I was meditating on gratitude and the words and melody for this song came together fairly quickly except the “serenity” part which came several days later.
I was playing what I had already while waiting for a class to arrive and just improvising the “chorus” when a kindergarten kid who had run ahead of her class burst into the room. This child was the exact opposite of her name. She could have been called “Precocious”, “Energetic”, “Dynamo”, “Calamity”…. but there she was …”Serenity” and I had the song finished. The kids all loved the chorus and sang along with me ah…….Serenity. One child asked why I wrote a song about Serenity and not her. “Julie” Lol.
I love the silence
It lets the music shine through
You love my music
It's my gift from me to you
From me to you......Serenity
I love the peace of knowing
You're here with me
Being here with me
And knowing that we are free
That we're free.........Serenity
Some battles can't be fought
Some treasures can't be bought
We've already been taught
What's right and what is not.......Serenity
We know our days are numbered
There's no time to waste
We've got to cherish every moment
Savour every taste
This song is very personal. It was written in 2010 as I was struggling with a crumbling marriage, a mother being eroded by dementia and a career that was stalled by overworking and being underappreciated. Concurrently, one of my children was struggling to find herself and the other one was suffering from neglect.
The words came to me as I was wheeling my mum in her wheelchair to a park on a sunny Autumn day in Ottawa. I wrote it as she slept in the sun.
At the time I felt that I was drowning and any personal serenity was unreachable and unattainable unless I started to swim. At that moment I stopped rationalizing away my situation. I knew my mum would die soon, my marriage needed to be ended and my girls needed more of their father and I needed to stop the hemorrhaging.
Later that day, the arpeggiated chord sequence and the melody just dropped into my brain and fingers making this one of the easiest songs I have ever written (if you don't count the years of overwhelming suffering that went into it).
The album "Too Blue" was written before, but released this year. The songs still ring true, but fortunately my life is no longer in such disarray.
Disappearing Right before my eyes
A way of life Before I realize
Something’s gotta give 'cause
I want to live
Disappearing Right before my eyes
Running from myself Cut me down to size
Something’s gotta give I want to live
Disappearing Right before my eyes
Squeeze me out Something to despise
Something’s gotta give I want to live
Disappearing Right before my eyes
Running from the truth But all I see are lies
Something’s gotta give I want to live
Disappearing Right before my eyes
The change has got me
Right between the eyes
Copyright 2010. I.G.H.
By now, almost no-one has maps (or gloves, for that matter)in their glove department.
I have had several recent experiences with GPS (and lack of….).
The first experience I will relate was when I returned my daughter to her new home about an hour north of Manhattan. My daughter was in the car and obviously knew the way, so I followed her instructions and we got there without incident. The return trip back to Canada without her was another matter. Both she and her husband gave me instructions (which differed….) and I set out, confident that I would remember the left turns, the bridge crossing and the route numbers, etc.
I got hopelessly turned around and knew I was going the wrong way when I passed a sign saying “Entering New Jersey”.
When in the US I turn off data and roaming etc. on my cell phone because I am “cheap” that way. One time I didn’t and my bill was stupidly large…. I am from another era and never figured out how to use my phone properly while travelling. My eyes glaze over when someone tries to explain stm cards and dilithium crystals and warp factors etc.
I found a café and got a coffee and asked how to get to the I87. They said “just check your GPS. I explained that I am from Canada and I did not have GPS (further propagating the myth that we live in igloos). The person then said “I’ll send you the directions by airdrop”. Great, I thought. I got her airdrop and headed out to the car confident I knew what to do. The instructions for the route back had about ten significant turns. The first three I had in my head, so did not refer to the air dropped instructions. When I did turn to them, the file wouldn’t open unless I downloaded some other quackery requiring internet and some password or the other…. So, up Shit Creek without a paddle again. I decided to proceed anyway. I saw a sign that referred to I 87 and turned. One turn just before I was supposed to….. Misled. There were two choices and I took the “road less travelled” just to spice up the trip…..not.
