Monday, February 27, 2006

Busy Monday

Got off to an early start today. Returned books to the library, then took car to get an oil change and tire rotation on the way to work, then left shortly after arriving at work to donate blood - I'm working on my 19th gallon (I still haven't donated as much as my previous wife received during her treatment for leukemia in 2002-03). This afternoon I have a dentist appt. to have an old crown removed and get prepped for a new one. Tonight we pick up a friend at the airport, who's promised to take us out to dinner afterwards. Somewhere between getting home and leaving for the airport I may either (1) go to Jazzercise or (2) run through the songs again that I'll play tomorrow night with a singer-songwriter.

I've been on hold almost the entire time I've been at work this morning with VZ, from whom I retired in 1998 and from whom I receive health and dental care insurance. My coverage through one provider ends tomorrow night, and my new provider's coverage is supposed to begin Mar. 1. But my information didn't get through, although VZ has promised twice to send it but didn't. Now I just got off the phone with someone from another department in VZ, who promised me (again!) to have it taken care of within 48 hours, hopefully this afternoon. Well, we can hope! His call will probably ring my cell while I'm in the dentist chair this afternoon (Buzzzzzzz Buzzzzzzz.....Owwwwwwch!).

Overall, though, life is good.

Now, for something completely different...

Did you see those silly closing ceremonies for the Olympics last night? A clown band playing "YMCA?" Whassup with that! It was like they tried to think of everything possible to make fun of the Olympics. We thought the music selection throughout the Olympics was really bizarre! Whassup with those 70s disco songs they were playing last week? Maybe they exhausted their budget before selecting music and had to settle for what they could find in the K-Mart cut-out bin.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Music career taking off

Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from an up and coming young singer;
just graduated with an undergraduate degree in the recording industry.
She wanted to know if I could fill in for a pedal steel player in her band next Saturday night at a well-known local club.
I agreed, and she brought over the CDs with 42 songs for me to learn;
six of them originals.

It's "outlaw country," such as Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, etc.
Perfect for a blues/boogie piano style like mine.
She has a fantastic voice;
somewhat like Reba McIntire, only younger.

Wife and I listened to the tunes yesterday afternoon and agreed that it was perfect music for me.

On top of that, I've agreed to accompany another singer-songwriter
this coming Tuesday at a local club
doing his originals, which are pretty much "mainstream country" in style
and may also appear at his writers' night next Friday.

On Feb. 16 I accompanied three singer-songwriters at another local club,
doing folkie-type originals.

So things are taking off.

It's great fun that I'm playing such different styles of music,
and so many originals, too.
I want to continue to do more of this,
and also co-write and teach piano improvisation,
so that maybe by the time I retire in 6 years or so,
I'll have built up enough of a musical career to supplement Social Security.

I love the feeling of self-confidence that I have earned over the 45 years I've played professionally.

It wasn't always thus.

I used to be quite shy and unsure of my abilities.
I worked and worked to play everything right,
and was always pleasantly surprised when someone commented on my playing.

Now, although I'm still nervous before a performance,
and I still work very hard to learn the songs,
I know beforehand that I'm gonna kick ass.

This relaxes me and allows me to play my best.
My Achilles' Heel was always nervousness,
worrying too much about mistakes
instead of letting my creative impulse do its magic.

And it is magic.

I don't know where this stuff comes from;
just that I've always heard music in my head
from my earliest remembrances.

Now I get to reap the rewards
of years and years spent playing in bands of all kinds,
all those hours spent teaching my fingers how to make music.
Now my fingers reward me with music of their own,
unmediated by the cerebral cortex.
It's all muscle memory,
or spinal memory.
Instinct, you might call it.
But it's instinct honed by decades of playing experience,
desire honed by hard times and obstacles to overcome.

Difficult personalities in bands,
Competing priorities of family and music,
My first wife's suspicions that I was really running around with other women
when I was making music, not making time.

First marriage broke up after 26 years,
then I moved to Nashville to start a new life
with a new wife.

Went on the road full-time with a country-rock band in 1999.
Traveled over 7,500 miles in just a few months.
Seven of us crammed into a 1991 Econoline,
playing casinos and clubs around the US.
I wrote a book about that experience
and hope to publish it some day.

Toured with Leroy Van Dyke in 2000,
just before I landed my day job
that now sustains us.

On the first date of that tour, I got to meet
Jett Williams,
Johnny Russell,
and several other Opry stars.

The next date was in northwestern Wisconsin
the Syttende Mai festival in the tiny town of Westby.

Sometimes this stuff is almost too surrealistic.

Here I am a grown man, 60 years old,
a white collar worker with a degree from William & Mary,
playing music professionally
with kids a third of my age,
but feeling completely at ease,
even admired for my skills.

Life is good.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Last night I had a dream about attending some kind of professional conference with my wife. I got lost and confused at the airport. I recall wandering around, looking for wherever I was supposed to be and worrying that I was too late or in the wrong place.

I was also worried that I hadn't brought the right clothes, or enough clothes. Wife was encouraging, and I finally found stuff to wear. But I have this weird memory of not being completely dressed, or being inappropriately dressed. The people at the conference were laughing and making inside jokes, just like I remember from my old Telephone Company days when the same group would gather once a year in some airport motel and reconnect with old friends. But I was a stranger to these people. I can't remember now and maybe during the dream didn't even know why I was there, and I felt like I had to meld in with the crowd.

At one point I remember pulling out some old jeans and remarking that they needed washing. This was probably a hangover from "real life," because we have a lot of washing to catch up on today from our recent journeys.

Maybe this dream was a reflection of my general feeling of being like a fish out of water sometimes. This happens in various settings, including professional music engagements with other musicians and also in professional gatherings associated with work. I'm used to being an outsider and also accustomed to the vague uneasiness of not knowing exactly what to do, what to say or what to wear. In small groups I'm fairly comfortable, especially if the discussion is about something with which I am familiar. But in large groups, whether they be social or professional settings, I typically have this "fish out of water" sensation.

I play music professionally (not for a living though), so people see me up on stage and see that I'm comfortable with being the center of attention. But they don't realize that the comfort level they witness is due to my competence at playing keyboards. I'm really not much of a "life of the party" kind of guy but instead highly introspective. That's why blogging has such an attraction for me.

Sleeping in on Saturday morning

It's 9:40 a.m. on Saturday, and I've just finished my first cup of coffee and fried up some bacon for us to have when wife wakes up. We both slept in, but she needs the extra rest more than I. We've endured an exhausting couple of weeks, starting with a delightful trip to Fall Creek Falls State Park for my birthday/Valentine's Day. Fun, but exhausting.

Then last weekend as we were recuperating from that trip and starting to unpack, we got the call from Florida that wife's favorite uncle had just passed away. So on Monday we packed up and made the 500-mile trip down for the funeral, which happened at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. We didn't leave until 3:30 and drove 8 hours through driving rain a good bit of the way to get home about midnight. I had to get up and go to work on Thursday and Friday, so the house is a wreck with two trips' worth of stuff waiting to be washed and put away.

We're also going to make a trip later this morning to AAA to get maps and a TripTik for wife's upcoming voyage to Florida. This time the trip is for a vacation with a girlfriend and her girlfriend's mother. I'll be okay here - I need to get taxes done anyway. Plus, it's always more romantic when we reunite after being separated for a time. This will be our longest separation since we've been married. She really needs the break, and I can't think of anything more relaxing than walking on the beach looking for shells, watching the sunrise and sunset over the water and gazing at the long expanse of Gulf stretching out the horizon. We don't get those long views here in the hills of Middle Tennessee.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Frustrating morning


I just got off the phone with my health benefits provider. We were supposed to be enrolled with a new health care provider beginning Mar. 1, but since the new cards haven't arrived, I called to find out why. Verizon says they transmitted my file to the new provider Feb. 3, but when I called the new provider, they had no record of me. The VZ rep hung up on me while I was awaiting an explanation, so after calling back and wading through the voice prompts, I got another one who, after waiting, finally connected me with the new provider, who said the person I needed to talk with was not in the office and promised to have them call me back.

Today's trash day, and before leaving home this morning for work I wrestled the trash can out of the garage, only to have it hook on a shelf (because I didn't pull the car in far enough last night), spilling dozens of nuts & bolts on the floor.

