Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Shot in the Light

The headline caught my eye briefly and disappeared from my life as something I really did not want to know about, just another awful act of random violence out in the world. I was much more interested in the Olympic opening ceremonies and my music recording.

It peeked in again when I got a garbled email late Saturday night that included the phrase “the shooter didn’t get me”. I realized my blogging friend and a deranged professor were both from Alabama, but expected no connection since horrifying things like that just do not happen to people we know.

I answered her quickly anyway, and sure enough, my friend was in the room last Friday when the professor who was denied tenure pulled out a gun and began to shoot. The head of the department died in the arms of my friend with his last breaths trying to shield her body with his own.

Unharmed physically, my friend had been under heavy sedation and was just waking to the memory of the horror as we “chatted” into the early hours. At first saying she had been mostly unconscious, the process of typing short sentences to me revealed that she had been very aware and cognizant in those awful minutes, recalling with vivid detail the sights, sounds, smells that will likely remain in her memory forever to resurface in the unlikeliest of moments.

Two thousand miles away, in the darkness of night and the clatter of keys typing, I felt more helpful than she had as the life of her friend passed out of his body. I could tell her that in some capacity, he felt her arms holding him, her kiss on his cheek. From the ceiling above, or somewhere way beyond, his spirit could see her tears and feel peaceful amidst the chaos, experience the silence beyond the screams. Their souls would be forever connected.

No matter how tired I was, I could hold the space for her to explore her emotions and help her find some soft ledge on which to sit. Together, we could ride that roller coaster that charged from feeling like all was normal on a Saturday night to the dizzyingly twisty curves of sorrow, fear, guilt and anger that were racing past. My words could comfort her even though there is no true comfort around something so horrific. I could virtually keep her company while she could not sleep.

Again, I am struck by how quickly our lives can change, how deeply change can happen in an instant, and how small are our own issues in comparison to some one else’s plight. For me, the lapse of a few seconds landed me on a soft couch with a hard wound, unable for months—probably forever—to return to my life as I was living it. Her few minutes of terror, without physical harm, leave indelible scars, likely disrupting her motion in deeply profound and unpredictable ways.

In addition to the sorrows, regrets and anger around such events, there is also a marvellous appreciation for the beauty in life. Even as we mourn, we tend to revel in an ecstatic joy, celebrating life, the very fact that we are still alive and can feel at all.

Priorities are stood on end and what simple things were taken for granted seem suddenly so precious. Gratitude envelopes our heart and extends outwards to all who come into our circle. For a time, we are supercharged with the sense that all is so important and vital.

In my life, this has translated into casting aside the humble blanket of self-moderation and leaping into the day to declare my existence, for better or worse, in the world. Time should not be wasted, but utilized, every precious moment (even if that is resting) to move ourselves forward in the creation of the reality we want to live.

Happiest with guitar or pen in hand, I have to be careful when picking up a hammer. Too easily the demands of our life distract us from our purpose. I am capable of building a wall around myself that keeps me from the very things that give me breath and urge my blood to flow. Apparently for good reason, we focus on our “shoulds”, days leading into weeks into months into years until our vision is so shaded our unhappiness and dysfunction seem the natural way of the world and we risk dying having barely lived.

Be observant, self-aware. Lead your life this day as if none will follow. Read these words, but then quickly move on to words of your own. LIVE.

After my Mankind Project weekend of New Warrior training, I adopted the mission statement that “I create a world of growth, prosperity and tolerance by loving action and celebration.” As a man among men, I grow, prosper and celebrate.

I am not yet able to do this every hour of every day, but the mission is imprinted in my sight, filtering so much more of what I do than in previous years. I am the happier man for it and am grateful for better friendships ringing with more laughter than tears.

Please share with your friends

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Over the Rainbow

What a lucky man am I!

