Waiting On Whatever

I was about five years old when I learned this song off one of those old records of children’s songs:

Have patience, have patience. Don’t be in such a hurry

When you are impatient, you only start to worry.

Remember, remember, that God has patience, too.

And think of all the times when others have to wait on you.

I was about 13 or so. I had been babysitting my 2-year-old niece, Sarah, and was frustrated and upset. Mom did her best to calm me down. “Maybe you’re supposed to learn patience.” And few years later, after a frustrating lesson with one of my first students, his mom called to complain about my behavior. After getting off the phone, I talked with my mom, upset at letting my frustration in the lesson get to me. Again, Mom comforted me. “You just need to learn to be more patient.”

I’ve had many issues in my life with being patient. The first, and simplest step for me, was patience with people. I desperately wanted to be a good teacher, and I quickly learned how to give people their time. That was easy for me.

I was always impatient with time, though. Things didn’t happen quickly enough, I had to wait for important things, or to find out if they were important. I always thought about the next thing, and I always wanted it to happen NOW. It led to a lot of anxiety and tension in my work life and home life. 

The thing is, for most of my life I simply accepted this type of impatience from myself. I had made a concerted effort to be patient with other people, and it paid off. But until a year ago, I never tried to change my hatred of the slow passage of time. I never before tried to relax and let time be time and not worry and stress about “next”.

That changed. For reasons of which I’m not entirely sure, I adopted a mantra of sorts: this doesn’t matter; you can’t make anything happen or control anything except yourself, and then only if you haven’t had any tequila; things will happen when or if they happen; chill. And it worked, oddly enough. Yeah, I have to remind myself from time to time. Yes, I still get anxious for “next” occasionally. But the reminders are needed less often, the anxiety rarely makes its unwelcome appearance. But mostly…mostly I just chill. 

I feel a bit like I’m only letting my life happen. Sometimes I feel like I should be living more intentionally. People my age have plans and futures to contemplate. I should be more prepared or whatever. 

But I’m happier like this. Watching my life unfold like a television series. Not a Netflix Original; no marathoning this bitch. My music is growing in ways I hadn’t imagined. I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. I wasn’t giving myself enough time.

Because, you see, the final patience lesson had to wait until I learned patience with time: I needed to be patient with myself. I always expected too much from myself while simultaneously expecting that I wouldn’t be able to do so. But I stopped expecting things. I stopped having any preconceived notions about what I  should be doing and gave myself time to let what I could be doing shine. And my could keeps improving. 

I’ve heard it said that if life keeps challenging you in certain ways, it means you still need to learn that lesson. Patience is my lesson. I’m getting closer to understanding it all the time.

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Magic Music

I recently gave up having a television in my room. I thought it would maybe make me want to go out amongst the peoples of Earth instead of hang out alone in my room and bingewatching like an angsty preteen. Instead I hang out in my room listening to music alone in my room like an angsty preteen.
I love finding new music. Or new-to-me music. It’s exciting to find out what I’ve been missing or to hear how other people are getting their musical voices out there. I love it.
But sometimes, sometimes I fall in love. Sometimes I find a new thing that makes my stomach flip and my heart race. I get lost in it, like falling into your lover’s eyes.
Wow. That was overtly verbose. But really, it is like that. I can’t get the music out of my head, and I don’t want to. It makes me giddy and happy, and not because the music itself is trying to communicate “happy”. The sounds themselves, the vibrations. It raises me up.
It gives me hope. Not in anything or anyone in particular. Just a general hopefulness, a feeling that it’s all gonna work out in the end. And that I’m going to be fine.
As long as I keep renewing my Tidal subscription.

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My Aspiration

My hair and I have not always gotten along. I tried different styles, cuts, and products. I changed the color, from extreme red to blackest black. I used hair dryers, straighteners, and accessories to try and help it decide to cooperate. Sometimes it did. Often it did not. All in all, good hair days and bad, I was generally satisfied with my hair. It never made a great impact on my life; it was merely a nuisance I had to worry about, and I was always able to put it out of my mind.

