the power of music

A young man or woman goes to the music store.
Or the pawn shop.
They buy a beat up guitar.
A keyboard.
Some blank music sheets.
Or a note pad and a number 2 pencil.
They sit in their basement with their headphones. Fumbling to play along to their favorite artist.
Or, on the side of a lazy river, scribbling the lyrics to their someday breakout hit.

They dream.

Do they dream about fame? And fortune? Thousands of screaming fans clamoring for their attention, in desperate need to hear their favorite song? Isn’t that the goal, after all? I would imagine it is.

But I wonder if an aspiring artist knows that, despite their level of achieved success, they have the potential to make someone’s day, even change their life by sharing a piece of themselves with us.

Did Bruce Springsteen know that a 47 year old man would immediately go to his music while driving 2 hours on a cold December night, tears streaming down his face, to see his father before he draws his last breath?

Did Journey know that their music would make millions of 80’s kids remember sweaty fumblings in the back seat of sedans and slow dances with their High School Sweetheart?

Did Van Morrison know that Into the Mystic would always remind me of that one night, sitting oceanside, watching a thunderstorm in the distance, drinking bourbon in beach chairs with a dear friend that has since died?

Did Dawes know that in his song A little bit of everything he would perfectly illustrate, as if on a design board, how to approach life when you don’t know how many days you have to live?

Did Michael Franti know that he would inspire my blog when he sang Good to be alive today? The song that slapped me in the face and told me that it is so simple, and necessary that I spend each day trying to make the world a better place and just be glad to be ALIVE.

So many songs.
So many associations.
So many memories.
So many things to so many people.
So many powerful emotions. Smiles of nostalgia. Tears of angst. Pains of heartache, sadness and loss. Euphoria and joy. The urge to play air guitar or pound the steering wheel to your favorite drum solo. The feeling that you have been where the artist has.

I have listened to thousands of songs in my life. There are millions of songs that I still want to hear. Songs that I know could speak to me. That will make me feel something, experience something powerful. I can only hope that when I hear them, I have a takeaway. Something that I can relate to. A fresh perspective on a old subject, a new spark to light the candle of another fond yet dormant memory.

Here’s to the person out there, just getting started, setting out on your musical journey and hoping for all of the typical trappings of success. May they know that success can me measured in so many ways.

Always keep in the back of your mind that you may change just one life with your efforts.


Dating in the modern world…

I’m an old-fashioned guy. In short, I look to a previous time for guidance in how I conduct myself. I have an eclectic approach, I’m not stuck in the past, but I do believe that previous generations possessed a code of conduct that worked and is lost on younger generations. I keep it alive because I’ve seen it in action, I believe in it and I do believe it is ingrained in me.

I suspect that I’m much older than most of my readers and I may be talking about an unfamiliar topic. For the sake of this writing, the old-fashioned values I cherish are as follows:

  • respect for elders
  • honoring your word
  • a firm handshake and direct eye contact
  • be tolerant and accepting of other’s viewpoints
  • holding the door for a lady

Did you double-take on the last one? Yes, I am a guy who holds a door for a lady. Not for a chick, a broad, a ho, bae, some strange or a side-bitch. A lady. And I will not apologize for this. I am fully aware that a woman can open her own door and I make no assumptions of dominance nor intend a lack of respect when I do it. It’s a nice gesture and I do it. I believe there are women, and a lot of them, that long for an old-fashioned guy. If they’ve never met one it’s about time they did.

Last night my mother opened a video sent her by one of her dating site connections. It was titled “Does this turn you on?” She opened it, it was a 74-year-old man jerking off for the camera. Facepalm…I thought an older man would be better than that. Mom does too.

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Dating has always been a game. Even though I’ve been in an exclusive, faithful relationship for 25 years I know that the game has changed. Dating is very casual. The conventional “relationship” has changed on both sides. Monogamy is considered an almost outdated construct. Sex is much easily obtained with a lot less effort and commitment. The way I knew it was a lot of work and few guaranteed results. Now, a man has to put in a bare-bones effort and is almost guaranteed to score. Women like hounds apparently.

I get it, it’s a by-product of the times. We live in a time where we are entitled to everything, hard work is not valued and instant gratification is awesome. We talk to each other through screens; we use text messaging to avoid conversation; we compromise our own integrity in the interest of cheap pleasure. There has to be something between my Grandfather’s day when a man “went a’ courting” his best gal and today’s man texting “‘sup bitch, wanna hook up?”

