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Nothing New Comes From Normal

I’m not crazy about being uncomfortable. But my doctor told me that, if I don’t exercise to the point of being rather uncomfortable, I get weaker and risk a shorter lifespan. Some level of discomfort is needed to build up muscle, especially as we get older (and the natural discomfort of physiological development is not really a thing).

If I’m not intellectually or socially uncomfortable, I’m barricading out different ideas. Maybe I’m not dealing with the reality that there are folks who don’t see things as I do, and that their perception does affect my life and I will need to decide how to respond. Maybe I become dismissive of all their opinions, and avoid ideas that I should actually think about in order to have a more complete understanding of given situations myself.

In the early days of social media, there was a great hope that it would be a place where people with different perspectives would actually have discussions with each other, and that it would be the starting point of a new and invigorating democratic discourse.

Since then, we’ve discovered that we have a tendency to gravitate toward people who already agree with us, and that the tightest and most rigid clusters of people are those who tend to feel most insecure and most judgmental, usually at the same time.

So sometimes I may have to disrupt my routine or consider what it might be like to live in and with different circumstances. Because if I don’t, I learn less, my relationships become increasingly vulnerable as my understanding of reality becomes increasingly inflexible and deluded, and I fade away into a weak sort of fantasy life rather than a robust engagement with life in all its dimensions.

The word ‘spiritual’ has become something of a euphemism for impractical, deluded, and disconnected. It should be about a wholeness of perspective and an internal capacity to deal with reality with an empathetic outlook and a clear sense of personal identity at the same time, established in a confidence in authentic love and a belief in freedom. If we build walls to keep others out, the ultimate result is a kind of rot that diminishes our own capacities to be fully human.

Here are the lyrics to my song “Nothing New Comes From Normal” (not yet released).

Every day
starts the same way.
Become something of a ritual.
Take a hot drink to a screen,
check news and messages for me,
and on and on as usual.

Our routines provide us with a feeling of security.
They define our normal.
But does the comfort that we feel
make our experience unreal?

Nothing new comes from normal.
Things get strange before they change.
Nothing new comes from normal.
There’s a discomfort that’s essential.

I don’t hear the voice that calls
when I have my headphones on.
Is my soul soothed or controlled
by the siren of the song?

Almost everything is good in its own time.
But am I mesmerized by chime
of pentameter and rhyme?

Nothing new comes from normal.
Things get strange before they change.
Nothing new comes from normal.
There’s a discomfort that’s essential.
Nothing new comes from normal.
Nothing new comes from normal.

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No Place To Go But Rising

My music and song writing stayed on the back burner for many years.

‘No Place To Go But Rising’ is about beginning to work on my music more seriously after a long period of neglecting that aspect of who I am. It’s about trying to be authentic, while recognizing my family responsibilities and financial obligations.

Just making money isn’t enough to nurture a person’s spirit. Making a living, on its own, isn’t enough to give meaning to life. For me, life is about nurturing significant relationships and about authentically living out who you are while in the process of contributing to community.

It’s okay to feel like you’re beginning something fresh and from out of nowhere. Like the song says, “…(at) least I(‘ve) got my direction”.

Ironically, when I did this one in the studio, I didn’t really have any ‘direction’ for the ending. So I kind of just went with what I felt, and in the end I’m pretty pleased with the energy that emerged.

Here are the lyrics.

No Place To Go But Rising

No place to go but rising
Least I got my direction
From here any more surprising
Come from dregs of perspiration

Need to figure out what’s to get ’em
To part with they money
Right now my upper crust
Is a long way from milk and honey

Make my way with dignity
Nobody buying desperation
Maybe someone gonna sing with me
Maybe get my compensation

Gotta do what I was made for
Even getting what I need
Gotta have some joy here
Though there’s someone here to feed

Nowhere to go but up
Up is where I’m looking
And right now I’m getting up
For going up

Up for going up
Up for going up
Up for going up

Up for going up
Up for going up
Up for going up

No place to go but rising
No place to go but rising
No place to go but rising
No place to go but up

