Sampson napping on his favorite rug

Sampson napping on  his favorite rug
happy, happy, happy

Friday, December 28, 2007

On The Threshold Of A New Year ~

What We Bring, What We Take ...

Of course New Year’s Day brings resolutions, hangovers, and football – I’m not endorsing those things, but they are part of the reality :) A new year always ushers in a feeling of new hope, even (as I mention in a previous post) in the absence of optimism. I've read that economic experts are forecasting continued difficulties in the economy and all its ripple effects, increasing personal debt and credit problems, and out-of-reach health care. Someone told me this morning that "the struggle to survive is difficult, worse, not better" (than it was previously). Personally, I’m trying to renew and rediscover a balance. It’s a balance that will, hopefully, include hope, realism, effort, reason, resourcefulness, activism, compassion, music (always) and moments of inner peace.

Today ...

Rain, rain (don’t ) go away (yet). Today it is raining galore here in Knoxville. Sweet, sweet rain, better late than never. The local creeks again have water in them, thankfully. It’s a cold rain, as the temps are in the low 40s. I’m snug here in the loft of my house – this is where I come to write, think, read, ponder. The rain sounds nice on the metal roof!

One More Year Of Bush & Cheney ...

It is outrageous that they are still in office and that their power base is so pervasive that they are completely insulated, as they blunder and plunder on. I’d prefer to be wrong, but I think they’d like to enlarge the war (Iran) as sort of a last-ditch political fun adventure "feather in their cap" (I’m quite serious). I think these guys are playing the country and the world like a crazy-style chess board.

Forgiveness ...

I’m able to forgive people who personally hurt me, even if they do it deliberately – maybe especially if they do it deliberately; it then becomes more important to forgive them and reclaim my power. "There is power in forgiveness" (it’s not a lame old phrase). The forgiver benefits much more than the forgivee. The New Year is a good time for that. I’d put it right up there with the resolve to begin or renew an exercise program or a health quest or the search for/receptivity to a love partner.

While we’re at it, let’s forgive ourselves, too, for whatever goof-ups, shortcomings, and/or serious mistakes for which we feel responsible. Letting go of the past is essential, especially if there is any residual "victim" status. Clinging to past hurts only impedes growth and healing. I’m not saying "forgive and forget" (I think that’s an unwise cliche); there are some things we need to remember in order to be vigilant. But forgive ... and be empowered in the new year.

Older Posts ...

If you’re visiting my blog for the first time, I invite you to scroll down and click on "older posts"; they go back to August 2007. I’ve recently edited and deleted some, but the posts I consider my best are still there. You’ll need to scroll and click a couple of times to access all of them.

Raise Your Glass ...

To all of us, to each of my readers, I wish a new year of happiness, compassion, justice, progress, material comfort, spiritual seeking, good health, understanding, love, and – above all – peace!

And now I’m joining Buddy, my piano, and we’re going to write a blues tune ... it'll be slow blues, the way we like it – nice!

Do You Like Horses?

A paragraph from the website of Equine Advocates at www.equineadvocates.com reads: "THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL. The US Senate failed America’s horses and the American people by not allowing S.1915 to come to the floor for a vote last year. If that had happened, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act would have taken effect this year and horse slaughter would have been banned." The same legislation was reintroduced in the Senate as S.311 the following January.

Do you like horses? I hope you do, so here is info regarding the plight of many American horses and how they can be helped. A couple or so years ago, citizens were successful in convincing Congress to outlaw American-run horse slaughtering plants and these terrible places were closed down. That’s good. Now, though, American horses are being shipped by truckload (under horrendous conditions) across US borders into Mexico and Canada, where they are slaughtered in torturous ways, to accommodate a foreign market that considers horsemeat a luxury. That's bad. There are organizations that rescue horses, but rescue alone cannot fix this greed-based situation. The federal legislation needed to stop the international horse shipments was approved in the House of Representatives during 2006, but the Senate refused to allow a vote in the Senate and so the bill was forced to just die without a vote. Now the legislation needs to be re-started ... in the House of Representatives and proceed again to the Senate. If you care about these intelligent and beautiful animals, please contact your federal congressmen and senators, asking them to honor the wishes of American people by supporting this legislation and giving it a favorable vote. The government websites at
www.senate.gov and www.house.gov list all US senators and congressman and their contact information. The bill numbers are H.R. 503 and S. 311 and the name of the bill is The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. There is very comprehensive background information at www.equineadvocates.com, the website of Equine Advocates; the organization’s address is P.O. Box 354, Chatham, NY 12037; telephone 518-245-1599.

