I’ll Be Alright

In my living room are two little arm chairs turned in toward one another. They sit in front of the windows off the front porch where I have a blue porch swing and a comfy green leaning back chair and yellow, pink, and blue flowers of every hue. Often, the windows between the porch and living room are open and admit breezes and bird sounds. Places perfect for sitting and listening.

Many times since we have lived in this house, I have had a friend come over and sit with me here. With a cup of coffee or tea, and a feeling of privacy, we can visit and tell stories to one another. Just be together and know one another truly in a brief and lovely moment.

These moments of transparency are precious to me. And pivotal. When someone shares their true self with me, their true and vital story, their fear and wonder and fault and treasure, it is a tangible gift. I am always stunned by the feeling of it. By the actual weight of it. It actually, actually, means everything to me. As relationships, and people in general, mean everything to me. And at the risk of sounding self-serving, these glimpses into their real selves feel to me as if they allow me to be the best version of myself and create something that lasts forever.

The true stories I’m told become actual things to me. Things that I somehow am caring for and appreciating. A photograph, a dresser, a window, a curtain, a kitchen table. And somehow, slowly, those objects become alive with sounds. Far off sounds of cars and wind, or voices down stairs, or bugs in a field. Moods are there too in still life. Gentle, frightened, laughing, sleepy, lonely, in love. So for me, those true stories, only the true ones, come to life. Like little clips.

These imaginings, these reenactments, often become songs for me. Though it takes time. More time than most songs. The task of taking them from story to song is arduous and humbling, as it is a great and terrible responsibility to make them into a forever thing. The forever thing must hold true to itself but at the same time exist anew each time it is played or sung. It must be one thing living. And beget many, many more things to each next moment and listener.

I cannot in words translate for you the feeling of this privilege and just a little bit, this responsibility. Like the sin eaters who take in all the pain of another, I sometimes take in all the emotion and hope and sorrow and even anger of the one sitting with me as well. And I am willing to look and see and be in those moments with a completeness that is often reckless. But, these moments encapsulate and define what it means to me to be who I am as person and as a songwriter. These songs possess a meaning that other invented ones cannot. Their melodies are more beautiful, Their words are more powerful. The rhythm more engaging. As if the universe can feel the truth in it and rewards it with foreverness.

I know that I just had a moment like this is Cincinnati when I met a kindred and suffering soul. Sounds melodramatic, but I felt in that moment that I had gone through seven states just to meet this one person only two states away. The images and words of that meeting are floating around inside my head now, and I think there will be something to show for it sometime soon. I have to let it be there for awhile, and like a little life, form into shapes I can decipher. I have to melt that together with all that I saw when I was there, and all that I heard in his voice.

When I got home from tour this week to the gorgeous spring weather, the first thing I saw upon driving up to the house was my front porch, framed in yellow flowers, and the empty blue porch swing dangling. Beyond that the windows open to my living room. The thought that I had, after driving in a giant circle for 10 days straight, was that I just want to sit there. I just want to sit there, sometimes with a friend to tell me stories, sometimes alone and write forever things. If I get to do this sometimes, then I’ll be alright for all the rest.

You are invited. You are actually invited. Message me. This is what I want for myself this summer. If it’s hot, we can sit inside in the air conditioning. If it’s lovely, then out on the porch, and you can have the green leaning back chair.

front porch 1

Sara Quah- I’ll Be Alright

I’ll Be Alright

She was just a little girl
Always smiling
Frozen feet with no steady beat
Careful to listen in
Tried her best to accommodate
Always hiding
A pounding soul that betrayed hope
All her breath held in

The echo of those grown up words
Seem far enough away
Foreign now, though stifling
What awful things to say
She’s untied all those apron strings
But set her own to stay
She’s stronger now and she’s wondering how
She ever lived that way

She said
Someday I’m gonna run away
Someday I’m gonna run away
When my feet hit the ground
And my weight shifts around
When my stride
Measures my mind
When I start to think
That I’ll be alright
Yes, I’ll be alright

The pain in her side
That aches as she runs
Will break in due time
When she turns to find
Those brown eyes
But instead sees her own
She can look on in love
She can speak out in love
She can breathe out in love
She can breathe in love

Read the Other Posts in this Series:

Taking Me Back: My New Album

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music

Physics

Foreverness

What I Heard

Closer

How I’m Feeling

Wallflower

A Little Bit

Take Me Away

20 Steps

20 Steps

Toward forgiveness. Letting go of deep hurt is a process.  Not one action but many over and over, which get easier as those muscles get stronger and more practiced.

I have written before about my mother, who had me very young, but sacrificed and overcame and made the best of her life and mine.  I am so grateful.  When I was six my mother remarried and my little brother and I were blessed with a new and devoted father who raised and cared for us completely as his own and still does now.  But before that there was another man, another father, and that relationship is unique, though my experience, unfortunately, is too often the norm. Here’s that story:

My biological father (henceforward referring to him as father but for clarity remember that I have two) was still a teenager and just out of high school when I was born. Very quickly he was pushed into a role and family that he could not understand or relate to. He loved me, and he loved my mother.  That I believe, for he is a loving man that is really bad at showing it and living it. Imagining it now, I wonder if he hoped this new life would be his ticket out of the much harsher home he came from. A child placed onto an adult path with work and money worries, with a disappointed father-in-law, with his potential cut off by circumstance of my birth, and being completely emotionally unprepared for the caring home of my grandparents who scolded gently, never teased, provided amply, and forgave easily. He was just a boy who was not loved enough. That’s how I see him anyway.

So my experience was that I loved him, and he was cool.  He played guitar, and he was handsome and wore bell bottom jeans.  He drove a cool car and taught me to love good music. He sang to me and helped me do flips in the yard and held me when I cried. He was not a great dad, but he was my dad.  Then he left.

I don’t really know if this is a real memory or one I made up, but I have this remembrance of him standing at the front door and my mother in the kitchen doorway– the two of them yelling and him walking out. Later I have a memory that I know is real of walking behind him up some stairs (I can feel and see the socks and shoes on my feet and feel my jacket and bag and hair) to a place that I knew I shouldn’t go, because I was not to tell my mother about it, and we met a woman there who had long black hair and who raved over me and flattered me and made me like her.

After that, things were difficult.  I saw him, but it was sporadic. He was irresponsible. He forgot. He couldn’t take the baby along. He had to work. I didn’t like to sleep at his house. I felt anxious and uncomfortable. I was afraid to not like it, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel safe. Phone calls and visits were farther and farther apart. I think the longer he waited the harder it got to call because he knew his excuses wouldn’t hold up. He always had one. But they were seldom true.

After my mother remarried, my life got more normal. He, my new dad, adopted my brother and I, and we soon moved away. My new father had a good job, we ate dinner together and played with neighborhood friends till dark. We had a swing set in the backyard and went to church and drove home in a beat-up van for Christmas visits at my grandparent’s house.

