Saturday, January 31, 2009

It Was A Mistake From The Beginning

It Was A Mistake From The Beginning...

My wife had played the guitar most of her life, and could easily pick out a song and adeptly play the right chords. Her ear sensed the time to change the chord. She always made it easy. Family gatherings were marked by the whole family playing and singing along, always on key, always in tune.

Every second or third song, someone would shout a different key and everyone quickly “transposed” to the new key. They were speaking, or rather “playing” a foreign language to me.

I sat in the corner, unable to carry a tune and not knowing which end was up when it came to anything with strings to play.

Oh, I knew I was no slouch in the music department. I’d played trombone in grade school and was second chair in the high school band. I’d also had three years of piano lessons. My wife couldn’t read music nor play the piano, so I at least had my specialties when we talked about music.

Still, the whole guitar and singing event galled me, and I wanted to fit in. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could still learn something new, and do something that everyone else in her family enjoyed.

One day, we found ourselves in a great guitar store in Portland. We admired the beautiful instruments, and soon, Karen found herself in love with a nice acoustic guitar, one with some real depth and beauty to its tone. She’d had a nylon string guitar, a cheap one, for many years, and she’d wanted a steel string guitar, a national brand, for a number of years. She was falling in love with the rich sounding guitar in her hands, and she decided to buy it.

“Why don’t you get yourself one, too, honey,” she said. “You’ve wanted to learn the guitar for a long time, and you’ll enjoy it.”

Well, I got pretty excited, and I was soon busy trying out several guitars, finally holding a beautiful mahogany acoustic guitar in my hands, a Martin. It felt good, in my inexperienced hands, and my wife and the sales clerk were both telling me that this was a good fit, and a great guitar to start out with.

I plunked down some serious cash, and left the store with my new guitar, a music stand, a guitar case, and all the other accoutrements that can come with a guitar. I had a few “beginner books” to take home, too. Soon, I set up my little practice area, and cracked open “Starting to Play the Guitar”.

No one told me that the first part of playing the guitar is to get your left hand fingers to bleed and throb, as tender skin is pushed into hard brass wire, again and again. In ten minutes, my fingers were on fire, and I was amazed blood didn’t run down my arm, as I pushed down on the strings.

And then there were the muscle cramps, besides the torture of the sharp wires and what I knew was permanent nerve damage. Each chord not only required the delight of Chinese bamboo torture, but also major muscle cramps, as my hand learned new positions, which, until now, I had believed were only in the repertoire of circus contortionists.

My right hand joined the fun, as I rubbed off the skin of my thumb and fingers, the word “strum” taking on the meaning of repetitive skin removal in the dictionary of guitar addicts.

Still, like the new heroin addict, I found myself drawn into this mysterious process of coaxing a decent note or two out of a series of pathetic stabs and quivering sounds, noise that drove my cats from the room every time they saw me pick up the guitar and sit down in front of my music stand.

Not wanting to confine my addiction and new abilities to create disturbing noises throughout the house, I began to try to sing the words to the simple cowboy songs in the book. My cats begged for me to open the front door so they could escape outside whenever they saw me grab for my guitar.

My wife, seeing me head for the guitar after dinner, would quietly excuse herself to go work on her computer upstairs, always making sure the door was shut tight. She probably put in ear plugs and turned up the volume on her headphones, as she surfed any website that offered sound. At least any sound that was on key and in tune.

Still, I progressed and kept at my struggle, and soon found myself making some plausible stabs at making music and playing a song enough that even my wife was able to identify the name of what I was attempting to play, and sometimes on the first guess.

Even my cats were more accepting, or maybe becoming tone deaf. They didn’t run and cry to get outside whenever I picked up my guitar, and one cat even took to snoozing next to me when I practiced. My fingertips now had thickening calluses, and my left hand could contort with the best of the circus people or that Hindu goddess who has all the waving hands.

I knew I’d made progress about six months later. My wife had shown enough courage to leave her office door ajar one night when I was playing.

“Honey, that was real nice. You’re coming along with that now,” she said. “I finally recognize what you’re playing.”

That was a real compliment. I also was able to recognize the songs I was trying to play.

I knew I’d finally graduated one night. We were getting ready to go visit her family and I’d dragged my suitcase to the door.

“Why don’t you take your guitar, too, honey,” my wife said. “The family would enjoy hearing you play.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day Thoughts

January 20, 2009

A momentous day. An African-American becomes President. New leadership. New ethics in government, a new direction.

