Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eating the Covers Off

My grandfather used to say, "Buy 'em books and buy 'em books; they eat the covers off." Meaning, of course, that you can provide people all the knowledge or tools they could possibly need, but the benefit derives from their willingness to use the knowledge and tools. Eating the cover off of a book certainly won't grant you the greatest benefit it could offer. Well, I have been eating my share of covers recently, and I am ready to stop.

I had a conversation that didn't go the way I wanted it to today. It wasn't because of anything the other person said or did; it was my own lack of purposefulness that caused my goal for the conversation to go awry. My intention had been to listen to this person's point of view fully, articulate what I saw as a more effective way to deal with a situation, and convey a boundary that I want to put in place. I missed.

Instead of expressing that I had heard this person's words, I engaged in defensive behavior that didn't serve the intention I originally had. There were probably all sorts of reasons for this, but the bottom line is that I lost my purpose in the course of the conversation. The irony of all of this is that I recently learned how to teach a set of incredible tools for effective communication, and I just threw them out the window when I let my buttons get pushed. I lost sight of what was most important to me, and I ate the covers right off of those valuable books.

The good news is that I will have another chance. I can take a stand again and recommit to that purpose, and I can acknowledge that I know how to be the way I intended to be in that conversation. I can put the tools and the knowledge that I have to use. It creates a strange buoyancy when I look in the mirror and say, "OK, let's try that differently next time."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Powers of Observation

Tonight I enjoyed an Alley Theatre performance of Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood. It has been awhile since I read any of Doyle's original stories, but I always enjoyed them. In tonight's play, however, I saw the character's remarkable powers of observation in a slightly new light. The claim that his conclusions were "elementary" had a bit of a gift in it.

Although many people fail to see what is there to be seen, the potential to notice still exists for all of us. It is not beyond human capacity to be awake and aware, it is simply not what many people choose to be. "Coasting along" or "sleepwalking" or whatever one wishes to call it merely requires less effort than consciousness. Or at least that is the way it seems sometimes. But the ability to notice is always there when we choose to tap into it.

For Holmes, at least in this depiction, the opportunity to use his powers of observation was a source of elation. He felt most alive when he was noticing all there was to notice and drawing connections between every detail. While I am not advocating going out and trying to solve mysterious crimes, I would like to suggest that Holmes was not all that unique. In many ways, I believe that willingness to notice life is what gives me a chance to feel more alive.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Over the course of the last week, I have had dozens of ideas for carrying the percussion (plus some other instruments) forward, a list of opportunities for the new Power of Connection mentor course I'm now licensed to teach, a growing batch of things to repair around the house, and some strong motivation to advance a couple of other creative projects I put on hold a couple of months ago. And I have done very little of it.

I actually have contacted a few people and venues about some Power of Connection ideas, and I have been actively preparing for the Houston More To Life Weekend in August. But everything else has been postponed. I have had guests staying with me, and it has been more important to me that I am available to them to visit and see what there is of interest to see in and around Houston. At the same time, my mind has been divided, wanting to move on things. Take action. Get going. Music isn't going to write itself. Things won't fix themselves. Courses won't plan themselves.

It has been a challenge to my commitment to give myself time of quality rest so that I can enjoy sprinting ahead when it's time to do so. And it isn't really a matter of which activities are restful and which are not. The connection with other people rejuvenates, sharpens, and energizes me, and I am capable of resting in the midst of being refueled. Even if a part of me is absolutely ready to take off into what comes next.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


For the past few days, I have been engaging with a brand new course called The Power of Connection and I am now licensed as a mentor to teach this powerful course. It is about communication, effective listening, partnership, setting boundaries... essentially how to have meaningful relationships in every area of life. I immediately saw the ways that teaching this course could fit with my overall vision, but as I spent time with the other mentors in the training, I began to see even more possibilities.

