Monday, December 5, 2016

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, or Possibly Insanity

Dear Friend:

Since I last wrote to you, many things worth writing about have occurred. Musical events that brought us to tears. Insights on practice and performance. Parenting revelations. Brief moments of spiritual enlightenment. Family joy. Horrible self-realizations and the tiny little triumphs over self-doubt that occur like, oh, every five minutes. None, however, have inspired me to write to you like the realization I had today.

With a big concert behind us, no immediate freelance deadlines, little worry about this week's music lesson plans, and one sleeping toddler, I looked around my house and decided that I'd fill my two precious hours alone by cleaning the kitchen. Five minutes in, I experienced an a-ha! moment. I realized why the house is always more messy than I'd like.

I. Freaking. Hate. Cleaning.

You who can afford a house cleaner, I do envy you.

And you who cannot afford a house cleaner but who have found ways to achieve both personal and spiritual satisfaction from transforming chaos into order, I respect you immensely. (I do not understand you, but I think we're still friends, right?)

As for the rest of you who live in clutter and mess, and kind of hate it but can't seem to get around to cleaning on a regular basis, this blog is for you. I want you to know you're not alone.

Are you out there? Gawd, I hope so. If not, I'm going to be REALLY embarrassed.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Parenting," and Other First World Problems

My friend Ellen Lubin-Sherman* wrote to me after yesterday's blog with some helpful advice. (She also advised me not to listen to advice.) She said:

About being a good mother...are you present?  That's all that matters." 

Being present may not be so simple, but the advice is. And here's the thing:
"In Yemen's war, trapped families ask: Which child should we save?" Presence, like the concept of "parenting," is a first-world problem. Given Yemen, and Aleppo, and also the kids in my school who get free lunch and donated clothing, whose parents are in jail, who have suffered trauma in one way or another, I'd say that we can probably all stop worrying and start having fun by accepting the chaos and unpredictability of parenthood. It's not a science. If you do "this," you won't necessarily get "that." So, just keep doing this, be sure there is love, and then hope for the best.

Still, there's no harm in trying to be a little more present, so I tried today. Present, as in aware of what the hell you are doing. It started with my morning practice session. It's a struggle for me, as I get back into practicing, to start slow. To start with playing long tones: deep inhalations, followed by the longest exhaled note I can muster. If we believe all those centuries of Buddhist knowledge, we don't doubt that deep breathing and slow exhales are yogically valuable. However, as a wind player, it's also physically valuable. As you exhale, you become aware of all the places you hold tension in your body. You attend to your posture. You focus on what it feels like to make a good sound. You develop the muscles in your face and in your core that support a strong, steady tone. You focus on your body, and you drop your shoulders, straighten your back, release your neck. Your body has to be relaxed to make beautiful music. God. That's hard.

With Irish music, we have very notey tunes. Like bebop, these fast runs are unbelievably satisfying to tear through for goal-oriented maniacs like me. It's really freaking fun to fly through the notes in solid rhythmic time... especially when you can... but sometimes the quality of sound suffers. Or the groove becomes shallow. Lower notes don't speak fully, and triplets get a little automated. Your body remembers the tune through muscle memory and your brain actually has no frigging idea what notes you just played, in what order, and why.

So, despite a good start, this is the reason that my practice session ended with a failure of presence. After a nice half hour of playing through the tunes for our Christmas concert on Sunday, I couldn't help myself. I started blasting through a tune to finish up my practice session, because it FEELS GOOD. The sprint to end the run, it is a satisfying catharsis. Today, I didn't think about it; I just started doing it. Partway through the tune, I realized that though my body was executing the tune correctly, I actually had no idea what tune I was playing. I had to think for a moment. Man in the Bog. Of course.

Nope, I wasn't entirely present. Oh well. But somewhere in there was a solid intention, and that is what keeps the boat afloat.

*Hat tip to Ellen, as the one who dubbed Marie Kondo as a sadist. Who talks to socks?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Suffering of Abundance

And the theme today is: Too Much.

