Friday, December 29, 2006

Seize the Day

This month the book team attacked Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. This was a reread for me, and knocked my socks off both times. I picked up on so much more this time than I did before. Bellow is an observer and a philosopher. His characters are all deep and fleshed out. As the title might suggest this book is largely about how one must (absolutely must!) take advantage of the moment and become. It is up to you and none else. One of my favorite passages is a conversation in which the enigmatic Tamkin gives the pathetic Tommy Wilhelm a lesson in what he percieves to be the nature of souls:

"In here, the human bosom--mine, yours, everybody's--there isn't just one soul. There's a lot of souls. But there are two main ones, the real soul and a pretender soul. Now! Every man realizes that he has to love something or somebody. He feels that he must go outward...The interest of the pretender soul is the same as the interest of the social life, the society mechanism. This is the main tragedy of human life. Oh, it is terrible! Terrible! You are not free. Your own betrayer is inside of you and sells you out. You have to obey him like a slave. He makes you work like a horse and for what? For Who?...The true soul is the one that pays the price. It suffers and gets sick, and it realizes that the pretender can't be loved. Because the pretender is a lie. The true soul loves the truth. And when the true soul feels like this, it wants to kill the pretender. The love has turned into hate. Then you become dangerous. A killer. you have to kill the deceiver....Whenever the slayer slays, he wants to slay the soul in him which has gypped and decieved him. Who is his enemy? Him. And his lover? Also. Therefore, all suicide is murder, and all murder suicide. It's the one and identical phenomenon. Biologically,
feeble, like a parasite. it happens unconciously, unawaringly, in the depths of the organism."

As I read this I became concerned as to how I might be a parasite unto myself. How is it that I court my "pretender soul," however you may define that (natural man, carnal man)? I'm sure there are many ways that I do this, but the more I thought about this the more I feel that the triumph of the true soul over the pretender soul hinges upon love. What do I chose to love? How do I choose to love it? If I choose to love shadows and smoke and all things ethereal, then I will be nothing more than a farce, a flimsy mask. But if I love something virtuous and I pursue that love with full purpose of heart then there is nothing parasitic about that and the true soul is the victor.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Best Albums of 2006

That familiar December chill is in the air, and as you shudder from the cold biting at your neck you might turn around to see that it isn't the windchill factor cutting you after all...but rather a thousand year end lists telling you what was "good" and "bad" from the year in music.

Knowing that I'd like to try a more comprehensive list this year than I did last year (and because I wasn't altogether satisfied by my year end list last year) I kept track of essentially every album I heard in its entirety this year. There were about sixty albums in all, and here are my top twenty. I have attached a somewhat arbitrary number to each of them called "iRanking." I made that up, and it is really just poppycock. The number is derived from taking each indvidual song ranking from my iPod (a five-star system) and averaging them to reveal the album's iRanking. Sometimes it reflected my love for the album accurately, and sometimes it did not. All this list business, its just a bunch of hooey anyway.

By the way, this is my 100th post. I feel good about that.

So without further ado, here is my Best Albums of 2006 list:

20. Richard Buckner: Meadow
iRanking: 3.40

Colby introduced me to Richard Buckner years ago and I didn’t give him the attention he deserved then. I’ve listened to and bought several of his albums since then and have come to appreciate the great music he makes. Meadow is a little coarser than its predecessors, in production, but his writing remains beautifully linear.

19. Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton: Knives Don’t Have Your Back
iRanking: 3.40
I know very little about Emily Haines. This record is apparently a solo project aside from her band Metric (who I’ve never listened to). She is armed with little more than a piano on most of the record. The songs that shine the most are the ones that have the most production. There are too many songs that share the same plinking piano, else this could have been a "great" record, but as it stands now it remains a satisfyingly "good" record.

18. Regina Spektor: Begin to Hope
iRanking: 3.41
Regina Spektor is an eclectic artist who has a great touch on the piano. Begin to Hope is accessible and poppy, but doesn’t stoop to industry conventions. Many of the songs are narrative based and enjoyable to listen to, but this isn’t life changing stuff, nor ever will be. She is entertaining and whimsical and on those levels this album best succeeds.

17. Page France: Hello, Dear Wind
iRanking: 3.42
The toughest thing when singing about Jesus, is doing the subject matter justice while maintaining a sense of musical artisty/integrity. Most efforts turn out cheesy and oversentimental. This is why I have a general aversion to most Christian music, and even though Hello, Dear Wind may not fit neatly into that category, I think it does a pretty honest job of keeping it real without slipping into the common faux pas of the genre. This is definitely one of the more listened to records on my list this year.

16. Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere
iRanking: 3.42
This is one of those groups that blew up commercially this year. It was fantastic to see Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green working their gig via outlets like the Tonight Show and Late Night. "Crazy" is just one of those infectious songs you can’t not like. Forget the Taylor Hicks soul patrol, Cee-Lo has arrived. I’m familiar with some of the work he did with Goodie Mob, but he really gets to let his voice shine on this album. Not all of the songs are good, but the ones that are, are really good.

15. Grandaddy: Just Like the Fambly Cat
iRanking: 3.46
R.I.P. Grandaddy. They are no more, and this is their last record. I still think Sumday is one of the best pop records released in the last few years, and though Just Like the Fambly Cat doesn’t hit on all of the cylinders Sumday did, it gets close in several moments. Jason Lytle is a craftsman and I love his whispy voice. I’ll be looking forward to hearing his solo material in the future.

14. Damien Jurado: And Now That I’m In Your Shadow
iRanking: 3.46
This album sees the minimalist Jurado hearkening back to the Ghost of David era. He tells his stories in a simple vernacular, stories of forbidden love and one-way leavings. This is not a cheer-you-up record, but the welcome dose of empathy you are looking for on the cold, lonely nights. The record suffers a bit from lack of variation in tempo and feel, so by the end you are pretty beat, but the songs all well-written.

13. Kris Kristofferson: This Old Road
iRanking: 3.50
I love Kris Kristofferson. I didn’t read many reviews of this album this year, but it is a great one. It is timely and delivered with force, passion, and grace. This is the type of album that Willie Nelson and other contemporaries who are still treading water only wish they could release. What Neil Young was trying to do with Living With War (parts were terrific), was done here with more effectiveness and refinement.

12. Islands: Return to the Sea
iRating: 3.79
In April of this year I heard "Rough Gem" and became infected with the pop bliss of Islands. It is the best song on a record that has some weak moments, but is by and large a great first effort for ex-Unicorn Nick Diamond and company. Lyrically I’m not blown away by this record, but it inventively balances twinges of country, rock, and pop. They seem to be a band in flux, already losing founding member/drummer J’aime Tambeur, and their future may be cloudy, so take advantage in the meantime.

11. Half-Handed Cloud: Halos and Lassos
iRating: 4.00
John Ringhofer, whose moniker is Half-Handed Cloud, has a unique voice that can turn someone off immediately. But I find it endearing. He brings a new definition to the idea of musical economy. Even Jerry Lee Lewis wrote longer songs than this guy, and there aren’t many people you can say that about. Here we have 19 songs that clock in at just under thirty minutes. You do the math. Halos and Lassos is loaded with Biblical allusion, but not in some primary Sunday School way. He deals with his subject matter with respect, awe, irony, wonder, and all out pop prowess. After one listen you’ll be "do do do do"-ing just fine.

10. Destroyer: Destroyer’s Rubies
iRanking: 3.60
I know very little about the ubiquitous Dan Bejar, aside from his work with TNP. What I do know is that it takes talent to hold my attention for an entire ten minute song and "Rubies" does that. Dan’s voice will grate on some—its not always on tune, and his style often relies on talk-singing and "da da da" choruses. His lyrics are an extremely elusive conversational poetry, open to interpretation. I’m afraid even Dan Brown in all his code-unraveling trickery couldn’t dismantle a Destroyer record, much less me. So if you enjoy a lyric solely because of its flow and sound and imagery, this tea cup is yours.

