Hope Springs

It was past the time when I should have closed up shop.  As I usually do when there are customers in the store at closing time, I had not locked the door, simply because I don’t want to rush folks out.  Not to disillusion you, but it’s not out of concern for their feelings, but simply because I understand what I call the WalMart Principle.  The longer a customer stays, the more they’ll spend.  Why else do you suppose that the items you want most in the store are at the back of the building?  Sorry, but if I get started down that path, we’ll never get back to the subject at hand, so we’ll leave that as an unfinished rabbit trail.  Maybe we can mark it and discuss the philosophies of the business world another day.

Now, where was I?  Oh yes…past closing time.  As the late customers walked out the door, another car pulled up in a parking space right in front of the door.  I have never pulled the shade down in front of an incoming customer and I didn’t start today.  The two ladies exited the car and headed through the front entrance, apologizing as they came in for keeping me.  The mom and daughter are quite familiar to me, having been frequent customers over a number of years and we greeted each other as friends do.  Mom has a sweet personality, usually all smiles and cheerful and her daughter is not far behind.  Good character is definitely something we teach to our children and they learn from us well.  Come to think of it, bad character gets passed down all too frequently as well, but that’s also a rabbit trail for another day.  We found the items they needed and talked jovially of nothing in particular.  As she prepared to leave however, I went and spoiled the atmosphere by asking how they were “coming along.”  The transformation was almost palpable, her cheerful facial features altered in a trice, replaced by a somber expression.  The twinkle I had seen in her eyes a moment prior was replaced almost instantly with the dull look of melancholy.

“Well, we’re making it.”  She forced out the words.  It was a little uncomfortable for a few seconds, as I struggled to recover too, but we batted a few encouraging words back and forth and in another minute the smile was back, whatever memories she was struggling with back under control and replaced in the mental file they had escaped from.  Moments later, the two pretty young ladies headed out the door, murmuring their thanks to me for allowing them to come in so late.  I smiled as I locked the door behind them and immediately kicked myself, feeling stupid for causing my friend pain.  I knew her situation, the horrible accident a few months ago, the hospital stay, the slow physical recovery, but most especially the horror of having watched another human die in the accident.  My simple inquiry about how they were coming along had led to a replay of unhappy memories and emotions, right before my eyes.  I was struck by the thought of how fragile the human spirit is.

Words.  Just a few common words.  A question we ask all the time without thinking was all it took to transport her from the happiness of light banter to the realization, the memory of deep sadness and hurt.  But, even as I contemplated the alleged fragility of our emotions, I was struck again with how resilient the human spirit is in reality.  For the most part, we bend, but we don’t break.  This young lady had experienced a horror beyond that which most of us could ever imagine, but she is functioning.  She is recovering.

Does the memory lurk below the surface, ready to awaken at a moment’s notice?  Sure.  And, once again the spirit sinks, but almost as quickly, it rises to the challenge and rallies.  I do not say that the sadness, the depressed spirit is nothing; it is definitely something very real.  It has to be dealt with and not just pushed down temporarily, to be reckoned with at another crisis down the path of life.  What I am saying is that there is hope.  Along with the Apostle Paul, we admit to being “struck down but not destroyed”.  Bad things happen, but they are only one battle, not the war.  The human spirit was made to fight and again and again we see it do just that…fight its way back from the depths of despair to live and flourish in the light of day.

I’ve always loved the story of the prodigal son in the Bible.  Perhaps the best line in the story for me is what he says when he has reached rock bottom and has no way to go but up.  Sitting in the filth, in poverty, and in a disconsolate mood, he finally turns his focus from his dire circumstances to his hope of redemption.  “I will arise and go to my father…”  What a great statement!  I’m getting up and getting help.  I’ll stay in this pigsty no more.  A few of you know that I also struggle with the melancholy moods at times, but frequently all it takes to move into the light is the realization that I have to start moving.  I will arise…

Much more could be said on this subject.  Perhaps I’ll speak of it again, perhaps not.  It would be interesting to me if some of you who take a turn into the dark once in awhile commented about your experiences (anonymously, if you prefer).  I’m not sure, but it seems to me that we all share the journey in that direction to different degrees. 

Of course, after all my talk about getting up and moving forward, it may actually turn out that the Possum Lodge motto, from the “Red Green Show” on public television, is the better way to approach the problem anyhow:  “Quando omni flunkus moritati”  Translation?  “When all else fails, play dead.”  You may decide for yourselves.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast…”
(Alexander Pope~English poet~1688-1744)

Zappers Bug Me

Sometimes I wonder if she gets annoyed with my lack of initiative.  No, let me rephrase that.  It’s not that I lack initiative.  I dive right into the things in which I am interested.  New guitar to unwrap and tune?  Let me at it!   Vintage instrument to get ready to display?  I’m on that like a kid on a Jungle Gym.  The problem (and she knows it) is disinterest.  Packing and shipping back orders?  I’ve been there and done that, and I have no interest in doing it again.  It wasn’t all that much fun the first time!  Cutting a guitar part out of bone?  The stench is just like a dentist’s drill penetrating a tooth in your mouth!  I can do without it!

The Lovely Lady handed me one on a platter today.  She lobbed a softball in my direction, ready for me to hit it out of the park.  I didn’t even take a swing at it.  The woman on the other end of the phone had asked for a device to remove vocals from a recording.  A couple of years ago, I had ordered in such a device, but have not yet sold it.  The Lovely Lady was aware of that and had the piece of hardware sold even before handing me the phone to answer a couple of questions.  Then, the customer’s credit card would be charged and that baby was out of our inventory!  All she needed for me to say was that the device would work with her sound system and the sale was made. 

