Rum Pa Pum Pum

I thought I wanted to be an athlete. Baseball would have been my first choice. I loved listening to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio and going to watch their farm team, the Tulsa Oilers. Alas, it was not to be. I was tall enough but lacked any kind of mass, muscle or other. Maybe basketball could be my game!? Sorry, no. Turns out the Jenks elementary team only had ten uniforms and there were at least eleven guys with more talent or parents who could pressure the coach.

Oh but fifth grade brings hope for everyone. That’s the year you can join the band. I have no doubt that right now there are excited, aspiring, budding musicians in schools all across the land choosing their instrument. For some, choosing the right instrument is a dilemma. Not for me. I knew that I would be a drummer. If you can have a calling at ten years old, I had one.

By junior high, there’s a separation of sorts. Tough guys play football, the rest are in the band. But drummers get a bit of a pass (or at least that’s the way I worked it out in my own mind). I learned from my grade school band director that “drummers are a necessary evil”. He would have had a band full of clarinet and trumpet players if he could have figured out how to march in a parade without a drum cadence.

The great thing about this healthy tension was that it gave us drummers a bit of a bad boy vibe (or at least that’s the way I worked it out in my own mind). Early in my drumming life, The Beatles brought their brand of rock and roll to America and my fate was sealed. I would soon be the next Ringo Starr. Now all I needed was a set of Ludwig drums (like Ringo’s) and a couple of guitar players and a bass player.

I’ll never forget the day, my dad picked me up from school and took me home to find that first set of drums. I’m sure there were many times my parents thought, “What have we done?” I practiced and practiced and practiced some more. Finally, I found those band mates and before long we were playing at school dances and “Teen Towns”, and life was good.

Here is a picture of the stage band at Jenks High School in 1968 or so. That’s me at my drum set I so dearly loved.

Jenks High School Stage Band. 1968.

Jenks High School Stage Band. 1968.

In retrospect, I am glad I didn’t have the wherewithal to play sports. No doubt it would have been fun. To be able to say that I played football for the mighty Jenks Trojans, undoubtedly the most dominating high school football tradition in the state, as I sat around recovering from knee replacement surgery.

But, I wouldn’t trade a state football championship for the experiences that being a percussionist have afforded—the opportunities, friendships and world travel all possible because of music. I wish I could look up some of those old band mates, directors, and teachers to reminisce a bit.

Fast forward to the present. Both of our sons are drummers, and so for many years we have had a drum set in our house, even though I sold my drums years ago. Just recently our youngest son married a musician and moved out and took his drums with him. I have missed him and his drums.

I had a thought: maybe I’ll put a little kit together, find some drums on eBay or Craigslist, keep my eye out for some used cymbals. So in a casual search of the double-u, double-u, double-u, I learned that Ludwig, just this year, came out with a brand new drum set that is a “vintage” replica of my first drum set, right down to an exact color match and lug design.

Then as luck would have it, I found a demo set of these amazing drums at a drum shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Now these beauties are set up in our home and I am having a great time living in the past from time to time.

If there are any old guitar players out there who know how to play Wipe Out and House Of The Rising Sun and Louie, Louie, give me a call. Maybe we’ll be ready to play a few proms next spring.

Birth and New Life: my favorite kind of story

An advantage of age (as if we were keeping score) is that you have the potential to know life more deeply. You haven’t just seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, you’ve stood on the edge of it. You haven’t just heard a digital recording of jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall, you’ve been in the room with her when she performed. You haven’t just thrown back a glass of wine, you’ve picked the grapes, put them in the press, poured the juice into the vats and lived while it aged.

People who don’t “get” art, have only taken a quick look and walked on. Consider this picture for example. It’s a picture of a girl, right? It looks like it could be hanging in a museum, right?

the little shepherdess

the little shepherdess

It is hanging in a museum. In Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s called The Little Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It is oil on canvas and was painted in 1889, a few years before I was born. You will know nothing about the picture by only looking at this digital image. You have to stand before it and look this little sherheredess in the eyes and let her look into yours. Let her judge you for a minute or two. Let her question what you are wearing just as you are contemplating what she is wearing and what she is doing. The painting is large and the colors are rich. And, if you visit her in her home in the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, I guarantee, you will have experienced art. You will “get” it. Kind of like us old people “get” life, because we’ve taken a deeper drink of it.