Our water pressure has been very low the past couple of days, which makes it frustrating to take a shower. I made a note to myself to call the water company - but in 20 minutes I have to attend a lecture at work, so that may have to wait until later. But instead of attending the seminar, I'm going to have to wait for the healthcare provider to call back. I just called city hall, and they don't open until 9:00, so I'll just sit here and wait for the healthcare plan to call back.

On my way into work, I notice that I had forgotten to put in my hearing aid.


I hope the weekend goes smoother.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The two-edged sword of creativity

My son called while I was in FL. He had read the post about my tendency to sabotage myself by procrastinating. He remarked that it was exactly like him and wondered how to combat this sometimes self-destructive tendency.

I reminded him that the things that make he and I different from everyone else can have a two-edged sword effect. We both have this ability to call upon a tremendous source of creativity and to come up with brilliant solutions to problems that no one else can conceive. But at the same time, this ability to abstract from the current "nuts & bolts" situation to a radically new solution also has its downside.

We are working on a deadline for a mundane but important project, and we find ourselves distracted by the completely unrelated thoughts. My wife calls this, "Look, there's a chicken!"

The name of this blog actually draws from an early childhood experience of mine that points up this trait. When I was about three years old I rode my tricycle around the block. My mother drove around frantically looking for me. When she caught up with me and asked why I had ridden so far from home, I replied, "My imagination ran away with me." And so the trait of a runaway imagination is what this post is about.

I draw upon this same well of creativity in my music. Listeners marvel at my ability to come up with novel melodic lines for original music. I can't explain exactly where this comes from, but I think it's from the same place.

People think I have musical "talent," and they believe that people are just born with it. They must think I came out of the womb playing the piano. But it wasn't like that at all. I took lessons for ten years (age 6 to 16), just plodding along from Leila Fletcher Lesson Book 1 to Book 2, etc. I never thought of myself as having any particular talent, and I wasn't a brilliant pianist, but I always loved music.

Even when I joined my first band, it was hard, hard work. I had to invent ways of remembering chord progressions, because I have a terrible memory. I had to make lots and lots of mistakes but kept on with it because I loved it so much. I had to have a guitar player show me how to play rhythm guitar parts on the piano, because most popular songs had no piano parts to emulate. Even today when presented with a new song to learn, I have to work on every part to get it right. So I don't see the results of inborn talent as much as the results of years of hard work.

However, I do HEAR things in my head. No, not voices - but music. I can hear stuff that I want to play. The inspiration is buried somewhere deep inside my psyche, and it finds its way to my fingertips through the hard work that it took to train the right synapses to open and close at the right time.

I believe the majority of people in a society are followers, and that a tiny minority is blessed/cursed with the inspiration to try new things. It's a good thing that everyone isn't this way, or we'd never find a consistent direction.

I also find myself being a follower sometimes. Sometimes I'd just rather put my head down and do the mindless work of spreadsheet entry or summarizing hundreds of pages of boring testimony. So in many ways I'm often at opposite extremes. Sometimes I want to be leading the pack, and sometimes I want to blend in with everyone else.

I'm my own worst enigma.

However, it's comforting to know that my son shares these same traits. I see his brilliance, and I see his Achilles Heel, because they are one and the same. I is gratifying to know that I have the chance to be a true mentor to my son, because I never got to enjoy that kind of relationship with my own father. I also know that my father never got to have it with his own father. If my son can understand and accept his true nature at this age (33), he has the potential to realize a completely fulfilling life.

My son and I may be starting a new trend.

My son's daughter is the brightest star in my own personal family galaxy. I saw a unique light in her eyes the day she was born. The influences of her mother and her mother's family trouble me deeply, but I hope she is strong enough to resist them and become her own woman some day. If she's cut from anything like the same cloth as me and my son, she won't be able to be anyone else but her own woman.

Exhausted after long trip


We arrived home after midnight last night from a long trip to FL for wife's uncle's funeral. 1,000 miles in 3 days. Got in bed around 12:30 a.m.; phone woke me up at 8:00 a.m.; stumbled into work a little after 9:30. Took a sleeping pill to help me get to sleep last night, then drank a strong cup of coffee to wake me up this morning. So I'm feeling a bit jangly, but know it will pass with time.

Sitting here in the midst of a pile of undone work, remembering the pile of stuff at home. We hadn't even unpacked from our Valentine's weekend trip before we had to repack for the funeral trip. He was my wife's favorite uncle; died at 71 from cancer. The funeral home was packed with family and friends, most of whom I didn't know but had seen in 2003 when we went down for her grandfather's funeral. Funeral was at 2:00 p.m.; left around 3:30 p.m. Drove through some bad thunderstorms on the way home through Alabama. Temp was 73 when we left but 38 when we got home.

Wife's sleeping in; hope she awakes refreshed, but I'm pretty sure she's gonna be exhausted just like me.

This has been a tough stretch for us on several fronts.

We had a difficult period right after Valentine's after I made a stupid statement.

The long trip to FL rekindled memories of the rescue trip we made less than 4 months ago to Illinois to bring wife's sister and 3 young children back to FL from an abusive husband, only to have her sister pack up and return just after Xmas.

We were also reeling from the disrespectful "presents" that my daughter's husband sent to me along with pictures and cute drawings from the grandchildren. This also brought back painful memories from the rescue trip we had made in the summer of 2004. Upon her frantic call for help, we drove 650 miles to her house, only to have him rudely and disrespectfully expel us from his house after the restraining order expired.

The combination of all these events has added to the stress my wife's been under since she had to resign her job in early November. That breakdown happened partially as a result of the rescue trip for her sister, which precipitated a series of panic attacks. She's been slowly climbing out, with the help of a good therapist and change of medication. But the external stressors haven't helped matters at all.

So here I sit at my computer, drinking water to help flush out my system and get things working again.

Also allowing the effects of the sleeping pill/coffee to wear off and let me feel more like my "normal" self (whatever that may be!).

Tonight we're taking a friend to the airport at 6:30, after which we'll finally have an evening at home together.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dream II

Maybe the hole in the path refers to my unfortunate habit of sticking my foot in my mouth.
The path is clear, until I step in this hole
created by my own stupidity.

My mouth comes open,
and this shit just comes tumbling out.
Stuff that hurts me;
stuff that hurts others.

I can't seem to keep myself from doing it
any more than I can seem to keep myself from procrastinating,
even though I know in my heart of hearts
that my delay (or in this case the words I speak)
will lead to my ruination
requiring much patching-up.

But of course when you say something,
it's said.
Like squeezing toothpaste from a tube.
You can't put it back in once it's out.
And so you can't un-say words once they're spoken.
You can't run the clock backwards and meet a deadline
or research a paper you should have written months ago.

So you're stuck with a "C" average
even though you may have been an "A" student inside.

And so, to get back to the dream,
I'm precluded from reaching my destination
until I fill the hole back up again.

But the tide comes in, preventing me from traversing the path
or filling in the hole.

But the path wasn't just for me;
it was for other people too.
So my errors cause heartache for other people,
throwing them off their trajectory.

Maybe this makes sense,
and maybe it doesn't.


I remember parts of a dream last night.

I was enrolled in some kind of college.
There was a championship game between UNC and the Vols (UT),
but I can't remember what the sport was;
I think it was basketball, though I don't remember seeing them play.
I recognized one of the UNC players and wondered why.
Perhaps I had seen his face earlier in my dream.

Earlier I was supposed to be doing my assignments.
I wrote them down in a black notebook,
but never got them accomplished.

We were seated in a big auditorium where some kind of choral number was to be performed.
I had the notebook in my hand as I walked down the steep stairs on one side,
dodging people who were sitting on the stairs.
Then when I got to the bottom of the stairs, I realized my notebook was gone,
so I went back up to try and find it,
but of course there were many others like it,
and I remember thinking that I should've put my name on the outside.

Earlier in the dream I was supposed to help fill in a big hole in the middle of a path in the woods.
Something had been removed from it, causing a large depression right where people would be walking.
With someone else's help, I was moving dirt from a nearby pile to fill in the hole.
I noticed a wheelbarrow and thought that would help.
But nightfall came, and we had to stop.
The next day I found the whole place was covered with water - maybe 3 or 4 feet.
So we had to wait until the tide went out before we could resume our work.

All during the dream I remember thinking that there was something I should be doing,
but I wasn't getting it done.
This is a familiar feeling for me.
I was the world's worst procrastinator in college,
leaving important work until the last possible minute.
But starting each semester with the full determination to "turn a new page."