Those perfect Christmas visits home were only marred by one thing.  That my brother and I would be picked up in the afternoon to have Christmas with our father’s family for a few hours.  We wanted to like it, but we didn’t. We didn’t feel at home there and could feel that we should. Everything was different there. Harder, stronger, less predictable. Lots of teasing and disinterest. A year not seeing us and no one would be waiting with open arms. A year not talking to us and no one would have questions.

This awkwardness was not the real problem though. For me, it was the lying. I found that I couldn’t always trust that the things he told me were completely true. Lies were everywhere mixed with the truth and to question them guaranteed more awkwardness. Things were exaggerated. Things were left out. Things were added in. No pattern at all. Every few months I would have a bout of crying over it. My mom would comfort me through it, and those episodes over the years got more and more spread out.

As a teenager we moved back to my hometown, so visits with my father were more often but even less predictable.  He married and divorced many times. He was constantly moving to a new place, always with someone new. Always with a new story to tell.

I began to be resentful in high school and college, realizing what a shitty father he was for sure, not on purpose really but just naturally bad at it. I worked on making him pay a little by asking him for favors. Out of guilt he would comply, but of course he was unreliable. So it didn’t always pan out. Certainly not productive.

In the intervening years I began to accept and forgive my father for everything. It was a choice I made over and over again. I would think of him and think, forgive him. I would see someone who reminded me of him and I would say, forgive him. I would see a guy sitting alone in a doctor’s office or a diner and I would say, forgive him. I would ride in an elevator with some man or connect with a stranger at the gas pump and think, he might have a daughter he doesn’t see, forgive him. It started to work.

Fast forward and I have graduated, married, and have a new precious baby girl. We made our first big visit home to show off the new baby, and I brought her to meet them. He wants to make it up to me, he says. He wants to do something nice for the baby. What do we need? Can he get her something? Okay, I say, well, she needs a dresser. We are moving in a few months, you could get her a dresser for the nursery. Perfect! he says. I know exactly which one I will give her! Okay. Here’s my number. That would be great.

Well you can guess. But of course it was a test, and he failed. And in that small little thing I realized that I couldn’t protect her from it. It wasn’t going to stop. It would keep happening, and she would feel all that awkwardness and insecurity and doubt. And I also realized in loving my perfect baby that I could never do to her what he had done to me. That if my girl needed me, I would do anything to help her. And that is not what had happened for me. And it just kind of hit me hard what I had missed all those years.

So, I stopped it. I cut it off completely. No more calls. No more visits. Not even to my completely innocent brother and sister who did nothing wrong.

I wasn’t angry. But I was sure. It was over. My kids would not know him at all. I would tell them when they were old enough to understand.

Over the intervening years I saw him a few times. I was always polite and friendly, but distant. He would look at me in the eyes and see that I had let him go. His first child, the first person who ever really loved him completely, had let him go. And it broke him.

At my brother’s wedding, my brother is handsome and tall and strong, absolutely no credit to his father for any of it. And I come in with two beautiful little girls in matching flower girl dresses and a brand newly born Evan in my arms, just two weeks old. He couldn’t take it. It was his family, but he didn’t have any connection to any of it. His wife at the time came and politely asked if I would come outside to speak with him before they left. He was too upset to stay at the wedding, weeping and guilt-ridden. I went out with her and saw my handsome, strong father bent like a child over the steering wheel sobbing uncontrollably. Loudly. His newest little boy in the backseat puzzled. Leaning through the window, I tried to comfort him. It’s okay, I said. I’m okay. I’m not mad. I’m happy. Everything’s okay. He opened the door and clung to me. Can I just see you sometimes? he asked. Can I just know you a little? Yes, I said. But you can’t lie to me. And you can’t promise something and not show up. Okay, okay he said. I can do that. You know how much I love you, Sara. Yes dad, I know. I really do. I tell you what, I will give you my phone number and you call me. And if you can just talk on the phone for a little while, we will see about a visit. Okay, okay, thank you.

We did have one phone call. But that was all for many years. He’s just not good at it. And I didn’t want to try either. Years later my younger brother got married in Indianapolis. I drove over with just my two girls because my son had an important football game (which seems ridiculous now). We sat at a table in the lovely room, and I prepped the girls for smiles and hugs to they would give to people they did not know. We sat a table over from my dad and family. They were nice, but it was weird. We sat alone, and they sat together for awhile, and then they asked us to join them. All through the dinner my father stared at me while I was friendly and polite, but not real. He wanted in. The dancing began and a song came on that broke my reserve. With a pretend and sweet smile on my face and polite questions coming out of my mouth, tears just leaked out of my eyes. I think it was “Sara Smile” which is one of my favorites ever. After all this time, he could still get to me. All my work at distancing and fortification were an illusion. I was a hurt little girl.

That attempt and many after it at establishing a healthy reconciliation have failed. There is no anger, no bitterness between us. We decided through an email discussion that what is okay for us is just going to be okay. No expectations. We have talked from time to time, and he has even visited a couple of times. But he cannot be my father. He just cannot do it. And it seems that I just cannot be his daughter either. I have to be his something else.

Last fall, I got a call from my brother that our father was gravely ill. Many heart attacks and this might be the one. My brother said my father hadn’t told anyone. My brother had found out through our aunt. Our father would have major heart surgery, and he may not live. He had checked himself out of the hospital to get his affairs in order before the surgery. I waited for a call. For days I stewed and worried and kept my phone close by. Days went by, and I was sitting in my bathroom getting ready and my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. My heart started to beat, and I took a big breath thinking this might be the last time I ever talk to my dad. I answered Hello? And it wasn’t him. I hung up the phone from whoever it was and cried. Stayed close to tears for days. Listened to music that made me sadder. Sara Smile and Sara Maria and Van Morrison. He never called. He had the surgery, and he survived. But he never called to say goodbye to me when he could have.

So that’s my story. And what I’ve learned is that I can have all the right attitudes and habits of forgiveness. I can have boundaries, and I can have a plan. But the truth is, when your parent doesn’t treat you the way a parent should, it hurts. A lot. No matter how old you are. No matter how prepared or fortified you are, it hurts. And forgiveness is work; it’s a choice you keep making over and over for yourself. And it’s worth it.

Only 20 steps from the storm drain
There’s a path to the water
Where the wings of the culvert
Slows all that’s rushing down
The rocks and the leaves rest lightly
The light flows through trees slightly
And the creek flows around

There is stillness in between
The passing cars
The waves of sound
There is stillness in between
The passing lines
When I look down at the water
You look up at the trees

Only 20 steps to the bridge
There’s a car crossing over
Where 2 pairs of tires roll by
One after the other
You stand uneven by the creek bed
I sit not hearing all that you said
Hands sweep away what rolls around

There is stillness in between
The passing cars
The waves of sound
There is stillness in between
The passing lines
When I look down at the water
You look up at the trees

Only 20 steps to the car
There’s a storm passing over

Sara Quah- 20 Steps (Order the album here)

 

Read my other Taking Me Back posts:

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music

Physics

Foreverness

What I Heard

Closer

How I’m Feeling

Wallflower

A Little Bit

Take Me Away

 

 

 

Take Me Away

Tomorrow I leave for tour.  I did all my laundry and packed yesterday, and it was a lot harder than it sounds to pack for ten days of shows and driving and looking cool in videos and being comfortable in the car. I still have plenty to do, but at least that part is done.

