I am writing from my spot here next to the lake. We are in a little cottage in New England for the week, with all our recording gear and a fair bit of work to do. Melissa and I are recording the new album together, and I could come up with a dozen good metaphors for what a massive undertaking this is. It’s like we have built a huge underground cave, and got a raging bonfire going down inside of it. Now we are attempting to bore ten similarly sized holes into the earth surrounding the cave, so that the light from the underground fire can be seen glowing outwards through the openings. It’s like we are designing a fashion line of ten couture dresses to embody the whims of one particular woman. It’s like we are writing a novel using a maximum of 5000 words and printing it on sound waves instead of pages. It’s like we are birthing ten infants in one pregnancy.
This cabin where we are staying has only one table. Melissa’s computer is attached to the bulk of our recording gear, so I had to be inventive about where my little set-up would go. Sitting at the breakfast bar, staring at the sink, proved distracting. I took a walk around the cabin, combing the premises for something I could use as a table. Ironing board? The carpeted hatch cover from the back of the station wagon? I found that the wooden shelves in the bathroom weren’t nailed down, and after straddling them between a stool and the window ledge I have a perfect little desk with a water view. I can watch the vibrations on the lake moving towards us from the wind. I can stare at the other empty cabins.
What is it exactly that we are doing here? We are making a thing. And I guess it doesn’t really matter what the thing turns out to be, because the process of making something is pretty much always the same. There are moments you find yourself suddenly able to express something you’ve been trying to convey for a very long time. There are moments when you are pretty sure that you are a fake. In moments of clarity, I remind myself that these are the well known features of the landscape of realizing a large project. The wrestling match between belief and disbelief is the actual matter of making things. If I am not coming up against these complexities, chances are I am not facing a big enough challenge.
My current mantra is that the point of this project is to rub myself up on the material as much as I can, to get my scent ground into all the pores. The goal is for the things that we make to end up looking as much like the insides of ourselves as possible, to put as much of ourselves into them as we can tolerate. It becomes terrifying, at moments, to see so much of myself exitsting outside of my own body, in whatever form it may be. Nausea, actually, is a common sensation. In response I sometimes catch myself leaning back from the work, dipping merely a toe into the endeavor, and wondering whether anyone will notice if I am not completely there. At these moments I give myself a quick lecture. “The surest way to make oneself feel ill about ones work is to come to the end of the process, at the point where it is too late to change what you have done, and to realize that you didn’t really go for it. That discomfort would stay with you much longer time than any shame of self revealation.”
I have a faith that if I follow my impulses and my odd compulsions, I will be led in a direction that will make me proud. A few weeks ago it was my birthday, and several days before the date I left a note for my girlfriend that had a little drawing of me doing a yoga pose and the words, “How about a party for me on Sunday?” Via text she told me that a party sounded good, and I promptly made an invitation and emailed it to every person that I knew in the city. I didn’t really think about any of it before I did it, but I did have an inkling that a house filled with tons of people would be more fun for me than a house filled with a few. The more people there are the less you have to entertain them. My girlfriend thought that I had meant we were having a small get together, and as I told her names of the handful of people who sent RSVP’s, she seemed alarmed. “You invited them?” On the day of the party we cleaned the house, and then as the hour approached we sat there alone wondering how long we would have to sit there alone. It was scary for a while. And then, an hour or so after the start time, they came. Tons and tons of people came, and the house was packed to the gills. The mass of people filled up the house with light and heat that poured out the windows and remained in the space for days. It felt like a real risk, inviting everyone over like that. We could have ended up with not enough people, too many who didn’t know each other, and the embarrassment of a visible failure. And then I really would have had to entertain them. But that’s not how it went. We went for it, and in the end it turned out to be pretty magic.**
At one point in the party, I looked down the hallway and saw my Hasidic landlord standing in the entryway, with his long white beard and his yarmulke. I walked up and asked him, “Isaac, is everything okay?” and he answered, “No.” So I said, “is something wrong, are we being too loud?” and he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Really?!” and he said, “of course not, everything’s fine! I just was driving down the street, and I saw two girls looking at their phones like they were lost. So I rolled down the window and asked them if they needed directions. They told me the address, and I said to them, ‘Would you believe it? That’s my building! Get in the car, I’ll drive you over there.’ And so they got in my car, and I brought them here.” I asked my landlord if he would like anything to drink, and he said he would just have water because he was driving. While I was pouring him a glass, my friend came up to me and said, ‘Your landlord said that if you have a little bourbon he’d take some of that.’ I poured him the last few drops of our vodka and he toasted to my good health.