I don’t just want a woman that I can respect, I want a woman that respects herself. Sex is not a true victory, it’s just her letting a man into her pants. A true victory is when she respects you for how you treat her and she then lets you into her heart. Sex is great, but what are you going to talk about after?

I’ll continue to hold the door for a woman. I’m pretty sure when she’s done being offended she’ll find herself just a little turned on.

Poker face

“You know, there’s this really great support group at a church in town. You may get something out of it” she said. Roxanne had startled me, I was zoning out in the chair. I removed my headphones, retracted the extendable arm of the TV, turned and gave her my full attention.

“Do I look to you like I need to go to a support group?” I asked. “I’m the last one in this room who needs that.” I subtly pointed out the people around me, nodding my head in their direction. “I mean, look around.” All around me were cancer patients, attached to bottles and tubes getting chemo, plasma and god knows what. They looked very sick. I was the only non-cancer patient in the infusion center, there for an anemia deficiency. I thought I looked pretty good in comparison.

“Bill, you’re carrying around an awful lot of baggage, you can deny it all you want but this is what I do. It wouldn’t hurt to talk to someone.” I didn’t question Roxanne’s pedigree, she was good at her job. She knew all of her patients that had walked in after me, enough to hug them and in some cases elicit tearful responses. This was my first time at the infusion center and I felt like I have known her for twenty years. She was older yet youthful, matronly but attractive, professional but very comforting. I had come in expecting a simple shot, I was to find out that I was to be seated for a 90-minute infusion. In the time it took her to swab my arm, insert my IV and hook up the bag she had extracted my entire medical and personal history. She was very easy to talk to. I felt like she knew me. But did she know me enough to tell me I need help dealing with my apparently visible emotional baggage?

The problem is that I think I’m doing pretty good with everything. A lot has happened, and I have lost a lot of what is dear to me. But I roll on, in my family tradition and I try to stay positive. In doing so I make an effort to concentrate on my body language and facial expressions. Beneath it all, I am a control freak through and through. If I look like I am handling it, then I am handling it. What goes on in my mind will not show on my face.  I’m not feeling bad for myself, I don’t ask anyone for anything and I don’t want pity. “Why me?” is not part of my lexicon.

It never occurred to me that maybe I’m not pulling it off as well as I thought. Maybe only someone like Roxanne, the infusion center cougar, whose job it is to provide relief and comfort to the truly sick among us, can see through it. Or maybe I’m just kidding myself. Maybe I should talk to someone.

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I always thought I was a good poker player. I won a lot of tournaments. Until one day I played with my friend Jeff. He called all of my bluffs and beat me handily. It turns out I have a lot of “tells” that he picked up on. If I don’t have the poker face I thought I did, then maybe Roxanne is right. I mean, it can’t hurt, right?

Another anniversary

Six years ago, at this very hour, I was undergoing Kidney transplant surgery. My family and my donor’s family waited nervously in the waiting room and friends and co-workers at home anxiously waited to see how we were doing.

I woke many hours later. I woke to bustling nurses, the beep of numerous machines, flashing lights and tubes and wires coming out of everything. The incision area was very painful, but I quickly realized that I already felt better than I had in years. Kidney disease patients often complain about a “fuzzy head”, feeling “off”. My head was clear.

The next day my donor and I were flooded with visitors. She was in a lot of pain but mobile, I was not, so she hung out in my room. Because we were co-workers many came to see the both of us it worked out great. I was still really sore and heavily medicated but the company was welcome. We were all celebrating a truly amazing thing, a co-worker donating a vital organ to another is such a selfless act, I felt like I was witnessing a historic moment.

As my recovery progressed, I committed myself to be better than before. I wanted to get back the strength I had lost, to truly commit to good health and get the maximum out of the estimated 15-20 years that I could expect from this kidney.

While I did enjoy some physical milestones in hiking, basketball, mountain biking and weight training, a mere 4 years later  I hit a wall. I got sick again, and by the symptoms, I knew what it was. After several biopsies, it was determined that the original disease that had destroyed my original kidneys over the course of 30 years had come back and done a ton of damage in just one year.

