Beautifully Broken – But Mostly Beautiful

Blessed Assurance
Music by Virginia Street
Lyrics by Fanny Crosby circa 1879

Due dates are almost never when babies really decide to make their grand entrances, so the rational part of me states in no uncertain terms that crying today is a bit silly. The emotional side of me retorts, “It’s my party and I’ll do what I want to. Cry if I want to…” Anyone who’s tried to sit through sappy commercials with me knows that my emotional side usually vetoes my rational side. Calling them “sides” is actually a load of misnomer-y nonsense, as they would more accurately be described as my rational iota and my emotional queen that doth reign supreme.

Of course, I’m desperately pulling at straws with sub-par, geek humor to avoid the real purpose of this post, which is to mark the day that may have been. Many of my friends, family and followers know that this year has been a doozy in so many ways, all of which shadow in comparison to the great loss in April of our first baby. It’s hard to explain the sheer gamut of emotions that surrounds pregnancy, and impossible to explain those of a pregnancy cut short. So, I’ve drifted through my year, grasping for bits of air here and there, and thank the Lord, there have been many of those for me, but I still choke up, when I think about it. I still hear my rational iota telling me to buck up, move on, look forward, get out of bed, try and forget, stop looking back, no seriously, stop looking back. Ruminations – that’s what my psychiatrist calls them. Blasted ruminations!

I guess, though, that if there ever were a day to entertain a few ruminations, my what-may-have-been due date is an appropriate time to do so. As I said in my last post, the creative well of Virginia Street has been super dry this year. I’ve been blessed with a few moments of inspiration, but I haven’t even touched on addressing my loss in song, which is what I have done with every other tragedy in my life. Instead, I’ve reveled in the beauty of old, inspired lyrics, and found a lot of comfort in writing new tunes for songs, such as Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, and most recently, Blessed Assurance. I’d been creating a new tune for this song for a while, before I realized that I had been given an anthem to reinvent, instead of a new song to write.

Blessed Assurance was written in 1879 by blind hymn writer, Fanny Crosby. The themes of vision and eyes being those windows into our very souls have been jumping into my lyrics for about a year now, which gives some incredible context for how resonant this hymn is for me right now at this point in my life. For two months now, I have been crafting a new version of this song, singing the lyrics, but not processing the healing nature of their message. Until today.

If I could describe in one word the entire experience of beginning the adventure of parenthood, and then having it snatched away from you, that word would be: empty; and, the feeling would be: emptiness. There are waves of pain, loss, anger, bitterness, numbness, brokenness, but overall, the word, “empty,” finds its way into my ruminations more often than any other word.

Of course, smart-*ss rational iota over here is saying, “You are a ridiculously blessed person, full of love, full of Spirit, full of things to be thankful for, full of life to give, gifts to give. Just keep giving, and you won’t feel empty. You have too much to live for to waste time on feeling empty.” Fortunately, though, – and I do mean fortunately – the emotional queen doth reign supreme, and today is one of those days, when I let myself feel empty, in the hopes that in that brokenness, I may find something I’m not able to find when I’m trying to fix myself – empowerment from outside this fragile eco-system I call my body.

I’ve always found the Psalmist’s declaration that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” to be comforting. Life doesn’t have to go my way for me to remain fearfully and wonderfully made, because that’s something that I didn’t do, that’s something that I have the privilege of living out.

Sometimes I think that if I just speak the words, “beautiful – you are beautiful, this is beautiful, life is beautiful” enough, I’ll snap out of it. I have yet to see that happen for me, but I pray it does. As much as I hate to admit it, and as much as I like to keep rational iota in his place, I think I have found an intersection between my internal feuding factions. In the depths of emotion, the emptiness starts to feel a little less empty. In the pep talks of rationality, that little-less-empty feeling gets to be translated into something beautiful – my own declaration that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Even as I cradle my emptiness, I can truly and intimately understand and appreciate the words of a blind woman, who caught a glimpse of the fullness of God’s love, and was inspired enough to put it down to paper. I am forever in her debt.