I also do that at work now.
I create little emergencies for myself
by waiting to do important tasks until the last minute,
sometimes being late.
Then always rescuing myself with a heroic effort.
But always knowing that I could have done much better.

I know this tendency to sabotage myself comes from somewhere deep inside me.
I can't explain why I do it.
It never has any value.
It always causes me pain in the long run.

This was present even in my elementary school years,
when I was always recognized for having great potential,
but never living up to it.

Maybe that's the message here.
My parents berated me for not living up to my potential,
and I took that message to heart.
I believed them.

Then there was my retarded sister,
who was always excused from any duties
and rarely punished as I was.

So I always had to live with the knowledge
that I had all this potential and never lived up to it,
whereas my poor sister was born with a deficit
and could not be expected to live up to anything.

Was I punishing myself in some way?
Why did I do that,
and why do I still do it?

It's one of those abiding mysteries about myself
that I'm continually trying to unravel.

Maybe the dream was a reminder of that issue.
As I sit here in the office with my taxes undone,
knowing that I should be working on them instead of blogging.

See how it works?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Grasping the Truth, one piece at a time

Life is like a river. You cannot know where it begins, see all its tributaries or tell where it ends when you are swimming in its flow. You can only know its path when you step back and view it from a distance.

It is impossible to grasp all of the Truth at once. Every now and then I will glimpse one small part of it. I write it down, and then at another time I will glimpse another part of the Truth. I see my understanding developing like a mosaic, or a puzzle picture. One piece after another is added, one at a time. But sometimes I will see the same part of the Truth from a perspective, like viewing a three-dimensional object from different angles. This makes the analogy more like a holographic mosaic.

I like to write. As long as I can remember, I felt had the urge to put down on paper my inner feelings at times when I feel inspiration welling up inside of me. Below is the result of one of these sessions that will provide some insight into how I feel about the meaning of my existence.

My roots

I am native of the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, but none of my ancestors have roots there. My father was born and raised in Gordon, a small town in northwestern Nebraska. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college. The following will explain why my Dad was born in Nebraska.

My dad’s ancestors
Granddad Bill
My father’s father William David (“Bill”) was born in Crawford, Nebraska on October 24, 1893. Bill moved with his family to Dunlap, Iowa and to Irwin and Leat, Nebraska before he married. He was employed at the Bert Hull Ranch, north of Gordon in his earlier years and loved to play baseball on the team when he worked at the Hull Ranch. He hired on as a Section Laborer with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in March 1915, out of Eli, Nebraska. In January 1916 he came to Gordon as a Section Foreman; he continued as Section Foreman for 30 years, until he was appointed Roadmaster for Section One out of Valentine, Nebraska (a post he held for five years until his retirement in 1951 at age 58).

Bill’s ancestry
Bill was descended from another William who came to Massachusetts on the ship “Defense” from England in 1635. Like me and many of my ancestors, this William undertook a major Odyssey relatively late in life. He was 48 years old when he made the arduous crossing of the Atlantic with his wife Mabel and children, aged six, five and two. I am descended from Ralph, the five-year old.

Four generations later, one of Ralph’s descendants, Supply, would fight in the Revolutionary War.

Pioneers of the New World
The reason that my Dad was born in Nebraska instead of Massachusetts has to do with a new religion that took hold in New England in the early part of the 19th century.

Mormon founder
One of Supply’s sons, John would become one of the earliest associates of Joseph Smith, who lead the Mormons out of New England to begin their great migration across the plains. The church was organized on April 6, 1830, and John was baptized into the faith the following September 12, one month shy of his 47th birthday. This made him one of the oldest followers of Joseph Smith. Once again, we find one of my ancestors who undertook a major new path at a time in life when most men are settling down to enjoy the fruits of their lifelong labors.

But John would never make it to Salt Lake City. Apparently he left Nauvoo with the main group of Mormons in 1846 but he did not make it to Utah, stopping in Iowa. As the Mormons moved west across Iowa, they established several semi-permanent settlements where they built cabins and planted crops. These stations provided rest and provisions for wagon trains that followed during the next few years. It was at one of these communities, Long Point, Bonaparte, Van Buren Co., Iowa that John died at age 65. This town is across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo, Illinois, where the Mormons fled during the religious uprisings that chased them from town to town across the West. His wife Rebecca died four months later in Pottawattamie County, across the Missouri River from the main Mormon camp, Winter Quarters, near Omaha, Nebraska.

Two generations of farmers
One of John’s sons was another Bill, named William Willard. He founded a little town in Iowa called Manteno. One of William Willard’s sons was George Riley, who had eleven children, one of whom was my granddad Bill.

The Irish grandmother I never knew
My father’s mother was Mae Mary. Her grandparents came from Ireland in the mid-1800s. The O’Rourks first settled in Wisconsin and then moved west to Nebraska.

My dad
His family
Granddad Bill was handsome as a young man, with steely blue eyes and a stance that proclaimed his toughness in an era of tough guys. Bill married Mae Mary on November 3, 1912 at the age of 19. My dad was born seven and a half months later, on June 14, 1913. Dad’s brother Tom was born on February 12, 1917. Mae Mary would die at home during childbirth in September 1931, when my dad was eighteen years old, a senior in high school.

My dad
My father, Emery Arnold (we share the same name) was known as a champion baseball and football player. He earned the nickname “Cy” for his baseball skills. In those days football players wore only leather helmets and almost no padding. They played on both offense and defense. Dad played center, and was known to throw his helmet off and play without one to impress a girl. He was a handsome young lad, with curly hair, cool blue eyes and a tall, muscular physique.

Dad graduated in 1935 from Nebraska State College in nearby Chadron four years later with an A.B. degree. Following graduation, he traveled to Washington, DC to put himself through law school and find work. My dad wanted more than anything to escape the lifestyle of the small town in which he was raised. I also suspect that the sudden death of his mother left him with a painful memory that he wanted to leave behind in the sandhills of the Great Plains.

My mom
My mother, Mildred Lucille, was also raised in a small town. Hers was Plant City, in central Florida. Millie came from a long line of college-educated women, including her grandmother. She also came to DC following college graduation to find work. Both of my parents wanted to escape from the small town lives in which they had been raised. This was the time of the Great Depression, and young people flocked from small towns all across the country to find work and begin new lives in the growing economy of Washington, DC.

Mom’s ancestry
Reuben Philips, Pioneer, Teacher, Preacher and Musician
My mother’s mother was Ruth Phillips, and Ruth’s great-grandfather was Reuben Philips. Reuben was born in 1795 in the frontier of western North Carolina, near Asheville. He came from a line of Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian preachers. In those days the people of the small frontier towns had to create their own social institutions. If they wanted to educate their children, they had to find a person who could read and write, and they had to construct a building, or devote someone’s house or a church building to the purpose. Reuben Philips’ autobiography has been passed down in my mother’s family. I have held the original manuscript in my hands, and it is now in the possession of my mother’s sister, Edna Ruth Shaw. My mother’s attic contained a typewritten transcript of Reuben’s autobiography, from which I have learned much about his life.

Bringing culture to the mountains
Reuben’s father taught him how to read and write, using the Dikes Universal Spelling Book, the New Testament and the Shorter Catechism. As a young teenager, Reuben felt a calling to teach. His family was too poor to send him to school, but at age 14 he worked for a teacher in exchange for lessons in writing and arithmetic. The very next year Reuben taught his first school near the Swannanoa River, consisting of 22 students. He describes himself at age fifteen as weighing “precisely sixty pounds.” He made fifty cents per month, two-thirds of it in trade. By the time he was 20 years old, Reuben had begun to learn music from an itinerant music teacher. He caught on quickly and began teaching singing schools in addition to teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. In those days musical notation was written in what is today called “shaped note” style. By age 22, he had begun to give his young students “moral lectures,” as he calls them, and by 23, he felt the need for religion tugging at his heart. In August of 1825, at 30 years old, Reuben finally received his license to preach, or “license to Exhort,” as he puts it. During his lifetime, he traveled throughout western North Carolina, Alabama, eastern Tennessee and Georgia, teaching his singing schools, educating the children of frontier families and spreading the Gospel.

My roots are far away
The Great Depression was at its height when my parents graduated from college in the late 1930s. Like so many young people of that time, their only hope for a future was to move to the city. Washington, DC was one of the few cities that offered an opportunity for smart young people. My dad came 1,500 miles to Washington, DC, and my mom moved 900. Because my parents moved so far away from their homes, I grew up without much regular contact with cousins, grandparents or aunts and uncles. It has only been in my adult life that I have come to know about my ancestry and become acquainted with many of my relatives scattered across the continent.

