To my fellow survivors…

imagesA picture of the Brazilian singer Angela Rô Rô popped up on my Facebook newsfeed this morning. Angela has had a hard life, a long-time drug habit, and has been accused of being out-of-control, erratic, and even violent. But at age 65, Rô Rô, with her throaty, appealing voice and unquestionable musicality, just keeps forging ahead.

I love people who are a little rough around the edges—battle-worn but still standing. They, to me, are the warriors, the survivors. I guess it’s because I’m one of them myself.

I used to lament the fact that I’d made so many mistakes in my life. I felt I could have done so much better, and that if I had, my family and friends would see me in a different light. But would they? I have no way of knowing.

These days I have a different view about those so-called mistakes. Now I see every one of them as essential, and even good. Of course I regret any harm I may have caused others, but in the long run all of these things are for our progress as individuals. All my actions, both “good” and “bad,” have brought me to where I am today. And today I see things in a new light. “Good” and “bad” aren’t as carved in stone as they used to be for me. Suffering and pain have shown me their value and have urged me to find solutions and to move on—and even to discover a happiness that seems more genuine and authentic.

I don’t think we should ever let others who seemingly have had an easier time of it than we have, determine how we feel about ourselves or view our own lives. Really, we’re all precious, and nothing can stop us from letting that shine.

Angela Rô Rô

Angela Rô Rô

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Unbroken

Life has been long and hard,
And sometimes we feel broken…
Some things we neglected to do,
Others were better left undone.
And yet, in the deepest part of us
We know we deserve love and kindness
And this alone aligns the broken pieces
Into one cohesive whole.

-Amy Duncan 7/26/15

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The way to Darcy’s house

In my previous post (http://bit.ly/1g8g9Qz) I mentioned that I had to walk two miles to get to Darcy’s house. This is quite a distance for a nine year old, but the walk never tired me, nor did I tire of it. I knew it was leading me to a place where I’d discover new things, take new chances, and feel braver than I usually did.

5536a1e46a96d3089b3836844fd40c88I’d leave the house, walk down our narrow little dirt road Taunton Hill Road, which was paved and wider. First I’d walk down the big hill where we sometimes sledded in winter, and then, with a great deal of trepidation, past the flock of geese that gathered in the road in front of Skipper’s house. They’d always chase and honk at me, trying to peck at my legs, and I was terrified of them. I’d run through that barrier as fast as I could! After that it was smooth sailing down the road past Ruth Ann’s house to the corner where Katy’s big house stood. I only visited Katy once, but I was so impressed that her family had a big freezer in the garage full of popsicles!

Turning right at Katy’s, I’d head past Sally’s house and then hang a left on the road that led to Taunton Lake. Darcy’s house was just a bit before the lake, and past the cemetery.

I like to think of my walk to Darcy’s as a kind of metaphor for the challenging events in life. Once you decide on a certain goal that you know is going to be fulfilling for you and make you stronger and better, you’ll go for it no matter what, even if it means having to get past some difficulties to get there (like honking geese)!

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Darcy

At the ripe old age of 73, I have finally discovered what’s wrong with me.

Or rather what’s right with me that I always thought was wrong. I’m an HSP, otherwise known as Highly Sensitive Person, or Sensitive/Empath. This means I’m part of around 20% of the population that is more sensitive than most people to, among other things, loud noises, bright or fluorescent lights, and strong smells. HSPs are also highly intuitive and sensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings. These traits often make it harder for people to navigate their way through life, especially if they’re not even aware that they’re a HSP—like me.South-Atlantic Transitional Dairy Cow Blend

HSP children can have all kinds of fears that other kids don’t seem to have, and are often shy. I was that kind of kid, and I certainly didn’t get any support or sympathy from my family, but there was one person—a childhood friend—who kept me from completely losing myself in fear and isolation: Darcy Halstead.

Darcy and I grew up in Newtown, CT, in the country, and we were driven to school by Mr. Violet in his station wagon—there weren’t enough kids in our neighborhood for a real school bus. Darcy was my age and in the same class, and because we rode to school together, we got to be friends, even though we had practically nothing in common.

Darcy was a scrawny blonde kid with buck teeth who, it seemed to me, was afraid of nothing. I was in wonder at the way she stood up to her mother, who was constantly slapping her around. When she got spanked, she would just laugh—to me this was incomprehensible! My mother’s spankings left me with scars that I endure to this day, so I guess I hoped some of Darcy’s bravery and nonchalance would rub off on me.

Darcy

Darcy

Well, I didn’t become as feisty as Darcy, but being around her did make me try new things and take chances that I otherwise never would have taken. I enjoyed her company so much that when I was only around nine years old I used to walk the two miles to her house just so we could play together. Once she took me to play in a cow pasture. I’d never been near a cow in my life, and I was terrified, but Darcy kept egging me on, and when I stepped in a “cow pie” and she roared with laughter, I couldn’t help laughing, too. I even gingerly touched one of the cows!

Darcy also brought out the “naughty” in me, which was a quality I rarely dared exhibit at home. There was a little cemetery right next door to her house, and one of our favorite pastimes was to knock over the headstones. Bad, I know, but it did me good.

Darcy lived with her mom Edna, her older sister Mickey, and her grandma and grandpa. Edna was always wired, and it seemed to me that she lived on coffee and cigarettes—maybe that’s why she was so jumpy and always smacking Darcy. I was afraid of her grandpa. He was in a wheelchair and couldn’t speak and his face looked funny. Darcy would say to me, “Don’t be scared! You can talk to him. He can hear you and he likes it!” But I was too petrified to open my mouth.glenwood

So I wasn’t able to overcome all my HSP tendencies by being Darcy’s friend, but she did help me come out of my shell, and I’m grateful for that. In any case, there’s no way for a HSP to turn into a not-HSP, and that’s all right. I’m gradually learning to live with and enjoy the positive qualities of my HSP-ism. The big breakthrough for me was finally discovering the truth about myself, instead of wondering what was wrong with me! That’s a biggie.

