The Stories Manifesto

It hit me today while I was washing my hair that I am missing out on a tremendous volume of stories. When I called my mom yesterday, a Sunday afternoon routine to stay in touch, I could hear conversation and laughter in the background. Turns out that my sister, my brother-in-law, and my nephew and his girlfriend were spending time with my parents the Sunday after my dad’s birthday. While I felt a touch of sadness while I was on the phone that I wasn’t there to spend that time with them, it really didn’t bother me until today. Distance can be a real drag.

I realized quite some time ago that there would be many things that I would miss by moving almost 800 miles away from my family. I think it’s a factor of getting older that you want to squeeze as much as you can into what you perceive as the time that you have left. The weekly telephone touch-base with my mom and my sister are not doing it for me the way it used to. I’ve relied on Facebook to keep in touch with my nephews so that I can feel a connection, although distant, to what’s going on in their lives. But there is something major lacking. “Liking” a post is in no way as gratifying as a heartfelt hug and speaking words instead of typing them onto a screen. And when your sister and parents aren’t Facebook “friends” it feels like the connection distance is magnified.

It’s evident to me that I am missing way too many stories. I’m missing the stories of what my nephews are doing with their lives because Facebook can only convey so much. I’m missing hearing the old stories of my dad when he was growing up and the wild things he and his buddies used to do. I’m missing the stories of my mom’s childhood and the wonderful and odd things she and her sisters used to do when they were young. Sure, I’ve heard many of those stories in the past, but I think perspective changes as you get older. There might be a little things in the stories, little nuances, that are important – things I may have missed the first time I heard them.

I’m not there for other family events, so it’s rare that I get to see uncles, aunts cousins, etc. thank goodness I saw many of them in June for my mom’s birthday party. Prior to that it had been years. Again, I miss hearing the stories of what’s going on in their lives. Tidbits on Facebook are good, but the reality is that I’ve lost touch with what makes everyone tick.

Maybe it’s just that I miss being surrounded by family sometimes.

Facebook is great. The telephone is wonderful. But nothing can take the place of being there in person to look into the eyes of the people you love and admire.

This is the beginning of my manifesto on Stories.

Full Moon

I walk from the office upstairs down to check on Buddy (my dog).  The deck door is open to let the cool night air in.  As I cross from the hallway to the family room, I do a double take – the full moon is suspended high above the deck, a glowing ecru orb in the sky.  I stop, take a deep breath, and smile.  I love looking at the full moon!

Every night lately when the sky is clear, I find myself seeking out the moon to check what phase it’s in and how bright it is.  I mean, I’ve always looked out to see if the moonlight is shimmering on the little creek of water in my backyard or if the fireflies are competing with the flickering as the leaves on the trees dance in the moonlight.  Recently though, I feel compelled to check the sky before I slip under the covers for the night.  I’m finding some type of comfort in knowing that nature is so beautiful and that it’s right here, all around me.

And to make this post even a little more odd, a couple of weeks ago I went hiking in the Catoctins.  Remember treepocolypse earlier this year when the ice storm took down a lot of trees?  Well, the Catoctins were not spared.  I barely recognized the Hog Rock trail for all the trees toppled over and sawed to make a clear passage.  I actually felt sad as I looked around.  So much devastation!

Is it a “mom” thing that I feel this way – or it is an “age” thing?  Not sure, but either way, I love this connected feeling I’m having lately.

Thankful … Day 5

Well, I have to be thankful for a most magnificent moon again, big and orange as we headed downtown Westminster for Common Ground on the Town. Christopher James was playing at Johanssons, and I really like his playing, singing, and songwriting.

We were at Common Ground’s Roots Festival all day. The music was awesome, and it was really nice to get a few minutes of chat in with some of the people who were in the songwriting class I took a couple of weeks ago. I got to hear Josh Hisle and Dan Collins again (fantastic!). Hot Tuna was phenominal, as you can imagine. I’m thankful that the day was so spectacular. I feel connected to music and musicians in a whole new way.

Thankful … Day 3

Wow, it’s a tough one to figure out tonight. Nothing stellar happened that snapped into that “something to be thankful for” category. So maybe I’m just thankful that nothing terrible happened to anyone I know, and that I was able to snag the only copy of “CSNY 1974” (the one with the bonus DVD and booklet) that FYE had in stock. Yeah, those are good things to be thankful for.

Thankful … Day 2

A nasty storm thundered through this afternoon. I received an email notification that UPS had delivered my box set CD and vinyl Ed Sheeran “X” which had been on backorder for more than a week. I am thankful that the items were not damaged by the rain or wind. Yes, the packaging was slightly wet, but the contents were dry. Thankfully.

Thankful … Day 1

Sometimes there are little things to be thankful for. The situation passes quickly, and so does the feeling of gratefulness. I figure if I jot them down it will help remind me that not everything in life should be stressful.

Day 1 – I’m thankful for the person who put his/her left turn signal on in advance of the turn lane. This gave me enough time to make my right turn into traffic, drop off my Comcast box in plenty of time to get home, pickup my dog, and make it to the vet with a few minutes to spare.

I’m also grateful for spending lunch with a coworker. We had a great conversation which left me feeling a little better about a situation at work.

And the sunset was pretty cool tonight.

In the Company of Songwriters

It’s funny how you can walk into something with certain expectations but walk away with something you didn’t bargain for – something much better.

