Tag Archives: music

Epic Challenge(s)

Alright, I have tried and tried and tried to remember a book I read about doing epic things. It is not on my Goodreads list, but I have only used Goodreads to catalog my reading for a few years so…

The book was about people taking on big challenges. Some of the examples were more personal, like blogging every day for a year. While other examples were life changing, like climbing a mountain when the person was 60 years old. The main theme was about taking on a goal that stretches one’s skills while making us face emotional aspects, like fear or patience. (If you recognize this book, please share the title with me on Twitter or in the comment section.)

Image by Prettysleepy from Pixabay

I just finished another book (which is on my Goodreads list), 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. I have read 182 of the books on the list. I have an epic challenge and I only have 26 years to complete the challenge, according to the data from Statista about life expectancy. 

I found an epic challenge.

But I also have another epic challenge, based on another book, The Late Starters Orchestra. Which is the story of Ari L. Goldman’s journey of playing the cello with The Late Starters Orchestra. No, I am not going to learn to play the cello, I am going back to the piano. I have some musical background. I learned to play the drums in fifth grade. I taught myself how to play a few songs on the piano in junior high. I came back to the drums at a school I used to work for a couple of years ago. The band director and I both had the same planning period, so once a week he would let me practice on the drums. 

Sometimes when I write a poem, I can almost hear a song with it. I have had the privilege of working with P.R. while creating my poetic projects Stargazer and Just. He does an amazing job connecting music to my poetic lines. (Some new projects are in development.)

I doubt that I will ever be able to really write a song, but I want to try. I want to experience the beauty of creating music, to add another level of joy to my life, even though I will go through some rough spots learning to play the piano. That’s learning though.

So here is to my two new epic adventures in my life. Are you heading out on an adventure or in the middle of one? Share your story with me.

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I Build Bridges

For a minute, or two, consider how captivating bridges are in our lives, both physically and metaphorically. 

In physical form bridges represent our ingenuity of getting over obstacles. Whether it is a river or two mountain tops, we design bridges to help us on our journey. And then to return home. The wonder of them expands when you consider the style, the personality of the bridges we build. From the simple log laid down by a child to get over a stream, to the The Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge in China that covers over a hundred miles, each bridge is unique. Not only in the material used or the architectural design, but also the environment it was built in; the obstacle it was built to overcome.

As I’ve traveled over the years I’ve come to appreciate the bridges I’ve seen and used. I don’t think I am alone in this joy because the idea of a bridge is ingrained in our lives. We understand the importance of reaching the other side of an obstacle, even when it is in our relationships, our opportunities in life. 

We are always told not to “burn any bridges”.

The advice is good. All of our relationships are metaphorically connected by the bridges we build, by the obstacles we overcome in the relationships, and each connection has its own style influenced by the moments we share together. Burning a bridge is a devastating step in any relationship. (I will acknowledge and confess that there are bridges that do need to be burned down, but that is for another time.)

Then, there are the bridges we build that we never get to see in use. I know because I build bridges. I am a writer. 

Like all artists I create a bridge when I write a blog post, a book, or a poem. I construct a way for readers to find their way to my side of the moment. We connect through the words I use to build a bridge between our shared lives, our shared moments, or to allow the reader to explore a new view from my mountain top. 

All artists do this. How do I know, because I am a reader. I listen to music. I visit museums. I have walked on bridges created by all kinds of artists. I go back in time when I read Wordsworth’s poem “The World Is Too Much With Us,” and feel the same angst about society today. I could spend all day at any type of museum. As part of our honeymoon my wife and I went to the Art Institute in Chicago. (Yes, we went to a Cub’s game, too.) 

I always get choked up when I hear this line from the song “Humble and Kind”: 

Consider for a minute, or two, how powerful bridges are to the fullness of our lives. Whether we are driving on a family vacation, listening to a new song by our favorite artist, or even reading a blog post by someone new; each bridge is built with care and a unique style. I know because I build bridges, I am a writer.

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We are Glow in the Dark People

At church a couple of weekends ago the priest started his sermon by showing us his glow in the dark rosary. He asked if anyone knew how it worked, what was the chemical process to have the beads glow in the dark. He hinted at the answer, but quickly said he simply liked to think that the beads simply reflected back the light they absorb. 