I urge you to write your letters, send your e-mails, and/or make your phone calls now, as every day counts when it involves suffering that can be remedied by positive action.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Symphony --

On Thursdays, I usually take my dog, Dixie Lee, to one or the other of two parks in different parts of town. Yesterday was a balmy, overcast day here in east Tennessee. We drove across town, parked the truck, and leisurely strolled all the walkways of the park. I visited the little pine tree whose growth I monitor and cheer on (I’d placed pretty rocks around it to protect it when it was a small seedling). We acknowledged a blackened bull thistle that we’d photographed in late summer when it was in bloom. We retrieved an over-the-fence tennis ball for two cheerful men who were on the tennis court. After a while, we got to ‘the place’. ‘The place’ is the park bench swing, upon which I’d first sat six years ago and had a memorable conversation (while two groups of men, costumed in old-fashioned garb and armor, ran across the grass in a mock battle – I don’t know the name of this sport, but it has a name). Yesterday, the place was quiet, as it usually is, and very welcoming. I sat on the swing and Dixie walked around investigating this and that. I became so aware of the combination of immediate stillness and distant sounds and sights. It was mystical and musical.

Overhead, a single hawk circled and circled. Far off I could see yellow buses parked and waiting for kids to come out of the barely visible YMCA building. The swing was so relaxing; towering over it was a young oak tree, still holding onto its brown leaves, as oaks do. Also there were junipers. The wind swirled and occasionally whistled. It felt good and refreshing, as it was a warm wind. I could hear little broken parts of the voices of the two men on the distant tennis court ... the wind was carrying the sound in my direction. Dixie’s hair and ears rippled as she stood, face into the current, as if she fancied she was poised, in the wild. We were mesmerized, transfixed.

So we were startled but didn’t really mind when a couple of little raindrops that I chose to ignore suddenly were punctuated by sheets of rain being thrown about by howling wind. We ran and ran, as the elements escalated. It was an exciting jog back to the truck and we were both soaked ... but happy!

"Blues For Peace"

As a musical genre, Blues is the most sincere, uplifting, genuine, and soul-cleansing music that any genre could be. If you visit the warmly inspiring website you’ll find at www.bluesforpeace.com, there’s a downloadable blues tune called "Blues For Peace", so named for the effort being put forth by Eli Marcus and Johnny Mayer (both live in Israel). They’re working hard to promote peace, reminding us that people of all nations, all cultures, all paths, have their share of ‘the blues’... (and, therefore, need Blues), especially for the cause of ending war. One of the links on their website is called "Unsung Heroes", on which I was thrilled to read an article about me!

I recently wrote a song called "One Woman’s Blues"... it’s eclectic blues – because the character of the song requires an integrated format of minor and major keys; it’s a peace and activist song. I’ll be mailing a copy of it to Eli.

Two Books & One Deck ~

My most recently-acquired book is "10 Secrets For Success And Inner Peace" by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I bought it here in Knoxville at Carpe Librum, the independently-owned bookstore, where it is always fun to browse. If you are on a consciously-chosen life path (or would like to be), I think you will love and benefit from this book. This author is very sincere, wise, and committed to the principles of spiritual peace, strength, and transformation.

Also from Dr. Dyer, and purchased at the same time and place, is the deck I mention, entitled "The Power of Intention". It consists of 50 double-sided (very high quality) cards, each a tool to tap into the energy (I should type that with an upper-case "E" ... Energy) of which each of us is a part – particularly in terms of creating that which we want in life. I love these cards and it’s so easy to pick one up, read it, and reaffirm intent.

The other book I speak of is called "The Emperor Wears No Clothes"; it’s authored by Jack Herer. I came across this single copy of it huddled in a scrunchy corner of a shelf at Border’s about a year ago. It’s an 8 ½ x 11" book – a thoughtful book – full of documentation, photographs, and timetables tracing centuries of use of the cannabis plant and the process by which it was politically exploited, given a new name, demonized and criminalized in the US during relatively recent years, beginning in the late 1930s. The book is in its 11th edition. Mr. Herer’s website address is www.jackherer.com.

The History Channel, during 2007, aired a documentary on cannabis and the documentary’s content matches what is chronicled in the book.

Memory of a long-ago time comes to mind: When I was a child of about 7 or 8, my father and I were walking to the neighborhood store one day (our town was small at that time, with plenty of "wild" and open land). As we often did, we took a well-used shortcut that started at the end of the pavement of a dead-end street. It coursed down some hilly turf that wound through what’s called "red rock" in Connecticut, along with mixed types of soils that resembled smallish dunes, so formed by erosion. My father pointed to what must have been an acre or more of large, billowy plants (to me they looked like trees) along the sides of the dunes ... they were holding the way-faring dunes in place. He explained to me that all that greenery was cannabis. No one bothered it – it grew there every year, until developers’ bulldozers plowed up the land, to build houses and a connecting through-street.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fanciful Friends, A Baby Snake, Memoirs & CDs

Clara & Peppy –
I’ve just put up a picture of Clara and Peppy, who spend their days sitting on my bed, propped up against two satin-cased pillows, atop a cozy hot-pink quilt and black satin sheets. They seem to enjoy it, as do I each night, when I reclaim my sleeping quarters. Satin is the one luxury I indulge in. I found Clara hanging on a display hook in a Walgreen’s four or five years ago. She was one of a kind (at least at that store) and looked like a visual characterization of me ... same blonde-color braided hair ... same large, trusting (goofy-looking) eyes, long legs, and a maroon (my favorite color) velvet dress. Peppy came to me more recently, from Goodwill. Hard to believe, someone discarded him. I fell in love with him instantly. He looks peppy to me, hence his name. Don’t they look like best friends?

