A personal blog. I am an: Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Why "Singer-Songerwriter" is an Absurd Category

I've never liked the term "singer-songwriter."

It's just so bland and so... literal.

By contrast, "rock and roll" describes the physical reaction the music causes in the bodies of people who hear it. The driving beat causes people to move and to remember that they are a wholeness of mind, spirit and body. After centuries of Puritanism, it was a revolution to re-engage their body.

And "jazz" reminds us of the jasmine perfume worn by New Orleans' prostitutes. This immediately conjures up all sorts of images and impressions. You can practically taste the thick, smokey, perfumey air of a New Orleans piano brothel. You can hear the raunchy trombone slide, smokey suggestive sax and the falsetto orgasm of a trumpet.

But "singer-songwriter?" Well, it describes a group of people who write songs. And sing them.

What a terrible name for a genre and/or classification of musicians.

It's even worse to use this term when better ones exist: My favorite is "troubadour." It carries with it a sense of drama. The word has courtly love origins but to me it goes beyond that. There's mission and purpose carried by that word. I imagine someone who puts all their belongings in a knapsack--she or he has a message--a positive message of hope--and a call to travel the world to share that message.

There are layers of color with the term "bard," too. I imagine a chubby, bearded fellow entertaining a rowdy crowd at a tavern with humor, innuendo and fun songs of adventure of days gone by.

"Balladeer" makes me think of someone who spreads love and sappiness everywhere they go, perhaps for profit--cheesy and sometimes too commercial, but hey, there's still something of interest here.

"Folk singer" is good, too, but I'm picky about who gets to use this term. Few singer-songwriters are true folk singers in the sense of carrying the voice and songs of the people with them. When the 60s gave way to the 70s, I'm glad they stopped calling themselves folksingers because that would devalue the term. It just wasn't accurate anymore.

70s singer-songwriters are some of my favorite artists of all time. I just wish they had a better name for themselves.

Maybe the reason why today's singer-songwriters don't use any of the above terms is precisely because they aren't driven by any sense of mission. They just want to draw attention to themselves without giving us a reason to deserve that attention. "Hey... look at me... I sing. And write songs. I'm not part of any movement nor do I represent anyone other than me" So maybe the phenomenon is aptly named, after all. Ah... our words give us away, don't they? It's a sign of the times: The ultimate reality is the self, isolated from all connections, commitments and associations. "Bard," "troubadour," "balladeer" all connote that you have a role as part of something bigger than yourself and that you have a mission as part of that role. By contrast, "singer-songwriter" is a way of saying, "I am my own genre--I am more than any particular role or mission." And at first glance, that sounds good to the contemporary ear... but I don't think it works. "To be human is to be social" as Aristotle said. We think we get farther by elevating the self but I don't think we do. Anyway, that's a discussion for another day.

But there's more. There's another reason the term bothers me, and I think I've figured out what it is:

There are no two groups of people less compatible with each other than singers and songwriters. The combination is an absurdity. Ne'er the twain shall meet. I hate to be reductionist (by nature since I'm in the first category) but there might be some truth here...

Songwriters be like: 

OMG... (pointing excitedly) WOW! EVERYBODY LOOK: THE WORLD!  waking up from the brink of nihilistic oblivion... I'm compelled to shout celebrations to the cosmos using this broken dish as percussion... because the way the rain hit the roof gave me a renewed sense of hope... and I might shower this week, but not if you tell me to... Clear the way--I need coffee and a guitar and a whole lotta space! THERE'S TRUTH THAT NEEDS TO BE SPOKEN!

Singers be like: 

Umm... yeah... your pitch in the third measure was a bit flat and that's why no one can stand you as a human being, but we won't actually tell you, just indicate it passive-aggressively. Fake smile and sit up straight, darling! This is not how it was done in 18th Century Vienna. I'm sure your "ideas" are wonderful (*smirk*) but we do Mozart as intended, sweetie (meanwhile the ghost of Mozart (who built 18th Century Vienna) wants to GTFO and hang with the people in the first category)...

Monday, December 14, 2020

Fare Well and Thank You, Piano!

I swear I saw a tear in the corner of my dad's eye when he sold his bulldozer some years ago. His words: "I had that thing longer than I knew your mother." He had it over 30 years at the time, if not more.  I still remember it going down the road and away from the house on someone's trailer.

I kinda felt the same way selling my Casio electric piano tonight. I brought it probably in '93 or '94. Played gigs out with it. Made a lot of music with it. Wrote a lot of song with it. It traveled with me a lot of places. I chose apartments partly because of its size requirements. Some years it served more as coffee table than musical instrument (because that's what pianos do).

