Category Archives: individuality

How to know what kind of a person anyone is



Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegro…look at those eyes!

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post, which was focused on Donald Trump. Let’s leave poitics for a minute and think about a broader application—how to know what kind of a person anyone is. The method is the same: look into their eyes and you’ll see their soul.

You know how sometimes you meet a person and immediately you feel uncomfortable? You might say to yourself, “Oh, I’m just being silly.” But stop and take a good look right into their orbs and you’ll realize you can trust what you see. A person with a good, gentle soul will have a kind look, or a sparkle in their eyes, or even something that you can’t name, but you feel it. You feel it with someone who has a dark soul as well.

Unfortunately, many people never give this a thought. Nevertheless, sometimes they’ll say, “Ooooh, what beautiful eyes she/he has!” They might not necessarily make the connection between what they’re seeing in this person’s eyes and their character, but there definitely is a connection.


No thing but innocence in those eyes!

The same goes for that uncomfortable feeling when somebody seems to have a “nasty look.” Don’t brush it off. Sometimes it can save you from a lot of grief, if you were thinking of getting involved with that person in some way, whether business or personal. People who have that look in their eyes are out of touch with who they were meant to be and are blind to who they really are.

Trust your intuition! It’s the greatest thing you own, and you can cultivate it. Words, reasoning, conjectures, opinions are not nearly as powerful or accurate.

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Filed under babies, individuality, spiritual, Uncategorized

Being an introvert has become a “thing”


1797When I was a kid growing up in the 40s and 50s, it was not considered a good thing to be “shy.” The word “introvert” didn’t exist, as far as I know. In any case, I was a shy kid, a loner, and my mother worried about it.

“Why don’t you go outside and play?” She would say, as I sat at the piano practicing for hours during summer vacation. Not that going outside would put me in touch with other kids—there weren’t any, except my sister Bertie. We lived in the country, and there were very few neighbors, none of them close by. I usually liked playing with Bertie, but my favorite thing was to spend the day in the woods by myself, with some stale bread and a bottle of water, pretending I was a lost explorer.

As I grew older, even though I wasn’t fully aware of it, I still preferred being alone. I had a few friends at school, but I certainly wasn’t considered popular, and the friends I did have were thought of as somewhat “weird.”

As the years went by, I didn’t spend much time thinking about whether I might be an introvert, because the people I knew didn’t talk about things like that. It seemed to me that I was normally sociable, but looking back I can see that wasn’t quite true. I still used to sneak away early from parties, and I didn’t like hanging out in large groups of people. I preferred sitting with a close friend and talking about “life.”

Fast forward: For the past couple of decades I’ve felt an increasing need to be alone—not all the time, of course, but quite a bit of it. I think it’s partly because I’m a writer and composer, but also because it’s just my nature. It doesn’t feel odd to me. I’m comfortable being a loner.

Lately I’ve been noticing—mostly from articles and memes on Facebook—that introverts are “in.” The memes say things like, “Whew, that was close, I almost had to socialize,” “That feeling of dread that washes over you when the phone rings,” “Come, they said, it’ll be fun, they said,” “The Introvert Revolution,” and so on. It seems as though introverts have found their niche, but…

Somehow I don’t feel like waving an introvert flag. Why should I label myself? Why should anyone? We’re all different after all, sometimes in subtle ways, but we’re certainly not as classifiable as these memes and some articles I’ve read on the subject would have us believe.

I say, enjoy who you are. Explore who you are. Most of us are too busy to spend time with ourselves, but we need to make time. We’re here for a reason, and the more time we spend finding out about what it is that we’re here to do and why we are the way we are (and this is NOT selfish, I might add), the better off we’ll be. Then others can benefit from our gifts, too.


Filed under individuality, my history, social media, Uncategorized

Teachers who are life-changers


Learning-FeaturedMost of us have had at least one teacher in our lives who has left a lasting impression. I’m going to devote my next six blog posts to the teachers I feel really changed my life in a significant way.

Sometimes we encounter a teacher we love while we’re still in grammar school, but we can also meet up with a life-changer in our adult lives. I met most of my favorite teachers when I was already grown up, married, and a mother.