CDs & Memoirs Book –
A friend remarked to me that parts of my blog are "almost like a journal". Yes, it is akin to that in many ways. Writing has always come easily to me and is my purest form of communication and self-revelation. The completion of my memoirs book in May 2007 was very liberating -- it felt like I had just removed a heavy overcoat after wearing it all winter (the kind of coat that people wear every day throughout the winter in New England, where I'm originally from). Copies of "Memoirs & Musings of Clara Landau, the Lady Wolf" are available – just contact me via phone or e-mail. Likewise, my most recent CDs are also available (they are legacy editions).

The Story Of Snakey
(First, an aside): I bought Jerry an awesome book about snakes of the southeast US as one of his holiday gifts. We share a fascination with snakes. It’s safe for me to mention this gift here, as he never gets near a computer. Any number of times, he has brought little green snakes and garter snakes into the house (at my former suburban address), putting them on the table, bed, or floor and letting them glide and scamper around, before bringing them back outdoors. The former address has two acres of partially wooded land, replete with many snake species, and we knew those to stay away from. Snakes, of course, got a lot of biblical bad press, but they are as beautiful and divine as the rest of nature’s beings ... and an important part of the ecological tapestry.

Snakes are visibly missing here in the city (where there is, instead, a thriving rat population)! About a month ago, though, I was astonished and delighted to uncover a baby Brown Snake under a plant pot at the base of the huge, old maple tree in my backyard. The little snake acknowledged my presence and remained almost perfectly still. I carefully replaced its leaf cover and the plant pot barrier. Two days later, we found the snake (by now named "Snakey") at the side of the driveway. A predator had no doubt found, picked up and killed the little creature, traveled a few feet, and then dropped him/her. It was a sad ending for a snake brave enough to be born in the city (Brown Snakes are born live). Snakey is buried in my Indian Daisy Patch (see previous post about Indian Daisies).

And so, the mysteries of life go on and on.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Descent Into Winter's Night ...

A few weeks ago, I brought my houseplants back indoors, situating them wherever I could in my relatively small house until next Spring. (I say "small" because I'd lived in a large home for many years before moving to my current abode). This time of year is such a mixed bag of feelings for me. Yet, it is more nostalgic and introspective than any other time. There seems to be more clarity to my thoughts, matching in character the brilliantly colored trees and the more defined silhouettes of nature. This seems to be a time for plans to form and incubate ... maybe to put in a tickler file for January, as the holiday season will be fast upon us.

Whatever our religious persuasion (or not), the fervor and frenzy of holiday shopping will probably kick in, as usual, for most people. I guess for some, shopping can be sort of a magic pill -- both exciting and mind-numbing; maybe it can even be a temporary antidote for fear and/or future shock.

It strikes me oddly, though, to comprehend Santas, twinkling strings of lights, and merchandising all over the place, juxtaposed to reality: the tragedy and malevolence of the war, the impoverishing of many Americans who need a health care system, a dishonest and manipulative government, and our environment's burgeoning problems.

As I write this, I look out the window at a gray November sky, the prelude to nature's cloak of winter. I think about my hopes for peace, for honesty, for reason -- in our country and the world. I realize that the thing I feel most able to celebrate at this time, is the existence of hope. Hope can be ever-alive, even in the absence of optimism. In that spirit, my "dove of peace" tree ornament hangs (year-round) in my music room window.

May we all give each other the gift of peace. Where there is the ability to reason, there can be peace.

Peace to all creatures, all nations, all people.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Running For Prez ...

I was recently notified, by my musician pal Bluebarry (with whom I often discuss politics), that we have a new and highly-qualified 2008 presidential candidate! Imagine how thrilled I was to hear this news! The candidate is smart, talented, good-looking, a great statesman and communicator, and ... most important of all ... very honest. No, I'm not talking about Bluebarry (although he's very nice).

I'm talking about his dog, Mickey (Bluebarry lovingly nicknamed him Stinkbomb). Mickey invited my dog, Dixie Lee, to be his running mate and future VP. Of course, upon learning about this, I realized that Dixie would greatly prefer the top slot -- and she is beautifully qualified. But Mickey did throw his hat in the ring first. Anyway, I hereby announce the candidacy of this dynamic, awesome team -- Mickey Faust and Dixie Lee Landau!

New Songs!