After several other miscues and inquiries at a doughnut shop (Donut in the US) I got on the highway pointed north and the rest was easy.
I miss maps
This morning I checked an address on my computer for a celebration of life that is in a rural area of Quebec that is unfamiliar to me. The initial map was a dot on a tiny sea of green. I zoomed out twice to see if I recognized anything (I didn’t) so I scrolled out further and saw the big picture which made sense to me and I have a clearer idea of where it is.
This got me thinking about tunnel vision which is the absence of peripheral vision. I realized that almost all of us spend a huge amount of time looking at screens and only seeing a focal point. It is like looking through a lens of a camera or a telescope or binoculars. One can see a part of what is there completely, or stated another way one can see completely a part of what is there.
Standing on top of a mountain, one can see a spectacular panoramic view. Through a lens, the view is limited.
Two weeks ago I went to Varennes to visit dear friends for the first time ever. I checked the route online and it seemed easy and direct. I thought that I had better check Waze on my phone to see which bridge or tunnel to take or avoid because they are always doing renovations to things on weekends. I put the destination in my phone and I took the Champlain bridge and the 138 east towards Varennes. I drove along enjoying the view of the St. Lawrence River from the southern shore. I got to Varennes and the Waze told me there was a railroad crossing ahead, but it didn’t tell me I was ‘there’. I drove about 10 km past Varennes and pulled over at the next town. Surely enough, Waze did not tell me I had overshot my destination. I then put the address into google maps and the annoying female voice that can’t pronounce French names got me to my friend’s home.
I miss maps.
This week I took the kids in my “Out and About”,(pronounced Oot and Aboot)(to further propagate Canadian tropes for American readers). activity to a small museum. The assistant for one of the children asked if she could drive there as she had to go to another job after the activity. I told her exactly where it was and that I would meet up with her at the statue of strongman Louis Cyr at the intersection of rue Saint-Antoine and rue St. Jacques. We, who had taken two city buses and had walked for another ten minutes, got there before her. She should have been waiting for us. She was relying on GPS instead of looking out the window. The name for Montreal should be “Detour City” because traffic cones and barricades pop up everywhere and send previously sane drivers into rubber rooms. This girl drove everywhere in further widening circles and had passed the spot we were to meet four times!!! Tunnel vision. Her trajectory reminded me of a Beagle which was once our family dog. Fergie (named after the Duchess of York….my father claimed “our Fergie had a better lineage”….lol) was the worst beagle in existence. She was so stupid (but loveable and loyal) that I saw her catch the scent of a rabbit and tore around ridiculously back and forth and this way and that while the rabbit, as cool as Bugs Bunny, was frozen in plain view. The bunny was camouflaged, but visible. Fergie ran right past the bunny within a metre several times..lol. Soon Fergie gave up without her prey (Royals have little work ethic) and the rabbit lived to see another day.
When we only rely on only one sense, or one source of information (the assistant with her GPS, the dog and her nose, or me with my memory trials and an app that didn’t do what I wanted it to). We can get lost.
People smothering their senses of the moment is another form of tunnel vision.
A young man passed me on the sidewalk the other day. He had headphones on. Not earbuds, but “cans” that completely enclosed his ears and he was also staring intently at his phone. I said to my walking companion that I felt sorry for that guy. My walking companion asked why and I told him that the man missed hearing the song sparrow, the blue jay and the chickadee that we had heard in the last 30 seconds, blocked out the jackhammer we had passed by and was unaware of the bicycle traffic he was sharing the path with.. My companion said he hadn’t hear them either. I said that he had heard them, but he was not listening for them. Hearing is passive and listening is active. Headphones dude was actively listening, but importing his own sonic reality and missing out on actual reality.
The more we stare at screens and dull our senses with entertainment, the less we experience the gift of life and the beauty and ugliness that surround us.
Moral of the story? Two choices: Glance at a map, but be here now? or stare at the virtual and be somewhere else?
‘Hijack a truck” he says. “We’ll drive her across the continent and sell the cargo when we reach the coast. You do know the backroads?” Brothers Eli and Colton had hatched a plan to swap a trucker’s uppers for downers.