Where I come from

This was written several years ago and expresses one of those "Ah-Ha" moments, where I immediately grasped the essence of my existence.

Here I sit on a park bench in Nashville, Tennessee, taking my lunch hour on October 25, 2000. I ponder who I am and from where I come.

“Do I exist only in this moment, or do I exist partly in the past? Some of my experiences now reflect back on my memories, so some of me must be in that past moment right now. How can that be? Time is a subjective experience for my mind. Sometimes it goes slower, sometimes faster. Sometimes I am caught up totally in the moment, as when playing music. Other times will find me deep in memories.

“But what of existence? Some part of me is always replacing itself. My body’s cells continuously make copies of themselves, so that in seven years every cell has been replaced. So, when do I exist, and what is the ‘me’ that exists? So it seems that my existence is defined by a set of memories. The DNA in my cells knows how to make an almost-perfect copy of itself. My neurons must know how to copy themselves, or I would lose all memories every seven years. And so I exist now, and I exist in a past time through my memories.

“And so the continuity of life is maintained through a series of memories. Memories. In the same way, I am full of memories of my ancestors. My parents’ DNA combined – just one cell from Mom and one cell from Dad. And they themselves were created by a set of instructions that knew how to make a complete copy of each of their own parents. And on and on it goes.

“So I exist in the now, and I exist in the then. And all of my ancestors exist in me. And if we go back far enough, somewhere in me are the instructions for making photosynthesis and for making a single-celled organism.

“I am one with the Universe. I am one with the past, and I am one with every experience in my life. I flow with the River of Time and with the River of Life, for they are one with me.”

Trading philosophy for a shirt, June 1999

I wrote the following to a Sioux Indian whom I met while playing on the road with a country-rock band in 1999. We spent a week at the Fort Randall Casino in Wagner, SD. )The movie, "Dances with Wolves" was filmed not far from here. The Indian had several names, which I list at the beginning. He liked our music and used to hang around drinking beer and talking with us during breaks. The guys in the band traded various things with him. I had nothing to trade, but told me about a vision and wondered what it meant, so I penned the following philosophy, for which he traded me a beautiful red shirt. He was trying to find his purpose in life, so I tried to come up with something appropriate.

Writing for a new friend:

To my friend Ben White Shoulder Horse
Sacred Butterfly
Old Man Grizzly Bear Chief
Fort Randall Casino
Wagner, SC
June 4, 1999

"A Stranger is but a friend we have yet to meet."
"All who wander are not lost."
"All that is gold does not glitter."
J. R. R. Tolkien

All living things are brothers and sisters, and the earth is our mother. We all dance to the rhythms of life on the tightrope of time.

Your vision of the half-day, half-night man signifies to me that we all have one foot in the future and one foot in the past. This man protects family, and all of Creation is our family.

God gives each of us a special gift. Our families nurture, protect and encourage us to develop our gift. As adults, we learn how to give our gift back to the universe.

In the same way, the plants draw their nourishment from the soil and produce fruits, which they share with all of their brothers and sisters. One day our bodies themselves will return to enrich the earth from which they were formed. While we draw breath, we can bear fruit to share with our brethren. Our special gift produces the fruit we share. As a man matures into adulthood, he begins to learn the nature of his gift.

God has given each of us humans the extraordinary capacity to exercise free will. This means that we may choose to withhold our gift from the world. The Bible speaks of a man hiding his light under a bushel. We can choose to remain barren or to bear fruit.

Old men and philosophers search for the purpose and meaning of life. If we step back and view all of Creation as a unified whole, we can see that all living things are co-creators with God. All life fashions existence from void, fruit from dust. A healthy plant will produce good fruit. A healthy man produces fruits from his labors. He shares these fruits with all of his brothers and sisters. In this way, he repays his mother earth and his father God for the gift of breath.

Each man and woman has a unique vision of the Truth. As we express this vision through the lens of our special gift, we produce Beauty. Artists of all kinds bear their fruit by creating Beauty. "Truth is Beauty, and Beauty is Truth. This is all ye know, and all ye need to know."

Go forth now and bear your fruit. Enrich your brothers and sisters with the special gift that God the Creator has bestowed upon you.

Your friend,

Band memories 2

After leaving Chaddy and The Echoes, I joined a group called "The Shades." I played with The Shades for a few months during my Senior year (1964) at JEB Stuart High School in Falls Church, VA. I arranged for the band to be interviewed by the Washington Star's Fifi Gorska, who produced a weekly spotlight on local bands for the Friday edition.

I'm the second one on the left. Note our uniforms. In those days band members wore identical outfits, typically suit coats and ties. The formal approach to dressing was a direct descendant from the big band era, which was not quite over. I really did have about 500 tapes of music. I recorded songs from my parents' AM radio. The tapes are still in my basement on 5-inch reels.

The Shades were based out of rival Falls Church High School (I attended J.E.B. Stuart High). My comment in the newspaper article is heartfelt:" We try to blend ourselves, our music into the people so that the beat is carried to them personally." Also the comment about playing one song right after another. That has always been a trademark of what I try to do with bands. I figure the band's job is to entertain the audience, so we must see ourselves as entertainers, not just musicians. Therefore, the more music we play the better they'll like us. This is especially true in night clubs, where you don't want to give people enough time after a song ends to start to leave for their seats. So we always tried to play one song after another with no pauses in between.

The Beatles had made their American debut, and high school bands were starting to sprout up like toadstools after a rain. But I had a bit of a head start, because I had been playing in bands before The Beatles invasion.During the summer that followed my Senior year, I played several parties with The Shades as well as with another high school band, "The Tensions."

One Friday night The Tensions had two gigs. The first was broadcast by DJ Jack Alix on WEEL (AM radio) from an ancient honky-tonk bar called Hunters Lodge in Fairfax (which was waaaay out on the boonies in those days; in 1986 it was torn down to make room for a Home Depot.)

After that gig the band caravaned out to Great Falls, where we played for an after-prom party, which didn't break up until very late. They served us free booze there, so we all got pretty loose. One of the guitar players made himself a huge strong drink of some kind; I remember seeing him gulp it down, and the next time I looked up, all that was left of him was his guitar leaning against his amp.

That was one of those parties where we uncorked ALL the dirty lyrics (40 or s0) to "What'd I Say" (e.g., "See the girl dressed in black; she makes a living on her back." See the girl dressed in green; she goes down like a submarine. See the girl dressed in yellow; you don't know it but she's a fellow. See the girl dressed in pink' she's the one makes my fingers stink.") At one point, the lead singer just said, "Lick my dick!" instead of a verse. That threw all of us into a laughing fit. I remember seeing the sun rise as I was pulling into the driveway at home.

The following September I would begin classes at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. There I would help form "The Strangers." During the summer following my Freshman year at W&M, I would take a summer job in Ocala, FL, where I would help another upstart high school band, The Posmen, who a year later would become The Royal Guardsmen and enjoy the good fortune of a No. 1 hit with "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron."

Band memories 1

One day I shall write a book about my life playing keyboards (piano, organ) in bands. What follows in this post is a listing of a few of my early bands along with some stories. I intend to flesh all of this out with more stories, pictures and song lists - maybe even some sound clips. My intent is to convey to the non-musician what it is that compels musicians to play in bands. Some people think we do it for the money, but few of us ever earn enough to pay for our equipment. Some think we do it for the power, to meet girls or get free beer. But none of those motivations even come close to describing the experience of actually playing "live" in a band for an audience. Something magical happens, something that is difficult to put into words, but I shall try.

To begin with, here is the first photo I have of me playing in a band. This was "The Cavaliers," and there I am on the left sitting at the piano. I had taken 10 years of piano lessons by that time, but this was my first experience playing in a band. I was very nervous; perhaps you can sense my concentration and anxiety as it looks like the band leader, Morris Dubin, is about to whack me for playing a wrong note. The Cavaliers played strictly from sheet music. In later bands, I would learn how to improvise, which was a necessity, because none of the music for those bands was ever written down anyway.

Here is the song list from "The Redlighters," my first high school band that I joined in 1963, when I was 17. You see I had little to go on but the key of the tune. I wrote down the chords in a kind of shorthand music notation and carried this little notebook in my shirt pocket. I would use this same notation until I learned the Nashville Number System upon moving to Nashville in 1998.