It's always an emotional and exciting time for me when I write a new song. Each of my originals (there are dozens) is a part of me; they are like children. I think of the oldest ones as adults, some of the others as teens, some as kids, and the newest ones as toddlers and infants. A couple of months ago, I wrote a song which is, essentially, about me; it is named Is She Calling You and is a fusion of jazz and latin. All of my songs have either bits or lots of my bio or fantasy in them -- but this is the first song that directly refers to me. One of the customers at Catino's, where Bill and I gave the song its debut, likened it to the Santana sound. I have a recording of it available.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Come To The Sea

The Italian folk song, Come To The Sea, has been very much on my mind in recent days and weeks. It’s a delightful melody and is on page 36 of the sequential music book I use for my beginning piano students.

The lure of the sea is something I grapple with on a rather consistent basis. I mean, I grew up in a Connecticut town where the beach was 30 minutes away from my house; for the past 20 years I’ve lived in land-locked Knoxville, Tennessee.

I had last driven to the South Carolina coast in August of 2002. I was traveling alone, so it was a majorly grueling drive, with two brief gasoline and restroom stops, and dining on bottled water, bananas, and crackers while behind the wheel. It felt like a magnet was drawing me along the road. Still, it took almost nine hours to get to my hotel destination at Surfside Beach. When the ocean came into view, I was ecstatic, even though exhausted.

This time, I had reserved a house (on the beach) back in June. This past week, all arrangements carefully having been made, I made the trip again. During this trip I was accompanied by Jerry and my dog Dixie. Poor Lance (my truck...please see earlier posts) had to stay home, as he’s now quite elderly and it wouldn’t have been wise to put him to that test again, so I rented an SUV. It was a 2007 Chrysler Aspen (very nice). I did all the driving, while Jerry helped with the navigating and road sign alerts; also, he paid for the gasoline, which was a big help. Dixie lounged in the back seat, tethered with her car restraint harness, but very comfortable for the most part. This time there were three brief stops and then a bit of confusion toward the end of the journey, due to some unnecessary route numbers that had been inserted by both Mapquest and Yahoo computer maps (on the way back home, I just followed the traditional paper map and there was no confusion).

Eventually, when my last nerve felt about to be shredded, there it was: the vista of the ocean and my beach house!

Someone once told me that he was terrified of the sea because it is so "hungry". There is no argument that the sea is relentless. I think that’s what I admire most about it. It is so purposeful. That steady roar of the surf is music to my ears – at once, lilting ... and fearsome. I well understand the emotion behind stories told and written about the sea, over the centuries. The sea encompasses every possible mood from blissful little ripples as the smaller waves break on the beach during low tide ... to the absolute fury of the incoming tide. At all moments, it is full of power, wonderful ions, mystery, and the secrets of life.

I had wondered how Dixie would behave in an unfamiliar house and with the constant sound of waves rolling in, particularly after such a long car ride. I’d wondered if she would panic at the sight of the ocean. She is a remarkably intelligent dog (as a visit to my website will reveal to you) and she adapted very well from moment one. She accompanied me into the water, though rather gingerly. She was especially interested in the sensation one feels when an incoming wave comes onto the sand and then recedes, pulling the sand out from under human or animal’s feet. It didn’t seem to unsettle her as much as it intrigued her.

The ocean did weave its spell on me again, wrapping me fully in its cloak of energy and reaffirmation. Its music still plays in my head. Now, back at home, my piano echoes the sentiment: Come to the sea. Come to the sea.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Footnote To My Prison Concert --

The day before yesterday, I received a copy of the prison's quarterly publication, "Scenic Outlook". I read it cover-to-cover. At the very front of it is a full-page article about my May 19th concert there (please read my earlier post about the concert). The last paragraph of the article touched me in an exquisitely poignant way; it said "The men of NECX cannot express enough our gratitude for the wonderful evening brought to us by Ms. Landau. We want her to know that .. for all the days or years we might spend in prision, her gift to us was one hour of one day that we were free". I hope to return there in the spring to perform again.

Indian Daisies --

That's what I call them ... I don't know why. They are "Tall or Giant Sunflowers" (helianthus giganteus) officially. I'll put a picture of them up for you to see. I have a group of them that I transplanted from my former residence (I got the originals from my friend, Janna ... see "Friends" post). They are the happiest-looking flowers -- perennials, and very, very tall!

True Friends --

The post I just finished writing (about the little dog) makes me realize the very real bond we can feel with certain people. Speaking from my own perspective, some of those people will probably never re-enter my life, but they leave a definite imprint on my spirit.

Friendships begin in a variety of ways. When I was a child, there were circumstances that got in the way of my having any really close friends. When I was in high school, there were several really genuine friends, of both genders. I think back about them sometimes and wish I could be with them one more time. One passed away several years ago from lung cancer ... she'd begun smoking at age 14. Another was/is a fascinating lady who immigrated to the US from Italy with her family. She was a couple of years older than me, spoke with a rich and beautiful accent, and showed me her father's wine cellar (from which we sampled, but minimally)! She talked to me about staying in school when everything in my life and my family was falling apart. I occasionally think about each of the two boys who were friends and wanted to be more ... and wish I could somehow tell them, over the span of miles and years, how much they graced my life, especially at a time when it was sorely needed.

