Mid-Life Crisis or Dispatch from the Edge of in/Sanity
When COVID-19 spread in our communities and there was not adequate governmental response, so many became hopeless, so many lost their lives because of government failure. I am speaking of leadership at the national level. Many governors rallied against it and it is yet to be seen if we will ever be able to effectively deal with it. This failure is nothing less than negligent homicide in my opinion by the resident of the White House (that slaves built).
I do not think I have said enough about that but for now, I will shift to my personal experiences which are surprisingly extraordinary and blessed. I have not gotten ill. I have stayed sheltered. I wear a mask in public. I do not socialize except with remarkably close family and the few friends who I trust and believe have been taking all possible precautions.
When COVID-19 struck and it became apparent that this world had gone wilder than our worst nightmares, I could not turn to poetry to heal my anxiety and depression. Poetry, in its highest literary form, may or may not be therapeutic but the masters of it do use it as a tool for healing and processing grief, or love. They are intrinsically entwined.
I became wordless. I was in traumatic shock for weeks, as I believe many of us were. There’s a feeling of missing time in my mind of March and April that I cannot track down. My memory fell off a cliff into a great chasm of uncertainty. I was lethargic, not eating or sleeping well, staying in bed most days, only reaching out to my core family, and spending too much time doomscrolling. Poetry eluded me and felt like a great strain on me.
I decided to break up with it.
The only way I have ever been able to claw myself out of hell is to throw myself headlong into a creative activity. Making visual art, cooking, writing, and relevant to the pandemic, playing and composing music and songs. Music only comes to me when I am most vulnerable. Where poetry can be a shield, music exposes the soft flesh, the broken heart, the weary mind. Music works on our beings through vibrational resonance. It seeps into us and permeates us with magic that can carry us away into a more peaceful realm or rock us to our very core.
A musician friend sensed the danger of all of us lying around mourning and full of anxiety. He created a brief little experiment to get people moving and into the enjoyment of music. He broadcast his program at 4 p.m. daily and challenged us to move, shake a tail feather, or play along with his makeshift one-man band. At first, I could only lie in my bed and watch. It didn’t so much entertain me but nursed me and took care of me in my poorest state. By the second week, I had picked up my guitar again, to play along and when I did, I was immediately overcome by inspiration.
I have multiple diagnoses of mental illnesses. This time has been awfully hard for anyone and is especially hard for those of us who battle mental illness every day. So many new sufferers in this mass traumatic event that is continuing to this day—the day America counted 200,000 citizens dead from this novel coronavirus.
I have a strong support team and an incredible group of friends and core family who are in my corner. I’ve been at this a long time and I’ve cultivated a self-care routine and rituals that have saved my life on multiple occasions. When I picked up my guitar again, it felt so akin to my body. My rhythm returned. My musical sense returned. And joy returned.
I had to knock the rust off my body to get back into playing and of course, build up my calluses. I began practicing every day. I got smoother. I started humming and then singing melodies. Tunes came to me intuitively. Being a practiced poet, writing lyrics came fast and fit the tune perfectly.
And then it dawned on me: In this upside-down, crazy world, what harm would there be if I committed to being a Rock Star? I had to laugh at myself but just setting a goal that is just ridiculous enough to catch my interest was a brain-switcher for me. It gave me purpose and the playing and weaving songs together gave me true joy and pleasure.
Even though I’ve had a few years of experience playing guitar, I wanted to break through barriers that fear had put in place. I grew up around a lot of male musicians and hardly any women. This stunted my growth. The guys I wanted to hang around with to learn saw me as a groupie and not a serious person at all. Plus, I was a freak. Plus, I was kind of loose and easy. Made for a bad learning environment.
I taught myself for four years but never could unlock the instrument. I never ventured past open and barre chords. When I got married, I felt pressured by the mentality that a woman must put the needs of her man first, as much as I fought against that. I gave up guitar and every time I looked at my guitars, I felt tremendous guilt.
(I must add that my husband loved to hear me play but we were going through tumultuous times with a death before our wedding that took years of grieving to heal.)
