Tribe

kuTo be clear up front, I can sing. There are better singers around, but I’m a pretty strong voice, and I can hold my own against almost anybody else. I would be embarrassed if that weren’t the case, however, considering how much of my life was spent honing my vocal skills. Church children’s choir from five to twelve years of age and school choir from fourth grade through my senior year, along with county chorus a couple of times, and then on to Kutztown University. At KU one of my two majors was Vocal Performance (not its formal name, which is long and boring, but that’s basically what it was. A “music theater” degree), and I took private voice lessons for six years in college. During my college years I was also in the full choir (about 70 voices most years) and two of the speciality choirs (or “elite” choirs, but I dislike that word…). And I was in multiple musicals during that time, including Cabaret, Jesus Christ, Superstar and H.M.S. Pinafore. My parents tried to get me into playing instruments, french horn and piano, but instruments always felt alien to me. Voice is what called to me, what gave me those wonderful butterflies of anticipation.

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What I feel like when I sing

I tell you all of this not to toot my own horn, but to show that I’ve been tight with music for my entire life. I want you to believe that my opinions on music, although they are just opinions, might be rooted in something worthwhile. I want you to read what I write and, just maybe, appreciate something new, something different. I want you to trust me just a little, so I can share my love with you. Got it? Good. Let’s start at the beginning, for me at least, which is my big brother.

Hooked_on_ClassicsI was already developing an interest in some more popular songs by the time I was ten or twelve. It wasn’t a very good taste in music, but it was mine, gosh darn it! Hooked On Classics was one of the first records (yes, vinyl) I remember having. It came out in 1981 – I was twelve, and that was the same year I discovered a little game called Dungeons and Dragons – and I can still hear it in my head today. Around that time I also purchased my very first 45. For those of you younger Soft-Cell-Tainted-Love---Wa-80323than, say, 35 years of age, a 45 – or 45 RPM – was the vinyl equivalent of a CD single. That first 45 was Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go by Soft Cell. I think I played that a thousand times before I moved on. That would later lead me to ’80’s New Wave, but not yet. First, my brother.

David is four years older than me. That means, of course, that when I was twelve, he was sixteen. He, in his own personal journey, was apparently influenced by music of the ’60’s and ’70’s, especially bands such as the Beatles, the Moody Blues, and Kiss. Keep in mind this was the early ’80’s, so the ’70’s was just a few years before, and not the ‘classic rock’ of today.
long-distance-voyager-535958f77fb2fSo one night, just any old night, David pulled me into his bedroom and played a song for me. It was 22,000 Days by the Moody Blues off of their Long Distance Voyager album, which is still one of the most deeply moving albums in the world for me. It’s a pretty deep song, and I was blown away. I had never heard music like that before, and it opened up a new musical road I was eager to travel down. He did similar things with other music, including the Beatles. He would be so excited, and even then I could tell he was dying to share this with someone. Perhaps it was me specifically that he wanted to share his excitement with, but I’ve never been conceited enough to believe that. I think I was there at the right time. Our parents would have never had enough energy to focus on what he wanted to say, and our younger brother was only about seven at the time, so he was too young. I was the lucky beneficiary, and it changed my life.

Moody-Blues-Seventh-Sojourn-L602498455074I didn’t like the Beatles initially, for various reasons, but the Moody Blues took my breath away. Within a few years I had purchased every album they had put out (on cassette or vinyl). I even had an art teacher in high school give me a couple of their albums (on vinyl). She had purchased them for their album art, which was beautiful, but gave them to me knowing how much I adored the group. I don’t like most of their work since the mid-1980’s, but their work from the ’60’s and ’70’s was full of hard questions and deep thoughts, and so much of what I took from them wasn’t just music. It was a deeper view of the world, a richer understanding of what it was to be a human. And, to make it even better, they didn’t try to dispense the answers because they didn’t claim to know them. They were just asking the questions.

maxresdefaultLooking back on those days, I realize it was my love of words that captivated me. It was the first time in my young life that I had been spellbound by the power of language, in this case in the form of the lyric poetry of music. I began to seek out similar groups, searching for similar minds who refused to blindly accept the world.

In short, because of my brother, I began to seek my tribe.

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An Echo, Still Heard

Sundial in SandTime is a coat that we wear from year to year. But every year brings a new coat, and we never take off the old ones. Every year breath comes a little harder, and our limbs become a little stiffer. Every year the wounds of our youth are harder to reach, harder to change, harder to heal.

I’m not being negative on purpose, but I’ve had an interesting epiphany today, and I felt the need to share it.

I attended Kutztown University in rural Pennsylvania. Beautifulku aerial school, and I enjoyed my time there very much. But as I stride through my 40’s, I’ve become aware of pain and injury and loss that I wasn’t able to see when I was younger. Today, for no apparent reason, I realized I was terribly harmed by one of my writing teachers. A little background.

I studied Psychology – seemed a good idea at the time, but I never pursued it – and had a dual major in Related Arts. The Related Arts degree was a broad-spectrum course of study, and my major focus was vocal performance. I love to sing. However, as part of the degree, there were two areas of concentration. I choose theatre and writing, and as part of the writing concentration I took Creative Writing: Fiction.

I don’t remember the professors name, or even his face, but there are a few things I do remember. Keep in mind this was a fiction writing course. Everybody was making up everything they wrote. The settings may have been familiar – the modern-day or some well-known historical period – but the stories were all invented. There were about fifteen students total, and we would be given assignments which would then be discussed in class. Pretty normal stuff.

But professor what’s-his-name had an idea of what the course was about that didn’t match my expectations, and I learned this as I turned in my assignments. You see, I thought it was a fiction writing course, as in anything that was fiction, but apparently he was interested only in historical and real-world fiction. 

If you’ve read my blog for more than about 30 words, you probably realize I like magic and robots and time-travel and all the fantastic and super-science elements of fiction. It’s not the only thing I write, but those elements turn up again and again.

He just wasn’t going for it.

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I remember clearly in class one day, a portion of one of my stories was read aloud. It wasn’t very good, but that’s not the point. The point was I
 had written about elves, the humanoid fey creatures so common in fantasy literature. I asked about capitalization, specifically when it was correct to capitalize the racial name elf, and my professor – a man paid by a university to teach inquiring minds – let out a long sigh and asked me if this sort of story was all I wrote. He suggested I write “something that mattered” instead of “so much nonsense.”

I was, as you might imagine, floored.

But that isn’t my epiphany. What I realized today was this: His closed-minded attitude, which I ran into plenty of other places as well, helped to convince me that the stories inside my head were junk. I don’t blame this professor directly, but he was part of a culture of judgement and snobbishness that prevented me from writing for many, many years. He was partly responsible for holding me back. 

And I let him do it.

He didn’t have any power over me; I gave him that power. And by giving him that power, I allowed him to control me. How many stories have died stillborn in my imagination because of him and those like him? Hundreds. Perhaps thousands. I’ll never really know.

And so I write now, having slowly cut myself free of all the shackles I let people place upon me in my youth. And I pray that someone may read this blog post – or anything I’ve ever written – and be inspired to create in their own way, regardless of what others may say, how others may judge. 

Their opinion doesn’t matter, and it never will. What matters is what you believe in your head. Writing is something you do for yourself and nobody else, and until you realize that, you won’t really be free as a writer. 

excellently-written-paperGo forth and be fruitful. Tell your story. Share your beautiful delusions. Spread your delightful lies. And don’t let professors, friends, family or society tell you what you have isn’t valuable. 

I promise you, it is, and the world will be more glorious for your presence!