Dear Friends of the Sanctuary,
My name is James Zeller and I am so lucky and privileged to be the current Artist-In-Residence at the Sanctuary. In the past the residencies here were always one to two months. Changing residents with the pandemic now is difficult, so my time here is open-ended.
It often seems like the land here is in a state of meditation. Perhaps the redwoods take deep, meditative breaths each summer evening, and the fog that rolls in from the ocean comes riding on those breaths. When the morning comes, the slow exhale of the forest blows the cloud layer apart like puzzle pieces that get scattered beyond the horizon by the ocean winds, only to miraculously roll back in in one piece when the forest begins its evening meditation. I try to let nature remind me to stop and breathe every now and then. It's incredible how much it helps.
I've spent many nights sleeping in the garden, the birds telling me it's sunrise, even when it's so foggy the sun doesn't rise. I usually fall asleep each night thinking about the cup of coffee I'll have when I wake up. That's not just because I'm a caffeine addict, it's because Solomon roasts some of the best coffee I've ever had. Did I mention I feel lucky? While I sit on the front porch drinking coffee and watching the land meditate and the town slowly wake up, I'm either reading or writing.
The Sanctuary has a wonderful library. I've been reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez short stories, and I just started Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I'm reading Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, which is helping me understand the deep, long history of racism in this country. I'm learning to recognize racist ideas in our cultural heritage, in art, in songs, in history books and fiction, in other people, and in myself, which is always hard. I'm working out of a wonderful book for writers by Ursula Le Guin called Steering The Craft. I hope to share some of what I've been writing. It's scary to think about sharing something that feels like a work in progress. But helpful, I think, for the chance to hear feedback, and to gain confidence.
I'm writing fiction and new songs everyday. Speaking of sharing and building confidence, The J Street Regulars Radio Hour is a magical place for me to be able to continue my practice as a performer, and to try out new material. I feel blessed to have good friends and meaningful work to do. Sometimes life feels miserable, even for someone as obviously lucky as me. I thank my friends and housemates here for making me laugh. Or, when I'm moody, for at least trying to make me laugh. I thank them for listening, for talking to me, and for sharing space.
In this time of self-reflection, I'm determined to work toward meaningful change in the way I relate to the world. I want to use my art to promote love, community, justice, thoughtfulness and peace. And joy of course. Too often in the past it seems like my guiding principle was that a gig must pay enough to help me make a living. What a fallacy, what a slippery slope to compromising one's character. Music can end up supporting, even propping up power, and much of the power around us is unloving and destructive. I believe the decisions we make matter. I'm going to be more aware from now on just how the art I make impacts the people who experience it, and what it represents.
I keep a large jar where I put hugs, handshakes and smiles, saving them until we meet again. They're getting crammed in there and they might be a little fermented, but they'll still be good when we reunite.
Signing off, with thanks and always with love, your friend,