Shelter From the Storm

Yesterday at Dylan Days in Hibbing, MN I read a short story that I wrote a long time ago.  I love this story and was happy it had been named a notable selection in the Dylan Days Literary contest.  The story, The Voice Store, is about a woman who has been teaching self-help workshops for a decade and suddenly finds that she has “lost her voice.”  It isn’t a physical problem—she can still talk fine—it is more of a spiritual or psychic loss.  She simply no longer believes some of the simplistic ideas she has been teaching.  She is unsure of what she believes about how to have a great life.  To solve the problem, she goes to “The Voice Store” to buy a new voice.  The friendly man behind the counter tries to be helpful—suggests a number of new models or refurbished old voices she could try.  She is frustrated—“If I knew what the voice should be, I would have it already,” she tells him.

This story, like so many of my stories, is close to my own life–truth wearing fiction as an overcoat.

I grew up in Babbitt—and later, in Cass Lake—on the outer edge of the sixties.   I felt trapped in high school while American citizens were marching for peace, buildings were burning, students were being shot at Kent State.  Like others, I turned to music to find a voice for how I felt or what I wanted to say.  Music was personal.  Even now when I hear an early Dylan song, Lay Lady Lay, or Tangled up in Blue, I’m suddenly under moonlight by the water’s edge, a cold keg and a hot fire in the clearing.  But we were not just about partying.  We were trying to figure out who we were and what we had to say about the state of the world.  We wanted a VOICE.

Several friends and I studied Lao Tsu, read Siddhartha, learned to meditate.  We listened to Dylan, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Jefferson Airplane, Leonard Cohen.  The musicians were the code talkers for the rest of us—they enlarged the world and linked us northern MN kids into big events like Vietnam, Kent State, Civil Rights and Martin Luther King.   We were a tangle of feelings—outrage, distrust, pity, compassion, grief—love.  The music of that time fed our idealism, our hope, our own activism.  We didn’t beg the world to change—we demanded that it do so.   Into this mix came powerful songs like Dylan’s The Times They are a changing.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

When I wrote The Voice Store I was in my late thirties.  I think I was searching for that girl under moonlight, her heart on fire, her mind keen–and aimed in a direction rich with purpose and meaning.  I wanted HER back.

Whatever colors you have—in your mind.  I show them to you and you’ll make them shine.

Where is that girl now in my 57 year old body?  I know she is still here because a single Dylan tune can stir her.  She still wants to dance under a full moon.  She still wants voice—and change—and a better world.  She hasn’t forgotten what we had hoped to accomplish in THIS lifetime.  I think I am still becoming her.

Maybe she and I will go out and have a cup of coffee—get to know one another again.

Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Happy 70th Birthday to the Boy from the North Country from a Girl from the North Country.  We’re not getting old—we’re getting better.

(This post was written to be recorded as a KAXE FM commentary in Grand Rapids as part of the Dylan Days celebration.)


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