The Doubter’s Journey

I am a doubter, unfortunately, of just about everything. This creates problems and a boatload of inconsistencies in my life.

For example, I have always admired, from a good arm’s length away, those individuals who are extremely confident in their religious beliefs. I think to myself (Who else could I think to? If I think to you, I deeply apologize.) it must be nice to have such certainty in your life, to be so assured of the un-seeable, the untouchable, the unknowable, the un-smellable. Let’s just call it the UN. They don’t have to spend all the time that I do with doubts.

Then I come across others who seem so super smart, big brains, for sure, who have come to opposite conclusions about life. They are mesmerizing with their scientific and logical conclusions regarding things such as the development of human sapiens. I read with amazement when they describe how chimpanzees and human sapiens shared the same grandmother… millions of years ago. These experts don’t deal in the UN, only the Non UN. I admire them too.

However, both of these kind of super confident people make me feel sad and empty. The logic of the super confident religious individual often makes me shake my head and say, “Oh come on now. That’s crazy thinking.” UN can’t be like that.  And besides, I need more love in my life than that particular ology or ism seems to have available for me.”

Yet, after spending a few hours with the Non UN ones, I begin feeling hopeless. I need meaning in my life. The Non UN ones take that out of my life. If Monkey Grandmother is really climbing about my family tree, do I even have a spirit? Dear UN, I must have a spirit. I am an empty vessel without it. Take me to the zoo, lock me up and let my cousins the orangutans have their way with me. They are better animals than I am.

I have to have meaning in my life. I can’t live without it. That sense of meaning must be bigger, much bigger, than me. I must have hope. Which means I must have faith. Which means I am leaning toward the UN, but feel compelled to keep listening to the Non UN ones too. (I actually like them more, to be honest about it.)

Dear Un,

I don’t understand anything about the great Mystery of UN except it seems to silently call me. I can hear it, faintly at times, but it always stays UN to me. I think I saw it in a baby’s eyes once, but who knows? I thought I felt it under a waterfall once, but who knows? I never feel it anymore in religion. In science, I feel only loneliness. In dark stillness, I sit and wonder about UN…and then I get sleepy.

But, I need meaning for my life. I simply can’t believe I live and then I die. If this is so, bad form I say. Way too much sadness in that scenario. I must believe, in some way, some how, I am connected to UN…my life depends on it.


The Doubter



Licks and Riffs

Lately I have been listening to music and reading books…a lot. The early darkness of winter combined with an avoidance of American television news programs, my main viewing habit, requires that I alter my activities a bit.  Also, I have been reading a lot more because Stephen King wrote, in his book I just read – “On Writing” – that writers should always read. Now, I don’t know if I am a writer or not. The process of writing is painful to me, but I  am trying to find out as I consider the next phase of my life…assuming it has some length to it.

In all of this listening and reading, I have noticed some commonality. In particular, the relationship between professionalship and the final work. In music, I noticed that often the musicianship of the artist overwhelms the message of the artist. Superb guitar players seem to risk demonstrating their skill set, their “licks,” at the expense of the listener’s experience. I think that might be part of the genius of the Rolling Stones, their riffs complemented their songs. Musically, the Stones’ riffs are not extremely complicated, but are so memorable.  They can even uniquely identify a particular time or era in your life when you first heard their riffs. The Stones remind us that just because you can play it doesn’t mean you should play it.

Vocal harmonies also can be too complicated, even if musically correct. It can begin sounding like noise, drowning out the melody.  The best examples of harmonies that enhance songs come from the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkle, and the Beach Boys. With the Beach Boys, I think The Sloop of John B. and Good Vibrations are the best examples of harmonies that are, like Goldilocks said, “Just right.”

Novelists also let their abilities overtake the story. Some are so gifted with language skills that their riffs get in the way of the story. Elmore Leonard, the author of “Get Shorty” among so many other great mystery and western novels, wrote directly into the action of the story, not a word wasted. In doing so, his stories are fast paced and so is the reading of them. They are highly entertaining. Stephen King stories, although not stripped down like Elmore’s are, also avoids unnecessary complicated grammatical licks. I think Charles Dickens, particular for his era, focused on the story too… and they live on.