I couldn’t do it.  There are two reasons we still have the “Vocal Zapper” on our shelf.  The first one is that the purpose most folks intend to use it for is illegal.  Yep.  Illegal.  Copyright laws protect most recordings on the average person’s shelf, but they aren’t really aware of it.  When you buy a CD, you buy the right to listen to it and almost nothing else.  The vocal zapping gizmo purports to remove the vocals so that any CD can become a karaoke-style recording.  This means that without the pre-recorded vocals, the owner of the CD can provide his/her own vocals and sound like a pro singing to the star’s instrumental accompaniment.  If all you wanted to do was sing at home, dancing around your living room and playing air guitar for your own amusement, it would be perfectly legal.  But no one I’ve talked to about this thing wants to use it at home.  They want to perform in front of an audience, using a CD they paid only for the right to listen to.  Yep, I’ll say it again.  Illegal.  I’m not a fan.

The second reason for my indifference to selling this gadget is this:  It doesn’t work.  Okay, it works, kind of.  If you don’t care that half of the instrumentals disappear with the vocals, you might be able to tolerate it.  Oh, would you mind that it doesn’t really do that good of a job at removing the vocals either?  They’ll almost certainly still be there, much softer now, but still audible…annoyingly so.  I don’t fancy selling products which don’t function well.

So, my words to the lady were “illegal” and “limited function”.  She didn’t complete the purchase.  I’m not disappointed.  I have told you before that I find it difficult to pass off merchandise which I am not proud of.  My theory is that life is too short to sell junk you’ll regret later on.  “Maybe not today.  Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”  (Do I hear Bogey in here?)  Okay, that might be a little melodramatic, but the principle is important in every aspect of life.  You do what’s right, simply because it’s right.  Not because you can profit from it, not because it’s a springboard to bigger and better things.  Simply because it’s right.  The payoff is infinitely better than the dirty, germ-ridden greenbacks that come and go in our pockets like water through a sieve.  You get to sleep at night, without guilt, without regrets.  Well, if you’re like me, you get to sleep whenever it is you sleep.  Regardless, a clear conscience is more valuable than a huge nest-egg in the bank any day. 

I’m pretty sure that there was a sideways glance or two from the Lovely Lady as I hung the phone up.  She wants that expensive little piece of equipment out of here.  That said, she’s in perfect agreement with me about the integrity with which we want to live our lives.  This includes how we conduct business, as well as how we treat our neighbors or deal with the tax collector. 

So, no regrets.  Well, I do regret ordering that zapper thingy.  And, if you know someone who wants to dance around their living room while singing, or maybe even belt it out for their own amazement in the shower, let me know, will you?

“Do the right thing.  It will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.”
(Mark Twain~American author and humorist~1835-1910)

“Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”
(George Washington~First American President~1732-1799)

Loquaciousness and Verbosity…Am I Talking Too Much?

I was reminded today that I am not the most succinct of writers.  You see, I usually set out to write a few lines, but the result is frequently an essay.  The short version of my story often turns into the unabridged version, wandering on, sometimes approaching the main point, but then tottering off again down some little sidetrack, eventually to return to the point again, almost.

I have often considered this issue.  I would like to be concise.  I wish that I could make a point with clarity and then move on.  Many writers are able to do this.  They seem to have the ability to say something and then not consider it again.  Like the White Rabbit in the Alice stories, they are constantly on a schedule, checking their watches lest they be a second or two late.  “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.  For a very important date…”  Their lines are said and they exit, stage right, without even waiting to take a bow.

I write a few lines with the goal in mind that I will make my point and move on.  Facing toward the final paragraph, I advance steadily, putting my thoughts into words.  All goes well until I make the mistake of turning to look back at where I’ve been.  I read and re-read.  Then I start rearranging.  It’s almost the same as when the Lovely Lady takes a notion to create a new look in the living room (a rare event, thankfully).  Words get shoved against that margin, illustrations are set out in the middle of the page, then the original thought is nudged here, then there, until I am satisfied that all is arranged as I wish.  No wait!  That thought would look better over there, maybe leaving out that modifier and adding a pronoun.  Yes, that’s it!  Now it reads as I had hoped.  What?  Am I following another rabbit trail?  How do I get back to the main theme now?

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”  The now-famous phrase has come in our day to describe telling a joke, but in its original usage, Mr. Shakespeare intended it to mean that to be concise is to show acuity, or clarity.  The real humor is that, not only have we changed our understanding of the statement, but we don’t realize that it was made by a person we would describe as loquacious, a blowhard, if you will.  Polonius, who was spying on Prince Hamlet, was nothing if not long-winded.  Full of himself, he intended to impress with the profusion of his words, if not with their brilliance.  At no time was he interested in either brevity or clarity, but simply with dazzling his listeners with his rhetoric.  Instead of wisdom coming with his advanced age, he had grown more talkative and foolish.  There are days when I feel a kinship beyond what I wish to acknowledge in this forum.

