total eclipse of the art
here’s a long blog with Lots of Feelings.
quick art/life update: I AM GOING TO DO MY NINJA-SONG EXPERIMENT. i’m going to start by asking you all (on a patron-only post) for material/thoughts/etc on MONDAY. stay tuned…it’s going to happen FAST. and tomorrow i’m spending all day with jim batt and a video team and i am finally (2 years later!) going to update my patreon main-page video…hoorah! that shit was gettin way outdated. i’ll let you know when it’s up…it’s going to be BEAUTIFUL.
dada is in london. we wrote him a letter using some dead fish on cape cod yesterday.
ash and i just came back from our spontaneous eclipse-trip to The Farm in tennessee, where we communed with his spiritual elders: joanne and deborah, his midwives. we slept in the house-cabin that neil, whitney-the-doula and i lived in for five weeks back when i shut all systems down and went into the birthing cave. i’ve tried to create an annual ritual of going down there for his birthday (which falls on sept 16)…this past spring, i’d laid tentative plans to head down for our hopefully-annual visit, and i’d even warned our midwives to expect an ambush. but then neil’s television bosses at the BBC brought down the hammer. (isn’t it weird neil gaiman has a boss? he needs a patreon. i kid. half kid.)
i’d tried to rope whitney-the-best-friend-doula into traveling down with me, but her band is taking off and they’re gigging in san fran constantly. i tried to see if neil and i could squeeze the visit to later in the fall, but his travel schedule was relentless, and the idea of going down alone was too depressing. so i’d let go of The Farm Idea for this year, with grumpy sorrow.
meanwhile, over the past few weeks, as the people around me started to chatter of eclipse-trips, i’d been fantasy-pondering whether or not i could go see what everyone was talking about….a variety of my east coast and west coast friends, including jason webley and maria popova, were all heading to various parts of oregon and beyond. it had never occurred to me to try to see an eclipse in my lifetime. i’d never talked to anybody who cared.
i watched people planning camping trips, flights, drives…and i looked at the Small Boy, i looked at my life, and i looked at the probable twenty hours in cars/planes/airports, wrangling a two year old all by myself, camping with strangers who might hate me and my baby….and….IT MIGHT BE GODDAMNED CLOUDY. so i was like, Fuck It.
plus, i’ve gotten on a roll lately, writing-wise, and i’m just starting to feel caught up after two or three years of administrative flailing. i have a new manager, australian jordan, who’s helping me plow through boxes of financial back-up, and i have an amazing new assistant, michael, who’s helping me get my inboxes together. art art art is starting, the patreon is inspiring me, songs are taking embryonic shape for a new record, i’ve been hacking away at a pile of sonic treasure…here’s a shot, by the way, of the studio i’ve been holed up in to write…
basically, things have been looking up and feeling manageable. i’ve been catching up. i’ve been writing. i’ve been Making Art. there I Am Good.
so: no eclipse. no no no. eclipse waste of time. waste of art time. bad bad artist. bad bad amanda would be bad bad person and bad bad artist. eclipse stupid thing to do and waste of time and shhhhhh.
but then it bugged me.
the idea kept pulling at me. and then this TED talk landed in my inbox (goddammit, TED emails can ruin and illuminate a day), i happened to be baby-free at the time i checked my email….i so rarely follow links nowadays… and i was just really curious about the eclipse. so i watched it.
the talk was called “you owe it to yourself to experience a total solar eclipse”. and i was like…fuuuuuck. really? once again, TED derails my life. (this was the first time that happened).
now i was getting grumpy about the whole missing-the-eclipse thing. and i said to michael, who was with me in the office that day: right, fuck it, let’s just look at the map.
and lo, and behold, the eclipse was passing RIGHT NEXT TO THE FARM, which is basically smack dab between columbia and lawrenceburg..
and i was like ok universe, shut up, i got it, i got it. that’s when i posted this, and got serious. (and i wanted to take a moment right now to thank all of you – and the other people on twitter, and facebook – for kicking my ass and telling me to listen to my heart and go see this shit….especially len tower, one of my favorite fans of all time, who sent me meticulous emails and links about how to maximize my eclipse-i-ness. i love you len.)