World Teachers’ Day isn’t until October 5, but I like to strike while the iron is hot…I started thinking about my beloved teachers yesterday, and so let the commemoration begin!

I have six favorite teachers in my life. I’m not sure how fast I’ll be able to get them posted, but stay tuned…

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Filed under education, individuality, music, my history, Uncategorized

Do I have to jog when I’m 80?

pa-170301055sFor quite some time I’ve been seeing posts and videos on Facebook celebrating old age—advanced old age, from 80 and up to 100 and beyond—and most of them seem to follow the same pattern:

The elderly person in question (usually a woman) is either a body-builder, runs races, does yoga, or engages in some other supposedly health-giving physical activities that would be daunting even to many of the young. Then Facebookers react with a “wow” or “love” emoticon.

As someone in her seventh decade, I’m pretty sure that at least some of us “old folks” are thinking: “Gee, that’s amazing! I wish I could do that. I could never do that. How does she do that?!”

I for one, however, don’t have that knee-jerk reaction.

117864220I’ve never been athletic, despised gym class when I was in school, and would much rather read a book in a comfy arm chair than jog around the block. I do enjoy swimming, though, and tai chi, but never think of either as a sport (hey, I’m not training for the Olympics).

There seems to be an all-pervasive belief, especially in the US, that the human body should be kept in constant movement. A couple of guys I know even said this to me recently (of course they’re both athletes). Now I ask you: How could any human being stay in constant motion? It’s impossible.

The other biggie is that we live sedentary lives and that it’s unnatural. I especially love that one. Somehow the people who constantly bang that particular drum seem to forget (or maybe don’t know) that even in prehistoric times, people had “sedentary jobs”—food preparation, making tools, scraping animals hides, etc. Cro-Magnon man even invented the needle to sew skins together to make clothing.

I often think of my mother-in-law, who led a completely sedentary life, in addition to chain-smoking and eating lots of fried foods and chocolates—and who lived to be 100 years old. Friends have said, “Well, your mother-in-law must have had good genes.” Personally, I think this is nonsense, especially given what we now know about epigenetics, and how the mind controls the body. I like to think that it was the goodness of her heart, her unselfishness and interest in everyone and everything around her, that gave my mother-in-law her longevity.

In any case, I’d like to see some videos or read some articles about people who lived long, healthy, happy lives for reasons other than the fact that they spent every day at the gym lifting weights or preparing for the marathon. It’s not just about standing on your head at age 98 or running around the neighborhood into your 80s. Kudos to those (mostly) ladies for their efforts, but some of us just weren’t cut out for that!


Thanks to Rhonda Key Youngblood for this photo!



Filed under Aging, individuality, social media, tai chi, Uncategorized

The ongoing search…


Anyone who has read my book will identify me as a spiritual seeker and, more specifically, as a student of Christian Science for over 40 years. The book was published in 2012 and it’s now 2015…a lot of water has gone under the bridge, and many things were washed away, including Christian Science. I didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, though. There are still some thoughts and ideas from that teaching that I find valid, but in my case it was simply time to move on.

In Christian Science we were taught that anything bad or evil is illusion, and should be denied and replaced with Truth (spiritual perfection, or God) in our thought, hopefully with enough understanding and inspiration to heal physical diseases as well as any other type of problem. I’ve known people who have had success with this approach, but have also known many who are puzzled and dumbfounded as to why they never seem to achieve physical healing through these means. I am one of the latter.

When I stopped studying “CS,” as we call it, I felt a sudden surge of freedom—I thought, wow, now I can read anything I want, study anything I want! Not that I wasn’t free before, I had just locked myself into that one teaching, believing that it was “it.” But when I realized that there is no “it” that can be boxed into one teaching or path, I started looking into lots of things. I love investigating thoughts about life, what we’re here for, what it all means, and so on.

