Monday, December 29, 2008

Mountains Crossed

The shock of visiting my parents was more a glacial freeze, I think, than a tumultuous emotional blow. Upon my return, my movements are thick and slow, ponderous with a sludge of uncertainty, and my thoughts heavy with fog.

My son and I made another quick road trip to Pennsylvania for Christmas, a grounding with family to enliven us with a little of the holiday spirit, a touch upon our heritage amidst all the transformations of this past year.

On the surface and deep into the heart, there was such pleasure and satisfaction to spend time with my father in his little apartment. He gave us open views into his daily habits, the struggles that an 85 year old nearly deaf and blind encounters in every direction. I could appreciate the strength it takes to maintain independence against the growing urge to simply pass on and be done with it all.

Although he speaks clearly and regularly of his readiness to die, in fact, there were several paintings, fresh in frames, I had not seen, and yet another on the easel. Nearly as often as I in my home, he would lumber into the other room to check his email, a large screen TV magnifying words 10” tall to keep him connected to friends and family in the world. Unable to follow the movement in most sports, he has switched to baseball and celebrates it being the year his home team wins the World Series.

Breakfast out to a small place nearby is an adventure enough to him who has eaten in exotic cafes on all continents. We accomplished several simple errands for clothing and items that had caused him worry. I could provide some relief to my sisters who tend to him lovingly, but constantly, in the midst of their own busy lives.

The fact that he has been somewhat of a stranger to us most of our years—interpreted through my mother—evaporates when hearing him manage his catheter two or three times in the night. It is so humbling to help the man who has been so strong in my life from car to curb to cart ever so slowly, carefully, and patiently. He complains with a shrug and apologizes as he accepts my shoulder to lean upon.

Deep into a world unknown, my mother spends her day in a wheelchair, teeth gnashing with a painful sound that causes her no visible discomfort, surrounded by others—mostly women—mouths open and eyes closed in their own strange worlds. The staff banters amongst themselves, good-spirited but worn weary by the daunting task of keeping their charges safe and fed.

Warned to have no expectations, I am pleased and amazed to see her pulse quicken each time she turns her head towards me. She utters some guttural piece of thought I cannot recognize, still we nod, eyes locked, as if understanding. Her hand explores mine as if surprised and wondering, something she knew once, but just cannot explain.

I cherished this time with my Dad and was unabashedly teary-eyed sitting with my Mom. My energy poured toward them unreservedly as if I could somehow replenish all that they have given me.

Alas, they are at this place in their journeys and our best efforts are to keep them company and ease the details where we can. Two sisters living nearby are much more practiced than I—both more burdened and blessed. To an outsider, it is a lonely and dwindling road they wander, but the dignity and peace with which they carry themselves is a heart-wrenching inspiration.

My son stayed behind with his mother, allowing me the long drive home alone to contemplate past and futures, interrupted by miles of scenery I have traveled many times with numerous companions enroute or awaiting. This time, I had the sense of leaving my parents behind, their hugs still available, but our relationship forever changed, what once was now petrified in that glacier of shock under which flows a stream that is my own life moving onwards.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How Kipper Gets His Turns Back

Eighteen inches of snow have fallen on Burlington this weekend, twice that at Sugarbush. I was there for first run Saturday morning, taking three down double diamond Stein’s Run before I went to work with my four year olds.

More runs in the afternoon and more on Sunday begins to show me that perhaps something special is happening here afterall. I purposefully took the runs by myself, consciously looking for the smooth line that could bring me down the mountain.

For weeks, now, I have been describing the struggle to learn a new style, writing that the change from exuberant dance and battle through moguls to a smooth instructor's turn, although uncomfortable and alien, serves as a good metaphor for the changes needed in my life in general. So weary of the tumult and scarcity, the strained and screaming muscles forcing their way, I have vowed to hold the concepts of prosperity and abundance close to me as I point my skis downhill and push off.

In similar periods of distress (and, lo, there have been too many!), I have taken deposits for the next construction job and applied them to bills from the last, straining to keep from crashing face first into another bump. Begging and pleading with creditors for just a little more time, breathing room has always been just out of reach.

When the truck broke down last week, I was clearly out of options and, without any internal discussion, I knew to the center of my soul, I had to react a different way, make that new style of turn.

Two days earlier, I had met with someone about a book-keeping job for a bio-energy consulting firm. Although the product was unknown to me and the money by the hour was far less than could be made as a carpenter, it was not frought with risk and challenge, but consistently earned hour by hour.

Having crossed that line to embrace the concept that less money with more reliability gains so much more peace of mind, I studied my expenses in the last months of this new life and saw how this, combined with some other incomes, could work. Developing a plan, organizing a budget, cleaning house settles the anxiety of the unknown into manageable bites to swallow.

Although few are hiring, I dropped off applications and resumes at numerous larger construction companies, stressing that I wanted office work, no nail belt in sight. One smaller company, very similar to mine at its best, needs a part-time office manager. Against fierce competition, I emphasize my unique qualifications of expertise in the business and contentment to just count numbers 20-30 hours a week, and they seem to agree. I pray that our needs align, for it seems the perfect balance of solutions to me.

It all began with a determination to write in a journal, no matter the prying eyes that might judge me unfairly. When I started this blog, it felt like a diseased patient, diagnosed as terminal, moving from bed to sofa, wrapped in a comforting blanket, turning eyes from internal struggle outwards to view the rest of the world, and making a choice to live.

The move to my space at Riverside I made to hear my own voice, long contaminated by the clatter and clamor of demands and duties, no longer clear, but strained and ineffectual. In moments of stillness, music arose to celebrate steps small and large. My fingers itching were able to stretch and caress, my voice returned, strengthening old phrases with new timber and pitch, and finding new songs.

So, alone on that trail in the soft quiet of the raging storm, warm and clear-sighted, I pushed off and soared through a field of moguls, skis carving turns as pretty as an instructor and dancing out and into the air with punctuations of personality completely my own. My heart sings with fresh life, so much glistening powder untracked and seductive spread out before me.

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Friday, December 19, 2008


Fear knocks at my chest, beating my heart. At three in the morning, I lie awake, eyes wide to the terror of the looming unknown.

In my 35 years as an adult, the ultimate irony is that when I finally “grow up” and commit emotionally to getting a Real Job, it is at a time of massive layoffs and profound uncertainty. Worldwide, there seems to be a shift of energies, tidal changes. But as we reach the Solstice, the metaphor is never clearer that we must go through some serious darkness before we begin to see more light.

People agree there is a compulsion, like driving past an accident, to stare at the bloody mess (perhaps why, Dear Reader, you return to this blog?!). My chosen perspective is NPR where the economic crisis is reported in gory, heart-wrenching, and sometimes inspirational, detail. I should turn away, listen to my own songs of joy or the glory of others, but the stories of doom and glimmers of transformations similar to mine keep me company on the road or installing doors.

As my truck rolled to a stop on the shoulder last week, it felt as if all remaining options of salvation raced out of view like so many cars, shuddering mine as they passed and heading to some distant future I would never see. Always reliant on myself and my unbounded resources to find a solution, I knew this time I had to place myself completely in the merciful hands of others, and ask for help.

So broke no plastic could help me, I had to plead for a break to get the truck towed, and rely on a friend to change direction to take me home. This week, I have appealed to the kindness of others as diverse as my estranged wife, my landlord, and the cell phone operator to stretch their needs for another week as I regain control and formulate better, more reliable resources.

In the past, I have been at this point regularly and promised myself, and others, that my next endeavor would pay us all back with interest and bonuses. Tonight, I know I can scheme and create miracles no more. Refusing to consider any shadow of a project or handyman work dangling in front of me, acting as if one more deposit will save the day, this time I filter the Trickster's voice and hand out resumes instead of business cards.

