Twenty-Twenty

A year in the swirl of the twirl of a life

A blink and a tear from the center of her eye

It came, and it passed, unpaused by the strife

Ignoring the very question, an existential “Why?”

It spun, and it sputtered, finally rushing ahead

A child, somewhat wild, quietly perplexed

Dreams in rough shape yet decidedly undead

Broken, not battered, mildly vexed

Swiftly absorbing the ending of reality’s play

She’s a year, a lifetime, a decade of plenty

Living a lifetime in moments today

Flashing forward, to tomorrow, twenty-twenty

 

 

 

The Unknown

The cold steel gazes upon the fragile flower,

losing its petals in the breezeless sun.

Twisted metal climbing to the clouds while ivy dies on the trellis,

masking darkness only with fleeting life.

Mortal made versus a once eternal beauty,

and man versus a gift that gave a thousand-fold before sunset.

Where there was no end, concrete was placed stealing the illusion

that we could plunge into the sky

and dance along the points of light

to beyond what we know.

We gave it up, sold out, and found a temporary peace with each other

amidst the noise of reality.

Yet when I am alone, under a fall frosted tree,

I remember the mystery and the mastery

of the magic of the unknown.

 

The Neighbor

 

I rarely saw Bob these days, and I was okay with this. We had lived on the same street, a pleasant suburban cul-de-sac with 12 houses, for over 16 years now. He was not entirely unlikable. I just don’t think my family of five or my modern ways could merge with his archaic principles of what constituted good living. I imagined him judging our life from the grand piano perch in his picture window across the street. I was so worried about his silent opinions I did not know this past summer had been hard on him.

I was in line at the local grocery store before Thanksgiving with my nine-year-old daughter when he stepped in line behind me. I turned around to grab our supersized bag of potatoes when our eyes met.

Bob smiled and said, “Hello, how are you today?” This was the most pleasant his voice had ever sounded to me during our random interactions, or interpersonal collisions as I’d like to think of them sometimes, throughout the years.

I cleared my throat, “Great, just getting ready for Thanksgiving.”

“That’s quite the cartful you have there!” He was judging me.

“I have plenty of people to feed, Bob.” His eyes darkened ever so slightly. My daughter was now standing next to me with a gap-toothed smile wanting to intercede. She loved to be a part of every social interaction in which I desperately wanted to exit. Bob’s face lit up again. What came next was obligatory. I held back my eye roll.

“This is my little Luci. She is nine now.”

“Wow, you are lovely, Luci. I can’t believe how much time has snuck away from us.” He waved to my girl, and she waved back. I wish I could screen her thoughts before words come out of her mouth.

Luci cheerily chirped, “What’s your name, and how old are you? You seem old, very old.”

Even the cashier snorted. I was about to perform mommy cleanup for this threat level red “child who says whatever she wants” faux pas when Bob did me solid.

“I am old, so old that I stopped counting, little lady. I remember when your mom would walk you in a stroller during the spring and summer. Every so often, she would stop long enough for my wife and I to look at your beautiful little face and shock of ginger hair. You can call me Mr. Miller.”

Luci giggled. “Okay, Mr. Miller. Where is your wife?”

The air was suddenly sucked out of the grocery store, and I could imagine a rainstorm over Bob with the look that shadowed his face.

“She could not be here today unfortunately.” I softly reached for Luci’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. This had become our much-needed signal of recent days to not ask further questions of any human, animal, or inanimate object. She was smart and understood.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Miller.” Luci continued to smile, the air came back into the store, and we were right for now.

I finished up my order as Bob stood quietly behind us. I could not help but notice his meager grocery trip. It was a grocery order for one, something I had not seen since my days of being single in my early twenties. These days, I nearly needed a second cart. We exchanged the required farewells, and I only turned back once to see the light Luci shone upon Bob disappear as we neared the door.

That night, I shared the encounter with my husband.

“I saw Bob in the grocery store today.”

Dan rolled his eyes. “Did he issue a friendly suggestion that we clean up our leaves or buy a new roof? Or perhaps he asked for the thousandth time if we were going to replace our windows or siding.”

I chuckled. “No. He was different. He really liked Luci. He couldn’t believe how old she was.”

“Well, he is like Gandalf old. Maybe he could use some wizardry to clean our leaves up for us this year.” We had an early cold spell and snow. Nobody wanted to clean up the leaves at this point. Michigan could get to you like this, throwing two to three seasons at you in one week.

“That is not very nice, Dan. His wife was not with him, and his order was small and sad.”

