Something good

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“If you smash into something good, you should hold on until it’s time to let go.”

-Marcello, Under the Tuscan Sun

These words are one of several ideas to remain with me after watching Under the Tuscan Sun. To me, they represent the acceptance of a gift and the willingness to live in the present. So I felt sadness to find they were uttered as a precursor to an affair. Heavy with the weight of inevitability. All affairs must end.

At another point our lead declares her fears aloud. With tears she lays out her hopes for a home, a wedding and full rooms. Hopes she doubts she’ll ever see. And the man who is quite possibly my favorite character in the film tells her the story of a train from Vienna to the Alps, a train whose tracks were built before they had a train that could make the trip.

Finally, from the lips of a care free and enigmatic actress comes a story from her childhood. She spent the entire day searching for ladybugs. She found none. In the end, she fell asleep on the grass only to awaken covered in ladybugs.

Each of these moments is a lesson in itself. But I think each of these moments is a part of the picture that it took an entire story to paint. Juxtaposed they gain a greater meaning.

It is a gift to live in the present, to take hold of good things and hold on until it is time to let them go. But a life lived in the present without care for the future is dangerous, both to ourselves and others. It is in looking to the future that we build the foundation capable of holding and manifesting our dreams. And if we are willing to commit to the tracks, trusting in the train to come, it sets our present on a set of tracks that will lead us toward our dreams. But this too is something to be wary of. In looking too closely for one particular future – one job, one relationship, one mission, we may find that we miss it entirely. Maybe by returning to the present, even at times having fallen asleep, we will awaken to find we have found the very thing we’ve been seeking.

To be honest, this is a path I am learning to walk. It is messy, and full of as much pain and hurt as it is comfort and joy. And as much as I feared it in the past, I think it’s supposed to be that way. I’ve come to realize that I don’t regret mistakes nearly as much as I regret chances not taken. I suppose we’ll see how that turns out.

 

My ugly baby & what comes next

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Tonight I gave birth to something special. As I finished out my shift, the final lines fell into place and a song was born. Now I won’t lie to myself, it’s not a pretty baby. In fact, it’s pretty ugly. But I’m proud of it. It’s got a lot of character, and I have the feeling it’s going to grow up into something amazing!

This past month has been an experience in discovering my process. First and foremost, I’ve seen the value of consistency. Every day, guitar in hand, and recorder, pen and journal in reach, I sit with whatever lyric, hook or idea I have and play until inspiration strikes. And step by baby step the music takes shape. I have come to love those baby steps. They have kept me going! And last night, my baby took a sudden leap forward as the story fell into place. The realization caught me mid verse and tears hit me, choked me up for at least one line of the third verse before I got control and continued. The struggles of a month were nearly over!

And here I sit with my ugly baby! Proud even as I know it needs a little (or a lot of) work.

So, what now?

Well, I intend to use a little trick I learned from writing stories. I’m going to set my song aside for a week and try to forget it. I’m expecting a battle. My fingers kind of like playing it, but I need fresh eyes. I need to step away so I can better see the flaws I’ve grown accustomed to and help my baby grow up. I can’t wait to see what it becomes!

In the meantime, I’ll see just how ugly the next kid’s going to be.

Some days are like this

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I’ve been up for just over four hours as I write this post. I feel as if I’ve accomplished little despite knowing the opposite is true. Thus far in my day I’ve completed my morning pages while enjoying breakfast at Brother Juniper’s, written two haiku, made headway in the song I’m working on, spent some time studying the Psalms, and found a pair of pants that fit. The last alone stands as a feat worthy of mention. So why is it that I feel an empty desperation?

Before I begin, I must first emphasize the word “feel”. Feelings don’t always match up with reality. And today, my feelings have waged war against me. I won’t deny them. I’m done playing that kind of game. Instead I hold them up and try to learn from them. Today they tell me that I hold something so dearly I am unwilling to let it go. Should it come to pass, even for mere seconds, my entire day will be filled with a sense of fulfillment. By contrast, fear of losing it projects me into an imagined future and borrowed pain.

I know enough to recognize my enemy. I know enough to engage him. But I don’t know if I’ll win this battle where anxiety seethes just below the surface. I find myself with the Psalmist crying out, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” And with the Psalmist I remind myself to “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” It is a declaration. It also, I note, makes no promise on time of delivery.

How then, do I fight this battle in the meantime?

First, I borrow another lesson from Psalm 43. I pray, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.” Lead me into the presence of God – to his ‘holy hill’, his ‘dwelling’, to ‘the altar of God’. There I will strive to lay my desire for control on the altar of sacrifice and take up my song of praise.

