Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jack of all Trades

I can do a lot of things well.  I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it’s true.  I’ve placed in the top 25% in 5k’s and my only marathon.  I’ve won the C division of a local bike club race series.  I can pick up most instruments and make them sound passable; my guitar playing and singing are good enough that I can lead music without worry.  I placed in the top 15% of math teachers in math aptitude on a national test.  I’m a solid carpenter and theatrical lighting designer.  I’m confident that I can develop passable ability in nearly any challenge put before me.  Thank God for all that.

There’s a challenge for me, however.  I really like learning to proficiency (as you can see from my laundry list above), but I find it very difficult to learn to mastery.  It’s not that I don’t think I can do it (or so I claim), it’s that I find hard to be one thing.  Maybe it’s my ADD talking (ooh, shiny!), maybe it’s my perfectionist nature (why work harder if I can’t be perfect?), or maybe I’m just not able to be great at any one thing. 

Maybe, however, I’m just blessed and cursed with the ability to see the big picture, to want to know how a forest works when to be an ‘expert’, I’d need to study the trees and cells.  I miss out on the details.  I hear a piece of music and I love it; I see the whole of it and don’t know how to break it into parts to reproduce it.

I want to make music, but I can’t arrange the whole thing by myself.  With me, for whatever reason, the piece has to create itself organically – with all the parts in place from the beginning.  There’s an earthiness that comes with music created from the ground up as one piece of music that is lacking when it’s built one part at a time.  This can be stifling for the solo musician with little money to pay a band (me!).

The beauty and pain that comes with this points to another universal truth: we need other people.  Just as music thrives in collaboration, any community thrives when each member contributes equally to the spirit of the group and stagnates when a sub-set of members set the principles to the exclusion and devaluation of others.

It’s not possible for me to know and individually value every human on earth.  I just don’t have the time.  I don’t have the time to learn every instrument, understand each mathematical property and topic, train to peak performance for running and cycling, and hone my (somewhat lacking) finish carpentry skills.  I can, however, be an expert at one thing (even if that’s an expert at the big picture), surrounding myself with experts in other areas. 

You see, together we can be all things and one thing simultaneously.  Bono can’t play guitar like The Edge, but he doesn’t have to.  I can involve myself in one of a global network of intertwined communities,  spanning from me to a little boy in Uganda, trying to escape the LRA.  I may not know him, but we’re connected.  If we do this right, the world would look like a very different place.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What do you do when you write a song you don’t necessarily agree with?

You see, the problem I’m wrestling with is whether or not forgiveness and anger can coexist.

This morning, I ran across the facebook of a former…enemy?  The kid I got into a fight with nearly every gym class in the 6th grade.  He’s the kid who made it a point to make me look foolish and enjoyed it.  It still makes me angry to think of those times, though I haven’t thought of it in years.  The funny thing is, as I run across these people on facebook, I know they aren’t the people they were.  Even with just the profile picture of happy kids and a happy dad or an interest in a dance ministry, it’s clear the object of my anger no longer exists.

On the way to work today, I started writing what might have ended up a punk anthem:
I am gonna forgive but not forget
‘Cause I’m not gonna put up with your [take breath]
But I’m not gonna go down with the ship tonight
I can’t … not care what you say
But I’m still gonna live my life my way…

But as I process through all this, I wonder if it’s even possible to write an angry song about forgiveness and still be honest.  Is it forgiveness if you harbor anger, even against someone who no longer exists?  And is that the kind of message I want to define myself into? 

My son recently decided to come home from school.  He had made a friend in the few weeks he was attending, and we found that his friend attends a local church.  I decided to drop him off at the Sunday school so they could have some time to hang out.  My three-year-old daughter and I were going to have a ‘date’, but she also decided she wanted to try the Sunday school; I was stuck with what to do.  You see, the pastor of this church is the guy who scouted my praise band for members of his ‘new and exciting’ church praise band.  He’s the one who (reportedly) took people from our church after refusing an offer of help, saying ‘it’s not my fault I can do it better than you’. 

I confess I have anger.

I sat through the last of the music (it was quite good, as expected), and watched a slick video clip welcoming everyone to church.  The lights came up on the pastor, who started with a story from his time in “Juvie” and proceeded to loudly and emphatically talk about how God wants you to ‘win’ at life.  It was a bit Olsteen mega-church for me; I was glad I was in the VERY back, all by myself.  But when he started talking about how he’s not perfect and about peace and forgiving others, but that you still need to have boundaries so people can’t hurt you again, I realized that Truth speaks even through ‘enemies’.  This guy was talking to me about himself, and he didn’t know it.

Back to my punk anthem. 

Is it fair to judge people on their past?  Is it really even worth it to let that anger live rent free?  Can I really have forgiven someone if I still get angry about what I ‘forgave’ them about? 

