Monday, June 20, 2011


So, I'm here at the Blackbird coffee shop where they make really tasty coffee as opposed to that bitter stuff from Seattle. It's the middle of the morning and it feels strange to be sitting here listening to eclectic music while sipping caramel crème (don't judge me – it was cheap). In the past I'd be immersed in something at the office – working with an intern, doing a report, consulting with students or figuring out what's wrong with the internet connection this time as opposed to last time. Those days are over. I'm what is commonly referred to as “retired.”

“Retired” is a funny word. It sounds like I was tired once and now I'm tired again. This is technically true, but inaccurate in this context. “Retired” sounds like I'm giving up the daily grind (another coffee reference – get it?) for sunny days and balmy nights at the beach. “Retired” should mean that I've done all I can with what I've got and it's time to rest and enjoy life. “Retired” isn't what we thought it was.

First of all, I made the decision to retire at a fairly early age. Fifty-five is not young, but it's not the equivalent of being ready for the scrap heap. I had planned to begin consideration of this decision in two or three years. Instead, I was presented with a change of plans by the Powers That Be. The age to retire at full benefits was about to be increased. To receive those “full benefits,” I'd have to commit to another seven years. Oh, and the employee portion of my family health insurance was going to increase by about $1,000 per month – the equivalent of an annual salary reduction of $12,000. This from the bureaucracy that always says that people are more important than things or systems. I also had two months to make the decision that would change my life.

So I'm jobless for the first time in my professional life. This should give me the opportunity to do things I didn't have the time to do before. For example, there are squirrels in my back yard that must be counted. I firmly believe that there is a squirrel conspiracy in our little town. They are massing in increasing numbers, gnawing their way into attics and even sacrificing themselves by chewing on power lines in an effort to undermine our communications system. Also, there are songs that are demanding be learned on the acoustic 6-string. If no one learns them, they may go away never to be heard again and that would be tragic. I also need to calculate how much sleep I've sacrificed on the altar of my job over the years and see if those hours can be re-captured.

More important than those things, though, is the need to make the journey of re-discovery. There are portions of myself that have been lost little by little over the years. In the effort to do my job the best I can and to be true to the people I am responsible to and responsible for, parts of my self seem to have faded away. I'm not sure just when they left or just where they went. I'm a little surprised that I even noticed they were gone. I was having one of those “radical-change-of-life” reflections when I reached for something inside and found that it wasn't there. It left quietly and without any fanfare or fuss. I'm not even sure what it was, exactly. I just know that it left an empty spot where it used to be. That has happened more than once and I'm beginning to get concerned that these “pieces of self” won't be back. Perhaps they found someone who will take better care of them, who will give them the proper exercise and the right nourishment. If so, I wish them well – but I also wish they'd come home.

Is it possible to find gainful employment while searching for your identity in the process? I think so. These days, though, no one wants to see you. They just want you to fill out an application online and then they decide whether or not they want to talk to you. It's impossible to tell them what they're missing by not hiring me when they don't want to meet me. Still the search goes on.

The searches are concurrent. There is a need for things like a salary and a job that I feel good about. After all, the squirrels are looking to take over the house and I need money to mount a defense. Woven through that search, however, is the other search – the one that seeks what was lost. Will both of those searches be successful? Maybe. I'd really like to believe that they will.

So, who will I be when the Great Searches are over? That's the frightening and exciting part. I really can't say for sure, except to say that I will be different from the person I was a few months ago. To what degree I'll be different I have no idea.

But I'm really looking forward to finding out.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Acoustic Savages Are Back! (Just Accept it)

I played my guitar a lot more this weekend than I have in a long time. I’m far from an accomplished musician but most days I will pull out the Tacoma 6-string or, more recently, the Peavey bass I’ve been trying to learn and spend some time fumbling through a few songs. I don’t always get the result I want, but it’s fun and it helps relieve stress or simply puts a pleasant cap on the day.

On Saturday, Linda and I motored down to Tybee Island where we rendezvoused with a few shady characters from my college days. Back in the time of our collegiate brand of insanity, we often sat up all night talking about how we knew so much more than our professors, what we thought the state of the world should be or, when it was just the guys, about the girls we knew and wanted to know. We also became a sleeper cell within the BSU and, when activated, initiated a sudden takeover. My dear friend, Micheal, calls it a “hostile takeover.” Certainly shock and awe were involved. It hasn’t been the same since.

Once we decided to investigate a local “haunted house.” If it wasn’t haunted when we got there, it certainly was by the time we left.

Now, a lot older and perhaps not much wiser, we got together at Micheal’s home on the Isle of Freedom and Dreams to talk about days gone by and days to come. I had thrown the Tacoma into the car before we left. That evening Micheal got out his own guitar and we proceeded to see how much music we had forgotten over the years. It was the second time we had played after a layoff of over 25 years.

During that first reunion, we dubbed ourselves the Acoustic Savages and began talking about a tour. This time things got a bit more serious, musically speaking, and Micheal brought out a melody and partial lyric that he had kept in a protected corner of his mind where the jerks and cynics of the world couldn’t get at it. It was good stuff. Together we played through the melody several times and looked at the lyrics. Bit by bit Micheal, Dee and I worked together to add to the body of the song and to take it where it was begging to go. Mark listened and added a succinct rhyming scheme. Linda became our official photographer and historian as she and her trusty Minolta made a visual record of the process. If we ever become rich and famous, she will also be the official accountant.

We played as the evening wore on. Times of intense agonizing over specific words and strumming rhythms were punctuated with laughter and loving name-calling. Finally we wound down. As we looked at each other we realized that we had finished. The song was complete and we had done it! Just what we had done may be open to interpretation, but together we had finished what Micheal had begun and we were able to make it flow. A musical fantasy was born.

The next day we were still talking about how much fun the process of playing and creating had been. We wondered about other half-finished melodies and poems that were rattling around in our minds that only needed room to breathe and fresh creative input. There are some songs and stories and there are some feelings and thoughts that cry for expression. Sometimes these can only be born into the world when others are allowed to bring their fresh eyes and ears to the process.

Much as I have trouble admitting it, my life is often like that. Usually I try to be emotionally self-sufficient - internalizing frustrations, anger, angst, depression, and all kinds of other emotions that generally make life a miserable experience. If you were to ask me why I do that, I’d probably reply, “It’s just who I am.” Not, I admit, a particularly deep or enlightening answer. A therapist once asked me why I didn’t share my pain more openly with others. “Because it’s mine,” I answered – as if that explained it all.

What I meant, I think, was that this is my pain and only I can understand it’s meaning for me. Only I can deal with it. I refused to inflict my pain on anyone else. That meant that I inflicted silence on them instead, which is a thousand times worse.

So, as I became part of a musically creative process while enjoying an island breeze in the deepening dusk, I realized that personal creation is much like musical creation. Collaborators often make the final product deeper, richer and more honest. It helps to have someone listen to the melody of your soul and provide harmony or counterpoint. Whether our lives are, at any given moment, a nursery rhyme or a symphony, the music is better when voices are blended.

So the Acoustic Savages are back. You may not find our CDs in the music section of your local department store or hear us on your radio. That’s OK. We hear each other and that is what we needed.

Look out, America – we’re putting the band back together!