Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Santa's Broken Leg and Grace

With our adventurous, kind-hearted nephew
I heard the fall of something tiny but breakable on the other side of the living room, looking up to find my nephew with that "oops" look on his face. He scrambled under the end table to retrieve Santa, in two pieces, with one less limb attached. With worried eyebrows, he ran to the kitchen to find Papa T, afraid of how he'd be met. Raised voice? Spanking? Repeated instruction about not to roughhouse in places he shouldn't?

Instead, he found grace. "It's OK, we can glue it." 

Though he ran to the room to cry and release the fear he'd felt, the grace was still there, immoveable.

But so many will not find that. So many will not receive grace, and in turn, will not learn how to offer it to others, instead only learning how to extend punishment, shame and fear: an illusion of control to help them overcome the many years they felt so out of control (and controlled by others).

you found grace and ease in the eyes of your papa
but others aren't so lucky to find that kind of love.

he is afraid of everything you and I might dismiss.
every simple break, every small slip,
a reason to scream, a reason to fight
control is the name of the game
do you find joy in handing out shame?

and is it because you believe
that nothing's worth anything, not even yourself.
to you, I think this must mean
the little one there is no better than you,
no better than you must have been told
but isn't this way getting old?

Will I know how to extend to grace to so many I meet, who know the pain of years of shame and fear? Will I let this help me understand what it might have felt like to live in fear of the adults who should have shepherded yet led me down paths of darkness instead?

Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Songwriting and The People I Love

The room was filled with ones from, literally, every season of my life. From the elementary school playground, to the high school classroom. From the 4th floor of Jones Hall to the staff of 40+, crammed together in a 2-story building and humid Memphis summer. 

Between some, the letters still pass between mailboxes, from south Mississippi to west Tennessee. With others the conversations have stilled, but the memories still carry us. With some, I've wondered, "Do they know I still love them so?" and I know with their presence, they love me, too.

And many of those same ones in that room, listening, watching, make up pieces of the melodies and lyrics they heard. Do they know? It's hard to tell. 

But one thing is true and always will be: if I love you at all, pieces of you are mixed up with pieces of me. You are these songs and these stories.

When I'm sitting across the room from an interesting conversation or tucked away in the corner, reading a book that's revealing too much of myself to me... a song is starting.

When I'm reading your letter, from many years ago or from yesterday, of heartache and pain and love twisted and turned... a song is starting.

When you've told me I've hurt you, and I raise the shield, afraid of my own self... a song is starting.

My brain never stops writing. Lines and lines of poetry swim around in my head and, if I'm quick enough, spill out onto the page. You may never hear them, but they are there. 

And if you do hear them, give me grace. I must write. I must sing. Because I love you.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Stories & Time

When I discovered that the author of A Lesson Before Dying was an African-American author from Louisiana who grew up on a plantation, I instantly began scanning the Google results for biographies and interviews, sources to give more details, the grit on his life.

What was is like for Ernest J. Gaines to grow up on a plantation in a small Southern town with deep racial divides? Was he mistreated? Does he talk about the landowners? Is he still connected to the family there? I assumed there were juicy details (doesn't every life have some juicy details?), and I wanted to know them all right then and there.

But I couldn't find much.

I learned of his parents' absence in his childhood, his relocation to California as a teenager and the name of his hometown. I know that a new world seemed to open up to him when, for the first time in his life, he had access to books through the public libraries there in California.

He went on to teach, write books and return to Louisiana, settling down there on part of the very land where the plantation of his childhood stood, building a home of his own.

The basics, the highlight reel. But no juicy details.

He tells us in an interview that the aunt who raised him, teachers who taught him and the versions of himself that could have been, show up in some form in his stories.

To get more of Ernest J. Gaines, I have to do the time.

I've got to read those books.

I've been known skip the small talk. What starts as a "hello" at the drink table of the New Year's Eve party may turn into a 2-hour conversation about your last heartbreak which may turn into a song by midnight.

While I generally like this about myself, I've learned in recent years that, in certain circumstances, there are questions best left unasked, stories left unknown, until time has passed, life has been lived and permission has been granted into the parts of a life that are opened by the stories we tell each other.

I cringe at some of the invasive, personal questions I've asked before enough trust was established. The advice I gave to the person sitting on the couch across from me because I was, perhaps, more anxious to fix than to love.

Now, I know I have to do the time: cook the meals that make the space that give the freedom for the stories to spill out over the kitchen, ready to be heard at just the right time, usually when I least expect it. 