This is how it started.
At Joe’s Café the truckers would gather, swapping lies and popping the pills they got from Joey (another one, not the owner) to get in another 300 miles or so before pulling over for the night.
The brothers saw a rig pull in hauling four brand new 1957 Cadillac Fleetwoods. The driver, Mortimer (Morty) Hassock was making his first interstate delivery and as he entered Joe’s Café there were at least four eyes watching his every move. Morty chose an empty booth and ordered from Sarah a middle-aged waitress who looked and acted like she had been a part of this Café for centuries and there was nothing new that she hadn’t already seen. As Sarah retreated into the kitchen to deliver the order, Morty made his way to the John to relieve himself. As he passed Joey’s booth just before he reached the washrooms Joey enquired in a whisper if he might need some “helpers” to help him get to his destination sooner? Morty shook his head, no, but thought some more about this as he was relieving himself and when he emerged after washing and drying his hands he agreed to buy $10 worth of amphetamines so that he and his rig could eat more pavement and he could return home to his fiancé after his delivery in time for the Friday dance.
The tiny paper bag holding the pills was very easy to swap out by Eli who came to Morty’s table and made some small talk. He drew Morty’s attention to a very comely young lady in the parking lot and not only switched the bags, but managed to slip a sleeping pill into Morty’s coffee as well.
Morty got up after his huge “all day breakfast-$1.29” paid, and left a tip for Sarah and proceeded to the parking lot where he did stretching exercises for his neck and shoulders as he walked to his truck with Eli and Colton stealthily pursuing.
At the wheel, Morty was beginning to feel the endorphins from all those carbs and the sedative was also beginning to take effect. He popped a couple of the treats from his paper bag to counter this, and pulled out onto the blacktop.
Of course the pills had the opposite effect on him and soon Morty found himself nodding at the wheel. He pulled onto a side road and made a pillow from his jacket and spare clothing. He was out cold when the brothers pulled up behind the rig and approached the driver’s side door. Eli had a gun “just in case”, but it wasn’t needed as Morty could not be woken up. They pulled Morty out of the cab and covered him up with his jacket and left him snoozing by the side of the road.
Colton started the rig and pulled onto the road. The idea was to follow the road to a crossroads or a place wide enough to turn around with Eli following in their car. The road was getting narrower, and there were no intersections, so Colton kept on driving for perhaps thirty miles with the occasional homestead or farm appearing every mile or so. Colton stopped and waited for Eli to catch up and they both conferred on what to do with this “hot” rig. It was decided that turning around might not be safe as Morty may have been discovered by now. It was decided that Eli, who had a map would lead the way and they would take several detours across pretty wild territory until they met with a rural route marked as a county road several miles to the south of where they were.
There was only one problem with this road, unbeknownst to the brothers. There was a small bridge about 20 miles ahead that a car could easily traverse, but the width and weight limitations meant the truck would not be able to.
When they reached the bridge, they knew they could progress no further. Not only that, but there was still no place to turn around. Colton backed the truck up gingerly for about 200 yards and noticed a derelict field to his left that, if he was lucky, he could finally turn the truck around. he pulled onto the field and started the wide arc to finally get the truck pointed in the right direction. He was successful, but was about to rejoin the path to the road when his brother frantically signalled him to stop. Eli had heard a car rapidly approaching while he was watching the manoeuvring and had the presence of mind to drive his car out of sight. If they were lucky the passing auto would not notice either of them. The car was a police cruiser and it zoomed past them towards the bridge. Eli knew that the car would be returning soon when the police realize the rig could not have gone that way. Colton realized it too, and backed the rig up into a copse of saplings hidden from view to any road. He parked the truck and he and Eli sat in the sedan waiting for the cruiser to return.
The police did not see the hidden vehicles and vanished back from whence they came. Eli decided that they had to make a plan B. The truck was an unwieldy burden now and the police would be on the lookout for it. Plan B was to return home and wait a week. return to the truck and take each car singly to a town in the next state where they could be “chopped for parts”. Not the bonanza they had originally planned, but a decent payday nonetheless.
