Category Archives: Goals and Dreams

The Extended Work Day

It had been a long work day. Much had been accomplished – including the requisite and unscheduled altercation with a defensive employee resistant to change. But now it was an hour before quitting time. Sunshine beat down and a strong breeze careened down the street. Doors were open everywhere; two to the warehouse, four and a hatch on each of the two Toyota Highlanders backed up to the loading ramp right next to an open Jeep with a full capacity gear basket on top.

Tables? Check

Projector and Screen? Check

Membership materials? Check

Cooler? Check

Tent? Check

Sleeping Bags? Check

Three of the principals of the organization are about to experience an extended workweek, but who is complaining? Camping for work. Travel on the clock. Head ‘em up; move ‘em out! The great outdoors beckons.

Hike, Write, Make Music

I moved to the desert to find a portion of myself that was lost – my writing. I moved further into the remote to hibernate and polish a manuscript. Have I been successful? Kept a modicum of my resolutions while restoring myself with vast hikes? Yes. I would say so. At least I have reached a milestone.

My recently finished novella of 42,000 words is distributed for beta-read to five women. I am sure the plot is not what you would expect given my propensity for writing philosophically about hiking. But it does chronicle some walking and piano playing and travel and a big move of growth on the part of a 30-year-old woman. Yes, I still remember what it was like to be half my age.

After I clicked send on the manuscript to the beta readers I returned to my other work in progress – also about being young – and hungry – with a child to feed. It needs a major overhaul.

On the back burner is a post apocalyptic novel about a young woman who loves rocks. Let’s hope I get it finished before Steampunk dissipates completely. By and by I’ll get to the collected essays inspired by hiking – maybe posthumously. And then there is a graphic novel in progress – but it must keep the pace of the artist, not the writer.

In a couple days I move on down the Colorado River. I carry with me my piano, my guitar, a bass and cahon; my journal and laptop; my hiking boots and trail shoes. It seems no matter how many goals we meet, things continue the same. I still love to Hike and Write and Make Music. And I still get hungry. I feed myself and pay my bills by working innovatively in non-profit retail. This time the location from which I carry out my goals and resolutions will be the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Staircase Escalante.

I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. How about you? May it always be in beautiful places.

A trickle or a flood

San Juan River, Bluff Utah, May 2016
San Juan River, Bluff Utah, May 2016

She sat on the banks of the muddy San Juan, in the shadow of a bighorn sculpture and watched the river roll away lazily to the Southwest. It made her long for the beach. That is where the river was headed, after all – to join the mighty Colorado at Lake Powell and finally empty into the Pacific Ocean.

But she knew something the river did not yet know; it would never make it to the ocean. It was headed for the beach, but along the way destined to recreate, irrigate, hydrate, relax and refresh millions of people. Somewhere, 50 miles or so short of the Gulf of California, the river would trickle to a stop.

Desert Bighorn sculpture in memory of author Ellen Meloy
Desert Bighorn sculpture in memory of author Ellen Meloy

So she pondered this truncation, this travesty, this unavoidable change of plans people foisted on the river and she asked herself, “How are you doing on your own bucket list? Are you headed for the beach? And whether you ever make it to the beach, will you restore and refresh and recreate and relax? How much of you will be absorbed and diverted into the schemes and needs of others? How much of the landscape of your life will you beautify along the way?”

Live. Love. Laugh. Learn. You do not know if your end will be part of a cataclysmic flood or simply trickle away.

Whoa! What just happened?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus is handed a shotgun and calmly drops a mad dog. His daughter Scout thinks something like, whoa, what just happened? She had never seen a gun in the house, much let alone in her dad’s hands. She did not know her father had been a dead shot from his youth.

I lived for a time in Edmonds Washington – in the bowl. Weekdays, I worked with extracted body parts in a medical facility. There was no refreshment I loved better on a weekend than to walk the half mile to the beach-the edge of the sound-the freedom of a ferry port that could take you away on a moment’s notice.

On the beach was a small quirky thrift store that supported the attached senior citizen center. I was 55, so in a way I qualified for all the benefits. The center boasted a vintage linoleum tiled dance floor / concert hall and a cafeteria that hosted Grey Gourmet a few days each week. But it was the thrift store that could distract me – at first.

One Saturday as I browsed the blouses, books and unique kitchen gadgets assembled, I heard live music – a guitar, a mandolin – coming from the regions beyond retail. I picked my way to the hall that accessed the curtained restroom stalls and passed beyond to the next available room. I poked my head in the door to listen. “Hi!” called the guitar player and evident leader. “I heard the music,” I stated.

“We’re a seniors oldies band. We practice every Saturday morning.” I smiled.

