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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What's In A Blog Name?

I tossed and turned last night because I decided that I wanted to change the name of my blog.  Why on earth would I do that?  Toss and turn about it, I mean :-)

At first I created this blog because I wanted to express my thoughts outside of songwriting.  I have had songwriting articles online since 1996, which translates to aeons in the web universe, but I decided awhile back that I wanted to have another place to write about things that interested me outside of songwriting.  So the name became IJ's Blog because a lot of people followed the links from my website and already knew me as IJ.

A few articles ago, I wrote about my father's battle with Alzheimers and a couple of fascinating discussions we had in between his foggy moments.  I called it From The Inside Out because I was finally getting a glimpse of what his world was like these days under the influence of that disease.  On a walk yesterday, it occurred to me that everything I write about in this blog is more or less from the same perspective, from my inside out.

As I thought about it, I realized that we all experience our lives from the inside out.  Not only that, but our outside is very much a reflection of, and affected by, our inside.  None of us experiences the same thing in the same way.  When I sit with my husband's many siblings, for instance (he has five of them), and they talk about their childhoods, they each remember different things about events they all experienced together.  This boggles my mind, having no blood siblings myself to reminisce about my early childhood with;  that they would each see the same event so differently, and sometimes one or two not even remember it at all!

As time goes by, I realize more and more that not only does my inner self affect my outer experience, but I can work to change myself to affect a more positive experience of my life, from the inside out.  This has become more important to me as I see so many changes happening around me and become increasingly aware of what Buddhists call "impermanence".  If we hang on too much to the way things were, we suffer.

My friends have always considered me somewhat of a "philosopher", and as far back as I can remember I've been fascinated by what makes people tick.  When I was a little girl, instead of the usual stuff, I wanted to be a "wise old woman" when I grew up.  Not a nurse or a teacher, but a wise old woman.  I imagined myself helping people with their problems, having answers for them. Thinking of that now it sort of astounds me.  Either I was a weird kid, or I had an inkling of what was going to be required to get through life, not just for myself but for everyone around me.  Perhaps I should have been a psychologist or a social worker.

But I'm a songwriter and a musician.  And I have spun the "wise old woman" idea into simply trying to understand and reflect the world around me.  From the inside out.

IJ

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Everybody Can Sing

It drives me crazy when I hear of another incident of a teacher saying or doing something to belittle a student because of their less-than-perfect musical skills.  But it still happens, and it happens all the time.  And students don't just hurt for a minute and get over it;  they often carry that scar for the rest of their lives.

I first experienced the sensitivity that people have when it comes to musical ability many years ago, when a good friend of mine and I were having what I thought was a pretty mundane conversation about singing.  She asked me why she couldn't find the right note when she was singing, and I told her it was because she had a tin ear.

Yes, I said that.

I immediately realized what a stupid idiot I was when I saw her eyes well up with tears.  I was probably twenty years old and had been singing and playing music all my life with little or no idea of how lucky I was to have it come so easily to me.  It's not that I thought everybody was the same, I knew that wasn't true.  I would often get picked to sing a lead part in a choir, and even though I wasn't a particularly talented clarinet player (I got impatient with reading notes, so I made things up by ear!), I could pretty much pick up any instrument and make something musical come out of it.  I knew that other kids couldn't necessarily do that, but it never occurred to me that they cared much.

When I first started teaching guitar back in the late 80's, I belonged to a local non-profit organization that was a group of music instructors.  We once held an open house in the basement of a local church, where people interested in taking lessons could come and meet us all.  One of our teachers taught voice, and she had an almost holistic approach to her lessons.  She gave a talk about her teaching style and mentioned the fact that many people are particularly sensitive about their voices and whether or not they can sing.  There were several people there who had come that afternoon because they were interested in voice lessons, and after her talk I could see that a couple of them were particularly emotional, openly crying.  When I spoke with that teacher awhile later, she told me that it happens all the time with her adult students.  In working with them, she finds they often become extremely emotional opening up and singing out, and a lot of it has to do with having been belittled or ridiculed as children because of their voices.