The rest of the sermon was built on that idea correlated with a person’s spirituality. But even if you are not a religious person, I think we all are glow in the dark people. We reflect the light we absorb.

I mention this quote in my first post for this blog:

With the technology we have today though, there are more factors that influence what light we shine back. There are all the forms of social media, music, and just the influence of pop culture in general. Sadly, most of the light that comes from these sources are filtered and have a meanness tint to them. 

What I find most disheartening is the attitude that we are not responsible for the light we choose to absorb, then reflect back to the world. I do believe that we choose what we let into our lives, into our hearts. Whether it is hours of TikTok videos, a good book, or the latest slogan we simply repeat because everyone else is repeating it, we decide what kind of light, what kind of people we are in this world. We glow in the dark, and the day time, with the light we allow into our lives. We are glow in the dark people.

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Top Five Songs

Faithful readers know that I enjoy using music (and other videos) in my posts. I will share a mini soundtrack or look at life events through songs (“20 Years of Marriage”). So, the idea of my top five songs was a fun idea, until I tried to decide on the songs!

I thought about different ways to present the top five: by favorites, connections to memories, and even by the depth of the lyrics (an idea that I am saving for a later post). For this post I decided to share a favorite song from each decade that reveals something about me. A creative way to show you different sides of me. So, grab some headphones and get ready to listen to some good songs and get to know me a little bit.

70s

Artist: Gerry Rafferty

Song: “Baker Street”

I will send a photo of the radio display to family and friends when this song comes on the radio. The lyrics for this song, especially the first verse, connect with me. The underlying idea that life will be better tomorrow is a universal theme, and so is the cost of living that way.

80s

Artist: Living Colour 

Song: “Cult of Personality”

This decade was tough to choose. Music is a big part of the teen years. Listening to songs before games, jamming out in the car while cruising, and in the 80’s making mixtapes (“Throwback: Mixtapes”). When this song came out, I was an instant fan. You could find me singing this song in the hallways of school (I still sing in the hallways).

90s

Artist: Prince

Song: “The Love We Make”

Anyone who truly knows me knew Prince would make this list. Choosing the decade and the song has been the hardest aspect of this list. Prince has some seriously deep spiritual songs. “The Love We Make” is the closest song I know that reflects my own spiritual views. I had to share a live version of the song.

2000s

Artist: Lupe Fiasco

Song: “Superstar”

I would sing this song at bedtime to my oldest daughter. It was on the playlist for my track team when we would have to practice indoors. The song’s lyric, “If you are what you say you are, a superstar, then have no fear…” is a perfect line for all the activities I was involved in during the 2000s.

2010s

Artist: Thirty Seconds to Mars

Song: “Closer to the Edge”

This song started the decade and would highlight all the change that happened for me during those ten years. There were some really tough times for me, especially professionally. Yet, one of my best memories is dancing to this song in the kitchen with my second son.

Wow, this was a tough list. Going through the music brought back memories, both good and bad. Here’s to the next decade and all the good music to come.

Tomorrow I will write about the top five characteristics I think you need to live your best life.

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Blueberry Muffins and a Number One Song

For a while now, we have been listening to the top 40 countdown on the 80s channel on XM radio while making blueberry muffins. We get to hear the top 10 songs, with breakfast usually ready while the number one song for the week plays. This week in 1986 was “Holding Back the Years” by Simply Red.

This morning, the kitchen was full. My second son had returned from a trip with his friends, and my oldest son’s girlfriend was visiting. Everyone was filling their plates: scrambled eggs, blueberry muffins, glasses of milk, and bacon. It was a typical Sunday morning.

Earlier in the countdown was the song, “Like a Rock” by Bob Seger (I don’t remember what position on the chart it was). There is a verse in the song about how 20 years have flown by: 

Twenty years now

Where’d they go?

Twenty years

I don’t know

I sit and I wonder sometimes

Where they’ve gone

Mixed with the sad vibe of “Holding Back the Years” I thought about how bittersweet our Sunday routine is.

In one way, our blueberry muffin breakfast holds back the years because it brings us together as a family. Every tradition a family participates in is a way to stop time. It strengthens the bond of love and joy that creates a timeless bubble for everyone to live in, no matter how much time has passed or how much someone has grown. 