Blessed Assurance
Music by Virginia Street
Lyrics by Fanny Crosby circa 1879

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His Spirit, washed in his blood

This is my story
This is my song

Praising my Savior
All the day long…

Perfect submission, perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love

This is my story
This is my song

Praising my Savior
All the day long…

Perfect submission all is at rest
I, in my Savior, am happy and blest
Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

This is my story
This is my song

Praising my Savior
All the day long…

Sometimes It Takes A Month or Twelve

I’m looking at my blog for the first time in 12 months (apparently!), though I’m not sure how that much time has passed! My take-home is this: if you wait to find the right time to do something, it probably won’t happen. So, here’s to just doing it! First post in 12 month – GO!

Last October, I played for a local cable television show called, Eclectic Evenings. This is produced by a creative branch of local nonprofit, The Music Initiative, called {tin}, which stands for, “This Is Noteworthy.” I’m so excited to have a little bit of video for those of my fans who haven’t yet gotten to see me perform live! As always, I could pick this piece apart, but really, when it comes down to it, I’m proud of where I was in October, creatively and professionally, and as a time capsule of sorts, this production is priceless.

{tin} presents Virginia Street [Eclectic Evenings, Season 4 / Episode 9] from {tin} This Is Noteworthy on Vimeo.

I also recorded one song for an international online website called, BalconyTV.com. This was also produced by The Music Initiative’s, {tin}.

Amidst these little triumphs, I finished writing and started recording for an album with Billy Baldwin and Rut Leland, for which Billy wrote the lyrics and Rut and I wrote the music. As my first real collaboration, I have been floored by the creativity that is unlocked through the process of collaborating with other artists.

A bit of loner, I’ve always liked the stability of only needing to depend on myself, and through this experience, I’ve been forced a go a little bit more “with the flow.” Rut and I performed for the first time together at Awendaw Green a few weeks ago, and that marked my first collaborative performance in many years.

Over the last 12 months, I’ve experienced more of the nitty-gritty of life than I care to recount, but through it all, I’ve come to acknowledge that whatever the cost, I must push forward. Even when I have writer’s block for six months, I must press on. Even when I feel like my relevance is waning, I must keep on keepin’ on. And, even when I’m tired, and maybe even especially when I’m tired, I have a few true callings that tell me, “Virginia, you’ve got a lot more to offer.”

I hope that with the eventual release of our album, which will most likely be entitled, “These Our Offerings,” I’ll be doing just that.

Black Keys on a White Key Day

My sister gave birth to a precious baby girl this past Monday, and to say that I am excited is an understatement. Mixed in with the excitement is a bit sadness too, though. For reasons out of my control, I wasn’t able to be there, and still haven’t met her, Eliana – that’s her name. When my nephew was born, I got my 30 seconds of auntie joy in person. This time around, I’m having to sit on it – not something I do well!

As with all major events in life, I decided on Monday to go to the bench for palliative care. I sat down with lofty goals. “I’m going to write a whole album of children’s lullabies today, and I’m going to dedicate it to the baby.” At that part of the day she hadn’t been born, and I didn’t yet know her name. This is classic Virginia, trying to fill up perceived inadequacies with overly ambitious and grand gestures of love and loyalty. I started the day with a simple card written in an “on the day you were born”-esque fashion. As the hours and the waiting from so far away (my sister and her husband live eight hours away!) ticked on, I began to feel more and more separated from the whole experience. So very helpless, kind of like my niece.

As the music started to flow, I noticed that no matter how hard I tried to keep my fingers on the white keys, they kept sneaking up to the black ones. I thought, “Cheer up, Genes [My sister's term of endearment from childhood, when "Genes" was a more logical interpretation of the nickname than "Jeans."], this is a happy, joyful day. Think of happy notes and joyful words.” And, I was happy, but the song I needed to write was the song of an auntie, who was missing her niece’s birth, missing the opportunity to be one of the first welcome wagon-eers, who will patiently wait another couple of months until she can meet the little one, and who, reluctantly needed to give in to the black keys that were so very present on an otherwise “white key” day.

