Sunday, November 19, 2017

I Light a Candle

I light a candle.

I light a candle with a violent abrasive scratch of sand on powdered glass, a ripping open of the dark, a hissing expletive, a tearing of What Is.

I light a candle because light is older than time.

I light a candle because fake luminescence will not cut it. I need the very human experience of directing light, by my own hand, more than finger-swiping.

I need the acknowledgement and reminder that what I'm about to do could destroy everything if not handled carefully, correctly, intentionally.

I light a candle because my heart is sick and weighted yet wanting to take flight straight out of my chest.

I light a candle because I'm wondering yet again and always about art and vulnerability and the mere act of being and living in a world rife with insatiable need and hunger and pain. I'm up in the dark not knowing what to do or say anymore - all is cliche yet constipated.

I light a candle because the other day I wrote a long list of names of those who have throughout my life violated my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual boundaries and I'm still blaming myself for not having drawn the line. I wrote these names to see what it felt like to bring them to the surface, like others before me. I wrote this list to exorcize. To let go, again, because I thought I already had. Because I want to be free - I want us to feel free.

I light a candle because I fantasize about burning them. The names. Or the people who have so carelessly burnt in the past, like the man in the mall years ago who unwittingly and unconsciously held his cigarette out in way that left round button scars of searing smoking flesh on innocents who came too close.

I light a candle to illuminate the list of names of those lightworkers who are pushing archaic parameters in our present day and time; not just pushing them, but pushing them DOWN.

I light a candle because flame is alive, and we are alive in this moment as much as some of us don't want to be.

I light a candle to light a way. A path toward the belief that understanding is possible even while it's entirely possible that we can't and won't ever understand.

I light a candle for me and anyone else whose desire to live by example and to practice a new way of being outweighs the crystalline reality that we don't know what the fucking hell we are doing.

Because we cannot undo centuries of wrong. At least not in our lifetime. But we must set the foundation for the shift, even if we won't be around for the change we're dreaming of. This is on our watch. Our hands are on the wheel of that rudder. Pretending they're not is nothing short of stupid, selfish, ignorant, and fascist.

I light a candle because I get tired of being kind. Patient. Tolerant. Careful. Nice.

I light a candle because there are times I want to burn it all down to the fucking ground. Because I want to strip down and paint my face with my own blood and spin and wheel and careen around that pyre to tear out, release and annihilate the wretched age-old shame-pain in my gut, mind, soul.

Because my and others' pollyanna light-holding rose-glasses whine-ass plaintive grasps at "doing and being better" are starting to bore me. Annoy. Aggravate. Incite. Inflame.

I light a candle because there is something more, deeper. Because the festering is starting to poison. Because an eruption is inevitable, is already happening. Strap on the goggles, this shit is real.

I light a candle because I'm feeling the cold bracing wave deep in my brittle human bones that there is no time to waste. That everything is flammable. That we must take care AND we must scream.

I light the fucking match.

*   *   *

Art as metaphor, instigator, inciter:

Amanda Palmer's video cover of Pink Floyd's "Mother"

Bjork's crystalline prismatic explosive fluid opening in "The Gate"

Yaa Gyasi's exploration of generational atrocity via multi-level enslavement in Homegoing

Ta-Nehisi Coates' honest discussion and interview about hope or lack of it with Krista Tippett

*   *   *

Monday, March 06, 2017

Church of the Running Water

On most Sundays I would make every effort to go to church. MY church.

Though initially deathly afraid of quicksand upon moving from Colorado as a child - a fear I gained while sitting in Grandma Ruby's lap as we watched a cowboy in an Old Western film die in it - I made swift friends with the Ohio land when we finally settled there. A stream wound its way through the back edge of our six acres, and I assigned myself as its keeper. Sunday mornings were the days to do this work, alone. Occasionally I was accompanied by our dog Sheba if she wasn't in the barking mood, and if she was, in the house she was left. 

It would inevitably rain, bringing out the scents of wet leaves and rich earth. I watched the water and gauged its swiftness, and if wearing Mom or Dad's too-big moon boots, I'd carefully cross it to reach the repeat-trek path on the other side.

​The edges of the stream crunched in fragile shale, and if I gingerly stepped and cautiously moved small stones in the cold water without stirring up sediment, I could find crawdads, almost transparent in their newness. I carried a large stick with me, and used it not to climb steep slopes, but to dislodge mounds of rust-leaf and black-stick natural debris that had collected in pockets of the stream. 