Eli marked the site on his map and the brothers returned the way they had come. They decided to go into Joe’s Diner and grab burgers and fries before heading home. Nobody raised an eyebrow when they walked in and ordered, so the boys relaxed until they saw Morty get out of a police car in the lot. Colton nudged his brother and they both skedaddled out the back door. Better safe than sorry.
Fearful that they might have been made, Eli pulled out onto the highway and they drove above the speed limit for ten miles. On their left was a long freight train running parallel to the road and Eli decided he wanted to get on the other side of it and raced toward where he knew there was a railroad crossing. Not wanting to be stuck at the alreay flashing crossing, Eli took a chance and gunned the engine, determined to sneak through ahead of the train. The car was going very fast and was about ready to make the left turn and hop the level crossing when the car blew a tire and careened onto the tracks.
The impact was huge and drastic. The fireball consumed both brothers and their schemes and the map. The truck was only discovered fifty years later.
Why not a miracle?
We could use several right about now
There are people that we love
Whose company brings delight
Whose lives have meshed with ours
Who have made our hearts light
Some are ailing now,
some are failing now
Why not a miracle?
so very, very hard to face this landscape
Beauty ripped from the earth
Relentless bulldozer's hungry, greedy pursuit
We could use a miracle
A restraining order
Cease and desist
We're not ready for any of this
The land won't ever be the same
The land can't ever be the same
The contours of the space We loved
Forever gone, gone forever
Smiles and laughter in the rear view mirror
As we are dragged without a say
Into this barren unforgiving space
Of undesired decay
This shifting shape of loss
Of waking up to less
Meaning what was meant
Another bloody detour
We need another and another and another daybreak
There's much much more love to make
Another and another and another birthday cake
Where have all the flowers gone?
There are places we have known
others waiting to be shown
Plucked from memory
Banned from possibility
Bitter bon bons melting away
No sweetness here
All joy and grief in a blender
Return to sender
We could use a miracle
Why not a miracle?
In June of 2017 my attention was drawn to someone who resembled me in some ways…. the photo (which I can’t find) was a doppelgänger for sure. His name is Maxime LeClerc-Gingras. We are both from European ancestry, long haired with salt and pepper beards, (although mine is more salt now five years later).
He has what I view as an enviable alternative lifestyle. He and his companion Ann-Marie live off grid in the woods in rural Quebec and on his Canine Ranch he takes care of dogs among many other things including hosting retreats, offering dog sledding experiences etc/ You can read about him here.
He is very open about his spiritual journey recovering from addiction and his musings, reflections and meditations have been a source of inspiration to me and others (I presume) as well. Although I, myself am not an addict, my many years of recovery in Al-Anon from the effects of alcoholism on my life make me feel a kinship or brotherhood with this man who I have not yet met in person.
His posts are uniformly intelligent, compassionate and insightful. His writing about his wife Ann-Marie who suffers from severe migraine (as I do) and his writing about her strength and beauty despite this affliction gave me strength as well.
A short time ago he wrote this wonderful poem which I copied and saved. I was inspired this week to set it to music and have included my demo video (warts and all) to bring this lovely work out into the light of day. I hope you enjoy it and share it widely.
One of the lessons in a successful recovery and indeed for being a better person is “service”. Helping others makes us feel less helpless, less alone. Today with global warming; this awful pandemic; and being seemingly on the brink of what might be another world war, I ask myself “what can I do?” “”How can I help?”
Comment puis-je aider?
J’ai longtemps cherché,
Cherché qui je suis,
Cherché le sens de ma vie,
Je me suis perdu,
Je me suis noyé,
Pour un jour, m’envolé,
Ç’a été long,
Mais je sais aujourd’hui,
Aujourd’hui, je sais mon destin,
Je l’ai trouvé au fond de la nuit,
Essayer, tant bien que mal,
Être utile à mon prochain,
Apporter un soupçon de paix, de réconfort,
Alléger un peu le bagage,
Marcher quelque temps,
Ensemble sur sentier,
Retirer un caillou de nos souliers,
For those of you who don't understand French, here is a crappy translation of his beautiful words:
How can I help?