I couldn't tell you now what many of those songs sounded like, except that they were guitar-based. You may recognize some of the titles, like Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" and Booker T & the MGs' "Green Onions." The titles of some of the songs (e.g., "Debbie's Collar") sound ridiculous, but perhaps one day I'll research them. Most of the songs were based on the simple chord progressions of the blues, with a minimal amount of vocals. Often no one in the band could sing very well, so we played a fair number of instrumentals. Sometimes we filled up time with blues jams. These were the days before The Beatles invaded America, which was a watershed event for American popular music.

Once my band played a high school prom for Brandywine High School in Prince Georges County, MD. They asked us to play a waltz for the promenade, but the only song we knew in 3/4 time was "Gravy Waltz," a jazz instrumental. We had to slow it down to half its usual speed to be suitable for the purpose. The prom was held in the gym, which was perfect for the purpose, except that it had no electrical outlets. I solved that problem by powering the entire band from the Exit sign, using an adapter and extension cords. I always like to be prepared.

In those pre-Beatles days, bands were often known as "combos" or "dance orchestras." The big band era was just coming to an end. If you look at the Top 40 list from the early 60s, you'll see many Frank Sinatra and other big band hits on the list, and my bands played their fair share of them. (e.g., "Sentimental Journey" and "Night Train." We also borrowed from jazz (e.g., "Misty").

At first I shared an amp with the lead guitar player, who also sang through the same amp. We would drop a microphone down the back of whatever upright piano happened to be handy, and I would bang on the keys as loud as I could. In those days bands used small amplifiers (maybe 40 or 50 watts), sitting the amps on the floor in front of the players so the audience could hear. I didn't play in band with a PA system until college. My college band, "The Strangers" (1964-68) purchased a Bogen 100-watt PA system. It looked like a suitcase - the speakers clipped together, holding the amp in the middle, so you could carry the whole thing in one hand. The open-backed speakers were typically hung on the wall, but basically all the frat boys were looking for was a beat to drink to. I wish I had a nickel for every time we played "Louie, Louie." In fact, I probably did make about a nickel every time we played that song.

But I digress (or do I "progress?") Well, anyway, back to the high school years. Before too long I purchased my own Wurlitzer Electric Piano, along with its own amp. My dad drove me up to Baltimore to Jason's Music, where I purchased the entire rig for about $150 (a lot of lawn mowing for me). The back of the amp came off to make the seat of the piano bench, whose legs also clipped inside of the amp, which was about 60 watts. I played that same setup until my Senior year in college, when I traded the Wurly for a "Panther" electric organ, which was basically a cheap knockoff of a Farfisa organ. By that time (1968), pianos had fallen out of favor in pop music, and I needed the organ sound to reproduce the hits of those days.

In my Junior year of high school, I played in a band called "Chaddy Graham & The Echoes." Here's our card:
That was my fist band to professionally record. We cut it at Edgewood Studios on K Street in Washington, DC. in two sessions. We put down the instrumentals first, then lead vocals, then a hand-clapping track to emphasize the rhythm. I still have the demo version, which is a metal record covered with a thin layer of plastic, into which the grooves are cut. Our two sides were "I Wanna Do It" and "Do It Anyway You Want." They played the songs over the high school PA system before classes in the morning. I remember the thrill of hearing my own music played and hearing people hum the tune in the hallway. We had visions of stardom, but shortly after we recorded those tunes, The Beatles had their first hit in the U.S. ("I Want To Hold Your Hand"). I remember us thinking that they sounded a lot like us. So we decided to hold off on releasing our song until the new fad subsided. As far as I know, Chaddy still has the old acetate master tapes.

Snow day

We woke up this morning to a newly-fallen layer of snow.
The woods behind our house had become a winter wonderland in the night
as a winter storm moved through Middle Tennessee.

Above is the view from our bedroom window.

We have eight bird feeders that hang off our deck, including one for sunflower seed, one for mixed seed, two thistle feeders, two suet cages and two hummingbird feeders that are awaiting the return of our little friends from the south. The long metal cans attached to the hangers keep the squirrels, raccoons and opossums from devouring the birdseed.

I then proceeded to set out a "bird party" of extra seed on the deck railing, which always attracts a crowd. Mr. Downey Woodpecker is feasting on the suet, while Mr. Cardinal is enjoying the seed along with a flock of goldfinches. Notice Mr. Squirrel looking for a bite in the grill.

And here's Mr. Squirrel enjoying an easy meal on the railing:

Our cat enjoys watching the wildlife too, but as soon as he saw me on the floor with the camera, he figured it was time to play.

Below is the view from our kitchen window.

After making wonderful, spontaneous love, I started the bacon cooking, toasted some homemade bread and made us an egg, bacon and cheese sandwich that we enjoyed while being entertained by our cat and the other wild creatures with whom we share this paradise.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Blurry Friday morning

It's a blurry Friday morning.

Last night I accompanied three songwriters at a local restaurant.
It was good; I played well.
My wife reluctantly came along,
and found the conversation of new good friends
and stimulating new music to be a tonic.
We didn't get home until after midnight,
and the alarm awoke me at 6:00 a.m.


Here I sit at my computer with my second cup of coffee
steaming by my side,
promising to jolt me into consciousness
sufficient to make it through the day.

I have an appointment this morning at 10:00
with my therapist to discuss the issue with my daughter, son-in-law
and my wife.

The question is whether or not to respond to my daughter's email
and if so, how.
I drafted an angry, self-righteous reply
that satisfied my and my wife's need
to express our indignation and disrespect we feel from them.

My daughter's email gave away her little secret.
Her husband had picked out those disrespectful gifts;
she hadn't put a second of thought
into picking out a gift or a card
for her dad's 60th birthday.

She crowed about how her husband
waded through 5000 pictures
to print out the best ones to send me.
Then emphasized that he would never apologize
because "it's too far in the past"
and I should consider the summer 2004 incident "water under the bridge."

She forgets about how her husband disrespectfully taunted me then
after ordering us out of his house upon his return
after the restraining order expired.
He mockingly said as I was packing up our things,
"You seem to be having trouble, old man"
along with many other disrespectful things
said right in front of my grandchildren.

Now I learn that he was the one
who picked out the "Old Dude" hat and the dead frog coffee mug
as "presents" for my birthday.
She thinks that bygones should be bygones,
but she forgets that he still carries a grudge
over my making them move out of my mom's house in late 1997
after I decided to sell it in order to move to Nashville.
They couldn't even pay me enough to cover the taxes on the property,
yet they felt like they had a right to stay there indefinitely.
(Mom died in late 1996.)

Now I must deal with my wife's emotions in addition to my own.
Her feelings of neglect and victimization,
memories of me not standing up for her
by not standing up to my son-in-law in 2004
when I knew that to do so would only provoke a fight.
I knew my best option was to stay silent
and let him rage.

Now in the face of this self-serving letter from my daughter,
I must once again weigh the pros and cons.
Whether to reply full of anger and indignation
or remain silent,
and allow my silence to register my refusal
to buy into my daughter's fantasy world
or legitimize her husband's continued disrespect
toward me and my wife.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The love of a good woman and respect from a good friend

I arrived home last night around 8:15 after a rehearsal for tonight's gig.
My lovely wife greeted me as always with a warm kiss.
Those eyes looked deep into my soul,
and told me without a word that I am loved.

The Post Office had delivered a package,
a birthday/Valentine's Day present and cards
from my daughter and her twin 8-year olds.
There were cute drawings,
little Harry Potter Valentines from the kids
and many great pictures of the kids, my daughter
and a few of the family including her husband.

Also included were a black baseball cap that said, "Old Dude - made of Achy, Breaky Parts"
and a coffee mug that said, "Old Croaker" complete with a caricature of a dead frog.
I put on the hat and mumbled, "huh."
My wife inquired, "What's bugging you?"
to which I replied, "Nothing, dear. I'm just tired from practice and hungry for supper."

But she persisted, insisting that she could tell something was wrong.
Finally she said, "You're disappointed, aren't you?"
I finally admitted, "Well, yes - I suppose I am."

Those gifts weren't meant for me.
They were meant for another person.
Someone who's dying physically and mentally.
Someone who's not me.

I may be 60, but I'm anything but falling apart.
I've been doing Jazzercise for 18 years;
I'm at my mental and creative peak.

