Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Naw, I cannae work that, no way, naw..."

Life has been busy, getting everything ready for all of the celebrations surrounding my college graduation. We got a fancy new camera, which I am still learning to use, though most of its controls are fairly intuitive. I think I have a good enough understanding of the controls, and that it is a good enough camera, that I can run my mother through some of its cool features and she'll be taking good pictures. I messed around and took several hasty panoramas of the loft; these are the best:

I also got some good shots of the chickens. Here is Mother Helen (her namesake is the Reverend Mother Helen Gauis Mohiam from Dune), cleaning up with a nice cool dirt bath:

I am off to continue cleaning, rearranging, and preparing for this weekend. I have an aunt flying in this afternoon to pick up from the airport, also. I might even take some more pictures along the way - they can use their "1,000 words" to do the talking, and I can be lazy!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"...Until the birds return for Spring Cleaning"

Quite the busy holiday at our house. Over the course of about the past three years, Frog built a very sturdy workshop shed (I helped), and we are now completing the final finish work. Yesterday, with Mom having Memorial Day off from work and being home to help, we painted the shed:

 We also finished painting the back of the main house, and below, we painted the workshop's smaller cousin, the double-tall-deluxe chicken condo:

In the preceding days, we did a lot of spring cleaning, getting the space around the buildings clear and generally whipping the property into shape. Saturday we cleaned off our far back patio, by the chicken coop, and uncovered the brick path back to it. Our potato trench is right next to the path, and when planting the potatoes, I dumped a bit too much of the trench dirt right on top of our main brick walkway. The potatoes are all doing great, though, and the dirt we scraped off of the path filled the trench nicely. But potatoes are a post for the future...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Unrelated Information

1. Last Sunday, as you may know, was the annular eclipse of the sun. Check out more awesome images here. I was able to see it by briefly glancing at it through sunglasses - not the best, but I wasn't going to let it pass without at least glancing.

2. It is Memorial Day weekend. You know that this holiday is to honor fallen members of the armed services, right? I would respectfully petition you to think on that, however briefly, in between your picnics, barbecues, camping trips, and drinking binges. Just a few thoughts as to why you've got the long weekend.

3. Yesterday I mentioned reading Anne Rice's "Queen of the Damned"; well, I finished it. I had actually started reading another book when it arrived per my special request at the local library, so I have now returned to reading "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon. It is about a World War II nurse who is transported, magically, to 18th century Scotland. I am at a place in the novel where she has been recently displaced in time, and fallen in with a band of Scottish rebels during the Jacobite uprising. It is a good read; not as immediately gripping for me as the tales of vampires spun by Rice, but it has a very nice feel to its words. It is one of the few books I've read that is convincingly told from a female point of view. Most fiction I've read is by male authors, focused on male characters, and anything to do with females is told through the male lens. Even Anne Rice's vampires are mostly male, and strangely they tend to fall in love with other males. The most major female characters in her stories so far have been Claudia, the vampire child, and the titular Queen of the Damned - not really stellar examples of the fairer sex. However, Gabaldon's nurse, Claire, is delightfully feminine; why her descriptions of the shape, print, and feel of her thin cotton dress remind me perfectly of Better Living's self-made clothes and talent as both a seamstress and writer. I like that the character Claire is both firmly female and determinedly firm, setting aside the confusion and fear of being lost in time to sternly admonish her highlander captors on the proper care of their wounded comrade.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"...Need Distraction, Need Romance and Candlelight..."

Yesterday morning I received a rather distasteful phone call, and rather than dwell on the circumstances surrounding that needlessly adversarial and rancorous situation, I have been trying to get outside myself. Here are some some of the works of art, or depending on you outlook, the pieces of entertainment I've been occupying my mind with:

* The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. I am currently finishing up the third book, "Queen of the Damned". This series is, I believe, the absolute best modern depiction of vampires. As portrayed by Rice, the creatures of the night are sensuous and erotic, but in a way that transcends the simple carnal pleasures of humans. For Rice's vampires, the sum of all ecstasy is the taking of blood from their victims, or the giving of their own blood to create new blood-suckers. Also intriguing to me is the way the characters are not merely monstrous fiends, but deep-feeling lost souls, forever searching for companionship and meaning in their night-bound immortal lives.