One of the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) rules of CS was that you don’t talk about your illnesses, because that would make a “reality” of them. Consequently, many of us kept our sufferings to ourselves, or we would confide them to a Christian Science practitioner, who would pray for us. Imagine my surprise, then, when I started reading different teachings that encouraged us to “embrace” negative things and situations, and suggested that this is the way transformation takes place. Instead of resisting, trying to fix or get rid of, or trying to “unknow” our problems and illnesses, we simply (well, maybe not so simply) stop all of those stressful mental gymnastics and just “dwell” with what’s going on—welcome it, love it, let it do its thing. Most of the teachings I’ve been reading suggest that negative occurrences are actually catalysts to wake us up to recognize what’s really going on, i.e., harmony and goodness. Unlike in CS, “evil” things are considered part of the ALL…the reasoning being that how can ALL be ALL if it doesn’t include everything? CS says that evil is an illusion, but an illusion is still something—it’s still a thought, a part of consciousness.

At first I was afraid to stop resisting and trying to fix my various disabilities and just live—do things that brought me joy. I thought if I did that, the disabilities would just get worse and worse. I should mention that these new teachings I was reading didn’t preach against seeking medical solutions, but there are times when the medical faculty has no solutions to our problems, and so we must search elsewhere. And even if we do find a fix through medicine or surgery, there’s no guarantee that the problem won’t return or that we won’t have another problem. I’ve always, from a very early age, felt a desire to get to the root of things and not merely deal with them on a surface level, so the idea that I could just relax and the answers would come was very appealing to me, albeit a bit disconcerting. I thought, after all, I’ve been resisting my difficulties for over 40 years with little results—what did I have to lose?

I no longer feel that I have all the answers, or that one teaching or system has them. I’m looking to my intuition most of the time, and am doing my best to face up to myself and be honest. As a result, I sometimes feel that my life is being turned upside down, but to tell you the truth, I kind of like it.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that are my thoughts and ponderings. They may not be yours, and you may disagree with some of them, and that’s as it should be. 🙂

For the curious, some of the writers/thinkers/teachers I’ve been checking out (and I’m certain there will be more) are Margaret Laird, Betty Albee, Bentinho Massaro, Jeff Foster, Anita Moorjani, Abraham/Hicks, Matt Kahn, Anthony de Mello, and Steven Pressfield.

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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.



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.


Filed under individuality, my history, Rio de Janeiro


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.


Filed under art, creativity, individuality, jazz, music, NDE, social media, spiritual, work


creative-thinkingA few weeks ago, I posed these questions on Facebook:

Here are a few questions for my creative friends (writers, musicians, composers, artists, photographers, etc.): What is your creative process? How do you approach your work, day by day? What are your work habits? Your frustrations (if any!)? Feel free to be wordy!

I received so many interesting and varied answers that I decided to share them here on my blog. Feel free to add your own in the comments section!

CHIP DEFFAA – writer of eight published books and 12 published plays.

Sometimes, when I wake up, so fired up to work on a script that I don’t want to take time out to eat, I just feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I really love writing scripts. The whole process. Every bit of it. Some of my writer friends tell me they hate writing, that it is always always always like pulling teeth for them; that they hate writing and they also hate when they’re blocked and can’t write. I don’t know why they don’t quit it and become washing-machine repairmen, or tango instructors, or rainmakers, or something else.

JOHN ELLIS – actor/playwright/director/designer

My process is odd; I get a whole play in my head before I can write any of it, then blow it all out in five or six days, playing all the parts and taking it down, a complete first draft. Then spend weeks, months, years fixing it, weeding it like ragged yard, until I let it go. And I always get the poster design in my head halfway through the first act. At least that’s how it’s happened four times.

It’s also physically trying, the level of concentration takes a toll on you. Muriel Spark would hire a nurse when a novel came upon her. She’d get up, the nurse would feed her when she took a break, then put her to bed at night. Until she finished it.

One afternoon I was writing the “Cradle Will Rock” section of the Blitzstein play I wrote, using a cassette of the lengthy recording he made of his memory of it, transcribing it back and forth, replaying sections, revising my changes—and I went at this nonstop til I finished. I thought it had been maybe an hour and a half. I looked at the clock and it had been twelve hours. My body and mind separated, my body so furious I’d inflicted that on it that it threw the cassette deck across the room before I realized what it/I was doing.