Skip forward to August 2020. I had been playing solidly for a couple of months and felt I really needed to level up. So, I decided to hire a private guitar teacher. I never had a guitar teacher before. It seemed out of reach financially, but friends chipped in to this creative cause and we found the money to be able to do it. I’ve had a month of lessons and I am progressing.
I’m learning about the fretboard, some music theory, scales, power chords, mimicking songs, exploring, facing my hesitancy and nervousness, committing to a two-year trajectory of study to possibly put together enough songs to be able to perform in public. Even if I only do it once, I will be fulfilling a dream. What’s the upside of a national crisis of a pandemic and reckless, absent leadership if not to go for it—go for your positive, harmless, and constructive dreams?
You’ll see me here more often. I’ll be working on my YouTube Channel and syncing videos on Facebook. You might hear me singing vocal warmups, exploring the instrument (I like to show my process), and singing original songs and a few covers.
Two years from now, 2022, if I am given the grace of time, I’ll be ready to “come out” as a Rock Star. I’m a 51-year-old living a 13-year old’s fantasy. Dreaming big but putting into practice all that I know about discipline, hard work, having fun, and being the artist I know I can be (in multiple genres).
It’s no guilty pleasure. It’s an obligation not to give up and to pour myself into what the muses call me to do.
Thanks for reading.
WHAT I LONG FOR IN DREAMS
My first remembered toy was a small, red upright piano. I must have been a toddler when I had it, back when we lived on 6th Street, near the tracks and across the street from The Salvation Army.I remember loving that toy and wanting something more than it had to offer.
Years later, I made my own kind of music on my great aunt Lou’s piano, which she inherited from my great grandfather on my mother’s mother’s side. I remember “playing” on the piano for as long as I could while my mother visited with our aunt in another room. My mother would get annoyed with the obvious banging and would call off the concert when her nerves were near-shot.
There is music in me. On my 17th birthday I got an electric guitar. For a few years I played guitar in a dedicated practice and felt passion for it, but I let it go. For 20 years I did not play until I had an injury in 2009 that laid me up. During my “convalescence” I picked the guitar up again but I have since put it back down. My many dreams of playing piano urge me that the music in me needs to come out.
I have dreamed so many dreams in which I am playing piano. The poem below gives you a sense of my great longing and how the dreams unfold. Just a couple of weeks ago I visited friend for the first time and when I entered his home I saw the most amazing old upright piano. There were envelopes and magazines set on the keys, as though they were just tossed there for convenience. I thought: “How dare they! Don’t they know this object is sacred?”
Seeing the piano made me gasp. My eye was hooked to it when my friend was talking to me. My attention was on this rare to me thing and I would have begged to just touch it. My friend was cool and said he thought it would be okay if I played a little. (It was not his piano, actually.)
Just touching the instrument revived me, aroused me and gave me so much pleasure. The sense of my hands on the keys, the weighted feel when striking them, and that beloved dreamed-of sound fed a want in me. Again, I want to let my hands feel the keys, to put my body, mind and heart into the act of making music.
So tonight I put it “out there” on Facebook: “I need a piano.”
It is a need and surprisingly my friend Sheri offered to loan me an electronic keyboard. This delights me so much! I am eager to immerse myself in music-making—I have no real skill as of yet but I have music in me and very soon it will come out.
This poem appears in Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012) and will be featured on February 14th on From the Poet’s Bookshelf, Darrell Bourque’s program locally on 88.7 FM KRVS (www.krvs.org)
WHAT I LONG FOR IN DREAMS
I am learning the instrument, pouring myself into the instrument onto the keys, through to the tight wires, creating sound.
I innately know the instrument and can perform masterpieces of original composition. I can translate what I long for into sounds executed on the instrument.
There is a room which houses the instrument. The roof of our house is a sieve and the voices of strangers rain over us.
Exposed, the instrument’s lacquered finish buckles and peels—but I play furiously with precision, in dreams, only in dreams.
My whole body is attuned. I shudder with rhythm. I am a virtuoso, abusing the keyboard with bruising passion—
I am the dreamer, always the dreamer, mourning a dismal sleep.
