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When I See You Fly; Celebrating Youth and Their Accomplishments

Ultimately, what my children or my students do is their accomplishment, not mine. I can encourage, model, and suggest ideas, but I can’t and shouldn’t claim their success as mine. What I can do is celebrate that success and be happy for them.

Our children, our students, our mentees, need to know and feel that what they have done is a result of their efforts. To claim or point out a parental or educator role in that success is in some way to try to take it from them, to diminish their efforts – and that detracts from and discourages young people and other students from making those efforts. We are all better off when our young people and the lifelong learners among us are celebrated and acknowledged, because that pushes our whole society forward with their innovations and energy.

I originally wrote ‘When I See You Fly’ to celebrate my own kids, but I wanted it to be applicable to celebrate anyone’s accomplishments and growth. The first time I used it was for a video for our middle son’s grade 6 graduation party, along with slides featuring his classmates. That video was never made public, as a result of general privacy concerns. I made another video for my YouTube channel featuring our 3 boys, where the photos in the slides went with the lyrics of the song. This latest recording is music only. I wanted it to be available for others to use in the same way that I used it to celebrate our boys – for their personal celebration videos and occasions.

Here are the lyrics;

You’re so much more than just potential
Long ago, you burst out of your eggshell
And in the intervening hours
You were like that superhero
Learning to control the powers
Of the suit that you were building

Everyone has their moments
Of flapping, of falling, of faltering
The strongest winds may be blowing
Against you so hard, you’re not sure you can keep going

But the moments do pass
I see you take off, see you lift off
You are darting and gliding way up high

And when I see you fly, I fly
You’re soaring through the skies
My spirits also rise
As you’re free among the clouds
I want you to know
That even though I’m here below
When I see you fly, I fly

It’s not about keeping you on the ground
And not just to know that you are safe and sound
I’d love to see the treasure that you found
You stop, and then away you bound

And when I see you fly, I fly
You’re soaring through the skies
My spirits also rise
As you’re free among the clouds
I want you to know
That even though I’m here below
When I see you fly, I fly

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(I Want to be) Like Democracy

Sir Winston Churchill is supposed to have said “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others”.

What he meant by that, of course, is that while no political system is perfect – each has its advantages and disadvantages – he on balance actually preferred democracy. Chances are that he was responding to criticism of the British Parliamentary system of democracy, and his reply was somewhat sarcastic or sardonic.

I wanted to write a song that would discuss the relative benefits of democracy, but would not be limited to a kind of memorization tool for school. I did write the song so that it could possibly be used in class, maybe introducing some political systems ideas to the class in a different way than through note-taking or the more traditional forms of educational introductions to ideas. The song would ideally also be able to stand on its own. So I thought maybe I could use democracy itself as a kind of metaphor.

Like political systems, people also are not perfect. Sir Winston Churchill wasn’t, and I’m not either. But as it happens, the ideals behind modern liberal democracy are also ideals that I hold dear – openness, accountability, human rights, sharing power, freedom…. And, of course, ideals require some sacrifices. Sharing power means giving up one’s own notions of power; it means not always being able to have your own way. These sacrifices are worthwhile, though, because of the greater importance and priority of the ideals.

I have released my song ‘Like Democracy’ in several versions, and in various ways. There is the latest, commercially available version, which can be heard on Spotify or Napster or Tidal or Deezer or YouTube or various other streaming services, and which is also available for purchase via Amazon or iTunes and other digital music distribution services. There is another version of Like Democracy available for upload right on this site (under the ‘Educational’ tab, choose ‘Curriculum Songs’ from the drop-down menu), and another one on my YouTube channel. The lyrics are available on this website too, just below the website recording of the song.

On this website, also on the ‘Educational Tab’, there’s a Question Sheets Related segment in the dropdown menu that also uses the song Like Democracy for exploring ideas related to human rights, specifically the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For me, the main significant lines in Like Democracy are

“I wanna be like democracy,
Give my friends a chance to reach the top.
Sometimes things might go wrong,
Sometimes people let you down,
So then I also wanna have a way to stop.”
This brings out the political idea of power being in the hands of the people, rather than in the hands of a leader. Also, on a personal level, it is about both trust and a willingness to change.