This longer perspective adds to the value of life. Every life and every experience is richer, packed with more meaning.

I think this is why every time we have received word that we will be grandparents again, I am moved beyond words. I know I was excited and scared and overwhelmed each time we learned that we would be parents, but we were young, we knew only a part of what a human life really meant. For the births of each of the Grand-Girls it has been somehow uniquely remarkable. I am always awestruck, and speechless because there are no words in my vocabulary for the reverence of that reality.

Well it’s happened again! Brooke and Kyle have told us of their news. They did it in a wonderful way and I was again speechless. And even if I could have found the words, they wouldn’t have been able to get past the lump in my throat.

So, come this next May, another little one will grab a piece of our hearts and not let go. With the benefit of age, I understand just how special this is. With the benefit of knowing Kyle and Brooke, I know how deeply this little one will be cherished and cared for.

I thank God for the privilege of getting to be a part of another human story that begins, “once upon a time” and transcends our human stories with, “and lived happily ever after.”

Congratulations Brooke and Kyle. How wonderful that this little baby will be born and will live in and through love.

Wise Words in Ink

I have a friend named Molly who is contemplating a project that involves letterpressing good quotes on cards, so we were talking about people that are quotable, but maybe not in a ubiquitous way; like, say, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. Mark Twain or Will Rogers. Not that they aren’t extremely quotable, but maybe there are others who are less known but also have good things to say.

The letterpress inked up, locked in and ready

The letterpress inked up, locked in and ready

Here are some that fit that bill for me:

Anne Lamott.

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

“You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Wendell Berry.

“This, I thought, is what is meant by 'thy will be done' in the Lord's Prayer, which I had prayed time and again without thinking about it. It means that your will and God's will may not be the same. It means there's a good possibility that you won't get what you pray for. It means that in spite of your prayers you are going to suffer.”

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”

Homer Simpson.

“A roadside barbecue stand? Everything tastes better when it's near a road!”

G.K. Chesterton.

“A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things.”

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

Hank Hill.

“You can't just pick and choose which laws to follow. Sure I'd like to tape a baseball game without the express written consent of major league baseball, but that's just not the way it works.”

Woody Allen.

“Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television.” (Case in point: the current presidential campaign.)

Erma Bombeck.

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me’.”

Molly the Notecard Maker (photo used without her permission)

Molly the Notecard Maker (photo used without her permission)

Back to Molly and her project: If I were going to commission her to letterpress a quote on a set of notecards for me, which quote would I choose? That’s tough because I love a good quote. I’m sort of a quote collector, and a hoarder of aphorisms.

Who doesn’t love: “Not all those who wander are lost” from a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien?

How could you go wrong with John Muir? “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten C.S. Lewis. “I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Maybe all those are too obvious. After all, if I’m going to have custom cards made, I don’t want them to look like they came from Mardel or a Hallmark store.

Like so many who came of age in the 60s, song lyrics were my poetry. I could definitely find ongoing inspiration from some song lyrics pressed into just the right paper.

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
—IMAGINE. By John Lennon

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains within the sound of silence
—The Sound of Silence. By Simon & Garfunkel

That one may be too long, but I like the idea of having the ampersand character pressed on the card as in the name Simon & Garfunkel.

Just the right verse from scripture could be apropos, not so that I would seem holy, but because of the human honesty there. Definitely, my choice would be Mark 9:24. It is the story of my faith journey in six words:

“I do believe, help my unbelief.”

I had a fleeting thought, and I realize it sounds as arrogant as Donald Trump to even verbalize it, but why let humility stand in the way? What if—I used a quote of my own. What if—I had ever said, or could possibly say, something quotable? What if—one of these days, at my funeral, someone could read a eulogy: “He loved his family and music, and as he would always say: ‘blah, blah, blah, blah and blan’,” And people would knowingly nod and turn to one another and murmur in whispers things like: “That sounds like him,” or “If I’ve heard him say that once, I’ve heard it a hundred times”.

The lines I say often somehow don’t seem notecard-worthy, carefully letterpressed one card at a time by Molly or anyone else.