My previous post mentions the wonderful lady who helped me rescue the little dog I named Janna. Let's call them Little Janna (the dog) and Big Janna (the human), although Big Janna is really not "big", but she is very big-hearted. I've known her since 1988.

Some friends come into our lives for just a while; some stay. The saying "for a reason, a season, or a lifetime" is relevant. One of my bandmates was a true friend and a kindred soul, who I truly miss; he passed away a year ago. I have other true friends -- both men and women -- who I dearly love, and each brings unique rays into my life.

Recently, I had a valuable (but painful) experience that resulted from an acquaintance via my role as piano teacher, who urgently requested my help with a writing project, promising to "not cheat" me, and proclaiming that I am his "most trusted friend", though this was a surprise to me. Well, being a semi-pushover for flattery of this kind, I agreed to help and I put in an earnest 35 or so hours of my best work, along with a bunch of expenses for printer ink, Kodak photo paper, regular paper, photocopying, etc. (I also did the photography and graphic design). It was a very beautiful piece of work. He loved it! He loved it for three weeks. Until a month rolled by and I reminded him about compensating me. You guessed it -- he suddenly didn't like it and didn't want "to get into it" anymore. So I've included one negative sampling of the word "friend".

But, back to the positive! Genuine friends are like precious gems. I treasure my friends.

Helping Animals --

For most of my adult life I’ve been involved in causes that advance the humane treatment of animals. My introduction to the very existence of such causes was some graphic film footage I happened to see on television sometime in the early 1970s; it was about whitecoat baby seals. It really jolted me and opened up my heart to the needs and sufferings of other beings. So letter-writing, sign-carrying, radio PSAs, whatever, became a part of my life’s activity. During the 1990s, I edited and published Janna Publications (named for a little rescued dog and the brand-new friend who helped with the rescue). It was a newsletter, sprinkled with my hand-drawn illustrations and articles about various animal-related issues. I still have a box of the back issues, if anyone would like any of them. Most of the items covered are relevant today.

For ten years (October of 1993 to early 2004), I promoted, booked, and presented a humane education program that I had scripted. I traveled to classrooms in all of the schools in Knox and contiguous counties, all grade levels. I also went to the various locations of the Boys & Girls Clubs and Park & Recreation sites, presenting the program on behalf of an area non-profit organization. Kids and teachers were enthusiastic about it. Soon I was also speaking at adult civic organizations, responding to calls of college students who had chosen an animal topic for a paper and were requesting my help and to several requests for pet bereavement counseling. Many aspects of the work were gut-wrenching, but, overall, the work was very meaningful and fulfilling and I was able to pour a lot of passion into it. I have boxes of letters, posters, drawings, and cards from kids, teachers, and scout leaders, that were sent to me over the years.

This past week, I was reminded of how much of that identity remains with me. On Saturday, Jerry rushed into the house during his lunch break and excitedly told me he had an emergency that needed my help. I went outside and, there in the back of his pickup truck, was a dog – a chihuahua – unconscious. He explained how he’d seen a driver in a maroon Mercedes hit the dog about three blocks away. The driver did not stop. Jerry had looked and noticed that, although the dog's eyes were closed and she at first appeared to not be alive, she was breathing so he stopped and held up traffic in both directions while he picked her up and put her in his truck. She looked pitiful, bleeding from one ear and eye and with several injured spots on her head. She was either pregnant or had given birth; she had no collar or ID. I gave Jerry some towels to put around her and then rushed into the house and telephoned the nearest vet’s office. I was matter-of-factly told that they were about to close and I’d need to call an emergency clinic. I repeated my request for help and was told to "hold on", which I did until another country song played and I realized no one was returning to the phone. The emergency clinic took my information, recited their initial charges, and said they’d be expecting me. When I went back outside, all of a sudden the little dog regained consciousness and began frantically running around the back of the truck trying to jump out, not letting us get near her (she was terrified, growling, and definitely ready to administer a bite or two). We tossed a padded quilt over her and Jerry carefully wrapped her in it so he could transfer her to the back of my truck, which has a closed back. I adjusted the tailgate so she would have ventilation and then I called City Animal Control. I was thankful for having been put on that rude, eternal hold by the vet’s office because, if I’d put her on the front seat of my truck and started driving to the emergency clinic as I’d planned, she would have regained consciousness beside me in the truck. Jerry left to go back to work and an AC officer soon came. As gently as she could under the circumstances, she manuevered the little dog into a cage in her truck and told me she would drive by the area where I’d told her the dog had been hit, to see if the owner could be located, since veterinary care was needed. Beyond that, of course, the dog was bound for the animal shelter, an evaluation, and possible vet care. I did suspect that there was internal injury and bleeding so she may have had to be euthanized.

The circumstances reminded me of the portion of my humane education program where I’d tell kids and adults that animal control officers have "a very hard job". A very hard job, indeed. This particular lady remarked that this was her "second one today who has been hit" (by a vehicle).