9. TV On The Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
iRanking: 3.65
This one must be a creative tour de force beyond my understanding based on all the critical praise it’s been given this year. I’ve listened to it quite a few times, and it still has yet to resonate with me on a genuine personal level, but I can’t deny that they’ve tapped into something intense and enormous. I don’t love everything here, indeed I dislike some of it, but there are parts that are amazing (Wolf Like Me). Some are comparing this album to OK Computer, the standard by which all things are apparently judged by indie bloggerdom. There were enough highlights on this album to keep me returning to it for relistens, but a front to back journey does requires a portion of patience.

8. Figurines: Skeleton
iRating: 3.75
I was tipped off to Denmark’s Figurines by 3hive, and have been excited about them all year long. I had to special order the album because stores just don’t seem to carry it. Figurines will inevitably draw comparisons to Modest Mouse, but they aren’t trying to tread the same ground. These songs are catchy, melodic rockers. Structurally they are doing nothing new, but the hooks are so chiseled they make me want to hop around my living room.

7. Peter and the Wolf: Lightness
iRanking: 3.75
Red Hunter has that incredible baritone that I kind of wish I had. Not as deep and mysterious as Richard Hawley, but with enough gravitas to give his contributions a special room in the mansions of indie rock. He sings on the title track, "Every morning’s another chance, to see a different meaning. Carry on the memory, maybe then the lightness will come to me." I love the idea of how time can bring clarity to experiences and situations that never quite reveal their full meaning until proper reflection is given. This is a great album that never quite commits itself to any particular genre.

6. The Decemberists: The Crane Wife
iRating: 4.00
There was no dialing back on the oddities from this major label debut. Colin Meloy and company moved forward with a musical spectacular based on a tragic Japanese folktale. Not exactly the money-making formula typically employed by corporate big whigs. But that is because the Decemberists are not a money-making formula, just artists delving joyously deeper into their craft of storytelling songsmanship. For me there were a few musical hiccups on the record, but overall (and including the iTunes extras) it is another fantastic release from these Oregonians.

5. Sufjan Stevens: The Avalanche
iRating: 4.12
The first thing that must be noted about The Avalanche is that it is a compilation of outtakes and extras from last year’s monumental Illinois. These songs did not make the cut for various reasons, and were doomed to perhaps never be released. Thankfully Sufjan reconsidered this year and we were graced with an album of extraordinary songs peppered from time to time with some mediocre ones. But the great ones are outstanding. "Springfield" is a channeling of CSNY, and "No Man’s Land" is a parade of new patriotism, answering as the foil to Woody Guthrie’s "This Land is Your Land." You can easily pick out the dross from Illinois, but at least half of this record is as good as its predecessor.

4. Cat Power: The Greatest
iRating: 4.15
Believe it or not, the title of this album is not pretentious in the least. Chan Marshall has unleashed her most commercially viable record yet, and done so without compromising her artistry. The music unfolds like dark tapestry on winter windows, full of slow tempo longings. Her voice carries the beautiful gravity of the lyrics, putting bite on the wit, sadness to the resignation, and humor to the irony. Oh, and she’s absolutely beautiful.

3. Band of Horses: Everything All the Time
iRating: 4.15
I first heard "Funeral" on the blogs right around the new year and knew that I was listening to something anthemic. "At every occasion I’ll be ready for a funeral." When I got the whole album I was pleased to find it was a stinging, head-bobbing, spine-swaying, straightforward pop rock record. But pop records are released by the dozens each week, why should this one be so good? Solid song craftsmanship, great melodies, and the terrific tenor of Ben Bridwell that is reminiscent of Jim James, only better.

2. Joanna Newsom: Ys
iRating: 4.20
There is certainly a level of novelty here. Ys has but five songs—each of them expansive, reaching 8 minutes on the short end, and on the long end 16. There are orchestral arrangements that include, from time to time, the hard-to-incorporate mouth bow. The harpist appears on the album cover in a Renaissance-style painting. Given her childlike voice, and quirky annunciation, all these elements combine to make a bizarre combination that will estrange some, but will be magnificent to others. As cryptic and idiosyncratic as she might be, there is not another album released this year that has the lyrical poeticism that this album has. These are sprawling narratives filled with gorgeous, specific imagery: "I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water / frowning at the angle where they were lost, and slipped under forever / in a mud cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky’d been breathing on a mirror." The music itself isn’t as enjoyable for me as it was on Milk-Eyed Mender, but Newsom is in top form on "Emily" and "Cosmia."

1. Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
iRating: 4.25
Ever since I began writing music myself, I’ve always been dazzled by what some artists can do with two chords and a voice. Quality isn’t necessarily a derivative of complexity, and what Neko Case does so magnificently on this album is pound you into glorious oblivion with her simple musical bars. Her voice soars in absolute brilliance. She plays such a seemingly backseat role with TNP that I didn’t expect to be swept off my feet in this way. There is really no wrong turn on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Each song fulfills the very measure of its birth.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Smelling Roses

Life’s mysterious currents have now washed us ashore in Rose Park. This is a house that needs the touch of a master’s hand, but unfortunately I can’t play. Over the course of the next few weeks we will be gutting the kitchen and bathrooms, and putting in new ones, demolishing one wall, ripping out all existing carpet and laying new, putting in new hardwood floors, new furnace and central air, various framing and touch-up, paint, and no doubt a hundred other menial jobs. The plate is full.

We now have possession of the house, but are currently living with the in-laws while the repairs are made. We are grateful for their hospitality, and grateful for my family coming down from Idaho to lend their arms, backs, and brains to the project. Perhaps it is time to make good on a promise I made to God a year or two ago in song:

Can I be your son
and your generation?
Build me a house,

I’ll fill it with life
and cut off all bad association.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What are Your Crimes?

I've been reading the Prince of Tides, a book that has given birth to a new song. The challenge of parenthood was herculian enough without reading this book, which has only emphasized the beauty of family ties and the tragedy of exploiting them. These lyrics are written in the fictional first person as a reminder to myself of my responsibilities.

This broken photograph framed in the mirror
Hung like a famished shadow
Hollow from all the vicarious dreams
Lying broken in piles on the floor
Pick up the shards one by one
The jigsaw is never quite done
As long as you're here
As long as you're here

Spinning around with your hands on my spine
The shaping--it feels like a blow
Every false potter who reaches for me
Tries to put their own heart in the show
Marred like a stone on the wheel
I knew your stone heart couldn't feel
Til the molding is done
Til the molding is done

Crank up the discs and plow down my back
Plant the spring seeds in my flesh
Call down the rain from impossible clouds
I'll sprout the wings you will like best
Harvesting all of your fruit
Fear on the leaves and the root
It grows harder each year
It grows harder each year

Kill me with love, go on kill me with love
Inject me with your wasted time
Just don't believe, don't you ever believe
You will save me with all your sad crimes

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween Nightmare

Is it a chicken? Is it a duck? A Chuck, perhaps? Enjoy this video of the boy's first Halloween.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Balm of Gilead

In the northwest of current day Jordan, lies a place once known as Gilead. It was a land divided between Israel’s tribes, and native to this country was a bush that produced a gummy pitch from which a healing balm was made. Thus, the scriptures come to talk about the balm of Gilead.

Marilynne Robinson is an author hallowed in some eternal sense. This novel of hers is the very balm of healing. Set in the rural Midwestern town of Gilead, it is voiced by John Ames, a third generation preacher who has been diagnosed with a terminal heart condition. The book is one long letter, his “begats” as he calls them, to his very young son bound to never really know his dad, except by the accounts of others and this epistle.

