Ashes, ashes…

Because we’ve been working with a reproductive endocrinologist, Sarah and I have been on the high-touch pregnancy track. We went this morning to have an 8 week sonogram, and there was nothing – the fetus had died and then disintegrated.

I haven’t done much crying yet – tears would soften the bitter taste of the ashes on my tongue – and I have the sense of being squeezed by the world’s increasing concavity. I cling to the unfairness of life as a refuge from the horror of Divine schar v’onesh (reward & punishment).

I appreciate the kind thoughts and prayers we have received up till now – although sadly the outcome was not made positive thereby – and I had really thought that getting to the heartbeat meant we were over the worst part. But I was wrong.

Oh, we’ll get through this – we’re getting to be professionals at something where even amateur status is dreaded – but for now it’s eit livkot… eit s’fod… (Ecc 3:4 – a time to weep… a time to mourn…)

The streets are paved with pyrite

David Lowery wrote a fascinating article about the music business, and it got me thinking.

I met Mr. Lowery right when Cracker was new (right after Camper van Beethoven broke up) – they played a little show in the University of Utah student union building. That was the first time I was start-to-finish responsible for running sound (such as it was – it was a mostly acoustic show, with vocal and acoustic guitar reinforcement). I’m still mystified that “Low” became the big radio hit rather than “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)”, but hey, you can’t understand them all.

I was pretty happy with how nice he was to me – I was the 18-year-old student promoter who thought I was all worldly, and he humored me and was both professional and charming.

Now, on to the essay – I think he’s on to something: that while the de jure royalties and margins nowadays look better for artists, de facto they are not, and the reason is that we no longer have labels making bets on bands (where the bands fundamentally keep the bet if it’s a loser).

However, I’m not sure that a single variable is the way to view this. Start by imagining sales as a curve, where some bands are ultra-mega-sellers, some are in the middle, going all the way to the band who sold 11 copies to friends whom they dragooned into buying it (no, I don’t resemble that at all). Then it becomes clear that (as he says) the folks in the middle (the “unrecouped”) benefited tremendously from the old system, and pretty much get the shaft in the new one. The ultra-mega-stars? They’re making boatloads of cash either way, and their attorneys can fight it out. However, there are some winners in the new system: the long tail bands (like mine) – these are bands who aren’t doing this for their primary living, and yet can make some music that (a small number of) people like. The new system lowered the barrier to entry to the point that you don’t have to be able to convince a label to fund you – you can save up and record your own album.

This is a pretty nice thing – I’ve encountered some bands who came nowhere near a label, and yet made music which is on my top rated list (ADHD, Hudson River School, Welbilt (cheating slightly – Virgin records did fund a demo of theirs, but then passed on it), and of course my hero Jonathan Coulton) – each of these are bands I never would have heard of had it not been the random drift, and they’ve all had the option of making some money from me. Other little bands like Dayglow and Grandma’s Mini I discovered (and fell in love with) due to playing shows with them.

I do think Lowery is right on the money in one sense, though – the folks advocating for “free stuff” and thinking that creators shouldn’t get paid for stuff they create are behaving in a jerky manner.

Closer to the Heart

מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה: הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ
עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה; בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה.
דְּעוּ– כִּי יְהוָה, הוּא אֱלֹהִים:
הוּא-עָשָׂנוּ, ולא אֲנַחְנוּ– עַמּוֹ, וְצֹאן מַרְעִיתוֹ.
בֹּאוּ שְׁעָרָיו, בְּתוֹדָה–חֲצֵרֹתָיו בִּתְהִלָּה; הוֹדוּ-לוֹ, בָּרְכוּ שְׁמוֹ.
כִּי-טוֹב יְהוָה, לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ; וְעַד-דֹּר וָדֹר, אֱמוּנָתוֹ.
Psalm 100, “A psalm of thanksgiving,”

Yesterday, Sarah and I went to CFA for a 6-week sonogram. This is the point we hadn’t gotten to in the past – that is, in both of the prior pregnancies, it was a sonogram at about this point which determined that the foetus had died.

This time was different. Dr. Sacks was extremely blasé about it – “oh, here’s the baby, and there’s the heartbeat.” They didn’t give me a digital image, but it looks like this*:

I started crying right away – and only came back to the present when he said “let’s hear it,” and played a staticy audio – it was clear (at 112bpm).