Also remembered were the things I used to say about animals being abandoned and left to the fates, without any ID or means of obtaining food or protecting themselves from traffic, the elements, larger animals, and even some mean person. The little dog has reaffirmed that part of my identify that I carried proudly during the years I passionately delivered my program, as humane education director.


Please contact me if you would like any of my Janna Publications back issues. I also have a limited quantity of other pro-animal literature.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Vehicles & Their People

While the topic is sort of mundane, an amusing and interesting thread began in my mind yesterday as my truck and I visited the final service facility for his scheduled maintenance.

"Lance" is my truck and he is a ‘91 Chevy S-10 model. We’d done the oil change and lube at Precision Tune, the tire rotation at Firestone, had replaced some miscellaneous blown out light bulbs ourselves, and were now at Pep Boys to get the transmission fluid exchanged, the windshield wipers replaced, and two additional bulbs inserted (that can only be inserted when the truck is on a lift). I stand in line with the other customers. Just ahead of me, a woman, perhaps around age 40, says to the service manager "It still stops, but it takes a while ... it’s kind of scary". (!) I cringe, inwardly; I mean it’s more than just "kind of scary"... imagine being on the same road with her and her vehicle as they "take a while" to stop.

Fortunately there is a jovial elderly gentleman, all smiles, and he brightens the vibe in the room as the line moves forward. I have reached the desk and sign in, handing over Lance’s keys, and then advancing into the waiting room. It isn't too bad ("bad" defined as "noisy" and/or crowded); the television is at an acceptable volume. Through the prattle of a re-run of The Price Is Right, I make several phone calls to try and get a ride to avoid sitting there for the two hour wait.


Whenever I find myself in a waiting room, I am conscious of the different types and combinations of people who are also there. I’ve noticed I deliberately take mental notes ever since one of my psychology class assignments (years ago), which required me to visit a hospital ER waiting room for a period of hours and observe the interactions and probable relationships between prospective patients and accompanying friends and relatives -- as well the mannerisms of people who were there alone. A lively, elderly lady in denim capri pants is talkative, hard-of-hearing, and constantly scurries back and forth between the waiting room and the work area. Her companion is matronly-looking and quiet, as she stays put in her chair. Then, in come three men, two of whom are together, dressed in denim jeans and white tee shirts; they sit and just play with their cell phones. The third man is dressed in a suit and tie and is obviously on a work break, marking the time he has to wait, rather tensely. My cell phone rings ... one of my phone messages has been retrieved and a ride is on its way to pick me up.

It occurs to me, as it has in the past, how attached (as well as dependent) we tend to get regarding our vehicles. I talk to Lance every time I drive somewhere and I often give him an affectionate pat on the right side of his steering column – a gesture I liken to stroking a horse on the side of his neck. Well, Lance and I have been together for eleven years!

There is no moral to this story except that maybe it makes sense to keep one’s vehicle road-worthy instead of feeding the car manufacturers and credit companies (and subscribing to the corporate plan that churns out a gazillion new cars every year). Lance agrees!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Late Summer Jewels

Dazzling beauties (eye-candy in flight) are the monarch butterflies, the small, very vocal yellow warblers, and the tiny hummingbirds. They seem undaunted by the heatwave we've been locked into and are fluttering, flapping, and zipping among my porch and garden flowers. Every now and then they gather around the birdbath. Watering my plants is a daily task, with rain in such a deficit.

As September nears and the summer cycle moves toward closure, I try to commit to memory the poetic sights, sounds, and smells of this late-summer week. I look at my flowers and trees and realize what a strenuous effort is required of them to grow, blossom, and produce seeds. The essence of life really is marvellous!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

special song

A few weeks ago, Bill and I played an outdoor gig and were about 1-1/2 hours into the gig, playing one of our favorite cover songs, The Sky Is Crying. As I sang the last portion of the song, I felt the first shy raindrop land on my arm. It can't be, I thought. Steadily the little dance of timid raindrops became more persistent. We finished the song and hastily disconnected the keyboard, guitars, and amps... and ran with them toward our vehicles. The sky did cry for about 20 minutes and the gig ended early. We had a rare chance to sit inside the restaurant, eat veggie pizza, and talk about whatever ... the poignant and the mundane. Eventually, we reminisced about our mutual friend and former bandmate, Philip (who passed away early last September) and Bill asked me if Philip and I had ever co-written a song, to which I replied, "we probably would have if we hadn't run out of time". I remembered a day back in 2002 when Philip came to my home and gave me a lead sheet of a song he'd written, saying he would love for me to sing it. We didn't know each other well at that time. He'd written a great lyric and a beautifully haunting minor-key theme for the blocks of the song. I worked some with the song and asked him if he'd be OK with my re-doing the bridge to make it stronger and more complementary to the theme, and to make it work for me and the way I'd sing it. He agreed to think about it but the subject didn't come up again and time marched on.

