Welcome to An Examined Life. Occassionally I delude myself into thinking that I understand some part of my life (or life in general) and I thought it might be a hoot to share those thoughts with whomever happens to stumble across this. I hope you find something enjoyable here. If I'm really lucky, I'll make you stop and think for a moment.

Friday, April 12, 2013


I just got back from a walk around my neighborhood. In the last decade or so I’ve come to appreciate spring (fall used to be my favorite time of year), but tonight it felt – in a way – empty. It seems wrong somehow that the world should awaken, that there should be so much beauty, when Jonathan is gone.

The last few days have been rough. I’ve been struggling with feelings that I cannot express, some because there are simply no human words to express them, others because I think if I dared say them aloud they might cost me one of the few remaining joys in my life.

When I was younger (bear with me, all this will come together), I used to watch the Carol Burnett show. I had the biggest crush on Vicki Lawrence. I also wanted to learn to play the guitar. I had this idea that I would one day – as I believed that Woodie Guthrie had done[1] – hop a freight train to travel across country, learn to play all these wonderful folk songs that no one had ever heard, and then arrive in California where my music would earn me fame and catch the eye of Vicki Lawrence…

On stage at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, in
November, 1986.

In his early Doonesbury strips, Trudeau’s characters all had an internal monologue going on, each announcing their exploits to an phantom audience of adoring fans. What made that work is that a lot of people actually do that. For me, though, it was always a soundtrack. Except in moments of concentration (like delivering a lecture), there’s a song echoing around inside my head behind my thoughts. Usually a folk song. I’ve come to learn that those songs are often my way of trying to clarify to myself how I feel about the things going on in my life. Sometimes a song will get insistent, and I find that to quiet it I have to immerse myself in it, either by listening to a recording of the song over and over or by playing the song myself.

I started learning to play guitar in the summer between 8th and 9th grades. I had gone out for the JV football team, made second string defensive line, then broke my collarbone riding a bike down a hill that I never should have attempted to ride down (I found out much later that the “hill” had been the roadbed of a railroad back around the Civil War – I told you this would all come together). I couldn’t practice with the team, so I bought a guitar for $15 from G. C. Murphy’s, borrowed a book from a neighbor, and began teaching myself how to play. I didn’t play that first guitar long; you don’t really get a quality instrument for $15 (at least you didn’t in 1972). I traded up to a used Yamaha that I played until 1984, when I bought my Martin. That guitar has been with me ever since. We’ve gone a lot of places together, done a lot of things, and shared a lot of joy and pain. That guitar helped me get the songs out of my head and use them to communicate my feelings to other people.

So, I’ve been struggling the last few days, with feelings I can’t express. Then, this morning, I was listening to music as I entered course overrides in my office. It was an album I’ve listened to before, a David Wilcox album called Live at Eddie’s Attic ’11. Suddenly I found myself in tears. The song just washed over me and lodged itself in my head and it has been there since. I couldn’t hear it while I was in class, but as soon as I finished, it was back. So I went for a walk tonight, to listen to the song and try to figure out what it was trying to tell me. One line repeats, and maybe this is my answer:

For in this darkness love can show the way.

[1] It was something of a disappointment when I found out that Woodie hadn’t discovered the songs but had, in fact, written them.

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