Playing Guitar

Around September last year, I decided to learn to play Bass guitar. I’ve been a drummer most of my life and so I understand the workings and structure of music. It helps to know this when learning an instrument. So I bought an electric bass and amplifier.

I chose the Fender Mustang Bass because it is a short scale bass, meaning, the length between the nut (the point where the strings meet the head of the guitar) and the bridge is only 30″. A full size bass has a 34″ length. At 61 years old I’m not as flexible as I once was and not stretching another 4 inches to reach the first fret makes it easier to play. The Mustang is also lighter in weight so not as fatiguing to hold for long periods. Besides that, it is just plain sexy. I mean, look at it. A slim waist, beautiful curves. Who wouldn’t want to hug that thing?

I can strum a few chords on guitar but I chose the bass because it is a rhythm instrument, like drums. Most people don’t realize this but the bass guitar is as important if not more important to the rhythm of the music. It sets the groove, filling in the bottom end of any piece of music. Just try listening to a favorite song with the bass turned all the way down and you’ll see what I mean. It needs to be there.

I have a lot of musician friends. So I have been getting together with some of them to help me learn to play. So far, it’s been a fun adventure. Musicians are always ready to give advice and help someone be a better player. One trait that most musicians have is to believe that it’s not about them, it’s about the music. Most of them are very selfless when it comes to teaching. So I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. (It helps to be retired.)

I’ve discovered that I have guitar fever, just like many other musicians I know. One guitar is not enough. A few months ago I picked up a Taylor Acoustic Mini Bass.

This is also a short scale bass and a lot of fun to play. Yesterday, I had to take it in to the shop for a little work and I discovered a full scale Fender acoustic bass for a really good price.

This being a full scale bass is as I said, 4 inches longer than the Mustang. However, I’ve noticed that since I started playing my flexibility has improved to the point where I can play this guitar without too much trouble.

So I’m learning to play bass. I don’t think you’re too old to learn something new and it keeps you from shriveling up and dying. Besides, I love music and being able to make music is a real treat. I’m still playing drums as well and will keep doing it all as long as possible. As they used to say in the Sixties, Keep On Trucking!

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The Sword Of Freedom

The Window

bloody sword
As hands are brushed together, dead bodies fall like dust
and a girl in a dress called freedom whirls and twirls
but makes no sound but the sound of a mothers cry.

With the constitution in one hand and a bible in the other,
flames suddenly leap and turn them to ash and
they blow away on the wind called justice.

Crowds leave the synagogue, cathedral and mosque and file
into the furnace while factories make more furnaces
and governments send more children to burn.

The minds eye is blind and feeling it’s way to find
emptiness and sorrow where love once lived.
Time turns backward to other wars with the same stench.

Liberty’s crack grows wider and the clapper has
disappeared to be replaced by the
sword of freedom, and a mother cries again.

And do we watch with hands folded in laps and on
our knees pray to…

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My Irish and Scottish Heritage

Saint Patrick’s day is coming once again, on Saturday, March 17th. In honor of himself, I thought I would talk about my Irish heritage. I’ve been spending a lot of time researching my family genealogy, taking DNA tests and planning trips to Scotland and Ireland. It’s been great fun discovering my ancient ancestors. Armstrong is a Scottish name but I’m having trouble tracing them back to Scotland. The Armstrong’s, as with many Scottish families, moved around between Scotland, England and Ireland. I’ve hit a brick wall with that side of my family. Not so on my mother’s side. I have traced a family line back 17 generations. Toirdhealbhagh Turlough Don Mac Mathghamhna aka Turlough Bishop Killoe-O’Brien -O’Brien King of Thomond of Mumhan, born in 1450, Bally, Clare, Ireland was my 17th great grandfather. He was the King of Munster.