I’m starting to get the itch to be in it; to have the prep behind us and the trip underway. Singing and playing with Brian and Bisi and the other local songwriters at each stop will be the most fun part of the trip. For sure, collaborating, singing harmony, putting together new mash-ups and arrangements is my favorite thing to do. I LOVE it.

But the other thing I am so looking forward to is meeting all the new friends and hearing their stories.  This will no doubt become the content for the next album (though much of it is already written). I intend to be an absolute sponge the entire time. Soaking up new sights and sounds, insights, and stories. This process of taking things in and putting them back out, like breathing, gives me the feeling that I am doing what I was made to do. There are a few things in my life that when I do them, I am sure that I am supposed to do them. Sing, Write. Hold babies. Teach. Make friends. Dance. Plant flowers. Make things beautiful.  I think I can do all these things, except maybe the planting flowers part, on our trip.

I want to tell you about the guys I’m going with: Bisi and Brian.  I met Bisi two and a half years ago in Chicago at the opening night of a weekend blast. Always with a diverse group of people around him and a huge smile on his face, Bisi is the life of a very welcoming party.  He’s dapper and sharp and witty, loves to build people up, and is the first to ask a wallflower to dance. He isn’t afraid of much.  Can sleep through anything. Is up for anything. At his very essence, he is open and unafraid of the world and possibility. This is what can happen when you’re hanging out with him: That first night we met, I rode back to the hotel in a car with Zubs, an enormous and handsome spoken word poet/doctor, a Nigerian pop singer (that’s Bisi) an art teacher in dreadlocks, a dominatrix in barely anything, and a punk rock guitar player in hipster glasses from Wisconsin, Seth. We ended up mashing into the car and later mashing up a few of our sounds into a little music video in the lobby. Bisi played drums on the vinyl couch. The following day/night we added on to our entourage a couple of Canadians–Blair and Dale of The Dust Rhinos (they were here in October remember how fun? AND who are now my bestest friends), Sarah Vitort, who just stopped by for a visit/house concert last month as Fox and Bones, unbelievable classical guitar player who you have to check out, Nick Rose-Stamey, a passionate and hilarious songwriter named get this– Michael Danger Van Gorder of all things who just ran for office in Califormia, Stefan Forbus, an incredible flute player, and so many others. That was Studio 839. Soooo fun.

This year our weekend was just as fun and maybe more so because we had been friends for a whole year since the first one. We added more and called ourselves The Red Lobby: Blair, Bisi, plus Dale–who slept through most of it– a poet, Jon Hopkins, who stunned us all into silence with his beautiful command of words J. P. McDermott, graceful and easy, who can play anything and sing anything and make it seem easy. Dina Bach elegant and beautiful at the piano, Jayme Orr with her smile and gorgeous voice, and Jael, who sings and plays with delicacy, Constantine and Manny, driving the party. Nico singing to bring the security guard round, China and Seth, of Alright Alright charming us all with their folksy sound, and Kevin who rocks the guitar and sounds amazing. Tom, my very understanding neighbor who joined in, and the guy who could conduct the whole crowd with his big booming voice and command of the guitar, Brian Allison.

IMG_2523 (1)

Brian just dove headfirst into being a full time musician this year. He quit his day job, works the circuit, and kills it. He loves his family. Thinks his wife is the prettiest thing ever made and writes songs for her. Misses his dad who taught him how to play guitar. And, he is releasing his EP on Tuesday on the night we open our tour at Uncommon Ground at Lakeview. He wears flannel shirts, will laugh at this description, and won’t mind driving most of the trip–I hope?

So, that’s us! And starting tomorrow, we will be posting live videos on our tour page and updating you on all manner of trivia about the tour and our adventures. We are selling tour shirts too! Designed and made right here in BloNo at Meltdown.  Let me know if you want one!

The TAKE ME BACK tour starts in Chicago, then to Wixom, MI, then Pittsburgh, Lancaster, PA, Brooklyn (PLAYING WITH TRUMPET GRRRL OH MY GOD and yes I met her in Chicago too but she was not in THE RED LOBBY because she was on an all night ferry singing karaoke with a bunch of guys from a rock band that she met so she missed the whole thing) then Montgomeryville and Baltimore, Indy, Terre Haute and BloNo. Holy crap this is going to be so fun.

You MUST come to our final show on May 25th at c { } from 7-10. If you don’t know where that is: get on my email list and I’ll send you the address.

Here we go!

Sara Quah- Take Me Away (Order here!)

Time flies by a cat

In the window

Life outside looks

Awfully green

Light shines bright

In the afternoon

Take me, take me away

Take me, take me away

Take me, take me away

Come what may,

Take me away with you

Candlelight

Lengthens the shadows

Casts our fears

Of the unseen

Smile at me

Like something new

Maybe some music will

Take all our troubles away

Wind up the boxes,

Open the lids of today

Quick, quick slow

Quick, quick slow

Where will we go?

I don’t know

How long can we stay away

Two of a kind

To be continued

Breaks it all down

To what it all means

You love me

And I love you

See the other posts in my Taking Me Back series:

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music

Physics

Foreverness

What I Heard

Closer

How I’m Feeling

Wallflower

A Little Bit

20 Steps

A Little Bit

When my eyes are open but still, motionless, and comprehension of objects in my field of vision is incomplete, a moment exists for me internally when what my eye can actually see and what it imagines it sees are two different things. Within that moment are possibilities and ideas. For me this often happens in conversations when I get ideas or am processing a new perspective. Mark often thinks I am no longer listening but actually the truth is, I am no longer seeing. It feels like a glazing. Like a veil. It is as if my mind cannot both see and have empathetic thoughts at the same time because they are the same action. One must pause before the other can resume.

I do this when I sing too. Often people have scolded me for closing my eyes when I sing. I really try to keep my eyes open and focused on people when I’m singing, but it’s completely unnatural for me. It isn’t shyness or fear, as I have analyzed this in myself in an effort to change it. It’s because when I look at you, I am taking in information from you, and when I am singing, I am giving you information. The two directions cannot flow freely at the same time.

When I look at you, I see you. And in those moments I am intuiting your thoughts and emotions and needs. And I am wondering if you are okay or if you are happy or if you are irritated. It is not a choice for me; it is just how my mind works. I do this but these thoughts are not built into grammatical sentences, they are just passing fragments, just intuitions, which I collect subconsciously, use to understand, and then filter out as useful or not, true or not. Imagined or real.