“Are you a musician?” For the next 90 minutes, Vern called chords and I played along to some Elvis songs and other oldies I had never heard before. Hits caught in the gap between my mother’s generation and mine. On my way back home, I mused, “Whoa, what just happened?”

I practiced with the band for a couple months before my departure for Colorado. We played a Sunday dance or two in the ballroom – fish bowl conspicuous. My portion of the take was $3.00.

On an odd midweek day off I strolled Olympic Beach unshowered and barefoot with my corduroy pants rolled up a la Tom Sawyer. Suddenly, a voice hailed from the observation deck of the senior center. It was Craig, the 91-year-old ladies man from the Sunday dances.

“Cherry! Cherry!” He called, “am I glad to see you! Come in, come in quickly.” I obeyed. “Come. See the piano. We always have sing-along before our meal on Tuesday. Our pianist did not show today.”

Turns out Craig was the leader of sing-along. The usual pianist was retired after years of pleasing crowds in Branson. The darkness of dementia had overtaken her. Some days she forgot which song she was playing and launched into a medley. Sometimes she simply forgot to show-up.   The seniors gathered around the piano and commenced the enjoyment of oldies I didn’t know and harmonies with which I was intimate. 20 minutes later the Branson pianist arrived, taxied by a daughter my age. I graciously took my leave. On the walk home I murmured, “What just happened here?”

I never quit on my music. Invited, I will play any piano, anywhere, any style. Whatever style I am playing at the moment is my favorite style of music.   There have been nursing home gigs, years of folk music with elementary kids, decades of private students and plenty of church praise and worship. There are intervening years of enjoyable jobs that seem to have nothing to do with music on the surface, but are inextricably woven to music via location – the beauty and inspiration of a dock on the bay or a Rocky Mountain high.

So recently, I have found myself moonlighting with a John Denver tribute band. Evenings, I keep my habit of enjoying an hour of piano before bed. On my days off, I practice feverishly. The John Denver originals are familiar friends. The current pieces, written in a style and spirit honoring John Denver, can be quite intricate and challenging. Just this week, I had a break-through with a lead-in reminiscent of the Eagles and Desperado.

Quiet joy, like happiness, overtakes you when you least expect it. Rising from the piano bench I muttered, “Whoa, what just happened?”

 

Like traveling with a fat boyfriend

“I’m thinking of selling the upright bass,” he said. “Selling the upright bass?” she gasped, scandalized. “I think I could get a thousand for it, maybe more. I don’t have a case, so I can’t just stack it in the studio closet with the guitars. It’s hard to protect and store.” “Sell the upright bass,” she repeated with dismay. “Aw Mom, I’d just give it to you, but I know you like to be mobile and move everything in your Subaru,” He reasoned. “Yeah,” said her daughter-in-law, “hauling an upright bass around is like traveling with a fat boyfriend.”

She loves to travel. She loves her independence. She outfitted her Subaru to be a mobile sleeping cubicle. She keeps looking for a tiny house with French doors – to accommodate her acoustic piano. “My daughter-in-law is entirely right,” she concluded, “I need a bigger Subaru – one with room for my piano and my fat boyfriend.”

Reveal a bit of yourself in music and business – advice from my children

My three grown kids shoot straight. They speak directly, analyze and point out truth. My children are most supportive of all I do musically. For the last several decades, my byline has been, “raising young musicians,” and I raised them well. They are all musicians. I dreamed for them. I encouraged them. Now they reciprocate for me.

My youngest once admonished me, “get your own band, Mom.” Recently I had that opportunity. In fact, that is what precipitated my daughter’s chiding.

“Mom,” she said. “You can’t just go spy on them. It’s not right to spy on them and not reveal any of yourself.” She is right. The introverted, timid side of me protested. It wasn’t like I was sneaking about without their knowledge. I just wanted to find out a bit more about them before I committed myself, maybe before I even offered myself. Conscientious caution says it is better to be prepared before you go to an interview or audition. Do your research. Google the main stake holders – the key players, learn as much as you can. First impressions are first impressions whether business or personal and I want to make informed choices, know what I am getting into. The timid side of me loves to analyze and over-prepare so I can be confident. The shy side of me conducts great people watching and asks lots of interested questions. The reticent side of me waits for others to draw me out. Wouldn’t want to bore them, you know. They will ask if they are interested. Besides, I was taught it is better to be interested in others and not talk about yourself or show off. But my daughter is right. Sometimes you need to dare greatly – put yourself out there. I ponder my daughter’s comment in light of a new acquaintance, a person who talks too much, IMO, but then, she is very easy to talk to. Always interested in what everyone else has to say, it is no wonder she believes everyone reciprocally interested in her narrative. After awhile, if all you do is listen and you don’t reciprocate, others give up on you.

