beauty

For the Under-Discovered Artist (inspired by the sad tenor at the bar)

I started writing this for you nearly two weeks ago but keep hesitating to post it.  I'm afraid it sounds a little too strong or too soap-boxy or maybe defensive. As the years roll on, though, I'm coming to know myself and believe that along with being a singer/songwriter, I'm a determined encourager.  Maybe, as Kris Camealy so thoughtfully put it, I'm meant to be a door-holder for other artists.  So if the title of this post caught your attention because it sounds like you, then hear these words as me cheering you on.  Because that's what I came to do.

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For whatever reason, he can focus better at the cool Irish pub down the street than at home.  So he goes out some late nights and writes.  And not infrequently he finds himself in friendly conversation with whatever interesting characters populate the suburban bar at those hours.

So as we stood waiting for morning coffee to brew, he described the group of musicians he’d passed some time with the night before.  In particular, he told me about the 62-year-old tenor plagued by discontent and frustration toward the music industry – or toward his own perceived lack of success.

Standing in the kitchen, this guy who fell for my emotional, 19-year-old songwriting self a long time ago and has supported my work in multiple ways these years since, looked at me and said how he never wants me to feel that way, like a failure.  He said he’s had a taste of that himself and would hate to see me suffer the disappointment of not reaching my dreams, to live with late-life regret.

You don’t feel that way, do you? he asked.

I considered, then said I think there are some key differences between that guy (we’ll call him “Dave”) and me.

Clearly, we both love making music.  I LOVE songwriting.  And it feels pretty amazing to see others respond to that music.  I have goals I’m working hard to reach.  BUT. In the end?  The outward “success” of my music doesn’t define me or determine how successful my life has been.

After releasing an album with my sister in 2006, we thought, “It’s so fun to just be able to be two of the many people making music!”

I do not want to be a superstar, and I don’t think anyone owes me their attention.  I do want to be a part of the whole thing, a color on the wheel. What a privilege.

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Maybe Dave fell in love with the idea of becoming an acclaimed artist, where I fell in love with the Original Artist and the idea of being a part of what He’s making.

Dave, like many hard-working people, wants to be a SUCCESS story, but what I want most is to help tell THE story.

I hate it that Dave is living with bitterness, because every little encounter that says, “Yes, it matters somewhere somehow” brings a smile to my face and deep gladness to my heart.

I know it’s hard to keep your eyes on the distance.  I totally get that.  Sometimes jealousy and sadness creep in here, too.

But when you get your vision right?  The music business becomes the person you make small talk with while your eye is really on the love of your life across the room.

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Our art doesn’t need to be widely recognized.  It needs to be deeply meaningful.

Let’s make something we believe is honest and good and beautiful and true.  Let’s grow and improve and help others grow and improve.  If awards or recognition come, okay.  If money comes through our art, so helpful.

But don’t mistake money and acclaim for an accurate measure of Good Art.  Your work can matter greatly without ever earning you a dime.  YOU matter without any social media followers at all.

I recently read A FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.  His characters talk about the idea of “the universe wanting to be noticed,” and something in that resonated with me, but it’s not quite there yet.  We DO want to notice everything we can about this intricate, marvelous universe, but not as an end but a means.  The more I notice the universe, the more intensely I REVEL in its Maker.

We’ve grown up in a world of STAR Search, American IDOL, THE Voice…it’d be pretty tough to be immune to the pressure to rack up applause.  We’re well-acquainted with the “Go big or go home” mentality.

But, seriously. WHAT in the WORLD?  I find that to be both self-centered and short-sighted.

What is BIG??

Some of the biggest moments in my own experience have taken place in obscure moments in time with zero humans watching. 

Some of the most affecting people I’ve known have the least name recognition.  

Almost ALL of the most deeply moving songs I’ve loved were never radio singles.

For crying out loud, the most notorious world-changers and culture-makers didn’t emerge from a vacuum but were themselves built on the backs of countless nameless, unremembered, thinkers/artists/scientists/leaders/teachers/parents who hacked the brush out of the way and started the conversation and whose work was every bit as important in the life of the universe.

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It’s who we ARE and WHAT WE GIVE AWAY that makes us a PART of something worthwhile.  If they remember our names 300 years from now (and they won’t), we won’t be here to care about it, anyway, so why not celebrate and honor the fact that we’re alive today and have something to share?

Why not do what brings you so much joy that you do it when you’re NOT getting paid--because you “feel God’s pleasure” when you do it?

Why not do what meets someone else’s need and sends people reeling, thinking “There MUST be a design to all of this”?

Do something that tells the truth and asks good questions and leaves a footprint on souls that won’t wash out when the tide comes for our bodies.

Do small, unnoticed things you’re good at that make a difference to your family and community.

Do it with LOVE.   Do it at a cost to yourself.  Do it in small increments, in the midnight hours, after working your day job, or the wee hours of the morning, if that’s all you’ve got.

Do it because you CAN’T STOP.  (hat tip to Miley)

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I intend to be grateful at 62, regardless of the opportunities that come or don’t come.  Regardless of which circles invite me in and which ones overlook me. And they will do both.

I can choose.  So can you.  (So can YOU!)

The Maker of the universe wants to be noticed.  I don’t want to miss my chance to be a part of that.

 

 

Panning for gold...

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 I go to the riverbed, shoes on the shore

I’m shaking a little bit, hardly know what for

Oh, and the water’s cloudy as the sky

I’m looking for answers in the riverbed of life…

My parents are pretty amazing, no doubt about that.  My childhood was filled with enough love to make the frequent relocations more than bearable, our house filled with people always.  I have no complaints.