I feel I will do this book injustice by offering a synopsis of its contents, however well-intended. I wonder what my feeling of this novel would be if I were not a Christian, but I realize that sort of speculation is useless. All I can say is how I felt when reading it, which is full of awe, and love, and happiness, and sorrow, and forgiveness, and compassion. Perhaps all these emotions are compounded by the fact that I have a brand new baby boy, and that I couldn’t help but think about what I would say to him, were I consigned to a similar fate. I can’t recommend this one enough. Gilead is full of that rare wisdom that takes a life of joy and loss to acquire, and is dulled not by time.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


My cousin-in-law Jen has tagged me. Haven't been tagged since elementary school, really, so this is new.

What do you like most about where you live?

Purple mountain majesty (I look but don’t touch). Proximity to friends. A fearless Bishop. An overabundance of teetotalers.

If I’m to be completely truthful, something for which I strive, location isn’t that big of a deal to me.

What is one of your all-time favorite music albums and why?

Oh no. My heroine of choice. There are several albums that, for me, are complete masterpieces. All of these are ten out of ten, and get played constantly at my house.

Elliott Smith – Figure 8. Genius songwriting. No doubt one of the best songwriters of the last few decades.
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds. Can’t say enough about these songs. Brian Wilson is the touchstone for all arrangers and producers. Where would we be without this album? God only knows.
The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow. Trendy perhaps now, to like the Shins, but forget all that. This band kills. Their lyrics are king, and those melodies….those beautiful complex melodies.
Joanna Newsom – Milk-Eyed Mender. Girl + Harp + Poetry + Wacky Voice = Greatness. It’s simple mathematics really. I wish Christy liked her.
The Beatles – Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Such a “duh” choice, I know, but this is the band doing what they do best.

Perhaps my favorite all-time, and when I say “all-time,” I’m stretching forth from the Beatles, to that forgotten violinist in Cold Mountain, to Bach, to David and his chorusmaster Asaph (most of these had no ability to make an album…Rubber Soul started that, so it’s kind of new) is Sufjan Stevens – Illinois. I’ve raved about this album enough on this blog, but not only is he a wonderful writer of fiction (another soft spot of mine) but he made this album. All cumbersome song titles aside, when Carl Sandburg visits him in his dream it goes like this:

I cried myself to sleep last night
And the ghost of Carl, he approached my window
I was hypnotized, I was asked to improvise
On the attitude, the regret, of a thousand centuries of death

Even with the heart of terror and the superstitious wearer
I am riding all alone, I am writing all alone
Even in my best condition, counting all the superstition
I am riding all alone, I am running all alone

And we laughed at the beatitudes of a thousand lines
We were asked at the attitudes, they reminded us of death

Even with the rest belated, everything is antiquated
Are you writing from the heart? Are you writing from the heart?
Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level
Are you writing from the heart? Are you writing from the heart?

And I cried myself to sleep last night, for the Earth and materials,
They may sound just right to me.

That burning question sneaks around in that shadow behind my brain…“Are you writing from the heart?” Because I know that if the answer is “No,” then I am really not doing much good here in this life then.

(Come back for my end-of-year, best albums of 2006)

Did you have a passion for something as a kid that you still have now?

Few passions have come and gone, so I can safely say reading, music, wrestling (tights and shoes, not tights and boots). I also tried to get to know Jesus then, and still pursue that arduously.

What do you like most about having a blog?

My blog, as you can see, is not a place where I journal my life. I have a journal for that. I finished a volume just last week, in fact. Those are precious books for me. What I like about my blog though, is that it is a creative outlet. When I’m not creatively reading, or creatively writing, or creatively composing, or creatively loving my wife and child, I try to creatively blog. I do all of these things with mixed results.

Who's next? The only other person who has a blog that I know of is my sister-in-law Alicen. You're it. Colby, you have a website, so you're it too.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Slipping Away

The last thing I did before retiring for bed last night was listen to the new Decemberists album, The Crane Wife. I’m not sure if this was or wasn’t the cause of my fitful sleep, but shortly before 4 A.M. I’d had enough of the tossing and turning, and the strange half-realized dreams that could never quite get off the ground. I decided to turn on the light and read myself into something deeper. The lyric going through my head at this time was “…you’ve been slipping, been slipping away.” I know this is from Her Majesty, but this is all my mind could catch hold of. I’ve been munching my way through Marilynne Robinson’s delicious Gilead. This is a novel I will read three or four times before I die. I put it down on page 100, went in and checked on Gus. He was sleeping on his side and I knelt down and touched his chest so I could feel him breathe. He is such a beautiful boy. There is so much I want for him.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Gus

Here he is, live and in color, smuggling off with our hearts and all of our attention.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

So Much Depends Upon...

Already summer is slipping away, and I find myself looking out my window at work, which is filled with gray clouds and dark shadows and wetness. I'm not ready for Fall yet, but it's coming regardless, and I'm hoping for a nice long Indian Summer. But for now this view will laugh at me. I'm reminded of that William Carlos Williams poem:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Monday, September 18, 2006

Majesty Snowbird and the Chinese Butterfly Brigade

Here is a video link to a portion of Sufjan Steven's new song "Majesty/Snowbird" courtesy of Chris at Gorilla Vs. Bear. I'm a sucker for this stuff. It's no secret that I think Sufjan is nigh on untouchable, and this clip gives me chills. Rumor has it that this song is a ten minute anthem of sorts, and I can't wait to hear the entire thing.


Stay tuned for November 21st, when Sufjan releases a 5 disc boxed set Christmas album, which includes 42 Christmas tunes (17 of which are originals). Among the titles are the following, "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!", "Come on! Let's Boogie to the Elf Dance!", "Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!", and "Get Behind Me Santa."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Alarm of War

My bowells, my bowells!
I am pained at my very heart
My heart maketh a noise in me
I cannot hold my peace
because thou hast heard
O my soul
the sound of the trumpet
the alarm of war.
-Jeremiah 4:19

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Blood Meridian

Or the Evening Redness in the West

Once in a great while I’ll finish a book that wrings my mind to the point of sleeplessness. It hasn’t happened, I confess, for some time, but last night I finished Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and couldn’t rest for a half hour. Then I woke up at 4:45 A.M. thinking about it and couldn’t get back to sleep again until 5:30. The Judge will haunt me, I’m afraid, for as long as I live. We seem to be a race both obsessed with and plagued by violence, and the Judge drives this idea home with more force than any other character in any other medium I’ve ever known. I’ve never read the like with respect to intensity of prose, the snappy vernacular dialogue, certainly the violence, and, perhaps most of all, the taut philosophical veins that pulse through the novel. It was like looking through some ghastly peephole into the human condition, and being afraid, truly afraid, at what I saw. I don’t know if I should be, and I certainly don't want to be.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Least of These...

I was walking out of Smith’s on my way home, because I had to get some batteries. This was the same day that thunderstorm snuck in and soaked everything downtown. The air smelled fresh and was contrasted by broken tree branches and fallen leaves littering the parking lot. I hadn’t walked ten steps from the door when I heard to my right someone yelling, “Hey man!” I kept walking ‘cause I didn’t know he was talking to me, but sure enough he was and I stopped after the next hey man.
“Hey man, can I get ride man?”
“A ride?”
“Yeah, just a ride man. My car broke down and I just need a hitch to my place, man, it ain’t far.”

There was no hiding on my face the fact that I didn’t want to give the dude a ride. He was a pretty rough looking character, to put it nicely, but then I also noticed he was drenched from the rainstorm.
“How far?”
“Not far, 1800 South, West Temple.”
I vascilated.
“Come on man! My car got a flat and I just need a ride to my place so I can get a spare.”
“Alright, let’s do it. Come jump in.”
“Finally! Good hell!” says he as we walk to my car. “I’ve been asking people in this parking lot for twenty minutes, and no one will give me a second look even. I was gonna talk to you and one more person, then I was gonna throw my hands up and to-hell-with-it and walk. What’s wrong with people in Utah these days? It used to be that people would help people man!”
As we pulled out of the parking lot I said something dumb like I was in hurry for something and that is why I wasn’t sure if I had time to give the ride. Some bologna excuse that probably came across as fake as it was. As we drove to his house he asked about Idaho, my home state, and whether people there still helped people. I said I thought so but wasn’t sure.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I had a birthday over the weekend--the big two eight. Kindof made me feel old, but not as depressed as last year. A few days ago I recieved a great email from Colby Stead, a "steadfast" friend. I wanted to post it here, just to prove the tender nature of friends who surround me:

You have created a life, but this is a day to celebrate yours. Les, there isn't anyway I can match the elegance and grace of the Birthday Wish that you wrote for me. To some small degree it seems that I need a song structure or a rhyming scheme to emotionally express myself. Well, this is far from a song and or a poem, this is nothing more than an acknowledgment.