A few years ago, I gave up. I decided to stop forcing my hair to do what I thought I wanted. I stopped contemplating which cut I wanted next, which color. I even gave up dying it for a while. Mostly due to the idea that I could never have the hair I truly wanted, it seemed most pertinent to make no decisions at all. I just let it be.

As long as I can remember, I wanted long, curly hair. I wanted it to blow behind me in a strong breeze. I wanted to braid it at night like Laura Ingalls. I wanted it slightly frizzy, kinda shiny, and most of all LONG. I didn’t want to have to brush it (brushing out tangles gives me painful chills sometimes). It was a silly dream, like the little girls who dreamed of becoming princesses. And, as I saw it, unrealistic.

A funny thing happened when I stopped caring so much. By leaving my hair alone, it started to look good. I had to get it trimmed occasionally (split ends are no one’s friend), but I never changed the shape. The curls that had spent years trying to show themselves started to spring up in a more predictable way.

Whenever someone asked if I was planning to cut my hair, I thought about it a moment with real consideration and answered, “Nope. I decided to let my hair do its own thing.” I was beginning to think of, and refer to, my hair as a separate entity from myself. It got in moods, I scolded it for getting in my eyes and mouth when the windows were down in the car. I found a hairdresser who cut it dry, because it’s better for curls; found that out from her, and man was she right! Most importantly, I left it alone. I didn’t allow myself to get impatient with its progress. I let it do its thing.

I absolutely love my hair now. It hangs almost to my waist. It’s got these cool spirally curls all over. It’s frizzy and shiny. On days when I’m feeling unpretty, I look at my hair and am in awe.

It’s exactly what I always wanted. I left it alone. I stopped trying to tell it what it needed to be. I relinquished control. And I was rewarded with a dream I had never even considered possible. A silly dream. But not, as I know after years of patience and allowing things to happen as they might, unrealistic.

My hair has also done something for me that I never considered. It has shown me that it’s better to let go, to be patient, to let go of the things I can’t control. All it takes is a little maintenance and a lot of patience. Those things I can do.

I can be as amazing as my hair.

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Passing It Over

It’s Passover time. Approximately. I just celebrated the holiday by creating my own seder plate from what I had around the house that could easily be interpreted as seder items. I got the salt water part perfect.

Every Passover, the youngest person present has four questions to ask, each with its given answer. Here they are:

  1. Q: On all nights we need not dip [our food] even once, on this night we do so twice.
    A: The salt water reminds us of tears shed during the years of slavery in Egypt. The act of dipping also signifies freedom, as the dipping of food represents luxury.
  2. Q: On all nights we eat chametz (“regular” bread) or matzah, and on this night only matzah.
    A: Matzah, being devoid of leavening, is the bread of the slaves and the poor. It also represents that the Hebrews had no time, due to their impending freedom, to allow their bread to rise.
  3. Q: On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, tonight only bitter herbs.
    A: The bitterness of the vegetables serves to remind us of the bitterness of slavery.
  4. Q: On all nights we eat either sitting or reclining, and on this night we all recline.
    A: Reclining while eating is a symbol of the luxury of royalty.

I like the idea of remembering the bad times in order to better understand the good. Personally, I was not a literal slave. Genetically, my heritage has not been one of literal slavery. It’s taken me some time to figure out what these questions mean to me, what I can learn. I looked for, and found, the lesson.