I’ve struggled to reconcile this for the last 2 years. I feel angry that I wasn’t told of this possibility. I feel sad that I can’t do the physical activities that came easily to me a mere 2 years ago. I even feel bad that my donor’s generous gift wouldn’t last as long as she and I had hoped. But I do not feel bad for myself and I do not ask “why me?’ I got a shit hand, it happens.

Six years ago today my Facebook page virtually exploded with encouragement and positive messages. I have truly never experienced anything like that. Some people may never experience such an outpouring of support. Some people may never experience a second chance at anything. I did, and for that, I am grateful, regardless of what the future holds.

great idea…someone else can do it

Leopards have spots, Zebras have stripes, people will always be a disappointment. Some things never change.

I am not usually one to promote such fatalistic, gloomy stuff but I’m entitled. I am a big believer in people. I believe in their basic goodness, that most people are decent and charitable beings and are worth investing in. Some people are a bit more difficult but I try to assume is good until proven otherwise. I was raised that way.

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Some are held to a higher standard. When I joined Freemasonry, the oldest fraternity in the world, I joined in hopes of being around men of the character of its most famous members, founding fathers, presidents and civic leaders. The appeal of Freemasonry was to follow in the footsteps and surround myself with good men. Men of character, with a strong moral compass who dedicate their time and resources to improving their family, their community and themselves. Freemasonry was a natural draw for me, they are low-key in their labors for the community and seek no accolades or praise. The best giving is anonymous giving.

I joined and immediately became an enthusiastic, active member. I volunteered at charity events like blood drives, medical equipment loaner programs, and other such activities. I spent time with some great men, many much older than me, and I learned a lot from them.

Our lodge, or meeting place is a special place. Within our walls, there is a strong sense of fraternity and friendship. Participation is encouraged, selflessness is required. Members are asked to step forward, not wait to be asked, to offer ways to improve our fraternity and our lodge. I eagerly stepped forward. Dare I say I jumped into the pool. I joined committees and local organizations as an envoy or ambassador. I enjoyed it immensely, it was good for my character. Unfortunately, I noticed too late that I was one of the only ones. Everyone else was stepping back and letting me do all the work.

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I tried not to get annoyed, but after 3 years of it, I noticed that if I didn’t step up things weren’t happening. I began to feel taken advantage of. So I slowly weaned myself off. I was still active in meetings but I started asking for help, for others to step up and join me, or actually do it without me. I talked of good things; coat drives for veterans, food drives for the local food bank, money for the school kids that needed things outside of traditional programs. Crickets in the room.

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Freemasons take upon themselves an obligation. Part of that is to be selfless, support our brethren and be charitable within your means. I began to realize that my brothers weren’t living up to their obligations.

This year I ran into some life-changing events. I told my brothers that I would not be available for much this year, that my usual assignments would have to be delegated. I am very sorry, but not surprised to report that as of today they have not replaced me, that activity is at an all-time low, that our charities are suffering and our attendance is a joke. I should feel bad. But I don’t.

I learned something. Even though an organization has a long history of above-average people, “better men” to their credit they are, at the end of the day regular people. And regular people can be a disappointment. Some things will never change.

The Scorpion and the Frog

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The first time I heard the story of the Scorpion and the Frog it stuck like glue. After all, isn’t one of the eternal questions “can man really change?” I wanted to believe that people are capable of change but as I get older I am less confident. I do believe that people can improve, but our demons, our bad habits, are still there.

I used to be an unforgiving prick. I once told an old high school classmate, who had tracked me down (before the age of FB when it was a lot harder) in my early twenties. He had sought me out to apologize for wronging me in HS. He was in step 9, making amends. Despite his great effort and sincerity, my answer was to tell him to go Fuck himself. Not a proud moment. I’m not a hateful guy, in fact, I am generally known as a nice guy. I just have a problem with forgiveness.

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As I got older, and my blood pressure was increasing, I taught myself to let some things go. Part of that was to forgive. It required me to control, not change my nature. Anger, stress, and bitterness are a burden to carry around. It is a weight that affects your body as much as carrying actual weight. I committed to it. Since then I have forgiven people that deserve it, and some that don’t. I have given second chances to people that I normally wouldn’t. It’s the right thing to do. I’m better, and lighter, for it.

A self-aware man is a walking dichotomy. He is two men; the one he is and the one he wants to be. The only way to achieve the second is to improve and refine the first. He needs to recognize his flaws, move past his own ego and change it. This is a great way to ensure a great future. It does not, however, do anything about his past.