It was very important to me to allow the Rushing Forward, to assist the Clearing, to invite the Clarity, to remove the Holding Back. 

​Hours were spent in the woods, writing / singing a song or concocting a story while straddling a large log slippery with moss, or carving into the hillside a boot-wide toehold, or looking for small fish or worms or ants or mice. The sound of the water was music. I had names for areas of the stream where it had carved out round-sided pools, where it crashed mightily in tiny waterfalls, where it moved slowly enough you could see through to the multi-colored wonder of its bed-pebbles. I knew the stream like the back of my hand, and rounding every turn brought sheer delight, every time. I'd watch for gnomes. I'd listen for fairies. I'd delay going back home, inviting anything that would help me anchor myself in my middle-and-high school chaos. A place to heal. This, my sacred space. My church. Where I felt at home, connected, at one with Something.

That house is gone now. 
It was bulldozed just over a week ago.  
The land has been cleared and terraformed. 
I will never see that stream again. 
I can never go back.
The end of an era.

We find our refuge. 
And we find it again. 
A new era, whether we like it or not.

How will we step in?


Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly letter, blog, listening library & compositions, performances, and offerings to further you along your own glorious creative journey.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Gypsy and the Poet

"YOU!!!!" he bellowed. "It's YOU!! The Gypsy! There she is!! The GYPSY!!!"

Suddenly he is high-powered sprinting toward me from down the long white corridor, a slim giant of a man with a beautiful bald dark shining head, huge wide black eyes, long arms and fingers extended in my direction, leaning out and over his own powerful churning legs. 


I stand riveted - young pale Trista in a bright pure red blouse, midnight blue pants, bright red shoes, and long black hair trailing down my back. The door is locked behind me and my key card will not allow me to quickly exit. Beside me is my charge, a scared-out-of-her-mind junior intern, looking to me for direction, hoarse-whispering my name with a questioning lilt. I feel responsible, I feel charged, I feel judged, I feel caught. 

There is no record of this incident in my journal. Details were not carefully notated. Feelings were not processed, at least not on paper. 

But it is emblazoned in my memory. I remember how it felt to literally have my back against the wall without an outlet for escape. How it felt to out-of-habit assess what I had done to trigger an attack, to quickly question what part of my femininity had threatened yet another man. How it felt to have to make a split-second decision to assure the safety of myself and others. How it felt to not know what to do, when there's no time to differentiate right from wrong. I remember how it felt to be in survival mode. How it felt to meet his eyes and not know our immediate and future fate.

I remember how it felt to watch strong orderlies in white rush out of side rooms and fling themselves on him from either side, holding him down and back. I remember the look in his eyes, full of fury and passion, when they dragged him away. I remember both the relief and shame I felt for having witnessed a takedown, how it felt to watch someone else in survival mode. How it felt to have Blame hang empty in the room without a resting place. How it felt to learn later that he was a famous poet struggling with a schizophrenic episode on a locked ward in the corner of a dirty city - a highly intelligent genius with broad sweeping vision, a man who is loving, creative, kind, beautiful.

I'm thinking a lot about misperceptions. How important it is to not jump to conclusions. To question everything. To suss out the truth.

I'm thinking a lot about how much we don't know about each other. How much we think we do, because for generations and generations and generations, people we've never known, over vast swaths of space and time, have unwillingly passed down to us their own fears, traumas, biases, and unexplored "truths".

It's time for a reckoning, say the Gypsy and the Poet.

 Are you ready?

Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly letter, blog, listening library & compositions, performances, and offerings to further you along your own glorious creative journey.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Upon Witnessing the Upside-Down-Car-Skid