My brother has a friend, Juilliard graduate, who never touches a piano, he composes symphonies at a drawing board, because he hears the whole thing in his head. I get whole play productions in my head, that’s when I know it’s ready. And then I just take it down, almost like dictation, and describe the set, and even work out the costume changes and possible multiple castings. So I write productions, not plays—if any director improves on what I saw, great.

KAREN BATES – kind-hearted lover of nature, a twin and mother of twins (and also my cousin!)

This may sound silly but my best plans come while bathing. I look out the window and think about my next project.

ZACK DANZIGER – musician (guitarist, vocalist, composer)

Concerning your comments about being in the bathtub…There is a phenomenon that is well-known among physicists and heavy duty scientists… People who work on extremely complex problems… And this phenomenon they call “the three B’s”… that refers to, bed, bath, bus… In other words, if they have been grappling with very heavy problems for days and weeks and months and just as they step into the bathtub, or get into bed, or step onto a bus… The solution appears instantly.

Q. Have you found that to be true for yourself?

A. Yes, that’s why I am always in the bathtub.

I like the story about the art teacher who told his class that he would grade half the students on quantity, and the other half on quality … and then he said, “start!” … and the surprising result was … the quantity students produced better quality.


I like the dictum “A writer WRITES!” So I have a journal titled Nulla Dies Sine Linea.” Sometimes it’s “Multa” rather than “Nulla”—days that go by without a line, but a lot of my writing is done in comments like this and other messages and notes. But I do try to write something non-utilitarian every day. Anything can inspire it, I just hope to be ready, willing, and able to recognize it and act upon it.

ROBERT SERBINENKO – photographer

I need to make up my mind about what I want as a result of a photo. I also need to “feel” the idea, putting aside everything else that’s not related to it. It may take moments or several days… As for the approach, I tend to search about the subject, getting to know more about what it is. Frustrations?…of course there are many, but I’ve learned that the photo I take is not the one someone is going to see, as we do it with our life, which is unique. That’s kind weird sometimes, because almost never what you meant is what you get as a response from the audience.

LOUIS LOPARDI – director and sound designer

Leonard Bernstein once said to me that he really composed “lying down.” Away from the piano, he formulated the entire section in his head, all the “plot twists” and “mechanisms” etc., and only later actually did the “grunt work” of putting it down on paper. And let us not forget Mozart who heard even his Jupiter Symphony as one single incredible sound which he later would meekly put on paper as if merely transcribing it. I, for one, almost never stop revising poetry; and stop revising the text at least of plays only after 2 or 3 productions.

PAM LAMPSON – sometime artist and poet

A spark, a word, a flash…write it down. If more comes on the heels of that, fine, go with it and finish it. Only rarely will I let go of it then, but if I just can’t get it “right” I leave it alone…although it is still passively, to human sense, percolating. The answer comes in another flash or in a concentrated inspired work session. Since I do not depend on my writing or poetry for a living, I have the luxury of not forcing anything.

ELIZABETH RAGSDALE composer and graphic artist.

My approach to writing hymn arrangements is the same as I use in my work as a graphic designer. I start with thumbnail sketches—lots of ‘em. I just whip ‘em out as fast as I can, aiming for quantity and trying not to judge quality. Ideally I let these cool off for at least a day. Then I develop those that seem to have potential. Next comes the fun part—fitting the variations together like puzzle pieces, connecting them with transitions, and sometimes writing an original intro, interlude, and coda. I love how highly divergent styles can work together if I get the transitions right. Then comes the editing process, in which I enlist another pair of ears. During this stage, I’m fixing not only what I hear, but also what I see on the page, with the goal of sight-readability.
I’m making this process sound neat and orderly, whereas it’s often quite messy. Of course it works better if I remember to make a connection with the one Creator. I know I’ve made this connection when I wake up in the middle of the night and effortlessly write down the solution to a thorny passage.