Next, I align my actions with my goals and my purpose. I am on a journey, and I am deeply thankful to know where I am going. No matter how I feel right now about what the future might hold, I have agency to invest in what I hope the future will hold. So I will continue to write, to play and to invest in shaping myself right now to become the man my future will require.

My goal is to end my night with the assurance that I courageously moved further into the unknown future. So long as I can see the slightest step forward my day is a victory, even if I lose the emotional battle. While I hope for deliverance or the sweet mercy of God choosing to answer my desire, I know that even if it does not come I am the better for it, having been forged in the fire and having forged my way ahead.

Take courage

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“Real courage is moving forward when the outcome is uncertain.”

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Yesterday’s wisdom is the crystallization of weeks of thoughts, ideas and actions. To dare great things is to court risk, and to court risk is to walk alongside the unknown. Monsters still hide in the darkness. Great workings of the imagination still turn cast off clothes into scaly hides, or a dull reflection into menacing eyes. We still fear a moment’s inattention will bring us to ruin. Our monsters have merely changed form.

Failure, Loss, Hurt… these are some of the monsters we face when we dare big dreams. They hide in the unknown waiting for us to let down our guard. And just as they did before, our monsters paralyze us with fear. And fear turns our imaginations against us.

The answer is courage. But what is courage? I believe courage is what we choose to do even when we are terrified. It is a step forward into the unknown future when we aren’t sure what awaits us there.

But how?

Here’s a few ways I’m learning to be courageous.

  • Turn your imagination against your fears instead of using it to serve them. I was reminded that I conquered my nightmares as a child by turning myself into the hero and destroying them. It’s the same idea. Imagine the future that strengthens you to carry out your goals in the present.
  • Set goals and lay out a path to get there. This helps in imagining a future that spurs you on. It also gives you day to day tasks to carry out that bring you closer to your goal. Every night I sit down with my guitar in the silence before bed. It’s one of my little steps into the unknown. Every night I’m rewarded with something new in the song I’m working on right now.
  • Trust little steps. When we were kids, that first great act of courage may have simple been to free our voice so that we could cry out for help. The same is true now.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or join hands with like minded dreamers. We’re stronger together.
  • Make time to recount all the things you have to be thankful for each and every day. Gratitude is an extremely powerful tool! It makes it hard to give in to despair when you see what God is doing in your life as you chase your dreams.
  • And sometimes… just take a step.

Take courage! The future is unwritten, and that is in your favor!

God’s Little Never Angels

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It was a little over a year ago that I first heard of Never Angels. I don’t recall the details clearly, but the man who told me about them gave clear advice.

Be careful what you say you’ll never do!

He recalled his own past and the fate changing words, “I’ll never live in (insert state name here).” It was then, he said, that God sent out his Never Angels, and he soon found himself pastor of a church is that very state.

While I don’t necessarily believe in the existence of a covert branch of the angelic realm bending fate against our will, I have come to appreciate a healthy challenge to my own “Never”s. Looking back I’ve started many sentences with “I never”. I don’t have to look far. Take last weeks declaration as an example.

“I’ll never again own an Apple product!”

But today I ate my never pie as I read reviews of the new iPhone 11. Put bluntly, for the path I intend to take in the near future it may be the best tool for the job. And it may not be, but if it is… Well, I’ll own another Apple product. Worse yet, I’ll be the better for it.

You see, Never is a dangerous word. Never is a biased word. Never is a closed word. Never refuses to look any deeper than its expectations, and I am learning to be wary of Never. I think Never might be one of my greatest enemies. He draws close and pretends to protect me while holding me back. He provides the well intentioned platitude that gets in the way of the new, of growth and of adventure. He blinds and distracts me from the tools I most need. Worst of all, he feels safe.

But I think maybe I don’t need him. I need a whole cadre of Never Angels helping me go places I never thought I would!

 

Just keep moving

StockSnap_U9Y7E1QPAS(1)Saturday morning I woke to a wonderful fantasy. I indulged myself and lingered in those daydreams. Fantasy, however, is fantasy. Dreams are dreams. And my morning indulgence promised only a fast lane adventure to nowhere. I had a decision to make. Stay under the covers with my hoped for future, or get out of bed and start making it a reality.

Motivation is at times in short supply. A deep sense of purpose fuels activity, but with Tuesday complete my well of purpose had been drained. I couldn’t rely on an emotional boost or the drive of a deadline. So I sat up and recalled my goals. I picked something to do and I went to work.

In the end, I had a very productive day. I made a lot of headway in purging unnecessary items and cleaning, so that, when it comes time to pack up and move, I’ll be ready. I spent a little time in practice, despite having no clear direction for the music. And while I felt no great sense of accomplishment, I ended the day satisfied that I had done what I could do.

I suppose some days you just have to keep moving. In the end, it’s the only way to get there.

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.