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the long way around

The living room is a forest of mic stands and cables. A cup of coffee, a large glass of water and a shallow shot of whiskey sit on the tiny white table. I alternate between them, making sure the guitar is in tune, trying to understand if the chair will creak when I lean my head back on the second chorus.  There is a hush in the room. I can hear my own heartbeat. The lyrics are printed out on a fresh piece of paper, large and thick so I can read them easily even though I sing with my eyes closed and will surely forget a handful of words no matter what I do.

The guitar sounds dry, perfect - even honest. I can play a simple D chord with a long strum, or the side of my thumb and it sounds so different. I record a few takes, barefoot in the bright room. I am going too fast in some parts, and my fingers are already sore from the chord changes.

And then all at once, I am thinking of a show I played in an old factory in Brooklyn, way back when I had just started writing songs almost twenty y…

leaving the party


I got kicked out of a photography group for saying "all art is political, in some way". Someone had posted an image of a protestor, and there was a consensus that politics should not be allowed in this community. People wrote all in caps, how they needed a safe space away from the headlines, to post their landscapes, their scantily clad women, their close-up pictures of flowers. I know it was no great loss, but the expat life is often a lonely one. No one wants to be told to leave the party.

Since then, I have paid much more attention to the role of politics in creative work. I took it as a given, a latent set of bones in the skeleton to flesh out. Social documentary work inspires no confusion. It is exactly what it is - elegant advocacy. Lights shine on unknown stories, bearing witness to events as they unfold. There is a sort of guarantee for this work, meaning - it has a place in the world. It is needed, the same as we need to know how many people died in the latest attack, how many citizens stepped up to defend a stranger, how many ran screaming into the street, how many bullets, how many wounded, how many days since the last attack.

The information can become overwhelming, as phones blink with silent alerts in the middle of the night. Of course I want to know. But how to wake up later, how to navigate the morning, how to decipher this reality and then pick up a camera or a pen, how to load another roll of film, or spread my hands across a fresh empty piece of paper. How to dig deep, and make something valuable? It seems like a very tall order. I live under a great deal of censorship here. I pick my words very carefully, even in private. I have a family.

My thoughts turn, holding up the work to the light wondering how irrelevant it may be. Who cares about some nuns in the street? Who wants to know the story behind that waiter rushing across the cobblestones with a glass in his hands? Are those young boys really smoking? What song are these men singing in the street, their heads tipped back, their mouths wide?

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