I searched for a long time,
Finding out who I am
Searched for the meaning of my life,
I lost myself,
Then one day, I flew away,
It's been a long time
But I know today
Today I know my destiny,
I found it in the depths of the night,
I try, somehow,
To be useful to my neighbour,
To bring a hint of peace, comfort,
Lighten the baggage a little,
walk for a while,
Together on the trail,
Remove a pebble from our shoes,
Shout out to my good friend Nathalie who helped and reassured me of my pronunciation of some of the lyric.
I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions lately. Many of my friends and relatives including myself are entering the final stretch of life, however long that may be. Some people already have a template for living out their years. I write songs.
I think this song is a bag full of question marks. It may be asking questions you would ask yourself. I had a favourite music professor and mentor who ended each class with “Any questions? Any Answers?”
Although I do wonder about the myriad paths I have taken in life, I am not as immersed in doubt and ambivalence as I used to be. I’m fully engaged with living and making the most of my time and creative energy remaining. I also attempted to put myself in the shoes of someone I love dearly who now has memory issues and sad resignation.
The musical spark was just a simple country feel while fooling around on my beautiful Greenfield guitar. The song came out as a slow groove (I IV and V chords), and the initial lyrical ideas were from a memory of a jingle I heard as a little boy. (“You wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”). I loosely reference the Bacharach/David lyric “what’s it all about, Alfie?” from the 1960’s where many of my fondest memories are from.
My song is six minutes long. Too long for a pop song, so what? I am not popular….. Think of it as an accompaniment to a cup of tea or a quiet time looking out the window. An oasis and rest stop.
I wonder where the wonder went
More miles travelled, they came and went
Our Wonder years already spent
Wondering what anything meant
I wonder Who I was meant to be
If I’ve seen all that I was meant to see
Or was it all just fantasy
I wonder if I’m really me
I wonder what this is all about
If anybody anywhere could have Bailed me out
If I ever bought in, Or did I drop out
Hey, Alfie, what’s it all about
I wonder when I can feel it again
If I’ll ever be relieved from residual pain
If I ever figure out what’s been Driving me insane
And Where I’ll get off this runaway train
I wonder where my my serenity went
The worries in my head should be paying me rent
All of my joy has already been spent
I wonder where everybody went
Oh, oh, I wonder
I wonder why things turned out like they did
Some things in the open, some things hid
I wonder Was my offer the winning bid
I wonder if it’ll be the same for my kids
I wonder how I’m going to cope with these things now
If I’m going to have a smile or a furrowed brow
I wonder where I’m going to point my prow
Am I going to take everything that life will allow
I wonder why this all seems so strange
Why all of my targets are out of range
I wonder if I’m Willing to Change
Pretty sure something can be arranged
I just finished re-reading Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut. The story is complex but deals with the annihilation of the human race except for some ragtag castaways on an island in the Galapagos archipelago. Told by a ghost with very cavalier and smug opinions about the importance of life and death. Vonnegut’s world view, of course, shaped by the horrors of war and surviving the carpet bombing destruction of Dresden.
Twenty two years ago on this date (April 4th) a very good friend of mine hurtled to his death from atop a high rise apartment building on rue Docteur Penfield. He was twenty-seven years old. He’d be forty-seven now. He finally achieved his goal.
My father-in-law is ninety and was recently released from a two week stay in hospital after a big scare because his heart is weak. He is quite adamant about doing all he can to stay alive.
It got me to reflecting this morning about the contrast between people who choose death and others who choose life and others in between.
Recently there have been friends who have endured gruelling bouts of chemotherapy and radiation and determined to beat it. Other friends were not as fortunate. Many are in limbo. Several stories of people close to friends (a father of one and the husband of a colleague of my wife) who chose medically assisted death because their suffering was immense.
I respect people and their highly personal life and death decisions. I guess that makes me pro life although I don’t mean it in the anti abortion sense.