KAREN MOLENAAR TERRELL – author, photographer, teacher

Lately I’ve found myself waking up in the middle of the night, asking myself a lot of questions and looking for the answers, and then posting blog posts that I know are going to bring me trouble… but… crap… I cannot seem to help myself. Art seems to come in spurts and waves for me. There are long periods where ideas are just percolating (or ripening—depending on if we’re talking coffee or fruit), and then it all just comes flowing out of me… I’m writing on napkins, receipts, waking up at all times of the night… it’s GREAT! Like giving birth or something.

The photography is a little different—that’s more like going on a treasure-hunt—staying aware of all the amazing and beautiful—staying conscious to all the good going on around me and capturing it…

KAREN NOBLE – writer, photographer, artist, all round entrepreneur

At this point I let my heart speak my thoughts out on the screen through haiku. I let Love be the focal point. I make sure that I end all my projects on a positive note (to the best of my ability). The paintings, haiku, photography, writings are sprung from a spiritual thought, idea, standpoint first and then I let it have free flowing animation through me as a witness to it. If I get in the way it just isn’t “successful.” I know I’m finished when I feel a wonderful sense of Love for it, it gives me peace, and I know then I’ve accomplished what Soul has set out for me to do.

It is Soul created, Soul filled, Soul completed….with gentle hugs.

MONDAY MICHIRU – singer, flutist, composer, lyricist

On a day to day basis, I practice my vocal scales and stuff just to keep it toned—to me, that’s my “work.” On a creative basis, if something inspires me, I write down my idea(s) (send myself an email, write it on something and keep it in a file, or note it on the computer and keep it in a file)—it could be anything from a melody idea, a rhythm, a chord progression, lyrical concept, a bass line, etc. These days, I sit at the piano and see where my fingers land without thinking of anything, and if the first chord sounds good, I’ll go from there, letting either my fingers or my ears lead me. To me, that’s a gift from the universe that I’m grateful to be given, and if it hits me right (and by that, I mean the harmony will vibrate in me in a way that’s inspiring) I know it’s something I need to keep exploring; in this process, the melody and lyrics come after. Frustrations are many, mostly to do with my lack of knowledge and limited ability with the language harmonically and otherwise, and it slows the process because I hear it in my mind and heart, but it’s hard to get it out and takes a long time, and sometimes it’s not completely what I’m hearing. What propels me to write is knowing that I still haven’t written that perfect song, that perfect expression that I feel I have nothing left to write, that expresses my perception of life in all its beauty and mystery. I also wish I could do better programming and have more technical knowledge and ability to produce my songs better rather than relying on others.

LAURA MOLITER – author, poet, and singer/songwriter

It’s discipline. Setting aside the mental space and time and deciding to “create” without feeling as if there is something else pressing me OR that I won’t be inspired. Then it’s patience to listen and just see what is revealed…to get out of judgment and into God, so to speak. It’s also the wisdom to know when my best work may be meant for another time or day, but that the “practicing” is not a waste, but working together for good, the end result.

KAREN BACKSTEIN – writer, copywriter, and editor–plus hobbyist musician and dancer

I actually don’t feel the need to be wordy. My basic rule is just sit down and do it. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Just write. And if it’s not good, don’t use it. It’s the process that matters; one little sentence out of a day’s work can make the difference. That said, some of the best ideas do come when you’re just letting the ideas flow freely. For me, a walk can help when I’m really at a loss.

LORRAINE FEATHER – lyricist, jazz singer, 3x Grammy nominee

I have done a lot of work-for-hire; when that’s the situation I come up with a few titles and run them by my co-writer, as well as a possible musical style, or maybe he has the style in mind and I work from that. I’m much more organized and structured when it’s an actual gig, especially since these jobs have almost all been for children and the songs are short. No wacky detours, unless you’re envisioning a dream sequence with dancing ponies or something.

For the last few years, the way I work with the collaborators for my own albums is that I think of a title off the top of my head, then write down scrips and scraps of ideas, possible rhymes, possible endings. I make notes, like “Maybe this would come later,” or “Probably fix, because ugh,” or the like. I send the lyrics ahead to Russ Ferrante or Eddie Arkin or Shelly Berg and more recently Dave Grusin. If it’s an up-tempo tune, I speak the possible phrasing over a rhythm, often that my husband Tony Morales records for me, with the understanding that it may well change when we get together. I send a voice memo to my co-writer.