“Maybe she couldn’t stand him either and had to go live in a home.”

“Or maybe she is sick or worse.”

Dan blinked rapidly as if I had made him nervous with my suggestion. “Well, let’s take a look.”

A short internet search later, and we were on the obituary page for Gladys Miller, beloved wife of Robert Miller. She had passed away this summer, July to be exact. I remember her as the stately elderly woman who donned a wide-brimmed sunhat and worked religiously in the Miller’s palace-like garden. I would stop every so often on walks with the kids or dogs to take it in and, if I was lucky, ask for a few tips for my own garden. Even messing about in dirt, Gladys looked fancy in a way that I could never hope to achieve. She was timeless. I was sad.

“I feel bad we didn’t know.” We had lived on this street for so long, it felt indecent not to know when a neighbor had passed. I sent no card. I visited no funeral home. It just happened, and my daughter awkwardly marked the occasion in a grocery store line.

“It wasn’t like we were close to them,” Dan said bringing me back to the moment. I love Dan because he is always trying to make me feel better about our messy life. I did not want to feel better about this though. I wanted to feel worse so I could be motivated to make it right. For now, we let it rest. He kissed my forehead and gave me a quick hug as he went back to cleaning our house for Thanksgiving festivities.

Thanksgiving was done, and our three children were excited by the buzz of the holidays. Luci was still our only generator of the myth of Santa. My teenage son and daughter now saw Christmas as the only time outside of their birthdays to ask for one hundred-dollar shoes or even bigger ticket items like phones and game systems. Despite their consumerism, Christmas was still fun.

Bob and his loss had quickly slipped my mind as I tried to keep up with our holiday family schedule, fueled by coffee and short runs in the bitter cold. It was exactly on one of these runs, light snow in the air, I saw Bob again. He was hanging an elaborate ball of white lights from his one expertly trimmed tree in the front yard. He was on a ladder. I waved as I ran by and smiled, trying to be more conscious of his loss and less conscious of his past judgment. He fell off the ladder as he smiled and waved back. I ran up on his lawn to help him, a form of trespassing on his perfect green carpet as we had discovered on occasion thanks to our kids.

“Bob, are you okay?” He looked bewildered, and he was grabbing at his arm. He shook his head no. I realized he had some blood on his head, too, possibly from hitting a metal container near his ladder. This was my fault for waving. Not only did my family irritate Bob’s sense of perfection throughout the years, I was now a danger to him. I called 911.

The emergency crew arrived quickly. No, I told them I was not his daughter, though I wondered why the daughter and son I knew he had never seemed to be around. Yes, he was on his own here as far as I knew. No, I did not have contact information for his family. Bob, coming to his senses a little, insisted that there was no one to contact. He became aggressive as they pushed him to disclose an emergency contact. I volunteered to stand in as the contact. Bob looked at me sheepishly at first, then grinned through his pain. I ran back home, grabbed my keys, and followed a few minutes behind the ambulance to the hospital leaving my family to wonder if I hit my head.

I waited forever in the emergency room. And after forever, I waited some more. I wanted the neighbor of the year award for this. I traveled through my memory banks of the last 16 years of living on Briarwood Court. I saw Bob as his younger self, a lawn farmer on the weekend and a lobbyist downtown during the week. He name-dropped to me on several occasions. I was Generation X, and I despised lobbyists. While I chose not to despise Bob as my neighbor, I can’t say that I chose to like him either. He was critical. He said rude things to Dan and me. He quipped at my young children to get off his lawn even though they were only touching the edge. Bob could annoy me from afar. Yet here I was being called up to his hospital room as he would have to stay for a surgical consult for a severely broken arm and observation for a concussion.

Bob smiled as I walked into the room. It was a warm smile which I assumed came from an IV full of painkillers.

I sat down by his bedside. He cut the silence with sincerity, “Thank you for taking care of me. I was just trying to hang a little Christmas décor.”

I felt like I, for once, needed to give Bob practical, unsolicited advice. It was part kindness, and three parts revenge for all of his advice giving through the years. “You really should ask for help. I feel partially responsible for waving at you, but you also should not be up there on your own.”

Bob blinked twice. “Well, I am on my own. I really don’t have a choice. I don’t know if you had heard. My dear Gladys passed away this past July. I wanted to tell you in the grocery store, but I did not want to make Luci sad.”

“Bob, I am so sorry. We did not know until the other day. After seeing you in the grocery store, I wondered. So, we did a quick search and found her obituary. I am so, so sorry we did not know.”