Enter my eldest with sagacity born of a lifetime in music. “If you ever get a chance to play in a band, do it. Bands don’t last forever, but it is magic while they do.”

I spied. I revealed. I woodshed day and night. I will play with the band for whatever length of time the magic lasts. But of course, if the magic goes away, I will never give up on my music. Nor will I forget the interpersonal lessons learned through band or business.

May all your relationships be enriched today with a proper balance of giving and receiving – – and with music!

How to Set New Year’s Goals That Work

How to Set New Year’s Goals That Work

You should do it, niggled the inner voice as her eyes scanned the title of the article. Set some goals. It was a voice she had learned to trust. You want to be successful. You want to move to the next level. You know goals help your focus, your self-esteem, your decision making. Think it through. Do it. “I will,” she said. “But first, I want to ask the God of the Universe some questions. There is something I have been pondering for quite awhile and I need an omniscient answer. The answer will have a bearing on the goals I set.” So. Ask your all-knowing oracle already, but make it snappy. The new year is advancing. “I’m a little bit fearful of the answer,” she said. “Because, no matter the answer, yes or no, it will disturb my comfort and my plans.” Maybe I should just go on not knowing, not asking and not setting any goals – you know-take life as it comes and kind of putter around at enjoyable things I like to do. Maybe something good will happen by accident. After all, that’s been my habit for more years than not and I don’t want to ruffle the waters or risk failure by aspiring to something unachievable. “Pull the tooth!” the voice fairly shouted. For goodness sakes, the subject came up, you didn’t court it, you were fine in your resignation, you merely read a best-selling book in which the main character said, “Someday you may think of marrying. Pick someone who thinks you’re the only person in the room.” Go ahead. Ask the question of the Universe. Do it.

The question

“Does such a man exist?” she asked. Let me restate the question,“ Is it possible there is such a man who thinks you are the only woman in the room? – for a lifetime?” “What?” squeaked the voice. “Romantic relationship is your New Year’s resolution?” “No,” she said. “Relationship takes two. Realistic goals are achievements that depend only on me. I cannot control another person. But if there is such a male, of course, I want one. Doesn’t every woman? I have always wanted one. In that case, a realistic goal would be to get out and meet more people. But that is not why I asked the question. An affirmative answer only begs a second question: What have I been doing wrong all these years? How do I fix me? Heal me? Frankly, that sounds like a lot of work. Yet, I must know the answer. But fixing me is not the goal. That is not why I asked the question.” “Then why did you ask the question?” queried the voice. “I am a writer of fiction,” she said. “But I will not write what is not truth.” Maybe all those stories I love to read with near perfect men or men who finally see the light and change are just wishful thinking, romances written by women. As a writer, I will not allow myself to perpetrate false expectations or false hope. If the answer is no; no there are no men capable of thinking you are the only woman in the room. “What then, do I have to write?” she asked. Yea or nay, either way, I must be able to write a woman who grows, who keeps on living, who knows herself, who overcomes obstacles and changes for the better, who keeps on loving – maybe even a woman who sets and achieves realistic goals.

She got a head start on her goals this year

She got a head start on her goals this year and it happened most inadvertently.

“It is time,” said the inner voice.   “You’ve got to be kidding, “ she responded. It is not even December yet and you want me to set goals? Make New Year’s resolutions?

No. No resolutions. Resolutions are too often harsh, guilt producing, reminiscent of things you did not accomplish, places you did not carry through. You said it – it is not even December yet. So, how about just giving thanks? Let’s take a grateful tour down memory lane and accentuate the positive. What have you accomplished this year? These years? To this point in life? Have you done the things you wanted to do? Have you pursued your dreams?”

“Well,” she replied, “I love to make music. I’ve never been famous or even well known for my virtuosity, but I have made hundreds of vintage folks at retirement centers happy with my smooth and relaxing piano melodies. I never went on tour with the band, but it’s hard to feel any regrets. All my offspring are musicians. I have written musicals, staged musicals and invested in the lives of thousands of elementary age people both in the classroom and as private students. I sang. I danced a little. I played lots of keyboard, a few wind instruments, a little percussion. I can die happy. I suppose if I did have a regret it would be that I never learned strings.”

“Wait a minute,” said the inner voice. “Why does that have to be a regret?”

“It doesn’t.” she said. She reached for the guitar that sits next to her piano while simultaneously Googling guitar lessons.

She got a head start on her goals this year and that is how it came about that she could sing “Silent Night,” and accompany herself on the guitar before the end of 2015. Now all she has to do in 2016 is keep those callouses hardy through daily practice.