As I write this, there is impatience being stilled in me, the desire to get quick to the finish is subsiding. Because there is no quick to the finish.

There is only the long, slow reading of the stories and living of lives, weaving together histories, making new stories along the way.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thursday Poem: Joined

Might God give the weak to the strong, for one to lift the other up, for one to keep the other humble?

Might God give the sure to the shaky, to keep each other rooted, lest pride or wandering take them each too far?

Might God give the quiet to the loud, giving one more strength to find her voice and the other wisdom to learn to listen?

Might God give the joyful ones to the sorrowful, that there may be laughter where skies have been gray and grief where sadness was never recognized?

Might God give us to each other to be what we cannot be on our own?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Photo Update

Some photos, in chronological order, of random things:

April 2013. In Ackerman and Louisville, MS, where we played a show
for Matthew's Bright Came the Word from His Mouth

Brothers, Matthew and Sam. 
May 2013, a ghostly image taken from the porch of Jeff's parents' home in southwestern NC.
July 2013. During a retreat weekend, we let Matthew cut the cheese, because he's so darn good at it.

September 2013. Our first T-shirt! We promoted this via social media and gave 2 away!
Designed by Susan Kizzee, printed by Ambrose.

October 2013. The Great Midwestern Tour took us to Minneapolis.
The sun peeks over a bridge in Minnehaha Falls State Park.

Brian insisted on jumping and walking on things that looked very dangerous to me.

Brian and Jeff love each other. Sweet.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tour Update: Gifts from the Great Midwest

Wrapped in what looks like a Native American inspired blanket, I'm sitting in an old mill-converted-to-condo in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, listening to the wind whip furiously around the corner of the building and the rain splashing against the windows.

We've only 3 shows left on the Great Midwestern Tour, which has, indeed, been very great.

Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin: cities states I've never been to and all of them, I found beautiful.

More than the hills and the fields and the golden leaves on the trees, we spent time with some really beautiful people. For us, touring and music-sharing without people and story-sharing would empty and hollow.

Our hosts and listeners, old friends and new, come from our past (fellow Mississippi-natives!) and our present. Some like to be quiet and slow and talk thru the hours, others tell louder and funnier stories that give us good, hearty laughs. All have been beautiful.

Rebecca Johnson, our host in Oshkosh, WI, also a fellow native Mississippian.

The super-cool set-up for our Oshkosh show, at New City Church.

Phom and Kaylee Sisoukrath, Little Rock, AR hosts and friends we met through working at SOS

Minneapolis, MN-area house show

Matt & Su, Omaha, NE hosts. We loved all the Mississippi-art in their home!
Su, also sporting the Abbye West Pates shirt.

Omaha, NE house show. This was a really, really good night.

The whole Omaha crew!

Before we left, and even often on the tour, we've been asked in various ways how we make this work, how we make any money. It's a legitimate question; there's no fault in wondering how we "make it work". But while I believed it before, I believe it more now: this isn't about money. If it were, then we'd be doing something else.

It's about people and story-sharing. It's also hard work: writing, practicing, traveling, set-up, tear-down, meeting people, selling merch, giving attention to listeners after the show. This is our work, and it is good.

The final word: I'm not ready for touring to end!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Quick "Here's What We're Doing"

Sadly, the writing that I love so much, has taken a backseat to booking, practicing, juggling multiple types of work, etc. and I have neglected to write here. It isn't forever, but it is for now.

Filling our house are guitars, cables, suitcases, air mattresses, drums, and computers. We're practicing, singing, cooking, Instagram-ing, practicing some more.

Tomorrow we set out on the Great Midwestern Tour beginning in Little Rock, AR, followed by a stop on Sunday at Central UMC in Fayetteville, AR, leading morning worship services there. On the way, we're going to Omaha, NE; Minneapolis, MN; Oshkosh, WI; Chicago; Holland, MI and Elkhart, IN. We'll come back and play a few Mississippi shows with Matthew Clark, who is traveling on the tour with us, mixing in a couple of his shows.

Our friend and brother, Brian Mulder, drove down from Michigan to spend the whole month touring with us. It's crazy that the 4 of us are basically going to spend an entire month together, but it's happening. "How are you traveling?" you ask: We bought a trailer. That's right, we're loading up the trailer, hitching it onto the back of our 11-year old SUV, and praying for those traveling mercies that we hope get us from point A to point B or at least help us have patience with each other if the tire goes flat.