And so, Eliana’s Song was born around the same time that Eliana Grace was born and on the same day. In fact, I added the last little snippet after I learned her name. How could I know before, that her name, Eliana, meaning “He has responded” in Hebrew and “sun” in Latin and Greek, would fit in so nicely? I definitely can’t take credit for that kind of poetry!

I’m hoping to get a recording of it up soon, but until then, here are the lyrics:

You are on your way
You have been the apple of your mother’s eye
Before you even breathed your first tiny breath
I am miles away
Every ounce of my inside is wishing I was there with you
To greet you as you enter into here

In my mind, I am there with you
I reach out to hold your tiny finger
Your tiny nails scratch right through to me
In my mind, I am holding you
Whispering nothings in your ear
Speaking in the only language we can share

Tokens of my love
All I have to give and send to you
Remembering you, as if you’ve always been
A part of us, even though we’ve never met

In my mind, I am there with you
I reach out to hold your tiny finger
Your tiny nails scratch right through to me
In my mind, I am holding you
Whispering nothings in your ear
Speaking in the only language we can share

Hush, sweet girl, please try and sleep
Your days is here and almost gone
You’ve stepped into this world
I can’t wait to take your hand
And show you my world too

You arrived today
Made your grand debut
To an audience of two
A special delivery
Sent to everyone I love
He has responded with you
That’s you

In my mind, I am there with you
I reach out to hold your tiny finger
Your tiny nails scratch right through to me
In my mind, I am holding you
Whispering nothings in your ear
Speaking in the only language we can share

Eliana, you’re finally here
Eliana, welcome home, my dear 

 

The Digging Out Diaries EP – Releases April 17

The leading track on my first recorded album starts with a simple, universal image: the smiley face – yes, the one that Forrest Gump allegedly created by wiping his muddy face on a yellow t-shirt. Silliness aside, the first few lines go like this:

Two dark circles form the eyes of a smiley face
The universal symbol of happiness contains
Those melancholy eyes…
And yet, it’s still a smiley face

For me this image that something so simple and seemingly direct in its message could contain a darker, quieter, perhaps even more mysterious side intrigues me. I think it actually is more in tune with the smile on a human face, than we often recognize. The Digging Out Diaries EP, due for release April 17, gives a small glimpse of the aural landscape of my smiling face over the last 12 months. Like the smiley face, I have a hunch that the thoughts and emotions expressed in my music tap into a more universal hub of living experiences, which, after all, is what makes music speak to us.

I believe that music has the power to cross barriers that we as humans build up because of a couple of essential survival mechanisms. First, I think that in times of darkness, we feel alone. While solitude can be a source of peace and renewal, I don’t think that the majority of humans were made for continual solace. If a song intimates a feeling that someone else in the world – and it doesn’t matter who – has also felt alone, I believe that at that moment a song can transcend the barriers of isolation that we submit ourselves to, even on an unconscious level.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I think that sometimes we live as if we’re the only ones that don’t have all the answers. I feel this way all the time. “Why did I let that happen?” Or, “why didn’t I see that coming?” Or, better yet, “Why does it feel like I’m the last person on earth to find this out?” This could be as trivial as an event or as large as a major breakthrough in understanding why we’re here on this earth. Where did we get the idea that in order to be adults – responsible, independent and self-sufficient adults – we have to have all the answers? I’m still searching for that still, but moving moment in my life, when my reality switched from carefree to care-full.

Part of why I love each of the songs on my EP is that they each speak to a different area of my life, as a so-called adult, that has baffled me. In Alive, I’m speaking to the cycle of giving in to depression, and the darkness that can eat at you. In Rogue in Porcelain, I’m speaking to the rogue within me that wants to be free, but that I continually inhibit from living, through my “porcelain” existence.