i booked a flight down to nashville, and me and mr small stayed in the very same house where he was born. we shared a wonderful, soulful dinner with his midwives, went swimming in The Farm swimming hole, ate some farm-made soy ice cream, took a walk to the cemetery (where i went and sat with neil when i was in labor, but it’s not as goth as it sounds)….and then we woke up at 4:45 am on the day of the eclipse to drive 3 hours north to kentucky.
i caught a ride up with marina and john, who were pregnant at the same time we were and using the same midwife. their son will is exactly 13 days younger than ash. you’d think that will was older, though…he’s talking much more, stringing together little baby sentences, and ash is still just starting to sound out one-syllable words. well, not totally true. he has five four-syllable words. ma-ma (that’d be me), da-da (that’d be neil), ba-ba (which means bottle), bobo (which means bubbles) and bee-doo (which means, i shit you not, buddha). will is also more fearless, rambunctious, and makes ash look practically…shy.
here they are – drumming on a tank. ash is the non-blond.
it’s amazing how much i didn’t notice ash’s distinctive personality until i had another baby to compare him to in close range. if this was the breakfast club, will would be judd nelson/emilio estevez and ash would be michael anthony hall/ally sheedy. but they played together with such ease and lightness….i love how little kids have no problem just attaching to one another with no small talk or verbal agreements. they just know to be together. sun, moon.
we found a little spot by the side of the road just before the eclipse and pulled over…and at about one o’clock, 24 minutes before the eclipse was due to reach totality, i wandered off with ash. i wanted to be alone…well, alone with him, for the moment.
i found a little tree-lined road that led into a cornfield, and off we went. ash was incredibly sleepy having woken up at the crack of dawn. i sat down on the grass and breast-fed him, and he fell asleep at 1:20, just as the sky was darkening and the crickets were getting louder, and birds were beginning to sing their accidental evensong.
he was naked – save for a diaper – because the day had hit 95 degrees. i lay his sleeping little body in the grass, and then noted that it probably wasn’t a good idea to lay a naked baby in the grass so i took my pants off and made him a quasi-bed (he still got bitten by a handful of chiggers, which made me feel like a bad mom, but lesson learned).
and then i thought it might be fun to set my phone up somewhere and time-lapse video the sleeping ash during the eclipse, so i found a log, dragged it up to a tree, and arranged a make-shift tripod. son, moon.
and then i waited for something to happen.
i had a great pair of eclipse glasses, and i put them on and watched as the moon kept munching out the sun. through the glasses, the eclipse-ing sun looked like a cartoon moon – a flat, bright, white crescent hanging in a sea of jet black.
it’s moments like these that i wish i was a better writer. but here’s my attempt to full capture this for you, in random free verse.
i smelled the sky darken all around me. the shadows turned electrically sharp. below me, on the pavement: the average, dappled shadows of a tree on the ground split into a glittering burst of a thousand, shining, crescent ornaments, hanging on the flat of the earth. the contrast knob, turned up by the center of creation. the air turned thick and thin. the birds and the crickets raised all their voices together in a symphony of rapid change. all around me, the sky sped to sunset – the horizon pink and purple and the clouds in high relief, the maximum lo-fi filter setting pressed seven times over on the dome of the wide sky.
and the sun, not gone. even more present, perhaps, as millions of eyes and hearts and brains who usually take the giant orb for granted gathered in a non-partisan worship and ritual of Looking Up. the sun, source of all life and human existence…acknowledged, in earnest. the sun, not gone. not even obscured, it seemed to me, but all the more glorious in its ring-like and total embrace of the moon. the sun, spooning the moon. the big spoon, with radiant light-arms of intimacy shooting out at every angle around her small lover.
and i found myself feeling an interesting, intimidating and familiar feeling, one that i’ve faced quite a bit in my adult life (especially when i’m in phases when i’m more dedicated to my mindfulness practice): i felt like i HAD TO DO SOMETHING about this moment. savor it correctly. capture it in my memory. capture it for others. respond correctly. respond adequately. i had to DO something. the sun was up there spooning the moon, the sky was a blaze of night in the midst of day, my son was asleep on a bed of grass and bugs, i had two minutes to do anything i wanted. i should…do something.
and i knew i had to do nothing, and that was the something.