Because time does pass, we do grow older, we do change. Sitting at the table, it was bittersweet to know that in a few months both of my sons would be out in the world. My youngest daughter doesn’t need my help taking the paper cup off of her muffin anymore. My children were growing, time was moving forward. 

There was nothing I could do about it, but yet this morning, we were together, family. That will never change. Contrary to the lyrics of “Holding Back the Years”, our tradition of blueberry muffins is a chance for something good to happen, for love to happen.

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June 5, 2021 Soundtrack

Now that summer has started, I’ve been walking everyday. I’ve also been writing everyday. I’ve gone back to writing with pen and paper. I can feel the weight of the past school year starting to ease from my shoulders. It feels good. I like listening to music while I write and walk, so I thought it would be fun to share with you the top five songs I’ve been listening to lately. Kind of a small soundtrack of my life at the moment. A fun blog, but no guarantees that I won’t get deep in this post. Enjoy!

Track One: “Something Here” by Day Wave

Even though this song was released four years ago, I recently started listening to Day Wave and this is the song that got me hooked. What makes it a song I have on repeat is how much it connects with this time in my life. As the pandemic is starting to turn for the better, a tough school year is over… I feel like life is starting over, that “there’s something here” and I can’t wait to see what it is.

Track Two: “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince

Another older song, OK, a classic even. Besides me being a Prince fan, this song lifts my spirit. Not only because it is a great song to dance to or to sing karaoke with my daughter, but also the spiritual subject matter. The song is from Jesus’ point of view. The line “I’m your conscience / I am love / All I really need is to know that you believe” gets me every time.

Track Three: “Mercy” by Ayron Jones

This might be the soundtrack for our country right now. I happen to get into Ayron Jones’ music because I started following him on Instagram during the pandemic. Ayron would do these small live concerts at random times. I love his honest energy on this song.

Track Four: “I Guess I Just Feel Like” by John Mayer

You know when you feel down, so you play music to match that feeling and somehow you feel better because of it? That’s what this song does for me. The second verse hits home for me:

I guess I just feel like good things are gone

And the weight of my worries is too much to take on

I think I remember the dream that I had

That love’s gonna save us from a world that’s gone mad

I guess I just feel like

What happened to that?

I still believe that honest Love will save us. I just don’t know how to share enough of it in this world to make a difference. Almost everyday Hate or Apathy seems to be the course of action we choose. I do feel like giving up… but I don’t.

Track Five: “Anywhere Without You” by Whole Damn Mess

Another band I discovered on social media. This song feels like summer to me and it mirrors my own feelings for my wife. For the last 20 years we have been a team. Traveling to our kids’ activities, grocery shopping, even helping out by taking tickets with me at school, we have been together. Oh, we have had those “lightning” moments, but overall spending my days with her builds my strength and brings me joy.

So, I hope you enjoyed the mini soundtrack for my life at the moment. Share your soundtrack with me in the comments. 

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A New Foundation

I love it when life inspires me with dots. For my regular readers you understand, if you’re new to this blog, dots are moments in life that connect to reveal a theme or idea that I share in a post. Yesterday, life provided two dots to highlight an important aspect I had been thinking about.

In the morning I was reading the book, Dragonwings, by Laurence Yep, while waiting for my wife to complete her doctor appointment. I read through the part of the story when the earthquake devastated the neighborhood except for Miss Whitlaw’s home. “‘Papa always built well. He said he wanted a house that could hold a herd of thundering elephants -’ … No one had constructed the houses along the street as well as Miss Whitlaw’s father had built his” (pg 157).

At the time, I was just enjoying the story, not connecting any deep life themes. Until about an hour later when we headed out to get groceries.

I know it is hard to see, but this house is having a new foundation built underneath it. You can see how the ground underneath of the house is being dug out, you can see sunlight toward the back of the hole. They have half the road blocked off for the trucks and the excavator. There are temporary supports in place. Putting in a new foundation looks like a lot of work, but it can be done.

As I am prone to do, the metaphor of a foundation connected in my head, maybe because I have used it before in a blog post about parenting (“Trust Your Foundation“). However,  this time I connected the metaphor to our personal foundations, which are built with the help of our parents in our younger years. If the foundation is strong at the beginning, like in the book, we can withstand an earthquake. It doesn’t mean the house isn’t damaged, but we will be standing after the storm.