1. The act of admitting or owning to something.
- There are many things that I need to admit and or own up to, both in my life and in our friendship. For instance, the debacle with David. That was something that I think about often. Les, I am sorry that you (and yourreputation) was dragged into that situation. I never wanted and or meant for that to happen.

2. Recognition of another's existence, validity, authority, or right.
- So many things about you deserve recognition. Your music, your humor, your writing, your insight... I could go on & on. And as for your existence? Two nights ago I walked into the dining room and heard Makenzie singing (and watching) the video of you and Christy on the website. "I love this song Colby" is what she said. Your existence is very important to me and all of those that love (and that are entertained & enlightened by) you.

3. An answer or response in return for something done.
- Of all the things you have done for me Les, one major thing stands out. Your acceptance. Your acceptance of me and our friendship is something I will be forever grateful for. I have had many friendships come and go with time; not able to withstand the tests of it. We are very different in
many ways, but somehow someway we continue to find common ground. Constantly you compromise to meet me more than in the middle. Your willingness and your patience is something that I am continually amazed & touched by.

4. An expression of thanks or a token of appreciation.
- As stated above, I didn't want to make you a video, or write you a song; I just wanted to honestly express and acknowledge our friendship (and your birthday)!

5. A formal declaration made to authoritative witnesses to ensure legal validity.
- ....Ughhh? Does a friendship NEED legal validation? Continually you validate me and my music. Again, that is something that I am so grateful for. I appreciate your mind so much, so anytime that mine creates something that you admire, I am humbled. Songs on i-pod lists, a link to The Rifleman, a request in your living room, all of these things do not go unnoticed. You help validate me in many ways, wether you know it or not. Have a wonderful day Les. I hope that it is full of lead-free laughter, care-free chocolate, insecurity-free singing, and last but not least... Acknowledgment.

With Love

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

iPod Squad Part 10, 9:00+

Nine minutes? A song this long had better be good, or I'm checking out. Some of these are better than others, that is for sure. Meatloaf takes me back to high school and this song is completely grandiose. I love it. High school also reminds me of Tori Amos. Haven't listened to her since really, but I the first time I saw her play I couldn't look away. This Islands track is pretty good (except the first 5 minutes are white noise). This Destroyer song is amazing, and so is most of his latest album. Phish. I can say I saw them play in on New Years Eve 2000 in the Florida Everglades along with friends Kevin Holgate and Faren Eddins. A trip to remember. They played this, of course. Van Morrison is so, so, so much more than the "Brown Eyed Girl" guy. Astral Weeks is an album everyone should have. Stevie Wonder is a living legend. It is hard to overstate his contribution to the musical world. What a voice! He is still making relevant and challenging music today. This song is the title track from his latest.

This concludes the iPod Squad series. I know the lists have been pretty indie-heavy, but I'm really not all that bohemian. I like what I think sounds good and readily admit that I can get into Garth Brooks and Michael Jackson as much as I can The Starlight Mints and Sparrow House.

1. Destroyer - Rubies
2. Gillian Welch - I Dream A Highway
3. Meatloaf - Bat Out Of Hell
4. Ryan Adams - Nobody Girl
5. Islands - Untitled
6. David Gray - Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
7. Tori Amos - Yes, Anastasia
8. Broken Social Scene - It's All Gonna Break
9. Sufjan Stevens - Oh God, Where Are You Now?
10. Bruce Springsteen - Jungleland
11. Van Morrison - Madame George
12. Phish - Run Like An Antelope
13. Natalie Merchant - When They Ring The Golden Bells
14. The Polyphonic Spree - Section 19 (When The Fool Becomes A King)
15. Stevie Wonder - A Time To Love (feat. India Arie)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

iPod Squad Part 9, 8:00-8:59

When I was a freshman in high-school I was an aspiring drummer, and I would spend my afternoons laying on my bed, eyes closed, and Stairway to Heaven playing on my boom box. With drumsticks in hand, I would try and imitate every percieved move by John Bonham's immaculate playing. It is amazing how great of a drummer you can be in those closed door moments. Needless to say it didn't really translate when I ended up sitting down at the actual kit. Zeppelin is, of course, a landmark group and a pretty necessary phase for most kids in high-school. So much hype surrounds Neutral Milk Hotel's album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Rightfully so, in my opinion. It is a pretty amazing peice of work, and this selection is great, although not my favorite from the record. My friend Steven Gertsch, a fantastic cellist in his own right, introduced me to Bach's Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma. They get played at my house as much as anything else does. Thanks Steven! I didn't have time to upload all of the songs on this playlist, but I hit a couple (but not all) of the really cool ones.

1. Led Zeppelin - Stairway To Heaven
2. Neil Young - Like a Hurricane
3. Neutral Milk Hotel - Oh, Comely
4. Matthew Good Band - While We Were Hunting Rabbits
5. Stevie Wonder - Superman
6. Built to Spill - Broken Chairs
7. Grandaddy - He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot
8. Okkervil River - So Come Back, I Am Waiting
9. Yo Yo Ma - Bach's Cello Suite #6 in D, Allemande
10. Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds - Jimi Thing (live)
11. Bob Dylan - Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
12. The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again
13. T.V. On The Radio - Wash the Day
14. My Morning Jacket - Dondante
15. LCD Soundsystem - Beat Connection

Friday, August 04, 2006

iPod Squad Part 8, 7:00-7:59

Now these songs are getting kind of lengthy. This Mason Jennings song is a wonderful specimen of storytelling--the modus operandi fifty years ago, but something of a rarity in pop music these days. I love this Wilco tune. "I've got reservations about so many things, but not about you." Low proves that Mormon's can make cool music. This Lauryn Hill song is pretty intense. Although I don't agree with the theology framed in the song, I agree with the premise, which I see as this: Humanity will not be able to transend its current quagmire of folly, greed, and pride until we practice a brand of behavior/religion/faith that stops worshipping the self and instead surrender our wills in favor of charity and love. It is my opinion that the fall of Adam and Eve is an entirely misunderstood event, there was no sexual sin there, and if anything Eve was acting nobley, as a woman of vision, and should be praised rather than condemned. That felt like a rant. Moving on. John Cussack's charcter on "High Fidelity" says, "Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do's and don'ts. First of all you're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing." I've include two Decemberists songs, which is generally a no-no on mixes, but in the interest of "delicacy" I think we're okay.

Lastly, I'll tell you about this Built to Spill tune. Before Christy and I were dating, and we were merely aquaintances overflowing with hormones (and trying desperately to impress each other) we lived at the same apartment complex in Provo. She was known to come over to my place during the day to hang out or use my computer. One day I was at my keyboard and had this song BLARING on the stereo. She knocked on my door, which was half open, but I couldn't hear, so she poked her head in and saw me completely jamming flambouyantly to an air guitar solo (about the 3 min. mark). By the time I eventually turned around and saw her laughing at me, I was at a loss to explain my behavior. This went beyond wasting an opportunity to impress, this was shame. Luckily I caught her doing something similar a few weeks later, so we could move on embarressed of ourselves together.

