Even if it’s a bitch…

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“The melody and the chord structure comes pretty quickly, lyrics are the bitch.”

Rufus Wainwright

Over the past few days I’ve been writing. Most of the time I don’t have trouble finding words. Ask anyone who talks to me. I rarely have trouble expressing myself whether it be my journal, the occasional poem, or a story. Words come easily.

Most of the time…

Music is the same way. As with Mr. Wainwright, melody and chord structure come pretty quickly.

But “lyrics are the bitch”.

Lyrics wear me out. For me, it’s a grueling hunt. Not just for the deeper story. Not just for the right words. It’s a hunt for words. Period. Just words. It’s a slog through the back country looking for anything to put on the table (though I’m always hoping for a trophy buck).

Someone might think I’m crazy to keep it up. They might wonder why I’m doing it. Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it. In the end, it’s because I want to. Despite the frustration, I like it enough to keep coming back day after day. I like it enough to sit in front of a blank page. I like it enough to take myself on walks because I know inspiration meets me there. And I like the results. There is a song in all that mess, and I’m going to see it when it’s done. And I hope it will inspire someone the way it inspires me. In the end, I’m an artist and this is my pen. I write with words, and I write with melody.

So I wonder, what is it that you’d come back to time and time again even if it’s a bitch? I hope you’re crazy enough to keep at it.

 

Not making light of the shadows

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Over the past few days I’ve been busy binge watching Songland. From where I stand, it feels like a master class on songwriting. Not only do I get to hear constructive criticism from some of the top writer/producers in the music industry, I also get to see how they transform good songs into great songs.

One particular concept hits close to home. One Republic’s Ryan Tedder summed it up in a word – duality. I think of it in terms of Yin Yang philosophy where Yang is present in Yin and Yin is present in Yang. Each has an element of the other within it. In life the brightest light often casts the deepest shadow, and without the contrast we might never recognize it for what it is. This has always been a struggle for me. Not only with music, but in any form of creation. As an Enneagram seven, I prefer to live in bright places and, pun intended, make light of the shadows.

I’m learning. In order to make the beautiful ideas more than pure idealism, I have to expose the pain and hurt that makes it real. It requires honesty and vulnerability. Not only with my readers or listeners, but first with myself. It isn’t easy, but I believe it is necessary. That kind of honesty is where shared experience sets the stage so that great ideals have a chance to become real in the lives of others. It brings the divine into the realm of mortals so that maybe, just maybe, we allow it change our lives.

The Journey of the Free

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“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”

Red, The Shawshank Redemption

If you’ve ever tuned a guitar, you’ll know that when the string is in pitch you can hear the other strings resonate with it. When I heard this quote yesterday, I felt a deep resonance.

To put it in context, you have to understand the importance of hope in The Shawshank Redemption. At first, Andy is warned off by Red. “Hope is dangerous,” he says. “Hope can drive a man insane.” For those who aren’t familiar, these are the words of a man who has long been a prisoner. You may be able to identify. I know there have been times in my life where it seemed wiser to abandon hope and simply accept my present existence, painful as it may be. I am thankful. To date, I’ve never manged to abandon hope.

Neither did Andy. His words, written in a letter left for Red, give voice to the life he lived prior to his escape. He writes, “Hope is a good thing, may be the best of things, and no good thing every dies.” I think that these words were a lifeline to Red who chooses to act on them by breaking his parole and going to meet Andy in Mexico. He exercises the right of a free man. The right to choose. It reminds me of words I heard many years ago. There is but one thing no man can take from us, our right to choose.

It is on this journey to Mexico that he utters the words that prefaced this post. Those words continue filled with hope for his future. “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”

I am reminded that freedom, real freedom, does not guarantee us an outcome, only a journey. Not every hope will be fulfilled. Pain and suffering will also await us on the road, but the journey is ours. And while the conclusion of the journey may be uncertain, it is an adventure filled with excitement and hope. Excitement at the thought of what lay ahead, and hope for the fulfillment of our dreams.

Such is the journey of the free. I hope that you are living yours as I am striving to live mine. May we all find courage to set our feet to the path, hope to keep us on it, and the “excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”

So, where will you go?

Sharing unfinished stories

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A couple days ago as I sat playing guitar in the shop, a young man asked me where he could see me play. The answer was nowhere. He pressed. So I shared my story. All of it. From the naive young man traipsing off to college with dreams of being a singer/songwriter to the bitter young man who was sure he had no place in that world. And then on to the present, where I’m doing it anyway.

It was in the midst of this conversation that he challenged me. He shared his own belief in the power of stories, and he encouraged me to share mine. Video the journey, he said. Anytime you play here at the shop, record it. Then post it. Now, I won’t say I’m going to follow his recommendations. I don’t know. But I’m considering it, and those are words I never believed I would utter.