I am grateful to have been brought to this place now, and like the psalm says, I will serve the LORD in joy.

I’ll try to stay in today, but daydreaming has a way of getting the better of me, and this sure sounds like the coolest thing ever.

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* Given the whole discussion about ultrasound and abortion in Virginia recently, the audibility of a heartbeat at 6 weeks throws the positions of the partisans into sharp relief.

Persistence of Vision

I had an odd interaction yesterday. A person wrote me out of the blue, looking for the version of Rorschach which used to get played on Big Monkey Comics’ Superhero Radio. See, I had first met Scipio, the proprietor of Big Monkey, when he was outside with his dog on Wisconsin Avenue. We chatted a bit, and I mentioned that my band did geek rock, and he mentioned that he did Internet radio, so I quickly got him a few early mixes from the sessions that would become To the Rescue!. Well, it turns out, and I had forgotten this, that I had given Scipio a version of Rorschach which had Anna singing on it rather than Noah (which ended up on the album), and this fellow liked Anna’s version better. So a trip down memory lane reminded me of why I couldn’t help him out: I lost all those originals to a spectacular hard drive crash. We had had to re-record Conception in B, Rorschach, and I had to pretty much re-create the electronica for Seven Layer Cake. So no file for him.

I have a sensation like the image which lingers after seeing a bright light: translucent and elusive – it’s a constricting narrowness, to look at the younger me, who wrote and played with abandon, and not remember what it’s like to feel that way.

I tried playing guitar last week. I made it about 15 minutes before my wrists rebelled. Perhaps it’s just a matter of de-conditioning, or perhaps something else, but it didn’t feel natural. I might force myself for a while: like making a kid sit through lessons, the discipline could bring enjoyment back. Or maybe it won’t.

I expect this to be a week of high emotional stress – part of me wishes I could lose myself in playing for a bit, but another part sees that as escapism. Then again, is escapism really so bad?

For as bad as my health trouble is (and I certainly don’t recommend it), I know several peers who have it a lot worse than I do – I don’t know whether they escape or not, or whether they have their version of the Bene Gesserit Litany on Fear:

I must not fear
Fear is the mind-killer
Fear is the little death that brings total annihilation
I will face my fear
I will permit it to pass over me and through me
And when it has gone I will turn to see fear’s path
Where it has gone there will be nothing
Only I shall remain.

I think Herbert was on to something when he wrote that – fear of pain is for me worse than pain. And yet the fear is such an insubstantial thing, but it has a way of focusing attention and capturing imagination which isn’t quite like anything else. It’s almost like a mental hard-drive crash, and that brings me back to where I started, except I’m perhaps a bit more aware of the cost of a crash.

The Rubicon is wider than I thought

So I won’t be the president.  I have mixed emotions there: on one hand, I have the clearest vision of the transformation I’d like to see; on the other, presidency is a super-sized load of responsibility and tzarot (constraining troubles).

The gripping hand in this case is that I spoke to the slated president, and I believe she’s on board with as much of my vision as I can communicate verbally.  So perhaps the result will not fully match my vision – but perhaps it will.  I suspect I’ll end up with plenty of work to do.

Once, Twice, Three Times (for my lady)

Sarah and I learned earlier this week that we’re expecting. We’re following Sybil Sanchez’s approach, and being open about it, in large part because of the experience we had with our first and second pregnancies, both of which ended in miscarriage.

After the second loss, we saw Columbia Fertility Associates, and after some tests, our endocrinologist said that Sarah had an uncommon chromosomal issue which affected processing of folate – but this is (happily) treated with prescription-strength vitamins, rather than requiring more invasive means. We just got her initial sets of blood work back, and they’re quite encouraging. Yay!

Of course, it would not be human to lack fear – and the anticipation of fear and loss can be every bit as bad as the loss itself. So what to do?

Perhaps I could throw myself on the will of my Creator, nullifying my dreams in the desire for serene acceptance of providential decree? Or perhaps I should erupt in thanks and praise, recognizing that it is the breath of God which quickens life in the womb, and that this miracle has touched us once more is eminently and immanently Divine. Or perhaps I should attempt to persuade, in the vein of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs – all of them prayed for their progeny, and most of their children were hard won.

But why pick one?

So for now, the bubbly, almost giddy expression I’ve been wearing this week is now explainable, and I’ll try to stay in the moment as much as possible.