1. Built to Spill - Virginia Reel Around The Fountain
2. The Decemberists - I Was Meant For The Stage
3. Wilco - Reservations
4. Death Cab For Cutie - Transatlanticism
5. Mason Jennings - Rebecca Deville
6. The Beatles - Hey Jude
7. Low - Broadway (So Many People)
8. Beck - Ramshackle
9. Bob Marley - No Woman No Cry
10. Wolf Parade - Dinner Bells
11. The Decemberists - The Gymnast, High Above The Ground
12. Crosby, Stills, and Nash - Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
13. Lauryn Hill - Adam Lives In Theory
14. Ben Harper - Two Hands Of A Prayer
15. Paul Weller - Shadow Of The Sun

Thursday, August 03, 2006

iPod Squad Part 7, 6:00-6:59

This Sufjan track is definately one of my all time favorite songs. When it switches from the 5/4 time signature in part 1 to 4/4 in part 2 is sheer greatness. I love the imagery of Carl Sandburg visiting him in a dream asking him the crucial question, "Are you writing from the heart?" That has become a mantra of mine. I saw Nick Urata, the heart and soul of DeVotchka, open a set for Mason Jennings in Denver a few years ago. I was mesmerized by that loud, soaring voice. I discovered this song while watching the trailer to "Everything is Illuminated" (a film that redeems Frodo Baggins way more than any trip to Mount Doom could). Rufus Wainwright's "Go or Go Ahead" is one of the best songs on this list, download it now! What a great voice. I included this Greg Brown song because of this line, "I will go fishing--get with the flow. I know a river out in Idaho where I'll catch a big trout and let him go. And I'll be happy." Danielson is a weird dude, and this is a weird song, so if you're into weirdness this may be a good day for you. Christy dislikes Joanna Newsome, and its been said that she sounds like Lisa Simpson, but I think she's brilliant and unique. So many good tunes here. This may just be the greatest....mix....ever.

1. Sufjan Stevens - Come On! Feel the Illinoise!
2. DeVotchka - How it Ends
3. Rufus Wainwright - Go or Go Ahead
4. Pedro the Lion - Secret of the Easy Yolk
5. Joanna Newsome - Sadie
6. Greg Brown - Just By Myself (live)
7. Sarah Harmer - Dandelions In Bullet Holes
8. Billy Joel - New York State of Mind
9. The Wrens - 13 Months in 6 Minutes
10. Radiohead - Paranoid Android
11. Alison Krauss & Union Station - Oh, Atlanta (live)
12. Danielson - Kids Pushing Kids
13. Tracy Chapman - Smoke and Ashes
14. Denison Witmer - You Got Me Good
15. Tom Waits - Tom Traubert's Blues

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

iPod Squad Part 6, 5:00-5:59

When I can convince Christy to sing along to my guitar playing it's always to Patty Griffin's music. I get the chills when she does "Nobody's Crying," so that had to make this list. The first time I heard Joni Mitchell's music I was at a record store and I randomly put in her album Blue at a listening station. It is the one time that I've actually sat and listened to an entire album start to finish in the record store. This selection reminds me of Emma Thompson's character in the film "Love Actually." Band of Horses has released one of the very finest albums of the year, and so has The Figurines (a Danish group of indie kids). Sometimes I think that if I could have a singing voice I would make it similar to Richard Hawley's. He's got that deep crooner's tone, which really suits his style well. I'm pretty low on the hip hop, as you can tell, but I really appreciate what Blackalicious does. My friend James Crowley introduced me to German band The Notwist and they are fairly good. And Otis Redding. Wow. This is a guy we could have used around for a much longer time.

1. The Arcade Fire - Wake Up
2. Rosie Thomas - Wedding Day
3. Electric Light Orchestra - Mr. Blue Sky
4. Blackalicious - World of Vibrations
5. Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now
6. Band of Horses - The Funeral
7. Bonnie Raitt - I Can't Make You Love Me
8. Damien Jurado - Tonight I Will Retire
9. Patty Griffin - Nobody's Crying
10. The Notwist - Consequence
11. Otis Redding - Try A Little Tenderness (live)
12. The Black Crowes - Descender
13. Richard Hawley - The Only Road
14. David Bowie - A Space Oddity
15. The Figurines - Rivalry

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

iPod Squad Part 5, 4:00-4:59

We've now broken the four minute mark! I love the end of this Andrew Bird tune, when he describes what I see as some end-of-days utopia. There will be snacks! Some may think I'm strange but I think Willie Nelson has one of the greatest voices of all time. His control is amazing, and this selection does it justice. Colby introduced me to Josh Rouse and Bonnie "Prince" Billy. "I See A Darkness" is a crushing song whose power I really didn't see until I heard the Johnny Cash cover. Take these lines for instance, "I hope that someday, buddy, we'll have peace in our lives, together or apart, alone or with our wives, then we can stop our whoring, and pull the smiles inside, and light it up forever and never go to sleep. My best unbeaten brother, this isn't all I see." Lucinda is a superb songwriter, and the Jayhawks have never received the artistic recognition they deserve. The Shins' James Mercer is one of the best pop lyricists out there in my opinion...get this, "Mercy's eyes are blue and when she places them in front of you, nothing holds a roman candle to the solemn warmth you feel. There's no measuring of it as nothing else is love." Beat that!

1. Andrew Bird - Tables and Chairs
2. Sufjan Stevens - Romulus
3. Haley Bonar - Am I Allowed
4. Willie Nelson - Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground
5. The Shins - Saint Simon
6. Bloc Party - Like Eating Glass
7. The Flaming Lips - Fight Test
8. Belle and Sebastian - The Boy Done Wrong Again
9. The Jayhawks - Trouble
10. Lucinda Williams - He Never Got Enough Love
11. Josh Rouse - Laughter
12. The Postal Service - The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
13. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - I See A Darkness
14. Iron & Wine - Sodom, South Georgia
15. Of Montreal - The Party's Crashing Me

Monday, July 31, 2006

iPod Squad Part 4, 3:00-3:59

Christy makes fun of me because every time I get done making a new mix I say "This is the greatest mix ever!" But here you go...this is the greatest mix ever. Colby's "Grown" is an amazing song, and I love the production of this one, with the ressonant (harmonica?) filling the background. Kris Kristofferson's latest album, This Old Road, is fantastic--every time I hear him I think of his frail artistic character, "Bud" in the film Chelsea Walls. The piano in the chorus to "On The Table" is exhilirating. Christy and I think Feist sings like an angel--the females on this mix represent! I love the line in this Pavement tune, "You kiss like a rock but you know I need it anyway." Malkmus has always had a quirky way with words. The vocals for CYHSY is very David Byrne-ish for me, which is not a bad thing. My brother-in-law Jeremy introduced me to Bright Eyes, and this is a great track from last year's double release. Is it weird that I included ABBA in this mix? No way Jose. This one is for my sister-in-law Alicen, the true Mamma. Enjoy the music folks!

1. A.C. Newman - On The Table
2. Brian Eno - St. Elmo's Fire
3. Colby Stead - Grown
4. Regina Spektor - Fidelity
5. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - In This Home On Ice
6. Bright Eyes - Take it Easy (Love Nothing)
7. The Clash - Train In Vain (Stand By Me)
8. Kris Kristofferson - This Old Road
9. Richard Buckner - Six Years
10. Fiest - Secret Heart
11. Camera Obscura - Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken
12. Pavement - Major Leagues
13. ABBA - Mamma Mia
14. Brendan Benson - Spit It Out
15. The Knife - Heartbeats

Friday, July 28, 2006

iPod Squad Part 3, 2:00-2:59

What more can I say about the musical genius of Elliott Smith? It doesn't get much better than Oh Well, Okay when he sings "If you get a feeling next time you see me, do me a favor and let me know cause it's hard to tell, its hard to say...". An old college roommate, Bruce Jensen, got me into Uncle Tupelo, which in turn led to Son Volt. I bought Ron Sexsmith's album "Blueboy" based on two things 1) the cover artwork and 2) the fact that it was produced by Steve Earle. It's turned out to be one of my best blind purchases. I know Robert Skoro, from when he was bassist for Mason Jennings. I preordered the first album when it came out and he had written "Hey Les!" on the package. SSLYBY has a great album, "Broom" which is full of snappy pop music, and this track sounds a bit like the second coming of (old) Weezer. Chan Marshall, moniker "Cat Power", has released one of my favorite albums of this year, aptly titled "The Greatest."