  • “I prefer thin crust.”
  • “Did you notice how all the pictures on their walls were crooked?”
  • “I will never vote for Donald Trump.” (But I’m haunted by the old aphorism, “Never say never!” because I once said out loud I would never vote for Hillary Clinton. That was before I could fathom the day that a cartoon character would be the candidate of the “Party of Lincoln”.)
  • “Dang allergies!”
  • “Yes, my Grand-Girls are beautiful and amazing!”

How about you? If Molly were going to letterpress your favorite quote on a lovely notecard, what would it say?


Any Questions?

I hope it’s not yet time for me to take on the role of senex—the sage, the archetypical wise old man.

A while back, I went through this assessment called the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator®. After the process you get a report that shows your scores for twelve archetypes, highlighting the three for which you score the highest. Mine are Creator, Jester, Sage.

Each archetype in the report has a summary statement which hints at what it is all about. For example:
CREATOR: “If the Creator is active in your life, you assume what can be imagined can be created.”
JESTER: “If the Jester is active in your life, you assume that life is meant to be enjoyed.”
SAGE: “If the Sage is active in your life, you assume that ‘the truth will set you free.’”

By the way, if this sounds intriguing and you would like to know your archetypes to learn more about the story you’re living, you can do an online version of the assessment for $19.

If you do it, I would love to hear from you to see how it turned out, and how you feel about it.

For each archetype in your report you’ll get the good news and the not-so-good news; areas where you can improve. That’s where this Sage thing worries me. I’m good with the Creator and Jester types, although I do see some of the evil tendencies of those types in myself. For example, in the Creator there is an inner critic that can get out of control, and for me it does. For the Jester there is “a tendency to be irresponsible, to give into debauchery, to play tricks and make cracks that hurt people—or at least their feelings.” To all those who have been in the fallout of my jesterly ways: I’m sorry.

It seems to me that since I’m old now I should be less jesterly and more sage-like. To be honest, I can’t picture myself as the wise old man on the top of the mountain where people can come in search of answers to life’s big questions. Maybe I could get a job writing those “fortunes” that get stuck in little oragami cookies at Panda Express®.

The scary part of the Sage archetype for me is seeing how the dark side of it shows up more and more these days. From the report: “Guard against the Sage’s tendency to be dogmatic and opinionated, with an ivory tower disdain for ordinary life and affairs. Their keen ability to see the flaws in opinions and practices can take a negative or cynical turn, as they sit on the outside criticizing the efforts of others. They also can retreat to their heads, as they fail to act on what they know. Their emotions may take them over so that they act in petty ways, masked by high-sounding principles and rhetoric.”


Fortunately, if I could figure out how to do this Sage thing well, there is a capacity to “be not only knowledgeable but wise, to be wonderfully curious with a love for thinking things through.” According to the report, I have the potential to “excel at evaluating the merits of relative truths and to commit to people and ideas even in the face of the realization that it is impossible to know anything for sure.”

I’m still probably not your guy for solid wisdom though. When it comes to the big ones, most times I still have more questions than answers. I do have opinions though. So if you need one of those delivered with biting wit and sarcasm, I’m your Jester/Sage.

There is a song that fascinated me from the first time I heard it. It was written by a guy that goes by M. Ward. It’s called “Chinese Translation”. It’s a song about sage-seeking and the quest for answers to great questions. The song set me to thinking: if I could go to a mountain top and speak to a real sage, what question(s) would I ask? In this song the young man gets to ask three questions. The three he asks are not ones I would have ever thought of asking, but I love them.


I sailed a wild, wild sea
Climbed up a tall, tall mountain
I met a old, old man
Beneath a weeping willow tree
He said now if you got some questions
Go and lay them at my feet
But my time here is brief
So you'll have to pick just three

And I said
What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart
And how can a man like me remain in the light
And if life is really as short as they say
Then why is the night so long
And then the sun went down
And he sang for me this song

See I once was a young fool like you
Afraid to do the things
That I knew I had to do
So I played an escapade just like you
I played an escapade just like you
I sailed a wild, wild sea
Climbed up a tall, tall mountain
I met an old, old man
He sat beneath a sapling tree
He said now if you got some questions
Go and lay them at my feet
But my time here is brief
So you'll have to pick just three

And I said
What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart
And how can a man like me remain in the light
And if life is really as short as they say
Then why is the night so long
And then the sun went down
And he sang for me this song

Any Questions?