Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poetry Concord, 2009

Poetry Concord, 2009

We are all poets here, in this room
listening as one after another of us
And, we look into each other’s hearts
as each word is shared, each phrase
taking us deeper and deeper into
another’s soul.

Some use rhyme, others metaphor---
baring chests, inviting me in
where few have been.

Courage and drama and excitement
all mix together, as the dances of words
moves along—
new territory.

No longer just people in a room on a blustery spring day,
people who choose to ignore the ocean and the beach fifty yards away
to spend our day focusing on words and alliterations
and souls opened wide by our listening
by them taking us into them, into their lives.

Hours later, the words still rumble
deep in my gut, bloodying my heart
their echoes bouncing and crashing
like the waves on the beach below.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Irony of Commitment

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating -- in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation.

To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

---Anne Morriss, NYC Starbucks customer. (from a Starbucks cup, April 2009)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Being A Macho Man

How do you win in the world today? What does it take to achieve victory?

We men are warriors, trained by the adults in our lives, by our exposure to television programming, the world of sports, and by our dealings with the world to be tough, rugged, and manly. We are to be competitors, not giving in to pain or disappointment, to lose. We must be winners, we must be conquerors. We must win at all costs.

The military recruitment posters, the beer ads, the atmosphere of the locker room and the ball park all champion our role as being the best, being the champion. Those who win make the money, enjoy the fame, and win the prettiest gal. They are the ones being interviewed on TV, and their faces are the ones appearing on the sports page and ESPN.

Yet, real life isn’t that way at all. Being the fierce competitive athlete, or the warrior in the work place, striving for victory hardly resembles the classroom, or the work place, and especially doesn’t resemble our family life. Instead, in those mundane, everyday situations, we find happiness and real fulfillment by working together, supporting other people’s work, and achieving the final product by using our talents of cooperation, give and take, and mediation. By finding the common ground, by encouraging others’ talents, the work gets done, family life flourishes, and our friendships deepen. This is the work of real men.

We don’t keep score at work, and we don’t keep check the time clock and the record books at home. We don’t keep track of the number of our friends, or how often we give real support to those in need. Real success isn’t a numbers game.

Our real power isn’t honored in the record books or by the cheers in the locker room or the bar after the game. The real winners aren’t the ones being interviewed by the TV personality or the ones who have their pictures on the front page of the sports section.

The real achievements, the real power comes from the quiet, behind the scenes work. The quiet words of encouragement, the few words of advice to the co-worker or the upset child, or the spouse having a tough day. The real achievements come from a warm hand on the other guy’s shoulder, as you let them know you care, and that they can solve the problem and learn the difficult task.

It is in letting the other guy know that you care, that they can change, that they are the ones who have the power in their own lives to make a difference, and to go ahead in life. It is in letting them know they have the skills and the talents, and that they can find the solutions. That is the real power, the power of encouragement, and your solid, steadfast belief in the ability of the other guy to pick up the right tool and to take charge of their lives.

The real power lies in building confidence, and in letting others know you believe in them. It is in being the cheerleader, the advocate, the mentor. It is the quiet conversation of encouragement over a cup of coffee, or in a corner of an office hallway, letting them know you believe in them. It is in the making of a commitment to listen, to encourage, to nurture. And, no one is keeping score.

It is in those moments that we flex our muscles and strut our stuff. It is then that we are real men. And, it is that several minutes of true listening, the quiet nod, the firm handshake, the pat on the back that your power is flexed, where your real manhood comes out. You aren’t there for the glory; you are there because you are a friend, a believer, a supporter.

And, in all of that, you are truly powerful. You are truly a man, a human and humane. And, you change lives and you make a difference – a real difference.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Taking A Breath

Red wing black bird calls
almost a rusty squeak, and then a thunk, and ending
with an up note—
Just like everyone’s mood this week, with warm sunshine.

Finches on the feeder, and, now today, swallows,
congregating in the roses and sometimes, in the trees,
whose buds grew three times in size in the last three days of sun—
Grass growing faster, smelling sweet, a bit sour when mowed—
is it the smell of green?

At lunch, my camera pulls me outside, and I must take pictures—
cows in green fields, against deep blue and green hills, and
clearing river water, still high with last week’s rain and a bit of snowmelt.

The air, not dank, wet and almost metallic with late winter gloom,
but freshly laundered and soaked in sunlight, stirred by bird wings
and filled with bird song and horses whinnying as they romp in the pasture.

Sidewalk chalk on the asphalt says “Stop” and a big child’s sun grins up at me—
even the morning frost on my walk melts away, chased by the
ever earlier rising sun, moving north a bit each morning
bursting into the valley below, sweeping across new cut grass.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Starting Out With The Guitar

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.”