1. Elliott Smith - Oh Well, Okay
2. Jose Gonzalez - Crosses
3. Cat Power - Where Is My Love?
4. The Beach Boys - God Only Knows
5. Ron Sexsmith - Miracle In Itself
6. John Vanderslice - Gruesome Details
7. Robert Skoro - Two-Part Harmony
8. Beulah - Burned By the Sun
9. Hank Williams - Lovesick Blues
10. Field Music - You Can Decide
11. The Rosebuds - Hold Hands and Fight
12. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Oregon Girl
13. Gnarls Barkley - Crazy
14. Son Volt - Windfall
15. M. Ward - I'll Be Yr Bird

Thursday, July 27, 2006

iPod Squad Part 2, 1:00-1:59

This is a fun playlist that has selections from the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, and 00's. My brother-in-law, Jeremy, introduced me to Hayden a few years back, and I love his music. Colby loaned me a book on the life of Nick Drake which I almost finished...he is a wonderful musician (Nick or Colby, or both?). Christy's friend, Michelle Buhler, introduced us to Spoon years ago, and I first heard Cat Stevens through my lifelong friend Faren. I have a strange fixation with Blind Melon's "Soup" album, so I had to include one of those tracks. The rest of the artists I've come to know and enjoy on my own. I've linked to a few more selections this time, but they're only availible for 7 days, so enjoy!

1. Aimee Mann - Just Like Anyone
2. Page France - Finders
3. Neko Case - At Last
4. Nick Drake - Horn
5. Spoon - You Gotta Feel It
6. Cat Stevens - Tea For the Tillerman
7. Hayden - Stem
8. Johnny Cash - Country Trash
9. Mississippi John Hurt - The Chicken
10. Innocence Mission - Medjugorje
11. Randy Newman - He Gives Us All His Love
12. Caribou - Lord Leopard
13. The Smiths - Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want
14. Loretta Lynn - This Old House
15. Blind Melon - Skinned

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

iPod Squad Part 1, 0:00-0:59

One thing I love to do with my iTunes/iPod is filter and sort its contents in various ways to create playlists. For instance, I'll create a group of songs with “California” in the title, or everything that came out in the year 1972, or songs I haven’t listened to in six months. Because iPods are so slick and clever, and because the likelihood of me getting a “Celebrity Playlist” is somewhat low, I am going to use mine to deliver to you all, my faithful readership (ignore the curious lack of comments in previous posts), with a 10 part series highlighting my favorite fifteen songs that fall within certain lengths of time.

This first playlist consists of the extra shorties. Click on the name of the linked songs to sample them.

1. The Beatles: Her Majesty
2. Coldplay: Parachutes
3. The Boy Least Likely To: Warm Panda Cola
4. Half-Handed Cloud – Tongues That Possess the Earth Instead
5. Jenny Lewis – Happy (reprise)
6. Gladys Knight and the Pips – Over My Head
7. Animal Collective – College
8. Brian Wilson – Barnyard
9. Sufjan Stevens – In This Temple, as in the Hearts of Man for Whom He Saved the Earth
10. The Polyphonic Spree – The Crush
11. Pearl Jam – Wasted (reprise)
12. Pete Yorn – Intro
13. John Lennon – Woman Is the Nigger of the World
14. My Bloody Valentine: Touched
15. Devendra Banhart: Dragonflies

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


A poem by A.R. Ammons

I found a
that had a

mirror in it
and that

looked in at
a mirror

me that
had a
weed in it

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gus Franklin Blake

On June 25, 2006 my wife Christy gave birth to our first child, Gus Franklin Blake. No other event in my life has effected me quite so much. To describe those feelings requires words I don’t have.

Meet Gus:

He likes to be held.
He eats every two hours.
He loves to look at lights.
He sleeps with his arms raised a la Moses parting the Red Sea.
He’s a night owl and rarely turns in before 2 AM.
He has a good strong neck.
He has funny looking toes, and spreads them like a monkey.
He burns through a dozen diapers a day.
He likes to stretch his legs.
He has projectile poo, pee, and throw up…pretty much everything leaving the body.
He likes it when Mom sings.
He’s a noisy eater.
He enjoys riding in the car.
He likes to sleep diagonal in the bed.
He's coordinated enough to hold in or take out his own binky (“soother” for Canadians).
He startles easily (except during certain naps).
He is constantly wearing a concerned look.
He has very fortunate parents.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

If I Die In A Combat Zone

As I looked at the news this morning and saw coverage of the tortured and mutilated bodies of those American soldiers in Iraq, I couldn't help but feel sadness and compassion for them and their families. Yesterday I read on CNN about how one of the soldiers, Kristian Menchaca, was on leave here in the U.S. a month ago. His brother said of him, "He just said how pretty bad it was over there. He wasn't the same inside anymore. I guess that's what war does to you."

Last night I was reading If I Die In a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, the personal memoirs of Tim O'Brien, who served in Vietnam. Not as a direct correlation to the Vietnam and Iraq wars, but as a condemnation of the evil state of affairs that is almost inevitable with war, I quote this passage from the book:

"If land is not won, and if hearts are at best left indifferent; if the only obvious criterion of military success is body count and if the enemy absorbs losses as he has, still able to lure us amid his crop of mines; if soldiers are being withdrawn, with more to go later and later and later; if legs make me more of a man, and they surely do, my soul and character and capacity to love notwithstanding; if any of this is truth, a soldier can only do his walking, laughing along the way and taking a funny, crooked step.

After the war, he can begin to be bitter. Those who point at and degrade his bitterness, those who declare that it's all a part of war and that this is a job which must be done--to those patriots I will recommend a postwar vacation to this land, where they can swim in the sea, lounge under a fine sun, stroll in the quaint countryside, wife and son in hand. Certainly, there will be a mine or two still in the earth. Alpha Company did not detonate all of them."

May both God and we bless and look after our soldiers (during and after this occupation), and the soldiers of the Iraqi army who will hopefully be able to step up in a very short season to lead and protect their own people from the tyranny and atrocities of years past.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The New School

This belly is full of the new school
Before fingernails—
Joyfully scraping the uterine chalkboard
Before eye color—
Wherewith to bathe in warm lines of Frost
Before hair—
The follicles of protection, smell, and crush

This curve is the arc of the student
Fleshy stripes—
A wild zebra of growth
His horizon—
Contorting with waves of impatience
Inert pains—
Of hearing but not seeing the world

This firmness is a billion broken syllabi
The essay—
Whose thesis writes itself as your back is turned
The experiment—
Whose success and failure is logged with God
The last trimester—
That ends with the most blazing of final exams

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Rifleman

I'd like to sincerely thank Colby Stead: a good friend who took it upon himself to spend some time with my family and me this past weekend at the Idaho State Service Rifle Championships. He took some footage of the event and compliled it into a video entitled "The Rifleman" that you can see here, along with other short documentary style films featuring individuals more gifted and unique than myself.

Last year I wrote a poem entitled Spent Powder, which you can read here, which embodies the beautiful bond that shooting has created between me and my Dad. Colby could have edited the film to communicate a varitey of messages from any number of family and friends, but ultimately what this breif glance into the shooting world became wasn't the technical or even cultural aspect of it all, but rather the personal effects it has had on a father and a son.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Remember Me

Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, all this picture taking. I’m surrounded by folks who spend small fortunes on film and dye cuts and acid free paper. We tell ourselves that it’s for our children, and our children’s children, and someday the generations will look back and remember us. They’ll know just what life was like, and that is sacred. And while all of this may be true, we deny the selfish underbelly its say.