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Past behavior is a great descriptor of a man’s nature. Your “nature” is usually defined as your most visible, known attribute. It is what people reflect on at your funeral. “Ahhhh, he was a real genuine guy”, “he was a generous guy”, “she was a kind soul”. My father measured a man’s nature by whether or not someone would or would not “give you the shirt off of his/her back”.  It’s your legacy.

I have become very concerned about my legacy lately. Even though I have twenty +- years left I have had enough reality checks to know that it is not too soon to work on my legacy. It isn’t a tremendous undertaking, I have rectified most of my past mistakes in which I think I may have hurt someone. But I have a few left.

Today, on my way up from a doctor’s appointment I decided to do a pop-in on an old friend who had just bought a business near me. He and I go way back but haven’t spoken in many years because I offended him at his wedding. I brought to his wedding a guest that he warned me would upset his new bride. He was correct on that one. It wasn’t pretty and I took a lot of heat about it. We really haven’t spoken since.

I found his place and I gathered myself in the car before I went in. I found him under the hood of a ’79 Lincoln doing what he does best. I got his attention by cracking a weak joke about a car that I used to bring to him. He recognized me right away and we began to talk. It really never reached friendly, I could tell he wasn’t any happier to see me than a guy selling him a new socket wrench. I didn’t offer the apology today, it wasn’t the right time. I just asked if we can get together sometime for a beer and talk. He gave me a non-committal “sure that sounds great” and excused himself to go back to work. I left.

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He’s still pissed and that’s ok. I’m the first person to tell you that just because someone is willing to be forgiven doesn’t mean someone is ready to forgive him. He probably thinks that I haven’t changed. That my nature is still the hard-charging, screw the consequences type that I was twenty years ago.

There is still time for him to decide if he would let me get on his back for a ride across the river.

Talking to granite

I never thought I would be the guy to sit in a cemetery and talk to a piece of granite. I have lost many, too many, friends and family and I always make my visits to their places of rest. But I don’t sit and talk. That changed when I lost my Dad.

Yesterday was the 4th anniversary of his death. I wasn’t in the mood to write yesterday, it’s a tough day for me. Living in a house that he built doesn’t help. I see his touch everywhere in the woodworking, design, and collectibles. As I write this I’m sitting in his favorite chair with his beloved dog sleeping at my feet.

4 years later I still tear up when I think of him and when I attempt to talk about him I invariably choke up. I have been fortunate to have been asked to speak at some events I am a part of and have foolishly attempted to speak of my father and consequently blubbered in front of packed rooms. Historically, I am not a crier. But when it comes to Dad I can’t control it.

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As a guy with a long family tradition of “sucking it up and moving on” I am puzzled why it is not getting easier as the years pass. Time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t fill all voids. His loss occurred at a time in my life I probably needed him the most. I was finally coming around to understanding the things he said. Things that I rejected in my youth that I later learned he was dead on about. I had just started to appreciate his simplistic approach to life; be nice to people, tell the truth and work hard and the rest will come. I had just started to recognize that people with his value system and work ethic were slowly vanishing and his presence was a treasure. I was at a point when I needed his eternal optimism to fuel me as I entered the worst chapter of my life. He was minimalism at its finest…less is more. Less showboating, less ego, less drama, and aggravation.

I miss him. The world was a better place with him in it. He deserved better. He worked so hard for so many years to provide for his family and build a retirement. He retired early because his co-workers were all dying young. He enjoyed about 3 years before Parkinson’s reared its ugly head. It reduced a strong, proud man to a mere shell in a long 8 years. Those years took more than his mobility, they took his pride and his independence. Death was a relief for him, I saw his face when he took his last breath.

My life has been especially challenging lately. I am trying to maintain the family optimism and positivity. It’s getting harder. I wish I still had him telling me that everything is going to work out. I suppose while I’m wishing for things I wish that he could have enjoyed his retirement. I wish that he could have celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. I wish I could tell him how many things he was right about.

I wish that I didn’t have to tell a granite slab things that I wanted to tell him to his face.

Tell the people in your life how you feel about them today, don’t wait. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. You may find yourself sitting in a cemetery talking to granite also. If you’re reading this it’s because I chose to share it with you. Because I care about you and I won’t wait until it’s too late to tell you. Regret is as eternal as granite.