To reach any stabilization of this freefall to disaster, I need to work regular hours for a regular check, a concept that has been anathema to my Trickster friend. In this last year, I have radically trimmed my budget, expenditures and, most importantly, my expectations so that I can live with less in hopes of gaining so very much more.

Fear beats at my chest, awakening me in the middle of the night because not only am I unable to promise my landlord his check, I cannot tonight describe what my day will be like after the holidays. The unknown is terrifying, but 35 years in the comfort of the known has ruined marriages, alienated children, challenged my father’s love, and left me exhausted.

Who wouldn’t want change?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kipster the Trickster

The loss of my truck has cracked a solid blow to my optimism and good cheer. So deeply weary of the struggle to thrive, I ache to awake, and wander through my day wondering how and in which direction do I take another step.

Firstly, I blame myself for this newest failure, expensive and inconvenient. Changes of oil are the minimum requirement of maintenance which I—in my constant state of hurry and paucity—have neglected. Foolish enough to put off and put off, the engine seizure is the reward.

This is the perfect example of the natural consequence of living in the belief of scarcity. If I live as if there is not enough money or time to take care of such basics, I create a world of problems that need to be fixed. As if this is not big enough, I take this opportunity to confront the very core of my being, the constant, prolonged struggle to reach a place of financial comfort in my life. The broken rods in the engine are like the bonds holding me to the habits that have driven my life. Something has snapped, and I am broken down on the side of the road.

Last night, in my group of men, we set up two chairs to ponder two voices that resonate within me. In the one, sat the healthy Kip who recognizes that Life is not working and wants to make changes. The other chair represented Kipster the Trickster who plots and schemes and wallops his skis through mogul fields of trouble so forcefully, he invites whoops and hollers of appreciation, but is still well back from the medal stand at the end of the day.

This little devil slouches comfortably, arms crossed, the cool cat, joking and jibing, a gleam in his eye, and the best intentions in all the world to juggle the many needs of himself and others to a glorious conclusion. He means no harm, but is really like a little boy, excited by what lies before us.

“Oooh, look at this glitter, look at that shine! You know you could really do this, or even better, really do that. If you just squeeze a little here, tuck a little there…”

All day long, throughout my entire life, this little trickster has whispered tempting distractions in my ear: easy shortcuts, big plans for glorious results, and convincing arguments to think if one such task is easily accomplished, why not three? Shirking on the details to actually complete any motion, he steers the eyes ahead to the infinite possibilities that lie just beyond our sight.

My trusty brothers forced me to run an exercise where first I spoke as the trickster, ogling and inveigling. Then I sat and spoke as the healthy Kip, the man who was tired of working so hard through so many obstacles, mistakes and misfortunes, always jumping right back to the task with a smile and encouraging cheers of bravado.

It is time to stand up to him, to put the trickster in his place, to say “no, let’s do it sensibly.” Not to diminish the spirit, or belittle the efforts, the time has come to tame the rebellious, rambunctious trickster, to invite him to rest and observe how moving with the flow of others, harnessing the mind which currently leaps six steps ahead, could better simplify and create a world of calm cooperation and successful endeavors.

Sometimes the wheel does not have to be reinvented, but can spin productively just the way it is.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Slopeside 101

A fresh start Sunday morning, with the blessing of a car loaned to me, I drove carefully to the mountain, petrified and paranoid that I would do something to harm myself or my friend’s car.
But I was there and ready with plenty of time at the ski school meeting place. It felt like a long wait, then suddenly I was surrounded by knee-high little ones and their parents introducing themselves, filling me in on their child’s habits and needs.

Four teenage helpers also appeared in our crowd. Everyone was bundled tight and hidden by goggles and scarves. I desperately tried to associate names with helmets and skis. A bitter wind and blinding snow gusts stole our voices.

Within minutes, my entourage was on the Magic Carpet, literally a very slow conveyor belt running 100 yards up a very mild slope. Immediately at the top, I could see we had five year olds who could turn easily and did not want to stop, and two kids who could not move at all.

Admittedly at a loss how to balance the diversity, I assigned pairs to the helpers and let them go ahead, while I tried to unfreeze little Max from his petrified grip on my leg. Unable to stand on his own, much less slide, we proceeded to shuffle sideways across the slope, one long, slow turn after another.

The rest of my kids and helpers were up and down, sliding by like so many leaves on a bubbly stream. By the time we finally made bottom, one experienced helper reported graduating the most advanced to other classes and her charges were ready for a bit more of a challenge. A voice from training cautioned me that protocol required we stay together, but I thought the next lift was just a little bigger and gave them permission to go.

At potty-break time, I sent my remaining helper and three youngest inside for hot chocolate and went to find the others. At the base of the lift, my supervisor asked politely for status, but got quickly stern hearing that helpers were up the mountain alone with kids. I raced up and down, but could not find them.

In the lodge, I realized all names were forgotten or confused, and I had no clue what anyone looked like out of goggles and jackets.

I was fired for sure!

The staff wants no reports of missing children over the radios, so the code phrase is “foraging bears”. Running circles from lift to lodge to lift, my panic broke out in a furious sweat as I reported my losses. They remained amazingly calm when asking how many.

“All of them!” I shrugged plaintively, “And my helpers too.”

I truly felt incompetent and completely disgraced, but as sure as snow comes each winter, they made it to the bottom, and we all circled round a table for hot chocolate and stories. As if no tension had choked me mute moments before, I asked about their kindergartens and teachers’ names, making better plans in my head for next week’s class.

I barely got to ski with most of these kids, for little Max needed my entire focus for our last run again. They all skied in line down between us and waved from the Magic Carpet on their ways back up. Pulling him to his feet every three feet, I counted the dollars, subtracted the gas, and wondered how I could possibly muster the energy to return.

At last, I was able to get Max to only hold one finger and make turns around (and over) my skis. When he saw his dad beckoning near the bottom, he let go and made three entire turns completely on his own.

As their parents blessed me for my patience and cleverness (having no idea that I had lost their children), three of the little ones gave me big hugs, and one a high five, counting on returning next week to ski with me again, winning me over with sweet satisfaction and distraction from all my troubles at home.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Gift in the Face

Saturday morning, with some trepidation, I awoke for my first day of ski instructing with real kids.

Throughout the set-up and training, the understanding had been that I would be working with 8-12 year olds, an age group I felt I could really teach well. Disappointment, therefore, was hard to hide when my assignment actually was for kids aged 4-5, visions of glorified daycare.

In my new stance of empowered individual, I expressed my preference for older kids and accepted my assignment with the willingness to be a team player. In the pre-dawn mist of fresh snow, I prepared myself mentally for the task ahead.

To the DVD of Louise Hay affirmations (adding my own assertion that music and writing will sustain me financially), I bent, twisted and stretched to my own flow of Yoga postures. Three weeks without coffee, I meditated with a cup of tea, steeling myself to face the sub-zero temperatures outside and the kids ahead.

My truck started grudgingly in the cold, and I knew enough to let it warm a little as I loaded skis and extra sweaters. By the time I was on the road, the motor was producing heat enough in the cab, I could loosen my hat.

Apparently the oil stayed sluggish and frozen, however, for as I drove a mile on the highway, a strange ticking sound overtook the radio and I considered pulling over to let it all warm a little more. Too late! A soft bang and the truck rolled to rest, broken and unable to start again.

All week in reaction to an outrageous cell phone bill, I had been ranting about how few emergencies actually occur to require a call, but I was grateful for the tool on this morning. I was very stuck with few resources at that early hour to deal with towing to an unknown mechanic and getting back to my own house. The bitter cold crept quickly back inside to numb my brain already shutting down by the dizzying estimates of the impending costs to repair this damage done.