“It’s okay. We seem to leave this world a lot more quietly than we enter it. Also, while I am drugged and prone here, I guess we can get really honest. I sensed I was never one of your favorite people to start, so I did not expect you would be closely following the turns of my life.” Bob wound his lips up even further into what looked like a drug-induced super smile. I guess this was his form of a peace offering after dropping truth like a bomb.

“Well, now that you have put it out there, I always felt like nothing we could do would please you. We were always the last to clean up leaves and the most likely to step on your precious, perfect lawn. Seriously Bob, it looks like freshly laid, bright green carpet. You could be singlehandedly contaminating the water supply with pesticides.”

“Spoken like a true liberal of your generation, young lady.” We both laughed quietly, respectful, at first, of the hospital environment. I am not sure how I felt about being called young lady until I studied more closely the significant lines in Bob’s face and sadness in his eyes for the loss of Gladys. I was definitely young compared to him.

“Bob, where are your kids? Why didn’t you let the emergency crew call them? Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to be here to help. I just don’t understand.”

“Oh, I think you do. My kids are a little older than you. I have grandkids, too, four of them. My kids all moved away, and they choose not to come back now that their mother is gone.”

“I’m sorry to hear this.” My heart was beating rapidly. I could not handle the thought of my kids doing the same as they grew older. I was fidgeting now. Bob probably sensed my panic.

He continued, “I don’t think you need to worry. You are a good mother. I can see. Dan is a good father. I can also see this. I was too hard on my kids. I was too busy trying to be a power player downtown. I missed so much. And now, here you sit in their place. Thank you for being here. I don’t deserve it, but I am thankful.”

I was going to give Bob some credit. “You know, I think you had a valid point about the leaves killing the lawn if not cleaned up in a timely manner. Remember when we had an entire patch of lawn turn yellow from it?”

“How could I forget? You live directly across from me. It was hideous.” We threw caution aside and laughed generously, causing a nurse to sternly look in on us with her finger to her mouth.

“Bob, do you have anywhere to be for Christmas?” He did not. “We are gone Christmas day, but we would love to host you Christmas Eve. Even if you have surgery, I bet you will be out of here by then.”

Bob’s stern look, his natural resting face, tried to creep onto his face so he could turn me down. It shorted out though and a genuine look of joy won. “That would be wonderful. Please let me know what I could bring. As you have seen, I have some room in my shopping cart these days.” We laughed again. We laughed some more over the next couple of hours, sharing neighborhood stories and quips with each other. Bob could be lovely. I could be less dismissive of his old school ways. I returned home liking Bob in a way I never thought I could.

Bob died in his sleep that night. When I went to see him the next day, I learned his heart had simply stopped. We attended his funeral. I cried, surprising both Dan and me. A young family moved into Bob’s house in the new year, and in the spring, children’s toys and weeds littered his lawn, causing me to shake my head when I came out of my front door. I cleaned up my leaves as early as possible the following fall. Years down the road, Bob was right. My kids and eventually their kids, came to see us often. Every Christmas, I hung a ball of white lights on one of the three unkempt trees in my front yard. I had taken it off of Bob’s lawn after finding out he died. I knew in my heart he would want me to have it.

2009/2019

The story of my decade is a lovely one. I have more lines and more joy. I am confident in my me-ness. I know who my close friends are. They talk to me not about me. My empathy is at an all time high, and so is my good humor. I still have this red dress in my closet and could rock it at a moment’s notice. I also have so much more to write. Living life fully is a writer’s spark.

What Makes a Good Story

I have recently increased my reading time in support of better writing. I wanted to digest what I loved about the stories I was reading so I could find inspiration to create a story worth reading to others. Here is my shortlist of what makes a story special to me.

  1. Characters that become clear to me through their actions and reactions. By reading how a character responds to situations or others, I can peel back their layers from the safe space of being curled up with a good book. I also like learning how the story changes characters for better or worse. Give me the reasons to love or despise the characters through how they behave. Make their actions speak louder with words.
  2. Enough detail about the setting of a story or specific scenes in the story to get me in the space where the characters live. Even brilliantly crafted characters can fall flat when their setting isn’t specific enough to matter. I want to learn enough about the main setting and individual scene settings to understand how they impact the character or others. For example, whether my character dumps a significant other over the phone from the safety of their place or in a coffee shop face to face might matter in how I view them. Scene setting is an Achilles heel for me in my writing. I now go back when I finish each chapter to see where I can add detail.
  3. Stories where every scene moves us forward (or backward if needed) to something relevant. I like to dive deep and understand characters and their space, but if each word, page, or chapter is not moving me along the story arc or taking me back to places and times of significance, I get bored and skip to where I think the pace picks up again.