This training was attended by people from all over the world: South Africa, New Zealand, Great Britain, and several different places in the United States. I noticed in many of these people a profound purposefulness about what they were doing; they had big intentions for how this course could feed into their visions too. By the end of the weekend training, several of these people suggested opportunities for partnership with me. I felt grateful, a little surprised, and energized by their acknowledgment of my capability and their interest in partnering.

For the past few weeks, since my experience at Way of a Warrior, I have been settling into the lesson that when I run with "fast fliers" I can trust, I can give my 100% without worrying about being left behind or leaving someone else behind. Over the past few days, I began to re-realize that I am a fast flier in many ways myself. But when I took a fellow mentor to the airport yesterday morning, I got an even bigger piece of this lesson when he asked, "How do you determine when you can trust someone?"

I had it that my experience of another person dictated whether or not I could trust them. If I could predict their behavior enough to know with some certainty that they would follow through on their commitments, then I could trust them. That cause-effect relationship was challenged when he said, "Trusting is a choice you make. You decide to be a trusting person." I can take a stand to be trusting, and my boundaries can fill in the gaps between that trust and the reality of others' behavior. I don't have to stop trusting when someone does something that challenges my boundaries.

One of the most exciting things about the journey I am on is the abundance of learning I get when I am willing to receive it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


There was a woodpecker hammering away at the gutter of our house this morning. He was making an awful racket, and I was a little bit afraid that he was damaging something. I knew I had just cleaned out the gutters a week ago, so I was a bit annoyed at the idea that there was anything tasty lurking around for him to eat. I thought about chasing him off, and then I admitted to myself that I had better things to do than guard the gutter all day to keep a woodpecker away from it. As I watched him, he decided it wasn't such a great idea after all and flew off.

I've been doing that in my life, too. There are some things that at one time seemed like really appropriate things for me to believe and do, but I'm realizing that they don't really provide what I'm looking for. I can hammer away at a metal gutter all day long, and it won't ever be as satisfying as getting into a real tree crawling with tasty bugs. For me, the metal gutter has been playing small: not speaking up when I see something I would like to change, not being comfortable talking about my own endeavors, not taking a chance on something unless I could reasonably predict how things would turn out.

This week, I have had several opportunities to try out some new ways of being, and they have actually been much more satisfying than playing small. I can speak up tactfully and with integrity. What I offer to the world is worth me letting people know about it. And I can break free of the limitations I put on myself if I am willing to be surprised by possibilities. In becoming comfortable with some new ways of thinking and expressing myself, I realize that there is a powerful motivation at work. It would be easy and comfortable to keep doing things the way I have been for years. It wasn't satisfying, but it made sense to me. What has truly changed now is an awareness of my intention. Being able to articulate a purpose, both in the macrocosm of my life and in each day's decisions, means I recognize how what I choose is in alignment with who I am.

As I was talking about Mysteries in a radio interview yesterday, I had great clarity about the value and purpose of that project, and it was natural for me to want to share that very personal music with anyone who was interested. I avoided this kind of publicity for a long time, using all manner of excuses. I still don't need for anyone to listen to my music, but I sometimes forget that my intention for composing music is to communicate something meaningful in an expressive and compelling way. In that case, of course I want to tell people about what I've been creating musically! And in other areas of life, it has proven equally true: When I remember to acknowledge my deepest intention, the commitments and the decisions I make just naturally follow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The View From Here

Photo by Ceiniog

My journey in many ways has involved me choosing a path and then looking at my feet as I take every step. I've known exactly where my feet were landing, I've recognized the path, and I've had some idea of my destination, but I've also missed a lot of enjoyment along the way. Now, in relishing my view from this spot where I am right now and letting my feet sink into one step at a time, I recognize just how poised I am for the things that are about to happen in my life.

In a couple of days, I have an interview with a local radio station about my piano CD, Mysteries. A few days after that, I'll be completing my training to teach a course called The Power of Connection, which is a brand new six-week curriculum focused on communication and developing the myriad relationships we have in our lives. I'm composing an experiential piece with a different creative perspective than I have taken in the past, and I'm on the leadership team for creating the August More To Life Weekend in Houston. At the same time, I am able to devote time to many rich relationships, and I have a job that continues to challenge me in ways I don't always expect.