Don’t ask me to pronounce his name! His son, Murrough Carrach O’Brien, First Earl of Thomond, was the first Baron of Inchiquin. Inchiquin, is a Barony (a historical subdivision of a county) in County Clare. Ireland. My Grandmother on my mom’s side was a Brown. Her grandmother was a Dailey. Several generations back from her, the family married into the Byrne name and they in turn married into the O’Brien’s. The O’Briens trace their family history back to Brian Boru, King of Munster who died at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. His brother, Mathghamhna is one of the names of my 17th great grandfather listed above, although more than 400 years separate them, they are probably related. Some people find this dry and boring, but when it’s your own family, it’s fascinating.

Saint Patrick was captured from Roman Britain by Irish pirates during the early 400’s and after being held as a captive slave for six years he escaped and returned home. Some years later he returned to Ireland and began to convert the Irish to Christianity. Saint Patrick’s day has been celebrated as an Irish Catholic holiday for a long time but it was only during the 1970’s that American style celebrations took place in Ireland. Something that really grinds my gears is when people write, St. “Patty’s” day. It’s not “patty”, It’s “paddy.” Patrick is the English version of the Irish name Padraig or Padraic, pronounced, PAWD-rig. Patrick, in his own writings used the name, “Patricius” so I suppose those who say St. “Patty’s” day can be forgiven. But not by much.

I’m going to Scotland in a couple weeks for a Reiver festival. The Armstrong’s were a Scottish boarder clan centered in the Liddesdale and Eskdale area of the Scottish/English boarder. They were called “reivers” because they were a warlike clan, cheating, stealing, pillaging, and murdering there way through life. Hey, times were tough. You did what you had to do.

The Motto, Invictus Maneo means, “I remain Unvanquished.” Sounds badass, doesn’t it? I highly recommend doing your genealogy. And also taking a DNA test. The results can be fascinating. I’ve found some nationalities I didn’t know I had. From doing my family genealogy I knew I had Scottish and Irish as well as French and German but I found some Dutch in there as well as the possibility of Flemish. And if you like, you can find others who share your DNA that you are related to but didn’t know it! DNA tests are a little expensive but it’s worth it to know where your people came from.

Six Haiku

These can be read alone or together as a story.

red cardinal
against a backdrop of snow
sweet morning music

his fluttering wings
spread snow crystals through the air
the sound of warming

cardinals gather
on a branch to talk and sing
the air is music

fluffing their red wings
the color contrast of snow
and bright birds beauty

suddenly they fly
a chorus of sight and sound
leaving one red bird

he sits alone
chirping and preening he waits
for the birds return

We Were Good, We Were Right

Music, jagged edges, shredding sleep.
Visceral emotion, dredged up, thrown open
like a fresh wound flesh wound.

The dream, so real, slowly bleeding away
replaced with morning light, and
realization of the dream.

Scratching, stretching, remembering.
She’s still dead. In the dream
I could touch her. Hold her.

She sang. Her voice warm, and
beautiful suddenly raw with pain.
Suddenly screaming like a buzz saw.

And awake. I don’t know what that means.
Maybe nothing. Maybe just my wounded mind.
Guilt. I could have been better, loved her, more.

No. Guilt is the salt in the wound.
No guilt. No reason. I loved her all I could.
And she, me. We were good. We were right.

One Tear

When my wife died
her last act upon this earth
was to shed a tear.
One lonely tear.
Because you die alone you see,
even in a room full of people.

She took her last breath
and a tear formed at
the corner of her eye.
It traced a damp path
across her cheek to
the pillow beneath her head.

I reached for it with a tissue,
dried her face and cried.
I cried for myself,
for our children and grandchildren,
and for her.
I cried for the deep dark hole
her passing would leave in our lives.

In her last days when her doctors
said there was nothing left
to do, her depression left her.
Sneaking out like a thief
with nothing left to steal.

Her spirit was radiant.
The love she had for her
family and friends
was all she had left.
And it was enough.

Rain

Searching for words, finding none,
the sound of rain on leaves, a
backdrop to memories old and dear.

