Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Music and Me

When I was a little girl I loved to sing. My earliest recollection was a song I composed about four o clock flowers. I was probably four or five years old and we still lived in Chicago. My mother explained that the fragrant annual opened at 4 p.m. each day. This fascinated me. I couldn’t tell time yet, but I would check on the flowers in the afternoon and sure enough, around 4 p.m. every day, the punctual plants displayed their happy little faces to the afternoon sun.

I remember singing. “Four oclocks, Four oclocks. Because they open at four oclock.”
Okay, so I was no Bob Dylan and my tune consisted of three or four notes. But I didn’t care. I was happy to sing my little heart out. According to my baby book, I was singing songs at one and making up my own songs before I was toilet trained at two (you thought I was going to say 29 weren’t you?) My youngest granddaughter Briannah is a budding singer/songwriter as well. I can’t always tell what she sings about, but she’s happy to create her own music.

Her older sister, Rosannah prefers Lady Gaga.

When I grew older my brother, Terry, and I took guitar lessons. Terry plunked away dutifully at the notes. I’m sure he would rather be out playing baseball. I don’t remember him ever picking up our old Les Paul for fun. But he was better at counting the full notes, quarter notes and the like. He grew up to be a CPA, so I think the counting practice paid off.

I, on the other hand, strummed a few basic chords and wrote songs about everything from little green men to teenage pregnancy. I had a talent for writing lyrics, but the melodies all sounded the same. In fact, most of the songs by any given Rock and Roll artist of that time were variations on four chords C, A. D and G as well.

After I graduated from high school I would occasionally play my guitar or sing a little ditty, but not with the same abandon I had when I was a kid. I became embarrassed that my abilities were second rate. External and internal critics nagged at my fragile ego that if I wasn’t great at doing something I shouldn’t do it at all.
The only exceptions were when I was around children. I sang for the neighborhood kids, my daughters, and now my grandchildren. I still enjoy music and would turn on my radio to rock ‘n roll oldies in the car and plop in a tape of Bonnie Raitt

when I cleaned the house. Music lifted my spirits. I still remember my daughter, Brittany, running up to me while I was dusting. Her hands were over her ears and she said through clenched teeth, “No, no more Bonnie Raitt” when I played my favorite tape for the 5th time in one day (it took a long time to clean the house.)

However, there was a time when the music died in my life.

In the late 1990s I separated from my husband of 26 years. I tried to rebuild a life for myself and my youngest daughter, Brittany (yes the same one who had her fill of Bonnie Raitt.). It was a difficult and painful time. In a matter of months my marriage dissolved, I was laid off from my job of eight years, my teenage daughter was skipping school and in danger of flunking out, and two of closest friends deserted me. My confidence was in the toilet. I mistakenly thought a relationship would make things good again. I found a new love, but to my chagrin, I was dumped after three months. I was a middle-aged, college-educated woman, yet I seemed unsuccessful in making my way in the world. Every time I turned on the radio, a song from a happier past hit me like a slap across the face. I turned the radio off and drove in silence. I did this for months.

Then one day as I was driving home from work I turned the radio on I could hear the traffic report. A happy song floated through the air waves. Instead of changing the station, I let the song play. I'm not sure why, but something shifted in my pessimistic brain. I looked at the horizon and noticed a gorgeous sunset. It was, in fact, a beautiful spring day. Why hadn't I noticed this before? Nothing in my situation had changed, only my thoughts. I felt happy again. I decided to build on that. If I could be happy for five minutes, I could be happy for 15. In time, minutes stretched to hours, and hours into days.

Once I realized that I could shift my thoughts from the old "woe as me" and concentrate on the many good things in my life, I felt better. It wasn't like there wasn't anything good in my life. I just chose to concentrate - okay DWELL - on the negatives. It was no wonder I felt rotten.

Every day since then, I make it a point to think of a few things I'm grateful for. I wake up and say out loud how happy I am to be alive. Being a famous songwriting rock star is not on the list. But I can still make music. And when I’m sick of my own voice I can still listen to my all-time favorite, Bonnie Raitt.
Some may say that with all the negativity in the world there is nothing worth singing about. I say, “plllhhhg” (that me blowing a raspberry.) When you’re sad or blue that is exactly the time music should fill the air.

If you don’t believe me take note of one of my favorite quotes by Cervantes.

“He who sings scares away his woes.”

And if someone in your life complains about your musical efforts, sing a few off key notes until they run screaming from the house. That way you can have fun and rid a little unwanted negativity at the same time!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remembering 9-11

Last year I wrote a special blog for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The message bears repeating so I'm posting it again.

Our nation recently commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It is a day that is forever etched in our collective consciousness. Who doesn’t remember where they and what they did when they heard the shattering news and saw the painful and horrifying images?

There have been a myriad of plaques, memorials, flags, news clips, speeches, prayers, rants and outbursts surrounding that fateful day.

There are stories and video clips denoting the pain and suffering, others of respect and gratitude for the heroes who worked to save others, narratives of the few survivors, as well as stories of the family and friends who lost a loved one in one of our nation’s worst tragedies.

What I would like to see in the next 10 years are more stories of healing and humanity. While I believe we have to take measures to ensure our nation’s security, I worry that the most fundamental step, recognizing the importance of our oneness as a people, needs to be fostered.

We so often focus on how we differ from one another that it creates an artificial barrier. We all want to take pride in our uniqueness, but when we use this as a measurement of how we are somehow “better” than someone else, it creates problems. When something or someone is perceived as dissimilar, it becomes so much easier to use that difference as a reason to hate.

Sometimes that hate becomes violent.