Still, although I haven’t yet mastered the brevity idea, I trust that the acuity is coming along.  Another famous quote uttered by the chattering old Polonius which is still in common usage today, is our version of his description of Hamlet’s feigned insanity.  “Though this be madness, there is a method in’t.”  I have long admitted to being not quite all here.  (Hence, the title for this blog.)  I hope though, that the method to my madness shows through to you, at least in some small part.  The wandering about, the twists and turns…all are intended to bring you at last, obviously by the long way around (no short cuts here!), to an understanding of life’s little events, from my perspective of course.

It is further to be hoped that you find the trip worthwhile.  True…a shortcut might have gotten us to the conclusion more quickly, but let’s be honest here; we wouldn’t have nearly as much fun that way.  I still have lots of stories to tell and “concise” and “to the point” are not well suited to story-telling.

A friend reminded me today of another Paul who was long-winded and wordy.  Things worked out well for him, what with jail and trials before Caesar and all.  Hmmmm…maybe a change is called for.  Nah, probably not. 

Queen:  “More matter, with less art.”
(Hamlet~Act 2, scene 2~William Shakespeare)

“The last stroke of midnight dies.
All day in the one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk with an image of air;
Vague memories, nothing but memories.”
(William Butler Yeats~Irish poet~1865-1939)

A Tale of Two Musicians

My friend sent me a link to a video the other day.  He sent it to me because a guitar I sold to him was being used in a concert in front of more than fifty thousand people.  I should tell you that I’ve sold maybe thousands of guitars in my lifetime.  I remember selling very few of them in particular.  The majority are a jumble of customers’ faces and instruments, cases, and accessories.  The ones I recall the best are the first few I sold, now well over thirty years ago, when I was a green kid, newly initiated into the music business.

These days, I’m reminded constantly of a story another friend told some time ago.  A professor at the local university, he was in his office one afternoon when a student came by.  “Dr. P, do you remember when you said…”  My friend stopped him in mid-sentence.  “Just a minute.  Was it more than ten minutes ago?” he queried.  “Yes,” came the reply.  The good professor continued, “Was it less than ten years ago?”  Again, the answer came, “Yes.”  The old man replied abruptly,  “Then, I don’t remember it!”  I call him old even though he is only slightly older than I am, but I understand perfectly and can identify completely.  The short term memory has gone, so much so that I sometimes don’t remember customers who have purchased instruments just a couple of days ago.  At the same time, I can remember names and faces, along with details of interactions that happened decades ago.  All I can say is that it’s a confusing time in life, this getting older.

What’s that?  Oh yes!  The guitar I sold to Toby….Well, he sent me a link, thinking that I would be excited because the guitar, which had hung in my shop for a period of time some months ago, was played in a huge crusade held recently in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.  At first I was excited, watching the screen to catch glimpses of the old electric guitar, exclaiming when it appeared on the stand behind the guitarist from time to time (I couldn’t really remember what it looked like until then).  Finally on one of the songs, the guitar was being played.  There was even a close-up shot of it as the music progressed.  I showed the video to a couple of guys who had seen the guitar in the store back when it had been for sale.  But as we watched it, I realized something.  I’m a whole lot more excited because Toby, a young man who I’ve known for several years and whose progress in the music field I’ve watched with more than a passing interest, was playing guitar with one of the best Christian artists performing today.  That the guitar was one I had sold to him was of interest to me, but what I’m really happy about is that Toby is doing so well in his career.  The guitar is made of pieces of wood, metal, and some electronic components.  Toby is flesh and blood, a human being who I am pleased to call friend.  I’m excited for him.  He’s playing in front of thousands and with some of the top musicians in the business!  That’s amazing!

It’s a tribute to his humble spirit that he didn’t send me the video and say, “I’m playing for such-and-such an artist in this huge crusade!”  No, he thought that I would be interested to know that the instrument I had sold to him had been involved.  Not every musician I know would be so unpretentious.  I’m pleased to see that, at least as far as I can ascertain, the success has not gone to his head.  I trust that it will remain so.

Even though I’ve talked about it before, will you let me talk about this principle for just a moment again?  People are more important than things.  The other day another musician, who is not so successful as Toby, came timorously in the front door of the music store.  “I know I owe you money that you advanced me on that equipment,” he started, “but I’ve lost my job and my wife needs to go to the doctor.”  Thinking that I would be angry with him, he went on to apologize for the delay several times.  I assured him that it wasn’t important and that I wouldn’t have any problem with waiting for awhile.  He was surprised and grateful.  As he prepared to go, he mentioned that his wife’s medicine might have to wait also.  I’m not always so speedy on the uptake, but before he got out the door, I happened to think that I could help with that too.  When I offered,  he was visibly taken aback.  You see, he came anticipating that I would be like any other creditor he had ever encountered.  He was expecting an angry, demanding lender who wanted to be repaid now, regardless of his circumstances.  He might even have thought that the fact that he considered himself a failure would influence how I saw him and responded to him.  The only explanation for why I don’t see him that way is that I have been (slowly) learning the principle.  People are more important than things.  I’m far from proficient in practicing the principle yet, but as more opportunities are encountered, I’m picking it up.

I’m proud that my friend Toby is excelling in his chosen profession.  On the other hand, I’m looking forward to the day when I can be proud of my less fortunate friend’s progress.   You see, indigence isn’t cause for disrespect or cruelty any more than success is cause for fawning or flattery.  Neither affects the value our God places on them one whit, so it shouldn’t change our evaluation of them, either.

And, it’s kind of nice to get to play a part in each of their lives.  I hope that you have relationships with both the successful kind as well as the needy kind in your life, too.  Each serves to keep us humble.  I’m guessing we could all use a little more of that.  I know I can.