But Mom & Dad were very careful about what kinds of music, books, and television we consumed, so I missed a few moments in pop culture while I grew.  Okay, I didn’t know a single Prince song until I saw Pretty Woman.  That’s a fact, Jack.  (Unfortunate that I didn’t miss more of the fashion trends.)

But as they slowly opened the doors for us to explore music and film during our teen years, they also taught us to pay attention.  To think for ourselves.  To listen and work to discern truth and notice all the big and small ways Truth gets told in stories that aren’t necessarily telling - or trying to tell - the whole gospel truth.

 I go to the pages handed down and worn

I’m hearing the sages with the truth on their tongues

Sifting beauty from the layers of ash

I’m tracing the universe with my fingers in the sand…

Above all they showed us that all people are worth our attention and that there’s nothing more important than looking for things to love in others.

Over time, for me, that theme has carried over into the way I see all of life--our books, films, music.  There’s gold just about everywhere.  Maybe all our moments--of triumph and failure and longing and love and humanity--are moments within the great story.

It’s a game of Where’s Waldo or I Spy.  Give us something well-made, thoughtfully crafted, and shaped in pursuit of excellence. Don't we want to spot the good, the true, the hopeful, the redemption, the STORY – even if only glimpses – in the most unlikely places?  Cosmos from chaos, as Madeleine L’Engle wrote in Walking On Water.

Sometimes the good is more breathtaking for having been discovered like a baby grand at Goodwill.

It’s here in the city where the nations converge

It’s in the graffiti and the shapes of the earth

Choir lofts and kitchens, where voices ring loud

Reflections of faith shining glory over doubt…

Friends, I’m about to do something different, and I’m a bit tentative. Not because I have doubts.  But because I’m so hopeful you’ll want to go down to the riverbed with me and do some panning.  I’m so hopeful that you’ll be as excited as I am to put fingers in the sand and trace the true, even in the dark moments of your own journey.

Get ready.  Sharing soon.

Gonna be beautiful.  And fun.  And truly worthwhile.

Panning for gold, I’m panning for gold

Until I have all my heart can hold…

 

something damaged, something that survives

The dogs determined to gain entry to the vegetable garden.  Dragged out the extra roll of weed-blocker and decorated the yard in bits of black plastic.  Bless them. The gentle deer we love to watch, thrilled at the wide-open invitation, feasted overnight on the mammoth leaves of prolific zucchini (the only thing I grow really well--sorry, kids) and the wild tomato vines that never did get caged.  They even chomped all the little leaves off the green bean plants Sammy and I planted from seed.

The kids were sent off to soccer camp this week, along with the husband, and in the packing and shipping process – because of my dedication to using this time for writing and not cleaning – not one shoe or bag or non-perishable food item has found its way home.  All is on floor or counter.

I snatch every possible minute of solitude to write write write; thus the piano room is littered with papers and headphones and pens and moldy coffee cups.  No company coming in this week, thank goodness.

Forested mountains are burning in Colorado.  Human beings born perfectly healthy are destroyed by poverty and abuse and sin, and I’m tempted to see the world as one big chaotic mess.  A lovely idea, Lord - just not working out.  Beauty and goodness are dragged across the lawn in shreds.

But I looked again, and I saw daisies abloom in my messy yard!  Lots and lots of them huddled in happy mass.

I saw color on the cheeks of happy kids.

I saw that we’d eaten well, really well, this week, filled to the brim with the fruit of local farms. (Thanks, Go Local Produce!)

I opened Garageband and heard good, strong melodies born just yesterday.  Yay!!!

And, surprise!  Cute little tiny baby green tomatoes surviving the stampede.  Hello, tiny little green tomatoes!

All is not lost.  Rain will come.  The gate will be fixed.  We will keep sowing and planting and going out to harvest the Good and the Beautiful and the True.

Yes?

…..

What do you see?  Something damaged…something that survives?

 

 

 

Sea

I realize I’ve been away from this writing place several weeks, and I’m tempted to feel guilty for not following my own weekly regimen.  Especially since watching Julie & Julia last night.  But then I remind myself that I am, afterall, a songwriter who does some blogging and not the other way around.  So…thanks for sticking around when you don’t have to and when nothing new is showing up for weeks…

Sea

We don’t live near the sea. In the three years since our last visit I’ve thought of it little, Content with grass and pines, gardens and topsoil.

Afterall, it’s good to be home.

Now that we’ve returned, I’m humbled to know: Neither my absence nor lack of remembrance Affect the life of the sea.

She exists without us; Her magnitude is not even slightly diminished. Waves roll in From places under the sun we’ll never lay eyes on. Her roar continually fills our ears-- A “white noise” that surrounds us all and depends on no electrical outlet.

She has no need of me.

But watch those children slice and kick the foam, Squeal as she slams their shins in play and We turn backs to the crash, try to keep upright, Even as we laugh at the fall.

I was pleased for a while simply to feel sand sink underfoot Stand guard at the shore and count heads.

It’s easy to stay put.

But when the time came, I grabbed board, and friend, And we waded against the push Leaned hard Into the current Got ourselves deep and Removed. We felt privileged, Small and strong. I thought we might stay out there forever.

It’s heavenly to float.

And a momentary pleasure. The sea doesn’t ask approval But swells and swallows according to her own purpose And when she lifted and catapulted our bodies We could not but submit We could only lay down and close our eyes As we rode galloping water steeds all the way Back to the shallows.

Transported by the tide.

Wild wet-haired creatures rose up laughing, whooping, exhilarated-- Dripping, sand-scuffed, ecstatic.

And I realize— It’s home to be alive.