2. “I wanna bring out the best in people,
I wanna know about the worst.
I wanna blend love, mercy, and justice,
And the right kinds of hunger and thirst.”
This is about how the idea of sharing power politically, along with providing freedom, gives people the opportunity to come up with new ideas and contribute to society and each other.
On the other hand, it is about how an open society with a free press and political opposition parties provides accountability. True democracy is only viable when people know what their choices are.
On a personal level, it’s about honest relationship and caring. “The right kinds of hunger and thirst” is a spiritual reference to a “hunger and thirst after righteousness” – in other words, for right and equitable living in authentic community.

And finally,
3. “And I would take love over fear,
Even at the risk I might get hurt.
No true affection in the voice
Of one who hasn’t got a choice,
So I’ll give up control or even lose my shirt.”

One of the ways in which dictators maintain control of their societies is through the use of fear and force. The idea of choice is frightening to dictators, because they perceive any action which represents ideas different from their own as a threat to their power. Real democracy encourages choice. It allows for different ideas to emerge, in the hope that a full discussion of possibilities can result in ultimately better decisions being made, even if there are some difficult moments in the meantime.
On a personal level, I too want to be willing to take risks in relationship. Coercion and love are different things, and it’s the real thing that I’m interested in. So since there’s “no true affection in the voice of one who hasn’t got a choice,” I have to be willing to take loss if what I really want is love. It can’t be coerced.

I first wrote ‘Like Democracy’ around 10 years ago. It’s still one of my favourite songs of all those that I have written.

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Express-sing the Inbetweens

Sure, celebrating big moments & mourning big losses really is important. But every moment is worth our awareness, and all of life should be lived fully.

Songs often are about our high points and our low points. Part of what I hope to do is express those emotions that are in between the extremes.

There’s a risk of confusing action or drama for meaning. Sometimes I think I get bored and try to find a way to make a fresh storyline for my life. I don’t think I’m alone in that… in our fast-paced world, we develop a taste for drama like wild predators develop a taste for blood. Action and the high and low emotions help us to avoid or forget our true anxieties and existential concerns.

So what I want to do is bring out the middle colours of emotion – like doubt, hope, concern, caring, anxiety, dissatisfaction, contentment. Maybe if we can more fully express the range of our emotions, we can avoid leaping from one extreme to another too. Maybe we can more fully live our lives in the day-to-day, and feel alive doing it – or at least have a greater acceptance of ourselves and our emotions because we are more able to name our experience.

My songs ‘I Don’t Know What I Want’ and ‘When I’m Dissatisfied’ are two of those in which I try to express some of those midpoints; indecision, regret, and discontent that seems to arise for no reason.

The lyrics for those 2 songs follow. First, “I Don’t Know What I Want”.

I don’t know what I want
Many good thing pass me by
I don’t know what I want
Many good thing pass me by
Hope something’s still out there
When I make up my mind

Well, it might have been love
Maybe just infatuation
…but it might have been love
Hope someone will have me
In the fullness of time

Maybe should have said yes
Maybe it just as well
Maybe should have said yes
Maybe it just as well
I don’t know what I want
I don’t know what I want
I don’t know what I want
…many good thing pass me by

The ‘No Regrets’ slogan irritates me at times. Maybe I’m the only one. I realize that it’s supposed to be about living to the fullest and not being afraid to make mistakes.

But I think the idea of denying any regret also kind of denies that what I do has impacts on other people, and that sometimes those impacts could be more positive. That’s where I carry regret – when I know that things I have said or done were self-serving or ignorant. Of course I don’t want that regret to paralyze me and lead to inaction, because that could only compound harm or fail to serve the good.

So yeah, ‘I Don’t Know What I Want’ is about having that regret and uncertainty, and being in the moment of it, and recognizing that sometimes the loss we experience comes from not taking the opportunities that we had when they were offered, and those missed opportunities affect ourselves and others too.

When I’m Dissatisfied

When I’m dissatisfied
I can’t find a reason
No matter what I try
There’s no pleasin’ me

I get anxious and impatient
Though I have no place to be
And my family starts wondering
What’s going on with me

When I’m dissatisfied
When I’m dissatisfied

When I’m dissatisfied
I can’t find peace
Every song on the radio
Sounds like noise to me

When I’m dissatisfied
I’m dying by degrees
I get soul-weary, tired
And I’m filled with apathy

When I’m dissatisfied
When I’m dissatisfied

Seldom do things seem to matter

Often time feels blah at best

Nothing ever really seems to
Change the east or move the west

Then I try to mix it up
Try to get out of my rut
Do different things, change my routine
Try to move myself, but

When I’m dissatisfied
I am dissatisfied
When I’m dissatisfied
I am dissatisfied

… I think ‘When I’m Dissatisfied’ is worth my time to sing because simply expressing discontent is sometimes enough for me to feel a bit better. Also, it’s a song that doesn’t blame anyone or anything for the fact that I’m feeling a bit grumpy or a bit off. Sometimes a person just feels off, and that’s okay, and it’s probably better to recognize that and accept it than to look for a scapegoat for that sense of discontent.