That's what's been keeping me away these days. The point of restarting this blog was successful, meaning that I wanted to ignite my "writer's mind" and get to a place where I am observing life like a writer again. (Definition:  Walking around smirking and muttering to myself in a witty narration of just about everything that happens all day.)

The writer's mind has been ignited. And that means I have a new thing to suffer with: The weight of "not doing." Because, like, I'm doing so many other things, dude. Too many things. Too much.


Christmas shopping. Last year, when it came time to wrap gifts, I could not believe how much I'd bought for everyone. Swore I'd never do it again. I'm doing it again. Hi.

House full of shite: About seven years ago, we visited the immaculate home of one of our musician friends. Feeling that I could possibly enjoy a very clean home, I borrowed his Feng Shui book. On about page 3, it said, "First, you must declutter." I put the book down and made lists of everything I'd throw away and in what order. Once I had decluttered, I'd get back to the book. So, I started with the bathroom closet. It was good for like a week. And the book? It's still on my shelf. Unopened. And please, we must not speak of Marie Kondo. She is a sadist.

News: Oh, it's just too much. Don't go there.

Kids: We are never good enough parents. We have short tempers, we say "NO" too loudly and too often. (By the way, it feels really good to yell it; try it now. I'll wait.) We ignore them sometimes when they stub their toe in the kitchen because we are cooking and we really don't want to burn the garlic. Plus, they keep talking all day. Like, frigging constantly... so... you know. Point: There are too many ways to be better. Maybe we can just accept our failures and move on. That's my motto.

Music: No sane person should be a parent, have a new job, and keep doing concerts for which one must learn new repertoire, practice, send out press releases, make posters, put the posters up around town, and continually put crap on Facebook. Friends, I beseech thee: It's a good idea to wait until your kids are all over 18 before you start making CDs and doing concerts and stuff, when you already have a regular day job. It's a good idea to focus on how to be a good parent, and less on whether you can really exercise rhythmic accuracy on that awesome Liz Carroll tune. (See "Kids," above.)

Failure accepted. Journey proceeds.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Seriously. THANK GOD (or whoever) that we have this day to make us stop for a little while, like about 10 minutes between the stuffing preparation and the turkey insertion, to think about what is good in life.

What I am thankful for most this year is that I left that big job in the city to come do a little job teaching music in a school five minutes from my house—a little job that is much bigger than the other job because it matters more. And because it allows me to get back to my kids, be around more, and be home. Big.

One of the biggest reasons I left that big job was because my big girl, I thought, was maybe struggling and maybe needed Mom around more. I wanted to be there for her, and also to be a little more present for my little boy.

Well, I'm teaching in her school and you know what I've discovered from watching her in action and also talking to the other teachers a little bit? That she's just fine. Not just a little fine, but a lot fine. A big fine. And that she always has been.

And there's nothing I'm more thankful for than that.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!


While you're waiting for the turkey to cook this morning, visit the Lindsays new website at! It's what I did this week instead of writing to you, and what I finished this morning between 6-7:30 am, when I should have been preparing dinner for 8. Oops. Time to make the turkey...


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Chris Smither and That Old Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum...

"If every town had one of these, we could weather any political storm." So said performing artist Chris Smither last night to a sold-out crowd at the Spire Center for the Performing Arts in Plymouth. He was talking about the venue, a former house of worship turned performing arts space—a more appropriate fit for the transformative experiences we need so much, in the language we speak today. Music just might be one thing that can help keep us from collectively jumping off a cultural ledge. Well, Chris Smither's music certainly will, at least in this house. A bluesman, a songwriter, the voice of a poet fitted over acoustic guitarwork that is impeccably, precisely natural: the musical incarnation of freedom. He's been writing and performing for more than 50 years, and owns the stage with the poise of a statesman, only with open eyes and an open heart. Ego checked at the door. Thank God he lives, so we can too.

Watch him here by clicking this link. I tried to embed the video but Blogger took it away. You'll have to follow this link. And please do. It's worth it. But come right back.

And so with that said...