Like others who have responded, once the process has started I think of ideas in the shower, also when walking or gardening. I rarely write a song specifically about something that happened to me, but incorporate various feelings or events from the past, something inspired by a book I’ve read…one of the songs I wrote for my new album, Flirting with Disaster, references a scene from The Razor’s Edge, which I recently re-read, about two people in love who are confessing to each other and frequently repeating themselves, as (Somerset Maugham felt) lovers often do in such situations.

Sometimes I take some little moment or passing emotion and exaggerate it a million times, or presume to know what someone else was thinking or feeling when they said something to me, or just invent. I don’t keep a schedule, but I like to start writing before mid-morning. Once I start on something, it consumes me and I just keep going. If I have a beginning I like, I feel satisfied that I can probably finish the lyric and can happily go to the store or make phone calls because I know it will be there when I get back. I write pretty fast, but it might take me two days to write most of a song and another week to figure out one couplet. Most of a lyric does not happen in the realm of thinking per se, it just seems to come out of the air. Sometimes I look back and see there is an internal rhyme or a play on words, and I wasn’t aware of it at the time at all. After my writing partner and I are have a handle on the song (I could go on for as long about just that part), I sing it over and over and lyric edits usually happen at that point to make it sing more naturally. The weird thing is that they always seem to be improvements content-wise too.

Nowadays I go for the near-perfect rhyme. I say “near” because I only discovered a few years ago that in strict rhyming dictionaries, “thought” doesn’t rhyme with “got.” Or maybe much of the lyric won’t rhyme at all. Since it’s jazz, or some hybrid form of jazz, I don’t feel that every “A” section has to scan the same. You might take forever to get to the so-called hook, or have no hook. Some songs have a kind of punch line at the end … I never studied songwriting, but have been saturated in music my whole life, and it’s fascinating the different way songs can be put together.

With singing, a lot less to say (you’re welcome!) I do Seth Riggs exercises every day to warm up, then start singing, anything. Sometimes I sing through a lot of my stride songs because they feel good and warm me up. I also do this Gary Catona voice building, usually at night when I’m done singing, because it can thrash your throat, though the end result is good. I leave at least two days between the Catona thing and any session or live performance.


For me, I don’t have a single way to work on a new piece of music. Over the years, I’ve probably used just about every way there is. At this point in my life (and given that I’m not doing commercial music), I’ve found that my most interesting pieces are those in which the music or the concepts for a piece come to me. I can afford to do this because I have A LOT of music that I’ve composed over the past 25+ years. So, now, I don’t have to force the process. What has happened is music now often comes to me through my intuition or in dreams. I’ve had some really amazing dreams about new pieces or concepts. Sometimes in dreams I hear the music and sometimes I see pages of a score. When that happens, I get up and write down as much of the music as I can remember. Then, over time I’m able to fill in the gaps. By being open to my intuition, ideas for new music can happen at any time and anywhere. “Donut Music,” a recent piece for solo guitar, was written through this process. The concept for it came to me when my wife & I were talking with one of our nieces. She told us about a story that our granddaughter (8 years old then) wrote and read to her. Hearing about that, a whole bunch of lights came on in my mind. Having an overall concept, ideas for each of the movements then came to me in various ways. The tango movement, as an example, came to me when I was driving to the organic food market. Logically, I cannot explain how this works. At times, it feels rather mystical to me…like the music has a life of its own and it picked me to write it down. I don’t want to give a false impression about this. While new music comes to me in unexpected ways, there is still the element of work and attention to detail in my writing. Something that I forgot to mention is how quite a bit of my work has been directly inspired by places in our area. My tune “Rainy Afternoon” came to me when I was hiking by the Potomac River, Happily, I was able to remember it until I got home and wrote it down. Other tunes have come to me when I was in the mountains or in places around the Chesapeake Bay. As I experience it, the music expresses a spirit of place. I’m convinced that if I had lived somewhere else that my music would be different from how it evolved for me in Maryland.


