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I’m writing this at 8:16PM in Miami.  My second stop as I make an album around the world.


I just got back to my place.  It was windy and grey today and even though it looks like winter, the water was the perfect temperature.  I couldn’t help but stay in.  The sun was going down, the sky was glowing silver, and the wind caused the waves to grow bigger and more violent – there were no others in the water but me for as far as I could see; and I understood why.  With each crash, the waves pushed and pulled and pushed and pulled, harder and harder and harder – until I was knocked over.  I found myself underwater dragged by the ocean.  I thought, “ – so this is how this goes.”  I can imagine – had I been drunk, had I been deeper, had I not planted my heel into the sand – I’d have been forced to contend with just how indifferent nature can be, how borrowed and brief my life has been, and how a final moment feels when its stripped away slowly by exhaustion.


The more I live, the more I understand how fragile this life is, and the less the weight of the world steals the lightness from my soul.  “Look upon my works and despair,” we can say, consumed with some daily drama while all we’ve owned or made will be taken by the weeds.  I continue to aim to be a present expression of my curiosity and skill – for their own sake.  Each song is written for its own sake.  Each word is written for its own sake.  Each conversation is had for its own sake.  Anything I build or create is an expression of my authentic self – a natural unfolding of the code embedded in me – and whatever happens outside of me because of it is like the bee that unknowingly passes pollen from the orchid to the moonflower.  I am not an expression of expectations implanted in me, nor external waypoints set by others, nor anxieties learned by trauma or games of status or fame or envy.  My loyalty is to the grip of my own hand on what tools best align with the contours of my soul to create and involve myself with whatever architecture best matches the unique runes that are etched into the unseen structure that animates me.  The only failure that I fear is the betrayal of my self – which is to leave my gifts unexpressed, my curiosities unexplored, and my bulb in whatever ways mal-bloomed.


I met a songwriter named Sabrina here.  We spent a day together.  She told me she wrote a song so dark she had to ask, “ – how could I think that about myself?”  As she recalled the question, her eyes welled with tears, and it seemed like she was also asking me.  It’s the first time in my life I’ve talked to someone who knew what that was like.  We can hide things from ourselves when writing prose but something about a song – the melodies make us more vulnerable maybe – or the process is so inherently intuitive, so uninhibited, that our actual selves – our deepest selves – slip into the song without our permission; like a snake-charmer to the cobra, the process calms our ego and allows our hidden truths to seep out – and just because we discover them doesn’t mean they sting any less.  Hearing her recognize this, and seeing the depth behind her eyes as she expressed it to me, has become one of my favorite moments in any conversation I’ve had.  I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.  And it never would have happened had I not come here.


The sun slowly came up as I walked down Miami Beach.  There were sheds full of beach chairs being unloaded, hundreds of them, maybe thousands.  The ground started showing footprints and tire marks the closer I got to South Beach, the tourist hub of Miami.  Very few people were on the beach so early, but the footprints and tread marks were like some forewarning – temporary hieroglyphs that told of the millions and millions of people who have come here every day, every year, and of the thousands who would arrive only hours from then.  It’s like I could see their ghosts – like I could somehow compress every moment ever experienced on that beach and I could see locals and tourists from the ‘70s near those from the ‘80s and ‘90s and so on – all in my mind’s eye, more alike than different, arriving to play at the beach together while skyscrapers towered above them; hives built by the human instead of the honeybee.


My mind then took me to the devastation happening in the unseen parts of the world, and our histories of violence, and to all of the souls that have been set loose in the name of conquest or expansion or survival.  The contrast helped me even better appreciate the side of the coin I was walking across – what an oasis, what a tremendous victory of cooperation and community.  From behind one of those skyscrapers a cruise ship crawled over the horizon, another gargantuan structure – many times larger than the Titanic.  I was then swept away by the magnitude of our accomplishments as a species.  We pass along our thoughts with sound.  We’ve constructed languages of symbols to understand the fabric of the universe.  To be cynical about our humanness is to be willingly blind to the depth of drive, intelligence, and courage inherent to us.  I was reminded of this and felt a fire in my chest.  My mind took me from our painting on cave walls, to our first crude structures, to the wheel, to mathematics, to the telescope, to the car, to the internet, to our entire interconnected world of cultures and organizations and technologies, separate but dependent; the gravity of our collective story was so exciting to me it almost felt like I’d float away.


Kai Straw

Miami, 2024

I’m writing this at 9:33PM in Miami.


On my first morning here I woke up at 5:00AM and saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in my life while an orange sun lifted into a clear sky.  I walked down Miami Beach until my fingers got swollen.  I tried a Cubano (a Cuban sandwich), Rabo Encendido (Cuban oxtail stew), a deconstructed cake (which is an inside-out cake in a bowl), all for the first time – along with rib so tender the waitress slid the bone out from the middle before pulling it apart with just a pair of forks.  I visited a beekeeper and learned how the hive becomes aggressive; it’s because of their queen – the queen tells them all, tens of thousands in her hive, how to behave.  I asked, “ – how do you calm them down?”  Her accent was Cuban.  “You must kill her,” she said.


I’ve thought a lot about fear.  When confronted with something I’m afraid of, or makes me nervous, or gives me anxiety, I imagine the fear being a manifestation of my younger self, like it’s the voice of me at six years old.  In the theater of my heart, I take the hand of my younger self and I lead him to what he is afraid of.  United, as the father and son, we approach it together.  It’s like with this metaphor I can allow the fear to exist without judgment, and allow encouragement to exist, too.  Instead of just, “ – I don’t want to do this.”  There’s a rebuttal, “ – everyone is afraid; you get to decide whether that feeling is a prison or a calling.”  In this way – being afraid isn’t an impediment, it’s a test from my proud father.  In what makes me afraid I also see a loving hand.