  1. I’ve spent my adult life as a poor person. Financially, I’ve been a slave to circumstances I couldn’t change while continuing to contribute to the world in the best way I know how. I have cried countless tears in worry over my state in life, personal and financial. I cannot forget that. No matter how good my life is at moments, nor how it may improve in the future, I am only here, I am only me because of those tears. They have forced me to accept my present and work towards a better future. The good times have only been good precisely because of those tears. Otherwise, I doubt I would appreciate my life nearly as much.
  2. ¬†Again, to remember. To observe what poverty is, was, will be. Not merely to me, but to others with whom I share my life, and the others who share similar experiences. Also a good reminder that no matter how busy you are, no matter what you have going on, it’s important to eat. I may not have the food I want, I may not have the best options, but I still have food to eat. Many others do not, and I do what I can to alleviate their hunger in my own ways.
    Hunger comes in many forms, though. We can also hunger for companionship, time, meaning, and purpose. We can hunger for the things we really want to do, not merely the things we must. Hunger is simply our desperation for something better. And sometimes we run out of time while we’re chasing our satiation.
  3. Too many of use carry our bitterness around with us like armor. We can be so focused on the negatives, on the things that enslave us, that we forget to notice all the wonderful. But maybe we can restrict our bitterness. Not to forget; never in order to forget. Instead, rather than dwell on the negative, maybe we should set aside time to remember. When it’s pertinent, remember. When there is potential danger in letting the negative recur, remember. When life is so good that you start to feel invincible, remember. It’s not always smooth sailing, it’s rarely easy. Remember the bad times in order to avoid the same mistakes, remember them in order to appreciate the good times.
  4. Remember to take some time to chill. It’s all well and good to be focused and intentional, to keep your goals and ideals high. And it’s also important, whenever possible, to treat yourself to something nice. A good pair of pants, a night out, a vacation, a good book. No one should feel pressure, from within or without, to be constantly working. Luxury, relaxing, spending time with friends and family. These things are important. There’s no amount of stressing over an issue that cannot be at least somewhat alleviated by taking a moment just for yourself. It’s important.

This is what this holiday means to me, at least for now. As with all holidays and religious practices that involve interpretation, it will evolve. But the questions will remain the same. Not merely to Judaism, not merely to me, but to people everywhere. Remember the bad stuff and appreciate the good things in comparison.

Never forget. Never stop striving. Always find your best way. Don’t pass over life, but let the things you don’t need pass over you.

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Back to the Band Room

When I started junior college a million years ago, I was a vocal music major. I had been homeschooled my whole life and was enjoying my first choir experiences. I was making music with other people and that was just plain cool.

I didn’t make any close friends in the choir at first. Rather, I hung out with the accompanist. Pianos and piano players are my favorite types of people. Yes, I think of pianos as people; I’m a bit odd that way.

The accompanist also played piano in the jazz bands. It wasn’t long until I was tagging along with him to band practice. I would find a spot on the floor against a wall (I’m not a huge fan of chairs) and listened. I soon made friends there and was even invited by the director to sing with the band.

For anyone unfamiliar with how a lot of jazz band practice goes down in college (or did at a junior college in the late 1990’s), it’s generally about 50% making music. The rest of the time is spent trading stories, telling crude jokes, and idolizing Miles. It was a relaxed, fun, and creative environment. Even though I eventually joined the bands as a singer and sometimes piano player, my favorite times I the band room were when I was listening. To the music, to the conversations. I just wanted to be around.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been regularly attending the gigs of a friend of mine. Piano player again. At first I mostly listened and sometimes carried on small talk with other patrons. Gradually, though, I’ve started to make friends of a sort there. Other musicians and artists mostly. The vibe is familiar. It’s a world I missed. A me I had forgotten.

I feel like I get to go back to the band room again. It’s still blunt and crude. It’s still comfortable. It’s still magical.

Except now I use a chair and there’s wine.

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Finding My Voice

I was about 12 years old when I knew what I wanted to do with my life: I was going to be a piano teacher. I spent the next few years working out what that meant I needed to do. I put thought and work into ironing out what kind of teacher I wanted to be; I apprenticed myself for two years and taught free lessons with the idea being that if I completely sucked at it, they weren’t out any money.

But I didn’t suck at it! I have always done my best to be a better teacher than I was the day before, and I have students who love me. I had a dream and I did it.

I did it. And I realized that I’m heading towards being done. Not because I don’t like it any more; I do. But it doesn’t drive me any more. It’s not my passion any more.

It wasn’t long, really, before I figured out my second act. I’ve been learning and thinking and working towards finding my voice there. I think I’m on the right track; it makes sense, it fits with my current skills, and most importantly it fills me with passion. Hardly a moment goes by when I’m not trying to figure out a problem or do something a little different. I want to make recordings, and I know what I want them to achieve. It’s exciting.