* Drive, a film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan (who is entirely too cute). This is my kind of movie! Characters that manage to have a lot of depth, without cumbersome expository dialogue; scenes that don't beat you over the head with emotion and energy, yet still convey it; and lots of long, well-composed shots that are beautiful and speak volumes, even in their silence. Also, it is interesting to see Bryan Cranston in yet another varied and well-acted role. His acting career, fueled by his excellent performance in "Breaking Bad", just keeps getting better. Seriously, go check out "Drive" if you haven't seen it; it's available to watch instantly on NetFlix.

* I'm the Ocean, by Neil Young, from his album 'Mirrorball'. The title of this post comes from the lyrics of this song, which are meandering and a little disjointed...not really about anything specific or readily apparent. Still, there is something in this song, with its single repetitive chord progression and vocal melody, that speaks to the deep part of me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

War Story Wednesday: Sand Storms

Today in SLC it is overcast, with a weather report threatening light rain over the next several days. While technically the Salt Lake Valley is a desert, it is a paradise teeming with life compared to western Anbar Province in Iraq. An early summer storm there would look like the one above. Called a "Habob", these fully formed sand or dust storms were always a spectacle. When blowing in to our camp, it looked like an approaching wall of animated dirt:
I remember this particular storm well, as several of us had gathered around a laptop to watch a bootleg of Star Wars Episode III, when our Corporal burst excitedly into our 'hooch', exclaiming that we simply must come outside at that instant. I was a little bothered to be interrupted during Star Wars, but it was worth the interruption. We sat outside for maybe five minutes or so, watching the storm roll in. Here we are, as the dusty clouds began to roll over and enfold our base:
Finally, as the heart of the Habob engulfed us, it was as if we had been transplanted suddenly to Mars or some other alien locale:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Stop Counting on that Camera that Hangs 'Round Your Neck..."

I had planned to do another semi-instructional post for today, covering the replacing of guitar strings and the general care and feeding of stringed instruments. However, my camera is on the fritz again. It has been doing this almost from the day we bought it - it will turn off instead of taking a picture, and then it won't come back on for a while. Finally, it ran out of batteries, but it doesn't like to come on at all if you open the battery compartment and replace them...

So here is a site with multiple step-by-step guides to doing just that. Reading through the guide on replacing acoustic guitar strings, it is better than my post probably would have been. I like that he mentions the importance of not just removing all of your strings at once (and especially don't just snip your strings off while they are still under full tension!); the sudden change in tension can cause your instrument's neck to bend. Or worse, if you've removed all of the strings so that there is no tension on the neck, then place a new low-E string and tighten it all the way, your neck might warp. This is almost impossible to fix, whereas a bent but not warped neck can usually be straightened by adjusting the truss rod in the neck (best done by a professional, especially if you are inexperienced).

 However, I disagree on the way that he attaches the string to the tuning peg - he feeds the string through the hole in the peg first, and then using a string winder swiftly rotates the tuning peg to wrap the string.

I prefer to wrap the string around the peg first, then tuck the loose end of the string through the hole in the peg. My rationale behind this is that then the greatest tension will be on the string as it smoothly curves around the peg; the end of the string going through the hole in the peg is just to keep it in place. When you feed the string through the hole first and then tighten it, the tension is at its greatest along the edge of the hole. Especially on cheaper guitars this edge can be sharp - much sharper than the smooth round curve of the peg itself. Think about it - which rope would fray more quickly: one that wraps around a round pole, or one dragged across an edge? Guitar strings are essentially tiny metal cables (or tiny plastic ropes if you have a nylon-string guitar), and I've seen them begin to fray and often break at that critical friction point of the tuning pegs.

Since I started using my method of wrapping the string first, I've not had a single string break up by the tuning pegs. I play very aggressively, and break a lot of strings, but mine tend to break where the strings have become worn by the frets and started to come unwound anyway. Now if only this troublesome camera would cooperate...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Unrelated Information

1. A fellow camper sent me some pictures from last week's camping trip. Beyond the glory of the San Rafael:

Yes, that's right: I suited up in full camouflage utilities. I explained that coupled with the red dirt, this would help me have flashbacks - sarcasm, it's wonderful!

