“don’t give me love, don’t give me faith
wisdom nor pride, give innocence instead
don’t give me love, i’ve had my share
beauty nor rest, give me truth instead
a crow flew to me, kept its distance
such a proud creation
i saw its soul, envied its pride
but needed nothing it had”
The first time I heard this song, I wasn’t overly impressed. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t speak to me as strongly as some of the other songs on Imaginaerum. Second time, didn’t like the pacing. Or something. (Second listen is always the worst).
Third listen…I realized this was how I saw my own life. I had done this. I had divided it into birds. The lyrics are about a person looking back on their life and realizing what was/is important…a person who thinks like I do.
“an owl came to me, old and wise
pierced right through my youth
i learned its ways, envied its sense
but needed nothing it had”
Up until yesterday, I was using my birds primarily to identify certain key people I’d met, and how the stream of my own life had diverted around them. Raven, Phoenix, and Nightingale are actual people…influential people who were meant to teach me something about myself. And when I felt that I had learned the lesson, I could take the name and make it my own. Incorporate the lesson into the bird and claim it. And in doing so, move on.
(Phoenix I have conquered. Ever wonder where the name Nightphoenix comes from? Now you have an idea.
There was a night, some ten years ago now, where all three birds collided. Phoenix called me Raven that night, and I listened to Bless the Child for the very first time.
I have not yet claimed Nightingale. The name is related to Nightwish, and I think I’ve only now, in the last couple years, realized that there’s a lesson there at all. I don’t know yet where that path will come out.
As for Raven? Totally married him ;))
“a dove came to me, had no fear
it rested on my arm
i touched its calm, envied its love
but needed nothing it had”
But yesterday…that’s when I realized my birds aren’t just people; they are a cycle. A cycle of personal change: triggered by external events, but essentially an inner thing. And not only is it a personal cycle, but it’s one that could apply to all the compartmentalized bits of myself. My relationships. My spirituality. My art.
Crow, Owl, Dove. My birds are not these, as it should be. Everyone encounters their own.
Recently I bought Nightwish’s new album Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Now something I’ve learned about myself and Nightwish’s music over the years is that it will take me several listens to “get” it. I will not like an album on a first run-through. On any new song, the first listen will leave me ambivalent or disappointed. The second listen, I will move from ambivalent to disappointed, or from disappointed to active dislike. The second listen is always the worst. But if I can push through and give it that third, and possibly fourth listen, that is when the song will hook me. That’s when my brain has finally processed enough of the parts for me to appreciate the whole. That’s when I start hearing the depth.
I did this with Imaginaerum. When I first got it, there were only two or three songs I liked and thus wanted to listen to. But then slowly, over time, the rest of it grew on me. Now there isn’t a song on there I don’t like (although I still maintain that Rest Calm is too long ;)). I did this with Dark Passion Play, and Once, and Wishmaster…I somehow go from only liking two or three songs to only disliking maybe one. This is why.
EFMB was no different, except for the fact that, for the first time, I approached the music knowing this. I knew the first listen would not hook me. I knew that I would dislike a lot of the songs on the second listen. I knew that I needed to give every song at least three listens before I formed a final opinion.
What I didn’t realize is that for me, this is also how the bird cycle works.
The Raven phase is one of discovery and ambivalence. It’s me before I realize what’s happening, reacting to things without having yet noticed the bigger picture. And then when I suspect that there is a bigger picture at work, it’s me trying to see and analyze and understand all the possible permutations. But because I can’t, not at this stage, I will generally end up just going with the flow and seeing what comes of it. And for a time, this approach will work well. It will feel like everything is falling into place, and that I just need to keep doing whatever it is I’m doing.
Raven is all about following my intuition, and realizing that I would do well to treat these events as a journey, not a one-off thing.
And everyone knows that no journey is complete without obstacles. At some point, all three birds collide on some level. That’s when the journey takes a turn for the worst.