If you're not already, keep up with us at, or on social media: FB, or Twitter, @AWPmusic. 

Here we go!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thursday Poem: In Harmony

To the untrained, unschooled ear
the different notes against each other
mean nothing profound.

Show them written on a staff
so correctly
is like the most foreign tongue.

But put those notes in your throat
out through your lips
and even the untrained ear
recognizes the beautiful mystery
that is the sound of harmony.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mini-Tour: Kentucky

Sun and wind have an agreement today: be perfect.

Just enough breeze to rustle the leaves and make you feel good after you top the hill on your afternoon run. Just enough warmth to make you feel thankful for now and hopeful for later.

The goldenrods line the creekside, in full September bloom. At the top of the hill, red and green tomatoes share the vine, mint spills over the edges, and okra grows tall. Steaming past is the Norfolk Southern, right at our back door, amazing us with its power and speed.

Smells of stovestops from around the world drift over to where I am, reminding me of many places where I've been, in the living rooms of friends both near and far. Past the stovetops, out the door, down the steps run the children - so many children! - from Singapore, Sudan, China, Tennessee, Kenya.

Running, jumping, claiming these streets, these children proclaim with their play, "The Kingdom is here!"Grown-ups, as so we are, reminded that though it is "not yet" it is, too, "now".

"A glimpse" they call it. A wonder, it is. Beauty almost too good for me to behold from this porch in Wilmore, Kentucky, home to a school giving such life and community and hope to its students, its families. They show us it is possible, we can live, play, eat together, in unity, in love. No matter the color of our skin or the color of our past. Jesus died so that we could be One as he and the Father are One.

We've jumped into the middle of this, with our instruments and our stories, seemingly unworthy recipients of such beauty.

And this is just Day 1.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday Poem: A Musician's Life

felt the doubt creep in

Walked away
from everything safe

Benefits of peace of mind
doctor visits
tooth pain
of not hearing reprimands for not having
all of the above

needed the wind
and the clouds
to give rest from the worry.

Today is different.

Patty sings
of work-weary sons
fathers, walked on to the other side
and that kind of lonely.

And I know
I know
that all of this matters
more than many will understand

Until the dark hour
when they lay on their bed
climbing stairs in their mind
stairs to nowhere
stuck in their mistakes
and reminded of grace

From one song
one voice
that refused listen to the voices
that said, "This is not safe."

After all
we do this because
this is not safe.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thursday Poem: What Keeps Me

Escape the lights,

Retreat to the oneness,
yet full.

through pieced-together glass,
colors bright.

We need not add much;
it is simple here.
Small in number, we are.
Names we know.
Faces we recognize,
on that backdrop
of colored glass.

In song,
in repetition,
in the words of saints and sinners.

A table
chalice... the blood;
bread... the body;
need - this is our need.

Not sometimes
but all the time.

I did not choose you;
yet, you choose me.

Both of you, mystery to me.

often seems desirable.
To something less complicated,
something more clean.

But I know
less complicated
I will not find
Less complicated
is still need for the
Saving One.

So, I stay.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Little children came and grew
Moved away and never knew
Who I was or who I am
No they never knew this lonely man
("Faithful Son" by Patty Griffin)

**I didn't want to walk through that door, didn't want to cross the threshold into your world or harsh opinions and unwelcome criticism.

Home from college for the weekend, it was the last thing I wanted to do, spend time with you. We'd sit in your living room, the television our background noise, while you asked me obligatory questions and I gave you as truthful and polished answers as I could.

There was a time before that, high school, where we had that parade. Remember that one? You were mad at me. I chose a friend over you. I think it was silly. Except now, I think it was silly on both of our parts.

We didn't get this way overnight. We both know it was 18 years in the making.

Do you remember the time you grabbed me by the shoulders and marched me to the back to raise your voice at me? Did I even know what I'd done wrong. You were quick to punish; reluctant to listen. I remember. I listened to every word you did and did not say. We all did.

And that is why, on those weekends home, I did not want to see you.

But life had not been kind. Your years were longer and harder than mine will ever be.

I did not know that then. I know that now.


Your garden was the fruit of your labors. The corn grew tall. The potatoes grew deep and large. The peas, we shelled on the back porch, with the sun shining through.

The floors we walked, the walls that kept us, the shrimp in the fryer, these were the fruit of your years of hard work, your years of proving to yourself and to everyone else just how hard work can be and how good the reward.