{This was originally written as a post on Facebook on November 17, 2016. The year, and particularly the month of November, has left so many careening with questions, non-answers, and a sincere desire to find Hope and Truth wherever possible}.
When you suddenly see smoke and shattering in the oncoming lane up ahead and traffic careening, and you pull over and find yourself sprinting across the highway to the end of a trail of smeared glass and car parts, and from the flattened overturned vehicle you watch a young man crawl out on all fours, dazed and shocked and very very pale, and a gruff man is barking from 5 feet away, Don't move!! Stay there!! Don't get up!! you head straight for him anyway, needing to see his face and eyes to see if he okay, but now he is face down on the pavement with his knees and elbows tucked under him, and while another woman is caressing his upper back, you find the only spot of bare skin of his lower back on which you firmly place your hand and in a low voice repeat quietly, We got you, We got you, and irritating stupid cold tears are running down your face and you don't want anyone to know, because they'll incorrectly assume you're hysterical, when in fact you are very very present and aware, ready to do absolutely anything to help this man, right here, right now. 
We can see something happen right in front of us, or even out of the corner of our eye, and continue along our merry way so happy the sun is shining and casting rainbows through the new crystal hanging from the rearview mirror, or we can stop everything and run straight into the chaos, reach out to touch and feel and stare it straight in the face, to really really Know. Because the world is changing very very fast, not just by the decade, not by the year, but every freaking DAY. We are a witness to something Very Important, every. single. day.
At the park later, after you were assured that the young man was all right (really?), overwhelmed by the enormity of change and needed change, when you're madly flail-sprinting through the meadow trying to get back into your own body, and your mind is screaming as a result of weeks of catastrophes, There is so much I must do!!! - We have so much to do!!! - I have so much to do!! - and when you finally stop in the forest at the same place you seem called to every time you're there, you cry for real, and the thought that gives you the most peace without knowing at all what it means is, "I'm going in."
And when you pass the accident scene only 1.5 hours later, there is no evidence that anything occurred there at all, except a small puddle of blue glass dust at the median. We can "let it go" and forget it happened, or we can hold steady to the Big Experiences we are rapidly accumulating, even be haunted by them, and let them lead us straight into Next, facing Fu*@ing Forward, eyes wide open and hands and arms extended, stupid tears and all.

Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly letter, blog, listening library & compositions, performances, and offerings to further you along your own glorious creative journey.  

When a Professional Musician Is Asked to Play for Free

{This was originally written as a Facebook post on October 26, 2016. As of this writing, it has received over two dozen relieved responses from other creatives, and almost one hundred "Likes". All of us who make / create are still working to improve how we and our work are perceived, in part by taking responsibility for how we present ourselves - thank you sincerely to all of you who support us in so many ways.}
Dear friends - this is a long post about creative work and money. It's atypical for me to post like this, but it's that time of year when "giving" is a focus, when many of us are asked to do what we do for a reduced fee or free. I write this not as a rant but with a very strong educational intent.
"Giving" is a noble and worthy act of expression. Of course we give our time and talents to people and institutions to whom we have a deep connection, in the name of someone we deeply cherish, because we really believe in a cause or interest and want to support it. 
And the more life experience we gather, the more meaningful certain people and causes become. Thank goodness money can exist as a tool that helps further what we believe in.
AND. If I agreed to play for free every time I was asked, these donations would far outweigh the times I receive mutually-agreed-upon compensation for my chosen profession, the way I earn a living. 
This is really hard, folks. When these situations come up, it's not out of malice or lack of respect. Anyone who asks you to provide your services for free has either been directed to do so by a higher-up or is simply acting upon what our culture has told them - the arts are non-essential, a "nice" thing to have, a piece of beauty that without question benefits society because it transcends monetary worth. And non-artists aren't the only culprits - artists do this to each other, and to themselves. Arguments-with-artist-self can sound like this: "This is something I love so much I don't or shouldn't care If I'm paid for it (wait, yes I do), and others expect me to not expect money for it (I'm not sure why and how can I keep going like this?), and I keep being asked to give this (a)way so it must be the norm (?!?)". 
And so the myth of the "starving artist" is perpetuated - that you can't earn a living as an artist (defined as anyone working in the arts), that what you do really doesn't have value in the "real" world.
Yet what would the world be without the arts? A sad, sorry, and emotionally/intellectually/spiritually desolate place. Period. 
It takes massive effort on the part of both artists and non-artists to turn this ship around. As an artist, you are afraid you will lose gigs, lose the right (???) to perform/show/play, or mightily piss someone off and send yourself into financial ruin. As a non-artist, the artistry you're specifically requesting to make your event beautiful and deeply meaningful typically does not have a line item in your budget.
Here are two things we can do to start the shift.
1) Ask. Non-artists - before you approach an artist you don't know personally to do their thing for free, ask yourself: Would I consistently do my own job - the way I earn a living - for free? Artists - before you accept any gig about which you may have doubts, ask yourself: How much do I value what I do, and how willing am I to stand behind that?
2) Educate. Below is a letter I recently sent in response to a well-meaning request for free music. (This letter is different than the one I sent in response to playing for a reduced fee, outside during twilight hours, in mid-November. But that's another story). Artists, please feel free to use a version of this when you feel caught in similar situations. And please use it, or any of the numerous better non-sniper examples on the internet, with professionalism and respect - any tone of malice or resentment helps no one, gets you nowhere, and earns you a reputation you don't want, fast.
"(Nice greeting). I so appreciate your asking me to contribute to the wonderful (event name). 
From your helpful description of what you’re planning, I know just the kind of delightful music I’d contribute to this special event!
Unfortunately, I am unable to donate my time and services - that first week of December is my busiest paid performance week of the year, and music is my chosen profession by which I earn a living.
While I love your offer of a tax exempt receipt in exchange for the donation of my services, according to the IRS, one cannot deduct the value of time and services. My accountant / tax preparer echoes this rule (I learned it the hard way).
My regular fee is (amount) and I would be happy to apply that to the 1.25 hours for which you’re requesting harp music. I would arrive about one half hour prior to set up and perhaps a little more if amplification (I bring my own system) is required.
Thank you again for reaching out and please let me know if you have any questions! I love what you’re planning, the reasons you’re doing it, and the love you’ve already all put into this special event."
And dear friends, if you've got this far, thanks for reading. The above applies to more than just the arts. It's a complicated issue with many layers and is not really about money, but about external and internal worth, value, and the importance of / necessity for what we deeply love.

Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly letter, blog, listening library & compositions, performances, and offerings to further you along your own glorious creative journey.  

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Same Same, But Different - An Ode to Our Changing Harp World

This story was written shortly after attending the 2015 Somerset Harp Festival, where I led workshops and represented the Jazz Harp Foundation. It's a unique perspective on a spectacular annual event that exposes those who play and love the harp to the best and brightest in the lever harp world. The 2016 Somerset Harp Festival takes place in New Jersey from July 21-24!

It’s very very cold. Huddled with my back against a windowless wall, swathed in almost all the clothing I packed for this journey, I’m waiting. In mere moments I’ll find myself in a deluge where I’m overrun by the curious, or in a desert where I’m isolated and left alone. I have no idea what to expect. Though I’ve gathered my resources, I’m not sure I’ve got what I need, or enough.

Loud and confusing is this large enclosure; paradoxically, passerby are making their way slowly and in a daze. Just a few feet away, almost-chaos breaks out as supplies are yanked from crates and quickly pieced together - is that a quiet-yell of excitement or irritation? We’re surrounded by both very familiar and foreign sounds, a constant din that foretells Something Big is Going Down.

What did I get myself into? Here I am, locked up for the next three days with so many situational unknowns, chronically chilled, incredulous, apprehensive, and hyperaware.

And then, the first of many approaches, hesitant. We look at each other cautiously, eyes wide with hope. “Do you…?” she trails off. I smile encouragingly. “I don’t know exactly what I need right now,” she continues in almost a whisper. “But I know I want something different. Can you help?”

Oh yes I can.

Outside is hot July summer; inside is winterish under the ceiling vent expelling steady chronic air-conditioned blasts. Before me are two tables piled with flyers, CDs, DVDs, sheet music, and books. To the side are two sets of headphones, my laptop for processing payments / exchanging panicked digital messages, several carefully-laid cables linked to a nearby mixer, a freestanding iPad, and an impressive shiny black 32-string electric harp on tripod-legs. Behind me are boxes of backup supplies, folders of paperwork and hastily-scratched instructions, tee shirts in brown and black, tote bags in bright orange, hidden extra cash, bags of teaching materials for the upcoming workshops I will lead, and the snacks - er, dark chocolate - that given the situation I can’t believe I remembered to bring. 

We’re in the Exhibitor’s Hall at the 2015 Somerset Harp Festival, and I’m overseeing the booth for the Jazz Harp Foundation (JHF). I’m amidst an amalgam of harps - lap, medium and full sized, fashioned from precious multi-wood and indestructible carbon fiber, robust acoustic and sleek electric, bare-unfinished and gloss-shellacked. Milling about are both men and women of all ages - admirers, players, professors, private teachers, composers, therapists, artisan-makers, dealers and manufacturers. Here we witness firsthand just how much, in the past few decades alone, the interest in - and love for! - the harp has exponentially grown.