Retreat Writings, 2012, Part 4
Something needs to be said. Something needs to be written.
Facebook eats my face. Facezombie. I have no Internet access which is great. I need to come to terms with so much. This retreat was needed by all of us. So much matters and so much does not. I keep you with me. Your scent alights on my skin. I want to go under water and make no sounds. I want to fill with water and drown a lovely death.
My fingertips are tender from playing guitar. I like the little twinges that remind me that I am working hard again. My hand strength will come back and my skills will improve.
Patti Smith’s Banga is incredible. Her poetic power is full-on on this album. I love the entire work but I love Mosaic and Constantine’s Dream the best. It rouses something great and infinite within me. I am inspired to write a poem-song, too.
The veil that kept her a secret,
the veil that hid her from life, lifted
and her face shone like a radiance–
She set fire to the boarded house.
She walked through the fire unburned.
She walked through the ashes of men.
The land of her people smoldered.
She became fully alive.
And all of the scars inflicted
in the name of holy honor
were burnished to nothing.
And no man could waylay her
into motherhood or shame.
She was free to love man or woman.
Free to seek her own way.
When the veil lifted
her face became like the moon
and lit her solitary journey.
She walked until she found water,
drowning in her own image:
a reflection she meant to kiss.
© 2012 Clare L. Martin
Hello. My Name is Clare.
Hello. My name is Clare. Welcome (again) to my website.
I purchased the domain https://clarelmartin.com/ today and will be writing here with more frequency. I hope I can count you as a reader.
I will muse upon the writing life, real-life happenings, sleep revelations, waking prophecies, earth, wind, fire—things I am passionate about and the few things I hate with passion.
Certainly, I will try to keep it interesting and valuable.
Everything in its Right Place
Earlier this week I went on a solo, self-directed, three-day writing retreat at a guest cottage, Casita Azul, in Grand Coteau, LA. I rarely have alone time much less extended alone time and I was ready for intensive solitude.
I married at 20 and went straight from my parent’s home to my own with my husband—with no real attempt at setting up my own pad. In the 22 years of being married I might have spent a combined three or four weeks apart (over one day) from my husband in all those years—two weeklong trips to NYC, one extended weekend in Austin, and maybe a weekend or two in New Orleans when Miriam was alive. The longest time I was “on my own” was a six-week university-sponsored group trip to Europe in 1986—25 years ago this summer. I was 17.
There have been some upheavals in my family and a fair bit of chaos since the beginning of the year—major life changes, illness, flared tempers and tears. It was time to break the negative cycle, just for a bit. My family fully supported my going on this retreat. My mom surprised me the day I left with a check to cover the costs. She was really happy for me to have this opportunity and wanted to ease the burden.
I am having “MULTIPLE EPIPHANIES”
the writing life/my path
I am celebrating all.
I packed supplies for two nights/almost three days (food, music, books, laptop, paper, pen, and camera) and “checked out” from my life obligations. I had one rule. It was cool if I called you (like to say goodnight) or text you once or twice but it was not cool for anyone in my family or close circle of friends (who knew what I was doing) to initiate contact with me unless there was an emergency. A text would be less intrusive than a phone call (or an unexpected visit!) and just about everyone was cool about it. I thought that by letting people know I was going on a retreat that rule needn’t have been posted.
“Retreat” kind of seems self-explanatory.
When I first arrived I was able to transport my stuff in the Casita quickly and the first thing I did was to “move in.” I was ritualistic about it. I put all of the food in the fridge or neatly on the table. I plugged in the computer (there was Internet available but I did not use it) set up my books, popped a CD in the stereo (so cool—great acoustics in the Casita!) unpacked my clothing. Then I made a plate of cheese and fruit and sat back to slowly take in the place (which is very cute and comfy—I highly recommend a stay there.) I “acclimated” to the Casita and let my SELF expand into its space. I might have had one flashing thought that I would be at a loss with all the alone time I would have, but I intended to “do exactly what I felt like doing” without misgivings. Of course I am safe and not a delinquent so nothing bad was going to happen! I certainly did not trash the place!! I did dance, write, sing, sleep, eat, drink and write and sleep some more.