2. Tomorrow is the Peoples' Market Seedling Swap & Sale. So if you are so inclined, you can go buy some awesome locally grown tomato starts and plant them.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Planting Tomatoes, and the Simple Secrets Thereof

Today I am planting a few final additions to the garden, and hopefully we'll get the pool cleaned out and filling up. Summer is coming on with a quickness! I decided to take a lot of pictures to document the fairly simple steps of transplanting a tomato plant. Fresh tomatoes are especially delicious during the summer, and even more so if you grow them yourself. First I needed to clear out a patch of garden space to put one of the plants.

Removing those pesky weeds was not a problem, and provided the chickens with a nice morning snack. Even though most of our garden space was recently tilled, I worked the soil over again in the two spots I was going to put the plants. Once I was ready to actually dig a hole and plant the tomatoes, it was time to prep the tomato plants by removing their lower leaves. This is one of the simple secrets of having successful tomato plants; removing the lower branches and leaves from your seeding and planting it deeper in the ground. Observe:
The two starts that I planted were given to my mother for Mother's Day by a family friend who also has quite the green thumb, so they were very healthy. It may seem kind of wrong to damage your lovely and tender young plants, but the extra six inches of depth in planting will help the fledgling vine to establish strong roots. As you remove the plant from it's starter pot, you'll want to break up the roots. Such a strong and healthy plant in a small container is going to start getting bound roots, like this:
You don't want to destroy the root ball, that would kill the plant, but rather gently try to just pull the bottom corners apart a little, or make a small tear on several on the sides, like so:
This will help the roots spread out and into the ground. You are now ready to place the plant into the hole you've dug to receive it. The dirt that you dug out of the planting spot should be ample enough to pile back in on top of your new addition. Pack the dirt down firmly - you want your plant to feel like it's roots are tucked in and safe. It is also general practice to build a well around your plants, like this:

This is to retain water close to the plant. The final step is to water your new plants in. I am a firm believer in giving your young plants a big drink as soon as you've got them in the ground. Some gardeners will just wait until their normal watering time, but I like to ease any transplant shock by thoroughly soaking the newly planted seedling. Water them down once, so that the water is standing a little in their well, like in the pictures above. Then wait for that water to all drain down into the soil and fill the well again. This water will drain much more slowly and really get the ground around your plant saturated.

So there you go, that was my morning. Maybe most of you out there are pretty familiar with planting and gardening, and if so I am sure this post seems pretty basic. Still, I often meet people that have been growing a little bit for years, and who aren't familiar with removing the lower leaves of young tomato starts before planting them. Now, get out there and grow some stuff, internet surfers!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Swell Time Indeed

It's official: The San Rafael Swell is a-mazing! My brain is still under a cottonwood grove, gently stroked by the breeze coming off the river. Our campsite was near perfect, large enough to accommodate our large group while giving everyone plenty of space, but without feeling like we were all camping separately on a deserted plain or anything like that. We had nearby river access (the swimming and water frolicking was outstanding!), awesome views of canyon walls and monolithic rock spires, and good times all around.

The only downside was that our dutch oven apple crisp burned, although that is kind of 'sixes' for me, as I had passed out around the time the oven went in the fire anyway, so either way I wouldn't have had any of the dessert. Oh, and one of our party bruised his ribs having too much fun in the river. Not bad, though. Also I forgot our camera...but oh well; said rib-bruising friend took many pictures and should be sending them my way.

In fact, it is hard to concentrate on writing up any kind of post...I am going to stop now so that I can go sit under the cottonwood in our yard and pretend I am still out in the desert.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Grand Plan

So while 'blog' is short for "biographical log" to the best of my knowledge, I want mine to read a little less like a diary and more like an informative news source and how-to guide. I am planning to refine my design and strategy a bit, focusing on the subjects I know best and am actively involved with in my day to day life. Things like:

Community Service
Men's Fashion

I would like to have recurring weekly posts on these subjects, especially following projects that I have going, like the garden and the loft, and my songwriting of course. There are certainly plenty of style blogs, but, I have a nice take on things I think - and like I said, I want my blog to be a little more instructional. So not just 'here is my outfit, look at it' but, like, 'here is how I found this at the thrift store' and 'here are the steps I take to clean and care for my fancy clothes'.

