Controlling the Chaos

My current project of decluttering my life is already producing the effects I wished for. With each thing I discard I feel freer and lighter. This isn’t confined only to the material possessions I’ve kept through the years, it also includes outdated, ill-fitting, or otherwise unnecessary ideas and goals, but it begins with the material world and filters on through the mental, emotional, and spiritual. Funny how that works. I’ve always maintained that our outer environment reveals the condition of our inner state and, this cottage, with its doilies, figurines, lace, and old family chotchkies revealed my need for a home life I enjoyed growing up. It’s been nurturing and safe, but I’m ready to step out from that womb. I’m not saying I don’t like the cottage style, I’m just tired of it. It’s holding me back and it no longer resonates with who I’m evolving into, and who Nettl and I are becoming as a couple. Oddly, when I was younger I adored the grandma look, but now that I’m of the grandma age, I want a more active look. As I said to Nettl one night last week, “I don’t want the ‘Arsenic And Old Lace’ look anymore.”

I have about two weeks to get this place ready for the new furniture and as you probably have experienced in your own life, when you pick out a new sofa you notice other things that need to be replaced. Suddenly, the drapes are tired, the coffee table is out of place, and the walls are no longer crisp. Fortunately, our current wall color, a warm café au lait, works well with the new colors, which are taupe, tan, and espresso, like this Peppered Tones palette, minus the blue. I can’t tell you how relieved I am. I wasn’t looking forward to painting these two rooms again. But buying the right paint really paid off. It hasn’t faded, chipped or washed off a bit since we rolled it on nearly eight years ago. Now, that’s great paint!

The most arduous part of this project is emotional, though. Thoughts of Oh, look. Mom’s doilies! and I remember when we bought this! flood my mind, and I’m forced to decide which box something is destined for: “Keep on Display,” “Store in Attic,” “Donate to Habitat,” or “Trash.” You have to be mentally and emotionally ready for this kind of decluttering; it isn’t something I’d advise you force yourself to do. You’ll know when (or even if) you’re ready when the urge to feel unencumbered  outweighs your sentimentality, and when your peace of mind is crowded and pinched by the things you’ve been holding onto. Whether it’s an idea, a habit, a relationship, an attitude, or a table, you’ll know when it’s time to let it go. If it happens at all. I mean, it’s not mandatory for everyone in order to maintain their happiness. For me, it is. I’m done with the pain, the drama, the fear, the xenophobia, and the chaos of modern life and I’m creating a private world where curiosity, the arts, intellectual pursuits, wanderlust, and the celebration of our diverse and magical world can be celebrated. As above so below, as without so within.

Physically, the hardest part is redoing the gallery wall above the piano in the music room. I’m already taking down the Baroque frames and now irrelevant images, which I want to replace with photos of our travels, book-related events we’ve attended, and our musical performances. All that frilly filigree? Gone. Likewise, the larger wall in the living room is undergoing a radical change. Three framed pieces are being moved to other walls to make room for a grid of black and white photos we’ve taken through the years. Not photos of people, but of architectural elements, storefronts, and other interesting things we’ve shot here in Stillwater.

Mostly, my work right now consists of cleaning out the debris and clutter I’ve accumulated in myself through the years. The physical part of this project ends at the close of the day, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual parts continue.

Hm. I wonder how my inner self will relax once my outer self is planted in the recliner we’re buying…

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If I Only Had a Sign

From L.A. Story, starring Steve Martin

In a meditation on my birthday back in September, I got down to business and told myself/the universe/God/whatever that I wanted a definite, unmistakable sign about which of my two creative expressions—either my books or my album—I’m supposed to concentrate on in 2017. I would be happy working on either one, I stressed, but I needed to know which path I was supposed to take because I didn’t want to waste precious time pouring myself into something that would bear no fruit.

The larger part of me didn’t really expect anything to happen. I’ve been let down my entire life in my ongoing search to have faith in the validity of faith. Beloved childhood mythological entities like Santa Claus had let me down, revered religious figures had let me down, and in more recent years The Secret and all that weebie-wobie, pink cloud, white light crap had let me down.  All the same, in this extremely proactive, confrontational meditation I promised I would accept help from anyone or anything and give credit where it’s due once the project was completed and bearing that fruit.  I wasn’t easy. I demanded an irrefutable sign of some kind. I wouldn’t settle for something flimsy and I wouldn’t read non-existent, pie-in-the-sky, self-serving meaning into otherwise mundane events. My greatest purpose was not to lie to myself.