The window glass is splattered
as a gentle breeze wafts
through the trees.

He stares through the window
not seeing, not understanding
her leaving.

The sound of the door closing
behind him and her image
blurred through water on glass.

When she’s gone he steps outside
lifting his face to the sky.
There is solace in the rain.

Madmen

Madmen,
belly crawling, skin sheading,
panting after desires madmen, rule.

Sick, twisted, self-worshipping
madmen rule. Rule countries,
rule parties, rule lives.

Back biting, back stabbing,
hating, racist life sucking madmen
rule. Hey Ho I got my finger
on the button.

Mess with me pal, and that’s it
for you and your country.

No more rights for you, or you
either. No. More. ‘cause I say. I’m the
president an’ you’re not.

Toilet tweeting, look at me now
has-been ruler appeals to the
basest instincts of human nature.
Survival, grab everything you can,
to hell with everyone else.

Power and money are the twin gods,
To be worshipped above all,
Before air, food or water, before
human beings, before love.

Madmen exemplify the base instincts,
worship them as gods, made
in their own image.

Made in their own image.

Silence

silence screams for attention.
begs. pleads. cry’s.
finally it slinks off to
a corner and sulks, loudly.

silence is not happy.
silence has long boney
fingers that wrap around
your neck to cut off your words.

and then you have nothing to say
because silence is dark and the
words that do escape are swallowed
by it’s inky blackness.

like a tar pit trapping
an ancient dinosaur your words
get sucked down to rot and maybe
someday someone will find their bones.

The Uninvited Guest

black-and-white-evil
She coughs.
Five minutes, ten.
Twenty minutes, an hour
she coughs. The body knows,
and rejects. She’s tired
and sore. And she coughs.

Cancer is like an
uninvited dinner guest.
Brought by an uncle,
this guest gets drunk
off your wine
and won’t leave.

He sits across the table
with a sneer on his lips.
Sometimes quiet and brooding
sometimes yelling and
breaking glasses.

We have a new vernacular
in our house.
A new way of thinking.
Like how bringing home
a baby changes your
life overnight.
Except this baby is dark,
with sharp teeth.

And soon they will put
poison into my wife.
To see which one is stronger.
The angry malignancy
inherited with her genes,
or my sweet, lovely bride.

Fear Is The Enemy

angry crowd
we are human
If you follow the news these days like I do, you undoubtedly have noticed a rise in racism, bigotry and hate in America. It seems to be coming from all facets of society from the common worker to the (so called) elite, and from our government, congress and one presidential candidate in particular. The problem that we face in combating racism, bigotry and such is the same as combating terrorism. These things are constructs. They are ideas, emotions. You can’t fight them. You can kill ISIS fighters in the war on terror but more will take their place. You can oppose hate with love but more hate will rise up. What is needed is to understand why there is racism, why there is hate. Racism, hate and bigotry are symptoms of other problems. Find the problem and find the cure. Sounds easy, right? If it were, we would already have it licked. But we don’t and it seems to be getting worse. People are becoming more comfortable with public displays of some of the worst feelings and emotions humans can come up with. But, why?

Our society is geared toward finding happiness. Advertising tells people to acquire more stuff to be happy. People have to have the latest phone, car or clothes. T.V. commercials tell you that you will be happy if you get the newest products. Or try the latest diet. Book store shelves are packed with self help books. All this stuff to improve our lives and make us happy, but is it working? No. It’s not.

We have become a nation of shamers and blamers. We shame people when we think they’ve done wrong and hand out blame like a free ham at Christmas. We thrive on division and demonize differences. What this does is create minority groups for people to verbally attack and look down upon and for radical individuals to go further with physical violence. But again, why? Why do we need to look down on others? Why do we need someone to hate? That is the real question. Simply enough, people are dissatisfied. They are simply unhappy. And most don’t know why. If you’ve ever listened to people gossip you quickly understand that they do it to put those they gossip about at a lower level than themselves. They do it to feel better. If I can believe that you are worse than me, that means that I’m not so bad. My life doesn’t suck nearly as bad as yours so I must be doing alright. We need someone to hate, to feel better about ourselves. These are the roots of racism, bigotry.