Some books I am currently enjoying are Little Fires Everywhere and One Day in December. I would love to hear what stories you are enjoying!

Reasons

What are your reasons for getting up in the morning with a smile on your face? What are your reasons for not giving up during the toughest times? What are your reasons for being you? Only you get to answer these questions, aIMG_5389nd that is a powerful thing.

I have three beautiful children. I have the love of a lifetime. I have family and friends, a close circle these days, and I can trust them to be there. I have a fulfilling career. And, I have a passion for writing, running, music, and veganism. I also have four, yes 4, wonderful dogs and two wooded acres in a community where I fit. All of this makes me smile each day, even on darker days.

I have not always appreciated my reasons to the extent I do now. There were times when things did not go as planned, and times when I made poor choices. I chose to find my way back, and I chose to leave behind what was not good. In this process of learn & burn, I found “the me” I was always meant to be. My reasons inspired me.

Here I am, uniquely me, following my passions. Before me is endless possibility and my reasons. Behind me is the regret and sadness I am not meant to carry forward. I write inspired. I wake happy. I stay healthy. Thank you, reasons. I love you.

On Writing

IMG_5260 (1)

Two weeks ago, after a two year absence from fiction writing, I decided it was time to try again. My head and heart are clear after a renovation of my body. I know how to make things work realistically in my busy life. Most importantly, I’ve carried a new story around for that long in my head, and it was time to let it out.

I will write on weekend mornings to work around my running, work, and people schedules. I have no expectations for what this book will become. I simply want to enjoy the process. There is a wisdom that comes with age. I did not believe it until I found myself at more advanced ages. I am smarter without the arrogance of youth. I hope this will come out in what I write.

Writing is about creating, and creating is fun. Somewhere along the way I forgot this. I’ve missed it. I’m happy to return. This time away has been a reminder not to forget why you do things in the first place: love.

 

Roger Humphrey: One Teacher’s Commitment to Shaping the Future of Classical Guitar, Part II

https://www.facebook.com/RogerHumphreyClassicalGuitar/?fref=tshttp://www.rogerhumphrey.com/Sorry for the delay in this next installment of the interview with Roger Humphrey, classical guitar great (even though he would be too humble to say this himself). It has been a chaotic existence for me, including some WordPress technology issues. This, however, is a great way to kick off Part II of the interview with my treasured classical guitar instructor.

Roger gets technology, and he wields it well in making sure he reaches students and interested parties regularly. From regular blogging on the art of music, backed beautifully by his tenure as an player and instructor and his humor, to his use of FaceTime and Skype ensuring students near and wide maintain regular lessons, Roger seamlessly blends classical and modern.

In fact, he helped keep me on track with lessons last week when I was unable to make our in-person time slot due to the aforementioned chaos. He understands life happens, but beautiful music makes it better. I would still be struggling on 4th string music reading and Yankee Doodle if it weren’t for a FaceTime call last Thursday. Roger had me work backwards through the second line of music, saying the notes as I played and stringing (pun intended) it all together bar by bar.

To celebrate my technology savvy instructor, we learn more about his history as a teacher, and a little love story as promised in the last post below.

_________________________________________________________________

What motivated you to teach guitar/music?

When I had a normal day job, getting out of bed in the morning was exhausting to me. Teaching has always just come naturally because I enjoy it so much. And, the opportunities for me to teach have come naturally as well. I have never needed to pursue jobs teaching music as they have been offered to me ever since I decided to focus my career on being an instructor. I taught at Olivet College for 26.5 years, in addition to Lansing Community College, Kellogg Community College, Michigan State University, and Alma College.

I also teach private lessons and found myself in a spot 15 years ago where I was teaching 93 private lessons, 5 college classes, and had 26 people on a waiting list. My wife asked how long I was going to keep that up. I said, “Fifteen weeks and not a day longer!”

I now teach about 55 people a week. I just don’t know what I’d do if I did not teach. I enjoy it.

Is it any different for you teaching these days? Have students changed?

It is not a lot different other than I find I have less patience at times. Music is important to the human condition, and while I see some differences in child rearing and focus, kids still find learning music a cool thing to do, and I want to teach them.

I am serious about teaching as a profession, so I used to wear a coat and tie every day, and this created a sense of respect. I have scaled this back to more casual attire, but I still believe you need to act professional and look professional to create a good musical learning environment.

What has been a highlight of your teaching career? How about a low time?

