Monthly Archives: January 2014

Dabbler or renaissance person?

I recently had an eye-opening experience about my life work after more than six decades of questioning, puzzling, trying, wondering, and often feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.

As some of my readers may know, I’ve already written about this topic here and in my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks. One of my posts that I find particularly telling is this one:

Basically, for those who aren’t familiar with my book or haven’t read the posts that touch on this issue, here’s the gist of it:

I started out early in life (at age 13) with one passion: to play jazz piano. Fast forward nearly 60 years, and my life tells a very different story. True, I played jazz piano. But I also did a LOT of other things, including journalism, translating, editing, teaching, and many others. I always felt, when I was doing things other than concentrating on my music, that I was somehow cheating myself. I felt constant guilt that I didn’t continuously have my nose to the grindstone as far as my music was concerned.jack_of_all_trades-1cfahdf

But the reality was that I had two daughters to raise, which was important, and I had to do what I had to do to do that. As the years rolled by and I worked in a wide variety of jobs while I neglected my music more than I wanted to, I gradually started to see myself as a jack of all trades and master of none.

To my way of thinking, being a jack of all trades was the kiss of death. It meant you were superficial, a mere smatterer, no one took you seriously, and you, well, just weren’t good enough at anything. Whew! What a burden to carry around!

It wasn’t until very recently that I was finally able to change my mind about this pernicious label. And the turning point came with a simple remark someone made: “You have so many skills!” When I first heard it, I cringed. I thought, right, and I’m not that good at any of them! Then, for some reason, I decided to Google “jack of all trades,” and to my surprise I found several bloggers who thought that being a “generalist” was just fine. In fact, they were quite sure there was no reason you couldn’t become a master at at least some of your skills. One even went to so as to call a jack of all trades a “renaissance person.” Well! That certainly stopped me in my tracks!

It wasn’t just a small awakening. It hit me like a meteor with my name on it. Suddenly I knew it was all right to do a bunch of different things. In fact, it can be quite wonderful, and makes our experience a lot broader. I still admire people who can just stick to one thing, and there’s certainly a place for that, but there’s no use trying to be something you’re not. I obviously am not a single-focus person. I saw it. I let it go. I feel better now. 🙂



Filed under individuality, jazz, my history, work

Free book offer!

Cover_Getting_Down_to_Brass_Tacks_DuncanI’m sure if any of you, my readers, have self-published a book (and I bet some of you have), you’ve probably discovered that the process of self-promotion can be difficult, time-consuming, confusing, frustrating, and sometimes downright embarrassing! Creative people often just don’t feel an affinity for marketing strategies, but in today’s world we have to, shall I say, “suck it up.”

All of us authors want people to read our book, obviously. That’s one of the reasons (although not the only reason) I started this blog. And the people who have read my book really seem to like…even love it. I have 29 5-star reviews on Amazon, and some of those wonderful reviews made me see things in my book that I myself hadn’t seen before.

But here’s the bottom line: most people don’t want to pay for a book by an unknown author, no matter how interesting it may look. I’ve been wanting to offer my book for free, but I had my e-book published through BookBaby, and they have a no free book policy. However, about a month ago, a fellow self-published author (thanks, Meg Dendler!) posted that she was offering one of her books for free on Smashwords. I looked into it, and decided to go for it.

So….Getting Down to Brass Tacks – My Adventures in the World of Jazz, Rio, and Beyond is now available at Smashwords in Kindle, e-pub, and PDF formats, or you can just read it on line…for FREE.

Here’s the link:

OK, I’m gonna take a nap while you all go on over there and snap it up. 🙂



Filed under the book

Cooking disasters

We’ve all had them, right?

My first mishap in the kitchen wasn’t exactly a disaster, but my family laughed and teased me about it for years afterwards. I was around 10 or 11 years old and asked my mother if I could try frying some bacon. “Sure,” she said, and handed me a frying pan. “The bacon is in the fridge.” Well, one thing I knew was that there were different ways of cooking things—boiling meant you cooked it in water, and frying was in oil, of course. Any dummy knew that. So I grabbed a bottle of oil and poured some into the pan, and then added the bacon. Just then, my mother walked into the kitchen and…well, you know the rest.images

When I got to college my cooking skills had improved a bit, which was a good thing because my sister Bertie and I lived in the “poor girls” dorm where all the girls had to clean house and cook. Our meals were, shall we say, somewhat uneven in quality, but we had no choice but to eat what was set before us, even if the cook assigned for the day had never boiled water before.