I haven't been writing much since November 9, because I've been stuck for what to say. No words, and too many words.  I've been trying not to close off. Forcing myself to read the news. Forcing myself to hear what my activist friends have to say.

"Organize," they say. They have petitions. I signed some.

"March," they implore. I probably won't.

"And call the hell out of Washington! Tell them this is not right!"  Will I call any of these reps? Probably not. (But I do agree. It's horrific and devastating, and it keeps me up at night. Then again, so everything?)

Someone I know posted a color-coded spreadsheet with the numbers of all our House and Senate members, with phone numbers and suggested days to call each. So she wouldn't forget who to call and when. So she wouldn't get overwhelmed by the task at hand. So we could do it too. So much to do. Such a big world to save; such small shoulders.

You see, I am a poor boy too.

I have no gift to bring, that's fit to give a king.

Shall I play for you?

Mary nodded.
The ox and lamb kept time.
I played my drum for him.
I played my best for him.

Then he smiled at me...  Me and my drum.

Click here to listen to Alex Boyé sing it with his African choir.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Flower Power in the Classroom

Just one caring adult can change a child's life. That was the message sent to all teachers in my school from our principal yesterday. He asked us to watch a video from a former foster kid about how one person who cared about him had ensured his later success in life.  Watch it, if you have time. It's inspiring. In sending us all this video to watch, our principal was reminding us of how important our jobs are.

My friends, this new job of mine, teaching music to very young school children, is probably the most important job I've ever had, and also the most challenging. One reason it's challenging is that some of the kids in every class have behavioral challenges. They haven't learned yet how to sit still and listen, or perhaps they are really not able to. So keeping a classroom in control is very hard. Very.

But what's the most challenging? The mental work and the spiritual work. The internal work that has to be done every day to remind myself that it's not about me. Training myself not to get angry or frustrated at the child who is not listening and who is disrupting the class, and to remember that this child is not intentionally trying to ruin my class, or my day. Remembering to respond to him or her in love, not anger. Sometimes it helps to speak sternly to a child, but my experience is that whenever the stern moves into angerland, someone ends up crying (not me) and only acting worse. Worse! My childhood memory is that a teacher would yell at the student, the student would clam up in fear, and the problem would be solved for that day, or that hour. But this is not what happens today. That was the past. Now, what I see is that when a teacher yells at a student, most of the time the student seems to only get more disruptive.

What I'm seeing is that the thing that seems to be most effective in the long term -- the thing that shocks a child into full engagement, at least SOME of them -- is a response from a loving place.

Do you know how hard it is to be loving when 19 kids are mostly singing along to "Simple Gifts," and 1 is doing cartwheels and making silly faces behind you, or crawling along the floor on the way to the conga drums, which he or she intends to bash as loud as possible? This is after you've already told him or her to sit down about 4,000 times.

Serenity now. Om. Om. Om. Om. Om. Om. Om. (This is not working.) Om. Om. Om. (What time does this class end? Five more minutes... phew.) Om. Om. Om. Om.

Friday, November 11, 2016

No words, and too many words.

Day 32.

I have no words. And I have too many words. Thank God for music.

I had the great honor of seeing Shawn Colvin perform last night at the Spire in downtown Plymouth. A brilliant concert, and shockingly, I had not really heard her music before. A songwriter, poet, and musician of the highest order. She had just come off a two-month tour with Steve Earle, another brilliant soul, and was going this one alone. She said she was a bit disoriented, as she began.

Oh, really? I wonder why. Her first song was Paul Simon's American Tune. Sheer power. (Lyrics)

Sang it with a power that broke hearts open with the first strain. Floodgates.

After performing, at the end of the night, she said thank you. She was recentered, she said. The music had helped to heal her. And this is what it is about.

What I've seen from artists in the last few days: A redoubling of purpose. We must continue, with ever more strength, they are saying. It matters now more than ever, they say. We must offer our love. We must stick together.  We must overcome.

To return to Karl Paulnack's words in Wednesday's post: friends, someday at 8 P.M. someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft. 

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well. 

Our work is cut out for us now. Let's keep making. Never was it more important.