A Visit From the Muse


 

 

1.

One thing that always motivates me is a deadline. Having a calendar of coming events, coming obligations, is a not so gentle reminder that I need to take action. Time moves on, and me doing other things or not paying attention of the business at hand, gets me into trouble.

I’ve wanted to do something different at the monthly community open mic that I’ve helped get started. I do a lot of promotion for it and I always have something to read there.

Being the essayist, the book writer, the poet is a comfortable role. And, reading off the printed page is not threatening. I’m not totally drenched in nervous sweat when I read at a public event.

Many of my friends come, and the event is developing into a nice cultural event for this small town. One of my friends is now the regular emcee, and he does a fine job. Lately, he’s been “suggesting” I do something with my guitar. I play in a community country rock band; we’ve done public performances. And, I played my guitar while my wife sang at a friend’s wedding last year. So, I’ve dipped my toe into the public waters.

This past two weeks, I’ve flipped through several song books, and listened to some of my new favorite CDs, hoping to find that perfect “cover” song to play. If Willie or George or Pete can sing and play something in public, well maybe I can copy that.

I even found one of my first favorite songs, from when I was literally just a babe. “This Old House” was the number one song when I was one year old, and I annoyed my mother to no end playing it again and again on my little kid’s record player.

This week, I learned that Rosemary Clooney sang it in the key of Eb and it now is seen as a Gospel song. But, after a few hours, I realized it just wasn’t working for me. At least not with a deadline of tonight.

The last few days, I’ve felt that the song to be done is a blues song, and I found the rhythm and key that fits. All I needed were lyrics.

An article I read said that songs that work are about things you experience and have feelings about. I kept thinking about it, even when I was stuck in traffic. My home town is going through construction madness this summer. All the tourists plus construction of a new highway intersection, a town plaza and new sidewalks has often brought traffic to a halt.

I went home and sat down with my guitar and a quiet hour on the deck. Just me, my guitar, a pad of paper, and, hopefully, my new song.

I played my chords, got my rhythm, and wrote down a few thoughts about the traffic. Then a few more words, and more guitar strumming. I gave it space, and let the Muse settle in for a visit. More words. I put down the pencil, and found a pen. The pen somehow made it easier to write what came to mind.

Yeah, a lot of words and phrases came to mind, got written down, then crossed out, or new words and phrases stuffed in.

I looked up, taking in the coming sunset, took a break, got a glass of water, and wrote some more. And, edited, rearranged, mulling it all over.

I went to bed, feeling that this thing, this “song” was about there, and had been, well, created.

Overnight, my brain mulled it over again. At 2 a.m., I woke with the first verse fully in my head, and it was good. At 6, I sprung out of bed and wrote another verse, and revised several others, all before coffee. The Muse can be demanding.

Later, out of respect for my wife’s ears after only one cup of coffee and the morning hour, I waited until she went outside to the garden before my song rehearsal. The pen made a few more word changes, and then even editor’s remorse, and some editing was undone.

I relaxed, guitar pick in hand.

“Let the words guide the music,” the Muse whispered. “And relax.”

“Just let it flow.”

I like it. It’s a song. It’s good entertainment, too. Fun. Whimsical. And, a new side of me that I haven’t let too many people see. I haven’t let me see it very often, either. Playing that tonight will be fun, and my friends will be surprised.

Me, too.

2.

The Muse stayed with me, as I brought my guitar into the yogurt shop. I took it out the case, tuned it, and set it up near the microphone. I brought my music stand and put the printed words out there.

Nerves set in, as I waited for folks to gather, and we finished setting up the space. I sucked down a whole bottle of water, my mouth parched by the warm day, or was it nerves? My buddy started us off, and others played their music, read their poems.

It was a comfortable night for everyone, or so I thought. Old friends, reading new works, sharing deep emotions. Just like me.

Soon, it was my turn. And instead of having an essay or poem in my hand, it was my old familiar guitar. I strummed a few chords and off I went.