Another art form that wouldn’t often come to mind in this discussion is photography. Some photographers seem to have the eye to capture the essence of and all  the potential of the subject. There are licks and riffs within the captured image, but only as they support the subject matter. I don’t know how they do this, but Suzy Haywood is one of those that does know how.

In American politics, and one reason I had to cut back on watching the so-called news, is that the entire message is nothing but licks and riffs. There is no melody. The melody is where one compromises, choosing one note over the other, in an effort to create a listenable, and perhaps enjoyable, melody. American politics seems to have no room for compromise and in that void, we can’t create a national melody.

If I ever do decide to write the great American novel, I think it would serve me well to keep these lessons in mind. It is the melody that touches the heart. The licks and riffs should only support the melody.

I, Therefore, Resolve…

First day of 2018 means two things to me: clean out some corners and consider becoming a more successful human.  We’ll start with the corners first.

Since all our children moved out years ago, we have a couple of extra rooms. One room actually has two names, for some time now it has been called the “beach room” because it was once decorated in a manner that reminded some of a beach hut, a light, airy and sunny room.

“Where are the scissors?” “They’re in the beach room.”

However, before that title, it was and still sometimes referred to as, the “warm room.” We live in an old house with an oddly engineered heating system. During the winter, the living room, dining room, kitchen and back bedroom gets cold and the central heating system just doesn’t do a very good job of evenly dispersing the heat. But, in the “warm room” you could walk around naked in the coldest day of winter and still be warm. However, step out into the hallway and you might instantly get icicles on your private parts.

The other extra room is my pay the bills and make music room and toss anything that doesn’t have its own place into it room, usually called, “Gary’s room.” Books, guitars including a 6 string, 12 string, electric, and bass, soap making supplies, photo albums, golf stuff, hats, coats, drums, cds, vinyl albums, maps, ironing board, two keyboards, 6 harmonicas, 2 drums, old family dishes, summer clothes, winter clothes, shoes, sandals, slippers, boots, photo albums, medical testing equipment, mandolin, drawing instruments, sunglasses, hats of all sorts, belts and about 50 other items all reside in “Gary’s room.” Obviously when guests are over, we try to keep that room closed – which is not easy because the door nob decided that 64 years is long enough to work properly.  Every two weeks I do a superficial cleanup, which means I move shit from one place in the room to another place in the room.  Today, however, it was different though. I initiated a complete relocation project.

Downstairs we have a basement room with no formal ceiling, so we call it the “cabin.” Occasionally friends come over and we play poker in the cabin. Lately we’ve been going to junk stores and finding tables, writing desks, and other used stuff for the cabin. The “cabin” also has a little wood stove in it. There is some exercise equipment in the cabin too that for some reason looks brand new from lack of use. But, like I said it is the first day of 2018 and time for those resolutions! The cabin is now the new location for much of the clutter from “Gary’s room” with the assistance of a bookcase I forgot we owned that was in the corner of a cluttered garage. (God, I am a pig.)

As I was de-cluttering “Gary’s room” to clutter the cabin, I started thinking what my resolutions might be when I ran across a little book I read some time ago, “Finite and Infinite Games” by James Carse. It was really quite an interesting book, but at the time I read it, I was conflicted with Carse’s message and my religious upbringing. Now Mr. Carse is a gazillion times smarter than I am and sometimes he lost me with his ideas, but in a nutshell he suggests that finite games, the ones that are over once a winner is declared are far less interesting than infinite games. Think office politics, or hell, any kind of politics. Infinite games are played for the sheer joy of it. There is no beginning and no end. Very few of us live with an infinite game mindset.

As I looked at that little book in my hand, I started wondering about my New Years’ Resolutions. They were going to be the following:

  1. Go fishing at least 20 times in 2018. (Which I guess is kind of a lousy goal if you happen to be a fish.)
  2. Read at least 20 books in 2018. I enjoy big historical biographies, so I might have to change it up some or I will only get 3 books read.
  3. Play 20 rounds of golf in 2018.
  4. Fuck the weight problem.

However, then I thought, “These are really finite goals. Who cares if I read 20 books, play golf 20 times, and go fishing  1.6666666667 times a month? Will I be happier? Will I be more successful? What am I really trying to do? Am I just just moving shit from one spot to another, but the room is still a mess in 48 hours?” (I know, I know, isn’t it strange how I tie such disparate ideas together such as a cluttered room and resolutions?)