Not everyone has that strong of a start. People can feel lost in this life. They can feel like they can’t withstand the troubles life brings, but the second dot makes an important counterpoint. With some hard work, any house can have a new foundation. You have to dig deep, find the support you need, then take the time to build a new foundation for your house to rest upon.  

Our foundation is the base of our everyday life. The foundation supports our goals and provides us a stable home to live in. Our foundation will be tested in this life, there will be storms. We will stand or fall based on how well we built our base–even if we are older, working on a new foundation.

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The Power of a Father

I have over six different drafts of this post. I have different introductions, pop culture references, links, and music in the rough drafts. The issue I want to talk about is the power of fatherhood. More specifically the devastating power of not having a father in a child’s life.

I have been working with the idea of doing a series of posts about what it is really like to be a dad, but an episode of Happy Days got me thinking about the effects of not having a father in my life and the effect it has for other kids. I had never seen the episode of Happy Days before. My youngest daughter likes the show Happy Days. We watch the show on MeTV. One Sunday afternoon the episode, “Arthur, Arthur,”  was playing. The episode is part of the last season of the show. By the end, I was in tears.

The story line of Fonzie and his dad is highlighted in season 6 with the episode, “Christmas Time”.

My story is different.  I have shared parts of that in a past post (Life Lessons About Fatherhood). The feelings of abandonment, anger, and questions of why are similar, though.  But in “Arthur, Arthur” there is a moment that rocked my soul. I have tried to find a clip of the episode, but there is not one to be found. In the episode Fonzie finds out his father has died. That changes everything. Fronzie expresses how he always hoped that someday he would be able to see his father. That while his dad was alive there was always a chance to understand why his dad left. A chance to heal the emotional wounds. With his dad passing, that opportunity was gone. Fonzie would never get to know why. The wounds would never fully heal.

The episode ends with Fonzie showing the broken gold watch his father wanted him to have. He wasn’t going to get the watch fixed because it represented his dad the way it was. A broken watch for a broken relationship.

I understand how Fonzie felt… in my own way. But that specific pain of a son (or a daughter) not having a father in their life is almost universal.

This song was released my senior year of high school. By that time, I hadn’t talked to my father for about eight years. But had lived with three step-dads and a few boyfriends that my mother had. The lines “I didn’t write these pages / And my script’s been rearranged.” expresses one of the perspectives children have when a parent leaves them.

Being abandoned by people who are supposed to guide you in this life is devastating. I know I am focusing on fathers, but the same holds true for mothers. 

There are too many kids trying to navigate this life on their own. And they write their stories with a foundation of loss, of uncertainty, and a deep sense of not being enough, not being loved because their parents are not there. 

I am not a perfect father or husband. But I try every day. And maybe that is the hardest part of looking back. I am raising six kids. Even though I make mistakes, I try to make sure they know they are loved. It is not easy, but I am proud of my kids. I am proud of the home I have built.

But everyday I wonder why wasn’t I worth the effort?

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Reflections Jan 27, 2021

The girls are settling down. The house is becoming quiet. My headphones are playing some of my favorite songs as I build a writing playlist on Spotify. Earlier I wrote a poem for my personal challenge to write a poem in 100 different forms. It was poem 81, a haibun titled, “A Father’s Gift.

But the writing muse is still burning. I am not sure where this post will end up, but it should be good (it will be musical).

I am tired. I am tired on so many levels, from the perpetual cycle of hate expressed in our culture, to the perceived apathy of living from people around me. I could link to any number of news articles to reveal how much pure negativity there is in this world, but I am tired of viewing those stories. If I took a random picture anytime during the day, it would show people staring at their phones. As if the height of living is text messages and photos saturated with filters.

In some ways, life is pretty simple. It is who we are and what we do with our time. A simple concept, yet filled with possibilities. Maybe it is because I am just months away from my 50th birthday, but time is a constant force in my thinking. I swear I can hear the grains of sand when all is quiet. I still have goals and aspirations I want to accomplish… the time to complete those is running out.

Again, maybe it is because I’ve been living for 50 years but I know that love works. I do believe that we have the choice on who we are. We are in control of how we treat people. What I don’t understand is how we keep thinking hate and pain make this world a better place. What saddens me the most is how deep this has gone. How many kids aren’t loved by their parents. How mean we can be to someone sitting next to us. How easy it is to tweet venom.