What message is the Universe sending me now, I wondered in exasperation. An exhausted Job-like disciple, I tried to hold faithful to my belief, but it felt like I am working so hard to change bad habits and choices, this cruel blow was not needed to drive me further back.

So tired of living a life of scarcity, I applied for a job this week and made other choices to surrender the habits that keep me unbalanced on the edge of disaster. I need no more trials, troubles or torture; I am searching for solutions.

The tow truck driver dropped me at the only diner, a warm haven, in the commercial district where I left my truck. Amazingly, at the counter, devouring a stack of French toast, was the very friend who had gotten me to my warrior workshop and offered a large embrace in other moments of desperation. Deep conversation, open-hearted advice and compassionate listening warmed the sluggish oil in my soul and gave me hope to continue the day.

Another dear friend gave me rides, companionship to distract me from disparaging thoughts, and bountiful food to nourish my fearful and despairing voice into song. The second hit on her computer turned up a job prospect that could be the perfect transition to a more sustainable future. Another great friend can loan me a truck for the week.

The Universe does, in fact, reward hard lessons with gifts of love and abundance.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Polishing the Apple

Although it took 20 years, declaring myself a Writer proves actually to be the easy part. How terribly daunting it is to sit quietly before this empty yellow pad, considering what string of words might surface worthy of your, dear readers, attention. There is nothing for it, but to plunge in and follow the ink where it may lead.

Last week, in my men’s group, I asked hard questions about the fear that keeps me distracted from commitment to pursuing a creative life more in tune with the energy and passion so revitalized in my belly. Disguised as the noble need to support my family, I keep running from here to job sites, returning at night too tired to scribble with any coherence, much less profundity.

I have finally grasped the message in the Universe that doing something just because one should, but without the heart singing, is not necessarily lucrative or even productive. It can be an impediment, in fact. Without embracing our true passions, we are liable to waste away in miss-directions and inefficiencies, bleeding slowly and oh so painfully, to death.

A fear beyond finances, then, has kept me from spending my days with pen in hand, computer in lap, and guitar strung and strapped. This fear cannot be around production because whenever I have taken the time, words have flowed like so many blessings. It is a delight to rediscover so many songs and stories of the past then allow myself the luxury of an afternoon and fill more pages quickly.

In a fit of organizational determination this week (I still have unpacked clutter jammed in every corner), I uncovered files of stories complete with every rejection slip from countless submissions years ago. So many were devoid of personality of any kind, but a few were actually scrawled notes of encouragement, golden nuggets reminding me that though I had only a few articles actually in print, my stories had opened eyes, separated themselves somehow from the endless slush that wearies an editor’s intern.

One from Sy Safransky of The Sun was written as if we were friends and the next submission (that never came) would have all the right ingredients to finally make it to print. As two stories came back today with impersonal forms, I tacked this wonderful rejection to the wall just over my laptop where my eyes roam first, pausing for the right word, and considering if all this effort could ever possibly add up to anything positive, reassured that it might.

Also last week, I was gifted a LifeLine treatment, kinesthetic energy balancing at the cellular level, a form of natural healing. I asked about this fear and we worked on the idea that it would be OK if my creative endeavors could sustain me financially, an attempt to dispel the ever present sarcastic voice that judges “Yeah, right” when thinking about a career in the creative arts.

In so many lives, it would seem, the more we want to do something passionate, resonating from deep within our souls, the louder our voices claim that such an apple of temptation could never be grasped firmly. It describes the fall of Adam and Eve, after all, and takes such an inner strength and determination to overcome, to break these bonds that hold us back from re-entering the gardens of our dreams.

At the end of the session, the sarcasm had completely disappeared and I was filled with a sense of profound understanding. The same words presented with a completely different attitude, an embrace of love, confidence, understanding and gratitude, an emblem of the natural order of the Universe, full of breath:

“Yeah! Right!”

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Swingin The Blues

Swingin Blues
Thanks alot for teaching me this lesson
Though I learned things I didn't want to know.
I know you didn't mean to ask the question,
Still the bruises on my heart have to answer, "No".
I know you didn't want the pain to add up to anything,
But when the rope goes around our neck
The Hanged Man invites us to swing.

Twice I've been invited to linger,'
And twice I've decided to stay.
Twice I've had a ring on my finger
And twice I've had to throw it all away.
We can't fix it all with just another ring.
It's like a rope around our neck
And the Hanged Man invites us to swing.

Time will tell if there was any wrong or right.
I know I just had to step out of the fight.
I still believe in Love, I'll probably take another chance
But most of all I've had to learn when to sit out of the last dance.

So thanks for your help in this lesson
But the scars are too deep no matter the sweet things you do.
If I didn't ask this tough question,
I might never heal the black and the blue.
Now we can both move on to better songs we sing.
Without a rope around our neck
the Hanged Man still makes us swing.

In tarot readings, the Hanged Man is actually a good card, providing a new perspective on a very stuck situation. "After the crisis of seeing what you have made of your life comes the peace of acceptance...Where other people believe themselves to be free, but are actually pushed from one thing to another by forces they do not understand, you will achieve true freedom by understanding and embracing those forces." I think instead of somber, this is actually a very positive song about choice and moving on into the unknown.

Click here to hear this new song

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Embracing the Authentic

Bleak news around the global economy, an empty bank account, and weeks of working in cold, cold weather takes its toll on my creativity.

Day after weary day, I have been outside and on the move. On the roof in Northfield, or on the slopes at Sugarbush, my body works so hard against the winter bone-chilling air, heavy eyelids and huge yawns in the evening make it hard to do anything else, much less compose an essay. Once invigorating, the long days outside are now exhausting. Where I usually roam the computer until after midnight, in these last weeks, I have been snoring by 10.

The tension between writing and carpentry is a surface more slippery and fatiguing than the ice formed in the bitter temperatures. At least, the 20 years of creative silence and buzz of skilsaws and cell phone offered a respite from the dilemma. This year of transition, however, makes it apparent—especially with the example of a few friends and neighbors--that no matter the uncertainty of a career as a freelance writer and musician, in actuality, it can be no worse than this I have made for myself as a carpenter.

It is impossible not to pay attention to the struggle I feel every dawn pushing myself to load the truck and head for another long day of hard physical work. Many times I could justify the effort in sight of a happy client, or dropping a big check in the bank, but once again, clients are fearful and reluctant to appreciate the value gained parting with their hard-earned money. For me, their checks usually just cover ones I have already written, or at least promised—gone again in a flash.

Construction is a noble avocation, putting a roof over someone’s head a clear contribution to society. My spirit, however, has always resonated to a different beat. All these years, I have largely viewed my work as what has been necessary to get bills paid, while my true interest has been yearning to articulate rather than construct.

Saturday morning before last, I set old skis on the mountain, determined to prove yet again I could rip through moguls explosively, one of the best on the slopes, bouncing one to the next in dramatic flair of skis tossed to one side and jammed back into line. I quickly discovered I had joined a club who expected and appreciated a different, more classical, style. The next two weekends, I received intensive coaching, gently turning me into a smooth skier, conforming the wild energy into pretty turns.

Living this last year in my cave, I have had plenty of time to study my determination to twist the world to my own shape, conquering projects, clients, employees and deficits like so many moguls, bumps in the way of a pretty line. Forcing my way over and around each challenge, absorbing shocks in the knees transferred to my chest, and pounding turns out of nearly disastrous falls, I have forced my way through the construction business, trying to turn out dollars from sheer will to work hard and do a good job, all the while with my eye less on the trenches and more in the misty clouds above.

Yesterday, I learned turns are easier with shaped skis and the willingness to listen to others before leaping.