So, on the lookout for new developments!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Internet Magic!

Well, if everything goes as planned...this post will pop up, like magic, Thursday morning, while I am miles and miles away in the San Rafael desert. Back on Wednesday, Frog was incessantly pestering me to hurry up and get ready, hence the brevity.

Today we should be meeting up with our fellow campers in the afternoon, after a nice day of putting around looking for some nice stones. I've taken up 'rock-hounding' as a hobby; there is a lot of nice mineral material in Utah. There are gemstones, like topaz and garnet, and also lots of larger rock material to use for landscaping.

So not only is the internet magical enough to let me schedule blog posts for when I am away, it has cool sites like this interactive map that shows you all of the 'public pits' and landscaping material collection sites.

"This land is my land, this land is your land..."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Urban Chickens

We have nine chickens now. We originally purchased twelve chicks, but one died almost immediately. We've lost another two in the couple of years since, both found mysteriously dead. Still, the nine remaining provide us with the most delicious eggs, and are really fairly easy to take care of. I am of the opinion that if it is legal where you live, you should look into getting a few chickens. Just look at those silly birds, lounging in the sun!

As I mentioned, we purchased the 'girls' as tiny chicks, and kept them in the house in a box with a heat lamp for several weeks. By this time they had grown substantially, although still definitely not full grown birds. We built a pretty heavy duty coop for them from some left over wall sections from a large shed we had built the prior summer. This is the largest part of the work of having chickens; building them a coop. Otherwise, the care and feeding of these flightless birds is fairly easy. It is simple enough that my college added five chickens to their small organic garden, and the garden club had no trouble tending them, despite most of the members having no experience taking care of any kind of livestock or farm animals. Again, the biggest part of it was the coop. Below you can see the original coop the college garden club used, on the left, and then a new elaborate one which we all built one Saturday.

It can be any simple shelter that the chickens can fit in. The small college coop on the left above might seem like a tight fit for five full grown hens, and it was, but chickens are social animals and seem to rather like crowding into a tight space, especially to sleep. Chickens will 'roost' to sleep, which means they need some kind of horizontal bar that they can fit their feet around in their coop, which they will perch upon and zonk out for the night. Inside the coop it also helps to have a nesting space; this is where the ladies will lay their eggs. Sometimes, like during the summer if it gets too hot in their coop, the chickens will dig out a depression in the earth in some hidden nook of their choosing to use as an alternate nest. This makes an easter egg hunt out of gathering eggs!

 We checked the college chickens every day, but at home we only need to closely inspect their coop, food, and water about once ever two or three days. We supplement their diet with most of our table scraps and especially old vegetables, but otherwise they get a protein-fortified pellet feed that we can get at either the local farm supply store or at home improvement warehouse chains. The only other item we have to buy regularly is straw, to line the floor of the coop. We clean the coop out, scooping out copious amounts of poop, about once a month.

"Chicken shit" is a great fertilizer, however, it is so potent that it usually needs to be composted at least once and diluted before being spread around the garden. Otherwise, its super-high nitrogen content will 'burn up' out crops. So we pile their droppings and the used straw and then mix it with some of our regular compost when we use it to fertilize. 

That's it in a nutshell: get your chicks, raise them up in a box while you build them a coop, then refill their food and water every few days and clean their crap every few weeks...all the while enjoying rich and delicious fresh eggs..that is, when your hens aren't molting - a topic for a future post, perhaps?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Adventures in Camping

Well, Utah has some of the most majestic and unique scenery in the whole world. First thing tomorrow, I am heading out to go scout around some areas of the state I haven't really been to yet. Then, on Thursday, we will meet up with the Legendary Remodel Man and a troupe of his fellows. It should be an awesome time, and just the sort of soul-replenishing outing that I've needed.

I've got a lot to do today, including checking out blogger's ability to schedule posts - wouldn't want my 2 1/2 readers left with no posts from me all week!

I'll catch you later, internetz!

Monday, May 7, 2012

What a Weekend

Just a brief post this morning to recount some of this weekend's awesomeness:

* My dinner party was fairly successful; everyone seemed to really enjoy the awesome food.

* People's Market, despite a few hiccups, appears to be gearing up for a successful season. I spent some time helping them out at the Live Green Festival at Library Square, and their seedling swap & sale coming up a couple weeks has generated a lot of interest.