The second listen is always the worst. The Phoenix phase is all about being reborn from ashes, which means things are being burnt to ash. Hopes. Expectations. Directions I thought things were heading in. This is me wondering what the point of it is, when no matter how hard I try things just never quite manifest the way I want them to. It’s when going with the flow stops having immediate positive results, and about not knowing what to do instead.
Phoenix is about pushing on when I really would rather stop. It’s about stepping out of the flow, staring at that distant goal for the first time, and summoning the determination to get there. It’s deciding to give that new song one more listen when you’d really rather just stick to what you already know and like.
And at some point, something clicks. You don’t really feel the change until you’re almost completely through it. That’s what Nightingale is: understanding. Looking back and seeing how far you’ve come. Being able to take the research and discovery of Raven and the hardships of Phoenix, turn them around, and use them. You claim the name. The music finds its place inside your psyche.
“a swan of white, she came to me
the lake mirrored her beauty sweet
i kissed her neck, adored her grace
but needed nothing she could give”
If the transition between Raven and Phoenix is a meeting of the three birds, the transition between Phoenix and Nightingale is the revelation of a fourth, hidden bird. Here’s where I differ from this song. I don’t greet this bird at the end like a lover; I gradually uncover it somewhere between the trials of Phoenix and the understanding of Nightingale. In the case of my general inner journey, my fourth bird was Mockingbird. Mockingbird is how I relate to the world as a writer, as an artist…and to an extent, as a person.
Mockingbirds are so terribly common that most people only notice their existence when they’re making themselves obnoxious. Gray until they spread their wings, and then you get the flashes of white and black. They are the only songbirds who can sing while flying. But it’s their song that makes them unique: mockingbirds are named because of their ability to imitate.
They aren’t parrots, though, simply repeating back what they hear…mockingbirds take every song, every sound, everything they hear, and the weave it into something new and ever-changing. In one sense, they have no song of their own…but in another sense, all the world is their song, reinterpreted. Re-imagined. Combined with anything and everything else.
“weaving my wings from many colored yarns flying higher, higher, higher into the wild…”
“We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”
Is that not what writers do? Combine several existing ideas to make something new? Speak in the voices of a hundred different characters but never your own? Is that not also what artists do…use elements of the real world, but recombine them?
I’ve done the bird cycle twice. Once in my relationships, in which the birds were people. And again, in my spirituality. Actually, I believe the post I just did about agnosticism was the last step. I have created a set of wings that feel like they fit, and thus I feel like I can claim the peace of Nightingale in that part of myself.
What prompted this whole rambling post was the realization that I’ve been doing the cycle in my writing as well, and more recently, my art. And that maybe realizing this will help me get out of the Phoenix rut.
It has been a while since I’ve felt like my writing career has been going anywhere. You jump into the submission phase with such high hopes, learn all the tricks and do’s and don’ts…and then three years later, when agent after agent has essentially said, “Well, I don’t want this, but you’re doing everything right so keep trying.”…what do you do with that?
Yeah well, that’s been me these last few years. I still haven’t figured it out. But maybe the answer really is as simple as “keep doing what you’re doing and don’t give up”. Keep rising from the ashes. And at some point, something will click.
The bird cycle may be nothing but an imaginary concept built up in my head from my tendency to over-analyze coincidences, but this is why I do it. If I can give a shape and a purpose to the rut I’m in, I can overcome it. When I’m lost and discouraged in a certain situation, if I can recognize it and name it as a Phoenix rut, I know how to break free.
Yesterday I went to a Nightwish concert.
If you’ve been following this blog at all (or really any place in cyberspace where I post art), then you may have an inkling of the plan I have to collect all my Nightwish drawings into books and give them to the band. So far I’ve finished Once and Imaginaerum, and had planned to hand those off yesterday.
Well, I never got the chance to.
The VIP passes to the show were bloody expensive this year, so I took a gamble and only did general admission. The band came out after the show in 2012 after all, I thought; surely they’ll do it again. I actually did that last time as well: got a GA ticket intending to hope for the best, but on the day of the show I chickened out and got VIP, just in case. Turns out I wouldn’t have needed it.