Yet again, the question is, why? Why can’t we feel better on our own without hurting others? Part of the problem that brings about racism, hatred and bigotry is fear. We are afraid. Of what? We are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of people who have a different skin color than us. Of people who speak a different language. Who worship a different God, but why? Why are we not secure enough in ourselves to not be worried about others? What makes us fear other people? Two parts of this problem are media and government. They make money from fear. Fear fuels the Military Industrial Complex; the machine built by a combination of government and industry that makes and sell weapons for war and creates the conditions for war. If they keep us afraid, through media bombardment, expecting the next terrorist attack, then we won’t squawk about how much is spent for the military. We won’t complain when we invade another country because we’re “doing it to keep the world safe.” People are just plain scared. Scared of dying, of losing what we have, or what we think we have. So, differences are demonized and we fear them. Then our government tells us it will keep us safe with more government, more war, more weapons. The NRA tells us we need more guns. Why? Because, they make money off that. Gun manufacturers pour millions into the NRA to keep pushing guns. To keep shouting about the second amendment.

So fear means money for government, for weapons manufacturers, for insurance companies and banks. For the NRA and media. And when we are afraid, we are not secure. When we are not secure, we fear. And that’s when racism, bigotry and hatred rears its ugly head. When we fear something long enough we resent that thing for making us afraid. Resentment turns to hatred and hatred to racism and bigotry.

Religion is another component of the fear complex. Televangelists scream hatred for the LGBTQ community. They tell us that our only salvation is through their brand of religion. Other religions are false and should be feared. Atheism should be feared. What kind of person are you if you don’t believe in God? How can you have morals if God is not steering your ship? Send us your money, and we will pray for you. They have people believing things that have nothing to do with what that religion was originally based on. One of the ways in which religion does this is by getting you to stop thinking for yourself. If you put your faith in your church to figure things out for you, you stop thinking. When you stop thinking, you’ll believe anything they tell you.

So how do we stop the fear? That’s a question that’s hard to answer. It may be different for each person. One of the ways we can stop fearing other people is to realize that we are equal. Even though there are lots of skin colors, lots of languages, and lots of religious faiths, underneath all the trappings we are just human. We all have the same human qualities. The sexual orientation of another human may be different from yours but all that means simply is that that person is different than you. We have to realize that differences need not be feared. Gay people having the right to marry, means that they are being treated equally. Gay marriage will not ruin straight marriage any more than straight marriage will ruin gay marriage. People who have a different religious faith will not cause your faith to falter. Speaking another language is not wrong, it’s just different. That’s all. Just different, and different need not be feared.

Isolationism breeds fear. People that don’t have gay friends or relatives are often found to be afraid of, or bigoted toward gays. The same goes for skin color, language, religious faith, etc., etc. If you don’t know any Muslims then chances are, you know little about them. Fear of the unknown. In my work I have come to know a few Muslim people. I have found that they are warm and interesting people and they welcome questions about themselves and their faith. Muslim refugees in America have often gone through HELL before they were forced into refugee status and found themselves coming here. When they get here they find an unwelcoming people who fear them because they have been trained by the government and the media, church, etc. to believe that these people are all terrorists. Muslim refugee’s lives have been utterly destroyed by war in their home countries and they leave everything they have ever known to come here for a better life. And here they are faced with racism, bigotry and hate.

As a people, we need to change things. We need to stop the fear. We need to vote new people into public office who are not afraid of the status quo. Women and men who will look to the future as a better place than today is. We need to change the media. We need to stop accepting the lies they tell us to keep us hiding in our bedrooms. The Military Industrial Complex needs to taken apart and scrapped. We need to stop making money off of war and fear. There is no other way to do it than by grassroots movements. Black Lives Matter, is one such movement. They bring attention to the fact that since our country’s inception, black lives have not mattered. The Gay pride movement is another. People need to understand that different is not wrong. Different is just different and need not be feared. We need to stand up to the way things are and believe that they can be better. We need to know that individuals can and should make a difference. How about if we start right now?