Somerset attendance increases every year. While the JHF has been a part of Somerset for several of those years, chances are what the JHF offers is still new to many and unlike what most harp players typically see, hear, and play. Launched in 2007 by Brenda Dor-Groot and Sabine Meijers of the Netherlands to “strengthen the position of the harp in jazz”, JHF’s presence at Somerset and its creation of events - the July 2016 Brazilian Jazz Harp Immersion is happening now! - embody their mission of putting “jazz harp on the map, to increase its reputation and quality, link jazz harpists around the globe, and inspire harpists, peer musicians and audiences alike.” 

Sabine Meijers (left) and Brenda Dor-Groot (right)

As the U.S. representative for the JHF, and as a teacher and music coach advocating creativity, I’m at Somerset to also help spread the word that we all have a choice in our harp journey; we’re living in an exciting time when we have more diverse and prolific options and opportunities available to us than ever before.

“I’m sorry, Trista,” a favorite rep from the Virginia Harp Center says as she approaches the borrowed DHC electric harp we set up for the free online JHF jazz harp lessons offered via the iPad. “We just sold this instrument plus all its accessories - he’s taking it to a workshop that starts in ten minutes.” She gestures to a gentleman who, with wife at his side, is grinning broadly.

I smile back - his purchase is a perfect example of how, in response to the harp world’s rapid growth and increased interest in all things harp, makers are meeting our needs by producing high-quality harps at a variety of price points. Harp gatherings now feature “harp tastings” where we can literally sit behind the very instrument we just saw online. And these instruments can’t help but entice us to discover and explore new ways to play.

“Show me what’s new and good!” a repeat customer booms as he grabs a pair of headphones. “I bought a lot of jazz harp recordings from you last time, and my friends loved them so much they took them home. They can listen to what I buy today, but now I’m gonna hide the CDs where my friends can’t find them.”

Those outside the harp world are drawn in, allured by its magic. Those of us who live in the harp world see it broadening, changing. Our opportunities are changing. We are changing. The answers to where do I start? how do I continue? are now a whole lot more interesting.

Those answers are in the birth and propagation of programs and offerings designed to help us find our own voice in the growing harp world. Along with the emergence of the JHF, we’ve seen top performers like Deborah Henson-Conant offer a smattering of extensive online courses and grow a community around new ways of playing. New online groups and forums are forming every day to discuss and share both old and new music. Podcast-programs like Harpestry ( and Harp Talk ( highlight players and cultures around the world, blurring lines between lever and pedal harp music while showcasing similarities and differences among other stringed instruments birthed from divergent lineage in distant eras.


The lines between lever and pedal harp, and the type of music played on each, are no longer straight and solid. At best, they are dissolving into dots and dashes and even melting into flexible curlicues that happily intersect at random points throughout harp time and space.

This phenomenon is brought to life in the evening performances at Somerset. There’s Jakez Francois, the President/CEO of Camac Harps, performing on a lever harp his own company made with as much ease and grace as he brings to pedal harp. And Alfredo Rolando-Ortiz, drawing upon his own rich heritage, bringing butterflies to life on a Paraguayan harp before our very eyes. And there’s Edmar Castaneda, playing with such intensity and passion that we can’t help but lean forward and stare while collectively thinking,“OHHHH  $*%#@!!! It CAN be different!”  There’s Deborah Henson-Conant, through an instrument made just for her, giving it her all - as always! - and encouraging us to do the same.

In a workshop I led at Somerset called Songs Without Words, in which we explored composing music that relays a feeling or message without lyrics, participants almost whispered, “I just want to… “ or “How can I get to….” or “I don’t feel I’m creative enough to…” Our discussion gently circled and dipped into our innate ability and desire to create, where and how we find personal meaning, and how our instrument is a portal to our soul in ways we both already know and are as yet undiscovered.

We are all just trying to find our way.

Many harp lovers initially find themselves adapting to and accepting what’s believed to be the right way to play the harp and what makes a good player. This is how we learn - we’re very busy earning our proverbial wings, looking for affirmation and confirmation in an external stamped seal of approval. We may remain here for a short or long while before we ask, what else?