Often, when I am later pondering these little spaces of understanding of other people and they intersect with images that I am seeing in real time in a profound or meaningful way, my mind will create some kind of metaphor which eventually turns into a song. I find it completely necessary to mix concrete images with deeper motivations and obscure thoughts in order to artfully and truthfully convey meaning and experience combined. Birds on a wire. A full moon. Eye contact with a stranger.

Maybe this is why so many of my songs are written about other people and their stories, both imagined or real. Even when I write in first person, it is seldom really me in the role of ‘I’ though there are pieces of me and my experiences throughout them all. The stories you tell me, and the nuances of your telling, combined with the pictures of the world around me when I relive them are for me the richest of moments. I am fully captivated.

Not everyone takes the time to see other people or wonder about them or understand their whole selves in a moment. Not everyone walking down the street will hear you and stop to listen to you sing and wait till you’re done to tell you they like it. I know this is a peculiar trait rather than a common one. But oh it is precious to find, like a fossil in a shallow creek bed. Taking time to ask questions, listen to stories, watch faces and postures, see how the universe echoes them all is a quest toward understanding human behavior, philosophy, and time. It is a wholly optimistic task and worthy–though it can get discouraging.

No doubt that people who you have invested in, sacrificed for, loved, appreciated, and supported will disappoint you. No doubt that people will let you down. None of us should walk around doing nice things expecting a reward at the end. It’s not that. It’s that when you recognize goodness in someone or something, or see potential or value in someone or something, it is the practice of selflessness to praise or value that someone or something. It comes naturally to us to do this, and we are not doing it for credit. But when the moments come that we in turn need support or encouragement or value, we can be disappointed when we see how few are still around. I confess when this happens to me or to someone around me I feel a sense of hopelessness, like what I do, what they do matters none at all. That we cannot, in our smallness overcome the perpetual tide of complacency. And I just want to give up.

This is not just true for people like me in a little spotlight. It’s true for all of us. We look around at the times when we really need a friend and see who is there. Those precious mavens who see who you are trying to be and love that and in so believing beget that very reality. Those devoted friends who can make room for your universe in their already full lives. Those quietly present to do thankless tasks and inconvenience themselves on your behalf. Those genuinely giddy and excited for the good things that happen to you, never viewing the goodness received by another as a loss to themselves. They restore your faith in humanity. Twenty people walk past you on the street, but one stops and sees you. And you are saved.

Sara Quah- A Little Bit (Order the album here!)

All those days eavesdropping on the birds out on the wire
Their subtle conversations on the air just make me smile
One romantic line, happens all the time
Strangers on the sidewalk driving blind

I gotta make you fall in love with me a little bit
Make it impossible to wave and smile and then forget
You want to talk to me a little while I’m singing
See me later and say that we met
Look into my eyes it hasn’t even started yet

Summertime is longing for attention in the night
I find myself sleepwalking when the moon is in the sky
Metal on the skin, position that we’re in
East and west maneuvers wearing thin

I gotta make you fall in love with me a little bit
Make it impossible to wave and smile and then forget
You want to talk to me a little while I’m singing
See me later and say that we met
Look into my eyes it hasn’t even started yet

Sara 4_pp

See the other posts in my Taking Me Back series:

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music

Physics

Foreverness

What I Heard

Closer

How I’m Feeling

Wallflower

Take Me Away

20 Steps

Wallflower

“I learned the truth at seventeen that love was meant for beauty queens and high school girls with clear skin smiles who married young and then retired. The valentines I never knew, the Friday night charades of youth, were spent on one more beautiful. At seventeen I learned the truth. And those of us with ravaged faces, lacking in the social graces, desperately remained at home, inventing lovers on the phone, who call to say come say “come dance with me” and murmured vague obscenities. It isn’t all it seems at seventeen.”  —Janis Ian “Seventeen”

Her clear voice begins with the gentle guitar in the background, and instantly I am sad. Presently her face begins to form in my mind. Her true face which is not proportionately divided into equal dimensions. Her true face which is not filtered or retouched but is apparent in the harsh light of crude photography. Teeth are not straight. And nose is not fixed. Hair is slightly overwhelming to her smallness. In all ways truly is the ordinariness of her self presented. And pretty soon I realize I am seeing not her but me, all scars and crooked lines.

Her little truth makes me want to cry. She confesses not only her shortcomings but her fixation on them which somehow is even worse than being ugly. Fixating on fixating. Metafixation. How much time has been wasted on these thoughts. Honestly, how much of our temporal lives are given to worry over things we cannot possibly control or be responsible for or conversely be given credit for. A complete waste of time.

And those of us like Janis with kindness to give and eyes to see more and beauty with words and all things lasting give in to the ridiculousness and stupidity of that pursuit. That pursuit, like a carrot which hangs just beyond our teeth, will never be eaten. And we should be ashamed not of our own truth but of our own inability to accept it. It is what it is. And that which it is, ordinary and ugly, is true. And that which it is, kind and filled with understanding, is beautiful.

In actuality as well as myth most of that which is beautiful and smart in each of us is brought about by those very experiences of inferiority. Never ask a rich man what food tastes like. If you need a ride, depend on the one with the jalopy. For those who have been overlooked themselves will seldom overlook you.  And if they forget you, will apologize. And if they misstep, will make it right. And if you sit alone, will join you. A thing of beauty.

Inversely, what is vacant and ugly in us is born of feelings of superiority. Entitlement. Exclusivity. We witness what is most ugly, most cruel, most compassionless not in awkward girls at dances but in people of power who use it to enrich themselves and rationalize their choices with platitudes.

But in spite of that character we (and I only address the “we” here and leave the “they” to another day) have so thankfully achieved, often we still sit casually by while the others dance, hyper aware of our ineptitude. Acutely experiencing the vastness between the standard and the reality. What is it that we want? What is it that we will trade all our creativity and problem solving and marketable skills for? What is it that we would take if we got to the front of the line? Not full-on beauty, we say, just a simple in between that we can stop worrying about, stop thinking about, caring about. Exchange our huge worry for a regular imperfection that doesn’t take over every part of what you present to the world.

The wallflower in my imagination sits with her skeleton askew. She does not own her proportions; they cannot bend in far enough. Her hips are slightly jutting sideways and her shoulders are sloped, arms folded in. And her ankles are twisting inward in her seated position which she is unaware of. The sleeves of her dress are too ruffled and reveal that it is not her own. It is not her at all. So she sits alongside the wall of the gym, the room as awkwardly made into a dance hall as she into a dancer. I see her elbows sticking out too far, inelegant and wrinkled.

No, take all that away. She is too fat. No, she is too tall. Or she has buck teeth. Something, many things are not right. Not as they should be. And so she is not dancing at the dance or talking at the talk or knowing in the know. And there is a secret about her which no one wonders at. For she is not cute enough to evoke a story or a curiosity at all.

SARA QUAH- WALLFLOWER (pre-order here!)