“Your own safety is at stake when your neighbor’s house is ablaze.”
(Horace~Ancient Roman poet~65 BC-8 BC)

“Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
(James 2:2-4)

Albatrosses and Honky-Tonk Pianos

The field was strewn with bright red fragments of a piano, along with a few good sized shards of mirror.  It was a sight to see, not at all what you expected to find out here in this pastoral setting.  From a nearby barbed wire fence, a meadowlark warbled his distinctive call.  Across the field, several cows sheltered in the shade of an old elm tree, gazing at us with curiosity.  Imagine!  First this gaudy thing went tumbling noisily across their field late one night, then the next day, these crazy people stand and stare at the wreckage, annoying the bovine residents during their nap time.  Nothing to see here, humans!  M-o-o-o-ove along!

Just a few days before, these pieces of brightly painted wood and glass had been a complete piano, albeit an unusual one.  I don’t even remember how we acquired the thing, but it was an albatross around our necks from the start.  What’s that?  Where does the albatross reference originate?  Well, that comes from a famous poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, written back in the eighteenth century.  Ordinarily, the albatross was an omen of good luck if it followed a ship, but in this case, the mariner shot one which was following them.  As punishment for his evil deed, the rest of the crew made him wear the dead bird around his neck, hoping that there would be no curse to cause problems for their voyage.  It didn’t work out so well for the crew, but that is the way of most superstitions anyway.  Suffice it to say that sometimes we make bad decisions which have a way of following us for awhile.  The purchase of this piano-shaped-object was just such a decision.

Some brilliant thinker had decided that the once-drab natural exterior of the piano would benefit from a make-over, so he found a large quantity of spray cans of fire-engine red lacquer and emptied their contents over the outer surfaces.  You would have thought that he would be content with his desecration of the instrument at that point, but, one thing leading to another, he installed a mirror across the entire front surface of the upper body.  I’m thinking that his wife hated the “honky-tonk” decor and demanded its removal from her premises, but regardless, we acquired the loud (in more ways than one) piano to try to sell in our store.  The ridiculous instrument sat, first near the rear of our piano showroom for a few weeks, and then, in an attempt to quiet the non-stop smart-aleck remarks, it was relegated to the back storage room.  After a couple of years back there, we decided it was finally time to get rid of the rotting carcass of the albatross, so to speak, and we moved the eyesore to the local consignment auction to be sold the following Friday evening.  It sold for the paltry sum of twenty-five dollars, but we were more than content.  Whew!  We were finally rid of the thing!

Just a note of caution.  Albatrosses have a way of resurfacing.  This one had just one more swan-song to sing, if I may use that particular phrase.  On Saturday morning, the report came.  The fellow wanted his money back.  It seems that he had loaded the huge upright piano, all four hundred fifty pounds of it, into the bed of his pickup truck on Friday night.  “Aren’t you going to tie it down?” queried the auction staff.  “Nah,” came the curt reply.  “It weighs so much, there’s no way it’ll move from there.”  He reached the first sharp curve in the rural highway and took the left hand curve at about forty miles per hour.  The piano made a quick exit off the right hand side of his truck, rolling its way to the resting place in the field…now just a jumble of wood and broken mirror.  (Hmm…seven years bad luck to boot!)  The auction refused to give a refund.  So did we. 

Thinking about that amusing episode lead me to recall a not-so-funny incident which had occurred a few years prior to that.  It was before I was married to the Lovely Lady, so I was sitting in the laundromat that Sunday afternoon, waiting for my jumbled (completely unsorted) load of clothes to dry.  I noticed the pickup with the big old piano in the back go by slowly, but didn’t really think much about it.  Moments later, there was yelling outside and a man rushed in screaming for someone to call an ambulance.  This was in a days before cell phones, you remember.  There were only two or three of us in the building, but we all rushed out to see the horrible scene.  There was a man lying on the street, with the huge piano lying partially on top of him, his head gushing blood.  Once again, this piano had been loaded on the back of the truck, but the difference this time was that they had the “foresight” to have one of the volunteer movers stand and hold onto the top-heavy instrument as they proceeded across town with it.  When they rounded the corner a little too fast, he attempted to stop the tipping of the piano, only to be thrown over the side of the truck by its weight and then was struck by the full measure of its mass as he lay on the pavement.  As we watched in horror, the ambulance came and the paramedics ministered to him, then transported him to the hospital, siren screaming.  He was in grave condition for weeks, finally recovering from the frightening ordeal, but not without lasting effects.  It was an incident I will never forgot.

I spent thirty years moving pianos.  We frequently recruited help from young men in the store who were happy to earn a ten or twenty dollar bill just for doing a little lifting and going for a ride with us.  Our instructions to them always had the two incidents mentioned above in mind.  “If the piano starts to fall over, don’t try to stop it!  Get out of the way!  Pianos, I can replace; people, I can’t.”  Even when it’s observed in someone else’s life, experience is a very effective teaching tool.  I’ve seen what can happen when gravity or centrifugal force starts to move one of these hefty objects, and I don’t advise trying to counteract that force.  Newton’s First Law of Motion states, “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.”  I’ve broken a few laws in my life, but laws of nature like that really don’t break easily.