Those are good memories, now that I can see through those first years after you were gone. I can remember them again.

My 28-year old self knows what my 18-year old self did not know - that you gave us what you could, you gave us what you had to give. There are a great number of things about you that we'll never know. Pain and tears and joy and secrets and things of which I am sure you were ashamed.

And I never would tell you then
So I never will tell you now
All the things that break an old man down
The real truth is, I don’t know how
("Faithful Son" by Patty Griffin)

I am learning to love you now, by this grace that comes only through the time and space of years and silence. And I am remembering, more clearly, that you did love us. You did often beam with pride when talking to others about us, and you gave to use the the things you knew, the things you took a lifetime to learn.

My own regrets rise to the surface, too. That I did not take so many more things you would have given. That I did not yet know grace in a true enough way to extend it towards you.

And so I know that I, too, will spend a lifetime learning to love.

(**I sat on the couch today, listening to Patty Griffin's new album "American Kid", and cried. I could see my grandfathers so clearly. They are gone now. But I can beginning to see them more clearly, now, than I ever did before.)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Will Work for Profit

Our life - that is, my and Jeff's life together - hasn't exactly been traditional, normal.

We've shared our home with other people for most of our married years, left "full-time" work for "part-time" work (though our lives are still full of work) and we pack up our music gear several times a month to play instruments and sing our songs for little-to-no pay.

We do a lot of other things, too: grow vegetables (tend the garden), drink good coffee (roast it ourselves), have people over for dinner (cook a lot of meals), and make sure there are clean bath towels for our overnight guests (do lots of laundry with our homemade laundry detergent). Those things take a lot of work.

But there is no longer much value in good work. There is value in "good" profit. People are valuable insomuch as the profit (in the form of dollars) they bring in, not necessarily how good their work is (though we cannot argue that good work should bring in good profit).**

What about good work - farming, art, home-making - that doesn't have "good" profit, the kind that changes hands at the register? Is it still valuable? Does it still provide for a family, at least in some way? Is it necessary in order for people to live whole, healthy lives? If the laundry wasn't done and the vegetables weren't harvested and mother was never home and songs were never written (and, consequently, never heard), I think we would ourselves less human, less full.

I won't write about the importance or doing work that makes money to feed your family: we all know it is important. I am not silly enough to argue it has no value. But I am silly enough to model with my own life that good work matters whether or not it makes money. And I'll keep doing that work - songwriting, gardening, letter-writing - no matter how much time it takes and no matter how little value it has in the eyes of others (though the recipients of this work can attest to its value).

Perhaps we have a big problem: people work hard for money. But what happens when you reduce the money or take it away? People often stop working hard.

Must there be more reasons to work besides money alone?

(**Inspired by the reading of Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thursday Poem: Lyrics

I could make my home in the palm trees
spend my days in the sea breeze
but I'm just looking for a place to soothe my soul

Drive me east to the mountains
wake up in the morning on the Blue Ridge
I just want a place I can call home

Monday, July 8, 2013

Songwriting Retreat: Day 3 (The Songs)

Day 3 has arrived. And the most welcomed routine of the day comes first: breakfast.

By now, I've written a few songs, and I played those songs again and again for myself - I always do this. I want to hear them, make sure I like them, I guess. Really, I just like playing them. When the song is new, you can never hear it too much.

And here are some snippets of those songs...

...about a month, a season, a grace-full God:

We need the Spring
to help us dream
when the winter was so long
those short, gray days
pushed our hope away
but you finally bring it back

...a very creepy fish who I still found myself envious of:

Jumpin' off the dock was a scary thought
with you down there below
snout like a gator, I said, I'll see you later...

...and hard things.

I could reach my hands toward you
but we both know there's no going back.

Thankful for the time, the writing, the breeze, the wheat harvest, the quiet, the lonely.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Songwriting Retreat: Day 2 (To Be Lonely)

Where I have become cold, 
give me warmth to offer people.
Where I have lost compassion,
help me have it again.
Where I am confronted with brokenness
by those who meet me on the street,
the sidewalk,
in the checkout line,
give me wisdom, give me love.
Show me my place.
Show me my purpose.
(a prayer while on retreat)


I've only been here about 30 hours - a little over one full day - and the loneliness is intense. I even feel bored. I don't want to write anymore. Perhaps I should go watch the sun set, be outside at my favorite time of day, the dusk hours. But that, too, feels lonely.

