A Brief History of My Faith
by Bruce Piasecki, author of a book on competitive principles “A New Way to Wealth: The Power of Doing More with Less”
“Whoever believes in the music of words will not die but live in the traditions and memories of the great Troubadours.”
I woke this morning with this strange line echoing in my head. I am going to use it when I next perform at Caffe Lena on Saturday May 14.
It struck me as well composed, and right. I could not resist it, so I am now forced to connect that focus phrase with a brief history of my faith. I will diligently take notes on this theme until the May performance, I can promise you that.
This line just grew into my skull.
The long assertion has absolutely no relationship to the rational conversations I had with my wife yesterday, or even to the creative movie we shared called “Country Doctors” last night. This most tender love tale of doctoring in a French film I have seen is more about country life and science and doctoring than about such a claim of honor of the Troubadour. Where the hell did the phrase pop into my head as I woke this morning? It seems to have been born as a phrase from something deeper in my dreams than mere reality.
I believe in troubadours. They are more evident than even angels, or reliable mathematicians and accountants, when I am alone. They fill my books, but bigger, they are found in many other writer’s books, forming a robust community of kindred souls.
Of course, troubadours were those men, and a few women, who composed and performed lyrics in the High Middle Ages. Like a Saint Francis with a Sister Claire, they went from castle to village — in rain and snow — and sang songs of chivalry and country love as well as told elaborate stories for the kids and parents of those kids about far off places and historical events of consequence. That is the historic start of the thing that has now become more of a fable, fabulous yet real.
When I say I believe in troubadours I mean those that live even into today, like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and the many others before you. Lawyers, doctors, and business folk seem to need these troubadours, sometimes even during office hours. The lovely thing about Caffe Lena and ONE PLANET PODCAST is you can NOW experience this troubadour feeling anytime anywhere, thanks to the strange rainless certainties of the internet.
Now it is also a little disturbing that I came across this new fact on our internet: When I put the words troubadours into my search engine, what came up first was a company brand that sold Wallets and other such “Goods.”
First Law: In six short steps:
- My first premise is different, a true troubadour does it like a Bob Dylan because they must. It is basic human nature to turn a tale, tell a narrative, in something where words approach music.
- The money is inadvertently attached, in a way. Because when words approach the condition of Music they become valuable. But this money making is not key, that is why we have so many happy and poor musicians and writers. That explains the prices of concerts, readings, books, talks.
- This is the starting point in the history of my faith.
- I decided to write at age ten, when I realized I did not want to be cheated of life, like when my father died seven years before when I was three.
- By ten years old, I remember standing on the street near two friends, I said HELL NO. They asked hello no to what! I had said hell no to oblivion. I told both Michael and Donna this, and they looked wide eyed at me. I’d rather keep a journal and make the random events of a life make sense, I told them. And now five hundred journals later, my daily routine is routine.
- That is the beginning of it all, the troubadours believe that narrative makes sense. They are translators of event into thought in a sense. Narrative derives from real events, real notes, but it becomes something more magical if handled well by an imaginative person, and shared.
YESTERDAY and TODAY
Yesterday I read about Konstantin Paustovsky, the great Ukrainian writer who wrote a series of journals that became books called “The Story of a Life: Books One to Three.” In 1966, two years before his death, the Soviet/Ukranian writer produced a text entitled “Briefly About Myself.” In it, he noted how memory brings up another memory, then a third and a fourth, and then finally you are multi-faceted with a full voice and richer sensibility. You are told you have something to say. Published in six volumes from 1940 to near his death in the 1960s, The Story of a Life shows how he lived in a troubled Ukraine, a most timely topic for today, as Putin’s missles rain down.
But how Konstantin lived is related to many self-appointed Troubadours.
He wrote most every day. No one gave him the job, he just took it, like a kid in the middle of the street. They say this book of his, just recently translated by Vintage Classics into English by Douglas Smith, shows that Paustovsky lived the 1905 revolution and the uprisings of the 1917 period, yet his entries are about being human, about human encounters, with little political tendentiousness. It is this special union of creative response to event thru thought that matters, making us human.
Like a true Troubadour, he presents his life as a series of complex emotions, and this sensitive narrator characterizes life under the Soviet regime as a bunch of “untidy fragments” like you find in a journal, from the Quaker Journal of John Woolman to the writings of Ben Franklin.
Sure, we compose something larger from these fragments, such as the love of mother or a wife. The key in this brief history of our faith in writing is that we get the material from travel thru our days, even if we mostly stay at home some days. We are not really expected to eliminate all the distractions in a life; instead, we are required to understand them, and make something of social value from them.
You see this Troubadour spirit in the characters of Shakespeare. I would argue that the primary reason we are still obsessed with a Shakespeare or now a Bob Dylan is because they can capture the spirit of the troubadour in a king like Lear, that king’s daughters, who range in meanness from the worst to Cordelia. It is not about coherence as meaning, if you know what I mean.
That is another part of my faith; that writing itself can mean something beyond the self. It is the way not only of period pieces but of the construction of meaning in life itself.
Whoever believes in this music in words will not die but live in the great traditions and memories of the great Troubadours.
See Piasecki’s creative memoir MISSING PERSONS for more on these themes.