Romantic moment with my phone
A secret smile for my opponent
The room reflected in my shoes
A backwards dance from my perspective

This is just a waste of time
I can’t interpret your signs
I can’t bring myself to smile
So I’ll sit alone tonight
With my hands
By my side

My toe keeps tapping on the floor
I’m lost in thoughts caught on rewinding
My fingers wrap around the chair
While I’m pretending that I don’t care

Trace my eyes in liquid lines
Glance them back and forth to find
Somewhere to wait in single file
Let’s move in time, assembly line
Hands that glow and fingers blue
Reach for friends who stand in another cue
Then I bite my lip and muddle through
And I disappear to fix my shoe
I can’t see a thing
But I enjoy the view
I just want to dance with you
Just ask me to dance with you

This is just a waste of time
I can’t interpret your signs
I can’t bring myself to smile
So I’ll sit alone tonight
With my hands
By my side

She is not oblivious. She knows. She agrees with you. She might have your thoughts before you have them. She might be more cruel about it than you. Her eyes roll at her own contradiction, at the cliche. At once, hiding and attending. At once, envy and mocking.

Lately, I find myself drawn to those who would take their faults and lay them out for discussion on the table. I marvel at them and try to emulate them but feel awkward when I do it myself. My default is to leave those things which could make others uncomfortable unsaid. But also I recognize that when someone gives me their truth I begin to love them utterly. I begin to live their story and want them to overcome. Somehow their lack of concealment has freed them to live openly with fault and be pursued regardless.

Have you witnessed when a person lives in truth and goodness, they actually become more beautiful to you over time? And the inverse of course is true. No matter their exacting standards of fashion and convention of beauty, those who live in selfishness or meanness or superficiality, become that in appearance. “Remember those who win the game lose the love they sought to gain.”

“We all play the game and when dare to cheat ourselves at solitaire” all we gain is a lonely moment on the edges. I commit to living fully out loud in my own ugly truth. Changing the things I can, making the best of what I have, where I am, who I am, accepting the things I cannot fix. I will get up and dance, and I will not wait to be asked.

first dance square

Here’s me at my first dance. With braces and big hair. Photo blame to whoever was holding the Polaroid at the time.

P.S. – I am giving this track away for FREEEEEEE on Pledge Music, in honor of my album release party this week!

Find it here: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/saraquah/updates/83826

See the other posts in my Taking Me Back series:

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music

Physics

Foreverness

What I Heard

Closer

How I’m Feeling

A Little Bit

Take Me Away

20 Steps

How I’m Feeling

One beautiful night last summer, after a Taking Me Back rehearsal at Oxide, I was driving home with the windows rolled down and the music really loud, and I got this overwhelming feeling of contentment. Just a simple happiness that I didn’t want to end. A good thing accomplished, perfect weather, stars, music, good things laid out in front of me, everything’s okay, everyone is safe, everything is taken care of, bills all paid, check marks beside the to-do list, clean clothes in the closet, food in the frig, new songs floating above, only a shower away from catching.  I love that feeling.

Sara Quah- How I’m Feeling (pre-order the album here)

Like driving with the widows open on a clear night in June
With the music so loud that the cells inside me fill out
That’s how I’m feeling right now

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh

Like being alone and not looking back in the rear view mirror
Like seeing the moon on a landscape where nothing else will move but me
That’s how I’m feeling right now

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh

And I don’t even need to go too fast
I get a close up view of the fields I pass
Moving particles I part my sea
Aerodynamically

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh

That’s how I’m feeling right now
That’s how I’m feeling right now
That’s how I’m feeling right now

I pretty much wrote the verses in my head while driving. I wanted no extra; I just wanted to capture that candid moment and the urge I felt to hold it. Like a sustain pedal on a piano. Holding a guitar out in front of you with the chords held down, coaxing the sound out of the hollow into a wavy vibrato. Drive past the turn off to home and just keep going. How easily and how quickly we can arrive in a new reality. All it takes is money and time. Words are not even necessary to express that simple fact. Just movement.

Dusk

Sometimes I like to ponder the butterfly effect and follow the sequence of events until all the breadcrumbs are eaten. A decision and a change in direction. A deep sigh and the oxygen atoms are scrambled. A delay and an unforeseen meeting fixed. A glance and an idea formed. A mood and a kindness granted. I teach my students to follow these trails in books. What was the moment the new thing began? But it is more difficult to trace in real life as the intersecting, breathing web is ever-changing and everlasting.  I picture the molecules of air and dust and pollen and insects filling the stillness where I see nothing until I see everything.  My windshield slices and sweeps them apart, reshuffles the order unpredictably, randomly. A different seed falls. A new particle meets a new match. A new assortment of possibilities buzzing and glowing in the air. Noisy and full of potential.

It is so complicated that it becomes simple. So overwhelmingly detailed that no control can be exerted with hope of a determined outcome. In that simplicity is a kind of joy and relief. A realization that the beauty and circumstance is so intricately woven, so beautifully interconnected, that our meager attempts at influence are laughable. Simultaneously though, consider the unfathomable power we hold in each breath. The unwitting yet consuming potency of each bite, each glance, each word, each thought, each action. We are at once just a small thing floating and a seed germinating and a hand then harvesting and a beast then eating in a field.  Made forever and ever over and over by our nothing and everything.

Most of the time we operate in ignorance of that myriad universe, micro and macroscopic. Seconds instead spent moving from room to room without preponderance of consequence. Minutes engaged in staring and sleeping and blinking without seeing or dreaming. Here we delight in our existence. Here we magnify that which is ours to be. Here we are.

But that other world calls to us when we are alone. When the air is perfect and the buzzing world reminds us of our own smallness.  Those glowing flowers in the woods long for your side-long step.  You will breathe in the goodness of new things and breathe out the particles of yesterday in that new place. The tree slowly returning to the forest floor is asking for your moment. You will leave behind some essence of you on it. And it will give to you some magic of its dying ember. Your head tipped back and your eyes uplifted will witness the green canopy, slightly shifting in the breeze. Your ears delight in the soft song of some invisible insect. You will change it forever too as your love of all that is green will green the world anew. The birds will accept your little sounds and sing anyway. You will know what secret song they sing when you are gone. Your swimming body will scramble the atoms around you. They will rise and resettle, rise and resettle as you reach and pull with your arms through the world, as you push and step with your legs through the world. And everything that you think you control will baffle you in cognition, and everything that you bring about will delight you in fruition.

glowingstep

Read the other posts in my Taking Me Back Series:

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music

Physics

Foreverness

What I Heard

Closer

Wallflower

A Little Bit

Take Me Away

20 Steps

Closer

A friend of mine just passed away recently. He loved to hear me sing, and he used to come during rehearsals to hear Molly and me sing together. He would sit off to the side of the big concrete columns in his wheel chair, with his chin in his hand and a very serious look on his face. Later in the week, he would send flowers or candy to thank us. A few months before he died, we had lunch together, and he asked me lots of questions about my music and the new directions I was taking. I was nonchalant and vague, not wanting to make too much of something just starting out. And to that he said to me “Let me give you some advice. Remember, that you become what you think about.”