I deleted the song from my list of possibilities.  I don’t want to feed that wolf.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why the name change?

Welcome back! It's been a ridiculously long time since I last blogged, and for that I apologize.

You may have noticed I’ve changed the name of my blog. I’m toying with the idea of using a ‘stage name’ for my music; I’m trying some stuff out. One idea I’ve had is the current (perhaps temporary) title of this blog: Patchwork Veracity.

It seems, at least at this stage of the game, that my lyrics are consistently returning to the search for truth. As I’ve grown and learned, I’ve come to believe that complete truth is less often found from a single source than from a number of sources that all bring a unique perspective. When you find a way to collect all those parts of the truth, that brings the most complete understanding of what is really going on.

Before you stone me, I’m not trying to say everything is true. That’s part of the difficulty in determining reality – some sources are plain wrong. The thing is, a completely erroneous source is uncommon. Erroneous sources are pretty much universal, but usually each source has a nugget of truth that can only be uncovered when compared to other partially erroneous sources. At best, you’ve got trustworthy sources that each give part of the story. At worst you’ve got a big pile of horse dung to sift through before you find what you’re looking for. The whole truth is often a patchwork of different true thoughts painstakingly gleaned from imperfect sources and sewn together to form a greater truth.

Biblically, this still applies. To look at Psalm 145:9 or Jeremiah 13:14 separately, you get very different views of God. But neither is the completion of what might be termed the ‘holistic’ truth. BTW, I’m still working on that one…

Ok, but why the word ‘Veracity’? It’s a pretty well known ‘big’ word that’s usually used to mean ‘honesty’ or ‘truth’: “the veracity of the witnesses”, but just like the holistic truth I spoke of above, the word has deeper meanings when you look for them: “devotion to the truth” is one really good definition I’ve found. The synonyms are even more powerful: integrity, truthfulness, accuracy, reliability, genuineness, authenticity, legitimacy, exactness, validity. Each synonym contributes a little to the meaning and the end result is a very powerful and deeply meaningful word. I love the word veracity.

So, ‘Patchwork Veracity’ is simply my current best attempt at describing how it is I see the world and how I go about in it. What comes out in the form of music, blog, or otherwise is always going to be a reflection of how I think. Welcome to the insanity.

I’ll be all blogger and ask a question: What are your thoughts on truth and the new blog title?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In the epic battle between me, the chainsaw, and the fallen (oak) tree, the best I can call it is a three-way draw.

Yeah, it's a long title, but the story's worth it (at least I think).  24 hours ago I had this great thought that I'd just describe each scene and let your imagination fill in the gaps.  That was 24 hours and a friend's FB note using the exact same device ago.  blargh.

Now that Babble McBabblepants is satisfied, I'll proceed.

I've been trying to sell a piece of land that we (Missy and I) own for the last three years.  It's a novel, more or less, but suffice it to say it hasn't sold.  Bummer.  Then about two weeks ago some strong storms blew a tree over the entrance to the property.  Nothing like "sorry, you can't see the property due to a massive wooden blockade" to encourage a sale, so I asked around and borrowed a chainsaw from a local friend.  So far so good.

So Monday night I decide I'm going to take the time freed by the end of Jonah's swimming lessons and the forcible ousting from our home by Missy's acting class to deal with 'the situation'.  Well, the situation started to deal with me.

We arrived around 6:15 and I give the kids their ground rules (no death, blood, or wandering about) and proceed to start the chainsaw.  I figured, I'd give it a few good yanks (choke, who needs choke?) and I'd be on my merry limb-chopping way.  I figured I'd rip through the branches in no time and we'd celebrate my victory with copious amounts of iced confection.  Problem #1: by 'finicky', the owners of this nearly-new chainsaw actually meant 'doesn't start'.  I'm sweating profusely ("Daddy, there's water dripping on my head!") and there's not so much as a cough from this fine 18" destroyer of trees.  Cue the 3 year-old birthday girl, "I need to go to the potty!"

In case you haven't noticed, I'm male.  I pee in the woods.  I don't find it difficult.  My little princess, however, found this concept rather distasteful.  She promised she'd let me know when she REALLY had to go and I continued with my divinely ordained mission (yanking uselessly on the starter rope).

Cue the neighbors.  Now, don't get me wrong - the neighbors are nice people.  They are just a combination of the neighborhood watch and the mob.  I'm pretty sure one guy might be the godfather.  I don't think a squirrel pees on this road without him knowing about it.  So here I am, yanking to the point of blistering and sweating like a faucet, and he's watching from the top of the hill.  He makes small talk, I return it, he calmly walks back to his house and leaves me to my punishment for not selling this land when I had the chance (with the house I sold to his daughter).