In between are people who seem to go through life just skimming the surface and not delving or seemingly cognizant of the wonderful gift of the world around us. Basic people do not interest me. I don’t respect them. “An unexamined life is not worth living”- Socrates
This morning a few lines of verse came to me. I wrote them down and picked up a guitar and said “B” and this song just wrote itself. I wrote and recorded it all in about three hours. Not bragging. It just goes to show that being in the moment and being aware are two things I cherish and what could have been just an ordinary day became an extraordinary day by my being free to follow this muse.
I’ve known children who want to be older
older people who dye to be young
people discontent with their lot in life
they can’t "be", they need to become
they hate Mondays… Can’t wait for Fridays…
they hate weekdays…Can’t wait for holidays
what about the in between?
break out of your routine
be there….be aware
some people don’t even know they’re alive
they take this gift for granted
looking at the world with blinders on
they don’t want to understand it
willful ignorance.. ignorance is bliss
willful ignorance I’ll tell you this:
get off your butts and live
life has so much to give
be there… be aware
I’ve known people who’ve been emptied out
they feel like they’ve been living through hell
they wake up in the dark even though it’s not night
they’re living in a prison cell
if you can call that living… they’ve given up
abandoned dreams … abandoned hope
I wish this wasn’t so, I want to share what I know
be there… be aware….
I’ve known people desperate to die
life’s menu caused them great pain
every day they’d ask themselves why
why should they do it again?
what can I tell them?….what can I say?
I never walked in their shoes… I’ve never felt that way
one thing I know for sure
my love for life is pure
be there…. be aware
I’ve also known people who were desperate to live
not ready to give up the ghost
they felt that life had much more to give
and wanted to live it to the utmost
what’s the hurry?… breathe in the air…
why worry? …..just be aware…
be there… be aware…
Being a music teacher, I often get asked if I know anyone that would like a piano. This happens at least a half dozen times a year, and I am not even a pianist (although I do have a piano and I do play it). Usually the request is after the piano itself has been put up for sale and no one bit despite the price eventually being reduced to zero.
It usually fills me with sadness. Today is no exception. A piano used to be as necessary as a refrigerator in a home. I feel that these objects that used to have and hold value and could be found in most middle class homes are no longer desirable in our hurried and mobile society. Gone the endless etudes and errors, gone the singalongs round the piano. My Uncle Charlie was great at making popular songs of the war era into hilariously lewd songs. When a piano is being used, vibrations fill the house and for those moments everything is safe. Everything is warm. Everything is worthwhile. Music connects us. Many of us get similar feelings from our guitars, but it is not quite the same as having a honking big piece of furniture that demands attention.
I understand. A piano takes up space and is expensive to maintain and/or move. Learning how to play requires a considerable commitment of time and effort. The children have grown up and no one plays it anymore. It is easier to have an electronic keyboard, etc. which has a headphone Jack for not “disturbing” others. Downsizing is important for an aging population.
To me, the feeling evoked by an unwanted piano is like the compassion I feel for an old unwanted dog that has been given up for adoption. We have two old dogs already in our home (not to mention three little birds). We also have a piano (and keyboards) so I feel the need to help in the placement, but not at my house.
What to do with it? I have helped some get into student’s homes. My sister had a great idea and got her piano placed at their local community centre and it will be used for choir rehearsals etc. Most churches often already have two or three pianos scattered around, but churches are closing or congregations merging. More pianos to get rid of. Schools (don’t get me started…) focus less on the arts and pianos can be found in the custodian’s lair gathering dust.
I love it when pianos are placed at random street corners in the city. I have seen and heard (and played) on several. Given our harsh climate though, these oases are merely temporary until the elements reclaim the usefulness of the piano rendering it fit for a landfill.
I wonder at how different the world would be if Oscar Peterson (for example) had not had a piano in his home, or Glenn Gould……….
As musical literacy and proficiency is becoming less important in our society, I can merely hope that the void left by this societal change will be filled in other creative and beautiful ways.