There's a feeling a disappointment in myself today that I haven't written anything that goes deeper in terms of getting at the heart of faith, truth, whatever might seem more "spiritual" that the songs I've written since I've been here. I know I need to let the writing be what it is.


The lonely times were good, too. I held my breath and watched a turtle hovering at the surfacebout all the life teeming underneath the lake's surface. Dreamed of future plans. Thought through past hurts. Saw myself in lights I don't usually allow to shine on me, lights that expose a colder and tired heart than one, two, three years ago.

Well... did I write? Yes. And it was good. But the good wasn't just the writing; I needed some loneliness, too.

There's something important about having more silence than is comfortable, more space then you're used to, more time to learn how to use well instead of with the numbing of social media. Aside from writing, I was able to look inside myself and see places I had become lost, hardened, caught up in a flurry of busyness, prone to look past people whose lives need my love.

Lonely has a purpose.

How am I ever going to make it to Day 3?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thursday Poem: How to Write a Song

Be quiet.
Hum a melody.
Write more.
Wash dishes.
Walk away
from the song you think you love.
Sit down
for an hour,
maybe two.

Re-hum that melody
and be OK
with change.
Eat lunch
and feel it nourishing you.
Sit outside.
to think.
Then, write.

And at the end
when the sun sets again
and you're 
and tired
of writing,
watch HGTV
and go to bed.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Songwriting Retreat: Day 1

These posts date back one week, handwritten while on a songwriting retreat at a lakehouse.

How does one "do" a songwriting retreat? Isn't it lonely? [Yes.] Isn't it difficult? [Yes.] What do you expect? [Anything, really, but especially songwriting.]

Before anything else, I had to settle in; I'm actually still settling in. Made a sandwich, mixed up some berry "just add water" drink mix I found in the pantry, and - the best way to settle in - washed my first dish.

When I've dirtied and subsequently cleaned my first dishes, I know I'm ready. See, I've begun making this space somewhat my own, done a little homemaking, taken enough time to prepare and clean up after a meal.

Now, I can write. 


You see, I had to come here. I had to leave the rhythms and noise of the normal. Not escaping; rather, setting aside. Admitting, "The world - my world - will not end without me." But neither will it stop or get quieter anytime soon, so the writer needs some space and some quiet.

Just as we need mundane, ordinary, real-life, it is good to step away from it and see it from a distance. Write it down. Think it over. Turn it around, see what's hidden behind, underneath.

Then, after some time (probably longer than the actual retreat time can give) we are ready to give it back, lay it out, reveal to those ready to listen, ready to take it from us and like it, hate it, misunderstand it, or the many responses that will be given to the end product - the song.

multiple writing instruments and notebooks 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thursday Poem: Chained

Perfect that today you're gray
It's OK to feel this way
When things are gray.

Most things stand so still
I can hide away
when it's still

Wonder how you got someplace
until you remember why you left
a road to someplace else
you've yet to find

I am afraid of you
your clever words
awkward stare
the way you convince me to be wrong

you tell me to have freedom
but free, I will not be
Your wind is blowing through 
all my leaves
never still anymore

"It's me, not you,"
Do not worry; I will concede
and leave you to be
free of me.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Thursday Poem (a day late): Wounds

Everything is darkened now
by the shade that you pulled down
ice and eggshells cover our floors
so we stand still to be safe.

Now, I replay conversations 
even ones we never had 
to hear the sounds of hurt, of trying
to see what good I made bad

Everything is broken now
oh, but everything already was
Did I expect to be any different?
To escape your wounding wounds?

With trembling hands you came to us
seething, aching years
looking for another place
to lay down that tired, old blame

Let us take it from you
though its parts can't be replaced
anything to make you stop
searching, buying, endlessly

Everything is different now;
the ticking of this clock
asks of me, 'What next?'
as you close your eyes high above

Everything is here
everything's wide open.
Nothing will change
while nothing stays the same.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


It pained me to do this today. As I snipped off all those leaves - those huge, weeks-old leaves - it felt like one big sigh. And not a sigh of relief but a sigh of failure. A little embarrassment. And reality.

These Red Russian kale plants had done nothing but good work, growing with tremendous speed and beauty. As soon as we put them in the newly built raised beds, they took off. It was obvious they felt right at home. But they grew so fast that I couldn't keep up. Before I knew it, there was too much to eat on our own. (And none of my neighbors wanted kale, instead asking, "Do you got collards?" I know what I'm growing next year.)