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Goodbye, Ornette

ornette-coleman-4e43f9dcc3eb2Every day we see death notices on Facebook of our favorite artists, actors, musicians, and so on. I’ve gotten so accustomed to seeing those familiar “RIPs” that I barely give them a second thought. People die…life goes on…

Today, however, I opened my Facebook and saw that Ornette Coleman had left us. I burst into tears. It surprised me. I thought, “Wow, what brought that on?”

Ornette was more than just another musician to me. He was an intrinsic part of all of my own musical development for decades. He was much more than a groundbreaking alto saxophonist who played a plastic sax. He took jazz themes and moods that weren’t really unfamiliar and managed to transmute them into something none of us had ever imagined. To call him “avant-garde” isn’t quite accurate. In a way, Ornette was mainstream. The blues permeated his work, and he wasn’t really “out there” in the sense of no melody, no form. But he took the music into another realm—a place of wild freedom and sassy childlike innocence.

I remember distinctly when his albums “The Shape of Jazz to Come” and “Change of the Century” appeared in my world. I was part of a little coterie of very young jazz musicians in Boston. We considered ourselves part of the avant-garde. But when we heard those albums, with their disarming simplicity and yet mind-blowing innovativeness, it took our breath away. Those two albums in particular still take my breath away.

I’m not going to write a bio of Ornette—you can easily find that online if you’re not familiar with his work. I just wanted to express my unending admiration today for a man who knew who he was, stuck to his vision, and enriched everyone who had ears to hear what he was saying.

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PURSUING OR ALLOWING?

downloadIn her book Dying To Be Me Anita Moorjani (of the famous NDE and healing of cancer) talks a lot about pursuing vs. allowing. She says that after her NDE experience, she no longer felt that she had to pursue goals, that it was more a question of allowing things to come to her…to happen naturally.

There’s a lot of wisdom in that thought. In my own life, I’ve found that even when we get the thing we think we want, often there’s no lasting satisfaction. I see people on Facebook (and I do this myself as well) busily promoting themselves, whether it’s their art, their music, their book…whatever, usually with little results. But some people do seem to make it “work”—I’ve seen several friends hold successful Kickstarter campaigns, meaning that they got the money they were asking for.

It seems that it’s a question of how we think and where were are in life that makes us either pursue or allow. I can’t sit in judgment and say one is better than the other. I believe that we do what is right for us at any given moment. It may not be right for someone else, and it may not even be right for us after some time has passed. From my own experience I’ve found that the “pushing, pulling, wishing, and wanting” approach has eventually led to frustration and limitation for me.

Last night I watched a video on YouTube by jazz pianist/educator Dave Frank entitled “How Artists and Content Creators Can Survive in the era of Free Content,” where he discussed the current trend of people downloading music for free on the internet. In his view, this new trend is more about people sharing than it is about money, so, as he said in the video, “…there is an expectation that you’ll share some stuff for free, to be part of the global conversation that’s going on.” Then he said that each one, individually, then decides how to get some payback…but…he himself simply decided to give it all away, to share it as much as possible. He said that the spiritual principle he based his choice on is: “If you serve, you will be served,” and that this principle works just like mathematics. “So what that means,” he said, “is that you put your heart and soul out there to people and try to share something that will be of benefit to them, and then what you need will come back to you.” And he wasn’t just “whistlin’ Dixie,” as they say, because he eventually began to receive compensation for his offerings.

I like his approach. To me there’s something very freeing about it. It follows Anita Moorjani’s prescription of allowing instead of pursuing, and I honestly do believe that there is a law as accurate as mathematics that governs these things.

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My book

Marquis 2Wow, times sure flies…it’s been a couple of years since my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks – My Adventures in Jazz, Rio, and Beyond was published. I’ve been happy with the feedback I’ve gotten, and grateful to the folks who have written reviews for Amazon: so far, 34 5-star and 2 4-star reviews.

A lot of people don’t seem to want to write reviews. I understand. I sympathize. I don’t like writing them, either. But now that I’m an independent author, I realize how important they are. They’re the life-blood of the independent author. They are the reason that people get curious about your book and might want to read it. So, If you read my book and liked it, I will love you forever if you review it for Amazon. :)

People often ask me if I’m writing another book or planning on writing one. I did actually make a couple of abortive attempts at writing some sort of sequel, but finally came to the conclusion that not enough time has gone by in my life since I wrote the first book to have anything substantial to say. What about a book on some other topic? they ask. Well, I thought about taking some of my philosophical musings from this blog and putting them into book form, but the problem is that my ideas keep changing, so I don’t want to carve them in stone and then look back in a couple of years and think, “Sheesh, that was weird…why did I ever say that?” So then they ask, “What about a novel, you know, a work of fiction?” I confess that I have never been able to write fiction. My career as a writer was in journalism, and I’ve never, ever been able to make up stories. I wish I could. I have endless admiration for people who can. Poetry? Maybe…not sure mine is “good enough,” whatever that means…Marilyn Monroe

This is not to say that I won’t write another book. My mind is open. Who knows, maybe something will pop into it that will grab me and I’ll pull out my MacBook and get busy. Meanwhile, I’m just living, working on some musical projects, and pondering life with a Capital L…

If you’d like to read my book, clock on the BOOK tab above for info about how to get it, and I’ll be looking forward to your review!

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