As a pedal harpist who never started on lever harp, who doesn’t subscribe to the idea that the harp world starts with the small lever harp and ends with the gigantic pedal harp, and who doesn’t hold the pedal harp as the pedestal-penultimate, I firmly believe we find our music and just-right instruments - or our instruments find us! - that best meet us where we are, as we are, on our very personal harp journey. There is no one Right Harp, no one Best Player, no Perfect Way.

And by the looks of all things Somerset, I’m in good company.


Back in the Exhibitor’s Hall, an accomplished player leans in close over the JHF table. Like the others, she is barely whispering. “I’m bored with what I am doing. How do I not fall asleep on my classical gigs? How do I start learning / hearing / playing jazz?”

“I’m so tired of Celtic / Irish music!” another woman declares loudly as her stack of new music lands in front of me with a thud. “Haven’t I endured enough suffering in my own life to not have to play yet another tune about someone else’s wayward Daddy and the horrors of the potato famine?!?”

Clearly no one I encounter here at Somerset is denouncing their instrument, its heritage,  anyone who plays in a specific style, nor the way they’ve played themselves for most of their lives. Underneath each swift and offhand comment is this: I’m changing. I’m ready. NOW. 

Listening to and experiencing other harp voices reminds or clarifies for us what we love, where we want to go, who we really are. We’ve been given permission to lean deeper into our ongoing journey toward what resonates more clear and true, what is more uniquely us. There are those that help preserve our past, and those who help shape the future. Traditions are important to uphold and maintain, and boundaries are meant to be pushed and reshaped. 

Same same, but different. 

The development and popularity of entities like Somerset, Camac, the JHF, and our most admired performers are already demonstrating there is more to the harp than we thought or assumed, that this instrument can transport us to worlds that were previously out of reach, that our dreams are actually possible, tangible, and real. 

Everywhere there are tools and resources that help us edge ever closer to the Unknown where our own voice rings powerful and true. Look for us, your Personal Advocates, huddled in the cold, behind the strings, offering a slow smile at your admission that you want more.

Here we are, ready and willing to place in your hands, heart, mind, and soul all that helps you see, touch, feel, hear, and play in ways you haven’t before. Here we are, in this luminous and diverse harp-tuning din, now, together. Welcome.


‘Same Same, But Different’ is a loving reference to a recording title by jazz and world music harper Rudiger Oppermann. Learn more about the Somerset Harp Festival at and the Jazz Harp Foundation at

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Paul Simon - Wristband and Werewolf
Related posts:
Sparks of July

Inviting the Yeti
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly letter, blog, listening library & compositions, performances, and offerings to further you along your own glorious creative journey.  

Friday, December 04, 2015

Get Off the Boat

So very very dark. 

Decades have been spent on this very white prow.
Pulling, heaving, gasping, weeping. 

You can’t remember when you arrived. It seems you have always been here. It felt once like the right thing to do - get on, go. That’s what you heard.

You should! they declared. 
You’d better! they quipped.  
Why wouldn't you? they dared.  

This massive ship, this heavy heaving hulking mass - it has carried you for a very long time. You were up for this journey, for a long time. You trusted this boat to churn in a solid direction, for a long time. You expected to arrive, for a long time.

Early on you realized the ship was only drifting. 
Aimless. Non-directional.

Do-or-die focus: Steer the ship.

The marine steering wheel - broken. Turn and turn and turn, push and pull and strain and cry. It's a useless empty-iris eye that taunts you with its barely-there night-glimmer.

It’s only the splintered mast, one long pole upon which no sail ever flew, and you, dipping it over the edge, again. Again. Again.

Is the ship shifting? You’re putting in the effort. You feel the stress and strain coursing through every vein, feel it in every pore. Clouds pass over head, big fluffy creatures or endless woolen blankets, the sole accompaniment on this journey.

It’s always been night here. Always dark. Where is the moon? Faint stars have never illuminated a way - the distance is dark blue and empty, so dark you could be coming up on something and not know it. 

Below you can just barely make out the waves. Harsh-soft silence. Up and down, up and down, sometimes in quick succession, sometimes in almost-undetectable slow motion. Always the heaving.

Where are you going?
If you only knew. 

You chose this.
Yes, you did.
You just can’t remember why.


