A Familiar but Forever New Journey

Bill Watt

Bill Watt

By Bill Watts

I am a long-distance cyclist.  I ride about 8,000 miles a year, and I have had the good fortune to ride my bicycle in China, in Australia, and in much of Europe.  This past summer, I climbed the Col D’Aubisque, a mountain pass that is often featured in the Tour de France.  The climb was thrilling.

But the most significant and important journey for me is the one I make almost every day, from my home on the near northwest side of Indianapolis to my workplace at Butler University.  Much of my route follows the towpath along the Central Canal.

“I am in my twenty-fourth year of riding along the canal, but I still find it fresh and invigorating.”

I am in my twenty-fourth year of riding along the canal, but I still find it fresh and invigorating.  For me, this journey tells several intersecting stories.

One story is cultural and institutional.  I pass in front of Naval Armory as I make my way to the towpath, and I am always amused to think of this massive structure guarding the White River from any foreign navies that might dare to invade central Indiana.  Soon thereafter, I pass by the stately homes of Golden Hill, safely situated on the other side of the canal.  Then it is the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with its lovely grounds, and its grand building presiding over the White River Valley.

“I think of the Canal as a kind of cultural corridor that connects some of the most important and interesting institutions in the city.”

When I take the wooden underpass under Michigan Road, I always remember Ray Irvin, the former director of the Greenways, first for the city and then for the state, who did so much to develop our system of trails and to make my commuting route pleasant.  Soon after that, I pass by the Christian Theological Seminary, and I admire its architecture and am grateful to the Irwin and Miller families for their contributions to public buildings in both Indianapolis and Columbus.  And, finally, I arrive at Butler, where I am proud member of the English Department.

In this way, then, I think of the Canal as a kind of cultural corridor that connects some of the most important and interesting institutions in the city.

Bill Watt-canalBut the canal also gives us entry into the natural life of the city.  When I was a boy, I remember traveling deep into a forest to see a Wood Duck.  Now, I see wood ducks almost every day, and I am still enthralled by their bright colors and exotic markings.  In the late Fall, I often come upon a Great Blue Heron, who is startled into flight when he sees me, and lands a bit up the canal.  When I come up to him again, he again commences his gawky-but-graceful flight, and I think of him as a kind of guardian angel, guiding me on my daily commute.  I sometimes see kingfishers, beaver, foxes and deer, and I always see turtles.  I love them all.

My journey down the canal is also a personal one.  I remember running into my friend, Scott Swanson, jogging over there, and Jim Poyser, riding his bike, over here, and just a bit further down the path, I fell one slick winter evening and broke my wrist.  It is a path full of memories for me.

I believe that we have a duty to see the world, and, in coming years, I will make a point of seeing as much of the world as I can from the seat of my bicycle.  One of the benefits of travel, though, is that it allows us to see the familiar world to which we return in a new light.  My daily journey along the canal is familiar and comforting, but it is also endlessly surprising and enlightening.

 

Bill Watts is an Associate Professor of English at Butler University.

Returning


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By Son Lux

I’m this close to calling Indianapolis my hometown. I grew up all over the country, and I have no memory of my true hometown, Denver, as I was outta there before I turned two. But my wife grew up in Indianapolis, and most of her family still lives in the area. I met Jennifer in Bloomington at IU 15 years ago (I had ventured from my then-home Atlanta to study music). So for the last 15 years, I’ve returned several times a year to visit family, but also for professional reasons.

“All this returning to Indianapolis has shaped my life and career. Though I am a “New Yorker” now (and, I hope, forever), Indianapolis has defined me like no other place.”

My connections to Indianapolis have grown steadily over the years; my manager, both record labels I’m working with–Joyful Noise Recordings and Asthmatic Kitty Records, and my lawyer are all based in Indianapolis. My last two releases, Lanterns and Alternate Worlds, feature the voices of two young singers who, serendipitously, grew up in Indianapolis (they are sisters, and make music as Lily & Madeleine). In 2013, I even had the opportunity to perform with the Indianapolis Symphony.

All this returning to Indianapolis has shaped my life and career. Though I am a “New Yorker” now (and, I hope, forever), Indianapolis has defined me like no other place.

Son Lux performing live at Spirit & Place Festival's Signature Series event 'Lanterns Raised; Journeys Through Art.'

Son Lux performing live at Spirit & Place Festival’s Signature Series event ‘Lanterns Raised: Journeys Through Art.’

For this reason, it’s always especially sweet to perform in Indy, and performing at CTS for the Spirit & Place Festival was no exception. But more than just an opportunity to return to a familiar place and faces I know, the show was a chance to return to my songs in a new way.

“To return is to gain the opportunity to experience the journey smarter, with wider eyes and a better understanding.”

Abandoning the electronics and sophisticated studio tools that shape my recordings, I chose to work with just a piano and voices for the show. The piano was my first instrument, and it’s always a bit of a homecoming when I get to spend some time with the instrument. Redeemer Presbyterian Church downtown on Delaware kindly allows me access to their sanctuary at night while I am in town in order to get my practicing in. So in the days leading up to the Spirit & Place event, I spent a few hours each night all alone in their beautiful sanctuary (it’s amazing in the dark at night!). Starting “from scratch” with each song I chose for the show, I built new arrangements with just the piano, and some toys and tools thrown in to modify the sound in various ways. This process of revisiting songs to reinvent them is very familiar to me.