No longer does it make sense, in my life, to bundle up and slog with hammer to the task. Better to cut my expenses, hunker down, shape some part-time work that suits me, and focus on the creative work that makes it easier to awake each morning with my heart singing.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

On Top of the Mountain

On top of Lincoln peak late Saturday afternoon, the magnificent clear, cold light turning the snow covered peaks radiantly amber could never have been captured with a camera. Nor could the hue of the grins of father and son, satisfied with their commitment to be instructors consummated, be described as they stood together at the end of the day, looking back up the mountain to discover Venus and Jupiter in perfect alignment over the long, bumpy trail they had just skied.

And it was only the end of the first day of a long season to come.

Accustomed to being acknowledged as accomplished, it was a humbling experience to spend so much time this weekend with people whose job it is to inspire the turn of perfection in each of us. Guilty of flaunting my old equipment and out-of-date clothing, diving down headwalls with no warm-up after years of sporadic days on snow, I could relish the ease with which I could cut through moguls.

But over this weekend of training a rank amateur to a professional instructor status, I was challenged to throw off the bravado and work hard to make pretty turns. So used to offering tips to any friend, family, or struggling stranger in my path, as the rookie this weekend, I was constantly the receiver of pointers, an ankle thrust here and a hip rotation there. Countless times, people politely suggested I might do better with a pair of shaped skis from this generation.

Being one whose style has turned heads and collected whoops from the chairlift in the spray of his turns, this could have been a horrifying experience. Given all the humble pie devoured in these last years over home, business and marriage, I could have argued back bitterly. It could have been so easy to cry over the next dish of not being good enough.

Instead, the enthusiasm that all my new friends had for this winter sport at this World Class resort that tries harder (where else do they hand out hot cider to departing guests?), the professional commitment they show to spread the skills with love was inspirational. Quickly, I caught the sense of pride and responsibility to provide an exhilarating experience for young guests. In charge of the same group of kids all winter long, I can only hope they might one day talk to their children in the kind of glowing terms I talk about my skiing adventures and the mentor I had at their age.

A transformation occurred when I put on the instructor’s jacket and cruised the slopes with my compatriots. As good a skier as I have been over the years, especially in the early ones, the instructor’s jacket signified an elite, privileged few who skied the mountain and got paid for it.

Not only could I wear my own today, but I got to ride the lift with my son who had one too.
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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

So focused on where we want to go, it can be easy to forget where we have been, and how far we have come.

This holiday for me, crosses all lines of religion, ethnicity, and economics to be truly American. Only on this day do the roads empty, most stores close, and everyone has a common purpose, celebrated in one basic form. “Over the river and through the woods”, we go to celebrate the loved ones, the rock solid foundations in our lives. Priceless moments of conversations light and deep are cooked over the hard work of preparing the food, smells that linger a lifetime. Since living in town, I have enjoyed a walk outdoors at dusk, breathing in the silence of everyone feasting, gathered across the country in families together.

This year, my family is broken and my younger kids will be with their mother. My own sisters and parents are scattered. My friends all rightfully have plans of their own. A co-worker graciously invited me to join his family for a day of feast and football, but I have declined. Not to be pitied, or feeling depressed, for the first time in my life, I am thankful to be alone.

Fortunately, I am in no way truly alone. If I could get there, my children and sister in Oregon would share food and celebration with great spirit. In Pennsylvania, I have a father and sisters who would watch the Eagles with me in the same combination of hope and dread that plagues their loyal fans of 50 years.

And I have a mother whose eyes, as bright and blue as ever, might show the tiniest flicker of recognition at the sound of the voice she raised.

In this year of turmoil and change, one friendship has deepened into brotherhood, a man so there for me, and I for him, I joked yesterday that a day without at least a phone call causes withdrawal symptoms. Other friendships have blossomed or wilted according to the natural choices of sides. Some very old friendships have been re-ignited, and some great new friends welcome and support my current journey.

One year ago, I said I needed to hear my own voice. In the wreckage of homelife, work, and all that was not working, I was trying so hard to fix it all so fast, I could no longer tell what was truly my own, or just words I thought I was supposed to say. A second divorce, just like a bankruptcy, were options outside the strong family values I have known, but the din was overwhelming and could have led to a very real and awful silence.

So for better or worse, I am thankful today to be alone, to write and sing and do my work as best I can to put humble bread upon my table. I laugh, I can make others laugh. I cry, and am beginning to understand that it is not my job to keep others from crying. My inappropriate compulsive behaviors have vanished. There are those who congratulate me and others who admonish, but I am doing my best to hear those outside judgments as just votes of confidence, allowing my voice to be altered perhaps, but in no way diminished.

In this same circumstance twenty years ago, with the same guitar, piano, and dreams of writing novels, I felt half-complete. For life to be right as I knew and wanted it, all was second best until I had a mate with whom it could be shared. Having met a wonderful woman, I was determined to make our union work, no matter what. These many years, full of joys and pain, have provided lessons I needed to learn, as great and as hard as they have been. I have few regrets.

Today, I am liking the voice I hear. Always in need of refinement, still, it carries itself well, sings a song, alone or in a crowd, to make my mother proud.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Peace in Rest

Last night I rested.

I saw my blog hits were way below even my usual modest number, and recognizing it coincides directly to the regularity of postings, I knew an entry was overdue. The pressure mounted to prove how well I could perform against a deadline, but struggling on the first paragraph, I dropped my pen and rested.

In the process of revitalizing my 20 old songs, I have purchased this wonderful combination of hardware and software that lets me record them in the comfort of my own home. Surrounded by my books on shelves, boxes still to be unpacked, unmade bed and dirty dishes, I can lay down multi-guitars, play piano, and sing background vocals to myself (Broken Mirrors). This process has been consumming hours of my time, a way to hear ideas and variations until I find real musicians to spice it up.

I looked at all that inviting possibility, but left the songs quiet, and rested instead.

Short story plots, query letters, and revised essays need to be written, packaged and mailed out. My new partnership in medical writing must be further explored. The books on the table beckon to be opened.

But last night I rested.

Around my half-renovated apartment, so much needs to be completed. A sketch is required in preparation of tiling the shower this weekend. The kitchen counter is still plywood, drawers must be built and walls painted. Recycled bindings must be mounted to other skis because the snow is falling and Sugarbush opens tomorrow.

Is it any wonder, with all the excitement abounding, I could not choose except to uncharacteristically shove it all aside, relax and rest?

This week, winter takes its first real bite on our fingers and toes. The slight breeze turns mild temperatures bitter for those of us bundled and working outside. I spent the day braced against the cold, calculating rafter lengths and angles mathematically with frozen-slogged mind, and called directions with stiff cheeks slurring words.

Today will be the same, so last night I rested.

Out for music and friendship most nights lately, last night I knew I had to settle in. What lovely peace was felt with ornately soft jazz cooking on the stereo as I melted cheese and tuna on the stove. Forcing myself simply to sit at the table, a place setting for one, I listened, ate, pondered, and…rested.

Having done so last night, a better entry for the blog is written this morning.

Rest well, when you have the chance; the sunlight will always return.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Slippery Slopes

Even as I express concern over taking on too many activities, a casual conversation has quickly evolved into a serious winter commitment.

These many changes this year, have brought into question the most basic foundations of relationships, home, hometowns, and even careers. The business of carpentry has not served me well, making me wonder if I should even continue to hammer at the trade.

My son and I were discussing career alternatives one evening recently in regard to both our lives. The focus was on teaching high school, both of us particularly interested in English, but he suddenly quipped that I should be a ski instructor.

At his age, living in the Philadelphia suburbs (a “flatlander”, they call us in Vermont), I yearned to live a life on snow. I was skiing enough to love the lifestyle more than any girl, and imagined skiing adventures much more clearly than any concept of marriage.