So to sum up, I believe that if we come to better understand and express the daily emotions that we feel in all of their complexity, we may ultimately feel more at peace and content. Forging such a connection to our emotions – a kind of spiritual connection, I believe – may help us to avoid the pitfalls of seeking more drama or action in a misguided quest to fill the void we feel when we don’t understand the root of the emotions that we have.

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Decades Later, One Cry Still Echoes

As the (not especially good) director of a caravan day camp in Northern Manitoba one summer, I made the decision to switch over our program entirely from a wilderness skills based camp to an arts camp, since there were a lot of forest fires and we weren’t able to continue with the hiking and campfire-building program that had been the basis of our success for a number of decades. To be fair (to myself), the forest fires were actually significant enough to strand us for a portion of a week, and the air and sky were a greyish-orange because of them.

I had written the first version of the song ‘One Cry Echoes’ while in Northern Manitoba, partly expressing a longing for relational connection, and partly reflecting my sense of the landscape around me.

A First Nations band near The Pas, Manitoba, had a talent night the weekend we were there, open to all. I decided that participating in the talent night was right up the alley of a group that wanted to engage with local communities and had a fresh focus as an arts program, so some of us went there. We got a friendly reception, and I sang my song. I didn’t win any prizes – which was only right, because there was a lot of talent there, and winning prizes wasn’t the point for us. But I was encouraged that one young man sought me out to tell me that he really appreciated my song. So if any of you folks wish that I would really just stop… well, blame him – because his encouragement was part of what kept me going.

Anyway, there was something about the way I paced my lyrics in the original that didn’t seem quite right. I tried changing the words, tried changing how I played the guitar, but nothing was ever quite satisfying. Years went by. Then finally, last year, I decided to try changing the melody and the whole musical structure of the song. Now, finally, it feels right to me. So I recorded it and put it out there.

That’s the story of “One Cry Echoes”, and why it lay dormant for decades.

Here are the lyrics;

One cry echo
across the waters of my soul

One cry echo
in the hollow that only I know

It’s a cry that often lingers
though it sometime disappear
It’s a cry that greets all strangers
and then hide when they come near

Sound like a loon I hear some evening
Come around like a tune a poor man sing
Sound like a loon I hear some evening
Come around like a tune a poor man sing

One cry echo
across the waters of my soul
One cry echo
I see the lake is getting low

One cry echo
across the waters of my soul
One cry echo
in the hollow that only I know

One cry echo
in the hollow that only I know

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My Secret Life As a Songwriter

In recent years, I have heard “I didn’t know that you sing!” from people in almost every context. Back in my college years, many – including me – may have thought music was the only thing I could sort of do. So how did music become my secret life?

I remember making up a simple little song in the sandbox when I was around 5 years old, excited about the pennies I found there. I remember the tune. When I was 7, I read a story that included words for a song – something about being a ‘Tumbling Tumbleweed’. I made up the melody, drew rough manuscript paper, and painstakingly wrote out the notes while sitting at the piano.

It’s not that I really strongly pursued music. Yes, I took piano lessons, and later voice lessons. I studied music theory in secondary school and college, auditioned for and joined choirs, sang in groups, eventually learned to play guitar. The only final exam I ever got 100% on was my grade 7 music theory exam. But I had many reasons for not getting serious about music.

My voice was too low to sing any of the popular music on the radio. I have asthma, and singing in smoky bars (back in that day, they were all smoky bars) might well have killed me. The songs I wrote were unusual, and would have been considered too weird by many. There were other things I wanted to do. Recording was expensive and difficult. I didn’t think I could make a living on music.

Despite the fact that I didn’t pursue music, I still wrote at least 3 songs every year. Sometimes they would tumble out all at once; sometimes I’d have an idea for a song and I worked at it. Even when I was working full time and family life got really busy, I would find ways to introduce music into what I did, and writing songs would feel therapeutic at very intense times or at times when I was underemployed – really, at any time.