When we had cook’s duty, we were allowed to pick our own menu, so when it was my turn I decided to bake a cake for dessert. All the ingredients came in bulk-sized cans, so I opened the ones I needed—flour, sugar, baking powder—and started scooping the stuff out with a measuring cup. I was pretty proud of myself, because I’d never made a cake from scratch before, only from mixes. I put the eggs, flour, and all the other ingredients into a huge bowl (it had to be a big enough cake so everyone could have a piece) and mixed it with the electric mixer. Then I popped it in the oven and waited, making sure not to open the oven so it wouldn’t fall. After a while I noticed that there seemed to be something pressing against the glass window of the oven door. Strange. I opened the door, and a gigantic blob of dough practically oozed out of the oven onto the floor! What the hell? Then it hit me…I had confused the flour can with the baking powder can…

Another blunder many years later also had my daughters laughing at me for years afterwards. We’d had roast chicken, and I had very carefully picked it to the bone so I could make soup stock. After it had simmered on the stove for hours, I picked up the pot and a big strainer so I could get rid of the bones, and then…I unwittingly poured the stock down the drain. Yes, I did.

The worst (and most disgusting) of all was when I invited a lovely Peruvian family over for dinner. One of their children was in my pre-school class at the time. His mother very nicely offered me a special Peruvian recipe of white fish baked in milk. I had gone to the store and bought some nice filet of sole, and I nestled it in a baking dish with the milk and seasonings, while she and I prepared the other food. When it was time to take the fish out of the oven, I reached in and pulled the pan out, and to my absolute horror, the fish was covered with brown worms that were standing up (I swear!) and wiggling! Needless to say we had to make do with the other food, but by then we’d all lost our appetites, in fact, I didn’t go near any filet of sole for years after that. But at least that one wasn’t my fault!

So what cooking disasters have you had? C’mon, I know you’ve had them, unless you’ve never cooked!


Filed under food

Monogamy is unnatural

Make sure to read the whole thing!

The Matt Walsh Blog

Monogamous marriages are unnatural. On this, I agree with the emailer below.

Now, behold these enlightening thoughts that I found in my inbox this morning:

Greetings Mr. Walsh,

I am a college professor, author, and researcher. It was obvious to me before you ever stated it that you are a man of little education and limited intelligence. Still, I commend your newfound fame and congratulate you on the enormous amounts of money you must be making.

[Five more sentences of insults and pretentious self-aggrandizement]

…You have become a hot topic in some of my classes and this very much worries me. It wasn’t until your name came up for a fifth time that I decided to investigate you. Your prose are rife with fallacies and Neanderthalic musings, so I could easily disembowel and discredit any part of it. But I’d like to concentrate on what seems to be your most common themes:…

View original post 1,201 more words


Filed under Uncategorized

Being my own barber

My friends are always surprised (shocked?) when I mention that I cut my own hair—have been cutting it for years.

How do you DO that? They ask.

With two mirrors, I say.

Oh, I could never do that—even with two mirrors, they say.

I can’t say that it always comes out perfect, but it usually looks just fine, and no one has ever looked at my head strangely or crossed to the other side of the street. In any case, it’s even easier to pull off a not 100% perfect haircut nowadays than it used to be. Today we are living in an era of “acceptable messy hair” —in fact, it’s even considered “stylish.”

Stylish messy hair

Stylish messy hair

I’m old enough to remember when your hair had to be perfect. You had to have a part in it (both men and women), and if you were inclined to perm it, it had to be the perfect perm—not a curl out of place. You always carried a comb in your pocket, and made sure your hair was neat and tidy.

I wear my hair very short, and I’ve learned to cut it by pulling it away from my head between my fingers, and then chopping off the excess. After I do this all over my head, I check myself in the mirror to see if I need to even anything up. Then I trim across the back of my neck and check it with two mirrors. Thinning shears come in handy, especially for tidying up and for cutting bangs. It’s not hard, really, although it does take a bit of patience.

Me with my 50s hair-do

Me with my 50s hair-do

But keep in mind that I’m very much a do-it-yourself person. I’ve never had a manicure or a pedicure (don’t want anybody messing with my extremities, thank you very much!), and I’m not really big on makeup, although I do use it, lightly. Clothes? Not really my thing, except for admiring them online or on other people. I like to be comfortable, and I’m not crazy about dresses and skirts. For me it’s men’s boxer shorts and halters, T-shirts or tank tops in the summer, and elastic waist pants with long-sleeved T-shirts in the winter. Yes, I work at home. And no, I don’t wear panty hose or high heels.

But getting back to the hair…if you’re tired of the beauty parlor or just can’t find anyone who can cut your hair the way you want and not make you look like a freak, do give cutting your own hair a try. You might be surprised. I mean in a good way, of course!


Filed under hair, individuality