My first job was in a ski shop. My third was washing dishes at dawn and dusk so I could ski in daylight. Anyone who knew me well was surprised that I had not only settled for love over skiing, but actually married a woman who had no interest at all to slide down mountains in the cold.

My sister and her husband have long advocated that I teach skiing as the most joyful combination of my skills and talents. They saw the light in my eyes, the bounce in my turns, the utter delight I exuded when playing with their kids and mine on Oregon slopes.
Back then, I even combined the sport with my dreams of writing by publishing articles in Skiing Magazine. Travelling the Northwest, enjoying fresh powder and awesome lodging, all expenses paid, seemed a life too good to be true...and so it faded.

When my son suggested I instruct this winter, I faltered. In these last few years, we have had some exhilarating days on snow, just 30 minutes from home to a wonderland that, in my stressed and impoverished circumstances, seemed more than I could afford, but was worth every effort to create and cherish such grins on our faces.

Just a quick call to a friend was all it took to get us both jobs at Sugarbush. I suppose the New England Puritan ethic must have a stronger grip on me than I imagine as I contemplate a winter of dancing on moguls and slicing powder tails on pristine mornings; how else do I explain the fear that enshrouds this vision?

I worry about the gas and long hour of commute each way, the cost of boots and skis (even recycled). Already concerned over a plate too full of activities, I have commited to every Saturday and Sunday coaching a group of rambunctious pre-teens who might easily run this old man ragged. And deepest in my bones, it is just plain hard for me to imagine we could be on this Earth to have so much fun.

But half the weekends I get to romp with my son, sharing tunes on his IPod and tales of splendid bumps and crashes. We will spend time together that will count for so much to me once he has gone to college and on to a life of his own. With my new schedule of independence, I am blessed to be able to provide this opportunity for us to play.

And to get paid for it all as well! Yo-da-lay-hee-hoo!
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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Paradise Lost & Found

A pile of papers were signed yesterday, and as quickly as that, I was no longer a home-owner.

Two lawyers, a couple of sweet kids and my new friends, the new owners, tried to make it easier with light banter, but there was tension in the room. It was difficult to look at the young father settling into their future and not think about how optimistic I felt 12 years ago when purchasing the property and signing the mortgage that would build us a home.

From the time I shoved snow off the foundation to set the first piece of wood to mowing the lawn last spring, this home served as such a tangible monument for what I could do for my family. We were safe and warm. At times, we laughed uproariously together. Many times, we variously cringed and cried.

For me, the home became tainted by the violence of the emotions it sheltered. Moving from it, although difficult, has not been as wrenchingly painful as I imagined. This sorrow is not at all a product of the home, and a new family has every chance of enjoying all the wealth, comfort and love a crackling holiday fire can inspire.

Decisions I made a long time ago, and momentum I allowed to sweep over me, meant that I left that conference table yesterday with only a small check of reimbursement for work and materials required to complete the sale. My share of the proceeds was gobbled by the IRS for repayment of money I had used to feed my family in hard times. It was wrong, inappropriate, and I alone, am financially paying for it.

In a clear effort to redirect the pain and bitterness, I immediately took a portion of that meager payment and bought myself an electric guitar I had been caressing for several weeks. The hard work to build and pay for that home, to provide for my family as best I could, brought me satisfaction beyond measure, but was corrupted horribly by the years of stress and the final loss. This small gesture (replacing the guitar I had sold to pay an electric bill) is an affirmation to be fondled daily, whether by fingers or eyes, reminding me that I am worth it, life matters, hard work pays off.

Misfortune befalls all of us in some form. We can be victims, blaming others and remain in the squalor of our unhappiness, or we can take responsibility for our contribution and climb out into the light. This lovely house on Hayward Street, for me, will forever be remembered as the home where I helped to raise two incredible beings who will one day understand that, in spite of it all, they were loved.

Once, I received a trophy, long vanished, for an all-star game I did not deserve, having played with only half my heart among others whose efforts made me look good. Another trophy, which still sits on my shelf, I did earn with an out-standing whole-hearted effort. This little guitar means much more to me than its modest price would indicate, is much more solid in my hands than any amount of money that might have come and gone from my checking account.

May I play it in good health, expressing well all the love that surrounds me.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Leaky Pipes

If anyone had told me they would still be plumbing tonight (Tuesday) the little hole in the pipe I set out to fix on Saturday, I would call them a lousy plumber. Not exactly a plumber myself, I have sweated a lot of pipes in my life, and this little repair to my heat should not have taken very long.

Never mind, the tiny leak (a result of a careless moment laying floors) is between floors, making me constantly go up and down via the outside. Disregarding that it is in a far corner, over the abandoned oil tank and obstructed by old bike carcasses. Excuse the several other pipes in the way; it should not have taken four days and six trips to the hardware store.

Still, I am without heat, and though it is not the dead of winter, it is Vermont, and it is cold in my home tonight (very cold this morning).

Patience is a concept that constantly challenges me. For whatever lack of skill, twist of fate, combination of miscuts, faulty parts, and grains of dust in the joints, I have to delay yet another day the celebration of this handy job completed.

Since setting to the task of recording my music, I have decided to buy a new electric guitar to replace the gifted one that replaced the beauty I had sold years ago in crisis to pay the electric bill. Many are fondled and caressed, so tempting to put my money down and bring home, but I force myself to remember there is a looming list of higher priorities right now.

Likewise, I begin the search for compatible musicians to bring these songs alive. Over the weekend, I placed an ad on Craig’s List and at the local music store. I answered ads. I put my rough recordings Out There to lure talent to me.

But it is a long process, requiring much patience, fortitude and perseverance.

Beyond blog entries, I have stories, and even a novel, to write. Each morning, the desk with its laptop and yellow pads empty and waiting to be covered with ink lure me to stay, but I know I have to march out the door and down the road to complete this roof and raise the bank account. Duty screams while creativity beckons with such an alluring call. No matter how vivid my dreams, I need the money and must honor the contracts.

After years of distracted progress up one mountain, this year, I have dared to leap across to another, teetering on a precarious ledge, establishing a tentative foothold. So anxious to see the view, my heart wants to race forward up this new path, learn the outcome of these bold efforts I make today to further my writing and music.

But patience must be required and tolerated. The time must methodically be taken. Yet another piece of copper must be purchased, cleaned, fluxed and soldered into place--no step skipped over--to repair the leak and restore the heat.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Up on the Roof

For several weeks, I have been considering an entry on the relentless pace I lead daily and the fear that it will eventually cause collapse and misfortune. Just a few minutes of half-dreams cushion the time between alarm and my leap from bed each morning. There is hardly a pause before the night is late and lonely, and I fall asleep with a book in my lap.

No question that this is of my own doing. I am generating all of this activity and have the power to curtail it at anytime. Writing blogs, playing music, finding cannons, or telling a sad story on the radio does nothing to satisfy my need for food, clothing and shelter, yet this has all become a need as basic as breathing and, without realizing it, I had been suffocating before.

Influenced by the other need, the realistic need to pay my cell bill, and glad to have work, given the economic fears, I have been replacing the roof of a house more than an hour away, consuming more than usual time to make a living. Working with a couple of friends, it is a mellow job, high up the mountainside, over-looking miles of hardwood forests and open hayfields. While gas prices have fortunately dropped and temperatures for late fall are pleasantly high, we are pushing hard to get it done efficiently between rain storms and the expanding darkness.

Sunday, I worked by myself, methodically laying shingles and singing my new song. At lunch, it seemed silly to sit safely on the ground by my truck when the view was incredible from up on the roof. I imagined a perch out of a Carole King song, balanced on my ladder (strapped in, of course—OSHA approved!), munching my turkey sandwich meditating on the awesome vista. Unable to sit so pleasantly still, however, I had to scramble back down for my notebook so I could eat with one hand and write an essay (that was later abandoned) with the other about the wonders of the panoramic vision spread before me.