It’s not for the audience and it’s not for the platform. It is the power of a story to inspire, challenge, and transform. I remember growing up surrounded by the finished product. I read published books. I listened to albums from my favorite artists. I stood in awe before works of art in every field. I saw the end product. I saw the destination, but I never made the connection that each of these pieces had a journey. I never knew the journey took their creator through pain, hardship, struggle and disappointment. I never knew the journey shaped their creator into someone capable of creating a masterpiece. I never knew of rough drafts, endless edits and sheets of lyrics with scribbled lines and cramped script crowding the margins. While not knowing made their work magical, it also made me look on my own work with disdain.

Obviously, I learned the truth in time. I simply wish I would have seen and understood it sooner. Even more so, that someone would have shown it to me. So I have something to think about. This is an opportunity to show someone else the journey, and maybe give them the courage to start their own.

 

The Gift of Presence

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“The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”

Alice Morse Earle

Imagine with me for a moment Christmas morning. Children charge the tree in search of gifts. Before long they are surrounded by wrapped packages and tear into them with wide eyed anticipation, but no sooner is one unwrapped than its contents are unceremoniously set aside. They reach for the next package and begin again, only offering thanks or time for a photo when pressed. Before long, every gift is opened and laying about as they toss wads of wrapping paper across the room.

I feel like this is an apt description of how many of us live our lives. Each day surrounds us with gifts of all shapes and sizes. We tear through them without consideration, moving quickly from one to the next until we’re done. At that point our day is over, and at best we’re tossing about wrapping paper thinking about what we’ll get tomorrow, or a week from now, or a year from now.

It may be that we’re looking for a specific gift with expectation, passing by everything else until we find it. It may be that we think too little of the gifts we’ve received. It may be that we get so caught up in tomorrow, that we stop seeing what’s right in front of us and miss it. It may be that the gift makes us uncomfortable or reminds us of pain in the past. We may well leave some gifts unwrapped underneath mounds of torn paper and discarded ribbons. The reasons are many and varied.

The point being, each and every experience is just that, a gift. It is special. It is unique. It is valuable. And when we take time to live it, it can be magical. Living in the present is not easy, but when I manage it I find my life to be fulfilling, and that is truly amazing!

So may we make the most of today and live in the gift that is each and every moment. May we be present!

Cheers.

A Different Kind of Success

As I write, my eleven and a half hour double is drawing to a close. I sit here thankful for such freedom. One of the privileges of coffee shop life is time. At least it is here. It’s not difficult to weave creative play into the dance of cleaning and customers. And on occasion, as happened today, I am reminded just how precious and rare this gift of time is.

This year marks year two of what I hope will be a longstanding tradition at Qahwa. We, and a few of our customers, decorate the shop with milk jug jack o’ lanterns, jug o’ lanterns for short. What begins earlier in the month always ends in a mad dash to finish before Halloween. So between each and every customer, I took up sharpie and brush pen and went to work. Somewhere in the play we fell into quoting Monty Python. With that first slip, several amused eyes looked our way. I can’t help but think they wanted nothing more than to drop what they were doing, leave their work, and join us.

That small moment reminded me just how lucky I am to work in a field, and in a place, that gives me such freedom. Time to create. Time to draw. Time to play guitar. Time to study. Time to write. Time to grow in the fields that bring me the most joy, and people to share it with. I hope the money will follow in time, but, as I think on my past, as I think on cubicle world, I am reminded that having more never gave me this much satisfaction.

I think it a worthwhile endeavor to seek success. I just hope that I never forget what I experienced today is also a mark of success.

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Today’s Monty Python Holy Grail inspired jug ‘o lanterns.

In the flow

Wednesday night I received an unexpected gift. It began with what I believe to be an act that flowed from who I am. Nothing I would consider profound or special, just thoughts from a lingering conversation given voice. For once, normal doubts had no weight and I spoke these words of encouragement. I never guessed I would get an immediate response, let alone what would follow. What had been set in motion, even before I said a word, left me in awe.

I tried to engage more deeply, to put into words my excitement for what another person would set in motion. And I couldn’t. Try as I might, I had no words. Nothing seemed big enough to encompass what had happened. I had but one thing to share. My heart was full! Even now, I am filled with gratitude and a sense of awe. Thankful to have stepped into God’s stream and excited to see where it flows.

In the end, though I may not ever understand fully, I found these words in my last journal entry that helped me see the power of identity and being to lead us into the dance.

“The truest me seems to erupt most readily from thoughtlessness, from a point of emptiness beyond the doubts of conscious thought. I often only recognize him in hindsight, as an observer who sees the past. A statement, a text, a conversation, a moment recognizable as true self as seen from afar. I long to live in this state of being, this state of ‘me’. Something to think more on and strive for. It is fearless. Courageous. It is bigger than doubts. Because it just is. … This may just be me waxing philosophical for the sake of ego, but I do believe living in my identity brings assurance and strength of character. Enough so to overcome the doubt inherent in my broken humanity and give me hope. Hope for a future, for opportunity, and, probably more importantly, honesty and authenticity when opportunity arises.”

I wonder if these true self moments are the times I am closest to God. They are certainly the times I am closest to who He created me to be. And for just a moment, he let me see the results of His handiwork.

And you know the best part of it all?

Knowing that it has very little to do with me. The most amazing things He set in motion are His glory in another and I can’t wait to see what comes of it!