I told myself this year that if it got to be the day of the show and they still had VIP passes available, I’d upgrade, screw the cost…but if not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Well, VIP sold out about a week and a half before the show, and they never did make any more available. So, as per plan B, I waited outside after the show. However, this time, the band didn’t come out.
In hindsight, I probably should never have counted on them doing that. For one thing, the 2012 show was the last show on that leg of their tour, so they didn’t have anywhere to be the next day. Also, there was only one opening act, which meant the show was over by 10:30-11ish. This year, not only did the show not wrap up until 12AM or so (the doors opened late, two opening acts), they were also doing a show in Ft. Lauderdale the very next day. Taking pictures with fans at 2AM after a tiring night with another full day of touring ahead would not have been very smart of them. As a fan, I completely respect that.
I’m still disappointed. I haven’t wanted to admit that to myself, but I am. Mentally I had a lot riding on being able to hand off that art, and now I’m not entirely sure what I want to do. When will I get another chance? Should I bide my time and wait for said chance, or actively try to make that chance happen?
What’s frustrating is that disappointment is overshadowing what should have been an awesome concert. Okay, it was. But.. Delain’s set was so short (which I knew it would be), and they didn’t do any of their songs with Marco, which I was hoping they’d do. Sabaton was fun, but I didn’t know any of their music and I wish Delain had had the longer slot. Carrying my bag around all day made me more tired and sore than I wanted to be, so by the time Nightwish came on, there were moments where I felt more energetic than I was physically able to express.
On the other hand, they rotated My Walden back into the setlist; that was one I dearly wanted to hear live. They played Alpenglow. And they played The Poet and the Pendulum, which I never expected to ever experience live. (I almost cried, and I never do that).
But I didn’t get to do the one thing I meant to do. And being surrounded all day by fellow fans, while great, is also both humbling and discouraging. Here are 2,000 people who love this band just as much as you do, who’d all give as much as you would to go have a coffee with them, who are all just as unique and interesting and worthy as you are. And this is in America, where most people have never even heard of Nightwish.
Most fans will never have more of a band than their music, and maybe a photo and a handshake every few years.
This is the gulf I am trying to overcome. See, right now I don’t even like admitting that. I don’t feel worthy of it. They cannot possibly notice or remember everyone they ever meet…it’s not physically possible…so why should fortune favor me? I’m not more inspired by or more impressed with or more in love with their music than any other fan, so why am I doing this? Why am I drawing every song?
And again, the answer is as simple as it is arrogant: because they have impressed me so thoroughly that I want to impress them back. It sounds pretentious because it is. And so, when I fail at doing so…when I’m yet again simply another face in a crowd…that’s hard. And I feel presumptuous and vain and all sorts of unpleasant adjectives for even wanting anything different.
But at some point it occurred to me, this was my second concert. This was my second listen. The second listen is always the worst. It’s the one that makes you want to stop and back up and stick to what you know. This is the point at which you fail, or you become a Phoenix. You rise because you know that third listen will make it all worth it if you can just get there.
I’ve been in a Raven phase with my art all this time…just going with the flow, doing what felt right, having all sorts of good things fall into my lap without a whole lot of effort on my part. Getting a lucky picture with Tuomas, Marco, and Floor in 2012. Getting a Daily Deviation for a NW drawing within a month of two of joining DeviantART. Getting a prime spot in the Nightwish Days fan art show in Finland last summer.
Then yesterday…”going with the flow” abruptly stopped working. And I’m forced to deal with that disappointment, to stop and look at the trajectory of everything I’ve been working on and ask myself, “Is this just a place I was willing to be carried to, or is this somewhere I actively want to go?”
Because maybe if I can treat this like a second listen, like a Phoenix rut, it won’t drag me down. I went from feeling ambivalent to floored in listening to Endless Forms Most Beautiful within a week or so, the quickest I’ve ever acclimated myself to a NW album, because I anticipated the cycle. I deal better with fire when I can see it coming.
“weaving my world into tapestry of life it’s fire, golden, in my Walden…”
“gar tuht river, ger te rheged…”