it is so hard to simply experience a moment. to be. it is so hard to simply take something in with no agenda, other than the pleasure of the taking in. it is so hard to simply open one’s arms and eyes to the wonder of existence, even though we madly and frantically plan to position and nail our personal human body-pin-makers to Spots on Earthspace and Moments in Spacetime to ensure we’re going to achieve maximum exposure to the divine.
we are human, that is what we do. we go to the sunset. we plan vacations. we go to the church, to the theater, to the festival, to the roof. we plan meals and have children and spend hours making a meal.
most organized religions bake this shit in. stop, they say, and just breathe in Whatever God Is. religion says: seriously you distracted mammals, if you’re not going to do it on your own, we gotta organize this shit. so let’s just set aside saturday or sunday mornings or whenever. hell let’s do it for a whole month. ramadan-a-ding-dong.
almost nobody i am friends with goes to any kind of church. i mean….some of them go to burning man. you know.
most of my friends worship in the churches of art or nature.
we find transcendent moments at shows, where we sit to listen to members of our tribe sing / transmit their takes on existence, and through the mesh-colander of their art and reflections, we then reflect on our own lives, on the totality of This, on our relationship with other, self and Whatever. sun. moon. son. mu.
we find those transcendent moments when we get away from technology and go to the woods, or to the field, or the lake, or the mountain, and we’re mildly or loudly reminded that our lives and isness-es are tied up with something so much bigger than the styx-like flow of death-and-taxes-and-social-status information on our fucking phones.
and so, i stood there, trying to simply believe what i was seeing, and trying to simply experience the amazing paradox that was happening in my heart; because my eyes had never taken such a sight in, and my little lizard brain was whispering: “but…this cannot be.” and my evolved new-york-times-fake-media-readin’-brain was whispering back: “oh…but it IS.”
and i have to say, i actually felt the urge to worship that goddamn spooning mass of light up in the sky. so i did. and i danced around, and i jumped up and down on the earth as if it was a giant king-size elder-bed and i’d just found out it was a snow day, and i basically experienced what i can only describe in 2017-layman’s-terms as a soul-squee.
and since the eclipse was two+ minutes and i could only soul-squee actively for so long, i went back to just gazing in pure awe, and feeling incredibly calm inside. and it occurred to me in that very moment that i was experiencing a kind of chiropractic adjustment of the heart, where things have been ever-so-slightly-uncomfortable and out of whack, and something comes along and knocks you the right way round and every vertebrae falls back into place. my larger self, as it were, spooning my smaller self. my goddamn yin and yang, frightened daughter and business bitch, submissive femme and strap-on domme, late-night dishwasher and late-night drunk, selfless mother and selfish artist, surreal idea-haver and detailed task-master, patient wife and impatient lover…..all taking hands and agreeing, once again, one more time with feeling, to a peace treaty.
and then it was over.
i did some yoga. i did some eiko. (except i didn’t run nearly as far as that guy in the video).
i grabbed my phone from the makeshift log tripod.
i picked my sleeping baby up out of the bugs, and i headed back to humanity. it hurt my heart, right after coming back from my cornfield eclipse experience, seeing everyone on the field on their phones.
looking back down.
seriously, the sun and moon must think we’re such wankers.
there is so much up there, there is so much in there, there is so much down there. every moment of this existence we are all (accidentally?) experiencing is such a miracle to begin with it’s hard to believe we spend so much of our time the way we do…or don’t…but i mean, it matters so little in the end, doesn’t it, since we’re all stardust, we’re all gonna die, we’re all headed to the great beyond in the blink of a sunset.
still – i find myself so confused at moments like this…that we aren’t all engaged in a permanent celebration of life itself. i mean: don’t take that personally, maybe you are. there are a few souls i’ve gotten to encounter who seem to have almost achieved Wonder Totality. existence is hard. every day is a struggle. and yet.
and yet, if i had my way, we’d all my worshipping full time, somewhere, somehow, in the churches of nature and art that abound around us… whispering into one another’s ears in an ongoing and endless and hallelujah-like refrain of wonder:
but….this cannot be.
oh…my loves….but it IS.
p.s. since you made it to the end…here’s the time-lapse video. it’s beautiful. https://www.instagram.com/p/BYSQXvxHKTe/?taken-by=amandapalmer
———THE NEVER-ENDING AS ALWAYS———
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main photo credit: marina darling