Actually, until last week I’d forgotten about that meditation and, believe it or not, signs came. Tangible, irrefutable synchronicities that reminded me of my leap of non-faith faith. From out of the blue, unsolicited help has come in from different places where my album is concerned while there has been nothing whatsoever about my books, but when the single, incontestable sign came last night, I knew I’d received an answer.

“Sci-fi has never really been my bag, but
I do believe in a lot of weird things these
days, such as synchronicity. Quantum
physics suggests it’s possible, so why not?”
John Cleese

Actually, it all started when I checked into my ReverbNation account one night just before Christmas. I hadn’t been in there for a few months and at that time I had just 12 fans, all who mostly were musician friends. Man, was I taken aback when I logged in and saw that I had nearly 1000 fans and a number of comments from strangers praising my songs! So I tidied up my profile page, added the two videos that I posted here, and “fanned” back some people. At the time I thought it might be a sign, but it was too flimsy, too serendipitous, and too easily explained as a consequence of the passage of time and of simply having a page there at all. I was encouraged, but I let it pass.

Jim Rolfe

Then, one night last week as I sat up late writing, I received a text from a man whose musicianship I’ve admired for a number of years. Jim Rolfe is the quintessential musicians’ musician. Not only does he write amazing music and can play any instrument he lends his hands to, he’s well-respected around the country, having performed both onstage and in the studio with many other musicians for the past 50 years. He’s seasoned, professional, dedicated, and just a darned nice human being. When he texted me asking for the guitar and vocal tracks of Judge and Jury, I was stunned. You might remember that in 2015 Jim offered to help with this album but, due to my aversion to using people, I never followed up with him. (Wild Bil McCombe first offered to help, which I accepted for one song, but no others. I may have to rethink his offer and invite him in on another song or two.) Jim said he had some ideas and would like to add them to the mix. Now, normally I wouldn’t send anyone the naked tracks of my demos, but this was Jim Rolfe so I sent them without reservation. I’m not an idiot. I  still didn’t think this was enough of a sign to justify closing my book’s manuscript and pull out my music, though, but I knew that if it were a sign another would come along to support and substantiate it. I’ve always believed in the saying,

“Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence,
thrice is confirmation.”

The confirmation came last night when he sent me the first mix and  I was gobsmacked by what he’d added. Bass, drums, guitar, mandolin—I’m not sure what all is in there, but I loved what I heard. We communicated back and forth about it and, feeling the need to test this supposed threefold sign, I pushed a little harder. Terrified I might overwhelm him (i.e. scare him away) with demands and assumptions (which I’ve never done with anyone before where my music is concerned for fear of coming on too strong), I, in my fashion, jokingly asked if he might want to work on some other songs, perhaps even mix and produce the entire album? Heh-heh, just kidding… I even went so far as to explain that I can’t afford to pay him, really, but I’d give him full credits and a cut of the sales. Heh-heh… I never expected the answer that came back. I mean, he’s a busy man. Not only does he perform,  record and tour, he also teaches guitar and has a life! He replied with, “Let me know what you are thinking as far as another song, etc.” I then audaciously suggested I send him my demos as I complete them and he sent me a thumbs up followed by a smiley face.

So there we are! I’m amped! As of Tuesday I’ll begin not only recording demos of the songs I already have, I’ll be writing new songs. I’ll get back to my books when this project is completed. I still don’t know what I have faith in, but whatever it is, I’m a believer!

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Catching Up

Catching Up

I was amazed as well as a bit off put when I saw that it’s been nearly two weeks since my last post. Two weeks? Really? But I have a good fistful of excuses.

Excuse 1, the Noble:

Of course, you already now that NaNoWritMo has been taking up a great deal of my time. My take? It’s great as an exercise in self-discipline and an easy way to increase your Twitter followers, but for me that’s about it. About one week in I came to the conclusion that if I were going to see it through to the end, I had to think of it as sketches for my book, not the actual manuscript. Once I was able to shift my thinking, the flood gates opened and the words began to pour forth. Writing straight through from beginning to end with no re-reading and no editing just isn’t my M.O. Will I take part next year? I honestly don’t know. I mean, I could be spending this time working on my album instead, but it has given me back my writing mojo so it hasn’t been a waste of time. Not by a long shot.

