Thursday, April 16, 2009


This letter below was sent to me by someone I consider a friend, although he probably doesn't remember meeting me at the Squeeze concert 15 years ago in Los Angeles.

Linford is a songwriter and gifted musician who also happens to write letters that read like poetry.

His band, Over The Rhine, also records some of the most beautiful music around.

Here ya go:

Hello friends and extended family,

I know of a glass blower who gets up every morning in the dark to do
his work. Before the world wakes up, before the phone starts ringing,
in the sacred remains of the night when all is still, he gathers and
begins to fuse his raw materials: the breath from his lungs, glowing
flame, imagination, dogged hope.

I used to work from the other direction. I loved the feeling of still
being up after the rest of the city (and world) had grown sleepy, the
light of a lamp making my third story bedroom windows glow while I
leaned over my desk and sailed towards something I couldn’t name.

Someone sent me this little excerpt awhile back, in a beautiful letter
of encouragement I should add, the sort of letter that makes everything
slow down, hold still:

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
- GK Chesterton

I’d really be okay with this being my epitaph.

When I was younger I would often write myself short job descriptions. I
was thinking out loud about what might be worth hanging a life on, a
life I was willing to sign my name to:

-Create spaces where good things can happen.

-Give the world something beautiful, some gift of gratitude,
no matter how insignificant or small.

-Write love letters to the whole world.

-Build fires outdoors, and lift a glass and tell stories,
and listen, and laugh, laugh, laugh. (Karin says I’m still working
on this one. She thinks I still need to laugh more, especially at
her jokes, puns and witty asides.)

-Flip a breaker and plunge the farm into darkness so that the stars can
be properly seen.

-Do not squander afflictions.

-Own the longing, the non-negotiable need to “praise the mutilated

-Find the music.

I still crave the extravagant gesture, the woman spilling a year’s
wages on the feet of Jesus, the rarest perfume, washing his feet and
drying them with her hair, a gesture so sensual it left the other men
in the room paralyzed with criticism, analysis, theoretical moral
concern - for what - the poor? Or was it just misdirected outrage in
light of the glaring poverty of their own imaginations?

Some friends of mine were talking about this scene the other night. We
got to imagining Mary with a pixie haircut, which made the drying more
difficult. We were drinking wine and Rob had made something to eat late
at night: take a cracker, put a thin slice of fresh pear on it, then
some sautéed goat cheese from the skillet, and top it with walnuts
drizzled with honey from the oven. At midnight?!

Someone once described our music as a mash-up of spirituality, whimsy
and sensuality.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Music and art and writing: extravagant, essential, the act of spilling
something, a cup running over…

The simultaneous cry of, You must change your life, and Welcome home.

I’ve been trying to write songs again, and I’ve been hitting a maze of
dead ends. I want the songs to reveal something to me, teach me
something. It’s slow going. I’m not sure where I’m going. Uncertainty

But the writing works on me little by little and begins to change me.
That’s why I would recommend not putting off writing if it’s something
you feel called to: if you put it off, then the writing can’t do the
work that it needs to do to you.

Yes, I think there’s something there. If you don’t do the work, the
work can’t change you. (No one expects to change overnight.)

My sister Grace recently sent me this quote from a slim little volume
called Art and Fear:

Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to
your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the
prerequisite to succeeding.

A blessing for the writers among us: May all your dead ends be

When I was younger and I found myself sitting down in a new season of
writing, I would put my pen down and close up the pica typewriter (the
only letterpress printing machine I ever learned to operate all by
myself, the bell of encouragement and mild alarm ringing at the end of
every line, I can still hear it) and feel compelled to clean my rooms,
put my world in order. It used to take 3-4 days.

Now it takes 3-4 months.

Our messes get bigger. And bigger.

So, I’ve been getting “caught up” with taxes and filing, putting things
away, making lists, getting more than a few lagging projects out the
door that are overdue (the first Over the Rhine songbook?!). And on and

Someone in our Santa Fe songwriting workshop once confessed, I’m good
at a lot of things that will kill me. For those of us who write, there
are always so many options that don’t involve the dilemma, the
extravagance of the blank page. When we sit down to write, there’s
never a guarantee that we’ll have anything to show for it that we can
touch with our hands, or see with our own eyes. In fact, life is a lot
cleaner and more manageable when I’m not writing.

Yes, I’ll just admit it. I’m a writer that all too often is more than
happy to run from writing. But sooner or later I realize something is
dying inside. And then I try to get back to work.

From Linford Detweiler, Over The Rhine
April, 2009


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