Well, after bragging a while back about rarely being sick, this pace has fulfilled my prediction, delivering a second punch of a stuffed head and aching cough in a month. Not listening to my own warnings to take a rest, my body captured the germs to make it so. Still, I have worked miserably right through it, determined to take advantage of the great weather and necessary paycheck.

Some times, I do just stop, and looking at myself like the snapshot of a stranger, I am amazed. Tonight, for example, I sit with a hamburger and a beer in a corner booth of a family restaurant (I am a trattoria kind of guy), yellow pad filling with black ink. Rain puddles outside, neon lights splintered in the drops. Guys step up to croon at an open mic. In my own neighborhood, it is Saturday night, and I know no one here.

Times like these, the momentum of the last months of change overwhelm. Twenty years of life everyday with the same good woman creates such a basis of existence, a reference point around which all else revolves. To break that anchor tumbles me into a swirling world with no boundaries and unexplored vistas over every rooftop.

Some friends are rediscovered, others drift away, still coupled themselves, or at least attached to my other half. Alliances are shifted and some encounters are suddenly awkward. New friends and companions are just at the confluence, merging or submerging with no rhyme or reason. Who can know? Recognition of my old self is hard to find.

No wonder, then, my head fills and my body aches, racked with coughing fits, slowing me down to ponder the view. The redefinition of self is hard work, the pace relentless. Some days feel like a blessing of banter with a son to be proud of; others are best passed curled up in contemplation, as if thumb in my mouth. Too many mistakes have taken their toll, but the blanket of fear must still be thrown off.

The best are those days when the sun shines, the conversation buzzes. Work gets done, laughter blows through the trees. The rustle of the wind promises that life only gets better and better, and the memories of the past never lose their luster. Today, I will make one of those.
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Sunday, November 2, 2008

On the Edge

My mom kept many sacred relics around her home, so this poem by her granddaughter thumb tacked to the wall by her bed for 20 years can be considered especially precious. In an unusual fit of organizational bravado this morning, I was finally mounting it to a frame, when the last lines brought together the fragments of thoughts swimming aimlessly around my next blog entry which for days had not been congealing very well.

I do know that walking on the edge is beautiful, and this daughter of mine has taught me this so well. At 23, fresh out of a fancy college and headed into a wide, wide world, full of hope, wonder and optimism, my heart bonded with her little soul and we merged our lives there on the edge of a mountain on the Oregon Coast. 18 months later, I was marrying her pregnant mother, leaping into a settled life of family, committed to writing, making music and earning (for the time being) a living as a carpenter.

Well, even though not all dreams work out, it is important to appreciate the gifts that come along the way. Walking on the edge is dangerous, but unexpected rewards are abundant to those willing to dare the risks, making it truly beautiful.

Lately, living on the edge involves gathering up the salvageable pieces from the crash of huge business risks, and learning to move forward in spite of it all. In fact, embracing these changes, after the losses have been mourned, actually uncovers a wealth of unexpected surprises and abundant good fortune.

As I reflect on the losses and gains, no matter how painful these last months have been, by risking everything to live more passionately, life has become enriched by a universe of compassionate and supportive people. Where I feared humiliation by going public with these stories, the response has been so gratifying, one can only be encouraged to open the heart all the more.

Why this valuable lesson could not be learned in the last 20 years, and a marriage revived, is a question I cannot bring to bear in these pages out of respect for another loved one. Suffice it to say that FEAR is a powerful enemy that constantly pulls us away from the edge, makes us live in fits of genius smothered by spurts of caution that inhibit, rather than support, success.

To thrive, we must live ALIVE, risking judgments of foolishness from others, but honest to ourselves and the dreams that beat our hearts.

So this week, after the local notoriety about my cannon lost and regained, and the national exposure of my human frailty and determination, life has settled back into routines of soccer games, grocery shopping, and earning a living with a hammer (still). This week, it is easy to pause on my roofing job, safely harnessed against a fall and humming my new song, to consider how close to the edge I am living.

The challenge lies in the everyday life of walking safely on the ground, along the store aisles, and still feel on the Edge.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Touching Base

Response to my interview on “The Story” has been gracious and incredibly kind.

Two hours before it aired in Vermont, fear buckled my knees, wondering what insanity had possessed me to expose such business incompetence to so public a forum?! People later complimented my courage, but at that moment it felt like such foolish behavior. Having done so poorly to provide for my family, clients and staff, I should more likely hide my head in shame, especially remembering Dick Gordon’s shocked question, “You didn’t even consult a lawyer?”

At the last minute, I considered the comfort of friends to listen to it (share the embarrassment), but all were wrapped in their own lives in the middle of the day. The interview with the baker I heard while unloading asphalt shingles at the dump, feigning non-chalance. A few minutes later, I pulled into a parking lot over-looking a small pond and quietly pondered my own voice aloof and alone.

We all know our recorded voices sound differently than what we hear so familiarly in our own head, but this sounded even more different than that. I pictured a white haired codger in basball cap, pencil tucked behind the ear, something like (I realized later) Paul Newman in “Nobody’s Fool”.

The editing was fascinating. Technically, they spliced separate sentences together and created a flow out of a conversation that had been somewhat bouncy when it was recorded a week earlier. I was pleased with the coherence.

To me, however, the interview ended abruptly at the bottom of that tar-pit, that forlorn place where the wretched carpenter covers his homeless, shameful losses with a thin shroud of dignified resignation. “We make our own mistakes.” He was no one I recognized. No wonder the calls and emails are so full of consolation and re-assurances.

The second half of the interview, the part that never made it to air, the piece that really excites my interest, is the tale of the man I do know, the man who is taking charge of his life and learning to live with more authenticity and integrity, less desperation for the wrong reasons. Here is a story with a happier ending, a tale of inspiration and enlightenment, something I think is worth sharing.

I have no interest in pity, nor undeserved flattery. My heart appreciates, but does not require, emotional bolstering at this point (but please, folks, keep those cards and letters coming!). Learning to nurture myself, my own voice sustains me right now. My mind explores the mysteries to discover easier paths to reach the resting places each day, always moving forward to opportunities just over the horizon. Glances back on the landscape left behind are for guidance, not instruction.

No over-wrought or deranged ego has forced me to reveal these failures of my business, home and family. Rather, I share the journey with an extended hand, a move, in fact, towards sanity, offering a place where we can stand together in understanding; naked truth allowing us to feel compassion and heal our hearts.

I am so proud of the embraces this foolish bravery seems to inspire.
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Tale of Two Kitties

It is clearly the best and worst of times in our family.

Each morning this week, I have checked the website of “The Story” to see if this day will be the one they broadcast my interview on sub-prime mortgages (not yet). Happily, the powers in Washington are beginning to look past their own pocketbooks and realize that direct aide to the people who are losing their homes may be an important medicine for the economy.

Twice this week, my face has appeared on the local page of our newspaper. The missing cannon became a 24 hour hot topic around town as people wondered how such a thing so useless, but precious, could be stolen right out of a neighbor’s yard. With the first article, our grief changed to a glimmer of hope.

Amazingly, the publicity worked its magic and another neighbor called to say they believed it might be resting in a nearby cemetery. My son and I raced to the scene (well, limped, actually, since the poor fellow is on crutches), and gloried in the celebration that something lost has been recovered.

The hooligans apparently lost their will to make mischief about 400 yards up the hill when the 200 awkward pounds of cannon robbed them of their bravado. They abandoned it for the night in the cemetery where it looked like just another monument. When the liquor wore off, I suppose, if they remembered it at all, guilt kept them from returning to and completing their crime.