The lesson learned here is one which applies to all of life, which is to say that it’s one I have yet to master.  We need to think through what we start, from beginning to its conclusion.  Actions have consequences.  Words spoken bring resulting reactions from the hearers.  One thing leads to another.  And, as much as possible, we need to think about the effect of our actions and speech on those around us before we act and speak.  Oh, I know we can’t always accurately predict what unpredictable humans will do in response to us, but there are quite a few things that are under our control and we need to do just that; control them.

Tie down the piano when it’s moved.  Don’t sit next to it in the back of the truck.  Our lives are replete with correlations.  We just need to use our common sense a lot more than we do.  I used to think that getting older would mean these things get easier.  Now I think it’s more that we don’t undertake quite so many foolish tasks.  For some reason, I still get into trouble with the ones I do undertake.

Maybe one day, I’ll look back and see the progression from hard lessons to complete wisdom.  I’m not there yet.

“Mama says, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.'”
(Forrest Gump)

“Don’t begin until you count the cost.  For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to build it?”
(Luke 14:28~NLT)

Heavy, Hangs Over My Head

I have come to realize that more than a scattering of my posts here have consisted of a few decent ideas and a lot of griping on my part.  I was discussing that fact with my young friend Andrew a couple of weeks ago and he offered a brilliant bit of wisdom, which I have decided not to adopt.  As he helped me with some of my many “grunt” jobs (e.g., cleaning instrument cases, tuning guitars, sorting invoices, etc.) he opined that since it was my blog, I could just tell you that “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To”.  On its face, that seems to be good advice, but after further thought, I have decided that I won’t be putting this policy into practice in the foreseeable future. One thing my years in retail business have taught me is that I have to give the public what they want, or they’ll just go somewhere else.  It’s no good crying if there is no one to listen to me, so I may just have to entertain a bit, too.  I’m not sure how successful I’ve been at that, but if you’ve stuck with me this long, perhaps you’ll hang around a little longer.  It may get better.

As I was pondering how best to entertain you today, my mind ran through another recent conversation I had with Andrew.  This young man has become quite a musician, finding himself playing a number of “gigs” of late, both by himself and with other, older players.  He has been initiated into the world of performing and so, we talked a bit about the consequences of entering that world.  Over the many years I have performed and talked with others who perform, I have come to a conclusion about performing and performers.  I wondered if this young, un-jaded  musician had any thoughts on the matter, only to find that he had come to almost the exact conclusion that I have.  It took me fifty years to puzzle it out, while he has a firm handle on it, being still in his teens.  I must be a really slow study.

Our conclusion?  Performers thrive on attention, perhaps more to the point, on approval.  That’s not really news.  The intriguing (and sometimes sad) part of it is that as we perform, we need more and more of it.  I would describe it as much like a drug, which offers a sense of euphoria, a “high” if you will.  The first few times you perform, the acclaim and the positive reinforcement is stunning.  The feeling cannot be understood until you’ve experienced it.  The sense of accomplishment, of triumph, is palpable.  The next time it happens, the same feeling takes control, and the next time, and the next.  Over an extended period though, something happens.  Actually two things.  The folks who encouraged and slapped you on the back early in the game, now have elevated expectations.  You wowed them for a little while, now they anticipate improvement, with you stretching to a new level as a performer.  The “atta boys” don’t fall from their lips as easily because they sense a need in their being for something bigger and better.  The second thing that happens is that for the performer, the same level of approval isn’t enough either.  We need more…more acclaim, more excitement, more widespread approval.  It’s a vicious circle, drawing both performer and audience into its snare. 

You don’t need the depressing litany of the names of performers…artists…authors…stars, who have succumbed to the demands of the public and, eventually failing to measure up, chosen to find their fulfillment in drugs, liquor, and even self-inflicted death.  The list grows longer daily, and we demand more and clamor for better, all the while tossing aside the gifted human beings who have failed to satisfy our lust for entertainment.  Gifted, did I call them?  How did a horrible affliction like that come to be called a gift?  Is it not rather a great burden instead?

What’s that you say?  Depressing subject?  Oh yes!  I did say I was going to entertain you, didn’t I?  But, therein lies the problem.  What I mean to say is that, at times I see myself here as a performer, providing entertainment for the reward of your acclaim.  But, as I’m reminded (and have reminded you today) of the heavy cost of this mindset, I also realize that, as the Lovely Lady suggested gently to me recently, I don’t write this blog for you.  I write it because I need to – for me, and more to the point, for my Creator.   I don’t mean to be presumptuous.  It’s not my intent to say that God called me to write.  What I do know is that He calls each one of us to do everything, every single thing we do, to the best of our ability and to do it for Him. 

Do you sing? Paint?  Wash windows?  Sell used cars?  Play alternative rock guitar?  Teach?  Fill in the blank yourself.  What you do is important to your Audience.  No, not that audience that demands and screams your name, only to forget you when you can’t wow them anymore.  Our Audience of One knows us, knows our weaknesses and still is well pleased with what we offer.  I’m pretty sure that when we get our priorities straight, that other audience will still be there too.  Only, this time, our performance isn’t dependent on their reciprocation…just on sharing our gifts.  Oh yes…they are indeed gifts, and not burdens. 

So, no pressure…but, I think you’re up next on stage.  Break a Leg!