So, today, it had to be done. I got the scissors and went to town. Every leaf, big and small, had to be gone. They needed a re-do, a start over, a second chance. And I need a second chance to tend, harvest, pay attention to them more closely.

And I knew this: the only way to get that second chance to was to lay it bare.

Now, a patch of stems remains. Bare, exposed, no fruit to show for their labor.

But though they are bare, they are not barren. They will grow again; they will bear fruit. Had they not been cut back so severely, so completely, they would not grow again, would not give us anything of value.

Take courage. Lay it bare. Grow again.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thursdays Are For Poetry: The Beginning

Thursdays will now be for poetry... at least, on this blog. And I'm dedicating each Thursday poem to Kim P., who says that in hell, she would surely be forced to listen to poetry.

Measure the need
measure the speed
happiness, every inch will bring.

Lock it inside
with your love by your side
while the rain falls
falls down with ease.

Ticking of clocks
rising, falling of stocks
tell of hours we waste away.

While the cool breezes blow -
this won't last, you know -
we'll keep to the insides of ourselves.

The prison of years
is a prison of fears
pressed upon by yourself.

And in the presence of free
you've not learned to be
more than they told you, you were.

We'll drive for miles 
just to walk this porch
to pray these prayers
cast out hope
that you can find

truth about yourself
truth never told you
lies exposed
stones fallen from hands
prison doors flung wide.

Measure the years
measure the fears
find them fallen short.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Time for the Garden

The garden needs time - time to grow and time to be noticed.

One of the things I appreciate most about having a unique schedule (part-time at an office, in addition to music, gardening, and what other works springs up in a day) is the time allowed in the garden.

Now, instead of always setting aside an hour here, two hours there, I also notice things in passing, things I didn't notice before because I wasn't passing the garden at 9am, on the way to dump the compost in the backyard. I didn't notice all those mushrooms (argh!) growing up around the lettuce, or how dry the cucumber sprouts were or how beautiful the rosemary bush is finally becoming!

Oh, I eventually noticed them, but sometimes it was too late to do anything about it. Now, I discover things a little at a time - mushrooms (argh!), yellow leaves, weeds, etc. - and can truly tend to the garden in a way I haven't done before.

      Bean sprouts

"Red Russian" kale growing beautifully in raised beds

Lettuce in the main garden...

...and lettuce in the raised beds. They grow so much faster.

We've been waiting for our rosemary to grow stronger; it's happening!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Buying Music... and Supporting Musicians

You don't have to buy music. 

You don't have to purchase entire albums for $17.99 from Best Buy, or $11 from iTunes, or even individual songs for $.99. You don't have to pay for Pandora or Grooveshark Internet radio (and you don't have to complain when you hear ads, which make it possible for you to have free Internet radio). You don't even have to leave a tip on NoiseTrade, if you don't want to (but by the end of this, I hope you will consider it).

No matter what musicians or record labels think, you just don't have to buy music anymore.

And I think music, in and of itself, isn't up for sale. There are families gathered around pianos at Christmas, friends on front porches, and subway musicians in Russia playing music because they love to play and sing and share. Music heals wounds, stirs souls, inspires revolutions and keeps violence at bay. Music is for everyone.

You don't have to buy music; but you should support musicians - especially musicians who are doing more than playing for the family at Christmas, more than sitting on the front porch. Musicians who are spending hours writing songs that you love, practicing for shows that you take video and photos of with your iPhone to post on Facebook, and putting out albums that you play on repeat for hours.

These same musicians work hard and pay their bills and make a lot of phone calls and emails to book gigs and grow gardens to cook food in their kitchen to put on their dinner table. They use their God-given gifts to bring to the world hope and light and goodness and empathy and even a good dose of grumbling (who doesn't need a good song to help them get their frustrations out?)

And to support musicians, you should go to their shows and buy their music, their recorded music. Every show has hours of planning, set-up and rehearsal time. Every album has hours and hours of singing, playing instruments, recording, re-recording, re-re-recording, editing, and paying your musicians. Sometimes we give our music away for free. Sometimes we play free shows. But at some point, we want to know you support us, believe in us, and that if you actually like our music, you'll pay for that music (or leave that tip on Noisetrade) or the show or the t-shirt.

You don't have to buy music... but you probably should.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mr. Cooley and Me... and You.