Music has been good to me too. When I was in College, I developed a liking to an imaginative, attractive, and funny young lady. I wanted to let her know, but she was usually inseparable from her group of friends. There was a piano in a sitting and games room on campus, so I sat at that piano and improvised some music, hoping it would draw her over – and it worked. Although it took several more months before she agreed to go out with me, that was the beginning of that relationship. We’ve been married for more than 2 decades now.

In the meantime, things changed around me. Bars are not all smoky now – in fact, where I live, smoking is illegal in public buildings. The cost of recording is much lower, and the process is far more efficient with today’s technology. And, I don’t have to make a living by doing my music – I can treat my music as a serious hobby. My low voice and unusual lyrical styles only mean that I have a niche. People like Leonard Cohen, Tom Jones, and Johnny Cash have blazed a trail, too. The internet has made the publication and broad distribution of music of music easy, although not especially lucrative – but that’s okay with me.

So now, with over 100 sets of lyrics in my files, some complete and others just waiting for development, I am ready to make my life as a songwriter less of a secret. It doesn’t much matter to me if my music only appeals to a few – I don’t want it to sit dormant. I’ve already started putting it out there. I’m going to keep getting better, keep practicing, and keep recording music for publication and distribution. No more secrecy about my life as a songwriter.

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I Lie To You Sometimes; The Song

Truth. Trust. Fear. Vulnerability. Those are a tough mix to work with. That’s what ‘I Lie To You Sometimes’ is about.

The song is like a kind of confession – a partial confession. It isn’t a perfect expression of vulnerability and trust – in fact, it lays a bit too much of the onus for relationship on the other. But our confessions are seldom whole, and I for one am not always fully fearless and open about expressing the times when I am not ‘fine’. And really, the lies this song is talking about are those sorts of lies – the ‘little’ lies about being okay when in actual fact okay-ness is not quite settled. It’s about not having important and open conversations, and just letting the comfortable status quo rule the day, and then in the long run paying the price of feeling misunderstood and alone.

By the end of the song, the ‘voice’ of the song is starting to reach out, although not fully taking ownership of fault in the stagnation of the relationship and moving to full emotional honesty and availability. There’s still a kind of self-protective emotional blame game involved.

In real life we aren’t perfect. A song doesn’t have to reflect perfection and resolution. If a person is alive, a person is in process – and a song should reflect that reality. I feel that we have a tendency in our time to rush to a kind of false resolution, to not allow a real emotional process to occur. I may, for example, know how I ‘should’ feel, and therefore try to claim that ideal state of being instead of allowing my emotions to really get worked out. Our general sense of being ‘busy’ and wanting to be ‘efficient’ may work into this trap as well.

The difficulty with rushing to a false emotional resolution is that the real process can get undermined and go unconscious, so that I might in some ways act out the emotions that I still feel but am denying. That can’t be healthy – there has to be some middle ground. In being committed to honest relationships, we give ourselves – and our significant others – the opportunity to really go through those internal processes, and honestly arrive at real resolutions in a more natural timeline.

Here are my lyrics;

I lie to you sometimes
try to hide the things inside
try to slide atop the tide
yeah, and take you for a ride

Don’t want you looking at my soul
You might see that I’m not whole
Might find ashes, might find coal
where you thought you would find gold

I lie to you sometimes
– no looking at my soul!
I lie to you sometimes
I lie to you sometimes
…sometimes

I lie to you
try to hide the things insdie
try to slide atop the tide
yeah, and take you for a ride

It seems easier this way
seems like everything’s okay
and we talk about the weather
’cause there’s nothing else to say

Don’t get sad, and don’t get close
’cause that’s what I hate the most
makes me uneasy and morose
makes me take a double dose

Makes me deal with the pain
makes me have to start again
– does that mean things will get better
or will sunshine turn to rain?

I lie to you sometimes
– no looking at my soul!
I lie to you sometimes
I lie to you sometimes
… you know

I lie to you
please don’t believe the words I say
because the greatest price I pay
is when you smile and walk away

I lie to you sometimes
Please don’t believe the words I say
because the greatest price I pay

… is when you smile and walk away

(The chorus here is supposed to be like an emotional pivot point, at each repetition leading to a direction of greater self-awareness and taking some more ownership for honesty and a healthy relationship, even with risk)

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