On a more personal side, in the late 70s, I had the worst student. She didn’t practice and did not do well in practices, so I ended up marrying her. That was 36 years ago. We were both divorced at the time, and music brought us together.

Another time of significance I can remember was about 10-12 years ago at the end of a recital for my students. One of the fathers of an 8 year old boy stood up and complimented me in front of everyone. This inspired a standing ovation, my only ovation ever, even with performing. It was unexpected and a little embarrassing, but it validated my life choice. I only wished my mother and father were there to see it.

I sometimes have a disappointment here and there in teaching, and I still have not learned how to effectively teach a love for the process of learning music. I want my students to stop thinking of the outcome, and simply love getting the instrument out to figure out the puzzle before them, appreciating the challenge of it for 30 minutes or whatever time alone they have to focus on playing. They can experience real joy when something comes together, and it sounds suddenly beautiful. This is not mowing the lawn or doing chores after all!

What advice would you give to students picking up a guitar for the first time?

I would really want students to focus on enjoying the process of learning right out of the gate and not giving in to impatience or frustration. Also, playing well is not an obligation to perform. There is a pressure to perform if you play well. I had a student once read me the riot act for not performing. You have every right to be good and not want to walk out on the stage. Playing well and performing are two separate things. You play for you first, and then decide what to do from there. I have a saying on the wall in my lesson room: We will learn to play beautiful music beautifully.

___________________________________________________________________

Roger does indeed teach students to play beautiful music beautifully. I’ve watched my son do this as a result of Roger’s instruction. I am starting to play in a manner which makes me smile. I unfortunately have more content from this interview than I could fit into two posts. I may ask Roger to revisit some of this content dealing more with classical guitar and its future in another post in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to follow Roger’s blog and visit his website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. Also be sure to add him to your Spotify and other playlists! The links are as follows:

http://rhumphrey223.blogspot.com/

http://www.rogerhumphrey.com/

https://www.facebook.com/RogerHumphreyClassicalGuitar/?fref=ts

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5NDXiMcc2vjw3vRfspJe-Q

 

 

 

 

The Art of Learning Music

Hello. I am back after a break where I assisted in running a fabulous writing conference and completed two major work projects. During these events in my life, one thing remained consistent: my effort to learn music.

Through my full immersion into learning bluegrass banjo over the past year, followed by starting down the path to electric and classical guitar, I have learned more about myself as a person than ever before, including the following:

  1. I have a remarkable work ethic and a dogged desire to keep at something until I get it right, and
  2. I have a knack for finding the right people to be partners in my learning.

I am sure some people are born with a natural fluency for music, and they quickly find the right strings, keys, percussion points, and breaths of air to produce beautiful noise. I, on the other hand, liken my fingers finding the right strings and frets on my banjo and guitars to drunk giraffes (nice, longish fingers with decent nails) wandering the Serengeti aimlessly, eventually becoming entangled in the chaos. So, I have to work really hard at learning, and I rely heavily on daily practice and various resources to learn. There is an art to learning the art of music, and here are the mediums I use to learn.

I practice, on average, one hour a day. As often as I can, I try to increase this by a half hour to one hour or find moments in the day where I can pick up an instrument and perform one piece of music or an exercise (even scales) quickly between life’s activities. I use a metronome for a portion of all practices, and I touch all three instruments daily. It is my labor of love, and one I have been engaging in for nearly 365 days straight since 2/7/2015. Doing the math now, and I’m going to guess I have practiced between 450 and 500 hours. This would equate to me practicing for nearly 21 days straight at the high end if somebody locked me up and threw away the key, and I did not sleep or eat or etc. I am not planning on this by the way! Music is life, and you must live life to make music.

I also find time to read music theory books and relevant magazines and newsletters as well as watch YouTube performances or lessons to learn from those much more talented than me. I am never without tunes in my ear whether at work or play, and I study and listen to the greats for each instrument.

All of this is wonderful, filling my soul cup daily with bourbon, and I am making significant progress as a result of the effort and focus. There is something much more important than this though. I could not do this without the help and guidance of two talented, interesting, and dedicated instructors for helping me along the path to playing music beautifully.

Recently, I was given the gift of an interview with my classical guitar teacher, Roger Humphrey. I will be sharing his story, wit, and wisdom in a two part blog special starting tomorrow. I hope you will stay with me on this journey.

In the meantime, please check out Roger online:

http://www.rogerhumphrey.com/

https://www.facebook.com/RogerHumphreyClassicalGuitar/

http://rhumphrey223.blogspot.com/