Shortly after 9/11 2001, a Sikh man wearing a turban was gunned down. The gunman, Frank Rogue, believed his target was an Arab. The victim, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was a gasoline station owner who emigrated from India. Ironically, the Sikhs are known for their peace-loving nature and beliefs. What makes this even worse, at least for me, this violent act happened in my home town of Mesa, AZ.

As a Buddhist, I believe in the interconnectedness of humankind. Individuals are a microcosm of all of humanity and in the larger scheme, the universe. What we do to others we do to ourselves. Therefore, our actions of healing, compassion and understanding are needed far more than our acts of anger and hatred. While force may have a temporary effect to keep harm at bay, it does little to solve the inherent problem.

Since most of us identify with the things that set us apart from one another, it is difficult to imagine how inner connected we are. One example that illustrates our connectedness is pollution. If there a nuclear accident, the fallout is not contained to that given area. Radiation seeps into the earth and ground water, travels through our rivers, streams and ocean, as well as traveling hundreds and thousands of miles by blowing winds.

In a more humorous analogy I remember a story I heard years ago. A father was trying to bond with his son and decided to take him fishing in a small fishing boat.

The son was in the front of the boat and the father in the back. When they were in the middle of the lake they hit a rock and water gushed near the father’s feet. The son seemed undeterred and even laughed about the situation. The father asked why the boy thought the situation was funny and the boy responded, “Because the leak is in YOUR part of the boat.”

In the next few years I hope we will spend less time focusing on past hurts and put our energy into solving problems by engaging others in heart-felt dialogue and recognizing the humanity in one another. We cannot root out all evil, but we can take steps to heal our planet by recognizing our similarities rather than dwelling on our differences.

A quote by Mushrif–ud-Din Abdullah, a Persian poet wrote a poem that graces the entrance of the Hall of Nation of the UN Building in New York.

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

Another year has passed. Last year's article suggested that before the 11th anniversary of 9/11 I hope we can report several instances where we were a source of hope and light for humankind and our planet. I have the same plea for the next year and the next and the next.

We share this world with others and it is in our best interest to try to get along. After all, we are all in the same boat.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Whales and Tales

It was the day after Labor Day and I was off to Port Townsend, WA to catch a boat to go whale watching with my spouse, CB. During our drive we saw plenty of school buses packed with children ready to start the first day of school. Some of the kids looked excited, others nervous. I can appreciate both sentiments.

As a child I started off the school year with one of two new outfits I would wear that year. I remember wanting to put my best foot forward. I was a scruffy-looking kid, but a new outfit managed to put a coat of varnish on my otherwise rough exterior. My family wasn’t exactly impoverished, but we weren’t well off either. Plus, I did not take a lot of care in how I looked. My mom made sure my hair was brushed before I left the house, but I never gave it another thought the rest of the day. And as a kid who loved to play outside, hang upside on the monkey bars and chase other kids around the school yard, I’m sure I was a big mess. Actually, I have school pictures to prove I was a mess, but I digress.

When a new school year begins, I feel a nostalgic desire to learn something new. One major accomplishment is I’ve improved my grooming. One of my favorite PR clients owns a chain of beauty schools. For those of you who are intersted in a career in beauty, here is their website.

Since I’m promoting the beauty business I’m always up-to-date regarding the latest in hair styles, nail polish and skincare. I also have learned how rewarding a career in cosmetology can be and some tips on how to get your first job.

But CB and I had a different goal in mind that day. We hopped into the truck and set off to the dock where we would take our four-hour tour (not the three-hour variety that got Gilligan and company in a bind) I wistfully wondered what new tid bit I would learn on this auspicious day-after-Labor Day.

I’m sure my sea-loving spouse was in hopes I would develop a desire to sail the seven seas. CB loves the ocean and envisions me as a nautical first mate. Unfortunately I’m of the land-loving variety and the only Seven Seas you will find through me is a salad dressing (prepared on land thank you very much.)

However, I was impressed with a story our captain regaled us with while we were watching two orcas.

Killer whales swim in pods. When one of the females is about to give birth, the other females surround her and buoy her up so she is able to take in some oxygen. Once the calf is born, the entire whale community celebrates with breaches and tail slapping. One of the resident grandma whales in the San Juan Island area (reported to be more than 100 years old) recently had a new great, great grandson and researchers saw that the old matriarch was showing the little guy the ropes. The other whales chipped in doing what they could. The male orcas let the youngster ride on their backs.

I found this whale tale inspiring. I know humans are supposed to be the superior species, but I think all of us could learn something from the community spirit of these sea mammals. Most of us are willing to lend a helping hand to someone in our family who is ill, but there are others in our community (or pod) who need our compassion as well.

In school, in our spiritual communities, work and our daily lives we have the opportunity to be a part of a supportive environment, or we can turn our backs on others. We can offer words of kindness and encouragement, or we can gossip, tease and humiliate others.

Ironically, a child’s introduction to the latter is often in classroom or playground. I’ve even witnessed snobbery, prejudice and cruel remarks snickered about others in a spiritual setting where some well-dressed hypocrite feels the need to measure some “poor unfortunate’s” worth by their bank account or the cost of their apparel.

That is why I was impressed by this quote from Daisaku Ikeda from the August 2012 edition of Living Buddhism magazine.

“Religion must contribute to the elevation of the human spirit. It must be a force for developing the inherent goodness within us with the aim of happiness for all. It must be a force promoting respect, wisdom and personal empowerment.”

I find this quote profound, but not unique to the teachings of spiritual sages and philosophers. I learned about it from an orca and I hope you will pass this whale tale on to others as well.