In The Human Condition, I’m speaking to that very idea that it’s okay to not have all the answers – that it’s okay to simply be in this world and the moments that make up our consciousness. And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, in Alleluia, I’m speaking to a blessed way of living, where, even when I don’t have the answers and even when I don’t feel particularly spiritual, I know in my head that my Redeemer is real, moving and working through every experience I encounter. Through the act of singing Alleluia, that head knowledge seems to ebb and flow ever so subtly into my heart and spirit.

To hear songs from the album, visit ReverbNation.com/VirginiaStreet. Hope to see everyone out at the release concert and party at Space 227 on Tuesday, April 17 at 7 p.m. I’ll be performing the songs from the EP, in addition to a few new songs, a few old ones and a few new folk ones!

Cheers!
Va

A Holy Tide

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen – Virginia Street

I have a hard time processing everything that has culminated in my experience of living in the year 2011. Every year seems to pass quickly, but when I list the things that have happened this year, both those events that I’ve dreamt into reality, and the experiences that have landed at my proverbial doorstep, I have to wonder: Seriously, where did the time go?

In January, I was managing websites, caring for two dogs and a traveling husband and muddling through a wasteland of health issues. In December, I’m surrounded by family, writing music, singing and playing for loved ones and strangers alike, taking care of three dogs, enjoying a husband in the town that we love, and reveling in the beauty and blessing of kindred spirits.

After a busy November in terms of performing and writing music, I felt particularly called to create my own arrangement of a Christmas carol. I had a few in mind, but sometimes the right song to “cover” is not one that you choose, but rather one that you wake up humming. For me this was the case with the traditional English carol, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”

This carol has been a particular favorite of mine from the time I was singing in children’s choirs. While the lyrics bring tidings of hope and joy, the melody itself has a minor tone that seems to capture the duality of the Christmas season—a season born with hope, but ever mindful of the price at which that hope was bought. I’ve been told that I “do” dark-and-ominous well, so that might be another reason I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. Whatever the reason, in this carol I have found the perfect message for me this year, and perhaps it will resonate with you as well:

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

One of the biggest and most liberating lessons I’ve learned from this year of peaks and valleys is that I don’t have a choice about loving my brothers and sisters of the world. I don’t have the time or the luxury of choosing whom I will love and whom I will ignore. I have a calling to give love as freely as I have received it—a calling that I’ve never understood until now. I know that I won’t fully succeed in this calling, but I also know that the freedom and joy I will experience in trying will far outweigh whatever wall my nay-saying self tries to build in the process of failing.

So, the tide must change, and, for me I rather fancy it to be a Holy tide!

Getting Out

Alive – Virginia Street

If I fly with the wings of my mind
They can carry me far away
If I find, in the corners of my mind
The dark thoughts, they muddle my way
Sequester myself from those dark thoughts
Invest my time in the world outside
There are signs along the way to help me stay
Alive

When I was younger, I heard the term, “shut-in,” applied to older folks who couldn’t get out in the world. My mom taught me that it was a community’s responsibility to remember those people and to help bring the world to them. Even in high school, when given the choice between spending an afternoon with under-privileged kids and under-appreciated elderly adults, I chose the latter almost exclusively. Oddball, I know.

Lately, I’ve been wondering though, if my heart for and attachment to these dear souls has something to do with the “shut-in” inside of me. For those of us who deal with blue days, turning into black weeks, turning into numb months, I know it is a struggle to get out of bed. Some days it’s a struggle to open the shades on my windows. I’ve nursed a pain before that was so deep, the only thing that seemed to help was the beautiful descent into a glorious slumber.

The problem with these survival techniques is that they are not sustainable. One can’t sleep forever. I’ve given that theory a run for its money. So at the end of a binge of whatever seems to ease the pain, we are left with a consciousness of wasted time, buried issues, and, at least for me, self-loathing. It sounds terrible, when I write it like that! It is terrible.

I wrote the song, “Alive,” a few months ago, and I credit it with being the first song I’d written in six years. Its arrival also marked the first time in a while, that I let myself honestly critique where I had been mentally and emotionally. It’s not easy to invite yourself to a self-inflicted roast, but the obscurity you and the world project onto each other fades away in front of a mirror.