The day after the recent rained-out gig, I frantically searched through boxes of music and lead sheets in my basement. Finally, I found the yellowed, crinkled-up lead sheet. I sat with Buddy, my piano, re-acquainted myself with the song's theme, re-did the bridge and created an intro that I think Philip would be thrilled with and an ending that spins a major-key tilt on the song's minor-key theme. The first several times I sang the arrangement with Buddy, tears welled up in my eyes and I felt overcome with emotion. I felt very close to Philip -- or maybe he was really there, beside me. I will debut the song at my next gig. Philip and I have co-written a song! I Could Really Fall For You is a beauty.

Ironweeds ...

They are not weeds, folks ... they are exquisite wildflowers, found in parks, along some roadsides, on the edge of forests, occasionally in backyards, and in the gardens of herbalists and wildflower fanciers. They are the majestic crayola purple-flowered ironweeds, with flower clusters stuck on the ends of multi four to eight-foot sturdy stalks, bursting into bloom here in east Tennessee right now. Back in Connecticut (where I'm originally from), they flower in September and are often hit by frost before or while completing their cycle and going to seed. They are perennials, though, and will return season after season if not disturbed. It's not easy to get them to grow from seed and they need to be handled with care when being transplanted. Their tough stalks remain well into the next season and I break them off to use as tomato stakes in the Spring. I love these plants. My purple ironweed grows to a height of ten or more feet each year and waves at me through my music room window. I thought it would be nice to put its picture here to be enjoyed.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

My Prison Concert

My long-awaited prison concert date was on May 19th. Nestled in the northeastern-most corner of Tennessee, about three hours drive from home, was my destination -- a maximum-security prison, housing some 1,000+ inmates. I'd begun inquiring in June of 2006 about performing in east Tennessee prisons, starting my quest with headquarters in Nashville, then contacting the individual facilities. The Mountain City complex is the only one that responded favorably; in fact, one of the locations didn't respond at all. One day in August, 2006, a letter arrived at my home from the NECX chaplain, asking for a demo of my music and for more information about me. A few weeks after I mailed him a CD, he contacted me again and said that he doesn't have a CD player because CDs aren't allowed in the facillity (because they could be broken to be used as weapons); he said that he can play cassette tapes on a tape player he borrows from one of the inmates. I recorded the contents of the CD onto a cassette and sent it to him. He was enthused and said he'd be letting me know soon if he can let me in. When I didn't hear further for several months, I called him, figuring the concept had been tabled, but, instead, was told that he had been out following a heart attack. After he returned to work, he e-mailed me requesting a formal letter of intent, including what I planned to say to the audience in-between songs, and telling me, in detail, about security procedures to expect. Shortly after I sent him the requested letter, he called me with the news that I had clearance for a concert date. I was elated!

Why did this mean so much to me? Several of the people I'd told about my mission asked me why I'd want to do such a thing; actually a few of them sort of rolled their eyes up toward their foreheads and in toward their noses. I could reply (and did) that I've volunteered on behalf of every other demographic group ... children, animals, elderly ... and didn't want to overlook this shunned and largely forgotten part of humanity -- and that is very true. While writing my life memoirs, though, over a period of about six months this past year (a majorly liberating endeavor for me), a profound realization worked its way to the surface of my mind ... and I knew it was time to acknowledge it, shine light on it. If any of you do read my memoirs, you'll find parts that will astonish, amaze, and amuse and you will also find a shocking section about my brother, my only sibling. To condense the topic at hand to a few sentences here, he was very abusive to my mother, father, and me from the time he was 13 or so up until his death at age 40, when he was violently murdered in California by a 19-year old man who had met him only one time. A spiritual though non-religious person, I had prayed almost every night during the previous two or three years for "my brother to be taken" so that my family could know some peace. I guess I figured his lifestyle might produce a fatal illness, accident, or heart attack. I've always sensed that the young man factored into the picture, somehow, as a result of my heavenward beseechings. In a very real sense, my relief became his burden. He went to prison, of course. I could have avoided telling all of this and just said that my motives exist out of compassion for the men in prisons, who committed a horrific crime during their raging testosterone years (teens, 20s) and while under the influence of drugs -- and who are truly sorry -- and that they need to feel some personal worth while serving their sentences, particularly if they will someday be released into society. But I wanted to honestly and completely answer the question of why my prison ministry of song matters so much to me and has been such a personal quest.

The day of the concert arrived! I'd had my '91 truck checked out and serviced, readied its interior for a vehicle-search, and loaded it up with maps, route numbers, bottled water, some personal items, and my music gear. My concert was the first of its kind (non-religious, although I did include one of my inspirational originals that has a rousing interactive chorus). At the facility, the security personnel were very considerate and kind to me. After my equipment and I had been processed, three inmates set up every last detail of my music gear, even a little side table for me to use for my bottle of water and lead sheets, and a small rug for my pedal. They manned the excellent sound system which had been donated by a church. They were experts, the best soundmen I've ever worked with.