I continue yanking.

Have I mentioned that I've never used a chainsaw before.  Ever.

Jonah (my 6 year old son) comes running down the hill (He and Maeryn had been playing in the car), yelling that Maeryn is naked.  Perfect.  Not only has she has an accident while playing in the car, she has now removed her soiled garments and is parading about the inside of the car in nothing but her shirt.  I redress her and continue yanking.

If this seems like a lot of yanking, you're right.  It was a long time.  A. Very. Long. Time.  Then somehow, magically, between multiple trips up the hill to make sure my children were neither driving off with my car nor setting up a internationally smuggling ring, a single sputter.  I must admit that this sound was like the cannons firing at the end of the 1812 overture.  Brilliance.  A minute or two later, I had this gleaming machine ready to destroy the villainous monster that lay bared before me.  I was armed.  I was ready.  I pulled the throttle all the way open and lay the spinning chain to the exposed flesh of the wooden monster.  Instant chainsaw death.   Restart.  1/4". Death.  Repeat.  Problem #2.

As I repeat this religious process, I begin to notice that the chainsaw is gaining strength with each restart.  Soon I don't need to restart the engine; I'm making it an entire 1/2" before I have to disengage.  I begin to smell the saw dust, the odor of a soon-to-be defeated enemy.  Oak.  Crap.  I've worked with oak before and I know it's a tough little bugger.  After about 6 more days, I've made it through my first branch.  I say branch because it's only about 8" thick.  The trunk is more like 20", but I've got momentum on my side.

With each passing minute, my confidence and the chainsaw's power grows.  I'm a cutting machine.  I'm a lumberjack, a real american hero, a... crack!...  and the log of which only a moment ago I was conquerer has turned the tide.  My saw is jammed inside a nearly cut log and will not come out.  More sweating ensues.  Levers with children on them, with me on them, with me and the children on them, with children falling off them (and much crying and begging to calm down so as to not bring social services).  Finally I approach a neighbor calmly smoking a cigarette and ask for an axe.

The axe does it's work and as I was standing on top of the log as it finally split, I feel like a conquerer again.  Right up until I burn my hand on the muffler and have to ask for help in getting the chain back on.

I continue my quest, slicing and heaving as darkness settles.  I'm only trying to get a path cut so hoards of potential buys might flow like water onto the fertile fields of my property and offer me uncut diamonds for the use of it.  I complete my quest and begin the final walk through of this glorious, not even close to straight but completely navigable path, trimming a few stray branches here and there and tossing small branches to the side as if preparing the way for Christ.  At a narrow spot, I decide my last act of vengeance will be to widen the path with the shortening of one jagged outcropping.   About 3 inches in, the saw sputters and dies.  Restart.  dies again.  out. of. gas.

This must be where I decided good enough was good enough and I packed up.  Kids in the car (no, we cannot bring the neighbor's toys home with us), no really, kids in the car (Maeryn, please go get the tricycle from the middle of the road.  The one in the middle of the road.  That one!).

Bruised and somewhat battered (I'm actually quite sore), the somewhat victorious father, his pantsless daughter, and his dreadlocked son under a completely dark sky make their way to the local ice cream place for some much needed refreshment.

Tales of valor and conquest are narrated to the wife and mother (complete with Maeryn acting out the social services worthy tumble from the branch/lever), and we all went to bed.  It was actually a really fun night.

P.S.  For all the trouble the chainsaw gave me, I've now bonded with it and am keeping it until I can go back and widen the opening enough to get a vehicle down there to drag out the old fence and other trash.  That may be it's own epic blog entry, but for now, I bid you farewell.

Babble McBabblepants has now left the building.  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My name is Michael

For now, I've got a day job.  And at that day job, I'm required to have an ID badge.  Multiple ID badges, actually (efficiency at it's finest!).  Today I looked down at my badge to notice that my name is listed as "Mike".  Never has the person who gave me this badge heard me (or likely anyone else) refer to me as "Mike".  I've signed my emails "Michael", I've left phone messages as "Michael", but there are people that still insist my name is "Mike". 

There's a guy named "Gerry" at my office.  Now, at first read, it might be unclear how to pronouce that, but since he refers to himself as 'gary' not 'jerry', most people have picked up on the proper pronounciation.  Notice I said 'most'.  There's still this one guy that insists Gerry should be referred to as 'jerry'.  Guess he didn't get the memo.  People have even corrected him.  It's actually a bit like a Seinfeld episode and George (or is that 'jerge'?) is about to go off.