There are times when resolution means closure. And then you start the next grand movement. What next? What do you want or need or aspire to? There is a fresh year ahead. What is your next desire? Often, renewed desire begins with thankfulness. I am thankful for the music in my life. I am thankful for the circuitous road travelled. I anticipate the next bend in the road!

Cinderella did not have an escort

The truth is, Cinderella had wanted to go to the ball for many years. There was live music at balls. More than just about anything, Cinderella loved music. Cinderella also loved to dance. At least, she thought she would love to dance if she ever really got the chance. Then again, maybe dancing was just one of those things that sounded really good until you did it, like public speaking or something. Perhaps in another life when all men were gifted with coordination and grace and courtesy and – most of all-a great sense of rhythm, she would get her chance to go sailing across a parquet dance floor.

Year after year the invitations came. She opened them eagerly and read every word, every description of the theme, the musical selections, the plated meal. Every year she would sigh and check her bank account and lay the invitation aside and think about it until it was too late to do anything about it.

Then one year there came a triple play for her attention. First, the invitation by traditional mail. Second, the invitation by email. Thirdly, dance lessons for that specific ball were offered at a local dance studio. Dance lesson that very evening. She would never have known but for randomly checking her email while on lunch break. Who could resist a special four-session discount? Without much deliberation, Cinderella went. She learned to Foxtrot. She learned to Swing. She heard the instructor comment on the level of dancing experience of the men who would be at the ball. Who were these men? Were they coming alone? As a team? Cinderella did not know. But it did not trouble her much, because she had not yet decided whether or not she would go. Or had she? Had she committed herself to going to the ball by taking advantage of discounted dance lessons? Surely not!

At the next session, the instructor made some off-hand remarks about dancing in an evening gown. “Evening gown?” thought Cinderella in alarm. “Have I ever owned an evening gown?” Now that changes things. “Here’s what I’ll do,” said Cinderella to her roommate. “I’ll just wear my ordinary black dress and take this pumpkin with me. Everyone will have to understand my fairy godmother didn’t show.” They laughed at the joke, but Cinderella was beginning to think she should uncommit herself.

That very weekend, she went to visit her cousin in another town. “Evening Gown?” said her cousin. “Here, borrow mine.” Cinderella had not expected that response. Once again Cinderella was forced to debate the wisdom of going to the ball unaccompanied.

Over the years, Cinderella had learned there were things you never got to do if you waited for someone to go with you. She bought the ticket. One single ticket. And in so doing inadvertently served a challenge into the court of the event planner. Fund raising events and dinner shows have tables. Round tables. Tables that seat an even number of event goers. Tables for ten to sponsor for thousands of dollars. Hundred dollar plates for couples to purchase in pairs. What’s an event organizer to do with a single ticket holder? Communicate, of course, which she did promptly via email. “Do you know anyone else who is going? Can I seat you with your friends?”

“You mean I can sit with my friends? Oh yes please! I know a violinist, a couple trumpeters, a French horn player, and a saxophonist.   We go back. Way back. Are there any vacant seats next to them?” asked Cinderella. But she only asked it in her head. Instead she responded, “Feel free to place me at a singles table or the odd place to fill out a table. I am quite comfortable with music lovers young or old.”

Replied the coordinator, “I’m glad you’re coming, even as a single date. I go on self-dates all the time, but I’ve never tried a formal event before. I like that.”

And that, my children, is how Cinderella became a trendsetter. One solitary woman, past a certain age who refused to wait for an escort or a man to help her complete her bucket list. Who realized it was time to take her place as a sturdy and august patron of the arts. Her gown is borrowed, her slippers are not glass. Though her pearls are real, her fur will be faux. Her coach is Red Pearl, a trusty Subaru. She is going to the ball. And she will definitely be home before the clock strikes twelve.

 

The best years of my life

Rock and roll I gave you all the best years of my life…” “There were times,” she said, “I thought those words with some bitterness, substituting names of individuals to whom I had given my all only to be taken for granted or ignored. I did give some of my best years to my children,” she continued, “the younger two anyway, but these, these years are the best years of my life.”

She explained she is now stronger, physically, mentally, emotionally. She hikes farther, travels independently more, indulges in an adventure or two without fear of what other people think. These are good years.

Our conversation happened at the apex of a jeep ride 1,000 feet above timberline. A forty-nine-year-old woman watched the speaker hop agilely in and out of the jeep, heard her describe the rigors of local hiking trails and refused to believe she was sixty-one. “I thought you were my age,” the younger woman insisted.

No young woman. I wouldn’t want to be 49 again for the world. Age has its benefits. These are the best years of my life! Catch me if you can, Rock and Roll! I’ve changed my direction.

Yankee Girl Mine
Yankee Girl Mine