I have faith, though. Love is more powerful. Love is strength. I know I can’t change the world, but I can build my world, my home, my life with the foundation of Love. That is a start.

And then there is the pursuit of dreams… if I could figure this part out… Would I like to make a living from writing? Yes, I would. Will I? I don’t know. Money is not the main goal of my writing aspiration, respect or recognition is. To know that when someone says my name, they consider me a writer, a poet. I understand that most of that falls on my shoulders. How I present myself to the world. I know I am a good poet. My words do make an impact for readers. Yet, I feel like the world views me as someone who has a nice hobby. And I don’t know how to change that…

A final note as I wrap up this informal and somewhat musical blog. Even in these troubling times, this life is wonderful. There is pain, troubles for us to overcome. That is what makes the next day better than today. Tell your friends and family that you love them. Have a good cup of coffee and turn up that jam and dance.

Because when it is all said and done, today is the only day you have. It’s worth living for.

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What are the Words?

A few weeks ago I attended an online education conference. The keynote speaker shared some information that got me thinking. He said that the use of the word “Love” had been decreasing in music. He did not provide any reference for this information. I tried to find a source to collaborate what he said. I couldn’t, but it still got me thinking because I use pop culture in my classes to make connections for the students. So, I decided to do an unofficial analysis of the top three songs from 2020, 2010, 2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, and 1950 according to Billboard’s Year End Hot 100 chart. I thought the top three songs from the years listed would give a good snapshot of what was popular at that time.

I created word clouds from the lyrics of the top three songs for the year. The most used words are larger in size. Stop words were automatically deleted (this was a challenging decision because these words were used in titles, but using them cluttered the word clouds). I removed all words that only appeared once in the songs. I’ll start with the word cloud, list the top three songs, and then share my insight briefly. Again, this is an unofficial look at these songs, but it is worth thinking about. Let’s start with 1950.

1950

1 . “Goodnight Irene” by Gordon Jenkins & The Weavers

2 . “Mona Lisa”  by Nat King Cole

3 . “Third Man Theme” (Instrumental) by Anton Karas 

It is obvious that names are the most used words in this word cloud, especially since one of the songs was an instrumental. “Lovely” does appear in the list.

1960

1. “Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith

2. “He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves

3. “Cathy’s Clown” by The Everly Brothers

“Love” is a main word, but not the most used. The overall feel of the word cloud is about relationships. I find it interesting that we have a name again as a main word.

1970

1. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel

2. “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by The Carpenters

3. “American Woman” by The Guess Who

This word cloud is tough to get a general feel for because the top three songs are so different in theme and style. The word “love” does not show up in any form.

1980

1. “Call Me” by Blondie

2. “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” by Pink Floyd

3. “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John

Knowing the songs, I was surprised that the words “brick” or “wall” were not more prominent. But “love” appears as a main word again, even with such a diverse group of songs.

1990

1. “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips

2. “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette

3. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor

These songs had a similar vibe, which actually made for a smaller word cloud. “Love” is present now in three out of five word clouds, four if you count “lovely” in the 1950 word cloud.

2000

1. “Breathe” by Faith Hill

2. “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas

3. “Maria Maria” by Santana featuring The Product G&B

“Love” makes it into the word cloud (I did not place it in the center). Funny how Santana owned the year 2000, his name is a prominent word in the word cloud, too.

2010

1. “Tik Tok” by Kesha

2. “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum

3. “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train

This word cloud is filled with a variety of words, but “love” is not one of them. The songs range in topic and style, which presents a mumbled visual. I did notice that there are now words like “drunk” and “party”. Not that these words have never been in a song before, but these are the top three songs for that year.

2020

1. “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd

2. “Circles” by Post Malone

3. “The Box” by Roddy Ricch

“Love” makes it into the word cloud, but what you don’t see in this visual may be of more importance. This is the first word cloud that I deleted derogatory terms and the F-word. 

This is an unofficial look at the lyrics of popular songs. It is by no means meant to make a blanket statement about music or our culture. But it is worth thinking about because words have power, and our kids are singing these songs, making TiKTok videos to them. Pop Culture delivers a message to our society. Songs are part of that message. What are your thoughts on what you see happening with lyrics over the decades?

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