You know I write songs, right? Maybe you don’t know that I earned a Master’s Degree in Accountancy a long time ago too. Kind of a weird combo. My brain loves numbers that provide a finite answer and in accounting that answer must be in balance… good old debits and credits. Perfect. However this obsession with numbers gets in the way with my music and yet pleases me so much too, like the “warm room” on the winter solstice.  Soundcloud, that platform I post my music on, is a great little accountant – it keeps track of lots of numbers regarding my songs…and it ruins them too. One day, nobody in the entire world, listened to a single song of mine and oddly, it felt really good. It felt liberating to just put your creative ideas out there and know that nobody had an opinion about them.  It felt infinite and that feeling came from a different place than the finite feeling I get with all the data collected regarding my music. It isn’t just music I have this finite problem with. If I plant tomatoes, I plant 60 plants. Why? I don’t know, 59 just didn’t feel right. I could go on and on with my issues with the finite. The other day I had two wrist watches on. Don’t even get me started about Fantasy Football, it is damn finite orgy.

So what should I do about those New Year’s resolutions? I think in 2018 I am just going to try to stop focusing so much on the attributes and the traits and the numbers and the finality of a “human being” and be more aware of the “being” part.  Yes, let’s go fishing, not as an accomplishment, but being part of the infinite. (I do catch and release. Well, I used to anyway. I didn’t go fishing once last year.) Let’s read, not to reach a finite number of books read, but for the infinite that is shared in biographies and amazing stories of imagination. (By the way, I am going to hold Goodreads partially responsible due to their annual reading goals.) Play golf, not to concentrate on the silly little series of numbers which usually add up to over a 100, but to be outdoors with gratitude.

Enough about me. May your 2018 be a year of infinite possibilities. I hope you have a joyful, loving, healthy year.







Soap Report

After 3 days, we gently took the bars out of their molds. One set of molds had an image of a tree as part of the mold. The other set required a soap stamp and a careful use of a rubber mallet – which produced a very awesome image.

Now the bars need to continue curing for 4 to 6 weeks and rotating the bars every few days before using. However, the book also recommends not using for 10 months!

This was a lot of fun. I am going get some new ingredients and make another type in a week or so. I highly recommend making your own soap.


When my father died two months ago, I found myself with an inexplainable need to order some craft books; I ordered three of them in fact: leather crafting, candle making, and soap making. I decided to start with soap making and I got on Amazon to order the supplies I needed. Then I suddenly lost my enthusiasm, feeling tired when getting home from work. Everything sat in a box.

Today, I decided it was time to get into that box and I really enjoyed it too…way more than I anticipated I would. Why? What is that enjoyable about making soap and what did those three crafts have in common? Well, for one thing the essential orange oil did smell very nice. It also felt good to know the ingredients of the cleansers that will eventually be on my skin and the skin of those I love. But, it was something more than those things. I think it was all about transformation and I think it is no coincidence that it was timed with my father’s passing.

Soap making is all about transformation. The lye interacts chemically with distilled water, and that mixture is added to olive oil which turns all of it from liquid to the beginnings of a solid state. While I was doing all this, I kept thinking about the process of transformation and how much I enjoy it. My songwriting hobby is all about transformation, usually starting with one chord and a sense of some kind of rhythm into, eventually, a complete song. Gardening gives me the same joy of transformation…So did making my own batch of beer, which I labeled Jackass before there really was a Jackass label.

Was this need to become more active in transformative hobbies tied to my father? I think so. You see, I have come to believe that the entire message of Jesus’ life was all about transformation- transforming from a physical awareness to a spiritual awareness and existence. It is complicated, but it makes perfect sense in my mind along with eliminating much of the negativity of my religion.

Living almost exactly on the imaginary 40 degree North Latitude line, we experience four distinct seasons every year. Surrounded by rivers, I can watch the salmon come back from their ocean journeys to lay their eggs and start a new transformation cycle. Evidence of transformation surrounds us when we bake a cake, raise children, or even make soap.

I know, I know, who thinks about these things because of making soap? That is what makes me weird, or wise…your choice!

Whoops…Me a Bit of a Hypocrite

Just a short post here to acknowledge all the enlightened things I said in the Simply Beautiful post (the one before this one) came from a hypocrite.