One of our mottoes in that little non-profit was that everybody can play and everybody can sing.  We wanted to bring the joy of playing and singing back into people's lives, instead of this idea that if you weren't a Mariah Carey or an Eric Clapton, you were wasting your time.  The person who started that organization those many years ago, Becky Bernson, died of cancer in February 2000.   But if it hadn't been for her and that group of people, I don't know that I would have understood as much as I do today how deeply people feel about their ability to sing and play an instrument, and how devastated they become when someone tells them they can't.

I've been teaching guitar now since 1989, and I have witnessed this from time to time in my own students.  They tell me that they WANT to play or sing but they really can't because someone, a teacher or a parent, told them so.  I've also heard horror stories from my friends and from my friends' children that have so angered me, it's hard for me not to go and find those teachers or choir leaders and simply rake them over the coals myself!  Do they realize that all they have to do is to give a child (or an adult, for that matter) one dirty look when he or she sings off key or out of time, in order to give them a life long inferiority complex?  What they are "teaching" is that these people are not good enough!  What kind of a life lesson is that?  The Simon Cowell's of the world, and those who fancy themselves as being musical experts, have done more damage than they will ever realize to those who were not born with natural musical abilities.  That's why I don't watch those "talent" shows;  all I can imagine is how horrendous people must feel when they are considered not good enough.

It won't be  long before it is Christmas again, and we all know what a huge part Christmas songs and carols play in the joy of that season.  What can more beautiful than seeing a happy, smiling, enthusiastic class of young children belting out a Christmas song at the school Christmas concert?   What is more joyful than your friends and family playing or singing some silly or sentimental tunes, sipping eggnog by the fire?  That's what it's all about!

Those many years ago when I realized what I had done to my friend, I apologized profusely to her.  To this day, I hope she can forgive me for being so stupidly insensitive.

Because the truth is, everybody can play.  And everybody can sing.

IJ

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Grandfather The "Slacker"

I bought a poppy the other day, as I often do this time of year.  A red one, not one of those anti-war white ones.  I'm sort of peeved that this movement grabbed the very symbol of Remembrance Day and twisted it to their own political purpose.

It's not that I love war, or accept it or even simply tolerate it.  I don't.  But the poppy, to me, represents the people who have sacrificed, often everything, because of war.  And that's it.  It's not about politics to me.  It's about life.  And often death.

My father served in World War II even though he considered himself a pacifist.  His father, my Grandfather, as I found out very recently, was actually a draft dodger.  The war he was refusing to participate in was World War I, and in those days the dodgers were referred to as "slackers".  He was in the U.S., having been sent over by his family in Denmark to be educated by his wealthier aunt and uncle in Montana.  It didn't work out too well between them, so my teenage Grandfather left and wandered around the northern states, hopping trains and getting work where he could.

I never could figure out what made him cross the border into Canada, until my cousin recently uncovered a U.S. document that showed he had been drafted.  We more or less put two and two together;  he came to Canada to avoid the draft!  It actually made me chuckle to realize that my Grandfather had the guts to run.  Some might see that as cowardice, but I believe it's a lot more brazen to avoid being herded into a horrid war.  I can imagine how he viewed it;  he was not an American citizen, so why would he fight as one?

Not long after spending time in Canada, he went back to Denmark and married my Grandmother and they both came back to Canada to settle.  My father, the first of four children, was born in Calgary.

I wonder how my Grandfather felt about my Dad enlisting when he did.  Did he agree with it, or simply accept that there was not much that could be done?  My Dad never saw any action in World War II, he was stationed in Alberta and here on Vancouver Island and basically just worked on fighter planes testing instrument panels.  Although he was, as I said, a pacifist, I think he felt he had to do his duty, as much of a contradiction as that was.  He was a history nut, and could tell you something about any and every war on the planet since the beginning of time.  I might be exaggerating, but not by much!  In that respect, he knew more than many what war was all about.

These many years later, his favourite grandson, my nephew has had five tours in Afghanistan and is now training troops elsewhere in the world.

I respect my Grandfather for not wanting to be in a war.  I respect my Dad for enlisting.  I respect my nephew for risking his life in Afghanistan not once, but five times.  I'm never going to stop hating wars and the effects they have on so many.  But every November, I'm going to wear a red poppy because I don't ever want to forget what so many have done for all of us.