At recess in the fourth grade, without knowing how to make a note, I remember the feel of my friend’s guitar, how it just seemed to fit against my body. Two years later, in a class of twelve, ten of us got guitars and started learning the folk songs we had been singing all year with our teacher, Ellie (who trades emails with me 45 years later!).

Another teacher encouraged me to try out for the variety show in high school after I had played him the first song I had written. My friends teased me only a little bit when I jammed along with the Dead and the Allman Brothers at our parties. In college, they faithfully came to coffee houses where I stumbled through a growing list of originals snuck in between the covers.

My greatest supporter, of course, has been my mother, who noticed when I chose not to bring the guitar on a camping trip (no complaint or relief, just noticed). She tolerated all the bad notes and patiently sat through renditions where the phrases did not work at all. Even today, as far away as she seems to be, her eyes light up with tears of some distant memory when I play for her during our visits. Even if she doesn’t understand, I still make sure she hears the newest ones and the stories around them, the joys and pains.

And after all this time of striving to imitate the sounds in my head, we have spent the last week in a studio, bringing them out nearly as clearly as I had imagined. It is a birthing project, and like a good parent, I feel myself preparing to stand aside and let the songs go out into the world, to stand or evaporate as only time will tell.

Twenty-four years ago, again in transition from a marriage to a new life (the one before this one), I made a worthy effort to get them down with the technology then available. We stood in a bathtub draped with blankets to cushion the sound and layered tracks full of ideas that trickled out, but never solidified. Once in awhile, I listened to them, full of content with just a single verse and a half, a little wistful for what could have been.

This time, I declare the project will be completed and the first third of my songs will soon lay out there as the best that I can do. Compromise is always necessary, but will be minimized to give them the best chance of surviving on their own.

The luck comes in that I have crossed paths with such genuinely happy and talented souls who are encouraging and supporting the project to such a degree. Through Facebook, email and other sources, I can upload the day’s latest effort and get nearly instantaneous worldwide feedback on what sounds good or should be redone. My sister in Oregon can point out where I am flat, the way she used to from the other room in our home growing up.

The long and late hours at KTR Studios was as much energizing as exhausting because of the enthusiasm of Kyle who adopted the songs as his own, learned to love them, twisting the knobs to enhance their shape and texture. By the second night, he had enlisted other musicians to contribute guest tracks to fill out the sound. Corm, the assistant, asked eagerly to take a copy home after having heard them ad nauseum for two nights.

Most importantly, I am astounded by the dedication given by my band mates who tirelessly give themselves to this process of birth. Sporadically compensated (at best) for gas money and some good meals, but not at all for the countless hours of hard work three times a week for months that has been required to bring us this far, their contributions of spirit as well as notes has been vital to the process.

Ian pounds the drums with youthful exuberance, but with such perfect measure we can only tease him and not complain, holding the vision for the rest of us of the tour bus and rounds of golf he is sure we will have between shows across the country…this summer(!). Dan quietly intensifies his licks across the songs and steps to the microphone to sharpen the vocals. Kent focuses on the bass notes with relentless precision to learn the songs properly and sports a big grin and shots of whiskey to make sure we none of us take ourselves too seriously.

This experience humbles me. For no reason I can fathom and against all odds that they should persevere, these songs have appeared and stayed with me to insist on their existence. They soothe my soul to give them life. Playing them in this physical dis-ease has provided relief better than any and all of the drugs prescribed by my doctor.

The music comes through me, not at all mine to own or brag about. To play it is to swim in a world of exotic waters, full of life and warmth and resuscitating energy, no matter where it may take me. It is impossible to experience without the support of all of you who are sharing this part of the journey with me.

My apartment is neglected and mal-Fung Shui’d, bills are piling and ignored, and the Redster rumbles and rattles in need of repairs. Regularly spasming, my body slowly rejuvenates to enable the surgery that will hopefully restore my health. My heart fills with love and new life, braiding the old and the new together. Surely such abundance was never imagined, yet surrounds me like a blanket, providing the warmth that lets me shout out how much I believe I am a lucky man.