The case challenged everyone who attempted to lift it. It must have been made of reinforced concrete.

It's a CPS-80. I just learned the model number in order to write up the listing. The model number was staring at me for years as it was printed on the surface of the keyboard in big letters, but I never pay much attention to such things. I am not much of a techie when it comes to instruments. I can lead you in a deep, philosophical discussion of a musical instrument, I can tune in to its sound and vibe in an almost spiritual way, but I couldn't tell you the first thing about the model number or any other numbers that may be associated with it.

I initially purchased a Hammond B3 organ (I know that model name because it's part of its legend) and then quickly returned it. The Casio piano was the right instrument at the time.  It felt right. It was right.

It also had its limitations.

It was also time to go, though.

I hope it has a good second life. It sure lived a lot with me. Very few things are as sad as a musical instrument sitting unused and unplayed, and that was going to be its fate with me. Better to release it to the world where it can continue to live its vocation and get into whatever mischief it intends to. Maybe it'll spark someone else's imagination like it sparked mine.

I am most surprised by how I'm not that emotional about it. Nevertheless, I am taking the time to reflect so as not to rush over things. But I've spent far too much energy dragging around artifacts from the past in my boxes of souvenirs from this trip called life. Most of them I only see when I move from place to place and with every move and with every year their quality degrades. That doesn't do them justice. Yes, honor the past, but I want to spend my time on what's ahead more than on what's behind. There is work left to do and miles to go before I sleep.

(and the people of God say:  "and miles to go before I sleep.")

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Baby Food or Smoothies?

A common question for toddler parents: "When did you stop giving your child baby food?"

It's a rite of passage. Competitive parents are quick to point out how their child has been on solid foods and left "baby food" a long time ago, sometimes long before their child was even a toddler. "My kid is better than your kid" starts quite early!

But truth be told, we never stopped serving it. After all, what is the difference between baby food and an adult smoothie? 

"Baby food" is just an industry term referring to certain kinds of purees of simple foods with few additives that are recommended as first foods. 

But beyond that, purees are everywhere: Applesauce. Guacamole. Peanut butter. Tomato sauce. Pumpkin pie filling. Many soups. Some foods were purees at one point only to have been re-soldified: Chicken nuggets, bologna, cheese. Drinkable squeeze pouches of food are quite popular as a grab-and-go snack for kids. Adults enjoy smoothies as a health food. The stigma around "baby food" is a little silly when you weigh it against all that.

Smoothies have always been a great way to get our daughter to eat foods she might otherwise not eat. She has eaten dozens of avocados, for example, but never in their non-pureed form. I've included all sorts of things over time from hard boiled eggs to beef liver to veggies and fruits of all kinds. For the longest time, purees were the only way she'd eat any meat or eggs at all. 

Some parenting theories advise against hiding foods this way, as they suggest kids need to seek out the foods they instinctively want and build a relationship with them--they need to know what they are eating and how it feels in their body so they can adjust their choices going forward. That sounds well and good, but it also seems like semantics to me. All sorts of recipes have foods that we might not eat on their own but enjoy as part of a complex meal (onions, for example). I throw all sorts of things into a soup that I might not eat on their own. So I'm not buying it. Besides, there's not much that can truly be hidden from a toddler. That 1 drop of cod liver oil in a large drink will cause her to refuse the whole thing! You can only help it along so much. 

Another reason for the urgency to start kids on solid foods early is because the process of chewing and swallowing is important for health. But again, we're not exclusively serving foods in liquid form here. It's just a great addition to our diet.

Blended smoothies have changed in our house over time as tastes and nutritional needs have changed. Sometimes I think we are done serving them for good but then they come back into fashion.

Improvisation on a theme: Mango Lassi

Right now, what's popular is to make variations on the traditional Indian drink, the mango lassi. About half of it is whole milk, Greek yogurt and honey. The other half is a mixture of whatever raw or frozen fruit we feel like including. The traditional drink just uses mango but we've found that just about any fruit works. We use Greek yogurt because it's a staple at our house and it's just what we have available. It has a broad spectrum of live cultures compared to "regular" yogurt, and it's tartness adds a bite that works well for us, but it might be an adjustment for people who are used to other kinds of yogurt.

The whole family enjoys smoothies. It's a great snack that ticks a lot of nutritional boxes: The probiotics in the yogurt, the variety of different fruits and all the good stuff honey has. Our daughter enjoys a couple of these smoothies every week. I add seeds and nuts to mine, too. 

