tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: song

You Will Know the Dance

Recently I peeked inside an elementary school window as I found my way to a breakfast sandwich. Through the smudged windows, I could see upper case and lower case letters on single panels over the chalkboard. There were simple math problems with objects showing that mathematics can be used at the grocery store while counting bananas. It takes very little for me to leave the present and find myself amongst the varied and shimmering moments of the past. Them days sitting with all the other little beasts in the classroom, waiting on time to pass. Waiting on release. In the days of childhood, the imagination is a giant machine and it never sleeps. Wonders are constant. There are gateways to other worlds and there are other worlds. All this, as I make my way to a breakfast sandwich.

I have always been prone to long forays of imagination. I’m sure when I’m an old man it’ll make me seem crazier, and maybe that’s what crazy is — long, wandering trips into the mind. I look forward to the windows of time where I can really lean into my thoughts. I find these little windows late night, when I lie down in my bed, in that period of time before night dreams where I can think of things of the past and place them in my present. Sometimes I make shoes, new designs for running with toes out in the open. Sometimes I am building words from thought, creating a way to communicate ideas and feelings. I have invented machines for travel; reinventing the wheel over and over. I’ve hashed out catches for the drawers in my toyota dolphin, funny knock knock jokes for kids (usually referring somehow to poop), ways to hang swings from trees, rigging for climbing, and drawings and drawings and drawings of them all. I like to think about the drawings I will do before I build something, sometimes even choosing the pens that I will draw with and the technique that will work best. I even like to think about breathing that helps me think, and then I breathe and see if it works. I know this all sounds like an exaggeration, but I’m not kidding. I look forward to those spaces where I’m free to think unencumbered. All this is free and for the having, all we gotta do is take ahold of our minds, and use them.

My head and the machinery within seem to work best when I’m endeavoring something else. Running is the most obvious activator. It’s as if my footfalls are shaking my belfry and loosing the bats that are my thoughts, each thought it’s own little universe. As I run, the thoughts begin to fly and I am swept up and away by the whirlwind of movement. I often must limit what I choose to think about lest I chase everything and come away with nothing. Thought half developed becomes non-sense later on. So I run and I think and I run like some older lion, choosing well from the herd and chasing with intent.

These thoughts and dreams are not so different from memories. The veil between the two is thin like vellum, I can see how one might become lost in the midst of yesterday’s now and today’s revery. One little slip of the mind, one shimmer, and the veil falls down leaving our senses topsy-turvy. Perhaps these are the ones walking and talking to the past, revisiting old problems while pushing huge carts filled with their excesses and possibles. I always think about that — we are all just a little knock on the head away from strange meanderings. And me, in my thinking vessel. If I were maybe a bit more focused or streamlined, like the bright ones with whom I’m acquainted that have minds that shine with perfect light. Then I see myself, in this veering and rickety craft, doors and windows flapping in the wind. I am flying and tethered to the rails for fear of slipping out. I am running wildly between openings in order to see the world that is an endless stream of wonders. All the failures and falls are braided into the summits and epiphanies, this swirling life. This blink of me. This spark of you. We are all a synapse in the mind of the universe, flashing our existence in order to be a part of it all.

My feet are running on a turning world. The world is spinning around a yellow sun, brother and sister planets spaced out in immaculate orbits all around. All together, we hang in the milky way galaxy, an ocean of stars, blue and yellow and red. Beyond the arm of Orion and into the darker universe, there is an elegant dance and we were born from it’s music. If you find a place out under the stars, and if you breathe and be still, and if you listen from the inside out, you will hear the song. You will know the dance.

after the song is over

sometimes the only evidence of passing is the dust that hangs in the air.

it is the stirring up and moving and then the leaving.

i’ve seen this in life, with lives. those who went before me and who let me know which way to go by following the subtleties; indicators.

these people are the ones that swim across the dark water to reach the other side. and the water has lurking beasts and swirling dangers but no matter. there are those that swim across and lead and they show others that dangers do not keep us from the important stuff.

and thick hands that swing from sore elbows.

and the cowboy hat pulled low and tight so the wind won’t take it.

and the dark tattoos that speak of past wonders and hidden spaces.

and the biceps that held the fists that gripped the rope on bulls and broncs.

and the movement that is indicative of something wild.

and coffee and words.