“Come to me if you’re weary and burdened.  I’ll give you rest…My yoke is easy, my burden,light.”
(Matthew 11: 28, 30)

“Work while you have the light.  You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you.”
Henry Frederic Amiel~Swiss writer~1821-1881)

e. e. cummings, i’m not…

FREQUENTLY, WHEN I START TO WRITE, I LOOK UP AFTER A FEW WORDS, ONLY TO NOTICE THAT THE CAPS LOCK ON MY KEYBOARD IS STILL ON.  THEN I HAVE TO REACH OVER AND click it off, normally backspacing to the beginning to make corrections.  Why, you ask, is the caps lock on?  It is because much of the time at my computer is spent in processing orders from the online store we operate, on which we sell music CDs.

unfortunately many of our customers have not realized that an order is not a text message so they never capitalize anything nor do they insert any punctuation except sporadically in, the wrong’ place  when we get their orders we have to make corrections so the post office and ups dont reject the addresses and return the packages to us with additional shipping charges due  im struck with the inconsistencies of our language usage today and the ways in which it impacts some of us while others never have a clue

Annoying, isn’t it?  Although we don’t use any, I understand that there is software on the market to correct the errors which are caused by folks who either don’t know or don’t care about the rules necessary to get parcels from one region in the country to another.  I don’t want you to read this and to expect a page-long diatribe against texting and its residual effects on our communication.  What has actually happened is that my eyes are being forced to focus on the bigger picture.   The writing is on the wall, if you will.  My generation communicates differently than the one currently reaching majority.  Although you wouldn’t know it to look at my handwriting, we were taught penmanship in elementary school and graded on it into high school.  Many of the children coming through our schools now will spend one semester or less in third grade learning to write cursive letters. It will not be a requirement for them to use this skill at any further point into their schooling.  Frequently, even today, college students have problems reading documents which are hand-written, simply because it is not a skill they themselves have practiced.

I hear the purists now exclaiming that it is a shame and that our children are being robbed of a life-skill they will need as they mature.  They may or they may not be being robbed, but given the present usage of technology in communication, it’s a skill which they’ll never miss.  And, even as I hear those voices clamoring, I remember that my generation was not schooled nearly as extensively in the art of writing as was the generation preceding.  Our teachers were content to produce students who could fill the page with legible material.  The taskmasters in the schools the generation before us demanded perfection in forming letters, with sweeping tails and open strokes which were a thing of beauty, not a utilitarian skill intended simply to allow basic functional technique.  My father’s handwriting is still a work of art, a masterpiece of which to be proud, while mine is crabbed and messy, a tool to get me by when I have no keyboard on which to store my memos.  The progression in handwriting, or more accurately, the regression, follows a logical path, with the technology replacing human labor more and more as the skills deteriorate.

I think that the change I see in communication styles is a good part of the reason for my enjoyment of writing this blog.  Little by little, I see conversations being reduced to ten word sentence after ten word sentence.  Many of the “threads” of interaction I see between friends are filled with ten word corrections for the improperly understood former ten word sentences, but there are no changes made, no real expansion of the dialogue.  For conversation to be properly understood, the language must be utilized more fully.  Frequently, uncommon words are called for, since they express the ideas better than those in common use.  I have enjoyed the process, the daily task of selecting words, hopefully the right ones, to communicate the ideas which are in my head and need an avenue of expression.  Even more, as I see the interplay between friends and groups shrinking in on itself and becoming almost trivial, I am driven to continue my nightly quest.  I will grant that a number of the subjects I have chosen have been in themselves trivial, but at the very least, those ideas are no longer trapped in my already overburdened skull, gumming up the works for other, more important, tasks.

I guess I’ll keep at it for a little longer.  I hope you’ll keep reading once in awhile.  Who knows, you might find one gem amongst the mountains of coal.  I’ll do my best to get the capitalization correct and the punctuation kept under control.  It’s the least I can do.

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”
(Joseph Priestly~English chemist and clergyman~1733-1804)

“You may not be able to read a doctor’s handwriting and prescription, but you’ll notice that his bills are neatly typewritten.”
(Earl Wilson~American athlete~1934-2005)


I wonder if it would be appropriate to ask for a moment of silence.  I’m never sure what the correct procedure is for these occasions.  I’m feeling a sense of loss today.  It was so unexpected, so unforeseen.  You see, today a lifelong illusion died for me.  My mother’s family has spoken for years of their heritage, their bloodline and a rumored participant in the family history.  My maternal grandmother was born into the Lee family.  The family story for some time has been of the direct relationship to General Robert E. Lee, the famous leader of the Army of the Confederacy.  Truth be told, I rather enjoyed the thought that I might be a direct descendant of such a great and respected leader.  Regardless of your background, whether from the North or the South, the historical record of this man is one of an impeccably upright man, a man of character.  I would have been proud to be heir to that fine tradition.  Alas, I have at last been disillusioned.

I wasn’t looking for the truth today.  I was simply looking for a cousin on Facebook.  Not finding him listed there, I took my search to the wider net cast by Google.  How was I to know that the lifelong source of my childhood daydreams and adult pride in heritage was going to be scuttled – shipwrecked with the click of a button?  I merely clicked on a result in my search for my cousin and was taken, unsuspecting, to a genealogy of my maternal family lineage.  Imagine my shock at seeing my own name listed first on the page I was directed to, along with brothers, children, cousins, and aunts and uncles.  Excitedly, I went back, back, back through the pages of the lineage of my Mom and her siblings, great aunts, grandparents, and great grandparents.  The list ended with a fellow named James “Bud” Lee of North Carolina, born in the mid 1700’s.  Nary a mention of the famous man…Not a single reference to him at all.