No place to go but rising
Least I got my direction
From here any more surprising
Come from dregs of perspiration

Nowhere to go
nowhere to go
nowhere to go but up

Nowhere to go
nowhere to go
nowhere to go but up

Up for going up
Up for going up
Up for going up

Up for going up
Up for going up
Up for going up

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Finding The Pieces; Being Supportive of Family

Cost of living increases have outstripped the rise in the average wage in the last couple of decades, in my city as well as in many others. This trend of rising costs in the context of lower average income makes it more difficult for young people to get established. Also, getting into college or university is more challenging than it was when I was a kid, as more students compete for fewer spaces.

An appropriate response to these challenges, where possible, is to offer young adult children more support in getting started, if they need it. It should usually be possible… our average family size is smaller, and our average house size is bigger. However, I’ve come across a couple of situations where parents have chosen to kick their kids out of the house as soon as legally possible – even on their child’s birthday. Possibly some parents stubbornly hold to the belief that kids should be forced to move out and make it on their own early, as a kind of ‘sink or swim’ challenge. I don’t share that belief.

To whatever extent possible, without infringing on the independence of our offspring, we hope to appropriately support our children as older teens and young adults – to nurture their independence, but not to create unnecessary additional obstacles to their success. Life is tough enough already.

Our kids have already shown their resourcefulness, even in the toy building block structures and creative digital designs they’ve made. Once in a while they are open to help or suggestions, and with just a bit of a nudge here or there they are good to go on their own.

My song ‘Finding the Pieces’ is about continuing to be there for the next generation, supporting them in their goals and as persons.

Finding the Pieces

Your interlocking building blocks
would be spread out on the floor.
You were making another masterpiece
you’d work at for an hour.

Some small but essential pieces
seemed impossible to find.
You’d call for us to help you,
and in a way I didn’t mind…

Finding the pieces,
searching most unlikely places…
spending time down on our knees, hoping to find them,
knowing you would be so pleased….

And sometimes once of your brothers,
with a keen and practiced eye,
would see one camouflaged in carpet
and would kindly bring it by.

Or sometimes it was your mother,
on a break, taking the time…
or we would find another way
to make the build sublime…

Finding the pieces,
searching most unlikely places…
spending time down on our knees, hoping to find them,
knowing you would be so pleased….

Now you have gotten bigger,
and your projects bigger too…
You work so hard on all the problems
life presents to you.

Some small but essential pieces
may seem difficult to find.
You can call on us to help you,
‘cuz you know we wouldn’t mind…

Finding the pieces,
searching most unlikely places…
spending time down on our knees, hoping to find them,
knowing you would be so pleased….

Finding the pieces,
searching most unlikely places…
spending time down on our knees, hoping to find them,
knowing you would be so pleased….

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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’.

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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The Circle Is; About Life in Community

I’ve had the privilege of being included in a First-Nations-guided talking circle. Though a talking circle is led through the presence and example of an Elder, it doesn’t have the feel or structure of hierarchy. Since all have the ability to speak and to be heard, a talking circle feels like democracy in action. There’s a built-in sense of community.

Being Mennonite, the idea of community is familiar to me. Community isn’t a monochromatic experience, though. It’s interesting how sometimes community feels natural and nurturing, and other times feels imposed or even excluding. I believe that the strongest communities are those that have lots of room for diversity and even maverick perspectives. Very homogeneous communities that are based on conformity to a narrow set of norms may seem strong, but can they really be adaptable to new situations, or even truly recognize the all the factors/individuals that affect/enrich their lives?

I wrote The Circle Is as a way of exploring the attitudes and expectations we bring to community, and also to express some views of what community could be at its best. The metaphor of the circle felt like a good way to hold it together thematically.

Here are the lyrics;

The Circle Is

Some enter the circle like a roundabout,
They come in only looking for a way out.
Others have it spinning like a top
They don’t go anywhere, & they never stop.