Cooley. It's a last name, a last name familiar to everyone who has ever lived in my small hometown. It can be found on the signs of drugstores, car dealerships, and the locally famous hamburger joint. When you were in school, you had multiple friends (or multiple enemies) named Cooley. You might have a teacher named Cooley. Or, at the very least, you regularly drove by one of the aforementioned Cooley-owned establishments on your way to anywhere.

We were that small. And we had that many Cooleys!

It's easy to see why, when choosing a memorable last name for my song, I went with this one. If you're from my region of south Mississippi - you know. And if you are from anywhere else - you ask. 

Mr. Cooley, the man you hear of in this song, is a conglomeration of personalities, memories, and maybe even a few regrets. A grandfather, a granddaughter, and a garden where we pulled up the potatoes, but only until I was old enough to not appreciate it anymore. But really, he's someone that everyone knows. "I wish I'd known you," sings this song. I wish I'd taken time. I wish I'd been less selfish, less eager to take flight from little ol' rural Mississippi into college life.

But I also wish he'd have known me and appreciated me... for more than what he wished I could have been or done and for who I really was. But, he loved me the best he could. And I think I loved him the best I could. 

And I think most of us are, at least most of the time, loving the best we can.

(For this song, I was selected as a finalist in the Sing Your Song 2013 songwriter's contest! On Thursday, May 2 at 5:30pm, I'll perform this song at the High Note Jam concert series, in Jackson, Miss., along with the 11 other finalists. It's a free show, so join us at 380 S. Lamar Street!)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

gunshots in the dark and bombs in Boston

In light of some recent events, a song is coming forth. I wanted to share the beginnings:

the bombs went off in Boston just this morning
the shots rang in the air on my street
if ever we believed 
that darkness is real
it's tonight, oh, it's tonight.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Go Fly a Kite

Today, I saw someone in my Facebook news feed ask where the post office was located in a town she was visiting. In hopes, I guess, someone who lives there would see that post. Or Google it. Or something, anything to keep her from walking into any store, gas station, restaurant to ask and receive a 5-second answer: "It's 2 blocks west, left at the light and you'll see it on your right."

It's true. We're busy and disconnected and pitiful. We're driven by guilt and competition and pride. We prefer digital interaction to human interaction, distraction to focus, noise to the quiet of resting our ears and our souls. (Of this latter one I am most guilty.)

We sign up our kids for ballet at 3 years of age, soccer at 6, and violin at 10 - by then, they're doing all 3, if they're lucky. We consult a list of scheduled of events from the church to fill up our already over-scheduled schedule. And when we're in a new town, we consult our friends on the FB to see where the closest post-office is instead of asking someone in-person.

I, too, am skilled as an over-scheduled, hyper-social person. But things are changing. I'm learning to live differently.

To fly kites...

...make and enjoy Jeff's from-scratch pizza at the Perry's, where Benjamin helps make the mint lemonade...

...and build raised beds, expanding the garden, so our kid-neighbors have a place to shovel dirt, make a mess, and learn how to grow some food in the process.

Today, it's sort-of a radical thing to know the people that live near you. And make pizza that takes hours. And untangle the strings a million times on the kites.

We're gonna keep untangling.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Work and Gratitude

Work. It's a hot topic in politics and urban development. In our offices and living rooms. We need more jobs! Why the high unemployment rate? Do something about it, politicians! In our little circles of conversation in what we deem the "underserved" neighborhood: How do we break through entitlement to government assistance? What about the history we the "privileged" are a part of, the ones with the right parents, right skin color, or just plain lucky enough to get the right education to land us the right job?

How do we boost productivity? What can we squeeze out of workers without having to shell out more money? And finally at home, how can we resist the so-called American Dream to work more to earn more to buy more only to work more?


But I am reading this great book that has me asking, "How can I love well while I work well?" and "How do I welcome people into my life, my workspace, my days?"

Christine D. Pohl, in this book Living Into Community, explores practices that sustain communities. One of these practices is gratitude, often missed amidst our preoccupation with efficiency, accomplishment, etc.:

Our busyness is often tied to working very hard so that what we have
or receive does not seem like a gift. Our desire for "more" feeds our busyness,
whether in work environments or in our efforts to hold on to a last bit of vacation.
.... Our emphasis on accomplishments and efficiency makes us wary 
about pausing to give attention to the gifts we easy take for granted. 
 (Pohl, Living Into Community, p. 30)

Though I can easily criticize someone else for their sense of entitlement to benefits they did not earn, did not work for, do I sail through my days on the clock, sans gratitude, just because I'm earning it? Is each transaction in my workplace owed to me because I earned it, because I'm getting paid? 