One day, tensed and muscled from years and years of hard physical labor as the sole attempter to change the ship’s direction -- 

One day, shredded and frayed from years and years of hard mental labor as both the inquisitor and the accused with no answers -- 

One day, tattered and hardened from years and years of hard spiritual labor as the doubter and almost-faithless -- 

It dawns on you.

You could.

The cold waves below! Surely leaving means death, a pulling under, a fatal swallowing. 

Up here, I have control. Up here, I can feel my way.

Or can I?

Use the ladder.
Or don’t.

You may have never been a sea / water person in the first place. You may have, all along, needed to feel terrain under your hands and feet.

What contract did you sign that mandated you stay here until your dying days, stay the course, suffer?


What if leaving the Trying was freedom? What if relaxing into the current took you exactly where you needed?

You decide.
You do it. 

Suddenly the churning below are not waves.
They’re soft deep purple blue velvet.

What you thought were weak stars reflected in the water are actually crystalline way-showers lit from below. “Step here,” they call out. “Follow us,” they call out. 

It is soft, warm, dry, and clear. The clouds part.

A silver sail you never saw before drifts away from the disintegrating ship. 
Airborne. Flying.

On it is an inscription faintly illuminated by moonlight:
“To arrive, you must first leave.” 

My small painting sits beside the bed as the Ultimate Reminder.

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Blind Faith - Can't Find My Way Home
Related posts:
Inviting the Yeti

The Thing Behind the Thing
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly letter, performances, and other fantastical creative offerings. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Sparks of July

The 4th of July is a highlighter of life chapters, a harbinger of exploding reminiscence.

A lot of fireworks at home - that's what the early 4th's in Colorado entail. My father and all the other fathers must have pillaged every stand for this showcase at yet another neighborhood block volleyball party. Boxes and bags emerge from the basement garage where the explosives had exponentially reproduced over the course of a year. Speeding flares, screaming rockets, buckets of sparklers, coiling black snakes. My Dad the Igniter. Oh the outdoor smells, the scent of new and old fire. 

Washington state 4th's are at the mountain home of my uncle where volleyball, food, and firework cavalcades routinely appear though we're surrounded by dry forest. Cousin numbers increase every year when you're on the upper end of this generation echelon. One year, uncool me in my black and green. Another year, skinny me in my red and white. Attempting to mingle but still holding back, even among family. Us the out-of-towners, just slightly removed, until we're there again for another short-visit vacation. These childhood holidays might be the most free 4th of July's ever.

I'm in the recording studio with my harp. It is plush dark. The mics are very very close and I feel horrifically exposed. Oddly, I also feel held and safe, and giddy about what might happen. I've been granted entire days to get down my ideas, to listen back to my creations, to hone what I hear and believe in, AND I'm painfully aware I've not prepared enough for these moments - have I not taken myself seriously. He is patient in the control room; I am paying him, yes, and he also has other clients to serve this July, other musicians, other responsibilities. And it is falling apart, right under my fingers, falling away as it is back at home where I explained I need to go do this on my own. Have I really earned the right to take up this space? Listening back years later I hear the angst in my notes, the desire for Different. I also hear what could have only been born there, then, in those very moments of quiet consternation. I hear what tension birthed, I hear my heart speaking without words. This might be the most pivotal 4th of July ever.

The stoneyard is a perfect place for downtown firework viewing and for endless tabled rows of family-made food. The invitations to this event always stretch far and wide, so in a way I shouldn't be surprised to hear my name and see him in this context - oh DID he marry her - a relic from another time deposited right here in the copper dust at my feet. I scour for vegetarian bits among platters of charred meat - I search for water among the coolers of bottled alcohol and sugar. Maybe I don't belong here, but I know how to be here. We'll keep the tradition of grabbing a cream dessert at the restaurant next door to wait out the ant-lines of cars and trucks streaming back into the suburbs. It's as much about avoiding unnecessary accidents inflicted by others as it is about buying time for my driver's repeat beer over-consumption buzz to fade. Stirred-too-hard cream fruit dessert is both my body and soul nourishment. These might be the most unsettling 4th of July's ever.

