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.

One Child at a Time

I am back. I have a new job, and a clear path forward in life. It has been a wild ride through life challenges we all face since I last posted here, and I was greeted with backed up comments from an anonymous troll, a very ugly one. Yet, I still want to show up and write because life is good if you let it be. It does not matter who you were yesterday. Today is a new one, and a good one to do something worthwhile. That is exactly what I did.

I have the privilege of working with special abilities athletes on many Saturdays at a cheer gym. My heart grows each moment I spend with them. My challenges seem so inconsequential to those faced by the athletes and their loved ones. I always feel like I walk away each Saturday learning more from them than they learn from me. And their excitement over learning a new skill could provide a new source of light for our sometimes dark world.

Imagine if we all focused on one child at a time, supporting them through challenges. We could teach them about the mistakes we made and how they could avoid them. We could show them unconditional love. We could be a person they deserve. Maybe they would then grow up to be better than we are, making the world a better, less mean place.

You can do this. I’m trying to do this. It’s making me a better person while maybe, just maybe, adding to an improved future where differences make us beautiful, and we want to help each other solve challenges. It may start with a cartwheel today on a gym floor, and with a butterfly effect, turn into more love and kindness tomorrow for all. One child at a time.

 

Finding The Other Side

Whenever I find myself in trouble or hear the woes of others, there is a unifying theme. Everyone is searching for what is on The Other Side of their current strife.

Is is health? Is it a new job? Is it love? Is it love undone? Is it wealth? Is it peace? Is it a trip? It seems for most as if The Other Side is one or two magic things that will make life seem beautiful, whole again. I am learning The Other Side is not that simple or concise.

If you imagine life as a circle you continue around, there really is no Other Side. You will always have closures, new beginnings, and in betweens. Going in circles is dizzying. Most of our world is forced into a linear progression where if we achieve #1, then we can continue on to #2. While I don’t want to go in circles, I know that I have done #1 on many occasions, and #2 never comes. Am I a failure? No, not at all. Maybe I am just not meant to have that #2. Life is not tidy enough to remain linear.

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So how do we pull ourselves out of circles or off endless, hurtful, linear paths?

I like to break down The Other Side into moments I live each day.  This past year, I did not deserve to lose my job. Today, I really don’t want to face oncoming health challenges. I’d love to see what is on The Other Side of these challenges. Also today, I looked in the mirror and realized I made the successful conversion to being a vegan. I am working steadily on my book and job search. I have volunteered and put so much good back into the world while I have

been out of work. And, most importantly, I have people who love me, get me. These things are Other Sides, too. They are not necessarily big moments or solutions to major issues. They make a difference though.

Other Sides can be the in betweens. They can be slides off of vicious cycles. They can be as simple as a glass of tea after a tough day or as complex as a cure for our disease. They can be what is in us waiting to come out or what is outside of us waiting to lift us to new heights. Appreciate them all. It’s how you keep living when life punches you

Feeling The Quiet In Between

img_0249I am noisy. I am always working, engaging others, listening to music, moving, learning, reaching for new heights, and for the most part, growing. To say my life has been chaotic since my 20s might be an understatement. I knew nothing of The Quiet of which others speak. You know, those meditative types with an awesome balance between work, play and rest. That has never been me…until recently.

Life hands you changes, many changes. They can be good or bad, or something along that spectrum. The year of 2018 will deposit in my memory bank as a year of tough changes. It was also a year made of noise I did not like. Everything was loud from demands on my time to the spaces where I worked and lived. I could not find any quiet, even in sleep, and I suffered mentally and physically. I was sleepless on an early morning mid-December morning where I could hear every noise in the house, and I decided I would only find quiet and peace if I made it.

You cannot control everything that happens to you even though you have great power to make things happen.  I need to find a new career, raise a family, get healthy, write, make music, and most importantly, love my people. My noise is not going to disappear in 2019. In fact, it might get louder for a bit. This is where the In Between becomes critical.