I recognize that I am indeed moving forward, in many directions, even when I'm not consciously watching where my feet are landing. I can trust that they will land on solid ground and enjoy the scenery a bit more. What I see gives me evidence toward the things that are true about me: Rather than being lazy, I am purposeful and I can set realistic goals for myself. Rather than being selfish, I actually care a great deal about people, and I am dedicating time to guiding other people in more effective and intentional communication and relationship with one another. Looking up and enjoying each step as I journey not only lets me see other people more clearly, but it gives me a chance to really see myself.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who's Going to Play This?

For most of my compositions, I have a clear understanding of who will play the piece. At least the first time. Although I hope for many, many performers to program my works, there is a specific musician or ensemble I have in mind when I am writing. What I know of their abilities, their likes and dislikes, and even their personalities have played a part in my decisions. It feels like a partnership, and I like the opportunity to receive feedback about what I've written and to make changes when something just doesn't work.

Now I find myself working little by little on a piece without a predetermined performer. It fits with my new practice of committing to a purpose because the outcome is important to me, even if I can't see clearly how to get from where I am to where I want to be. I know where the first step is, though. Once I get there, and take enough time to enjoy that bit of the journey, I can figure out where Step #2 lies. I find that I am on several different journeys, and their steps are not all moving at the same pace. It is a rather invigorating dance when I take a moment to think about it.

With this project, I am envisioning sound relationships in a more idealized way. I'm not sure what the end result will be, but it is a liberating process. There may be many changes once I have an opportunity for the work to be performed, but I believe that it is a very honest representation of my creativity so far. It is a bit slower going than some of my other compositions, but I am not in a hurry. I am listening deeply and consciously to what I have written, so I feel much more in tune with every detail of what I am creating. I am being a bit meticulous about knowing what comes next, and I am waiting to create more of the piece until I am in a place of trusting myself and the music. And the rest of my life's dance continues around it and within it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

All in the Timing

When I am working on a piece of music, I am very conscious of the temporal elements. How do different sections relate to one another in length? How much time am I spending on a particular theme? Am I giving the listener enough time to take it in, or am I surpassing a typical listener's attention span? Sometimes, I find myself writing more music to extend a portion of a piece that flits by too quickly, and on other occasions I cast aside something that just doesn't work in the pacing of a piece. Ideally, I want each portion of a work to take just the right amount of time to be appreciated and to relate well to the grand scheme of the piece. Of course, I don't know what any listener's actual experience is going to be, so I rely on what works for my own ears and trust the music.

This week, I have had a series of days in which I didn't do everything I had intended with my day. There are goals I have in several different areas of my life, and when I am not pushing forward toward all of them, I have had a tendency to beat myself up. It is as if I have to cover new ground each day or else I will be doomed to failure.

This isn't reality, though. Far from it. There is something in each step to appreciate, and moving on too quickly would be like cutting short a section in a piece of music. When I take the time to truly recognize what I am gaining from being where I am in this moment, I am better prepared for what comes next. If I go careening forward in a mad attempt to accomplish more and get where I'm headed faster, I can easily slip into panic mode. Today, I am listening to myself a little better. I have plenty of things I want to do today, but I also realize that I have tomorrow. And the day after that. And I am where I am supposed to be right now.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Self-Fulfilling Prophets, We

I had a conversation with someone yesterday who didn't believe she was being heard by a third party. Her initial demeanor was tense and agitated, and she became more so as we talked. I listened, I said that I heard she was frustrated about not being heard, and that things weren't going the way she thought they should. My words didn't really have a chance in that conversation, which ended with a bit of a threat toward me implying that I would have to do something about the situation. When she disengaged, I understood exactly how she felt about not being heard.