* The Chicken de Mayo show at The Garage was entirely awesome. I was on the guest list, first of all, placed there by my friends in No No Yes Yes. The first performer was Tupelo Moan, and they rocked the earth. No No Yes Yes did a great job, too. To finish out the night, The Chickens played some far out jazz that was really rad and very danceable. The crowd was great the whole time, a lot of dancing went down, and at the end of it all I helped the bands with the load out. Fun fun times for him.

* Sunday evening we went to a friend of the family's for outstanding, muy authentico carne asada and quesodillas, followed by Tres Leches milk cake. Deliciouso! My Spanish is no doubt misspelled and hopelessly broken, but the food was great. I also had a blast playing piano tunes with our host; he had learned a bunch of Beatles songs from a book of sheet music.

Now I have a couple of days to gear up for an awesome camping trip. More to come in the following days!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Things I Like: Friday Unrelated Information Edition

* I like '90s Alternative music. I like it, big time. Probably this is because, like so many rock & roll youth, it was the first music that I felt was mine. It wasn't my parents' music that I also happened to like, it was mine. Alternative was the musical choice of most of my peers, but once I was listening to the then-awesome local radio station, I discovered and treasured a lot of music. Here are some awesome musical selections for today:

"Possum Kingdom" by The Toadies - I think every band needs a song with a part where you sing "Do you wanna die?" I wrote one!

"Not An Addict" by Kay's Choice - One of my great regrets from that time in my life (no, there isn't some kind of addiction sob story, relax!) is that I didn't go to a dream lineup show featuring Tonic, The Verve Pipe, and the late edition of Kay's Choice.

"Semi Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind - Who can forget this song? It is almost more 'Top 40' than alternative, but then I don't like genre labels; that is part of what was so cool about the KFMA in Tucson in the '90s, they played all kinds of different new music.

* I like finding fashion treasure at thrift stores, having it come to me as gifts, or especially getting hand-me-downs. Here is SLC, we've got the trusty " D. I. ", and of course Savers and other thrift stores, as well as a robust consignment shop scene. There is even a small but awesome thrift store literally down the block and around the corner from my house - "Ben's Closet Gently Used Clothes". There is no online listing or review that I can find...maybe I should make one? Below is an outfit for tonight that is made entirely of those items:
The camel hair jacket is from the DI, as is the shirt;
The trousers are inherited from my paternal grandfather;
The pocket square was a gift this past Christmas (and matches my paint and school colors).

* I am dressing up a little for a loft-warming dinner party that I am hosting tonight. I am going to make this, it is the best dish I know how to cook reliably. I am also going to shave my project honor-beard; I started letting my beard grow when we started putting in the loft, and while the whole house isn't done, I did some of the last stuff that needed done in the loft today - installed a bathroom mirror, a robe hook, and wooden pegs to hold my belts in the custom closet that is also part of the 1/2 bathroom. Now I think the time has come to call the loft officially done, welcome my friends with a nice meal and some chillin', and shave off this itchy beard.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Get Dressed, Do Nothing

Well, I am pretty bored. No school anymore, my friends around the neighborhood are giving me the cold shoulder, the work around the house depends on things besides my motivation. Finally, and perhaps worst of all, my left forearm an fret hand are sore - dear god let it not be tendonitis - so I can't play guitar at all. It is this kind of restless boredom that inspired this:

Holes in sheet-rock beaten in rage, want that power but I'm too afraid
To escape these four walls, nowhere to go but down the hall
No one to call, nothing to say, that you haven't heard a hundred better ways
Putting on my finest clothes, all dressed up, nowhere to go

And I want to say something so true
It drives the hook right on through
But I stumble on my words again
The truth is so damn hard to bend

Flip on the tube just to see what I'm missing out on the street
It's nothing much I'd care to do if I can't spend that time with you

And I want to say something so true

I've not atoned for my crimes except to write these rhymes
But it sounds good, to me, a better waste of time than sleep

I want to say something so true

So why can't I even try to drag myself outside?
Into the sun, have some fun, before it all comes undone
'Cause when I come out, all about, I see the shadow of your doubt
Stalking the streets, haunting our sleep, like the ghost I was born to be

