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Back, But Not To Normal

Besides the passing of time, there has been a passing of moments. Moments, more than minutes, are the markers of our lives. The last couple of years have passed slowly in some ways, and yet have been full of heavily significant moments for so many of us. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to elaborate for any of you.

In that time, I worked full time for a year as a high school teacher, teaching a number of subjects for the first time – despite my decade-plus of teaching experience. Then, we moved to a small town. I’ve begun taking medication for adult ADHD. I’ve written more songs, practiced more guitar. I’ve done some background work on a number of film sets. The kids are growing up and starting to move on. I’ve been substitute teaching here in our current home town.

This transition feels like a gateway. We lived in the same place for so many years, did the same things. I don’t know if we’re going to settle for a while where we are now – but having had to move has caused us to open our minds, to rethink where we’re at and where we want to get to. So I’ve started a new degree – a Master of Distance, Digital, and Open Education.

At a deep level, I acknowledge that movement is not the same as change or personal growth. I believe that there does come a time, though, when a person has to move in some way in order to grow.

My hope is that I’ll be recording more songs, and that this blog will be rejuvenated as well. There’s a lot going on. I look forward to sharing some more of it with you.


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Disencumber; a time to let go

“I should have….” There’s such a weight attached to words like that, when you let them sit in your mind.

How much of our busy-ness is what we create to distract us from having time to think of the negative thoughts, doubts, guilt, or regret we may carry with us? But if that’s the case, then a life-disruption – like a significant injury or illness, or loss of steady employment, can lead to a devastating term of confronting all the negative issues that we’ve tried to avoid by scheduling our time full. At least, that can be a danger for me.

There comes a time to give ourselves at least the same grace, the same opportunity to rest and/or move forward, as we are prepared to offer others. There is no burden so great as one that people of conscience place on themselves.

If there’s something that a person has done wrong, then – if the person learns from it – that’s experience. You can castigate yourself for an error, but if it’s an error you could then avoid on another occasion – that might put you ahead of a new person without that experience. Anyone can make a mistake. Everyone can grow. So we need to give ourselves permission to let go of past errors and let ourselves continue to grow and thrive through whatever changes are ahead.

Here are the lyrics to my song ‘Disencumber’.


No one can judge me more harshly
than I already judge myself.
The bar of my own expectation is higher
than anything others expect.

I need to leave that big box of deficiency
right up there on that high shelf.
The daily rocks that I add to my pack
accumulate so I’ll get wrecked.

There’s a time
to disencumber…
a time to embrace some peace.
We gather up messages of “not good enough…” –
we need some news of release.

There’s a time
to disencumber,
to put aside how we self-reject.
Don’t look for bad news
you can do nothing about,
and find some good tunes to select.

I’m not saying to walk around blindly,
but it don’t help to stare at the light
in the interrogation room inside your mind
because it won’t leave you feeling so bright.

There’s a time to disencumber,
a time to walk around free,
among people who maybe I know nothing about
but at least they also don’t know me.

Disencumber – we are human,
equally valuable, all of us flawed.

Disencumber – it’s okay.
None of us can claim to be God.

There’s a time to disencumber…
time to embrace some peace.
We gather up messages of “not good enough…” –
we need some news of release.

We need some news of release.

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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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Avoiding the Letter S (and others) in Lyrics

Writing lyrics for songs is different than writing poetry, or writing a speech. One way is in the choice of words, and letters, to include, and leave out – and why – depending on who is singing and the style of the song.

One of my goals when I write songs for myself is to let my voice shine through, because my low voice is unique and in that way distinctive. One way in which I do that, is avoiding ‘non-voiced’ consonants as much as possible, especially the ‘s’. I would rather have the listener ‘fill in’ the letter s where it belongs psychologically, than write it in. That’s because the ‘s’ is not a voiced letter (f, t and p also fit in that camp), and so it tends to disrupt the flow of sound in singing. Sure, it’s a subtle point… but subtle points count, especially if often repeated.

So it’s true that I don’t sing my lyrics in the same way that I would speak my sentences, but that’s okay with me. Word (and letter) choice depends on a set of priorities, and balancing those priorities matters if I’m going to put out unique music for others to hear. If I were just to put out what people could find anywhere else, in a way that would not be respecting the listener, because I would not be giving people something new to hear. It also would not be respecting any message I would wish to put out, because if something is worth saying then it is worth saying in a fresh way, so that people may have fresh ears for it too.

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The Writing of Get Back Up (Resilience)

I wrote the song ‘Get Back Up (Resilience)’ partly in response to a friend going through a difficult life transition which was not under her control. I wanted to write a song which could be encouraging. One thing I have in common with this friend, is that we are both parents. I’m not sure the song provided the necessary encouragement, actually – her situation is way beyond anything I have ever experienced, and I really hope it doesn’t come across as a ‘pull up your socks’ message, because it isn’t intended that way at all.

Kids are incredibly resilient. Aided by a very short memory, little children try to walk, and they may wham into some furniture and bruise themselves something awful, but before you know it they are up and trying again. Their determination to walk seems to be far beyond their experience of the pain of trying. So, watching little kids trying to learn is inspiring to me, because they don’t know quit. My hope is that others are also inspired.

The lyrics go…

When you see a little baby learning how to walk
at first she fall a hundred time a day.
She will not say maybe this wasn’t meant for me –
she get back up until she learn the way.

She got dirt on her hands, bruises on her face,
but she know deep down that she has got the power.
She don’t know quit, she stay with it
until she find her pace,
and then she go at 50 miles an hour.

She get back up. Don’t you see she’ll never stay down –
she get back up every time she fall.
She may be half the size of anyone else around,
but she get back up and she show ’em all.

Been quite a while now since I was a baby,
but I still stumble, sometime I still fall.
I don’t always know how (I’m) gonna make it through the day,
and I just lean my head against the wall.

I got dirt on my hands, bruises on my face,
but I know deep down that I have got the power.
If someone offers help, okay, but I am gonna find a way,
and then I’ll go at 50 miles an hour.

I’ll get back up. Don’t you see I’ll never stay down?
I’ll get back up every time I fall.
I may not reach the mind of everyone else around,
but I’ll get back up and I’ll show ’em all.

We’ll get back up. Don’t you see we’ll never stay down?
We get back up every time we fall.
We may not reach the mind of everyone else around,
but we’ll get back up and we’ll show ’em,
we’ll get back up and we’ll show ’em,
we’ll get back up and we’ll show ’em all.

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