We've traveled hours to the river for a small town parade-peformance and are quite a pair, females dressed blue and red sequins with red-white-blue streamers in at least her hair, one of us liberal with the makeup and the other conservative. In everyday life, no one would peg us as sisters, but in these get-ups, they immediately do. We've already done the pool party where it's clear we don't know how to act. We hide away in the second-story guest house for brainstorming sessions, walk around town to escape laptop-laden air, and then get ready in the white-tent dressing room, one of us gearing up for the headline onstage performance while the other captures significant moments on camera because her costume allows her free pass access. The softness of the night is alive with lights and color and bustling people and there is comfort in our not knowing anyone here. Though we stand out like glittering beacons among shorts-and-sandals families who've created long lawn-chair lineups, they don't really know us, no, not really. This is a culmination of my efforts to put everything on the line for a life turnaround, and it sparkles now like the fireworks over the wide river water - here we are, both known and unknown, bound and released by music. I'm humbled by the thought that this might be the best 4th of July ever.

A parking lot feud, a hot screaming-threat scene straight out of a TV drama. The cops are called, the rights are explained, and the flaming parting of ways leaves me to gather my wits so I can attend, without tainting, a family backyard barbecue. Later, unbeknownst to everyone, I return to the scene, attempt to act rational, find words that do not incite, squelch squelch squelch, and insidiously lay the groundwork that will prevent another blowout and ease us into next steps I don't want. Thus the decision is made - it is over. Without foundations, time cannot grant improvement - in my dismay I see there is no desire for different. It has to change or it has to go. I leave for intense inner work, conduct the business from five states away, and return to both Empty and New. Begin again. This might be the darkest 4th of July ever.

Sitting alone on this multi-peaked rooftop, in my heart I know I should love this being above, beyond, alight. In a way, no one knows where I am, and I can see everything from here - the fireworks in the distance, the natural firefly light-blink in the not-too-distant tree lines, the cars below hyped up on July 4 speed-noise adrenaline and who knows what else. I can't hear the symphonic music, and I can't grasp having chosen that over this, and as much as I want to lie down right here and go to sleep, these tears won't let me. I know they mean something isn't good, I know this situation is a sign, but I can't see the shape or the shadow, I can't put my finger on it. I want to be up there, riding the bursts, shooting in a definite direction, not in the seemingly perfect temporary-quiet that is here. I want to feel cared for. I want to feel on fire rather than damped-out kick-boot ash-covered alone. I know I can shine, not be in shadow. This burning has a place, and I want to fly. Up and from the roof, right out of here. This might be the most confusing 4th of July ever.

Flying all day across the country, the snow-capped mountains looming just outside the window, the slow-move peaks are promising adventure and release. We're high on and exhausted by the time and distance - we land and load a good meal before huddling in our light weather gear on a windy crowded bridge with a throng of locals. It's the beginning of our grand west coast adventure, and the fireworks are very far off in the distance over the Willamette River. Hikes, ocean, camping, and donuts are on the long list of Must-Do's. We can't really see the color bursts, but delight in knowing they are there - they are scatter-quick borders of an illustration that has already started to be carefully colored in. This is it, but isn't really it - there's assuredly more. We are excited and hopeful, looking for signs about what this trip means for us, to us, about us. This might be the most hopeful 4th of July ever.

Alone again, but welcomed to the small gathering of long-time family friends, the excellent food is offered just outside the remodeled home by those modeling the healthiest of partnerships. The intelligent conversation turns to education, and education reform, and what is best for kids in a world where teachers and parents are more out of touch than they've ever been. I surprise myself with my outspokenness: I have opinions and can communicate them. Driving home in the new car, the moonroof open, the fireworks are THERE! Just above! It's too dangerous to stop along this winding country road where a few days prior the police posted No Parking placards. A church driveway is nearby, the car swerves precariously 180 degrees to face the river. I want to jump through the roof, touch the sky, but instead I steady myself with elbow-roof propping and barefoot-tiptoe standing on new seats. Never before have I seen fireworks so close, and they are loud and booming and beautiful and stark against the clear and perfect night sky, coaxing an answer to What Will Life Now Bring? So many unknowns. I think I know, and I know I don't. This might be the most enlightening 4th of July ever.

What does it mean to be free
Liberation. Freedom. Emancipation. Release.

Hey, baby, it's the 4th of July.

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
X - Fourth of July
Paul McCartney - Fourth of July
Ani Difranco - Independence Day
Related posts:
My House is For Sale

Sense of Place
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly newsletter, performances, and other fantastical creative offerings.