Oh, he can be found if one were to follow the lineage back a generation or two and then trace a different branch on down through the Virginia Lees.  He was a very distant relative of my ancestor, James “Bud”, but it could hardly be said that his blood is coursing through my veins.  The death of my illusion is complete.

It’s not an earth shattering discovery.  I have known for years that it was not certain, even possibly unlikely, that the great man resided in the same family tree with me. That said, it’s easy when you want something to be true, to simply put your fingers in your ears when there is a hint that it may not be so and hum at the top of your lungs.  It was an intriguing fantasy, which now will have to be cast away.  The reality is that this fantasy was never a guiding light for my life choices.

So, no moment of silence; no time of reflection.  The daydreams will dissipate into the ether, nice while they lasted.  I have come to realize that, although family and history are an important part of who we are, they are not what determines who we will be.  I have seen people overcome tragic family circumstances to become incredibly influential and upright individuals.  Conversely, I have also known individuals who have failed miserably in becoming honorable human beings, while their parents were unassailable in their integrity.  It’s up to each of us to determine, and have the discipline to become, the persons our God wants us to be.  Our family history cannot walk the pathway, nor live out the adventure which is put in front of us.  We have to do that daily.

I’m also struck by this immutable fact, made clear by my unexpected discovery today;  Truth will be made known, whether we are seeking it or not.  Although sometimes it doesn’t seem that way to us, eventually all will be laid open for everyone to see.  It may not come in the time frame we anticipate or desire, but lies cannot forever hide truth.  In a way, instead of being disappointed by this, I’m encouraged.  It seems to me that knowing a thing is false is better than believing mistakenly that it is true. 

Of course, this situation also lends a little credence to my father’s position on the family legend that one of his ancestors was sent to this country as an envoy of the Queen of England.  To hear him tell it, the guy was actually a horse thief, and the Queen banished him to the Colonies to rid England of him.  I’m not sure that I want to know the facts in this one either.  Both stories hold their own appeal.  I guess you pays your money and you takes your choice.  I’ll let you know if that mystery ever gets solved.

 “Truth will come to light…in the end, truth will out.”
(The Merchant of Venice~William Shakespeare)

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
(John 8:32)

Slipping Into the Future

We sat down to dinner with the table almost creaking under the weight of the food.  As is our habit, we prayed before we began to eat, realizing that all the blessings we enjoy are really gifts from a loving Creator.  We held hands around the table, a chain of family and friends, from very young children all the way up to Great Grandma, showing our love for each other and thankfulness for the gifts.

Grandpa prayed, as usual.  By long experience, I have learned that the attention span of the children is short.  Dinnertime is not the time to engage in long-winded prayers, remembering all the sick and troubled, all those who have traveled afar, and those in the world who are less fortunate than we.  No, we are simply thankful for the food and a few other gifts, asking that we will be faithful stewards of the gifts.  Short prayers are the best at the dinner table.  My grandchildren would agree.  Some time ago, they learned that the words, “in Jesus’ name,” usually preceded “Amen”, which was the signal to eat.  Accordingly, the older girl would begin saying “Amen” as soon as those other words were heard.  I’m not sure if I have gotten longer-winded with time, or if the girl has just learned that the process can be hurried a bit, but recently, she has taken to saying the word earlier in my prayer, long before I’m ready to invoke our Savior’s name.  “Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen….” is what I heard at the table today as I started to wind up my prayer.  I hurried a bit faster to the real “Amen!” which echoed from several different points of the table.  We all laughed and Grandma hugged the beautiful girl as the abbreviated prayer was ended.  These times are precious and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

It did make me think a bit, though.  I wonder if deep down inside, we’re all still little children at heart.  We are in such a hurry to get to the next part that we forget to enjoy where we are right now, today.  For some reason, we keep looking to the future and its promise, forgetting that the present and its reality is actually a gift given for us to savor and to carry us into that future.  I know I am always doing that.  “Just get me through this day…this job…this crisis, and I’ll be okay.”  Then I get to the future and it’s not much different, simply more wishing for whatever comes next.

I find myself saying with the country songwriter of a few years ago,  “I…I’m driving my life away, looking for a better way, for me.  I’m driving my life away, looking for a sunny day…”   It’s not so much that I’m driving it away as I am working and eating and sleeping it away, but little by little it’s speeding past, while I look for that time when I’m satisfied with where I am.  I’m pretty sure it never arrives unless we learn to be satisfied with today, here and now.

As children, we learn to wait (and long) for future events…bells to ring, buses to come, summer to get here.  Back then, it seemed that those things took forever to arrive.  From today’s perspective, they came and went with lightning speed.  But, still we wait for future events and thus waste today and its joy.

I hear a little voice out there saying, “Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen…” and realize that it’s time to stop blabbering on now.  I will oblige.  But I will say this before I stop:  “This is the day which the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it!”  I hope that you will take time to enjoy this day.  It is indeed a gift not to be ignored, nor scorned.


“Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.”
(Fly Like An Eagle~Steve Miller Band~1976)

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
(I Timothy 6:6)

Sick is Good, Right?

Most you know that I have spent a good part of my life confused.  Just when I think I’m getting a handle on the English language, out pops a “lay” when “lie” was the proper term.  I think I understand the vernacular spoken around me, only to find that “sick” is a good thing, as in “insane” and “crazy” (or even “crazy insane”).  Now, the last couple, I might accept, since I’ve thought for awhile that those words describe more than a few people I know and love, too.  But, more about that later.