Now, there is hope. There is inspiration.

We have a leader with a sense of history, with the ability to articulate his thoughts, and to provide leadership and inspiration. We have a leader who is a student of both history and our Constitutionally based rule of law. We have a leader with energy and with compassion for those who are less fortunate.

I feel a groundswell in this country. I feel a resurgence in our basic values, and the roots of this country.

Rise up, my friends. We are called, each of us, to take action, to reach out to one person at a time, and make a difference. If each of us responds to this call, this nation will change and will grow and prosper.

Our true riches are within the hearts of each of us.

Rise up and be heard.

To put it to music, and to action, visit .

Rise up!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January Trilogy


The Color of the Day

Silver is the color
today, the grass with bits of ice and frost, the hills painted
white, then glazed, with a backdrop of formless
clouds, a different shade of metallic gray, once green
trees now nearly black against the snow, the dim
light of a winter morning taking
away all the other
colors, leaving me
where is my coat of


Getting Into It

On the roof, from the sky,
squishy in the grass, filling the ditch
beading up on the windshield, flung from the wiper blades
giving my Gortex a run for its money
hiding the mountains in wisps of gray.

Not until I unplugged the downspout, tossing the sodden
clumps of pine needles into the new lake by the shop,
when it ran down my sleeve, a gallon or two of the freshest,
did I really
experience the



Sunshine Surprise

This day, warm sun,
enough to leave my fleece behind
enough to drag out the dormant spray and visit the orchard, the rose bed
enough to look at small, red buds on twigs, and dream of spring chores.
I must find my pruners and my gloves;
they must be here

We throw open the front door,
stuffy winter house air slips out the back window
and I think I smell my fresh-mowed lawn.

Red wing blackbird streaks by, flashing its name,
its lonely call goes unanswered, and only the
little junco visits the feeder, the red tailed hawk
flying aloof above us all, now only

Winter took a break today,
and that is all I

Friday, January 16, 2009


Free, a change in habit, a new way of living.
The old: out the door, off the agenda, a fresh start.

Today, to be different, I am living differently—maybe just because.
A few old ways are finished, and today,
Just for today, I am doing something new.

A fresh path, and here I go, flapping my wings,
And being in charge of who I am and where I am going.
Its more than moving deck chairs on the Titanic,
It’s a new way of moving through this life, and I am Boss.

Oh, I’ll keep the stuff that’s working, the old reliables that I depend on.
It’s that other, tired, stuff, that really isn’t me anymore, that I’ve moved aside.
I want something new, something fresh.

The sun still comes up, each day is still an opportunity,
There are still plenty of challenges, problems to solve, places to go.
But today, I have new tools, a new perspective, a new risk to take,
And the path is a new road, a fresh adventure.

I like the new me, this new path, this new way of doing things.
Living my life, one day at a time, has taken on a new meaning.
It’s a fresh breeze blowing, smelling of new things to come,
Putting a tingle on my skin, a jump in my step,

After a while, I sense my renewal, in every part of my being,
The poisons from the old, tired, worn out ways, are leaving,
And the new me, the strength, the energy, is building.
Clean, fresh – in so many ways.


Songfest in my mind
Starting deep within my center, below my heart,
Deep within my gut,
Primal, like the appeal of the dance of stars in the heavens,
Sparks from the campfire, all lighting my soul-fire.

Satisfying, on so many levels, the
Sounds building, turning into rhythms, melodies--
Some reaching me from untold generations before me,
Some new to this time, and some to be sung to those after me—
All resonating, reaching into my soul,
Satiating my hunger, my longing for
Connection, affirmation,
Blessed assurance.

I ponder why some melodies, old as the hills, just feel good,
Just feel as if I finally arrived home, once lost, but now I’m found,
Poetry, in notes and words, feeling as though I’m being rocked
In the chair by the fire, held by loving arms, safe from the world,
At last.

The answer, my friend, is written in the wind,
The answer is written in the wind.

In the deep of the woods, awaking from winter’s snows, river roaring nearby,
The wood-song and the river-song sing in deep harmony, as our group of voices
Find our source, our common threads, our unison.
Strangers at first, we find community in song, notes and rhythm, and harmony
And all the other words, all not really expressing

It is, after all, communion we are all seeking,
In all its richness, in all its diversity, in all of its empowerment,
Turning sound and song into the fire
Which kindles our spirits into the light,
The universal light
From which we are all made, and to which we are drawn,
Re-newing, re-lighting, re-forming,