For us, the discovery was jubilant affirmation that despite swollen knees and broken homes, there is compassion and good fortune in the world. The odd little cannon from my mother’s childhood had stood guard nearly 50 years at my parents’ home. To bring it to my new place at Riverside was punctuation both of closing chapters in their lives, and the re-structuring of our own small family here. Since it also represented the time when it might grace the lawn of my son’s children, the loss colored a landscape bleak, while the recovery inspired fireworks in our heart.

Meanwhile, among the logistical decisions required to divide a home, and the 20 years of belongings it contained, our two cats faced various scenarios of disruption themselves. However much I would have welcomed and appreciated their company in my home (especially the orange haired Mookie who seemed cognizant and sympathetic to my transition, curling up quietly beside me in hard times), my children feared for their lives (the cats’) between my acre of woods and the busy road.

Sadly, from the day of transition to his new home at the other place, my favorite has gone missing. Still hopeful after two weeks that he might just wander back from some long adventure, or arrive at his original home after an incredible journey, we have not adequately considered his loss.

Last night, however, the sweet rapscallion Zahdie collided with her fate, the wheel of a too fast car on a quiet street, and was suddenly gone. It would seem no matter how much we try to control our precious possessions and beloved relations, so much is actually out of our hands. Rarely do we get a second chance. The gifts must be appreciated each and every day.

Through all the tough changes in these past months, my son has endured stoically with good spirit and quiet self-determination. Last night it broke my heart, and was comforting relief at the same time, to finally cry with him.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sounds of Silence Abandoned

Now the piece I wrote on the loss of my cannon has generated a full featured article in our local newspaper.

It was my wish that such publicity might appeal to the guilty parties and bring about the return of the heirloom in my sleep, but I submitted the words with little expectation. In light of the NPR story, it was actually forgotten.

A good friend, meanwhile, confronted me the other day around my revitalized energy towards creativity. Observing me from our relationship with many angles, he probed my enthusiasm with pointed questions that uncovered points of tenderness.

Likening my movements to a cool cat, a cartoonish feline with whiskers, a beret and long cigarette holder, he sensed a façade that really masks a tar-pit of ugly soulful work still to be done. Complimenting my intellect and eloquence, still he challenged me to ask more of myself. Dare to go to places that feel like certain death, he encouraged, and explore the revelations discovered that will eventually fulfill your longings for prosperity and celebration.

Blinded by an emotional exhaustion, I retreated from his doorstep, unwilling to accept this challenge. I have worked too hard in these last months, in these many years. I would rather relish these small victories beginning to come my way.

But the seed once planted...

Another friend agreed that given all the losses, my grief has only partially been exposed and expressed. My external façade shines forth as one of hope, optimism and good cheer, while deeper inside, the murky blood of grief reaches a boiling point and must be stirred to be truly released.

Soon after, I was cheered by an email unsolicited from my sister, saying while she knows I have more emotional work to be done, I am just where I should be right now (loving praise so like my mother's!). My creative energy had flowed freely 30 years ago, a portfolio of successes beginning to thicken. Truth be told, however, how much veracity and depth could realistically be found in the fingertips of one so young, with so little Real Life experience? A firm believer that all happens the way it should, she congratulated me on now speaking with more clarity and knowledge, having lived and suffered some.

I am beginning to understand that this many years of creative retreat cannot actually be blamed on marriage, children and the relentless demand of a construction business. Although legitimate cause for attention, these would not have to be impediments to creativity.

Fear rears its ugly head, caught momentarily dead center in the searching light.

Years ago, in another marriage, with as much distraction, I was still producing stories and songs with a fervor, and risking judgment from editors and promoters with mixed results. Articles were published and I played on the radio and sizable stages back then.

There was, in fact, enough success to make encouragement begin to feel like a Demand. There began to be expectations around the quality. I had deadlines and pieces were returned covered with red ink (literally red!). I was tender, sensitive and gullible enough to read the criticism as if it were an attack. Praised so much as a child, the exposure to these hurts was enough to make me stop dead mid-sentence. Like any child once burned, I chose to not go any closer to the fire.

But the real truth is that I could handle that external criticism. It was my own voice that struck such fear in my soul, fear of its unmined power and depth. Not believing in myself, I silenced myself.

So today, I sing with a voice revitalized, and write with a pen and keyboard that can no longer concentrate on spreadsheets that do not add up, or sign checks with no money. Lessons have been learned. I have loved and lost.

Forgive me, then Dear Reader, if I seem to bask in the pleasure I receive from your generous comments. I use them to arm myself against my own very palpable and ever-present fear that I have nothing worthwhile to say.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

A Tall Tale Told

OK, I’ll admit to having an incredible weekend of fantasy around the idea of my music aired nationally on the radio.

Locked away in my lowly cave, I practiced for hours to get the notes and fingering just right for today’s session. I played sitting down, standing up, leaning back and thrusting forward, changing tempos and reworking phrases. Because, living so long unplayed in its case, my guitar needs serious adjustment, I borrowed my friend’s handmade beauty to better caress the perfect action in hopes of playing the Perfect Tune.

More to the point, I reveled in an emotional bliss, ecstatic, I confess, that my star feels to be rising after so much troubled dark times. Music has always been an outlet of pleasure for me, but beyond gigs in smokey bars and local festivals years ago, never have I truly imagined music as a seriously mountable stage professionally. These last 20 years, I hardly played at all, so this opportunity coming so quickly upon the revitalization of my voice was just too exciting to remain humble.

I let it get to my head.

Imagine then my disappointment when the engineer’s Email arrived to say they were all set for the interview, but would not be recording any music. POOOOOOOF!! I could hold onto the last gasp of hope that no recording was necessary because they were satisfied with the songs I had dispatched after our conversation on Friday, but I knew this was wishful thinking. This is National Radio, afterall. Last week they played Dave Mason on the program, while I am just an out-of-practice amateur from Vermont.

A deep breath of release, and I regained my composure, recognizing that it is honor enough to speak my version of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco. I had a pretty fancy soapbox from which to emphasize the truth that our humanity, our connections to ourselves and each other, is more important than any elevated interest rate or the erratic swings of the stock market.

And, for the sake of drama and good writing, I exaggerate the span of my ego and its deflation. In actuality, I had already been sobered all weekend by the bravery and good humor with which my son has endured the pain of a knee damaged seriously in a soccer game also on Friday. Whatever levels of fortune we may attain in pursuit of our own self-absorbed lives, all falls quickly into perspective when told our child may need surgery and six months of rehabilitation.

I have already handed one drugged and limp toddler over to a surgeon’s care. No matter how grown is my son, that vulnerability of a parent so helpless is no less of an incapacitation. A mighty pen can fall silent contemplating the surgeon’s sword, and no amount of musical accolades could really distract me from the worry.

Still, I exhaled that deep breath of relief and drove to the studio. Dick Gordon of “The Story” patiently asked pertinent and probing questions that stimulated my tale of transformation into this new life. In a sound proof booth, isolated with headphones, surrounded by the reds and greens of the equipment’s blinking lights, I answered his distant voice, and learned more about myself and what really matters in this strange, terrifying and glorious world.

Still, the show must go on, and the story continued.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Time To Tell

Like an alternate suddenly elevated to the Olympic pool, my toes curled over the starting box, desperate not to mortify myself by a false start, I have been longing to make the announcement. Patience has been a challenge, a virtue in short supply as my mind raced ahead to imagine the spotlight that might shine.

And when official word was completely silent for a week, just this morning, I turned to my son to say it probably was not going to happen.

Within the hour of giving up, surrendering the ego in the dream, the producer calls to ask if I can be at the studio Monday afternoon. My sub-prime tale and transformation to the life of a bloggery musician will be the subject of a half-hour interview on NPR’s “The Story”.