Or can I still be grateful for the person who takes 10 extra minutes to walk me through a task that otherwise I would have stumbled through? Did they owe that to me, or can I learn to be deeply grateful for them?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday: deletions and additions

Tell me I’m not good enough.  Tell me I’m dying.  
Tell me the treatment is disturbing and drastic, that it will take up all of my time. 
Tell me I’ll have to give up lots of things I like and take up other things I hate.  
Tell me it’s worth it.

Tell me I need Jesus in the worst possible way. 
(from the Catholic World Report; click here to read full article)

Today, I will walk into the chapel, somber, quiet. Today, I will be asked to look inward, recognize and name my sins. I'll be led down a path of repentance. I'll be marked with ashes, reminded that from dust I came, and to dust I will return. Today is Ash Wednesday.

Each year I give up something or multiple things. Maybe it's Facebook; maybe it's a certain type of food. Maybe it's eating out. I choose to give up something that consumes too much time or attention. 

But I also seek out something to add to my life, something to enrich my time, my thoughts. Maybe I study a particular book of the Bible. Maybe I spend time at a certain quiet, beautiful place. Maybe I give myself a particular healthy practice to live out - eating nourishing food, reading, writing letters. 

All of this, though, is outward and is only as good as the inward changes. Will I courageously take this season to examine my impatient ways, ungratefulness, my search for something better? Will I love more deeply, act more obediently, throw off the sin that so easily entangles?

Will I know more truly that "I need Jesus in the worst possible way"?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ms. Ueland's Thoughts on Outlines

I'm finishing up a book by Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, and let me tell you: it isn't your average writing book. I don't even know what your average writing book is like, but I'm pretty sure this isn't it.

She's sassy, direct, and if you read brief bits of biography about her online, you connect the dots from her writing that this might have something to do with her multiple divorces. Sass to the max.

But it's also a good read. An easy read. Freeing, in a lot of ways. I believe I can be a writer. I believe I am a writer.

Here's what she has to say in response to the question of writing an outline for her book, having a plan:

"No, I wouldn't think of planning the book before I write it. You write, and 
plan it afterwards. You write it first because every word must come
out with freedom, and with meaning because you think it is so and want to tell it. 
If this is done the book will be alive.
I don't mean that it will be successful. It may be alive to only ten people.
But to those ten at least it will be alive. It will speak to them. It will help to free them.
(pg. 168, If You Want to Write)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dream Interpreter

There's this dream I have sometimes. The woods out behind the first house I ever lived in. I'm wandering through them, but not aimlessly. I know these woods; I'm making my way purposely through them, back to the house, the pond, the driveway. 

There I am now, learning to ride my bike. Dad is behind me. But that's a different memory.

I already know the truth about this dream: I don't know those woods very well. I stayed closer to the house in those early days. I'd come back to explore them in later years, a town-dweller back for a visit.

Maybe I dream about them because they are completely left to the imagination; there's no reality there. I don't know them at all.


I miss that place, the country, land that my family called their own. Now,  someone else's name is on the deed - the old barn, the hay loft, the fields of pine trees.

Another dream I'm remembering now. I'm circling the garden; it's big. There are vegetables here, but I can't tell who tends them. There's no sign of Papa; I feel alone out here. Desolate. Haunted, even. But someone is keeping, tending this garden, I can see this.

Now, I'm in it, right there among the tomato vines. I know this place better than the woods but still, not enough. In the later years, I simply passed by, never to go inside. What kept me away? What did I miss?

Everything, I'm afraid.

Monday, January 21, 2013

When what should be, is not

He only sees in cracks, broken glass and fear
But he smiles at what should be.
Pulls out picture books of mountains, flowing rivers,
escapes for his troubled mind;
loves a thing until it breaks.
Shakes his head at what it should be.

Craves adventure - somewhere deep down, wants risk.
Yet risk is the one thing always avoided:
Fear of what could be.
60 years ago, this path was set for him,
set him to constant pleasing, relentless effort
and repeated rejection.
Things aren't what they should be.

He gave it all for this one thing,
this one thing, giving illusion of life to many things.
And here we are to see it all rise up,
this idol of fulfillment, ultimate satisfaction.

There's no one to reject him here on this mountain,
no one to steal and destroy.
But what matters has long been gone,
stolen before realized.
Things are not as they should be;
have mercy, Lord, when he finally arrives.