I was hiking yesterday with my daughter. My life did not have space for a hike yesterday, but an unusually warm, sunny day in January in Michigan is a gift you don’t refuse. We hiked a wooded path along the Red Cedar River. It was beautifully silent as we made our way. We did talk to each other and stop to take photos. I had no demands during that time though, a time I made during a busy day: An In Between. I could feel The Quiet in me. The noise stopped, my pulse steadied. Everything was going to be okay even when I exited the trail of my In Between.

My life will never be completely quiet. I do not have the luxury of long stretches of nothingness, and I am pretty sure I designed my life this way. Changes will continue to happen, whether I make them or take them. There is still a quiet I can find during the In Between that will be the salve to heal and the glue to keep it together, an essential oil of peace.

 

Joy is Simple

Joy is freshly baked monkey bread, hot from the oven smelling of sugar and spice.

Joy is fresh mangoes, juicy and sweet, sunshine in a little dish on a rainy winter day.

Joy is a desk etched with the scratches of time where a tree grows inside while an old tree passes outside, completing the circle.

Joy is looking for one bird in the bush and finding many, nature’s symphony of life and potential.

Joy is simple. Joy is you.

Breaking the Band

I’ve had my share of bad people in 2018. Whether it was selfishness, greed, insecurity, or all of the above, I’m coming in hot to the end of this year and overdone. I am a loving, forgiving person by nature, so to find myself in a place where I don’t want to do either is unusual and uncomfortable. I am trying to find peace as I move into 2019 no matter what continues to happen or doesn’t with people. I need an analogy. Bands.

U2 has been together many trips around the sun. They’ve had hits and flops. Egos have risen and been bruised. There has been love and love lost. Yet, they continue to travel together in the same composition of their Bono mullet days. Both love and forgiveness had to fuel this longevity.

Now let’s talk Fleetwood Mac. They fired Lindsey. THEY FIRED LINDSEY. They have all loved and hated each other, some two or three times over. They’ve swapped secondary players in and out of the band, and they have swapped with each other, to keep some momentum to the legend they have become. Whether you like them or not, and whether you are Team Lindsey or Team Fleetwood, they are arriving at a new version of peace before they retire.

Simon & Garfunkel. There is no repair or true peace for them. They are forever frienemies. I saw Paul on his farewell tour with my son. There was a sad beauty to him as he spoke of Art. Some bands can’t be repaired. The individuals can go on to find peace and success even if a tiny heartache remains, waxing and waning as their days grow shorter.

You knew I would have to mention the Beatles. Sometimes pressure and Yokos break the best of them. There is tragedy in the loss experienced after the break. Every time Hear Comes the Sun plays though, I can see those four young lads stepping out onto the stage for the first time, breaking hearts and making parents angry. They left something permanent and transformative no matter what happened between them or to them.

Bands arise. Bands break. Some bands remain for a long time, in perpetuity either by staying together or through the legend of their music. Life goes on after bands break. Life goes on after people break. My band broke in 2018. My guitar and banjo are packed and ready for new music, an improved soundtrack of my life, in 2019.

The End is a Beginning

It could have been a worse day on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. I worked a full day until I was called into an office at 4pm and asked to work no more for my employer of the last four years. I was welcomed to stay through 5pm. I opted to gather up my belongings and simply leave. This end was over a year in the making, and I drove away from it sad and elated thinking I am still alive, and I am made of good things. It could have been worse.

The story of how this end came about is for other days. I am more interested today in how beginnings occur. I am a writer. I know how to start a story on paper. I am not paper. I am flesh, blood, brains and feelings. You could put a likeness of me on paper. You only really know me in person though. It has been a long time since I have been a person with a clean sheet of paper, no plans, and a beginning. It is terrifyingly exhilarating to be here.

So what is a beginning other than an end to something else? Fueled by love and moxie (and maybe a little wine), I will define my current beginning as a place to make the next magic of my life happen. I did not leave my skill, my experience, my writing, my music, or my rollicking good humor at the latest end. I did not leave my tribe there either. I brought them with me to this beginning. I will think about what I didn’t like about my last story. I will sadly leave some characters behind. Other than that, I am good to go.

I will find other ways to make a living. I will resurface passions left in the shadows. I will face other ends. I will not lose my love or gratitude. I will live this new beginning with strength and passion. An end is a beginning. Once it is over, you start again, wiser, more free, and full of possibility.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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