Okay…I work best with long blocks of time. It takes me a while to get going. This is a hard model in a busy house, but I do my best. I try to write every weekday, though it doesn’t always work out. I like listening to music—as it drowns out minor disturbances, but usually it has to be wordless or in a foreign language, or I get distracted.

I find the writing part very difficult. But I love the editing part. So I slog through the first version of a scene and then have a wonderful time moving words and ideas around…until it’s done, and I have to do it again.

GENI SKENDO – nose flutist (my note: Geni plays more than the nose flute!)

This is a PHD material question ;-). Basically I stay open minded about stuff & whatever I like I grab it. Sounds, rhythms, quotes. And I do my musical process with it. Besides that I focus some specific time on skills. Skills pay the bills.

KAMRAN SABAHI – visual Artist

I could become spontaneously inspired by shapes, patterns, colors, or a situation, therefore, composing a photograph or elaborating it into an image later. Also I might start with a preconceived idea and look for images to sublimate it. Post production work flow is always technical. Processing the image —with an audience in mind—to a point that is gratifying to me (again and the audience, yet I have to like it first). With photography and composites, since I have been selling them, is hard not to think about people’s reaction to them. Film making is always an idea first, a personal idea influenced by sociological elements. Work flow constantly involves thinking of audience. Audience influences every step of writing, production, and post production.

ANNE VAN ATTA – musician, Dali museum docent and chocolatier

I am almost embarrassed about the way I think of creativity. It seems rather random. I play chords and think of words that match them; I listen to sounds and love them. I wish I could express this more coherently; I love the way life sounds.

ROBIN BARBEN – published artist and writer

The joy of taking photos, brings me into a state of appreciating everything around me. I love the resulting photos, but that state of joy and gratitude for the world around me is just so much fun. Joy is a great starting point.

SAM BURTIS – devout musician (my note: yes, Sam is indeed devout. He also plays the trombone and composes)

I get up in the morning, take care of my own needs…food, exercise, meditations, etc…and business necessities, and then I go to work. Practice, mostly, although I am currently writing a great deal of music as well. Eventually I run out of time/energy and have to rest at night. Then the cycle begins again. Fancy stuff? I dream music. Sometimes it wakes me up and I have to sketch it out before I go back to sleep or I lose it. Other than that it’s just what my father taught me. He had a battered old French language primer that he kept all of his life because of its name. “Pas à Pas.” Step by step. It’ll get you there every time. Bet on it.

THOMAS CUNNIFFE – jazz historian

Simple: Know your deadline, and exactly how much time you need to meet it. Then get started and ignore everything else until you’re done.

ERIC PERSON – saxophonist, composer

The process of creating new works has changed for me in the last few years. It’s interesting cause when I first came to New York I used to compose almost every night I wasn’t “hangin’ out” or gigging. I would compose and record on a Fostex X-15 four track recorder. Musically, It was a time of a lot of experimentation so I had a ton of songs that I wrote, the Thoughts on God Suite being one of them. But now I write more “per project.” Over the last few years this has been effective for me: I get up in the morning, go straight to my keyboard (which is across the room) and put my hands down on it, and there is an instant connection. I have had so many new songs start with that first sound that came out. It’s divine. These days I’m also writing in different ways: from off the piano, my flute or saxophone…






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Calling all creative people!

I recently posted this on my Facebook page:

Here are a few questions for my creative friends (writers, musicians, composers, artists, photographers, etc.): What is your creative process? How do you approach your work, day by day? What are your wrk habits? Your frustrations (if any!)? Feel free to be wordy!

artist-painting-on-canvascloseup-of-artist-applying-oil-paint-to-canvas---371656-hcjojkhoI posted it just for fun, but as people began to respond, I found their answers so interesting and varied that I thought I might gather them together for a blog post, or even possibly a book.Hand with pen and music sheet - musical background

So here I am, inviting my readers here to answer these questions, too. Feel free to add anything that’s important to you, and just write your replies in the comment box. Who knows? You might end up in a book!

P.S. I appreciate the “likes” but would really like your comments about your own creative process! Please share!




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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. 🙂



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