The dilemma I find myself considering today is this:  How is it that the things our parents taught us were appropriate actions are now considered to be signs of emotional illness?  “Wash your hands!”  they demanded, over and over.  It was with good reason, too.  There could be no doubt that those hands had been in some unbelievable places.  It was entirely possible that the same hands which had cleaned the morning’s catch of fish went right to the dinner table without the advantage of soap and water.  We picked up anything and everything to examine it closely while outside in the fields and wooded areas.  Bugs, feathers, dogs, cats, ponies, perhaps even the droppings of some unknown critter…they were all within the purview of the young explorers that we envisioned ourselves.  Wash hands?  Bah!  That was for sissies!  A little good honest dirt never hurt anybody!   But our parents insisted and slowly, we fell into line, becoming conscious of germs and their effect on our immune system.

Today, every sink I pass in the house or at work has a container of antibacterial soap next to the faucet.  They are used every time I walk outside and then back inside.  Can’t have the germs from the puppies on my hands, should I happen to touch my nose or eyes.  For insurance, there is a pump bottle of hand cleanser right near the cash register in the store, which I use between customers, just to be sure, you understand.  Before long, there’s an obsession with washing the hands, even though they have touched nothing which would actually transfer germs.  So the habit which was forced upon us as children becomes a burden and for some, a mental compulsion, symptomatic of an illness.  I will admit that I am not there yet, but am watching for the tell-tale signs.  It does seem to run in the family.

I do have my foibles in related areas, too.  I used to go with the Lovely Lady when she was grocery shopping.  It was something I wanted to share with her, instead of expecting her to take all the responsibility for bringing home the necessities for the week.  I would push the cart while she checked her list and handed me items to drop into the basket.  Well, that’s the way she does it.  When I do it, the boxed goods are neatly arranged in their corner, the fresh vegetables piled away from the canned goods to avoid damage from the same.  The refrigerated items are kept separate, so they’ll keep each other cool and be put into the same bags to take home.  “A place for everything and everything in its place.”  Isn’t that what my third grade teacher, Mrs. Brunson taught me?  (Come to think of it, she wasn’t so normal, occasionally running down the row between desks to put her head on the desk and sob, when some young man (mentioning no names) had pushed her to the breaking point.)  Nevertheless, the grocery cart is organized when I’m in charge of the process.  I don’t understand it though.  Recently, the Lovely Lady has taken to scheduling her trips to the grocery store while I’m otherwise occupied.  “Sorry, honey.  Maybe you can go next week,”  she apologizes tenderly.  Hmmmm.  I wonder…

Then there is the perplexing issue of the potato chips.  When there are chips on my plate, for some unknown reason they end up in two piles before any are eaten.  One pile has pristine, complete chips, the other, the broken pieces .  The broken chips are then eaten first, with the much more flavorful complete ones (anyone knows a whole chip tastes better than part of one) being savored as they are eaten last. 

Oh, and the M&Ms!  Sorted by color and then eaten, usually leaving the same number of each color in the hand as they are consumed (first three, then two, then one of each color).  The symmetry is a beautiful thing to behold!  And, when we prepare for guests who come to dinner, silverware is set on the table exactly so; the forks on one side of the plates and the knives and spoons on the other, placed exactly the same distance away from the edge of the table.  No, children are not allowed to play with silverware in advance of dinner!

You laugh.  The term that comes to your mind is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly known as “OCD”.  I joked recently that I call my particular illness “CDO”.  It’s the same thing, but the letters are in alphabetical order, like they’re supposed to be!  Again you laugh, but I beg you to turn your attention to those things in your life which would be amusing to outside observers.  There are the clothes that have to be folded (or ironed) just so, the toothpaste that is rolled from the end, never squeezed in the middle, the shoes placed in the closet in perfect order.  Collections are organized perfectly, spices in the spice rack alphabetically, beds made with hospital corners.  We all have areas of our lives about which we are compulsive or obsessive.  That is normal.  Oh, mine may be more amusing, or more unusual, but they are just foibles, nothing more.  I have been known to eat my potato chips out of the bag, a broken one first, then two whole ones, then a broken one again.  It doesn’t upset me to do so.  I eat M&Ms (peanut, of course) in the dark, never worrying about the symmetry or color.  I do this without my pulse increasing and my breathing growing shallow and quick.

We don’t need to label things as diseases unless they really are.  There are people who really suffer from OCD and are dangerous to themselves and others around them.  These folks really can’t control their habits and thought patterns.  We live in a society which is searching for the bad things.  I have to admit that I enjoy the absurd and amusing habits I see in myself and others around me, simply because they are actually indicators of our normalcy, rather than our deficiencies.  It’s a lot more healthy for us to laugh at ourselves and with others than to worry and fret about the minor differences.  A lot more fun, too.

So, don’t sweat the small stuff.  Do you see real problems that need to be dealt with in your life?  Admit it and start working on them.  Get help if you need it.  But learn the difference between an illness and a peculiarity.  Peculiar is good.  And, a lot less boring than everybody being “normal”.

If you tell me that my chip sorting thing is “sick”, I’m going to assume that you mean that it’s “crazy insane”,  which is a good thing, right?  Oh, I’m still confused…

“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
(Francis Bacon~English lawyer and philosopher~1561-1626)