The song went as planned, and it came out the way I thought it should go. And, I got a nice round of applause at the end.

One friend admired the fact that I’d done something different tonight. We’re both poets, so he asked how writing a song was different.

“Still a poem,” I said, “but one with more dimensions.”

I’ve tried something hard, but it felt good, felt right. For what I wanted to say tonight, it was the way to go, a blues song about my little town, and what was going on affected me, changed me. That’s what a good poem, a good essay, or even a book chapter does, too.

Life is like that, offering challenges, new ways of saying things, getting things out.

 

–Neal Lemery, 7/23/2017

Three Ideas


Three Ideas

 

I came away from a recent workshop with three basic, interrelated ideas: core thoughts that I should be applying to everything in my life.

  • Increasing diversity improves a system
  • Respect and trust the natural system of life
  • Support rather than control

 

My viewpoints, my opinions aren’t on the list. My particular slant on how the world should work isn’t what is important. What is important is that everyone, including me, has the intention that we are here to be helpers.

 

Our own experiences, backgrounds, and dreams are simply tools, a small part of the whole, to be used to support others and work to improve the world. Each of us is a contributor, and a force for change.

 

We are here to support others, and to be a healthy part of the world. Our contributions should focus on being a healthy component of the whole, an enhancement rather than a hinderance.

 

“If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” (Eldridge Cleaver)

 

–Neal Lemery 10/17/2016

Letter To My Son


March 2, 2014

Dear Son:

I struggle with this language. Greek has seven words for love. We have one. Often, what I really want to say doesn’t have a word that fits. Often, the better word is in another language. What I really want to say is still inside of my guitar, waiting for my fingers and my lips to get into gear, and write a really good song.

The best things in life don’t suddenly appear. They quietly show up, and slip into your life, until, one morning, over coffee, you realize they are there. The best things don’t make a lot of noise, and don’t draw a lot of attention. Yet, they become part of the foundations in your life, just part of the granite that you build your life on.

And when you need that strength, that presence of those things in life that are truly good, truly part of your heart, you realize that they are simply there, and have become a big part of who you are, and who you want to be, that what you’ve been dreaming about, has softly become a part of your life.

You quietly came into my life. And, looking back, I realized you were now part of my life, part of who I was, and who I was becoming. And, to be part of who I will become later on.

Living my life is sometimes like a jigsaw puzzle, looking for that particular piece, searching out patterns, trying to find a match, so that things that don’t fit together, can fit together. Often I don’t see the whole picture, until some pretty big pieces of the puzzle come together, and then, I get it. I see what I’ve been working on, what is really going on.

I was helping you, yet in that, I saw myself, and figured out some things that I needed some help on. But, that is how life works; helping others helps the helper, especially when you don’t realize what is going on.

In watching you work through the tasks you have had to get where you wanted and needed to go, I saw my own journey, and gained perspective on what that time in my life was like for me, and how I managed. I saw you struggle, and I gained wisdom on my own struggles. You gained wisdom, and shared it with me. In that, you held up a mirror and I saw myself, in ways I hadn’t noticed before.

Around my birthday each year, I try to take some time to “count my gold” in my life, to take inventory, and to reassess. Who am I? What am I becoming? Am I on the right path?

Seeing you on your path, hearing of your adventures, watching you face your challenges and move on with your life, realizing your dreams, brings a big smile to my face. You share all that with me, and bring me into your life, opening your heart.

That is a great gift, to me.

You may think I give a lot to you, and that what we have between us is a one way street, all flowing to you. But, the street goes both ways.

You show me courage, determination, how to love one’s self and strive to walk towards your dreams and challenges, shoulders back, ready to face the day head on. You show me the joy in challenging one’s self, and in going out in the world with determination, with strong values.

You don’t take no for an answer very easily. You question, you challenge obstacles, and you look for solutions.

And, I learn from that. I take notes. I look at who you are and who you are becoming, and I mirror that back to me, and assess who I am , and where I am going, and who I am becoming.