I left the laptop in standby mode, that way anytime I felt like writing I could just sit down and write. I also kept journals handy and pens. I set a timer for 5-10 minutes for each “sit down session” and over the whole time I was on the retreat I produced 21 different burst of free-writing—which I plan to mine for poetry. I did not set a strict agenda other than to read, write, and be alone, sleep if I needed to, take a country drive, write with pen on paper, eat well and take over the whole bed. I stuck to that plan. I thought I might have a good cry but that didn’t happen so I guess I didn’t need to—but if I had that would have been OK!
I listened to music—Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Kate Bush, Keane, Portishead, Joni Mitchell, some mix CDs that flowed into this groove and the particular playlist was really great for my mood. I also brought a relaxation CD which is hypnosis/guided meditation.
It rained so much—perfect for my mood. I wanted to be as secluded as possible. Some people go to tops of mountains to have a peak experience. I went to Grand Coteau, LA, thirty minutes from my home. A great time was had celebrating my growth as an artist, new realizations of myself as woman-human at mid-life, the surge of confidence I am experiencing, and the many new relationship connections I’ve made which feel very promising. I took pleasure in all of these things. Most importantly, I was joyful in the spiritual communion with what is Essential with a capital E through which we can all be replenished.
OFFICIAL BLOG RENEWAL POST003-1016
I wrote a new poem last night/today titled REUNION. I feel it is in final form and will be sending it out very soon. I am prepping material for my anticipated feature at Casa Azul in Grand Coteau, LA in April (National Poetry Month) of 2010. I know it is a ways off but I want to generate new material for this reading. I rarely read a poem twice publicly. It is a commitment I have made to myself and my short term goal to produce new work.
I am listening to Radiohead KID A and feeling naturally buzzed on this fine music. FYI: my modus operandi often is to write the night away, but it’s not a workable plan for every night. But if I am fired up to write I have no choice to obey the muse.
~Mom Rock~ the coolest thing ever.
I am sleepless considering songs I want to learn on the guitar.
Currently I am learning several from Sticky Fingers: “Wild Horses,” “Moonlight Mile,” “Dead Flowers” and “Sister Morphine” and a couple other Stones tunes… some Bob Dylan: “One More Cup of Coffee -Valley Below” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” There will be more Dylan sought, I’m sure. Some Lucinda Williams: “Drunken Angel” & “Essence” so far, and, “If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow.
Yeah it makes me happy. Got a problem?
The list above is incomplete and I am adding more songs every day. A stripped down “Satellite of Love” by Lou Reed and some VU tunes, too, and maybe a few of PJ Harvey’s. Some that I’ve listed I’ve already learned or have just begun working out. A few I chose just this morning. So I will be busy for a while.
I don’t want to get bored. I want selections that mean something to me. I’m keeping it real and keeping it neat. I have a punk-pink pocketed folder in my guitar case with the printed out songs. Handy!
I practice every day and night. Often an hour stretches unnoticeably into hours. I am working my voice too. I love that I quit smoking. My singing has improved. I’m still discovering my sound, so no public appearances, unless you come over to my house. There is a $5 Cover.
It’s cool that when I play in bed while Dean is asleep, he seems to go into a deeper sleep—he sighs as if the wracking storms have cleared. If I was bothering him he would not hold back in telling me so–so I am not bothering him. No, no—he is pleased that I have rediscovered a passion and I’m being creative. Now if I turn on the light! Yeah—that would piss him off. So I softly and not so softly play/sing songs I know by heart, and/ or do exercises, improvisations…mess around with chord progressions that sound cool…and work my rhythm; generally explore so that I better-know my instrument.
I am playing the same “Mystical Blue Moon” acoustic guitar I bought back in the late 80s (not a brand just what I call it) and it has held up well. Well, it was stored for 18 years in a soft-lined hard case when I wasn’t playing.
All those years…I held the music in my body until it almost turned to dust. Playing sweet chords released a wellspring of joy in me. I’ve found my musical path again which makes me very happy, so it can’t be that bad.