A young man of 23, serving a life sentence for the murder he'd committed at age 16, asked if he could try my keyboard. He played beautiful passages of various and intermingling genres and was a great show opener. More than 300 inmates who "had freedom of movement within the compound" flowed into the room. Some of them came up to me and told me where they were from and bits of information about themselves. I looked around the room at the mostly young men in their uniforms of denim blue with a leg stripe, a scene I'd imagined many times during the days leading up to the concert. I did 13 songs for them .. blues, jazz, rock, latinesque, shuffle, inspirational, ballad ... and more blues; the songs were mostly my originals, but I included three beloved and rhythmic cover songs. Hands clapped and feet stomped, smiles were everywhere, voices chorused at appropriate times. For some of the songs, inmates volunteered to come up front and play the maraca and tambourine I'd brought. In-between songs I chatted much like I do with general audiences; they clung to every word. I concluded the show with a little walking-bass blues song I wrote that says "Time for me to leave now, as much as I'd like to stay" ... they roared with laughter. The applause thundered and still plays in my mind. When they shouted "encore", the chaplain sidled up to the mic and in his matter-of-fact, fatherly way thanked them for coming and asked them to return to their cells. Many of them lined up to shake my hand and then they disappeared through the doorways and the huge room was empty except for the chaplain and me. He escorted my equipment and me back through the series of security chambers and out into the night.

The evening was an epiphany for me, one of several in my life, but most definitely the most powerful and spiritual.

My Political Opine

I recently completed the reading of Al Gore's book "The Assault On Reason". It provides documented answers and explanations regarding the convoluted, blatant, secretive, and corrupt agendas in the Cheney/Bush White House. I personally wish Al Gore would become a 2008 presidential candidate, although I understand how the 2000 debacle had to have affected him; I know how it affected my trust in our electoral system.

If we ever again have honorable leaders in the White House, their tasks, in terms of fixing what has been damaged or shattered or neglected or mismanaged (the scope of which is mind-boggling), will require a complete turn on most issues. It will take majorly strenuous effort and honest, non-partisan cooperation.

Additionally, there is a hurting need for a national health-care plan. I and many others are uninsured. I work "deals" with doctors when I can -- either barter (usually one or two of my CDs) or plain-out asking for discounts and freebies. There is a musicians' organization called Rock A Mole Productions that has been petitioning for health coverage for all Americans....they have a film called "Everybody In, Nobody Out". Anyway, I digress.

We need to get religion out of the presidency and run the country using reason and real ethics. It was a portent of things to come when the president declared, several years ago, that he was God's chosen one. Nobody has God in his hip pocket and nobody should.


Just A Walk In The Park ...

"Just A Walk In The Park"... You’ve probably heard that phrase many times, meaning something is so very easy to do or handle (at least, I think that’s what it means). As smart as at times I've been reputed to be, and in spite of the wide span of concepts that come to me by whatever means, I never would have thought of simply walking in the park had I not been invited to accompany someone very intriguing on such a walk one day six years ago. The magic of that experience led me to later walk by myself in the park, taking in the natural energies, looking at the naturescape, and feeling at one with it; it is a process that has evolved in me since. One day last autumn, one of my best songs, a 12-bar blues, flew into my head as I walked there; that day was overcast, as the wind was swirling leaves around on the ground.

Well, today I went for a walk in the park. The sky was azure blue, as East Tennessee swelters through yet another heat-stroke day with no rain in sight. Once a week I take my dog to the park so she can enjoy seeing the rabbits and squirrels, but what I’m talking about in this post is the kind of "walk" I do there alone when I feel the need. Almost always, I am doing what I would call a walking meditation, which is sometimes a spoken prayer (I address the power on high as "Universal Spirit" and think of it as a giant sphere of male-female benevolent energy), and often an outright supplication. If you were a little bird perched on my shoulder on some of these occasions, you’d hear me saying something like "please help me do a flawless performance at tonight’s gig" (honestly, I say things like that), or "I would greatly appreciate your help with ... (handling a person, situation ...)".


Today I felt drawn there to do a walking/talking meditation that didn’t ask for anything. I felt so unfettered. I found myself saying "thank you" and "I appreciate" as each entity and element in my life came to the foreground of my mind, whether mundane, creative, personal, natural, musical, or spiritual; it felt very refreshing to do this. High on my list is "the breath of life", probably all the more precious to a person who, at times, struggles with asthma, and who also happens to be a singer!

Anyway, I think what I’m saying is that a walk in the park can be much more than what the phrase "a walk in the park" implies. It was blissful.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Introductory post...

Did you ever do something you didn't quite expect to do and then find it was exactly what you needed to do? I amazed myself this past week ... and set up this blog for myself.

Please stay tuned! I will do my next posting early next week. One of the things I will tell about is my recent prison concert. I'll probably also give a thought-stream about late-summer and whatever else I think will be worthwhile reading. My articles are/will be copyrighted to me.

I'm a singer, songwriter, keyboardist w/bass, piano teacher (adult students) and holistic health counselor (music, color and more). Also, I'm a nature-lover, astrologer, physical exerciser, part-time activist, humane educator, and promoter of peace through understanding.

I hope to hear from you.