It felt important right when he said it. I locked in on it and repeated it a few times. I thought about it for weeks and still do. I told Tony his advice, and he said “Think about Grammys.” I’ve been thinking.

When I was in high school my family went to church a lot. A lot a lot. And to get through three super boring sermons a week I had to do something so I daydreamed. I got really good at it and very detailed. I would wait until the sermon started and then see if I could make it through the whole thing without breaking my concentration on a particular dream. In my day dream I concocted my future which, I kid you not, included a big old house, a husband, three kids, two girls and a boy, a golden retriever and lots of animals. It also included a vegetable garden (which I don’t have) and a clothesline (which I really want but also don’t have) and a tire swing (which we had). So, if you don’t know me in real life then you don’t know that I got nearly all those things. I got the big old creaky house, which we don’t have any more but miss every day, and my two girls and a boy just exactly like my grandmother. Cody is our round golden retriever who smiles, and we have a long series of kitties for every phase of life. We put a tire swing in the back yard like the one Uncle Chid made for me and hung in the big tree in my grandparents’ yard. My kids ate popsicles on the back porch and read Little House books just like I imagined. My husband can fix sinks and console babies. Maybe a correlative fallacy, but pretty good evidence that thinking about things can make them happen.

So now here I am in a new phase thinking about new things.  Those day dreams all having come to life.  I’m thinking now about writing music and singing for lovers and selling albums.  It’s a completely different dream and why couldn’t I have lots of them. Why can’t we? There’s this thing about being a woman and having to chose things. Kids or career. Money or happiness. Perfection or time.

When you have little kids, it doesn’t matter how much you try to avoid it, it takes over your whole life and being. Their needs consume you and rightly so. It is the way of survival and love. When you’re in it, the time with them seems to be agonizingly slow and tedious and simultaneously faster and more precious than you can comprehend. Things you longed for are over in a moment and things you dread take an eternity. And soon stages are forgotten and new ones begun and you are needed less and then what?

Here’s what I’ve noticed: we prepare our kids for a multitude of creative futures, a variety of sometimes short-lived dreams. Soccer, piano lessons, dance class, robotics, service trips, drama club, and summer camps. And when they grow up, how much of that do they use? Does it matter? Not so much, because it was a part of who they became. But do we translate that kind of experience to ourselves? Or do we say that for us it is too late because we have already settled into who are going to be? I think this is wrong. Surely if a child can learn to speak Spanish at 11 then an adult can as well. Surely if a child can learn to tap dance at 3, an adult can as well. And what better example for life-long happiness and balance can a child have than a parent who knows how to learn? Who knows how to dream new dreams? Why is the decade between 10 and 20 so pivotal and meaningful in our culture for determining a future life but the decade between 60 and 70 is not? Why are you allowed to dream at 15 but not at 55?

I have been teased a little for this new dream of mine. Some people think I look ridiculous, or at least that’s what I imagine they are thinking. Because with their slight teasing and comments I see they do not understand what I am about. Why am I not satisfied with what everyone else is satisfied with? The truth is, I could be. Really. But somewhere along the way I turned a little further than I knew I could and saw a thing that I could do that I did not know I could do, but it turns out I can. So I am going with it as long as I can.

Here I am a little bit closer to a new dream. It is not a dream of fame or fortune–though a little of that would get me by–just of good music and stories and people. People that tell me their stories and people who listen to mine. It is a dream where I meet people, and they like my music and I get a new friend who sees me and I see them. It is a dream where someone hears I song that I wrote, and it makes them feel understood. It is a dream where I get to keep writing and making music as much as I hear it. Where I get to sing as long as I want to.

I hear that little voice still. That pseudo-religious condescending voice who lets me know with her eyes if not her words that she disapproves of all this fuss and dreaming. It is not humble. It is not putting others first. It is ungrateful. She wants me to remain nonchalant and vague; not to appear to be too excited or hopeful.  Somehow I would be more admired for having given it all up for the sake of my children and family. Maybe this voice is my own invention and no one else hears her, but I bet not. She is wickedly intrusive. I am learning to shake my head at her and give her dirty looks. I am starting to show her she is wrong.

Every time something good happens, I get a little bit closer. Every time someone who didn’t have to say anything says something, I get a little bit closer. Every time I do something I am afraid to do, I get a little bit closer.  Every time I believe something possible that never seemed that way before, I get a little bit closer.

Closer

You’ve got something to say to me
You’ve got the look that can only mean
Now look at me I can barely breathe
You put your hand on the wall
Lean over me and say

Why don’t you slide closer
Just a little bit closer to me
Slide over
Just a little bit closer to me

Now here comes my favorite song
And I can’t stop from singing along
That’s the step that you’re moving on
You put your hand on my back
And now I’m gone

Why don’t you slide closer
Just a little bit closer to me
Slide over
Just a little bit closer to me

So I can hear your heartbeat
And I can hear you breathing
And I can feel your right hand
Reaching out for my hand
And you can hear me singing
And I can feel you leading
And you can love the way
My voice hits your ear

Why don’t you slide closer
Just a little bit closer to me
Slide over
Just a little bit closer to me

Sara Quah- Closer

Read the other posts in my Taking Me Back Series:

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music

Physics

Foreverness

What I Heard

How I’m Feeling

Wallflower

A Little Bit

Take Me Away

20 Steps

Use Technology, But Don’t Let It Use YOU

There’s a lot of talk in the recording world about computers ruining music. I’m here to tell you that PEOPLE ruin or make music. A computer allows you to do a ton of things to the audio it contains. You can slice, dice, chop and puree your sounds into almost anything. But, should you? Should you let the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) superimpose a grid and then move each and every chord, cymbal crash, and syllable to the metronomically “perfect” spot? In a word, NO. BUT, that doesn’t mean that you  shouldn’t use some of those ‘modern conveniences.” A great take with an issue or two can now be made right with a few mouse clicks. And why not? You can now have that one extra track that used to mean erasing something to make the space on the reel of tape.

An advantage of using a hard drive as a recording medium is that, for a fairly small investment you can get a TON of recording time. In comparison, a single reel of 2” tape offers about 30 minutes or recording time…if you run the tape machine at its slowest  speed. If you choose to run the tape faster (for less noise)you cut that number in half. And that’s just how the machine deals with distance. Depending on the model of tape deck, you will have at most 24 separate tracks on which to record audio. Older machines offered even fewer. The Beatles, for instance, made most of their records with 4-track machines. They would fill up four tracks, and mix those to one track (yep that’s right, one MONO track) of another machine, leaving them 3 empty tracks. Once that tape was full, those 4 tracks were again mixed back to the first machine. Each time adding tape and mixer noise, and each time losing a generation of sonic quality. In comparison the 2 Terabyte recording drive that I use has several YEARS worth of recording projects from many clients. I paid a little over a hundred bucks for that drive. A reel of 2” tape runs around $350 (for a half hour of 24-tracks).