When I stepped out of the airport I was greeted by a man with a black car and a thick Cuban accent; he sounded exactly like Al Pacino from Scarface.  “Where you going?”  No introduction.  No explanation.  Just the question and thick humidity.  The palm trees aligning the airport were screaming with birds that rushed from one tree to the next every few minutes.  “Miami Beach,” I said.  “Miyami-beesh, 70 doller,” he replied.  I took an uber instead.  My new driver said, with wide eyes looking at me through the rearview, “ – the Russians tried to kill my son.”  He was Columbian; I could hardly understand him, but I understood that.  I repeated the entire question.  “The Russians tried to kill your son?”  He replied, “ – jes-jes-jes-jes, I tell you.”  He talked fast and with his hands and he accidentally smacked the rosary beads hanging from his mirror.  Though I didn’t understand most of the story, he ended with, “ – Cubans are powerful.”  He said it with the type of pride and awe you reserve for a great grandfather you never met.


With the beekeeper, I used her tools and lifted a hive’s lid to expose the honeycomb panels.  On the underside of one of the lids, hundreds of large ants about the size of my pinky-nail were exposed swarming around the hive.  “Agh!”  She shouted.  She left briefly and returned with a blowtorch.  I threw the lid on the grass and she chased the ants with the burning blue spearhead; it roared and the ants glowed and popped as they were burned.  “Popcorn!”  She shouted.  She then explained how the ants don’t actually go inside the hive and they don’t hurt the bees; “ – they have an agreement,” she said, but not with her.


There are two worlds here, braided.  Everyone speaks Spanish and no one speaks Spanish – at the same time, brushing shoulders.  “I don’t speak big English,” said an older woman; her voice sounded like burnt leather, “ – I live here for ten year, everyone speak Spanish.”  Old Cuban men with their cigars and big thick-rimmed black glasses sit at street-side tables in Little Havana; they talk fast back and forth, ignoring the herds of tourists who are ignoring them, too, as they wear tropical shirts or polos or business casual suits or designer this or designer that or white shorts and flip-flops that clap funny when they walk.  The kid who cut my hair, 3-months new from Columbia, used shining golden combs; we could hardly understand each other, but the cut was perfect.


The cultures here haven’t combined as much as they’ve decided to dance together – separate bodies to the same rhythm.  Miami feels like a handshake between two people who are pretending to understand each other but don’t – but both do understand the sun, music, money, beauty, and good food – so those things are the common tongue, and I don’t say that cynically.  It’s like seeing oil and water separate and swirl, uncombined but beautiful in its disparate cohesion.  It’s sports cars and tourists and Cubans and Columbians and cigars and tight outfits and rich dads and poor dads and old European money and thunderstorms and graffiti and sunshine and art deco architecture and cockroaches and too much traffic and bright pink nails on old women and laughing as the waves hit you on a beach so warm it doesn’t matter if it’s grey out.  Miami is a sun-kissed twenty-dollar bill twisting through the wind, caught midair and slammed onto a beach-side bar.


Kai Straw

Miami, 2024

Like any good story, my album made around the world will start from home.  Though the song’s called ‘Indiana’, it was made in San Francisco; the girl who inspired it was born in Indiana.  The polaroid I’m using for the cover was taken in my apartment here in the city.  To me, this one’s a love song – all my break-up songs are.


The older you get, the more likely each step you take into a new relationship will be coupled with fear. “Ah, I’ve been here before,” we think, and with the first kiss comes the sound of the rattlesnake, and in the quiet moments when you first lay with them the sting of an old poison can come in and remind you that a darkness you once endured started in a moment similar.


Then comes the vulnerability – we say, here, this is where my skin was once soft and new, and now look at how my burns have healed, and look at these, here, those that haven’t.  You hope they run their fingers across the contours of those wounds, old and new, and you hope in the swirls and shapes our burns have made they’ll see something other than proof you don’t deserve to be loved.


I can see you, they reply.  I’ve run my thumb across the fractures you’re ashamed to show.  And like the needle to a vinyl’s grooves, when I run my thumb across them I can hear your sweet song.  I haven’t fallen for you because your song is perfect; I have fallen for you because in the ways you are imperfect I have found the same shapes of the pieces I have lost, or in what you perceive as your sour notes, my own have fit between them to draw our melody.


Even after all that, though, life can ultimately loosen the knots you tie together.  The closeness you both earned can evaporate.  What you thought was, no longer is.  What you thought could be, couldn’t.  An end comes, and with that, it can feel like – what was all this for?


If you’re quiet enough to hear it – if you let go of the bitterness and you stop looking down the road that wasn’t – you can still hear their melody; it sings in quiet harmony with yours, along with the rest of those who’ve played a part in your composition.  On the canvas that holds your heart you can see what vibrancies they added.  Across your meadow you can see the small mounds of soil that hide the seeds they planted.  And when time draws those seeds to sprout you can see the flowers that would have never bloomed.


In this way, regardless of the outcome, to allow yourself to love is a gift that goes both ways.  I am me, I am the pieces that others were brave enough to give, and I am the notes I’ve been still enough to hear.  I wrote this song because I can hear her notes in my chords, and because of that – the experience deserves to be encased in amber in the only way I know how.


When I wrote this song, I did not hear the sound of the rattlesnake; I felt peace – like what a beautiful thing that was, and how lush a thing this sadness is, and what a gift it is to risk this kind of nakedness.


Kai Straw

About the song ‘Indiana’

Made in San Francisco, 2023

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