I want to say something so true
It drives the hook right on through
But I stumble on my words again
Oh no, I lost another friend

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

War Story Wednesday: On the Rack

Sitting on the rack at Al Asad, and the light shines in through gaps in the fabric. It is like like glowing beams from heaven that fill me up and replenish me. A slight breeze blows in and the whole tent breaths and groans like it is alive. I'm laying still, listening to borrowed music through headphones, hopelessly lost in my thoughts. Like, where did this old tent come from? It is a dull tan canvas, coated in some kind of chemical to make it water proof, and they've strictly forbidden smoking near it because the water proofing agent is so highly flammable. It must be an old Iraqi U.S. tent would have such fanciful designs, swirls and floral patterns, on such a utilitarian shelter.

It starts to rain just a bit, the damp moisture lending its scent and weight to the cool breeze that flows through the flaps as the tent lists and sways. I think to myself "cloudy skies, a cool breeze, and now rain...this is hardly the harsh and desolate desert I'd imagined". Not like I've seen much of the country though, just the runway in the middle of the night, and the area between our tent and the chow hall. My mind gets away from me, imagining all of the adventures to come, inserting myself into remembered news broadcasts, harrowing internet clips, second hand war stories...


I find it fitting that they call your bunk, your bed, that they call it a 'rack'. I feel stretched and pulled in opposite directions. Wasn't this why I signed up? To come here, to the war, to do my part? But then it has only been a handful of days in-country, and already my heart longs for home. Already I am looking forward, past the struggles and trials of the deployment, to a great homecoming. I feel caught in some kind of purgatory, not yet fully arrived though certainly no longer in the comfortable and familiar.

I wonder if maybe it is just jet lag. How long was the flight? What is the time back in the 'states? I try to figure the time in various places: Camp Lejeune, on the Carolina coast; dusty southern Arizona, which bears a striking resemblance to this place; the snowy mountains of northern Utah, still firmly in the cold grasp of winter. My cluttered mind confuses the it 18 hours ahead here? Eighteen hours ahead of East Coast, Camp Lejuene time? As I am thinking of all these different places that feel so far away, and wondering which one is really, truly home...

...I wake with a bit of a jolt. Am I back in one of those lovely, idyllic, remembered places? No, I am still here. Right here, in an old hadji tent that could burst into flames at any moment. There are a few of my fellows playing cards, but most are racked out like I am. Are they exhausted just thinking of the magnitude of it all, like I am? I contemplate how old I feel, then stop myself as I see some of the actual older guys; guys in their 30's, hell their 40's for some of the senior staff. They actually have homes to go back to, families, sons and daughters and wives and mortgages and maybe a promotion, hell maybe even retirement. Some of them are getting on...Is that where I'll be in fifteen, twenty years? Another old salt Devil Dog, out on his fifth or sixth tour, counting down the days until it's time to go home. Really go home, for good, with a nice military pension, a chest full of medals - hang the sword over the mantle and kick up my feet and reflect on a life spent in service?

A different borrowed song comes over the headphones, one I feel like I've heard before, but can't place. I wonder - maybe this is my home now? But the thought doesn't stick around long, sucked out in another great breath of the tent as it groans and wheezes, the dance of the raindrops on the flammable canvas lulling me down to dream.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Peer Behind the Curtain

Does anyone remember the show "VH-1 Storytellers"? Along with "Behind the Music", it was one of the mainstays of late '90s and early 2000's programming, before VH-1 went the way of MTV and replaced virtually all music content with inane reality shows and C-list celebrity confessionals. I discovered the show is still on - I don't really watch television, though, but maybe I can catch some episodes online. As an aspiring songwriter I always enjoy getting the inside scoop from my heroes: Billy Corgan revealing that the song "1979" was a last minute addition to the "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" record, that the album was almost finished and all he had was the main riff and the single line "Shakedown nineteen seven nine", and that the song came from a memory he had of being in a car stopped at a traffic signal in the rain. Or Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young reminiscing about the origin of the song "Ohio", about the Kent State shootings, and how they all decided that they wanted to do a song about it but didn't know where to start - so Neil Young walks off into the forest for an hour or so and comes out with the song ready to go.