The secret is, that it’s really for myself. It’s so I will remember. So I can use a little less faith, and by looking at a photo I’ll quell my fear that maybe I wasn’t there. Maybe I never was skinny. Maybe I never looked that good in a suit. Maybe she never did glance at me with love in her eyes. Let’s face it. The future generations don’t care all that much. Can you remember the last time you spend a tear stained afternoon going through your parent’s photo album?

I rest my case.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dear Colby

Dear Colby…
That is how a letter starts, and if this were a letter
I could fill the lines with inch-thick travel logs,
Half-ripe reminiscence and an occasional emoticon—
That fearful undercurrent in my brain
Beneath the clever
Beneath the specific
Beneath every meaningful cog
Babbling, “Just as I suspected, the words aren’t doing it.”
But it isn’t, and the thing is
Mondays are gone,
David is gone,
Eagan is gone,
And I sometimes suspect that all that is left is memory
And I convince myself that it is so
To make new ones. And maybe not worth it.
And in the end only a heart will remain
Lying quietly in some well-swept alleyway neatly set aside—
And such is the nature of good intentions.
But I’m feeling romantic, because hard is romantic
And makes for good storytelling
Most people don’t like hard
But prefer a nice story about hard, so…
Once upon a time nature spent ten billion years
And made you
Bystanders all around noted that you used and reused
Tidy canvas bags at the grocery store
Carefully crafted buttons at the county fair
Cleaned up after other mammals’ piss when expected
But failed to note that
You walked very tall
Spoke softly
Looked at the world with a thousand pair of eyes
Two thousand and one lenses, and saturated notebooks with
Peculiar questions about God, love, death.
And this is the part of the story that is hard
You find miles of beauty on both sides of a spinning coin
Refusing to call, while in every direction people shout
Heads or tails.
It is so easy to pain over a thirty-year or thirty-millennia block
In nature’s investment.
Instead of the spinning coin and that lonely heart
In a well-swept alleyway
Neatly set aside
And full of music

Happy Birthday Colby! The Blakes love you. We hope you find all that you are looking for this year.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mother, If I Only Knew.

When I was younger, twelve or thirteen maybe, my Mom brought me downstairs before school and made me watch “The Miracle of Life.” This was the first and only time I’ve had the actual birth of a child played out before me. The only precursor for me was You Were Smaller than a Dot—a cleverly illustrated children’s book that explained in the most tactful of terms that there is no such thing as a stork.

I must admit. It was pretty shocking. I’ve got to hand it to my Mom. She took matters into her own hands, whereas nowadays it seems many parents circumvent the whole teen pregnancy issue by closing their eyes, shutting their mouths, and pretending really hard that there isn’t an issue at all. Perhaps this video turned out to be the best type of sex education. It showed me that there are actually some painfully non-romantic consequences to exercising the bidding of my raging hormones.

Last week Christy and I attended the second of three Birth Education classes at Jordan Valley Hospital—where Christy will give birth. They showed us four videos of births—3 vaginal and one C-section. I’m still in shock. I’m trying to wrap my brain around the fact that this will be us in a month and a half. I’m trying not to think about all of the many mishaps that can occur. I’m trying to trust that Christy will be okay and the baby will be okay, and that I can be a man and stand there as a pillar of strength, instead of a jello-kneed bystander likely to collapse at any moment.

One thought that kept occurring to me again and again was “Thank you, Mom.” Yes, for showing me the video years ago, but not because of that. Thank you, Mom for going through this ultimate life experience to bring me into this world. If anywhere there exists a valley of the shadow of death, it would be in all of the proper and makeshift maternity wards across the world. Thank you, Mom. Thank you. I should have been a nicer son.

Friday, April 28, 2006

When it Began

In 1987, or thereabouts, my father became involved in competitive highpower rifle shooting. It has since become a family affair. The current roster of avid competitors is my father Dick Blake, brother Frank Blake, brother-in-law Greg Lewis, and cousin Brig Blake. Other family members besides these compete from time to time. Some families get together on Sundays to watch football, but those families are boring. This is a weird sport full of weird people, and we’d only be kidding ourselves if we refused to be lumped in with them.

In August of 1992 my Dad coaxed me into taking my first foray into competition. I had never participated in an organized match before, so what better place to test myself than at the National Championships in Camp Perry, Ohio? From St. Anthony, where I grew up, that was a 1,875 mile journey. Not a short drive, by any means, especially in a raggedy old Buick with no air conditioning. But it became the absolute perfect way for a father and son to spend time with one another. This was the first of many trips, and hindsight tells me that this time with my Dad saved me in many ways.

Shooting is a great mystery to the women of the family, and it might always be that way. I look at the fabric stores and craft shacks of the world and all I see is a cloud of bewilderment. But I have not tried to understand those things. Likewise the magnetism of wind flags and the smell of burnt powder are lost on our loving wives. But the sport has become a big part of us, not merely due to the technique, the task, and the challenge, but it has also become a metaphor for life: Breath! Where is your natural point of aim? Focus. Control your wobble zone. Don’t jerk! Follow through!

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Picture is Worth a 1000 Words

That’s what they say right? But if that were true, rather than turning in a 50 page research paper we would be able to submit a small portfolio of photographs and call it good. We’d all be photographers, and instead of writing journals, we would only scrapbook. Newspapers would be much more accessible and would no longer alienate the illiterate.

Actually, I have this all wrong. I’m describing, “A 1000 words is worth a picture.” And there is a reason we all write journals and read newspapers, and speak a hundred thousand words a day and then compensate by supplementing it all with photo albums. After all, paintings and photographs and art are each meant to communicate something so unique that another medium just can’t say it. And a picture is usually worth way more than a thousand words anyways (except a small collection of photos from my high-school days which can summed up pretty neatly with “idiotic”).

My brother Frank called me to rejoice in the birth of his healthy newborn son Michael Ward. He expressed how he counted all the fingers and toes. He expressed that there was an inexplicable spirit in the room. He said, of the pending birth of my own son, “It’ll take all the man out of you.”

Frank sent me a photo, over the weekend, that to me communicated much more than any grade A research paper I ever wrote. The picture is him, cradling his newborn son. Michael is crying and making a ruckus. Franks hair is disheveled and he looks like he hasn’t slept in a week. His eyes are hidden from the camera, but you can tell they are puffy from tears. He is looking down at this beautiful crying baby with an expression of utter amazement. The look is more than a welcome mat. The look is more than a “hello.” The look is more than fatherhood. The look is LOVE.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Steven George Pehrson 1977-1989

The last moment I shared with my cousin Steven Pehrson was at Green Canyon Hot Springs in rural Idaho, in the winter of 1988. I was ten, he was eleven. I specifically remember standing outside of the entry doors on a freezing wet rubber mat waving to him through fresh falling snow. It was dark outside and my hair smelled strongly of chlorine. I had to get back inside where it was warm, and he had to get home before the roads closed in. We had spent the last few hours giving some poor lifeguard a headache by dangling from the end of the diving board leg wrestling each other. We laughed ourselves sick.

Steve was a skinny, beautiful toe-head. He spoke with a slight lisp and had a wide smile. He was extremely coordinated and excelled at each sport he attempted. He loved the Los Angeles Lakers, the Chicago Bears, and the BYU Cougars. He had a curious lack of fear, was endowed with an amazing sense of independence, and aspired to be a great fly fisherman. He was a leader among his peers, and I had the chance to see first hand how they would follow him. He played hard, worked hard, and had the wide open spaces of the Teton Basin as his playground. He was pretty well traveled, by my standards, but his heart (which was tender) never left home.

In mid January 1989, while camping with the scouts, the roof of the A-frame cabin in which they were sleeping collapsed. He was crushed by a log. His dad, I’m told, was with them and was up late singing happy songs on his guitar. Upon going to bed, I’m told, they said to one another, “I love you.” If I were forced to choose, I suppose, those would be the last words I would go with.

