This is an old interview but I have always loved how Wanda put things together.
A Million Shining Things
by Wanda Waterman St. Louis
Sam Baker is a Texan singer-songwriter whose first
CD, Mercy, in 2004 brought him an ardent and
extensive following in North America and Europe. Two
decades ago Sam survived a bomb blast perpetrated by
Peru's Shining Path rebels. For the Mindful Bard review
of his latest CD, Pretty World, go here.
Train to Machu Picchu
It was 1986, and I was in Peru with some friends. We
went to Lima and from there to Cuzco to catch the train
to Machu Picchu. We were going there for the Inti
Rami, which is a pretty big celebration there. The bomb
was on our train car. Me and my friends who were
there—they were foresters, living in Columbia—the
bomb went off and killed them and the German family I
was sitting with, a mother, a father, and a boy. It killed
them in a particularly terrible fashion.
The exploding shrapnel cut the femoral artery in my leg
and I should have bled out right then but for some
reason didn’t. I stayed alive in spite of subdural
bleeding, cranial bleeding, gangrene, and renal failure.
When I was brought back to the States I started round
after round of surgery.
I think that whole experience made my writing much
more empathetic toward people. You see quite a bit after
weeks when you can’t move, near death. It makes you
“Broken Fingers” was written partly in memory of the
German boy who died in the explosion. His parents
spoke only German but he knew Spanish and pretty
good English, so we talked. The way my hand is now
reminds me of that; the shrapnel blew off the top of my
left hand. They didn’t operate on it at first because they
didn’t think I’d survive, but eventually they did operate.
I later had to learn to play the guitar left-handed. There
were times when I got frustrated. And then I somehow
connected that to the boy. Some things are just done,
and death is one of them. Some things don’t heal, some
things don’t change.
Conditions for Creativity
Things come to me and I’m not sure where they come
from or how they get to me but once they’re here I
generally have to deal with them. I work with what
comes and I’m not sure what I do to make it happen.
I do listen to some music. I’m deaf on one side and don’
t hear very well out of the other, and there’s a very loud
ringing, so I’m not sure I get much out of music. I liked
that whole thing Yo-Yo Ma did of Bach pieces. And
then when I hear birds I don’t know that we are able to
do anything much more beautiful than that.
I also read. Recently it’s been Thoreau, Conrad,
Faulkner, Annie Dillard. I’ll probably go to the library
this afternoon and see what I can find.
Lately my writing has been sporadic, but then I’ve got
other projects that are taking a lot of my energy so I
block out time to see what comes out. The thing is to
find the balance: energy-time-time-energy-energy-time.
There are a million shining things and you can’t do them
This is a good month to see how I feel about the world.
I hate to say it’s “X” or this is my expectation, because
then all of a sudden that’s what I have to get out of this
block of time. It’s better to let time pass and let things
come to me. It’s hard to know what to focus on, to
push more energy into, so I’m seeing what sort of
energy comes up about different things. It’s really more
of a triage.
Doing nothing is good sometimes, too. I can look at the
trees outside and see that something shining and
beautiful is hanging from every branch.
On Religion: Red Hats, White Hats
You can suffer from belief in nothing. I think you can
also suffer from belief in too much. We try to find
differences in religions, as if that gives us some sort of
edge, instead of looking for those great similarities. The
great teachers are all saying, “Drop the ego; we’re all in
this together.” The boat rises and falls. We all rise and
fall as does the boat.
In Buddhism there’s a story about the coming apart of
everything, when the self dissolves. That’s not actually
that far from the Christian idea of dissolving into the
love of God, when ego drops away and we become
whatever that is. If Christians have a problem with
Buddhism, their struggle is not with Buddhism, it’s with
Christianity. I think Blake would say that it’s that clash,
that cracking of our universe so the light peeps out, that
comes to everybody regardless of their religion.
What I saw in that terrible thing in South America is that
we’re all essentially connected. There’s an attitude that
says, “I’ll wear this red hat or this white hat and
because of that I have something that gives me access
to a different spiritual realm.” I think our spiritual realms
are right here with us all the time.
The God of Rosemary
What if everything is perfect right now? By perfect I
mean whole and complete, all you need available to you
at this very moment. It doesn’t mean you’re not
responsible for making things better. We should all be
more responsible and more compassionate, but what if
it’s you in the face of God this second? You can then
get outside of yourself and not say, “Oh, look at me,
open the door,” or, “Look at me, do something.” This
whole thing where you and I are separate and look at
ourselves as if we were players on a football field—we
can get past that.
God is in every face we meet, and not just in every
face—in every plank of cedar that’s tacked onto the
outside of our houses, in the rosemary that grows in the
yard. The question then becomes: How can I learn not
to turn away?
The Mindful Bard Sam Baker: A Million Shining Things Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World Wanda Waterman St. Louis Volume 16 Issue 07 2008-02-15 (Notes from a conversation with Wanda Waterman St. Louis on January 29, 2008.)