I’d like to give a few examples of how I like to combine the old school with the new in the studio. I still like to record people playing together for basic tracks. Drums, bass, guitars and keyboards are recorded at once to get a take (or takes) that have a feel we all like. By using a computer, we can do a bunch of takes, all right in a row without having to decide, “That’s not good enough, let’s record over it.” I don’t have to get up and change reels; we can just keep capturing takes. Musicians LOVE this. The feel in the rooms is focused on playing rather than worrying, “Is there enough tape?” Let me tell you, that is quite freeing after many years of knowing there were 3-4 reels to track on.

I made a conscious decision to record Sara Quah’s Taking Me Back in Pro Tools. Part of  that was budget-consciousness and part was workflow. When cutting things like vocals its nice to never worry about having enough space on the multitrack. You can record several takes onto one “track” using something called Playlists (other DAWs call it other names, but it works the same way). I can set up a vocal track, get levels and signal chain happening. I usually use some sort of great sounding analog compressor after the microphone and preamp. This gives me color and tone along with dynamic control. THEN I can let the singer sing to their heart’s content. I make some notes as we go, and offer coaching along with ideas for the next take. After there’s a great take or three, it’s very easy to paste different sections of different takes into a master track used for the final mix. I do this a lot with vocals, solos, and other overdubbed and added elements. On tape I need an empty track for each of these takes, and another for the COMP  (composite), which I have to perform with mute buttons and a master “road map” telling me which track number goes to the comp part at any given moment. In addition to that, I’d lose a generation in the process.

In a DAW I can make certain things happen every time I play them, even before I’m in the mixing process. For example, we might record a couple of different backing vocals (like Hi, Mid and Lo), but then experiment with using bits and pieces of the different parts during different sections of the song. I can quickly draw in where different parts are muted, and save that with the project. Then the next time we are working on that song, I don’t have to try to remember those things; I can focus on recording whatever we are working on that day. Those mutes will happen, and I can think about the task at hand.

When it comes to mixing, there are so many options that are instantly recallable. Normally I mix in a very similar fashion to what I do on a mixing console. In fact, I still use the console so that the tracks come out of the computer individually or in groups. Before I got my DAW, I mixed first with hands on the console in real time. Often I’d need band members lending their hands to help with tasks I couldn’t physically pull off. Then I got a console with automation. That automation ONLY worked on mutes and fader  volume levels. Even that was great in comparison. Now in the DAW, I can plan for everything I might consider in the virtual domain, and those settings will repeat each time I run the song. It’s quite wonderful, from a creative standpoint. Clients love being able to make change weeks after a mix, which was expensive and time consuming in the past. Having the mixing console in front of me still allows me to integrate analog and digital outboard gear, and as I use these items, I record their output back into the DAW so they are still right there the next time I open the project. Because of that, I can using the same piece of gear in different ways on the same mix. That was rarely an option in the past because there wasn’t usually enough space on the multi-track tape to record those signals.

What I am saying is that if you let the music and the musician’s personality guide your decisions, the computer is both your friend AND the music’s ally. If you let the computer rule the session then art and authenticity have a good chance of being compromised.

See all of Tony’s posts HERE.

What I Heard

Draw myself up
Up from the deep
Where arms and legs
Stay asleep
I know I heard
Your voice out loud

Halfway to wake
Up from my dream
Suspend my belief
I don’t want to
Wake up now

What I heard
Was the sound
Of your voice
Calling out

Frozen inside
Keep still abide
Awareness slide
Keep the world at bay

Soon I will know
Too soon arise
Come to realize
What you did not say

In the hallway
Or the next room
You would call me
And I would hear you
All in my mind
All in my mind
Where I can hear you

What I heard
Was the sound
Of your voice
Calling out

Let us all face down now at the woman sleeping in her bed, covered in quilts. All the house is stillness. There in half dreams does she register a small voice calling her awake. But she is willful to remain away where true cannot be.  And she does not move her limbs for fear of waking.  And she does not pivot her eyes for fear of seeing. Who will gently shake her shoulder so she will rise and see herself in the dresser mirror? Who will gently whisper her to mindfulness?

Here the dangling of soft fabric and weight of protective arm beckons the weary and distant witness to atrocity. We lean our bodies into the sturdy form, our arms fold in and back to cling to what will shield us from knowing. Our necks bend in, turn as far as tendons allow into the folds of what we call his wing. Our eyes, with tears in the creases, shut tight against the knowledge that comes with the vision. Here, inside his coat, we want to stay. Put off the dwelling. Delay the comprehending. Shake our heads against the violent calling. 

There are no words. There are no words for this week. There are no words for dead children laid out for photographs and counting. There are no words for trembling bodies and shivering lips and screaming fathers and dying mothers. There are no words for running men with babies and their swinging feet. The cameraman drops his arm. The writer sets down his pen. The reporter hangs her head low. All the presses slow and power is lost. A long pause in the delivery, our humanity is best exemplified in our inability to take in what cannot be true. A moment of silence.

Let us all collectively, inwardly moan.

Let us all collectively close our eyes.

Let us all collectively rest our faces in savage hands.

Let us all collectively slumber in ignorance that calls with sweetness and mocking in the folds of his magic coat.

Let us all hide.

But then who will take the picture? Who will carry the tiny one to his grave? Who will tell the story? Who will turn tomorrow toward survival? Who will point and persevere toward redeeming knowledge and reflection which ages through understanding to wisdom? Who will play the music that restores and brings the beauty of creation back to a crumbling soul?  Whose voice will echo on the walls to comfort the lonely and wake the sleeping far away and startle the enemy and pacify the wronged?

 

Among us all a certain few will stay awake and working. To take and carry and tell and turn and point and persevere and sing. And who are they but prophets and angels. And who are they but teachers and artists. That take us down amid the foundations of malice within ourselves. That make us change before we can climb the stairs that lead outside. That carry us beyond what is in a dream.  That beg and beckon us to see ourselves and better ourselves and save ourselves from ourselves. That hold up the mirror and say “see what you are and be more than that.”

 

Shrinking world, listen to the prophets and angels and teachers and artists which point us with severe clarity to the truth. Each day we are asleep the world does atrophy and turn in, and we use our few waking hours to serve ourselves rather than one another. Each day we chose to consume without tasting, the processed and sweet, we do not eat that which comes from the earth. Each day we hear without listening, the ordinary and indoctrinating, we do not hear what comes from the heart. Each day we look without seeing, at the self-fulfilling and the self-affirming, we do not see what is real and clear. Each day with hands and feet far from pain, we do not feel what we should feel or change what we should change or be what we should be.