and a time when i was younger and trying to understand my heart’s direction so i looked around me for a sign, some kind of stone, the heavier pull of something important. and in the seeking there is a foresight that shines through all the doubt. because doubt is dark and heavy. and so it is and so it was then, that i was looking for things through the doubt. this is where i look for someone who has gone before. i look for the dust hanging in the air that was kicked up by old boots, or the phosphorescence in the dark water that peels off of the fins of the swimmer as we pushed toward the blinking lights of land, or the light on the side of a hill across the canyon that told me someone was waiting on the other side.

these are the signs i look for.  still, i look for them.  i know certain ones will always have left proof of passage, for me to find my way.

so it is with stan, who went before me and then left just enough sign for me to follow. and when i came up out of the surf, he was smiling and knowing that i had tried with all my might. across time and miles we are friends and fellow tribesmen. our joints are sore and used. now, both our eyes are creased with wrinkles. our tattoos have stories that are not so very different, because we shared bits and pieces of a path that isn’t common.

Lt Colonel Stan Austin, you are one of the ones. i saw you from the start. thanks, amigo.

(have you ever listened to a song and understood every word? and when the song was over and the music was all played out, the song continued in your head? so as you move, the words and meaning of the song move with you, as if you were made for the song itself, like the living example. this feeling is true of certain kinds of poetry and song, the ones that are created from the fire of life. this is also true for me with some people, i live with the knowledge that i am sharing the same sun as them and it gives me impetus. there is power in simply being. we have only to listen to the song that is ringing in our ears long after the instruments have been laid down and the singers are quiet.)

“step one: get a drum”

i pedaled back up the hill. it’s chilly tonight. as i rode up on the property that nick and elizabeth call home, i could hear a drum.

a single drum, not a drum circle or a group, just one. i rode in through the gate and parked the bike and followed the sound into the house. there was nick in the half-light, head down, slapping the skin of the drum that elizabeth bought for him.  i think the drum is from senegal or somewhere close. it’s sound is deep and mixes well with nick’s disposition.

i danced for about ten minutes to the beat. nick finally took a break and we talked about drums. i spoke of the movie, “the visitor”, and nick asked me about it. i told him how it was about an old man finding music through a drum. i think that movie changed the way i think about music. it helped me connect the dots about how music is in our blood, regardless our culture or upbringing, it’s there, like a dream waiting to be remembered.

i wondered aloud to nick about the old days, in africa, when tribes pounded on drums to tell other tribes how they felt. we both imagined that feeling. nick and i are not that far away from that kind of communication. he and i could speak through smoke or drums or whistles, no problem.  we talked back and forth about the use of drums in human evolution. he said, “it’s still here. it’s still possible,” and then after a pause, he finished, “step one: get a drum.”

i let my imagination go quite often. i like to imagine what it would be like if our leaders really did believe in the preservation of our planet. no, i mean, like, they really did mean it. what would it mean? first of all, i think there would be more dancing. i think there would be more talking between one another. i think music would thrive.  i think war would abate. the oceans would get cleaner and life as we know it would become more simple. we would need to re-learn basic skills and everyone would get callouses on their hands. hard work would make a come-back and billionaires would become extinct. wrinkled faces would be beautiful and beauty magazines would be used to start fires so we could dance to the beat of the drums. the stars would seem brighter because people would be noticing them for the first time in their lives. the seas would return to their pre-industrial silence and the whales would sing wildly through the blue with their massive, ancient tongues.

and up on the land, the drums, man, the drums.

tall tales, blazing suns

tellin’ stories is in my blood. i don’t always do it mostly because i can be moody, but i can spin a pretty good yarn when the timing’s right. my dad is a story teller; all good teachers are. and he doesn’t just stand and tell a story, he brings it. the ol’ man has always been good at snatching up the attention when he needs to. he’s an old circus performer. i’ve seen him climb to the top of a 15 foot ladder in his cowboy boots and press into a perfect handstand, talking all the while. i’ve seen him take his boots off and run up the aisle of the church at a dead sprint. he’s a showman and he’s got a real nice second tenor voice that’ll make you smile when he breaks into a song. he’s choctaw indian (he still says “indian” like my grampa did…i think it’s native american now but, well, whatever.). he loves boxing and wrestling and, at five foot three inches, he’ll surprise you with his strength. i love him, i just don’t follow him completely. we track a little differently. i look to the stars and the swaying redwoods. he looks to god. but really, what’s the difference? if you find out for sure, let me know.