I take a bit of your strength, your energy, your mojo, and I grow it inside of my heart, and I try to share it with others. You probably do that with me, and what you get from me. But, this is a two way street, and we both are challenged and we both grow.

I expect both of us to be challenged in what we are to each other. I expect us to butt heads, to argue, to struggle at times. In that, we both become stronger, and we both have to confront who we are inside, and what our relationship really is. Yet, that is the power of a healthy relationship.

A real, a strong relationship has those struggles. Such a relationship will only grow stronger, and deeper. Out of those conversations comes strength, and a knowing, a deeper understanding of who each of us truly is, deep inside. Such a relationship makes each of us journey deep into our souls, and truly realize who we are inside.

I want you to have those struggles, and those challenges in the important relationships in your life, and with your relationship with your own soul. This is work, but it is good work. It makes you stronger, deeper, more complete.

Such is the journey of a real man, a complete person.

The Maori in New Zealand have a word for this value, this attribute of a healthy man, mana. The Aborigines of Australia, native Americans, and most cultures throughout the world have a sense of this value, this journey, this aspect of character.

This week, President Obama talked about this, as he talked about the crisis of African American young men, growing up fatherless and aimless. He shared about how he would smoke dope as a teenager, struggling with a father who abandoned him and his mother, about trying to find his way into manhood, as a Black kid on the streets, not sure where he wanted to go in life.

It is a familiar story, and an uncomfortable one. Most people don’t want to hear it. But, when the President of the United States tells that story, and says that it is his story, I hope that a lot of people listened.

It was a powerful speech, and his initiative is a powerful, thought provoking message to our country. He called for a conversation about how we raise kids, and how we need to bring boys into their manhood, and offer them a role in this world, and a purpose in their lives.

In my little town, heroin is the most popular street drug, and many of the people in jail are junkies. Our dropout rate in school is substantial, and a lot of young people are unemployed, under-employed, and not challenged to be a vibrant part of our community. Most of them are lost, too, just like the young men President Obama is talking about. The issues aren’t abstract, and they aren’t just a “national” issue. These are the issues in my neighborhood, too. The President could give the same speech right here on our Main Street, and just refer to what is going on here, right here in my “hood”.

Yesterday, I was a guest at “J’s” 21st birthday party (he is an inmate at the prison where I mentor young men), and we had a similar conversation. And, I saw such a hunger in the room, young men seeking direction and purpose in their lives, young men doubting their journeys and questioning their strengths. And, how they listened to the three mentors in the room, and to each other, talking about strengths and talents, and directions to take in their lives.

“J” wept at the words of others, words of value and admiration. And, when he spoke of his own strengths, and his own value in the world, we all wept.All of us needed that conversation, and needed to hear those words, and feel the pain and the love that was part of that conversation. I needed to hear a young man, talking about his values, and his strengths.

I felt honored to be in the room, to hear those words, to have that conversation, to talk about what really matters in life. And, if President Obama and “J” are on the same page, maybe this country is changing.

Son, I felt you in that room, your spirit of guidance and courage. You have journeyed in those questions and doubts, and you have found direction and answers, and wisdom.

And, when it was my turn to speak and offer wisdom and guidance to those young men, I heard your voice in my heart, and I felt your guidance and your wisdom in the room. And, I was filled with gratitude, gratitude for what you have brought to my life.

Thank you, son, for all of that.

Last summer, I shocked you, telling you that I don’t want a perfect son. I still don’t. But, I do want a son in my life who uses his brain, and is comfortable in his own soul, and who dares to question himself, and where he is going. I want a son who takes on a challenge, and who confronts his dragons and demons.

I want a son who isn’t afraid of saying no, who isn’t afraid of his weaknesses, and doesn’t run from the possibility of “failure”. I think the only time a person can “fail” is when you don’t even try.

I want a son who embraces his journey into manhood, and takes life’s challenges head on, and who is not afraid to ask for some tools and help as he goes about his work. I want a son who reaches out to the stars, and who lives life to the richest and fullest.