I wrote my "Michael" memo in my second year of college after having gone through my life as "Mike" or "Mikey" (ok, my mom still calls me that; don't be a hater.), but I though "Michael" fit me better and having seen another student at my college correct some people that called him "Mike", I though I'd give it a go.  It worked.  Now, some people from my previous life still call me "Mike", and that's ok; I still call Charles 'Kip' and Peter 'Spam' and Jason 'Horse'.  It's just how you know someone, and you haven't been around them in their new life enough to be reconditioned.  But there's still those pesky people who just decide what your name is for you, even when presented with contrary evidence. 

So, I try to pay special attention to how people sign emails and letters, at least informal ones, because I assume that's what they want to be called.  And, please, for the love of mike, call me Michael.

P.S. My wife (since I seem to have to mention her in every post ;) ) and I have a running joke (that probably isn't actually funny) about compressing 'mike' into a single phenome somewhere between 'mike' and clearing your throat that sounds something like 'mak' and is usually in the phrase "Heeeyy, mak".  Ok, not funny.  Got it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I'm just not an afternoon person

Missy (that's my wife) is out seeing a local theatrical presentation with friends tonight.  I got kids duty.  It's actually been a really good night, all things considered.  My going on three year-old little princess fought sleep for a while, but didn't get too far, especially since we got home late.  My six year-old son (who is so much like me) has fallen asleep on the couch; rousing him would approach a herculean effort and so I let him lay.  Me, I have passed the point in the night where things are just tired and have come out the other side in my heavy-lidded late-night lucidity, my more weightless than usual time.  This is usually when I write my music, or at least it was when I was a bit younger - I tend to be a little too tired recently to connect as much as I'd like.  The words just don't come as easily.  I've written most of my more recent stuff in the afternoon.  

The thing is, I'm really not an afternoon person.  I like getting up early and I like staying up late, though I wish I could do both without becoming a lot less of a likable person.  It's the solitude that feeds me, I think.  The quiet of knowing most of the world around you is at peace, and you are free to wander through it, grazing fingers over the watery surface and watching the ripples chase each other into the distance.  Both the morning and the night feel that way to me.  The afternoon is filled with do's and should's, not the stuff of music and poetry.  So I sit, with guitar at my side, son asleep in the next room (his peaceful presence somehow more calming than his absence would be), with the feeling that life is somehow right again.  Even though it wasn't wrong before.

I didn't get too many words out today - some days that happens, but I did pen these as a bridge to a song that may only be meaningful to me and those who know me well, but I write it anyway:
Are you ready to come down and make it happen?/
Are you here on the earth?/
I'm not trying to say that we give up heaven,/
but to see what life's worth.

Good night, cool and quiet nighttime world.  May we meet again soon.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Guest posted about my AT hike.

So, I went on a 3 day hike on the Appalachian Trail with my 6 year old son.  Pretty awesome times.  Read about it on one of my wife's wonderful blogs here:  Adventure Mobile

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Balance & Perfectionism

When I was younger, if something needed to be done, I sat down and got it done; I simply took the fully-focused time I needed and accomplished the task, often without ceasing.  When I was able to sit back and call things complete I could move on to other things (like eating).  Life doesn't really move that way for me anymore. Kids, a job, and other responsibilities now tend to break up my time.  There's a part of me that misses that put the 5 disc changer on shuffle and go until well after midnight mentality, but there's another part that smiles slightly when I realize that I probably just took three times as long as I needed simply because I could.  In the corporate world that might be called gold-plating; the question is whether it's worth it to you to have half as many gold plated things as you might have in pewter.  I'm not wise enough to know, but I'd guess that ideally you'd have a little of both.

You may have figured out that I'm a perfectionist.  It's true; I have spent over two hours writing a single email and three days on something my wife would have finished in an hour or two.  The issue with perfectionism is that you're never really satisfied.  So, I ask again, where is the line after which you should call it good enough?  I see so many people drawing that line in so many places; I look at some and cringe at the mediocrity while I look at my son and find myself having to help him through many areas where he has developed a paralyzing fear of imperfection.

So, in the spirit of things (and I'm told it's time to go to bed), I will call this blog complete.  Well, at least finished.  :)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

First Post

This is really just a test.  A test for me, I guess.

I mean, I'm new to this blog thing anyway.  My wife's been doing it for years (or so), but I've never found the inspiration.  I tend to only figure out what I'm thinking after I'm done, then the moment has passed and things no longer seem to hold my interest.  To do a blog means I actually have to think in the past tense - something I'm not inherently good at.  I'm blessed and cursed with a very short memory.

Blogs tend to be focused on specific topics; all the 'great' blogs seems to follow this model.  But there's where I differ.  I don't want this to be a 'great' blog - it's my blog, with the imperfections and nuances that make life savory.  I'm interested in so many things: music, small and equitable living, art, RVs,,, I think you get the idea.  While I may not know which topic may tickle my fancy on any given day, be assured it's going to be a bit of an enlightening experience for both of us.

To many future posts,