I was driving around Chico, California today, going from crowded store to crowded store, which were full of self-focused, stressed out people. Right from the start, I got cut in front of at a McDonald’s drive thru lane – but I stayed cool and calm.

Later though, some goofy (dang, did it again) some person on a bicycle almost rode right into our car in a crowded parking lot and I made a terrible comment about their appearance. Immediately, I thought about the Simply Beautiful posting.

So I am fessing up, sometimes I can still be Simply Stupid.

But you should have seen this person…

Simply Beautiful

As I have grown older, my appreciation of Simply Beautiful has grown deeper. I suppose it is somewhat related to my own physical appearance. Never having the classic physical attributes of, say, a movie star or male model, I had a more “swarthy” appearance. In the end, I think this was a blessing because as someone once told me their mother once told them, “There is always someone more beautiful than you, more smarter than you.” In other words, it is a game not worth playing.

As I slowly came to accept myself as is and to appreciate my sight, hearing, ability to walk, although with a limp, taste food, smell fresh air and fresh flowers, I also started seeing people differently – their physical appearance was no longer their defining attribute. And, all this took place while I worked in an environment, university, that appears somewhat like the mythical Fountain of Youth – every year a new cohort of 17 and 18 year olds take the place of those ‘old’ 23 and 24 year olds. Also, I am surrounded by human and cultural diversity. It all leads to finally recognizing the eyes really are the light of the soul. I used to have a hard time looking into people’s eyes when talking with them. Now I realize that is about all that matters, not because of color or shape, but because it is a doorway into who they really are. Yes, it is a form of Simply Beautiful.

Simply Beautiful surrounds our lives, through music, acts of kindness and love, poetry, puppies, and in our environment to name just a few things. The color of just one autumn leaf can grab your entire attention, even in the midst of urban chaos. A flower can stop you in your tracks, stop all the endless internal chatter of your mind. And a sunset? Oh my goodness. How its beauty is constantly changing and how just Simply Beautiful.

My wife sent me these two photos of yesterday’s sunset from our front porch. Simply Beautiful, … just like you.

Weird Dream

Aren’t they all weird?

Jason Mraz, the singer/songwriter fella, had come to do a fundraising concert that I was putting together-but he wasn’t happy about it.  I picked him up at a some kind of transportation terminal and said, “Are you hungry?” He went off on a little rant about how there are two kinds of parents – those who feed their children the right kind of food and those that don’t. Then he looked at me with disdain as someone in the latter category.

Next scene: we are at a rundown looking restaurant and Jason is not happy with the place and I had had enough of his bad attitude, so I ordered a ton of pastries and then told four kind of rough looking characters sitting next to us, “Hey, this is Jason Mraz and he would like a selfie with you guys.” Jason shakes his head at me, but reluctantly takes the photo as the group says, “Who is he?” The pastries come, Jason looks down at them, shakes his head in defeat and begins to nibble around the edges of the pastries. He then asks, “How many people are coming to the show tonight?” I say, “Beats me, I haven’t told anyone about it yet.” He shakes his head once again.

Next scene: We are outdoors and a little four piece bluegrass band  is setting up outside an antique shop. I said to them, “Hey, this guy would like to sing with you.” Jason was not happy, but made me sing with them too. We didn’t know the words so we both filled in with some la, la, la, la’s and some ooh, ooh, ooh, oohs. We sounded pretty good too until I ran off a scale of notes that just rambled with apparent place to end.

Last scene: Still kind of embarrassed about my background singing fiasco, Jason and I come across a group of young adults who are dancing in a hip-hop kind of style. Jason’s cool and immediately starts dancing  in the same manner. I thought, “Ok, I can do this,” and I begin dancing in the same way. I am actually pulling it off too, doing pretty well, although full of self-doubt. One of the dancers pairs up across from me, and I am feeling the pressure of the spotlight and fearing I am about to show I really can’t dance. At that moment, I get a calf cramp and I stop dancing, I pull up lame and acting very old….which is exactly when I woke up with a real life calf cramp in my real life leg in my real life bed, as I tried to stretch it out with my real life foot. 

I thought to myself in the middle of the night, “Don’t piss off Jason Mraz, even  in  your dreams.”

This is my favorite Jason Mraz song: Life is Wonderful.