I’m not perfect either. I mess up, I run from challenges sometime, and I’m not the perfect father for you. I am on my own journey, and need to have my own challenges and make my own mistakes.

I’ve made mistakes in our relationship. I’ll make more. And, I expect you to call me on those, to be critical, to be a good observer, and a good communicator. I expect us to have rich dialogues about who we are, and who and what we are to each other. In that, our relationship will grow.

I’ll try to show you how I do my own journey in life, warts and all. I’l try to be open about my blunders and my errors, as well as my achievements and my successes. I won’t be perfect for you, but I will try to be honest with you. I’ll try to be open and transparent.

Let this journey continue!

Love,

Neal

The Gift of Education


The Gift of Education: My Speech at My Mentee’s College Graduation, Camp Tillamook, February 7, 2013

It is an honor and privilege to be in this place of personal change, this place of education, and to honor D***.

I am one of D***’s mentors, his friend, and, sometimes, his rhythm guitar player. I stand here with pride and with admiration for a job well done.

We honor D*** for his determination, for his will power, and for his accomplishments. We honor his dedication to make something of himself, to make fundamental changes in his life, and to challenge himself to succeed.

He is the first among you to attain his Associates Degree. This is a remarkable and significant accomplishment.

D*** is the first to achieve this milestone here. But, he is only the first among many.

I look around this room, and I see all of you young men who will follow D***‘s lead, who will keep working hard, and learning. You will achieve your own college degrees.

We also come here today to honor all of you young men. You are all students, you are all learning, and applying yourselves. You are bettering yourselves, and preparing for your own bright and successful futures. You are becoming healthier, and stronger, men.

Today, we come here to honor the power and the gift of education.

Education is a gift each of us gives to ourselves. No one can ever take away that gift. Your ability to learn, to explore, to develop your minds, will always be yours. No one can steal your ability to learn new information, to think through problems, and to come up with brilliant and comprehensive solutions.

You are the problem solvers of our future. You are the future of this country, and we expect you to be successful in creating a bright future for you and your families, and for the generations who will come after you.

And, that is a sacred trust we place in you.

As we look around at the staff members in this room, we see that they are educated people. They have gone to college. They have made sacrifices and sweated over their hard work. And, they have bettered themselves.

They have developed their minds, and taken the time to grow and educate themselves. They bring their education and their strong minds to this place, to teach, and to help you succeed, to be complete and healthy men.

Every staff member has made a difference. Every one of them has changed you and they have changed the world.

Because of education, they are better husbands and wives, better fathers and mothers, better neighbors, and better human beings.

I ask you to look inside of yourselves and take inventory of who you are inside, and who you want to be. Think of the possibilities you have.

Each of us has the power to change our lives, to move ahead, and to be healthy, strong people.

The work that each one of you is doing here is the work of education. Education changes lives. Education frees each of us from the slavery of bad ideas, of helplessness, and despair. Education gives us hope.

You are changing lives here.

We need more than a belief in our heart that the world needs to change, and that we need to change. We need to be problem solvers, we need to be the engineers and architects of a new world. We need to be the song writers and poets who will bring more love and happiness to the world, and to each other.

All of that world depends on education.

D*** is the first of you to achieve a college degree. He has opened up the trail, and he is leading all of you by his example.

But, he is not the only one here who will go on and achieve great things in his life. He is not the only one who will master complex skills and challenging ideas, and become a solver of problems, a teacher, and a healer of his fellow man.

Every one of you has that capability.

The only limits that any of us have right now are the limits we impose on ourselves. Every one of you can achieve your dreams.

And, the key to those goals and those dreams is in your education.

This is the gift we celebrate tonight, the gift of education. It is as close to you as the books on your bookshelf, the discussions you have in class tomorrow, and the serious conversations you have around the dinner table tonight.

It all starts with you. Today. Right now.

Take that gift, and run with it.

The future is yours.

Thank you.

—Neal Lemery