I gave Mad my old electric, a “Phoenix Electra” (Japanese Fender copy) and she really wants to learn but she has had so much homework nearly every day that she is burnt out or out of time in the evenings. We will work some time in for her to practice. She is so overwhelmed this school year!
I am seriously considering buying a new/gently used electric for myself, a small amp and an effects pedal if they still have those things. It’s been so long since I’ve browsed a music store and technology has evolved. I might check pawn shops and music stores that sell second hand instruments. I’d really like a clean Stratocaster and a modest amp. Nothing fancy, just a workable rig with a solid feel and clean sound.
Rockin’ Momma Out
ROCK N ROLL
Under the Spell
When I was seventeen I got an electric guitar for my birthday. A friend taught me a few chords and I was rocking & rolling. I played faithfully for three years. After I married, with so many big changes I let go of my practice and fell out of my groove.
About two weeks ago I bought new strings for my acoustic and my electric guitars. My daughter wants to know what I know. After I teach her what I know she might take private lessons.
I, however, am playing everyday again, learning new songs, and writing some too. It feels so amazing. The joy is back! After a great session of practice, during which I picked and strummed and sang I feel so at peace and serene. I feel lighter, unburdened. It is miraculous. I pick up my guitar several times a day, and I am eager about it in the way I was when I began. I hope that feeling lasts.
I am rebuilding my practice primarily on my acoustic because I want to build my hand strength and finger strength. The tips of my fingers are hard now that calluses have developed from playing everyday for the past two weeks!
I think playing guitar is a bit like breast feeding. (Wait! I know that incredulous look you have on your face! Don’t stop reading!) At first, it’s downright painful to press with enough force soft fingertips to wires, and similarly the first few days of breastfeeding are quite challenging as the baby sucks already tender breasts, but after your fingertips/nipples toughen up you don’t give it a second thought. If you’ve breastfed or played guitar you know it’s true.
My next lesson will be to teach myself scales, so that I can rule the neck! RAWR! I need guidance on this so if anyone has any advice, I’d be much obliged.
Speaking Out: Arts in Louisiana
I am a poet/wife/mother and have participated in arts outreach for many years. The outreach work has been life-changing and healing for me and hopefully for the people I have served. DAF Louisiana Division of the Arts grants have been the primary funding source for these programs.
Festival of Words directed by Patrice Melnick, and funded by a DAF Louisiana Division of the Arts grant, addressed community needs in Sunset and Grand Coteau. As one of the contributing artists, I presented a storytelling workshop to economically-challenged elderly and an in-school poetry reading to students. The response was overwhelming. The aims were met with great success. Something very important, motivating and transformative occurred through our endeavors.
Recently, I served as lead writer for the Acting Up in Acadiana‘s “Play. Music. Heal.”—a theatrical piece where actors, musicians and writers are exploring the notion that music has the potential to heal across socio-economic and cultural lines. This project received funding from DAF Louisiana Division of the Arts grant. Part of our discovery has been that art; music specifically, has the power to heal the psyche, raise self-perception, bring communities together and lift us to our greatest selves.
The human creates to survive. If we stifle creativity our culture withers. If we do not cry out at this time, we may be on an irreversible path. The effects to our state if the severe cuts to arts funding that Governor Jindal proposes go through could be devastating culturally and economically.
We are an ingenious people—we “make do.” But when you “gut” the arts, specifically programs that serve at-risk communities, you are cutting not only jobs of the artists, administrators and staff but you are cutting off people from people. Cultural tourism is the second highest industry in Louisiana. I would guess the industry employs thousands, or more, people.
The arts provide personal empowerment. Teaching-artists offer the tools to self-express creatively in theatre arts, music, dance, literature, visual and conceptual art, folk art, and so on. With these cuts, the individuals and communities who are in the most need may be the first and most devastated victims.
Art is a lifeline. We learn who we are through creative expression and by witnessing it. Through art we become more than ourselves. I am resolved to fight for my life as an artist and for the hope of new creators in Louisiana.