Also on the table was a birthday card from a mutual friend.
Her card expressed true sentiments;
acknowledged me for being a good friend
over the two and a half years we've known one another.

Then it hit me.

Here is someone I've only known since 2003
who knows me better than my own daughter,
to whom I gave the breath of life.

Someone who's not related to me
actually understands the gifts I offer.
The gifts of trust, honesty, friendship
and sometimes help with maintaining her car.

My wife and I rescued my daughter
from a domestic abuse situation in the summer of 2004.
After receiving her frantic phone call in the middle of the night,
we pulled up stakes and made the 13-hour drive to her house.

He had hit her.
She had filed a report with the police,
and he spent that night in jail.
The judge issued a 72-hour restraining order.

She was scared for the safety of herself and her children.
Upon her request I accompanied her to the court house the next day
to fill out papers for a permanent restraining order
and child support.

But the next day she let him back in the house.
Her husband stood toe-to-toe with me,
spoiling for a fight
and angrily ordered us out of his house
in front of my grandchildren.

Since then according to my daughter, they've "patched everything up."
But I've heard nothing from him.

For months I called her every week,
inquiring if everything was okay.
She was polite and even friendly on our phone calls,
filling me in on the kids' activities
and sometimes describing things she and her husband had done together.

On one of my last phone calls
I reminded her that her husband's actions
precluded us from visiting them again
until he apologized for his behavior toward me and my wife.

I reminded my daughter of the pain it caused me
to know that my wife and I are separated from my own grandchildren,
whom I may never see again.

That we had responded to her desperate call for help.
Dropped everything,
missed my 40th High School reunion
to stand by her side in her moment of need.

and that now I felt discarded,
thrown out.

and my wife feels used and abused,
frightened of the monster that my daughter married.

I wanted to make it as clear as possible
that we had responded to HER call for help,
and now we are paying the price.

She refused to have her husband call me.
Said he doesn't like to talk on the phone.

So I suppose she thinks it's up to me
to call him and...



Of course my daughter is in denial.
Maybe she wants to believe that the incident simply didn't happen.
Maybe she wants to believe
that her husband didn't really say the mean, nasty things
that we all heard come out of his mouth.

Maybe she just wants to escape the awful reality
that she is married to an abuser,
and that she refuses to leave him.
Maybe out of fear,
maybe out of laziness.

She busies herself with babysitting three other children,
teaching voice students,
singing professionally
and raising twins.

Some day her busy world will stop,
and she will realize that she has discarded the love
of the one man on earth
who had more to give her
than anyone else.

Her own father.

And so as these thoughts cascaded through my mind last night,
my wife sat by my side,
her eyes filled with understanding and love.

She knew already what I at first didn't want to admit.
That I had been betrayed once again.

But I felt a greater reality,
the reality of her love.
Her abiding, unflinching love for me.

To be known and loved by a good woman,
to be respected and admired by a good friend,
these are the true gifts of a life well-lived.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Remembering a long and memorable Valentine's weekend

It was a long and glorious weekend of love.

We packed on Saturday, attended the early service Sunday morning and then after a quick lunch headed eastward to Fall Creek Falls state park. We took old U.S. 70 much of the way, which allowed us a more leisurely view of the countryside. During part of our journey we listened to one of the tapes from "Co-Dependent No More" by Melodie Beattie. As we drove along, the gently rolling hills of Middle Tennessee gradually gave way to the more mountainous topography of Eastern Tennessee. When we arrived, the park was blanketed in a fresh layer of snow, which continued to fall throughout Sunday night. It was a "perfect storm" in that the temperature didn't fall low enough to make roads slippery, but did allow plenty of snow to cover everything. We visited the famous Fall Creek Falls Monday afternoon and again Tuesday morning before leaving. We took plenty of pictures of the 256-foot cascade, which is the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi.

We checked into our cabin about 4:30 p.m., where I was successful in hooking up our XM Satellite Radio receiver to a boom box for constant non-commercial musical enjoyment. Sunday night was a full moon, which was obscured by the clouds; however on Monday night we got to see it rise over the lake.

We stayed in a "Fisherman's Cabin," which is built right out over the lake. It has a full kitchen, central heat and a wall of glass windows on the lake side that bathes the cabin in light during the day. Ducks and Canada geese swam up to (and under) our deck, beckoned by our presence for a possible handout (they were not disappointed). Monday night we took pictures of the full moon and the 2+ foot-long icicles that dangled over the water from the cabin roof. Shortly after we arose on Tuesday morning I saw most of them fall into the lake.

We stopped by Cookeville on our way to the park Sunday afternoon for provisions. That night we warmed up a turkey breast, my wife prepared stuffing, and I fixed us a salad. We watched a bit of the Olympics, but pretty much spent our time there without watching much TV. Monday night I broiled a steak in the broiler instead of attempting to barbecue on the outside grill, which was covered in snow. This was the first time I've broiled a steak in the oven; it was delicious! We also made a chocolate cheesecake Monday afternoon for my birthday (which was Tuesday - that's right - Valentine's Day). A friend of my wife sent her the recipe, which was simple and scrumptious.

Late Monday morning we drove up to Cookeville for an hour-long couples' massage, then had a quick lunch at a forgettable eatery (the "Soup Kitchen") before returning to the park for an afternoon of picture-taking. We drove the scenic loop that includes a stop at Fall Creek Falls, where we took lots of pictures. The sun was low in the sky by that time, giving us some great angles and interesting light on the newly-fallen snow. We visited the falls again Tuesday morning on our way out. My wife hiked with me down several snow-laden trails; I'm quite proud of her!

Tuesday after checking out, we traveled again up to Cookeville and this time had a memorable lunch at Bobby Q's barbecue. I highly recommend it.

Shortly after arriving home Tuesday afternoon, we changed clothes and headed out to a couples' seminar at the University School of Nashville, taught by practitioners of Imago. After "meet & greet," the couples were instructed how to perform two exercises. One was called "dialogue" and consisted of one person telling the other a specific thing they appreciated about the other person. Then the person hearing would repeat what the other person had said to them (this is so they would "take it in), and then say "You're welcome." This is the hardest part - it's easier to come back and say "Thank you" when some one appreciates something about you.

The second exercise was called "positive flooding," and I enjoyed it the most. One person sits in a chair, while the other one circles closely, talking to the seated person. You cover three areas in 30 seconds each: Physical, Emotional/Behavioral and Closing. While you are in front, you make eye contact, and during your talk you maintain physical contact with the seated person. During the physical part, you tell the person all the physical things you appreciate about her/him. During the emotional/behavioral part, you tell the person the aspects of her/his personality and behaviors that you most appreciate. During the closing, you have a "big finish," saying something like, "You're a goddess, and I worship at your feet." That's what I said, anyway.

Afterwards, filled with even more positive feelings about one another, we headed to a little Mexican restaurant near where we live, then headed home to relax on the couch for a little while before collapsing into bed, physically spent but emotionally fulfilled by our days and nights of love.

And yes, we did make love - a lot. It was fabulous.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Anticipating a long Valentine's weekend

I reserved a cabin for my wife and I on the lake at a beautiful state park for Sunday and Monday nights. We'll leave Sunday after church and take a leisurely cross-country drive (133 miles). We're supposed to get snow tonight and tomorrow, so hopefully we'll have a Winter Wonderland to enjoy. The park has many beautiful waterfalls, which should provide (weather permitting) ample opportunity for great photos.

I also reserved a couples' massage for us in a nearby town for Monday at Noon.

We're looking forward to a relaxing two days filled with making love, solitude, reading, making love, listening to music, sleeping in late, making love and making breakfast together.

Did I mention making love?

The cabins have only dial-up Internet, but the park lodge has wireless Internet, which will allow us to check email and so forth but not allowing the computer to suck away our attention in the cabin. Otherwise, the cabin is equipped with a full kitchen, VCR, cable TV and even a wood-burning stove (with wood supplied). The lodge has a big fireplace, where they keep a fire burning during the winter, and it also has a restaurant. It's full during the weekends, but we should pretty much have the park to ourselves on Monday and Tuesday.

Upon our return on Tuesday (Valentine's Day, which is also my 60th birthday), we are scheduled to attend an evening seminar on love at Vanderbilt University.

Lots 'o love coming our way!

The march of culture

Today is tomorrow's yesterday.