But it all keeps leading me to a burning question I’ve had for years: why do I still not know my voice when it comes to making my own music? I know my teaching voice, my writing voice, my lyric voice, and even my new audio voice. Why do I not know what to say or how to say it when I’m using the thing on which I’ve spent most of my time?

I keep feeling like I should have at least some hazy clue drifting around my imagination. Some elusive “sound” that I want to find and then share. I’ve been making up songs (many of them terrible) since I was a child. Surely by now I should have some kind of a clue. I know it takes time to achieve what you want, but I don’t even know what it is.

Today, though, I figured out part of the why. During the time in my life when most of my peers were spending their time listening to and thinking about all the musical things they wanted to say, my life was in a low-level turmoil. For a kid who grew up with virtually none, that was a lot. I didn’t put any thought into the idea of finding my own musical voice. Every song I wrote during those years was about the lyrics, about literally saying what I needed to say. Yes, I cared about the notes, but it mostly ended there.

I never entertained the idea of putting together a group of musicians to record and potentially perform my music. I didn’t even know what I wanted that to sound like. I put no thought into it. I only ever have shared my songs with close friends and family, and then only if they happened to be around when I finished a song.

So I guess I need to keep thinking on this. My practicing is helping me to grow in ways I hadn’t considered possible even a year ago. I guess after a certain point the thinking and learning and practicing all converge into something I don’t quite hate, right?

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A Condition of Constant Change

It’s election day in my state today. I voted, got my sticker, took my obligatory selfie, and was reminded of why I love my country. I don’t love it because of how it is now, how it ever used to be, how it began. I love it because of all the ways it got to be how it is today.

And man, is it fucked up. Senseless murders, the wealthy elite using propaganda to try and convince us that our neighbors, our economical peers, are our enemies. They created a tool and named it “race” and artfully used it. They managed to redirect the anger of the lower classes away from themselves, inciting violence among former allies.

But they forgot one thing. The one thing that sets our culture apart. They forgot our history and how we got here. They forgot that eons ago there were oppressed people who escaped war to come here to this land of hope where everyone could get a chance to live their lives as they pleased. It isn’t our biological history that matters. It is our spiritual history.

It’s never worked. It’s never been perfect. Inequality and oppression have always worked their ways into our society. But our spiritual history hasn’t let it continue for long. We have taken steps forward and back, but if we are honest with ourselves we can see more progress than regress. It’s been slow, but it’s been moving.

It’s never going to work. It’s never going to be perfect. Inequality and oppression will find their ways. But we don’t have to sit back. The people are starting to rise. Awareness is amplified via this wonderful tool, the Internet. Every day, more people are starting to realize two things: our enemies have been pretending to be our friends for too long; we need to take care of one another and stop isolating ourselves.

We’re not cowboys. None of us is completely self-sufficient. Every day we each encounter things that not only do we not do, we have no clue HOW to do. Too many people don’t know how to cook or clean or balance their bank accounts. Even more people don’t know how to change a tire or an oil filter. I’m writing this on a computer that I can neither build nor repair, and tomorrow I will drive my car using fuel that I do not transport, process, or drill. I will eat food that I did not grow, hunt, or gather.

We all need each other. If we want to survive, we have to stop thinking only about ourselves. We need to get out of our comfort zones and vote for unlikely candidates, sign unlikely petitions, give help to those who need it (even if they don’t ask), and be always grateful that we can enjoy the parts of life that we’re making work for now.

We need to stand up in whichever ways we can and say it’s enough. Not to sound like another, and super famous these days, Jew, but we can do it together. I’m not enough on my own. I do what I can, but it’s not enough. Even if every person did what he or she could, it wouldn’t be enough. It’s never enough.

Because it will never work. It will never be perfect. But each time we find an imperfection we can stand up and claim our spiritual heritage: if it’s not working, change things and try again.

Our culture isn’t based on isolation or even independence. It’s based in freedom. Not the freedom to be separate from our neighbors. The freedom to join our hands with our human family members and make whatever changes we need to make in ourselves, in our communities, in our country, and in our world.

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