One day a woman was cleaning out a closet. All the things were spread out in the hallway and messy while she sorted and cleared out. She shouted to her son to take out the garbage before the collector came. The big bag in the hall. Later, putting things away into the closet, she came across the bag of garbage, still there, and scolded her son. “But I did take it out,” he said, “and I didn’t miss the pick up.” He had taken by mistake a bag full of antique quilts that had been pulled out of the closet. Family heirlooms and precious. She cried for three days over those quilts and the thought of them in the landfill. Each square stitched with love and meaning from the scraps of clothing and even older quilts. And laid over beds and smoothed and laid over grandmothers ailing and laid over little ones sleeping. Patterns and patches and swirls of color and memories and time. Gone. And wasted. And those three days were filled with heartache for telling her family what had happened and for making her son feel so bad about an easy mistake.

She finally stopped crying when she realized that all the while those quilts lay cast into the trash, all the while she had mourned, real people had been cast away too.  And how many homeless had she not cried for? And how many lonely grandmothers ailing not comforted? And how many little ones suffering not mourned?

And is God looking down and watching us mourn for our quilts while his children die in the streets? And is God looking down at us hiding in the folds of the coat of ignorance while his people are desperate for solace? Is God looking down? Or did he turn his face away?

Sara Quah- What I Heard (From Taking Me Back)

Photo credit: Joseph Eid.
Read the story of Mohammad Mohiedine Anis:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/franciswhittaker/this-powerful-photo-from-aleppo-has-a-heartbreaking-story-be?utm_term=.rt80lNlle8#.ukG9DJDDxy

http://www.npr.org/2017/03/18/520580144/living-among-the-ruins-in-aleppo-a-man-keeps-playing-his-songs

See Mohammad’s updated story here: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/ashes-aleppo-sound-hope/

Read the other posts in my Taking Me Back Series:

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music

Physics

Foreverness

Closer

How I’m Feeling

Wallflower

A Little Bit

Take Me Away

20 Steps

Foreverness

Picture’s still up from the first time I was in style
Kept a white square on the wall so I been there a while
Looking so funny that I know it’s gonna make you smile
Gonna make you smile

Foreverness, never stops
Not that I will ever see, never stops
Coming closer to me

She was still smiling ’bout the time that I pushed her away
But still it makes me cry cause I thought that I’d be okay
Door slamming shut on the words that she heard me say
What she heard me say

All my life, I wished for flight
I never thought I’d wait in line
Now that I can’t seem to fix my mind
Always thought that I’d have more time

Someone is telling a memory.  It’s important to them.  Somewhere inside them a word they say is indexed with emotion.  Cross referenced with physical reaction.  The signal is released from the memory center to the brain stem and from there electrical signals are sent off to the heart. Rate increases and blood fills the core.  A person watching can see it.  The person telling can feel it.  It rushes. Like a tank filling.  It rises in the neck and into the face where tributaries and capillaries fill up and pink the skin in the cheeks, the nose, the thin skin around the eyes. As it passes through this soft skin, the tear ducts are alarmed, and in the whites of their eyes we see the liquid collect and glaze.  The muscles of the neck seem to tighten and the voice becomes strained against the flush. Hands shake and the body trembles. Manifestation of love and sorrow revealed in the autonomic display. Visceral.

How is it that memories, as intangible as ideas, can be stored in a physical location and take up physical space?  Is memory concrete then? Like air, which though you cannot touch it, exists and takes up real space and is therefore not abstract like love or fear or belief.

How is it that seeing a pattern on a square of fabric can take you back to your childhood window seat and recall your childish feeling when a direct inquiry about your childhood conjures nothing emotional at all?  How can hearing the certain sound of a certain screen door squeal take you immediately back to a place of joy?  How can a smell contained in a random combination of ingredients somehow send little travelers to a physical space that no longer exists in real time?

I suspect that my own memories are stored differently than they should be.  My brother seems to remember everything, and I remember nothing useful.  My memories are sorted into weird groups, their in common traits, so far from obvious.  One memory leads to another memory that has no relation to chronology.  My parents’ bedspread was red and white when I was very little.  And years later my terry cloth jumper is also red and white.  So are my great grandmother’s mugs.  The little locked playhouse in my grandmother’s backyard.  The Barbie case too.  And the little ruby gemstone in the birthday figurine in my white hutch.  They are in a pile of red and white things. To find these things I cannot look for time, I must look for color.

This red is my startling beginning.  My mother is too young, but I now exist.  And she who cannot yet  fully care for herself must care for me.  And she does it.  And she does it well. And I did not know any different.  Everything that was to be before no longer was.  And everything that came to be after that was different.  And the new thing was forever.

There is a picture of my mother, soon after returning home from the hospital after having me, in a red, silk nightgown.  Her long, dark hair hanging down beside me.  Her white arms around her new little baby.  Later, it is Christmas and I am six months old in her lap; she has a red bandanna tied around her forehead, and she looks cool and lovely amid the wrapping paper and baby gifts. And she is standing in our little kitchen peeling the red paper off the bologna. And she is sitting on a lawn chair in front of my grandparent’s red brick house with white doors and red geraniums and white rocks.

I have other piles of colors too.  Yellow and brown are together and connect many living rooms and carpets.  She is there too, browning hamburger, pouring cinnamon applesauce, playing the piano, waiting for the coming tears as I talk on the phone with the long coiled cord. Cleaning is lemon yellow pledge and James Taylor and brown is TV and hiding under tables.  Pinks and pastels are the colors of my bunny cereal bowl and Charlotte’s Web and 3rd and 4th grade.  I am sick and Nathan has a big birthday party, and I cannot leave my room.  She peaks her head in the door to check on me, brings me pink lemonade.  She has surprised me with new clothes; pink pants and jacket laid out on my white eyelet bedspread.  Green is the new baby and I watch her change him and rock him and love him and I love him and climb in his crib and dress him up.  Green is the electric skillet she stands beside and the plants she puts in the front window. Black is the spatula in her hand turning things over. Black and blue are memories of a car too long in the sun and seats that burn the backs of my knees, and a baby brother asleep beside me. And my mother is driving and singing, and I am learning.

She is the constant.  The unwavering.  The high standard.  The next right thing.  The job well done. The gift perfectly given.  She is the always.  She is the there there.  She is every memory embodied, located, sorted. Made tangible and alive.  She is music and laughter and color. She is beauty and kindness and home and “there is something in the way she moves. looks my way or calls my name, that seems to leave this troubled world behind.  And if I’m feeling down and blue, or troubled by some foolish gain, she always seems to make me change my mind.” –JT

She is my forever, and I, for her, am the moment that pivoted her existence into another to become a new thing.  A newness.  A thing unbidden but beautiful.  Foreverness.  A state of being.  A quality of being.

And now, with the colors of my memories filling and swirling my identity too much, too many to count, they trigger the sequence of signals, head and heart and face and hands, and I am flooded with love and tenderness and tears.  And my heart is beating faster, and my face is pink, and my eyes are glassy and it is hard to focus.  The memories locked into all that is precious and good and forever.

Sara Quah- Foreverness

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Read the other posts in my Taking Me Back Series:

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music

Physics

What I Heard

Closer

How I’m Feeling

Wallflower

A Little Bit

Take Me Away

20 Steps