Ah Um


Contained within: Jane leaves Portland, cries in the laundromat and car-musicks.

Yesterday morning at the laundromat, I was listening to a song I’d heard a few times before but wasn’t really caught by. When I sat down I just pressed the ‘Play’ button on my laptop, and since it was the most recent thing I’d downloaded, it started playing. Very quickly, I let loose a tear or two as my face contorted into that strange grimace that is unavoidable when trying contain a more complete emotional crumbling. I rested my mouth in my hand and stared at the computer screen, hoping perhaps to be mistaken for a woman in deep concentration rather than a distraught one. The barista (yeah, this is Portland; we have a laundry lounge with beer, coffee, artisan paninis and vintage arcade games) shot me a sympathetic look and gestured with a half-hidden thumbs up that implied the question “…you all good, girl?” I made eye contact, smirked and nodded once in reply. I was, in fact, ‘all good’, feeling something genuine and letting myself feel it, if not as fully as it deserved, whatever the surroundings or spectatorship. I don’t do that enough. (Let’s all do this from now on, okay? Okay.)

Back in my car, clean laundry in tow, I turned on a song of mine– the first I wrote and recorded on my own but haven’t shared because it’s not where I want it to be. Whenever I listen to myself, especially this song, there is always that mental battle between repulsion and intrigue and an array of feelings in between that show me why I needed to write it, and why I need to write more. And I do feel that it is a need. The frustration comes from the inevitable struggle to express what I want. The reason why I tend to write lyrics in a very naked, un-garbled fashion is because I don’t have the skill yet to express what I’m feeling through the music alone. Like everyone, I want to be understood, but what I have to understand is that I have to have trust in my perception and that of those who listen. And in my development if I commit, of course. For people who wish to feel me, I will either come through or miss the mark and they’ll reach out. It will get there. When I hear what I deem to be cutting, compelling emotion or narrative in music, I’m so envious and inspired, just totally taken. That learning curve, though. Just because the emotions and narrative are in there, in me, doesn’t mean I know how to express them justly. Since it’s such a challenge, I decided to start making some instrumental songs and also to start writing music before, or at least alongside, lyrics. (For those who don’t know, I write a lot– scribbles, seedling ideas, words or phrases that I like, notes on books that I read, commentary about someone in the café I’m working at, journaling, songwriting, poetry, little stories, memories or stream-of-consciousness nonsense to help me start to weed out what I’m truly thinking and feeling. I don’t have so much a writing “process” as I have a compulsion. It’s why start so much and finish so little. Working on that.) So I started a couple weeks ago messing around with all my instruments, jamming and recording some funk stuff. It’s so fun, and is coming along in pieces, but I’m just experimenting. I’m not expressing anything except for a sense of fun and being motivated to make a music that sounds like something I would want to listen to. I guess it isn’t something I could voice, so maybe it’s more valid than I thought. Just realizing this now, folks. See what writing does?

Then at the beginning of this week, I was working through a lot of disappointment in myself, poor choices I’d made, not taking enough care of myself. I was also thinking and feeling a lot about leaving the US for a while (which, yeah, forgot to mention, I’m departing in June, people**) and how both excited and impatient I am for it. I’m excited to sell my shit, live-trade with people, drive ’round, get creative. Then came the thought of leaving the things and people I love here. But the leaving feels so necessary for me, the going and doing are necessary, the newness is necessary. So this strange soup of emotions had me kind of perplexed and I decided to sit down at my piano. Something came to me. That usually doesn’t happen. I usually mess around for ages and maybe find one little piece of melody I like. Most of the time, ideas come to me when I’m driving or doing something else where I’m incapable of giving it the attention it needs in order to develop (great going, Muse…).

But that day I sat down because I was feeling something that I couldn’t even articulate within my own head. I played something that just made emotional sense, a progression that caught the mood, basically. But it did not feel piano-y. Like, at all. I hopped on my guitar, which I might be even less proficient at than piano, and felt it immediately. I played, poorly. Words came, I wrote. I recorded. I erased. I tried again. I closed my eyes and felt. I hummed. I played harder. My fingers went numb and I stopped. Next day, two more hours. Next day, six more hours, two of which were in the backseat of my car at the end of the night. I drove to a secluded street, parked and proceeded to flatten my back seats and get to it. (It’s pretty cozy back there, I’ve slept there—and probably will much more in the coming months– and been quite comfy.) Since I practice guitar least of all musical things, my left hand was pretty done after this last stretch. So even though it sounded like, well, garbage, I felt it getting there—to that point where it was becoming something I would want to listen to. I could get used to car musicking. (And I’d better.) I’ll post this one as soon as my I can get through it.

This whole, longwinded spouting of words has no moral or conclusion. That’s not why I write. Maybe I wanted to just say that it’s totally a beautiful human thing to cry in a laundromat, record songs in your car, despise yourself and then surprise yourself.

You guys should share with me. How do you feel music? Make it? Find it? Evasive muse problem? Spill your deets.

(For those curious who didn’t glean it, I stole the title for this blog from Charles Mingus’ Ah Um album, the full duration of which was the ‘soundtrack’ to this writing session, although not the music that I speak of in the first paragraph. It’s not only a completely genius jazz record, but the title also warrants its own praise. So perfect. And perfect for the unfocused ‘ah…umm..’ of this blog’s content.)

**Yes! This lady creature leaves her house in February and then will be bopping around the Pacific NW for another few months until going back across the country and taking off for Europe and Africa for…an amount of time. Who knows? Certainly not me.**


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