This complaint is not a new one for this individual. What I noticed as she spoke is that she repeated herself several times, and her voice had an edge to it. In fact her body was visibly shaking from the intensity of her emotion. She stated a lot of her beliefs as absolutes (i.e. "x should not happen," "y has to be this way," etc.), and the conversation was almost entirely on her terms. She wasn't really interested in my response, and she left when she chose to do so without opportunity for discourse. Basically, she did a lot of things that made what she had to say a bit more challenging to hear.

As I sat down today to send out some pieces to competitions and commissioning opportunities, I found myself doing something very similar. When I become convinced that I don't have a chance of being recognized or acknowledged, I act in a way that makes it more difficult to get recognition or acknowledgment. I pass up opportunities, or I approach the task of assembling the submission materials as a chore and an inconvenience. In reality, what I want can become more possible if I direct my energy appropriately, but I sometimes become bogged down by my doubts and fears and my energy becomes devoted to feeding those things instead. Fortunately, I recognized it today, and I sat back and thought, "What would it be like if the music I created won this competition?" I liked what I saw, and I was able to jump back into going for what I wanted with a smile.

It's what I want for the people I encounter, whether I see them for a moment or every day. I want them to get how much control they have over whether their fears or their hopes win their time and attention. I want to be a part of their awakening to how different their experience of life could be, and that it is a choice they can make, moment by moment. And I'm realizing that I don't have to go out and make opportunities for myself to be a catalyst in this way. The opportunities for me are all around me. All I have to do is notice them.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Warrior's Music

There have been some compositional ideas rattling around in my head since my time at Way of a Warrior last week. Much of the training was quite experiential; there was something to be learned in physical action rather than just sitting and listening to a lecture. One morning, exercising outside, I was visually taking in a beautiful serene mountain lake, smelling clean air and freshly cut grass, feeling the dew on my leg cooled by the morning breeze, and hearing bird calls from close by and a far off train. I was reminded of John Cage's philosophy as I thought: What incredible music!

For some of my ideas I want to submit for film or television scores, it works to keep it simple without being simplistic. But too often, I limit myself in my other compositional efforts by believing that I have to write something "accessible" or at least something that musicians will want to perform. It can be paralyzing at times, because ultimately I have to admit that I don't really know what other people will listen to or want to play. I can also get into telling myself that I won't write anything worth people's time or effort. Certainly not a motivational place to be.

Today I had a little time to start re-conceptualizing a piece I started a couple of months ago and dropped. After my trip to New York in March, there were wondrous ideas for a percussion piece floating around in my head, but when I started to get them on paper I was dissatisfied with the result. Now I am thinking about that piece in a new way... as a potential experience rather than mere sounds.

It's not a completely novel idea, but I don't really believe that everything (or anything) I do has to be completely novel. Still, I haven't often allowed myself the free rein to be as creative as I can be. Now I have been reawakened to the potency of experiential art, and I want to approach the music I write as openly as I can, stretching that aspect of myself to the fullness of its capacity as well. When I am excited about what I want to write, I am much more likely to carve out time to create. And when I pour my complete self into what I am creating, I know my effort won't be wasted.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fast Fliers

Another little piece of learning for me last week happened during a morning run, or "fly" as it was called. I found that when I run with trustworthy fast fliers, I can push myself to my limit without worrying about leaving someone behind, and I can stay within my limits without pushing too far, trusting that I won't be left behind.

This was important for me, because my life doesn't often have me partnering for long periods of time with people who are more capable than I in a particular area. I find myself holding back from stretching as far as I can because I'm conscious of the abilities of some people around me. And I often don't risk trusting someone to stick with me when I need to take things slowly. I believe in those instances that I will be holding someone back, that I will be annoying, or that I need to be as good as they are before I partner with them.

My flying lesson about trusting people now has me on the lookout for people who can do really well things I'm passionate about. I'm willing now to trust that inviting these people into partnership with what I am creating in my life will allow me to truly stretch to the limits of my capabilities. In music, as well as in many other things.