The only store bought purees our daughter will consistently eat are Mamma Chia squeeze pouches. Organic fruit, no sugar and lots of chia seeds! We are big fans of them. $1 apiece at Wal-Mart.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

On Balancing Sauntering, Down Time and Having Goals

Hiking - "I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, 'A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them."

 - John Muir

This meme has been sauntering through the internet. To that, I say:

Amen! Let's saunter through the mountains. Or not, whatever.

Everything is so scheduled now. I've fallen into that myself. I used to always naturally take time for down time, for drifting, aimless adventures that sometimes turned into something and sometimes didn't... meals that had no recipe just see where it goes... I think it made me a better person, more creative, more sure of myself, more everything. I think it made me more independent, my "center" was never some external activity. I think it's great for kids to learn how to navigate this kind of space, to trust your own impulses and find your way through the fog, and to make adventures out of nothing and follow your whims. Not to be overly worried about what you "should" be doing.

Maybe it's because I grew up in a small town where we had the good fortune of being bored a lot. There were no countless clubs or soccer games to attend. I'm not against all those activities, but once you learn how to have fun in an empty room, to paraphrase the Buddhist quote, then that is a gift you can carry with you your entire life. You don't need external stimuli.

I'm thankful I grew up before the internet and smart phones. Of course, older folks were worried my generation would be wrecked due to TV watching, so maybe it is good to take those warnings with a grain of salt. However, I actually think they were kind of right, but I managed to get enough of a glimpse of a better world. I quit watching TV when I was around 6th grade after watching far too much of it when I was younger and that really helped.

I changed that because I wanted to become goal-oriented, and goals are important. But I'm not convinced I've figured out how to do both. I discovered a better world through sauntering. And the things I want to be goal-oriented about were things I discovered and explored while sauntering without goals.

The downside is that it means that there were long tracts of time that are difficult to understand. There are stacks of unfinished projects of various types. Half-edited essays on social media whereas others are writing books. What did I accomplish? Should I have more "product" to show for it (a yucky term)? Where did my 20s go?

I think of some my peers in college who were med students, It seems like their whole lives were planned out very early and most of their hours were scheduled. Did they have enough opportunity to grow and stretch and do all those intangibles? Do they recognize the value in doing so? Or were they simply prudent, made good use of their youth, put their skills in service of the world, and built a future for themselves in the meantime? Sometimes that doesn't seem like such a bad deal! Maybe none of us knew who we were when we were young, so maybe it's just wise to spend your 20s working through med school than working in some factory or office like I did. But do they even know who they are? Maybe they already do and that's why they could fit into a tract so early. Maybe they just didn't need to saunter as much. Or maybe with a secure income and career, they can devote their later years to that. Everyone's different.

Learning how to live a sauntering life while also being goal-oriented is something I have yet to figure out.


Every Saturday I used to wake up and just... whatever happened. Maybe I cooked. Cleaned. Maybe I wrote a song. Maybe I had an adventure. Maybe wrote a letter. Maybe bits and pieces of all of these. Maybe something wonderful happened. I miss being in that space. It's hard to look back and wonder... was I wasting time? well, no... but a lot of projects didn't get done this way... but those projects probably wouldn't have gotten started another way! Maybe nothing happened and I went to bed frustrated and unfulfilled, maybe a lot happened--unplanned and unscheduled but things still happened, often great things. But the head space to do this is really a precious thing which opens the door to so much. I miss it and don't enter into that space much anymore. I don't trust that things will get done if I don't schedule them and get serious about goals, but then the very joy that was necessary for those goals is harder and harder to find this way. I would lean and loaf and invite my soul.

Maybe down time is just a luxury you don't get when you have a family or when you want to turn dreams into reality. But I think people used to have more of it in generations passed.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Myth of Meritocracy

I should like this but I don't.
This picture has been going viral across social media lately.
It only tells half the story. 
Here's how I look at it:
I work like it all depends on me, but I vote like it all depends on we. We need to understand both.
Far too many Americans have bought into the myth of meritocracy, which suggests that your individual hard work and enterprise are the ONLY variables in your success. That's simply wrong at face value. No, it is not healthy to get stuck in a blame or victim mode, either, but it's also neither healthy nor accurate to think you are an island. Both extremes can be a trap and both have some truth, depending on how they are lived out and understood.
What this sign fails to realize it that it took the WHOLE COMMUNITY to build the school where this sign is on display. Millions of your fellow Americans put their time, talent and treasure on the line to make sure you got this education--taxpayers, teachers, administrators, janitors, nurses, construction workers, coaches, etc. They make sure you have a hospital when you are sick, roads to travel to school on, and a safe environment through police, fire and military presence.
NO, you did NOT get there on your own. Systemic injustice and oppression are real. Some groups and individuals have it harder than others--FACT. Naming that and calling society into accountability is not "playing the victim." It's just denial and gaslighting to deny that these factors do impact real lives significantly.
But YES, YOU do have a lot of agency in your life--probably more than you realize. No, you are not a helpless victim of peer pressure or any other circumstances in your life. But all those circumstances DO have an impact and it would be wrong to ignore it.
It takes a wise and mature person to sift through all this.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Open Borders: A Necessary Stage in Human Evolution