I was playing a game of Junior Jazz Basketball when Frank rushed in, pulled me away early, and told me Steve had been in an accident. I didn’t realize until later its severity. I remember my parents being gone all day. I remember being mad that my mom wasn’t there to explain things to me. I remember holding a faux-gold framed picture of Steve in my hand and asking God to help him live. I remember cousin Bruce coming over when it was dark that evening, attempting to explain that Steve had died, so I locked myself in my room. I remember lots of questions and no answers. I remember lots of tears.

His funeral was fittingly cold. I overheard my mom whisper to someone in a concerned and tearful voice, that older brother Jeff had told his parents that he was done crying. He’d cried about all the tears left in him. I remember thinking he was stronger than me. When I stood by the open casket I noted the large bouquet of light colored flowers draped by a banner that read “Beezer.” This is what his dad called him. His sister Jenny placed her favorite polished rocks in his hand. His best friend Brian left some fun photographs of them both lining the insides of the casket. Aunt Kristy commented on how happy Steve would be to see them when he awoke someday. When the grave dedication was over I went up to the casket and touched it one last time through teary eyes. Its shininess fogged at my breath.

Brian and I became friends at the funeral. There was a large table filled with flowers sent by many members of the ward and community. Aunt Kristy told all the children that they could go and pick out their favorite and take it home with them. Brian and I walked up to one side and saw the perfect ones. Two separate flowery plants that looked like twins, one whose blossoms were bright red, and the other’s were purple. We took them and said goodbye. On the drive home I told my mom a secret. I was going to care for this plant and make sure it lived. I was going to find it a bigger pot, if it needed one. I would put it in a place where it would get a lot of sun. On the morning of the resurrection, I told her, I would give it to Steve who would be happy to see the bright living blossoms of a flower I got at his funeral. He would like that, I imagined.

I look back on all this now with the memory of a ten year old (which is pretty fallible and inaccurate). I look back on it a little bashful about the ache that is still there in my heart. When my mom finally, finally, finally came home from the hospital, that day Steve died, she knew just the way to hug me. I confessed to her that I was afraid that I would forget Steve—how his voice sounded, how his jumpshot looked, how he made me feel. Mom held me in her arms and asked me to start right then and tell her all of the different things Steve and I used to do. She told me to say them out loud and in my head. She told me to recite all the details of each fun experience we had, and why I loved him, and to do it often. She listened until I was done and promised me that I wouldn’t forget him.

I coursed over again and again in my mind all that you are, Steve. The dog kennels, the motorcycle, the sleeping bags in the tent, the race car track, the Legend of Zelda, the Sand Bar, Christmas and Grandma Blake’s, filling the coolers, lightning on the carport, your artful Sunday School lesson on the worst ways to torture someone, snow sledding, and on and on and on. My mom helped me remember you in ways that make a ten year old brain spin. The one I pick the most, though, is me standing outside Green Canyon Hot Springs with cold wet chlorine hair, and waving you off into the night. Each time I choose it first. That bright flower that I brought home from your funeral never bloomed again. I hope its okay that I threw it out before I went on my mission. I figured you wouldn’t want a shriveled up plant anyways. It may not be alive, but you are. Time and time again, and especially today. Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Twilight Disclosures of a Grandmother

Though it doesn’t help much, I keep telling myself
It’s only dirt, it’s only dirt, it’s only dirt.

His casket (the color of wilted dying tulips
Six years ago my gift) snapped from its platform and
Slammed, with screeching protest, into the earth
Causing a crescendo in the weeping
Then more eerily, though inaudible
Settled in like home.

Now scratchy blades of grass grow there
And though the work of his bones and
His father’s bones cry America!
He’s not decorated with any flag or ribbon
For his was an essential occupation
But he does get irises, and garlands, and wreaths
And a pallet of memoranda that he didn’t care
Much for in life.
They are all planted about him—growing things.
And underneath his own height worth of
Pathetic, lifeless dirt. Six feet.
Six years.
Six eternities.

And all I can think of is the loneliness
Of that cold dark soil. And lament that the only
Thing planted there that matters
Does not grow.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Baby's Timeline

Timeline for the yet-to-be-named Blake Baby!

Sept. 2005 – Conception! This most likely occurred on a beautiful and breezy Sunday afternoon. My guess would be the 18th or 25th. We are obliviously all smiles.

Oct. 26, 2005 – Christy takes a home pregnancy test at about 5 P.M. and it comes out positive. I get home around 6:30 P.M.—the exact same time as the visiting teachers. Christy opens the door to see the three of us standing there. I wash the previous nights dishes as Christy, seated in the adjoining room, proceeds to tell her visiting teachers she is pregnant. She solidifies her place as World’s Worst Secret Keeper. I am the third to find out. We cry. We laugh. We cry.

Oct. 30, 2005 – We travel to Idaho to tell the news to the Blake family. They smile and cheer. We return to Salt Lake and tell the news to the Bateman family. They smile and cheer. Nausea begins.

Nov. 11, 2005 – Christy realizes that she can’t brush her teeth without throwing up, which sort of cancels out the teeth brushing. We buy mints and floss.

Nov. 14, 2005 – I step on the scale and am surprised to see that I’ve gained about 8 lbs. since we found out Christy was pregnant. I feel bloated and overly in touch with my feminine side. I resolve to not get fat, and to be better at consoling Christy in her nausea.

Nov. 17, 2005 – We attend our first doctor appointment. His name is Layne Smith, and I find myself getting weirded out that this is the one other guy who sees my wife with no pants on. Christy decides she hates blood work. Dr. Smith gives us the very scientifically accurate due date of “mid-June.” We see our first ultrasound. The baby looks like a Peanut Butter M&M.

Dec. 4, 2005 – We go to Maui, Hawaii with Sam & Stephanie Larson. The Baby is already well-traveled. Christy punished him/her by eating some authentic Polynesian cuisine. The baby punished Christy by causing her to barf while snorkeling at Molokini. They call a truce and live peacefully for the rest of the trip.

Dec. 18, 2005 – Our friends Brian and Mandy Cheney scare us half to death with “Tales of the Maternity Ward.” All we lacked was a half decayed mummy with a stethoscope. I learn about afterbirth and the placenta, episiotomies, painful breastfeeding, canoe panties, and the spray bottle. That night I have a nightmare that I’ll only tell if you twist my arm real hard.

Jan. 1, 2006 – We speculate about names over dinner with the Batemans. “Shiz” and “Teancum” seem to be gaining popularity. We make the mistake of actually throwing out a couple of our real name ideas only to get stink-eyes and crusties.

Jan. 5, 2006 – I notice a slight curve to Christy’s belly. She places a sizeable order of Old Navy maternity clothing, which she says “makes me feel comfortable and cute, and goes further than you might think in allowing me to face the workday.” Elastic bands go from being unfashionably nerdy to being the cat’s meow.

Jan. 9, 2006 – Christy’s sister gives birth to twins Henry and Owen. We learn more about the frightening concept of C-Section and prematurity.

Jan. 11, 2005 – Christy has her second doctor appointment. They weigh her (increase of 6 pounds), and she skates by without doing any blood work.

Jan. 23, 2005 – We have our second ultrasound, this time at Jordan Valley Hospital. The Peanut M&M actually looks like a baby now, and we cry. The technician takes many measurements (femur, cranium, abdomen, etc). The baby strategically positions itself to not show any genitalia. Christy secretly does jumping jacks in the bathroom, thinking the baby will bounce out of position. It does not. One hour and 45 minutes and two technicians later, we leave not knowing the sex of the baby. If the technicians were to take a guess, however, they would say “girl.”

Jan. 27, 2005 – We schedule a “sex-check” wherein we return to Jordan Valley to find out at last, boy or girl. Once again, the stubborn little thing will not budge out of position. One hour and two technicians later, we find out that IT’S A BOY! We are both kind of surprised, as we had sort of anticipated a girl. Happiness ensues.

Jan. 30, 2005 – Beginning of week 20—the half-way point. Life is beautiful.