Excuse 2, the Justification:

This year we decided to draw names for Christmas. There are eight of us these days and not a one of us can really afford to buy that many presents. For us as parents it means buying double that (we like to give each of our five kids two gifts), and the others are working hard to get their foot in the door of life. To make it even easier for our kids, we decided that we would be a single entity in the drawing: “The Moms” as opposed to us as individuals. Our Lauren drew The Moms and, being the enterprising, practical, and generous person she is, she gave us our gift early: she put us on her T-Mobile plan and had two spanking new iPhones sent to us. Need I elaborate on this excuse? I thought not. So now that we’re out of the Dark Ages, we’re having fun taking and uploading pictures of the pets and of our plates. Hey! When you got your first smart phone you did it too. Do you know how devastating it was to sit here looking at post after post of that crap? Of not being able to get an Instagram account? Of not having access to the web, and not having apps? Our most recent phones were just one step up from flip phones. And they were through Net10 to boot. Bite me. It’s your turn to look at pictures of my cats and my fish tacos. I’m only one person. You were legion.

Excuse 3, I’m Only Human:

My body is still adjusting to the 5-HTP supplement I started taking late last month. Some days I feel like I’ve snorted a hefty white line and other days dynamite couldn’t blast me off my arse. That the aforementioned NaNoWriMo might play a part in this energy fluctuation has not gone unnoticed. Also, Angry Birds until four in the morning.

Excuse 4, Nigel, Leaves, and Christmas:

As winter approaches, Nigel starts altering his routine. There are fewer hours between his dinner time and nightfall, and I don’t like walking him after dark. It creeps me out although I know he’d eat the nuts off of anyone who might want to cause me harm. Still, we matter, too, and I have to fix his dinner, cook our dinner, eat said dinner and take him on his evening walk all between 5 and 7 o’clock. On the surface this has nothing to do with not being able to write a blog entry once in awhile, but I walk him three times a day. This means that his one-hour pre-dinner, pre-walkies alert system makes these demands last twice as long. I also must count the hours I spend calling down his barking tirades every time someone walks or bicycles past our house. “Calling down” usually entails putting down my laptop, getting up to show him the spray water bottle (when “Do I have to get the water bottle?” doesn’t work), sitting back down and trying to find my train of thought that’s choo-chooed around the bend. This is no small thing. While writing this very post I’ve had to do this no less than five times, I shit you not. That I’ve managed to take part in NaNoWritMo and stay ahead of the game confounds me.

We have an 80 year-old oak and a bald cypress on either side of our driveway. Leaves fall, I rake, wind blows, I rake. Leaves fall, I rake, wind blows, I rake. Leaves fall, I rake, wind blows, I rake. I’m 64 years old. I rake, I ache, I take something for pain, I nap. I also pick up trash that blows into this large corner property, remove fallen limbs and chase after lawn chairs as they blow across the yard. Autumn is probably my least favorite season.

Meanwhile, we’re planning a large, Griswold family Christmas this year and there are a couple of things I want to do in preparation, like paint the kitchen. The color we used when we moved here in 2009 has faded to a pale, pale, mint green and has lost its earlier apple green vibrancy. I prefer a green kitchen so I’ve decided on a medium sage. I have other projects in mind, maybe paint our bedroom as well. Not sage, but a restful blue. Then there’s my ever-present holiday food, cleaning, and decorating lists every year.

NaNoWriMo ends on the 30th so I hope to get back to regular posting after that date. Then again, after reading this post I can’t help but wonder.

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Keeping It Simple


I’m one of those people, who, when inspired to create a simple project, will always complicate it, making it more difficult than it needs to be. When an idea comes to me and I decide to manifest it, I invariably take it as far as I’m able. A short story becomes a trilogy, a pencil sketch turns into wall mural, and a piano sonata turns into a symphony. On and on it goes. I’ve always done this and up until now it’s never bothered me or held me back, but as I’ve gotten older this has changed.

Take my album for example. My initial idea was to make it a simple production; four tracks at most. The main vocal, sometimes a harmony, and maybe double-tracked guitar, but as usual, I began to think larger and larger until I was momentarily thrown off the whole idea. Take after take after take, ping-ponged tracks and full-tilt band arrangements just seemed to complicate everything until my basic idea, as well as the music itself, became unrecognizable to me. I began to move out of my realm, causing me to feel uncertain and not up to the task.

The problem is, as intoxicating as it might be to allow my vision to expand in this way, it puts me off my game and I wind up feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Last month I ran into this and I almost decided to not record the album at all. Outside of Judge And Jury, I’m not happy with my tracks so far and I’ve said as much on this blog. I took some time off to get back in tune with what I wanted in the first place. I worked on my book a bit and cleared my head. With help from the 5-HTP that has returned my passion and energy, my creative vision came back home to me and I’m ready to go back to work. “Keep it simple” I tell myself. I thought about running up a little sign to keep me reminded, but I just know it would turn into an embroidered sampler or something.

And with that in mind, I’m keeping this blog entry simple and getting back to work.

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