when i was little i told stories about monsters. i made them up as i went along. i remember the high school fellas begging me for a new story. i was only 4 or 5 years old. i loved it. when i got a little older i went on a stint where i lied about things in order to make the story better. mark twain would have been proud. now, older yet, i’ve witnessed enough to know that real life is crazy as it is, i can lay the lies to the side; they dull the beauty of the mystery of the truth. the magic is out there among us. the only tragedy is not paying attention…i guess a faulty memory is a bummer as well. i do pay attention, mostly. i don’t know how good my memory is and, if i did, i’d probably forget.

and what are memories anyway? sparkling lights in the fog of forgetfulness. we wrestle with time in order to maintain clarity. stories are  the wonderful by-product of this magical existence.

a story is the feel of the bike as your dad pushes you down the street yelling, “pedal! pedal!”

a story is the shape of your grampa in the casket, his lips too white, his hair too combed.

a story is inner tubes and cousins in the irrigation ditch in montana in august.

a story is a mother who just lost her mother. it is her son, too young to understand that kind of finality, asking what’s the matter.

a story is an awkward kiss on the lips and the clumsy groping hands of youth. it is a broken airplane in the barn on ohio street. it is watching mr. davidson extract his own tooth with pliers. it is crying at a duck’s broken wing, broken because you shot it with a sling shot and didn’t think you would hit it but you did hit it, you did. it is making out in another language. it is a cold night under a poncho with your buddy waiting for the instructor to tell you to go get in the ocean…again. it is making fire by hand with a sotol stem. it is improv dancing with a 5 year old while her parents are out on a valentine’s date.

stories are everywhere waiting for us to dress them up with words so they can skitter and twirl in the limelight. we must be choosy with our fanciness. not too flashy, you know? just enough to capture the magic of what is real. allow the tales to grow on their own (they will, they surely will) and watch as your memories dance all around you. after all, we are here for this limited time. here for the living. and the star strewn skies. and the blazing suns.

flowers with teeth

my friend sent me a poem. it was about purpose and loss of purpose. it was about losing your way and forgetting where you’ve come from.  it spoke of rivers and oceans and forests and fins and shells and teeth. it pointed it’s quiet finger at me much like the silent stars remind me to shut my mouth. that friend, who is a buddhist, is at a retreat where he is looking inward so that he can see out. i want to see in and farther out too.

last night i slept at an ex-lover’s house. i was in love with her when she lost her twin babies at birth and i saw her cry tears that men do not…cannot know. i still feel her sadness all these years later, especially that one day in august. i think of it now and then and it makes me explore places in my own busted up heart that may have never been found had it not been for her terrible loss. it’s like a door that was opened by the suffering of another. 

i heard a fella singing about his gay uncle and how he didn’t know what that meant when he was little. and he talks about wondering whether he was gay or not and, my god, he spells it out! all the misconceptions. all the rules and the notions.  he shoots arrows from a righteous bow and they cut through bigotry and hatred and, godamn, if they don’t hit the heart. what is up with us humans and our limits to love? i must live with my heart and so must we all. can we not leave love to grow on it’s own? i can.

while the politicians smile and lie and while the pro athlete’s hit home runs and dunk and score goals…and while the rich folk buy vacation homes and talk about “going green” and while i type words onto my cool little computer there are women who are losing babies, there are babies without mothers, there are limbless warriors and innocent prisoners, there are lost and homeless, there are moaning whales and treeless forests and poisoned rivers.  we humans have a knack for heartbreak, especially our own. 

and if you find yourself heartless, purposeless…here’s some unprofessional advice:

go out and sleep under the stars…just go. lay your heart down against the earth, even if you are a politician…especially if you are a politician. love the unloved. walk into the ocean, take the long way, and breathe.  listen to the wind in the trees in the park. help the helpless. look at the rocks and find a small one that calls you, put it in your pocket and remember where you came from, whatever that means to you. put your hate away. close your eyes, feel your blood in your veins, open your heart. plant. turn your car off. laugh and mean it. open up like a flower…and show your teeth.

come on, give it a try. i do. i’m out there in the wind for sure.