IJ


Saturday, November 2, 2013

What's The Story?

It surprises me sometimes what I will discover or uncover while I'm out for a simple half-hour walk. Sometimes I experience little moments that surprise or entertain me.  More often than not, I come across objects about which I don't really know the whole story, so I'm left to ponder.

Things found on the side of the road are common.  On just one such walk last week, I found a toddler's bright white sock on the side-walk, a child's toque stuck on a fence post, and finally, thrown across the back of a bench at a bus stop, a pair of man's pants.  It wasn't too hard to imagine how the sock and the toque got left behind, but the man's pants?  As the expression goes, some things are left best to the imagination.

Lately we have enjoyed an extra stretch of sunny days, spotlighting all of the gorgeous fall colours. And the pumpkins!  So many houses have pumpkins proudly displayed on their front porches and fences, some of them carved, some simply left in their bright orange original state.  Halloween decorations are everywhere too, some of them store bought and others home made and entertainingly original.  On one front lawn, there are nothing but graveyard headstones with obvious names of historical figures.  Except one, which is marked "Usher".  Not a fan of his music? :-)

Yesterday on my walk, I was crossing a quiet intersection, passing a little girl on her tricycle accompanied by her mother who was carrying an infant in a snugly.  The little girl asked "The cat is just a decoration, right Mummy?" to which the mother reassuringly replied "Yes, sweetie, it's just a decoration."  I realized that they were looking at something behind me.  I wondered why she'd be scared of a cat decoration until I turned around and saw the giant blow-up black cat, menacingly perched on the roof of a house.  No wonder she was scared!  

Today, heard a cyclist coming up behind me as I was walking...when she passed by me, I noticed she was wearing butterfly wings that flapped in the wind.  Probably on her way to school, to a special school Halloween party, I surmised.

Soon after, I passed a house where someone had posted a piece of paper with a warning to dog owners.  I have seen that post for a few weeks now, and I often see posts like it, telling people to pick up after their dogs.  There are a lot of dog walkers in our neighbourhood, and most of them are kind enough to scoop the poop, but there are those rare few who have no such sense of decency.  I didn't read that particular post previously because I was sure it was another exasperated home owner who had hit one too many piles of poop while mowing the lawn.  Today, I decided to stop and actually read it.

I was wrong about its content.


The text below the title may be hard to see.  It says:  "Please do not walk your dog too close to the hedge, as our cat is very territorial and protective of this lawn you're walking on!  She hides in this hedge!  So walk on this lawn at your own risk! She does not discriminate by dog breed or size either!  Have a great day!  Woof! Meow! :-)"  

Below is a cartoon with a cat chasing a dog, who is exclaiming "There's something wrong here..."

Having had several "territorial" cats, I can well understand the warning!  The picture in my head of that cat chasing dog after surprised dog made me laugh out loud.

Quite often people intentionally leave things on their boulevards that they are hoping to get rid of.  I've done that myself a couple of times with varying degrees of success.  But I've never understood the couch thing.  Why do people leave stinky old couches out, some of them for days IN THE RAIN?  How can they even imagine that someone would want to sit in something like that, let alone bring it home?  It defies logic.

Lastly, on one of my walks a couple of weeks ago I noticed something white on the ground.  On closer inspection, I saw that it was a note.  I walked past it, and then decided to turn around, pick it up and actually read it.  What it said surprised and delighted me:


I could only imagine the story behind that note.  There are no names anywhere on it.  Were they neighbours, family, or friends?  Why couldn't the recipient cook?  Perhaps it was an elderly person or someone just home from the hospital, or otherwise incapacitated.  What struck me most, however, was the generosity of the person who wrote the note.  Somebody knew the recipient's situation and went out of their way to make them a meal.  This wasn't really what you would call a "random" act of kindness, rather it was a thoughtful and deliberate one. And it doesn't get any kinder than that.

I still have the note and I think I will keep it to remind myself of all of the special moments that take place--the extraordinary events that quietly happen between people.  These moments may never make the local news or YouTube, but I am made aware that they are happening all of the time.

Whoever said walks are boring must be doing it with a bag over their head.

IJ