In fact, the act returning has been a central theme in my career. Alternate Worlds, for example, is a return, of sorts, to four songs from the previous release, Lanterns. I did this once before, releasing the EP Weapons, which returns to a song of the same name from my first record, and unravels as multiple variations of it. The melody from “Weapons,” in fact, returns again and again in my own new compositions, and even in remixes I do of others’ work. I call it “the ghost melody,” as it returns like a haunting presence at unexpected moments.

But the act of returning is a unique type of journeying. When creating, I see it as an opportunity for reinvention, for the re-deployment of an idea or sound. The composer in me loves to return to the core of an idea in order to experience the thrill of the restart, the beauty of the wide horizon lost after the starting point. The return is an end to one kind of journey, but the heart of another kind. To return is to gain the opportunity to experience the journey smarter, with wider eyes and a better understanding. And hopefully, on occasion, it’s an opportunity to appreciate the “home” that makes your journeying possible.

Son Lux performed on April 9 in the Spirit & Place Signature Series event Lanterns Raised: Journeys Through Art along with artists Tony Styxx and Kathryn Armstrong.

 

 

Equations to Live By

From the “Risk of Faith” exhibit at Christian Theological Seminary May 31 – June 7, 2013. “But the pieces remember,” multimedia - ceramic and acrylic on wood, by Callie J. Smith

From the “Risk of Faith” exhibit at Christian Theological Seminary May 31 – June 7, 2013. “But the pieces remember,” multimedia – ceramic and acrylic on wood, by Callie J. Smith

By Callie J. Smith, Studio Ninety-Six

Have you seen the equation for risk based on probability and loss? It goes something like this:

Risk = Probability of event × Size of loss

It’s fine as far as equations go, but I don’t like it.

I’m not a statistician, mind you. Nor am I a researcher. I have no qualifications from which to argue this equation’s merits. I simply read it and . . . that’s it. No reaction. It leaves me cold. And while it’s okay to feel nothing in response to a concept like velocity or surface area, risk is another matter. Risk is something I feel. I think I’m not alone in that.

“Of course the things we have (or lose) faith in can hit us at our deepest places. Of course the risky decisions echo across every part of our lives.”

After working with the Spirit & Place Festival on the inaugural Signature Series event “Living Into the Edge” back in April, we at Studio Ninety-Six posted a call for art connected to the twin themes of risk and faith. We didn’t know what to expect, but the response was enthusiastic. We began receiving music, film, language and visual art submissions from around the city representing a broad range of styles and an even broader range of perspectives on what risk and faith mean. Many pieces were downright visceral – ecstasy and brokenness, anticipation and grief. It made sense. Of course the things we have (or lose) faith in can hit us at our deepest places. Of course the risky decisions echo across every part of our lives.

I look forward to this 18th year of the Spirit & Place Festival (Nov 1 – Nov 10, 2013) and its exploration of RISK for the chance to have so many diverse people and perspectives engaging topics that touch us so deeply. Event probabilities will come into play, and they may even be multiplied by the size of anticipated loss. But won’t we be multiplying that by depth of fear, too? Won’t some be dividing that by intensity of dreams and abundance of possibility? Multiplying it all by uncertainty-related anxiety?

I’m only half-joking here. What risk equation do you live by?

Callie J. Smith works with the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary and co-directs Studio Ninety-Six, a worship arts and design community based in Indianapolis.

The Body: A Diverse Unity

The Body: A Diverse Unity

The Body—theme of the 16th annual Spirit and Place Festival, November 4-13, 2011—got me thinking about “body” in my religious tradition. One of our earliest leaders used “body” as metaphor for community to teach the church how to live together. The people kept trying to value some of their members’ social status above others, as was the custom of their larger culture. In contrast, this leader wrote, “Now there are a variety of gifts…for the common good…the body does not consist of one member but many… If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?…” (1 Corinthians 12:4a, 7b, 14b,17). In this metaphor, diversity is valued as an important and necessary aspect of unity.

Community as body is a powerful metaphor. I have seen it in action. “Randi” stood up during the weekly service in one congregation. She was moving out of town and wanted to say good-bye. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I knew some in the congregation were very uncomfortable with Randi’s appearance and some of her behaviors. To my surprise, Randi thanked the gathered community. She said she never felt so loved and accepted in her life until she joined this little congregation. Somehow, the body worked. Imperfect people with a variety of gifts managed together to demonstrate the love that we claim is at the center of our faith.

A few years later Randi moved back to town and rejoined the congregation. Her appearance and behavior weren’t any more socially acceptable, but her gifts were added to the body, for the common good. Randi eventually developed a terminal disease and the congregation was able to care for her, however imperfectly, until the end of her life.

What if we could embrace this body metaphor, not just to serve one religious tradition, but to serve the community of Indianapolis? How shall we live together as people from many backgrounds and gifts, bound together by a common geography and a shared humanity? It wouldn’t be easy to see ourselves as a body functioning together for the common good. We’d have to admit to ourselves and to each other that we really do need each other. We’d have to agree that at some level there is a common good. But, can you imagine trying?

Anjeanette Perkins
Christian Theological Seminary
Site host for “Growing Food for Growing Bodies: Healthy Choices for Hoosier Children”  November 10, 7 pm