I am not famous and highly regarded like those big rock stars, but as I've mentioned, I get compliments on my writing. I also get inquiries into what the songs are about, what the creative process is like for me, etc. So I'd like to follow up my Singing and Songwriting post and reveal the secrets behind that song "Distance Fades". I'd like to keep some mystique, and I like to let songs speak for themselves, but as I already talked about the song coming to me all at once through inspiration I'll go ahead and just pull the curtain back entirely.

First, here are the lyrics:

I was just searching,
For someone to answer
Look what I found,
You down in the water

Coming to me,
through bit-streams of data
Begging my heart,
This one time to shatter

Oh Well

'Cause though I have tried,
I just can't explain,
The feeling I get,
When you say my name
So far away
It fades

Last night I had,
This one perfect dream
Envisioned the sweetest,
Serenest of scenes

Where I was your one,
your only true lover
The one you exalted,
Above all the others

Children laughed,
Ran and they played
The branches of our tree,
Grew and they swayed

So Well
Oh Well

' Cause though I have tried,
I just can't replace
The feeling I get,
When I see your face
Doomed as it is
to fade  

Next, a little background, as the song is autobiographical. I deployed with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Headquarters and Service Company, Motor Transport Platoon in early 2005. Before the deployment, I went around on leave visiting my friends and family in several different cities, including a stop-off to see a lovely young woman who had been my pen-pal for several years. I had always had a crush on her, but there was never any chance...too much distance between us. Even when I first met this girl, she lived in the Phoenix suburb Chandler, while I lived a couple hours south in Tucson. I hadn't talked to her in person in over five years, and when I was heading off at the airport, we shared a tearful goodbye replete with "I love you's" and "You come back to me" statements.

So I arrived in Iraq via Air Force C-17, at Al-Asad Airbase, where we spent a little over a week acclimatizing, getting briefings, and preparing to move to our Forward Operating Base for the duration of our deployment. This was a strange and lazy between-time, which I am planning to elaborate on for War Story Wednesday tomorrow. One of the first nights we were there, I went to an MWR (Morale, Welfare, & Recreation) internet center; after a half hour or so wait, I got logged onto a computer to check my email.

Lo and behold, there was an email from my pen-pal...and, it had a video attachment. My adorable friend had been getting more and more spiritual, a topic we discussed at length when we went to dinner during my leave, and the video was of her being baptized. She had joined a large Baptist congregation serving the Arizona State University student population, and was 'born again' via full immersion in a large indoor baptismal font. I pondered her spiritual journey the rest of the evening and later when I slept, I did have a dream, wherein she and I were at a picnic with several small children. That's all I recall of the dream; She and I were smiling at a picnic table in a grassy field with one lone tree, and three or four kids were running around the tree and the table.

I woke up in the morning and as I was thinking through what had happened in the dream, trying to remember details, the song materialized in a single moment.

This isn't one of my strongest songs, but I am still partial to it because of how it came to me. It is pretty straightforward, both in music and lyrics - the metaphors are pretty thin, like, 'the branches of our tree grew' is, duh, about a family. Only the first verse has a little mystery, which I've now removed. Still, there are layers of emotion and memory beyond the simple lyrics. Like the chorus lines, about  the feelings caused 'when you say my name' - when she and I first met, I told her that I really like my full first name, to which she replied "I will call you by it always", and she always did - and  'when I see your face, doomed as it is to fade' - well I had always had trouble picturing her in my mind since we only met in person a handful of times, corresponding as we did at a distance, and I re-discovered her beauty each time we would meet. Towards the end of my deployment, I was having trouble picturing the face of anyone from back home. My parents, my old school friends, the guys in the platoon that didn't deploy - they were all very very hazy memories with little shape or definition.

So I suppose that is the overall meaning of "Distance Fades": that distance in space and time wears down your memories, absence makes the heart grow fonder...maybe even that the truth gets muddled more and more as time goes by. I always did have a crush on my pen-pal, and so it is a natural development that while in the stress of a combat zone, I would have dreams and fantasies of returning home, getting married, having babies, going to church - a fantasy of living a quiet domestic life.

I hope that any readers out there find this post insightful. I am glad that I wrote it, so that as more years go by still, perhaps my memories of that moment of inspiration will last and age well.

- Valentine, Out.