Each day human culture grows a new skin.
New music,
new clothes,
new words,
new ideas,
new identities.

Youth are always the vanguard.
Their clothes, hair and tattoos body piercings
revolt the older generation.

But it has always been thus.

In my generation
it was ducktails and pompadours,
penny loafers, saddle shoes and poodle skirts,
big hair, collars turned up,
taps on shoes,
black shoes with white socks.

Today it's hip-hop and house music.
In my day it was Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Elvis and Jimmy Reed.
Each in their own way offended the parental generation.
New ways of talking constantly evolve and perplex the older generation.
In my day it was "cool and hip;"
today it's "Whassup" and others I don't even know
because I'm not privy to those secrets
and my own children are approaching middle age themselves.

I realize I'm now a part of the older generation,
even though I haven't lost my sense of rebellion at the Establishment.
That's one thing my generation did right.
We rebelled at civil rights injustices, promoted equality for women
and forced a reluctant nation
to confront the awful fact that Vietnam
was an unjust and unwinnable war.

Sound familiar?

But this isn't a political rant;
it's about the constancy of social change.

However, it's easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
As opaque as the exterior of each generation may appear to its parents,
we're all still the same.
Young people are still searching for their own identity,
determined to break free from the old mores of their parents
as their parents struggle to understand them.

But remember, all parents were once children themselves,
buffeted by the winds of change in their own way.
As my generation struggled with the Draft,
My parents' generation struggled with the Great Depression
and World War II.

These forces shape the generations,
as the generations in turn shape those forces.

Maybe what the older generation can offer is perspective.
We've seen it all come and go before.
We've rebelled, been rebuffed and have also succeeded.
We've been alive long enough to witness the turning of the Wheel,
whereas our younger friends may still be caught up in the moment.

This is how Wisdom is gained.
All carve the furrows of experience
into our souls,
allowing them to fill with knowledge
that can ripen into Wisdom
given the perspective of time
and reflection.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Finding Flow and goals

I am reading the book, "Finding Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Here's an excerpt from one review:

`What is a good life?', is basically the question addressed by this book. Well, isn't a good life just about being happy? Ok, but that is not the complete answer. For how do we become and stay happy? Not by watching TV, eating, or relaxing all day! In small doses these things are good and improve your daily life, but the effects are not additive. In other words: a point of diminishing returns is quickly reached. Also you don't become happy by having to do nothing. Csikszentmihalyi's research shows that both intrinsic motivation (wanting to do something) and extrinsic motivation (having to do something) are preferable to not having any kind of goal to focus your attention.

Last night I started reading the section on the importance of having goals, and I realized that for most of my life I have simply stumbled from one day to the next without any long-term goals. I have set goals at times, such as my goal to move to Nashville to see if I could "make it" in music, and my recently achieved goal to create a comprehensive database of decisions made by my agency.

But long-term goals? What are they? How would I recognize one if it hit me in the head?

Maybe just surviving each crisis has seemed to sap my energy. But many of my crises in the past have resulted from not having a goal in the first place and simply picking the path of least resistance. For example, I started my 29-year career with the Telephone Company in 1969 in the shadow of the Vietnam War, when I was desperate to find a job to sustain my new family (wife was pregnant with our first child when I got an early out from the Navy).

And I just stayed. No particular passion for the phone company - it was just a safe, decent-paying white collar job that happened to be in the area where I grew up. And I've always had a knack for corporate survival. I'm a smart people-pleaser, so I've always found ways to be useful.

But after working for the Telephone Company about eight years, I found myself in an intolerable job. I felt like I was in a box and had no options. My family (wife and kids ages 5 and 7 at that time) depended on me. I felt like I had no transferable skills, since I had worked very specialized jobs that only exist in the Phone Company. I even contemplated suicide, but this was not feasible, because so many people depended on me. So my short-term solution for making a living ended up biting me in the ass, because I found myself in a job that was not of my own choosing and that was driving me crazy. Those were the years of anti-depressants, Valium, Librium and Probanthene. But I stuck it out, managed to change jobs and finished out a long career in 1998.

Stepping back a few years, why did I marry my first wife? Did I even know who I was then? Was that relationship just an attempt to escape from a repressive family of origin into some kind of independence?

Of course I made it work - we stayed married for 26 years and raised two wonderful children, who now have given me four wonderful grandchildren.

But that choice of marriage partner, like my career choice, also lead me toward ultimate disaster. Our relationship grew increasingly toxic, because we grew increasingly apart from one another. We found we had nothing in common after the kids left the nest. Our initial motivation, to escape from our parents' family, quickly wore thin once we had established our own family. So my goal then became to simply stick together for the purpose of raising our children. I now know that my first wife stopped loving me quite early in our marriage.

So it's not like I can second-guess myself and wish for a different history. I am what I am, and I did what I did. I'm actually proud of myself for getting and keeping a good job, providing for my family and keeping our marriage together for the sake of our children. I'm just reflecting on my general lack of goal-setting behavior.

And so it is with my current job. I came to Nashville for the music, not for the day job I now hold. It's a great job, one that offers me challenges and at least psychic if not huge monetary rewards. But it supports me and my wife, and I'm grateful to live in such a great city in such a comfortable house in such a beautiful area. But that's not the point. The point is that I jumped at this job because it was available, and I desperately needed a job after 1 1/2 years of unemployment following my retirement from the Telephone Company in 1998.

Now retirement looms just six years away, when I'll be able to draw full Social Security benefits.
Thus I may have my first opportunity to really set some goals for myself.
What kind of goals?

Writing poetry, prose - telling all the stories I have to tell
Photography - my new passion discovered thanks to a good friend's father/
Genealogy - I want to tell the stories of my ancestors
Music - playing, writing, recording
Travel - see interesting places

One choice of which I can be proud is my wife. I deliberately set out to find her following the untimely death of my second wife from leukemia. I was looking for someone intelligent and passionate, someone who appreciated music like I did, and someone who could see the world through similar eyes. I wanted to find someone who could actually relate to the REAL ME, not some projection of her Perfect Man.

Now I have found her, and she has found me.
She understands my soul.
I see into her soul.
We are soulmates.

Now I finally know what Real Love is.

Winter Wonderland, Geology and Psychology

I awoke this morning to a winter wonderland. The rising sun flooded snow-covered branches, raising a spirit of joy somewhere deep in my soul.

We live on the "Highland Rim," which is an elevated plateau north of Nashville. The plateau is about 500 feet above the rest of Middle Tennessee, so we sometimes get snow while only rain falls just a couple of miles south.

The Highland Rim is actually the edge of a geological bowl in which Nashville sits, which is called the "Nashville Dome." You might wonder why a bowl would be called a dome. The reason is that this area was uplifted by tectonic forces during the Late Devonian period (354 to 370 million years ago) and then again during the Carboniferous Period (286 to 360 million years ago). A glance at any major road cut in Middle Tennessee will reveal layers of limestone, which is brittle in nature. These uplifts caused this brittle limestone to crack, which allowed erosion to remove about 500 feet of material, causing the surface of the dome to recede below the surrounding area. The Cumberland River and its tributary carried this material eastward toward the Mississippi. Thus the Highland Rim remained elevated above the lower areas such as Nashville. The rocks on which Nashville sits date from the artificial (443 to 490 million years ago), whereas those of the Highland Rim are younger.

I've always been fascinated by geology, which was one of many potential majors I might have chosen in college (I graduated in 1968). I could also have majored in English, Sociology, Anthropology and Philosophy, but I chose Psychology instead. I didn't choose my major until the 11th hour, at the end of my Sophomore year after taking just one Psych course, Abnormal Psychology. This introductory course was intensely fascinating to me, but it turned out that William & Mary's Psych program was what they call "Experimental" instead of "Clinical," which is the other main type of undergraduate psychology.

So after one very interesting introductory course, there were no more like it. Instead, I had to learn how to manually calculate R-squared, T-tests for significance, etc (and I'm terrible at math). I gathered statistics on how quickly rats could be taught to press bars and how quickly this behavior could be extinguished, along with studying other simple behaviors. Very boring, nothing new, nothing of interest to me, since my primary reason for choosing Psych as a major was to learn about human behavior, not to replicate experiments that had been performed decades ago. I did enjoy playing with my rat, however.

Another major aspect of the program was learning how to publish articles in professional journals. It seemed to me like the purpose of W&M's undergraduate Psych program was to prepare a student for a Masters and later a Doctorate degree, the only purpose for which was to become a Professor in order to train new Psych teachers, who would train other Psych teachers, etc.