And they might actually let me play a song.

This new one (Broken Mirrors) is strongly in the running for me, but when we had talked last week, this much older (but revitalized) song was the one I was planning to play.

Time to Tell

I think it’s time to tell you
How I love your being here
Sitting all together with our faces aglow.
The breath of your good feelings
Makes my worries disappear,
Upbeats the tempo when I’m singing slow.

A fire burns within me
And you fan the flames
That brings the light to the night.
I never want to be in the dark;
I never want to feel the cold;
Most of all I never want to lose you,

‘Cause I’d be hard pressed to know
What I would do without you;
Hard pressed to know what I would do alone.

There’s been days when Life’s been gentle,
There’s been days when Life hasn’t cared,
And days logged in temperatures of mediocrity.
Oh, I could sit on top of mountains
And sing my songs to pure air,
But to only live in dreams is to miss the reality

Of a fire burning within me
Where you fan the flames
That brings the light to the night.
I never want to be in the dark;
I never want to feel the cold;
Most of all I never want to lose you,

‘Cause I’d be hard pressed to know
What I would do without you;
Hard pressed to know what I would do alone.

May the Universe bless you one and all.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Balancing the Unbalancable

On the site, Stacey has invited bloggers to connect by writing essays on the theme of balance in their personal lives. Here's a little ditty that goes something like this:

Since I was very young, random phrases have struck me as a bolt of lightening or like being covered with a blanket on a cold night. Inspired to explore their boundaries, some of these ideas I have determined to grow into a story or song.

Rarely has this been planned or committed with specific intention. In fact, if ego becomes involved (or the vision of a book jacket arises), the process stutters painfully, or halts completely, and that particular idea is usually abandoned.

Raised in a practical home of comfort and sensibility, however, although artistry was celebrated, I have not been able to dare myself in actuality to pursue this passion with all my heart. My head in the clouds has been balanced by feet on the ground, hands earning a living as a contractor while my fingers ached to strum and type.

Amazingly (and probably predictably), this balance has been most unhealthy.

As construction has often served to put food on the table, for me, it has been only marginally more stable than a life envisioned as a freelance writer. Prone to recession and the whims and satisfaction of clients, it has paid well when it pays and other times suffered devastating droughts of dollars, the roller coaster creating a tension that contributed greatly to the dissolution of my marriage.

Still, a balance was carefully struck between writing contracts and creating stories and songs. While I always anticipated taking time to truly express the creative passions, day in and day out, the choice has been made to renovate and repair homes; my contribution to the economics of the World going round. Music and stories, if they happened at all, happened at night, and after awhile, dried up to nothing. Such is life, I cheerfully lamented.

While I have easily blamed my financial struggles on slow markets, disappointed clients, and the challenges of running an all too (for me) complicated business, I am beginning to understand just how unbalanced my life has actually been. It is a vicious handicap to prioritize an occupation while continually telling yourself you really want to be doing something else.

In these past months, I have been listening to my heart. So many mornings now, I head for the door, only to pause at the computer…and discover 2 or 3 hours later how fast time has flown. If an idea sings loudly enough, I pull to the side of the road, or sit on a bucket of mud, to scribble pages of yellow pads.

Today, I strive for less and create so much more. Instead of running a company building $200,000 additions, I make some money on little necessary projects for people needing the hand. Balancing that physical skill with an emotional talent to organize thoughts out of an ethereal mist, Life is charged with an excitement I have little realized.

Daring myself to be off-balance, I have never felt better, nor been more productive.

Please share with your friends

Monday, October 13, 2008

Broken Mirrors

Well, I didn't really think it was possible, but apparently there may still be a song or two left in this Old Dawg:

Broken Mirrors
Who was that stranger standing just in front of me?
Was that really someone I used to know?
Shoulders stooped, he was no one I ever wanted to be;
He looked so brave, but I know it was all just for show.
That’s alright; he can come round any night
I can’t really see him anymore;
I can leave him in pieces on the my floor.

Seems like I used to work so very, very god-damned hard
But life didn't get easier no matter how hard I tried;
Love dies quickly when you don’t water the grass in your own back yard;
And pain doesn’t stop just because you’ve cried.
But it’s OK: I’ve learned to keep on anyway
I can’t let it stop me anymore;
I don’t have to keep on keeping score.

Been so long since I stood this free and clear on my own;
Seems like I’ve never felt this strong.
A lion’s roar grows out of the seeds I’ve sown.
You can hear it in this song.
It’s all fine! Sunlight is on my mind;
I don’t have to be afraid anymore;
Love can heal this heart so sore.

Take heart, step into the playful light;
Dare to sing this song at the top of your lungs.
We’ll help each other celebrate days beyond dark night;
Climb the ladder hand in hand each and every rung.
It’s alright! Step into the Light
We don’t need the darkness anymore;
No, we don’t want the darkness anymore.

Once I have my new-fangled home recording software under control, and the words have slithered down into their most rhythmic form, I'll post the actual song.

Editors note: click here for a preliminary listen

Despite beautiful weather and magnificent mountainsides of fall splendour, I huddled all weekend in my home like a hermit, working on several projects. The creative energy is too strong too ignore. One just has to step aside and let it through.

Several times, I was dressed and ready to go forth, yet drifted back to computer and instruments, to polish, refine, play and explore some more, looking up suddenly to realize the days were done. I believe there is nothing special here, simply the willingness to follow my intuition, to listen to silence without judgement, to sit with humor and humility, to feel fear and pain, and notice how easily these feelings can be transformed, put to good use and made into gifts.

To offer them up to you, Dear Reader, is perhaps an act of foolish bravery, but I dare myself becasuse I am equally comfortable with being seen as a brave Fool (typically Shakespeare's most profound character).

For better or worse, each new post rewards me with encouragement (internal and external) to dig deeper and share further.

Please share with your friends

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The World Goes Round


The word itself sizzles with meaning.

For each and every one of us, there is an undeniable relationship. Whether of ease or dis-ease, or something moderate in between, how we relate to money in our lives is often an enlightening reflection of our life in general.

That this is a global issue, an important factor in the definition of Humankind, has been never more apparent than this week while the world markets quake and shudder around the clock to the nuances of news from all corners. How we, as a world, cope with this opportunity will have an enormous influence on the shape and content of our individual futures.

Often since 911, I have the blasphemous thought of actually missing those few heady days immediately after, when the citizens of the World were united as one in grief and determination to overcome the evil in our midst that had been revealed. The power of the internet was incredible to witness when by that very afternoon and evening, the natural urge for revenge was already being supplanted by the electronic buzz of union.

Wonderful, impassioned essays cautioning against hitting back, pleading for love, understanding and forgiveness, floated amongst the smoke and ashes. The catastrophe, which had shown us the worst in a few people, brought out the best in most people, whether as obvious as the firemen full of fear still determined to climb those tower stairs, or the woman in Iowa who gave a rose to her butcher as acknowledgement between neighbors that we are all more Human than we are Arab, Anglo, or Asian.

Today, as if disturbed and surprised by aliens from Outer Space, we have the opportunity not to panic, but to unite around the world as one people, lending our hand, our support, our money to our neighbors.

After a second World War, the League of Nations was reorganized to become the United Nations, another refinement of the slow process of joining together, that same force which had so primitively (and selfishly) launched Columbus and Marco Polo to explore. A few years later, John Lennon, through music and unashamed LOVE, inspired our imaginations to go beyond the boundaries of our own particular shores and skins, "...and be as One."

This process of passing paper that we call “money” electronically, of fastening arbitrary values comparing one dollar to another yen, and organizing our lives around accumulating more of it in whatever denomination of the moment; this out-moded process does not have to be a crisis.

We have an opportunity to move beyond our imaginations. Let us bravely go forth!
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