Some see the circle as a hurricane,
Where our lives get destroyed by the weather.
Some see the circle as a great big blender
Where everyone gets stirred together.

We see the circle as a safe place,
Where each can look into the eyes of another.

God knows, we’re always walking in lines,
Standing in boxes that go up and down.
Everything is organized
so we can be efficient, So we can get around.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended,
Where healing can take place.
We need a circle – we can serve each other –
A place where the juices of our souls can be replaced.

The circle is a bowl that holds
Nourishment for our souls…
…a turbine on a hill that makes the most
Of the power of the wind that blows.

Some enter the circle like a roundabout –
they come in only looking for a way out.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended, where healing can take place…
Judgement suspended, where healing
can take place.

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Overdue Thank You To Many But Not Enough

Whether or not my unusual music goes anywhere out there, I owe a big thank you to many people for their encouragement and influence. Since I am supremely absent-minded, I will probably offend someone by leaving them out… but consider this a beginning.

My first music composition professor, Linda Schwartz, who is now Dean of Arts and Science at Ambrose University. Thank you for your early guidance and the opportunities you gave me.

Olaf Pyttlik, who asked me to collaborate with him lyrically at one point, but who is so far beyond me. Thank you for your friendship of long ago and for sharing your time with me. Olaf is a music producer and composer with DACAPO studios in Winnipeg, and you may have heard his musical scores for any number of television programs/movies/ballet. He wrote a lot of music for the Ice Age franchise.

Allan Gordon Bell – Professor, University of Calgary. Allan taught me more music theory and composition, and I would have done well to heed more of his advice.

Derek Penney – Derek had a band in Halifax once, and he has written a fair bit of music himself. It would be great to hear it publicly sometime. Derek joined me for a couple of jam sessions, gave me some good advice on some songs and about learning from others, and is a super guy.

Fred Green – Fred is one of those people in the world who is underestimated and deserves a whole lot more appreciation. He jammed with me a lot, was really encouraging, and I consumed too much of his beer and hospitality. He’s a mensch – a really solid, good guy.

Rhonda Janzen – a singer-songwriter herself, Rhonda introduced me to my first studio, Music Center Canada. While I haven’t put out those early recordings for distribution, that was where I got my toe in the water, and the guys at MCC were good to me.

Sean Bruneau – Sean was once upon a time a producer for a TV network, and he told me about the studio I’ve been going to lately, The Beach.

Allie Henderson invited me to play my music for guests at Inn From The Cold one night. I appreciate her encouragement and that opportunity.

Doug Klassen, then pastor of Foothills Mennonite Church, gave me many opportunities to play my music in church (not necessarily the same stuff now out), and has always been super supportive of my musical endeavours.

Char Mikalson has always been super encouraging of me and my music.

Chad and June Miller are always there for me and my family, and have been really supportive of my music as well.

Dave Ginther – invited me to play some of my stuff for a Men’s Group Potluck. That was lots of fun!

Steve Larsen – is a local music producer who recorded some of my early efforts.

Rick Tarnowski is a super bass player who has jammed with me, and we’ll be doing more of that. Also, Darrell Krahn (percussion), Eric Friesen (Lead Guitar). Those three guys have joined me on stage, and we’re looking at more of that.

I’ve enjoyed a number of open mic venues around town. The most consistent one over the years for me has been the Ironwood Bar and Grill, hosted by Kit Johnson and Tim Leacock, who are fine musicians as well.

There was a college music and drama troupe too… Mark Bartel, Patty Neumann Bartel, Matthew Bartel, Jenn Mierau, Christine Siemens Huebert, and Lynnette Sawatzky Regehr.

And of course, my family has contributed to my life and thus to my songwriting. #MyDear1, who is rather publicity shy, plays piano and keyboards and sings, and she improvises all of that really well too. She has rescued me from my own musical (and other) errors on numerous occasions. Also, she writes a bit of music sometimes.

There’s also a guy named Gordie who I jammed with once. There are so many, but like I say, that will have to be a preliminary list. Thank you all!

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