Please share with your friends

Monday, February 8, 2010


At our gig over the weekend, I met Lisis Blackston, a blogess who writes so well about creating a balance in our lives. In ways that I can identify with so easily, she writes about making changes using her own life as an example of an honest account of the ups and downs we all go through.

Although we had never met, I recognized her immediately as she entered with her husband and son. After reading her work for a month, I realized the adventure that was transforming her life had landed her in Vermont, making us neighbors no matter where she lived in the state.

We had been trading comments and then emails that went a little deeper. Lately, I was helping her investigate some options here in Burlington. Already feeling like friends, between sets, it was easy and delightful to sit together, get to know her family and cement a friendship that was only possible because of a connection made on the World Wide Web.

I have developed many such friends. In the last 15 years (has it really been that long?!), since first learning email, our lives have been transformed by a technological revolution perhaps as profound as the invention of the printing press. Social networking makes daily communication with people around the world an instantaneous phenomena that we now take for granted, opening such amazing doors and profoundly affecting the way we relate to each other.

Hayden Tompkins is another friend I have never met, but hold very dear. Via her blog, “Through the Illusion”, I have witnessed her movement from lawyer’s office to self-improvement encourager of awesome to work in child abuse prevention. So honest and forthright about the emotional challenges in her life, she demonstrates how an optimistic attitude can blast away nearly any roadblock.

Privately through email, we have supported each other through trials as enthusiastically as celebrating the successes in our blogs. I have never heard her voice and barely know her eyes, but appreciate how much she has been cheering on my humble advances.

Through Myspace, I have discovered a wealth of talented musicians. Seeing that one was coming to town from Toronto, by the time she arrived, I had gotten to “know” her and practiced her songs well enough online to join her on stage when she got here. Brave enough to take the risk, Emma Cook could perform with an additional guitar and vocals without the expense of travelling with her band.

Many other bloggers and musicians I have gotten to know in this year, or followed for a time and peek back in occasionally to see their message is still strong and clear. Some I have listed on my sidebar, but life flows too quickly to stay current or give enough accolades where they are deserved. It is a limitless exploration that allows us into the hearts of so many wonderful people.

Since my confinement to the couch, with just a few small windows looking into the woods and out to the Car Wash, I have been able to stay quite social on facebook, finding and pouncing on a wide variety of friends whenever they log on. High school friends not seen in 40 years and people in China I have never met give me insight to their daily lives, connections to humanity to remind us that we are all not so very different in our hungers and thirsts, passions and insecurities.

And like any wonderful distraction, there are dangers and excesses that hurt as much as give pleasure. Desperately frustrated in the waning years of my marriage, I compulsively resorted to sites on the internet—in hopes of finding some sort of appreciation—no matter how illusory—for the man I could be. Inappropriate and miss-guided, devastatingly hurtful to the withering marriage, the temptation depleted my energy to deal with reality in a healthy way.

Recently, in a burst of insensitive enthusiasm, I emailed one of my lesser quality songs to an old and refound friend because it had originated vaguely from an experience we had shared in the ninth grade. Typical of teenage naïveté, the song blasphemed a mutual friend who had been brave enough to open her heart and did not deserve the laughter I occasionally made over it these many years since. Before our renewed friendship could really take hold and prosper, she was offended enough to block me and request I never contact her again. The ease of overexposing ourselves online makes me regret my behavior and the loss of my ability to talk to someone who matters to me.

Today, I watch my son constantly text on the phone and chat through instant messaging, a fabric of friendships as natural to him as smiles and handshakes. This generation is raised on an entirely different set of rules and expectations (if there are any at all). In the middle of the night, through cams, they can peek into each other’s rooms more comfortably than I ever took a date to the movies. The effect of this on their relationships will be most interesting to witness, but I am clearly not one to judge since I am now twice divorced and sitting alone on the couch.

They are on their own, with only our foibles to help them.

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