The birds have been going crazy around here lately.
I woke up at the regular time today in my own
And went out onto the porch to meditate,
Hoping to get lost in the bird sounds
And the colors of the trees against the grey sky.
But as it happened, all through the neighborhood
The great army of leaf blowers had once again descended
With their incessant whining and revving of agitation.
I sat there, listening, watching my mind get tossed about
By waves of tiny engines run by people I can’t see
For an end that may or may not affect me.
The dissonance put me on a familiar edge
I don’t like to admit lingers always
In my shadow.
But even then, when I least expected,
The great insect would mysteriously go quiet
And in the fleeting lull of engines
I could hear an ever so slight birdsong.
It was there, but in all the static
More like a flashlight in the foggy distance.
What a wake-up!
Because that’s where we all are in this time of
Lost to the gravity of something we didn’t see coming
And have little real ability to control,
While our beauty and our simple nature is hard to locate
For all the chatter and noise
Aimed like a warrior’s ancient arrow
On all we love the most.
It’s hard not to inhale the very stress of it,
To sense that what was promised to us is now lost,
What we thought was our given, a right,
Has been snatched while we slept.
But as I sat there (of not very calm mind, as it turns out)
I noticed the engines growing quiet, slowly at first, then
In what must have been a rush of the loading trailers,
They were mostly gone.
Only across the valley was there a slight hum and buzz.
And then, the birds seemed to be all around me.
For they were never gone.
It was just my hearing that was temporarily overwhelmed.
No, they were always there,
As they’ve always been.
And once this time passes, the beauty and grace
Of the song that we call life will carry on.
So, my hope is that as the rumble of these days
May overwhelm your mind,
Know that the migrations are still in play
And that the birds are out there, waiting,
Singing their bloody hearts out.
My friend Gary Nicholson says he rarely gets writer’s block.
To him, it’s like a water tap.
If you turn it on every day, the tap works easily.
The water comes out clear.
Let it go a while — say, a couple of months,
Rust sets in and the water runs brown.
It takes a while before it runs clean.
Make something every day.
There’s a confidence that comes
From believing that when you turn that handle,
Something good is going to happen.
From “The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living)
Available in print, ebook and audiobook at www.dardensmith.com/store
Text and Photo © 2108 Darden Smith
There’s no substitute for cash.
But over the course of my work I’m paid in lifestyle as much as anything.
Being able to spend my years doing what I love
And experiencing all I see out traveling —
These are luxuries never to be taken lightly.
Yes, there are rough times.
I don’t have the stability (and bank accounts)
That some of my friends have — the ones with regular jobs.
My children grow up without the proverbial big-screen TV
But I don’t think they’re unduly scarred.
It’s a sacrifice worth making.
And I would do it again.
From “The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living)” on Irie Books
Text and Image © 2018 Darden Smith
As a kid, I like to draw pictures.
But being left-handed, stuck in those damned right-handed desks at school,
I have a hard time making drawings that aren’t lopsided and weird.
The other kids, being kids, tease me about the bizarre scrawls on my paper.
So at the bitter age of 10, I figure out how to make the teasing stop:
I quit drawing.
I make up a story,
And the story is, “I can’t draw.”
In 1989, I’m in L.A. recording what will become Trouble No More.
Sitting in the studio, bored, scratching on a newspaper with a pencil,
I accidentally draw a tree.
Immediately, I cover the drawing up, afraid someone will see it.
A few seconds later, I move my hand. It’s still there.
Suddenly I’m 9, sitting in the back of the class,
Lost in the land of crayons and construction paper.
It feels good. I start to teach myself to draw again.
Now when I travel, I fill notebooks with weird little black-and-white pictures.
There’s not a straight line to be found, and it doesn’t matter.
I don’t make these images to show people.
I don’t need a gallery wall for proof they’re valid.
The doing of it is all that matters now.
Sometimes I think about all those years I spend believing that story
I tell myself when I’m 10: the story of no.
Because I listen back then, I miss out on a lot of joy,
A lot of time dragging ink across a page.
Don’t listen to the teasers.
Draw the pictures.
NO PLAN B
My first wife and I get engaged when I’m 22
And her father sends me the letter.
He’s very concerned about my career choice
And wonders if I would consider a trade school;
Something to fall back on.
After I calm down, I write him a letter.
I tell him that my father always told me to never have a Plan B.
If you have it, you’ll use it.
I also say that when I get to be 30, if there’s absolutely zero chance
Of making a living at music,
Then I’ll think about some other line of work.
But until then, no.
The marriage doesn’t work out,
But the plan does.
(By the way, I grew to love this guy, and he became a big fan. Word has it that when I got my first press in Chicago, he carried a copy of the story around to show his friends.)
In high school, I have an odd-jobs business
Mowing lawns, painting houses, moving families.
I do landscaping, build patios and decks, even clean windows
For the right price.
Basically, I’ll do anything.
My method is, first get the job,
Then figure out how to do it.
There’s a network of construction guys I can go to
For a quick lesson on whatever I’ve gotten myself into.
They get a kick out of my
One time, I get a contract to pour a driveway.
(Who hires a bunch of 17-year-old kids to pour concrete?)
I go see Larry, my friend Mark’s dad.
He’s a contractor, and one of the biggest, meanest dudes I know.
Larry shakes his head; he can’t believe I’m going to try a driveway
But he lights up a cigarette and tells me how to do it anyway.
It works. The driveway gets done, and it looks pretty good.
Larry stops by during the day, and saves my ass at a key moment.
If he hadn’t, I’d be breaking concrete for a week.
I get paid, though wind up not making much
Because I severely underestimate the time and materials needed for the job.
But do I pour the driveway? Yes.
Put that in the same column as
Writing a symphony,
Scoring contemporary dance works,
Sitting down with Bloods and Crips to write a song,
Writing a book.
Just because I don’t know what I’m doing when I start
Doesn’t mean that I don’t make it happen.
I just need help.
Be willing to fail and you just might win.
We’re capable of doing, of being, many things if we just say yes.
Be brave enough (or dumb enough) to try.
If you just get going, and keep your eyes open,
You’ll find the help you need.
But unless you know what you’re doing,
Stay away from concrete work
Or get yourself a Larry.