For years, I had been living as a “shut-in” in my relatively healthy, twenty-something body. My emotional and mental blackout had not only spanned most of my adult life, but had also encroached on any vision of my purpose for living. When I think to how much time I wasted and how many opportunities I missed, I struggle to find meaning in it all. The most valuable thing I have learned from my time as a shut-in is simple: “Get out!”

When I want to sleep, “get out!” When I feel like internalizing, “get out!” When I forget how to smile, “get out!” When I want to feel something, even if it is pain, “get out!” And, getting out doesn’t just mean finding some grass and smiling at a bird. Getting out means getting out of your own mind, getting out of situations that trigger darkness, getting out of bed. Sometimes, a move to the living room is a big step! This rule won’t fix all of my problems, but it’s an excellent place to start, and one that I have to remind myself of daily. Outside is what the Creator has given us. Outside is where he has called us to be. I also believe that outside is where we’ll find the “signs along the way to help us stay alive.”

They Come Together

Your Lucky Day – Virginia Street

For me, there has never been any one process for writing music. I’m often asked how I write my songs, and I always stutter a bit while I try to explain. At the risk of being cliché, I liken it to the classic chicken vs. egg conundrum. Which comes first: the music or the lyrics?

On one occasion I was trying to explain the process for one of my latest songs, “Your Lucky Day.” The song is about how sometimes the struggles in life, the things that cause us to break or lose a bit of ourselves, are really just making room for those lost parts to be filled with something better. In the moment this type of clarity and understanding always eludes me. It’s for these moments of confusion that I wrote this song to remind me of what I know to be true.

As I was explaining this to my friend, he seemed confused. I had mentioned that for this song, I actually wrote the accompaniment first, followed by writing the lyrics and melody simultaneously. He couldn’t understand how a melody could come from words, or how words could come from an accompaniment. This isn’t always the case for my process, but for this song, it was as natural as writing a verse followed by a chorus. The lyrics directed the melody, and as I continued writing, the melody directed the lyrics.

I can’t explain it, but I’m thankful for it. My songwriting process is a tortured mess of learned and developed techniques, honed over years of questioning whether or not I was really writing songs worth listening to. I’m OK with being unorthodox. It works for me. So, to answer the question of music vs. lyrics, I’ve grown to understand that for the most part, they come together.

Rogue in Porcelain

Rogue in Porcelain – Virginia Street

“Why rogue?” he insisted with Mrs. Mountstuart.
“I said—in porcelain,” she replied.
“Rogue perplexes me.”
“Porcelain explains it.”
“She has the keenest sense of honour.”
“I am sure she is a paragon of rectitude.”
“She has a beautiful bearing.”
“The carriage of a young princess!”
“I find her perfect.”
“And still she may be a dainty rogue in porcelain.”
-The Egoist
, George Meredith

Ever since my first perusal of George Meredith’s incredible study of human nature in The Egoist, I have been enamored with this idea that a woman can be all things right on the exterior, and yet harbor an interior more befitting of a rogue. Having spent the majority of my life, trying to fit into the impossible porcelain mold, I find an incredible freedom in the idea of embracing the rogue in me as well.

I have this need to dabble in the art of being who I am not. Sometimes it leads to a discovery of who I am, and sometimes it simply underscores the truth that I am in many ways a complacent person. Complacence can be a cancer, inhibiting me, misdirecting me, keeping me from the discoveries that I believe my Maker has for me. He wants me to explore this uninhibited part of life [insert line about only really knowing the light when you're in the dark]. Through the contrasts of life experiences, I become more open-minded and more open to everything this earth has to offer – both what I can and can’t explain.

That’s why I savor the path of the rogue. For those tiny glimpses of the excitement that only rogues can experience, I shuck my porcelain exterior. And even if it’s short-lived, I feel that it is a small sort of accomplishment.