It is remarkably silly that I suggested last week’s theme, sage, and am only responding to it now, a day overdue. It turns out that the biggest reason I chose that word – that it is full of possibilities – is what has held me back most of all. There is just so much to write about! When I think of sage, I consider my mother’s home in the high deserts of New Mexico, my favorite pizza at the place where Dylan and Baez used to sing together, my first year of college when a friend used a smudge stick in her room – something I should have done that year, even though the green linoleum and cinder blocks had made everything seem all the more hopeless. The word came to me as I was trying to think of ways to purify and detox different aspects of my life – the way I eat, naturally, but also in my habits as a writer, as a student, as a sometimes insomniac, and as a grown-up (a title I will have to live up to one of these days).
In an effort to home in on an aspect of sage that inspired me to share something here, I looked up the healing properties of the herb. A homeopath might recommend it for any number of my chronic physical complaints, but what struck me most of all was what it can do for the mind. It is an anti-depressant, it eases the pain of grief, it calms a hyperactive mind. And it’s used in all different ways to heal wounds, physical or emotional – as a tincture to be taken, a scent to be drawn in with a deep breath, and as a salve spread on a burn.
In my life what I have used most to calm my mind is music, and these days the music that works the best feels like a salve. I love music that washes over you, tingles, massages the scalp in slow ripples. A friend told me not long ago that my taste in music is too slow, boring. And, barring the fact that he ignored my penchant for 60s pop and anything good for dancing like a fool, I can almost see where he’s coming from. But he doesn’t need to be entranced in a beautiful sound that is almost as natural is nighttime rain on a window, or lyrics that are as musical as the instruments that accompany them. When I need to be calmed I listen to Andrew Bird and get lost in his labyrinthine words, or I listen to Nico and imagine the shadows of the clouds over the heathered hills of Tralee.
When I lived in France, I came home from a long trip to Scotland and felt broken. That’s how homesick I was. And I felt so helpless, and no matter how anxious and sad and useless I made myself, I couldn’t bring myself to sleep. Until I listened to Simon and Garfunkel.
When I listened to them at first I was brought back to those nights when I was 13 and just started slacking off in school, almost always feeling like my mind could be read. The anxiety that I put myself through then so that I would have more time to – not do homework, at any rate. I drove myself crazy, afraid that I would be found out, as a liar and a constant daydreamer, all the while listening to what is still my favorite of their albums, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.” The effect of songs like, “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her” was the same as what I look for now when I have a glass of wine and stare into the fire after dinner. It washed away the gadflies of the day, and propelled my daydreams upward with a buzzing hopeful feeling – all mental flight.
That blanket of a Lyonnais January, unseasonably cold and grey and sparse, was sometimes hard to endure, but that loneliness and uselessness was salved by a healthy dose of acoustic guitar and hushed harmony. And from listening to Simon and Garfunkel I progressed to watching Woody Allen movies, laughing, pining for New York if you can believe it, and from there I could start to plan my next adventures – Ireland, and home. School, and the writing that I had ignored that whole year.
And so this week when I think of sage it is only natural that I think of Simon and Garfunkel. And I leave you with what I still think is one of the loveliest songs ever written.