I get involved in a lot of debates online about immigration. Usually people try to retort with a sweeping rhetorical fallacy:  "So are you saying you just want open borders??"  No, I am advocating for ethical, humane, merciful, compassionate treatment of all who come to the border and across it, regardless of their level of documentation. That is not too much to ask. I give the official church answer, which is that most Christian denominations affirm the right of a people to establish space for themselves and to have a system for entry and exit for the purposes of safety and order--but the right to have a border is NEVER greater than the right to life, and people have a right to cross a border--papers or no papers--if their conscience demands it.

THAT BEING SAID, if you want to know my personal opinion, I am more in line with this article. It's time to move away from the concept of "nation" and that includes national borders. Giving the sweeping movements of refugees all over the world, and the coming catastrophes in terms of climate refugees,, borders are just going to be an inconvenience at best and a death trap at worst.

In all actuality, I'm not contradicting the official church position. We don't have to eradicate all borders right now today, but they can be fairly open and fluid. We have a great deal of choice in how we establish, maintain and enforce those borders.

For example, I can go from Ohio to Pennsylvania without much hassle. People long ago made the choice to make it so.  We can make those choices again today in regards to other borders. It's that simple. Other borders can simply be a rubber stamp just keeping track of the comings and going of people but they do not function as a harsh, militant operation. Borders can be anything from a literal line in the sand to the Berlin Wall and everything in between. People who want to justify the concept of borders need to remember there is a huge variety in how borders are maintained in the world.

Some folks may find that to be a radical idea, but honestly it's important to look at the whole historical span here. Nations have only existed in human history for a few hundred years. Our species began as nomadic bands of families and neighbors in hunter/gatherer societies. We spent probably over 100,000-300,000 years like this, depending on when you date the origin of our species (and longer if you include early forms of humans). Most eventually settled into small villages, especially as farming and animal herding became more of the norm 10,000 years ago.  Those villages turned into cities.  Those cities morphed into city-states.  Those states banded together to form nations... that's where we are now... and those nations sometimes band together to form regional alliances.  NATO, the UN, and the European Union are examples of this evolution. All of these evolutions have come with tradeoffs and growing pains. Many nations today look unified on the map but they are anything but unified on the inside.  Old rivalries and turf wars still plague many European nations, for example.  But the important thing is that this trajectory is inevitable. The EU is probably the most evolved such alliance to date but more will come.

So we should look ahead and see the writing on the wall.  This is the direction human society is going.  We can get ahead of the curve and plan for it, especially when human and ecological needs require it.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

10 minutes in the life of a 2.4 year old

10 minutes in the life of a 2.4 year old:

I tried to sit on the couch and drink some tea while Lucy watched some TV. She scolded me: "No! Mommy coffee!" when I tried to drink it. She then tried to assertively snag my tea bag and whirl it around. I prevented the worst of it but we did both did get a tea bath.

I went upstairs to get something and Lucy just HAD to come, so I carried/shepherded her up the stairs. First, she took out some of Andrea’s items from a bathroom drawer and was both playing with them and destroying them. Then zoomed down the hall and relocated some wall stickers in her room.  She put them on different areas of the wall, inside her teepee and even tried to paste them on me. One may still be on the inside of the closet door. She alternately hid in the closet and then hid in the teepee. She grabbed a book to read and decided to slide around the floor with it. She used the book Wonkey Donkey as a surfboard and demanded to go down the stairs that way!!!! I couldn't let that happen, and knew we were in blow up territory as this was a hard “No” and not a something where I could attempt a redirection. She was ornery as I tried to get her down the stairs. She wouldn't entirely cooperate and tried to climb back up the stairs at times. Her anger did come out when we got to the bottom as she threw the book at the dog. Then she hid the book under a kitchen rug—if I didn’t see it happen I would never have known it was there until I slipped and fell. Then she grabbed a hallway throw rug (which was not small) and relocated it down the hall. Then she somehow wedged her tricycle into the living room through the child gate, which I missed seeing because it took place in just a split second and must have involved a feat of strength. Then she fought me on pull-up change, which, of course, she thought was hysterical.

Did I mention that this was only a 10 minute portion of a much longer day??