I spent mornings last week attending a songwriting class from Common Ground on the Hill. Josh Hisle, an Iraq war veteran, led the sessions along with his friend Dan Collins – both accomplished songwriters with an apparent passion for sharing their skills (links to their sites are below). I signed up for the class thinking I would learn about crafting songs – structure, form, and how to connect to your audience. We didn’t really touch on how to actually write songs in the context of verse-chorus-bridge-hook-etc., but my takeaway was that songwriters write about things that speak to them. Those things could be war, family, memories, feelings, characters, or even chickens. The other takeaway was that it’s okay to be nervous when you perform in front of people and that nervousness will probably diminish as you perform more often.

It turned out that everyone was expected to participate, whether singing or speaking his or her song/poem. Since I haven’t written anything since high school (expect for that Martin Lifespan strings contest entry a couple of years ago), I had to dust off a couple of songs. Actually, I not only had to dust them off but also had to add to and update them. Which brings me to another interesting fact about the class – everyone provided the story behind how the song/poem came to be written. That was awesome, not something we usually get when listening to a song on the radio.

I explained that the first song I was going to share with the class was written in 1974. I had been telling the women where I worked a summer job that I wrote and performed a song for the high school talent show. One of the women told me to write her a love song. I told her to give me a line, and at that moment she looked down at her smock and said, “My uniform is dirty.” I said, “Great, that will be a line in the song.” I believe she thought I was nuts.

I wrote the song, although it was short and not structured well. I pulled this song out of my binder, added a bridge and some new words in the verses, and sang it the next day for the songwriters. After class, one of the girls came up to me and asked if I ever told the women I finished the song. I don’t recall if I did. So the girl said I should let her know. After a little Internet searching, I found that the woman passed away several years ago. So now I guess I’ll flex my songwriting skills and write a song about missing the opportunity to let the woman know (her name was Joann, by the way) that I finished her song.

The thing I enjoyed the most about the class was being around songwriters, listening to them as they told us about and sang their songs. I can understand why artists form communities. It’s a rewarding experience to be around someone who knows what you’re going through as you explore ways to express yourself through word and song.

Oh, and one more huge takeaway – I plan to do this again next summer but may take even more classes from Common Ground on the Hill.

Josh Hisle – http://joshhisle.wix.com/music#!

Dan Collins – http://www.reverbnation.com/dancollinsmusic

The Flower Child in Us All

Sunday.  Temperatures are warmer this weekend than they have been for quite a while.  The blast of snow from a week or so ago is becoming a memory as we can see green grass again.  It’s been jam-packed weekends spent at a few music stores and picking up something we haven’t before – a mineral lick and corn for the deer that sometimes visit us.  I’m picking up the guitar almost daily, especially now that I jacked my card up again with the purchase of a Martin DRS1 and an Epiphone Emperor Swingster in wine red (which sort of makes up for having to sell my previous Epiphone years ago).

Got my taxes done on Saturday, and as I’m leaving the accountant’s office, he made a statement, “You’re a flower child.”  It struck me as odd at first that he would make a connection like that, but then thinking of my age, I guess it was a semi-obvious observation.  He then mentioned something about the bell-bottoms I had worn the previous year which actually were just wide-leg slacks.  If he only knew about my Martin Hippie guitar, how I wear peace symbol earrings a lot, and that I used to end all of my letters (back in the day when we actually used to mail handwritten letters via the Post Office) with “Pax”.  Yeah, I’m a flower child I guess, although I wasn’t even a teenager when it all started back in the 60’s.

Sure, I used to draw everything that was late 60’s and early 70’s – paisley designs, bold black and white patterns, groovy chicks with groovy mini-skirts and white go-go boots and long, flowing hair.  I used to wear headbands in school and in the early days of working in an office.  It was the style, at least for us hip-chicks wannabes.  I loved wearing bell-bottoms (still would if I could find some) and ponchos.  I wanted to sing in coffee houses and write songs that would strike a deep emotion in people.  I wanted to write the Great American Novel and make some kind of impact in the world.

But priorities change as we mature and grow older.

Am I any different than anyone else?  No.  Everyone has dreams and aspirations.  There are not all the same, but no matter what they are we strive for them – until something changes in our lives or ourselves.

I think we all have a kind of flower child in us at some point in our lives.  Something that drives us to make a difference.  Something that makes us want to be artistic, soulful, political, outspoken, a leader … whatever it is you call your own.

I don’t usually like labels, but I’m cool with being known as a Flower Child.

Peace, baby!

Finally, and All About Floundering

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Patience. It took a lot of patience, but I finally got a picture of the bluejay in the backyard. Only took over a year.

Getting this picture was also a catalyst for blogging. Write is a verb, and it’s an action word that sits in the back of my mind poking at me, prodding me to take action. I hesitate far too often. Why? Because even though I am constantly thinking about writing, I never seem to “find” the time to do it. I’m learning it is not about finding the time, but rather making the time.

Just like the bluejays, I fly away the instant something distracts me or jars me from my thoughts. Elusive, those thoughts that run together creating a cohesive twist of words describing what is on my mind at any given moment. I need to capture them just like the photo of the bluejay. Snag them, make them hold still for just a few moments while I use them to paint the picture in my head.

Say what?

I flounder.