts last week. That means the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, a play on West End, the British Museum, the National Gallery, Platform 9 3/4, and too many London Underground train rides to count. Needless to say, I didn’t get much Wingfeather writing done that week.
(I’m leaving out our visit to Oxford for now, because there’s no time. But trust me: it was magical.)
During the London stay we had a single show in Wales, so we took a train from Paddington Station to Bridgend. When we got off the train we were greeted by two great guys, Phil and Von. Phil is a South African pastor, Von is an American musical missionary. Stepping out of the station in Wales after having spent a hectic-but-awesome week in London was like easing into your favorite chair after a good day’s work. The countryside! It’s impossible to avoid comparing it to the Shire. I even heard that Tolkien may have based the Shire on Wales (and hobbits on Welsh folk, a comment that rankled the one whom I mentioned it to). We spent the day in the ancient town of Llantwit Major, played a blast of a concert in an old church (along with a local folk band called Valhalla), and even paid a visit to a 1,000 year old pub in the country, which was started by monks. It was a lovely day. The next morning we took a deep breath and boarded the train back to London for two more concerts. I SO wish I had the time and energy to tell you everything, and that you had the time and energy to care. We’ll have to save it for Hutchmoot or something.
Oy, lads and lasses. I’m writing this from the front steps of a little flat in Edinburgh where the Petersons are shacking up for the week. This evening we walked the Royal Mile down from the castle to the sound of a dude playing bagpipes, and it was as awesome as it sounds. Something else awesome? The accents. I can barely understand what the Scots are telling me (especially the cabbie), but I’m happily oblivious. I just answer, “Aye,” and occasionally scream, “FREEDOM!”
Last week my family and I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon in Oxford, England, where of course we stopped in at the Eagle and Child, the pub which inspired the Rabbit Room. It feels a bit like a tourist trap nowadays. Not only were there Lord of the Rings quotes on the walls, but I’m pretty sure every accent I heard in the place was American. We’re such suckers for this kind of thing, apparently. But still! That little back room with Lewis and Tolkien pictures on the wall, the fireplace, the copy of the document whereupon the Inklings, after eating a particularly good ham, signed their names and drank to the health of the proprietor of the Eagle and Child, casts an undeniable spell. It’s an irresistible stop for any traveler who loves Narnia or Middle-Earth.
So this guy named Evan Weppler was visiting Oxford about a month before us, and when he learned Team Peterson was planning to visit the original Rabbit Room, he came up with a great idea. I didn’t tell the kids what it was, but I told them something pretty cool was going to happen when we got to the Eagle and Child. We found our table in the Rabbit Room, ordered our food, then I told them, “Watch this.” I looked over the books on the shelves until I found a little white one about the Trinity. I flipped it open and out fell a folded note that said, “To the Peterson family.”
I knew this would happen. We flew from Nashville to Stockholm on Tuesday, arrived in a fog of half-sleep, ate some pizza for comfort more than hunger, and collapsed as though we might sleep for days. But then this. This tossing and turning in Sweden’s summer midnight, which is never totally dark, this weary awakeness in which I’m so tired I can’t sleep, where I’m obsessively and compulsively working out what time it is at home, working out how many Swedish crowns equals a dollar so I’ll know how much I really paid for that pizza, a head game made all the more irritating because of my ineptitude at math.
I’m not cranky, truly. Just jet-lagged. I couldn’t be more thankful to be here, safe and sound, with my sweet wife and three sweet kids in this little borrowed Stockholm flat, all four of them sleeping much better than I can right now. And so I give up on rest this first night of our adventure, and my thoughts turn to what led me here. There’s a long version and a short version, but I’m going to give you the ultra-short version: sometime late last year I realized that I was exhausted. There’s no better rest for me than being alone with Jamie and the kids, so we kicked around the idea of making this Sweden tour a family affair and trying to book enough concerts to pay for all of our plane tickets this time (this is my seventh tour over here). We realized furthermore that Aedan will be 15 this year, which means we’re running out of time for a trip like this. Well, one thing led to another, and we decided that if we’re crossing the dadburn Atlantic we may as well make it count, which led us to booking concerts in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In addition to the shows (fifteen of them, I think), I’m trying to finish The Warden and the Wolf King while I’m here, and I’m really hoping that walking these ancient lands will season the story in the best way. “So much for rest,” I hear you thinking. But just having the family close by will be for me like riding the eye of the hurricane.
The trip only began yesterday, but I’ve already learned so much about life and the Lord and how faith might work. See, I’ve wanted to play in the U.K. for more than a decade, but it’s never worked out. I’ve wanted to bring my family to Sweden since my first visit ten years ago, but it’s never worked out. This year, though, we felt such urgency about the trip that we decided not to wait for the concerts to show up. Rather, we looked at the calendar, chose a window of time, then told as many people in the U.K. and Sweden: “We’re coming this summer and we’re looking for help.” Not, “We’d love to come, but we can’t unless we get X number of gigs.” Not, “Let’s wait and see how this pans out, and maybe it’ll work.” We just decided to make our plans as if it was a done deal. This isn’t a blog about how to book a tour in Europe, of course, because what worked in this case might not ever work again, for you or for me. But now that I’m sitting in the half-light of Stockholm at 4:56 a.m. listening to my family sleep, I think back to a meeting with my manager and booking agent in January in which we decided that we weren’t going to wait for this to happen. We were just going to do it. It felt like Indiana Jones and the leap of faith.
I went to the doctor yesterday for the first time in years. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been sick; it means I’m the kind of stubborn fool who doesn’t like to take an ibuprofen for a headache, the kind of crank who would rather walk around squinting and snappy than to take the blasted aspirin. I just don’t like medicine. I prefer sweating it out, however inconvenient that is for the people around me. So after ten days of coughing and sniffling and whining I finally decided it must be a sinus infection. I have a show in a few days, and I can’t afford to be sick. So I bravely did what any man in my shoes would do: I asked my wife what to do. She told me which doctor to visit and I drove to the offices with a steely resolve. The nurse behind the sliding glass window handed me the clipboard with the dreaded New Patient Paperwork, and then the thing happened that made me want to write this.
The questions began. “Do you have any allergies?” “Do you drink caffeine?” “Do you use tobacco?” “If so, how often?” “Do you exercise regularly?” “Is there a history of heart disease in your family?” “Have you had any surgeries?
I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Osage Beach, Missouri. Ben Shive is in here, too, working on a string arrangement for the upcoming CALEB record. The weather is chilly, I’m a little homesick, I’m wearing three-day jeans, all adding to a pleasant melancholy brought on by the fact that today something is ending. A story that started last January, which actually started many years before that, about a little kid from Illinois who grew up and lost his way a million times but was found a million more by God himself, is reaching its final chapter tonight.
I’m glad. And, as I said, I’m feeling a little blue about it too. I’m glad because singing these songs every night has been painful. I’m sad because the little community that gathered to tell this story has been deeply encouraging and Christ-like in humility. You know, it’s not just music that makes high school kids want to be in bands–it’s brotherhood. It’s belonging. It’s that peace-giving fellowship of locking arms with friends in defiance of something. There are few things so moving as watching a team of people with diverse gifting, temperament, and background working together to accomplish something greater than any of them could do alone. It’s a good picture of the church. Whenever someone says, “I want to join a band,” I try to remember the word “band” is older than rock and roll. I think of Robin Hood and his Band of Merry Men, or Shakespeare and his “band of brothers.” The kid isn’t just saying, “I want to play some songs,” he’s saying, “I want to belong to something.” I was that kid, so I know.