It also seemed to me like Psychology involved in a desperate attempt to prove itself a "real" science like Biology and Physics; hence the emphasis on replicating experiments to establish scientific proofs. I later learned that other colleges focused on Clinical Psychology, which studies human behavior instead of focusing on experimental results and publishing. I might have actually pursued that field if I had chosen a different college. But you can't live life in the rear view mirror.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Work triumph

Today I presented a summary of a major accomplishment at work that I've been preparing for over a year. It will help everyone in our agency, and it's something I invented myself. No one asked me to do it; I just undertook the work on my own and created a search and reference tool for everyone. I love doing things like this. Although they may me garner some measure of professional respect, there's no possibility of a promotion or raise, because I work in state government. It's completely altruistic - a little like donating blood (I've donated over 18 gallons to the Red Cross in my lifetime).

What makes work worthwhile?
Is it the monetary reward?
Is it the companionship?
Is it doing what you're told?
Is it the respect?

After more than 34 years in the work force, those memories I cherish most are of the projects in which I was able to completely invest myself. The things that have given me the most pleasure are those that I was able to undertake on my own initiative, or at least provide significant creative input. Very few of my work colleagues from former jobs have kept up with me, and the money I've earned has gone to pay my bills. Doing what I'm told only keeps me out of trouble. Respect is nice, but you can't spend it.

My creative impulse keeps me going.
It keeps me interested.
I need a challenge,
something that other people can't do,
something into which I can pour my heart and soul.

If you're reading this blog, you obviously know that I need a creative outlet.

Now that I'm done, I feel like goofing off the rest of the day.

After work I leave for a rehearsal with three singer-songwriters whom I am accompanying at a gig on Feb. 16th. I hope it doesn't go very late, because I badly need to love my sweet wife who will be awaiting my arrival with open arms.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A single ray of sunshine

This morning as I sat at the breakfast table,
a single ray of sunshine blasted through the front door glass,
flooding my hands on the table
as I wrote a love note to my dear wife
sleeping in the bedroom.

In the same way, the deliberate steps we have taken recently
have begun to illuminate some dark recesses of our souls
previously unavailable for inspection
and therefore unknown.

Fear of the unknown is the worst kind of fear,
and when the unknown is inside you,
it creates a toxic brew of confusion and anxiety.

All my life I have struggled to understand my insides.
Raised in a family that prohibited the honest expression of emotion
or the discussion of important personal issues.
Rarely rewarded for good behavior,
Mostly punished for bad behavior
or the failure to live up to potential and expectations.

I learned to grow up by myself,
become self-reliant,
never trust anyone,
always show the smiling face.

Never a mentor,
never a trusted confidant
other than my dog,
the only one who could not betray.

Men are not to be trusted,
men are angry and violent,
competitive and narcissistic,
manipulative and power-hungry.
They will beat you down,
chew you up
and spit you out.

Women are crazy,
likely to go off at any moment
with or without provocation.

One must protect oneself from these slings and arrows,
One must care for one's poor retarded sister,
One must care for one's poor widowed mother,
One must care for one's poor depressed wife,
One must care for one's poor sick wife.

But where in this mix is the Self?
Is the Self only something to be guarded and protected?

How and when does the Self find its expression?
In writing,
in music,
in love.

How can the Self learn to sing?
How can the Self find its center?

Can a single ray of sunshine start the process?

Monday, February 06, 2006


The other morning I awoke early from a nightmare. I think it was very early Saturday morning.

I had heard men's voices inside the house and awoke (in my dream) to find my wife in the hall with the men. I immediately got out of bed to see what was going on, but since I had shown myself to the intruders, I realized that I could not dial 911 now because they had seen me. I awoke in fear and did not go back to sleep for fear of re-starting this dreadful dream.

I believe this was early Saturday morning.

Friday night I played with the church classic rock band at a fundraiser for the youth program. We set up inside the church in the social area. I was crammed into a corner formed by stone walls and a glass door to the outside where it was cold and raining. Eventually four guitar players showed up, each with their own amplifier. At any one time the band had two keyboard players, a bass player, four guitar players and a drummer. By the end of the evening, the din had grown so unbearable that I went to bed that night with my ears ringing. When the sound is so loud, I cannot make out any musical tones - it all just sounds like sonic mush. I even played an entire song in the wrong key and only realized my mistake after the song was over. This of course was mortifying to me, the professional keyboard player.

It was a cold, rainy night. The rain pelted down all evening, and the temperature hung in the low 40s. At the beginning I dragged my keyboard rig (about 200 lbs. In several large pieces) down the stairs and set it all up. After the gig, I packed it up and carried it out the back door near where I had set up and loaded it into my van. This way there were no stairs to negotiate, but the way was dark, and the path was strewn with large stepping stones, roots and other things that are easy to trip on. My shoes and coat were soaked when I got into the car to come home.

We did a sound check and rehearsal at 5:30, then around 6:15 everyone but me split to go home, eat supper and change clothes. I had already grabbed a sandwich on the way from work, which I consumed after the rehearsal. Home is a 45-minute drive in rush hour, so there was no point in making that round trip.

I felt very awkward after the rehearsal and before we started playing. There was no purpose in my being there except to play music. The only other people in the building were the kids and youth group leaders, who were setting up for the evening's festivities. I know none of them, except by sight. I know I've been introduced to many before, but I have a terrible memory for names, and I have nothing in common with any of them, so what would I have to talk with them about? I decided to get a cup of soda to go with my sandwich. It's hard to describe how I feel in such situations. "Invisible" might be one description. "Mute" might be another. I find myself coming up with these fakey smiles and nodding of my head as if I knew people or actually felt like being there. I don't even know how to talk with people; it's a struggle to just ask for something simple like ice or a soda. I realize how stupid this sounds. It even sounds stupid to me. It's hard to write about it, because I realize that it doesn't make any sense. Maybe such situations activate old neural pathways of my childhood, when I always felt different (and therefore inferior) from the other children. Maybe I still feel different, and maybe that's a good thing most of the time, because I do treasure my individuality. And I've grown to understand that "different" doesn't mean "inferior."

After finishing my sandwich I sat in a pew for awhile, gazing at the photographer's backdrop that had been set up to take portraits of the kids in their formal wear.

I decided this was a good time to write in my journal, so I got it out of the car and sat there scribbling for maybe 45 minutes.

This is an open-invitation band; anyone is allowed to play. The leader is the other keyboard player, and five or six people sing lead, although there are usually no more than three singers at a time. It's a little like the "Monkeybars," as my basement group in Northern Virginia called themselves.

I've played an entire gig only once before with this group, in October at a retreat. We set up in a large room with wooden floors and a high ceiling, where the sound wasn't deflected back on us. I don't think I want to play with them again under the circumstances of last Friday.

No one but my wife knows how I feel about this.

My "feel sorry for me" side doesn't want anyone else to know how I feel, because somehow I think I would have to justify how I feel. A part of me likes to suffer in silence. What's that about?

When I returned home Friday night, my wife and I got into a difficult discussion after I revealed to her how I felt about the evening. She said I was just being a little boy who wasn't happy unless he was in charge of everything. She also said I would have had a good time if she had been there. Is it passive-aggressive behavior for me to tell her how I felt? If so, how can I acknowledge my actual feelings without hurting her? Wouldn't it be manipulative for me to select out which feelings I should reveal, based on what I thought her reaction would be?

It is true that I would have enjoyed myself much more if she were there, but the issues with the sound, the rain and the cold would have been just the same. And I would still have felt like and outsider, one with little to offer. I mean, how many lead players do you need in a band? The kids certainly deserve their chance to shine by playing lead in front of their contemporaries, and the adult players do too.

This whole thing turned into a tangled and confused mess.

I know that we're over the problems we had on Friday night, and now we can discuss this dispassionately.

I almost forgot that this post began with a nightmare. What did it mean?

Maybe the men who invaded our house symbolized my own fears of our life being invaded somehow by outside forces, such as the band or anxieties caused by outside stressors. I don't know if that makes sense or not, but I hate when my life is invaded by forces not of my control.

Maybe the men represented the band that invaded my sonic space. I really hate that; I've spent 44 years playing in too-loud bands and have gone home on too many nights with my ears ringing, sometimes still ringing the next morning.

Or maybe it was just a nightmare.
Who knows?