For Words

mouse under snow
Cars approach, cold beams
of light stabbing,
searching over folds of snow.
The dog, her nose to the ground
sniffing, searching out small
movements. In the distance,
a train whistle, like the
forlorn wail of some
lonely beast, searching the night
for another like it self.
Seeking only some small comfort,
a mouse under the snow
searching, sniffing for a
seed. And I, searching
for the words that describe,
my angst at always
seeking, feeling in the dark.
For words.

The Carrot Before The Horse

carrot before the horse
Is it destiny to work back breaking labor,
bending cutting lettuce, laying brick,
maintaining warp and weft, punching
cash register buttons on sore feet
to achieve the ever allusive
American Dream?

Is hope, denying what is? That paycheck
not big enough to cover the light bill?
Two jobs, ten, twelve, fourteen hours,
buying clothes at Goodwill, giving our
money to billionaires who for some reason
don’t think they have enough.

That carrot is getting smaller and
farther away as we chase faster and longer
to grasp the dream and we forget to
look at the word, “dream.”

Has it always been just a dream?
What are our children learning from
watching this? Hopes and dreams.
“I want to be a doctor.” “I want to
be an astronaut.” “Mamá and papi work
the fields while I do my schoolwork alone.”

Has it always been just a dream?

Another Year

candleEvery once in a while I fall into the trap of reflecting on my life. This usually happens at the end of the year. The Gregorian calendar, the calendar which most of the world uses, says that today is the last day of 2015. Named after Pope Gregory XIII and introduced in 1582, the Gregorian calendar was a “fix” of the Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar to add 0.002% to the year to keep Easter at relatively the same time every year. The year end is just a date however, and one would think that a better time to start a new year would be to coincide it with the beginning of a new season, like Summer perhaps. But I wasn’t in on the making of the calendar so my ideas don’t count. Anyway, reflecting on your life is something uniquely human. My dog Sophie, couldn’t give a hoot what happened yesterday, or last week for that matter. The only thing that matters to her is what’s happening right now. Which, if I was following the Buddhist teachings I’ve learned, should be all that matters to me. Ah well, no one is perfect.

It is amazing to think about how things change. Falling back on Buddhist teachings I find that everything changes. The human body has somewhere between 50 to 75 million cells which are dying and being replaced all the time. So technically, you are not the same person you were yesterday. Everything changes, all the time. Especially feelings, thoughts, likes and dislikes. We are not the same people we were when we were 20 years old as we are today. When I was twenty I would be preparing for a night of drunken partying on December 31st. Today I am lounging around my house in sweat pants and thinking about getting pizza for dinner. Woo Hoo! And I want to make sure I get back home before the crazies go out drinking and partying. Hey wait, that was me once!

I know for a fact that I have done and said a lot of crazy things over the years. I don’t regret any of it because it has all come together to make me who I am and I kind of like who I am. There’s always room for improvement however, but I seem to be doing alright. Would I change some things if I could. Undoubtedly. For like everyone else I know, I have made mistakes. I’m not going to list them here because I don’t dwell on past mistakes. What happened, happened and there’s no going back. There is only today, and so far today has been pretty good. Buddhism embraces reincarnation and the idea that what you do in this life affects how your next life will be. I’m not so sure about that because I’ve seen no evidence of past lives that I may have lived. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try my best to live a good life however because I do believe in the saying, “What goes around comes around.” I think if your life is filled with hate and fear, that’s what you’ll see and experience. If you are a good, decent and happy person, that’s what you’ll see and experience.

So generally for me, reflecting on my life is not unpleasant. I have lived and loved, laughed and cried. I have gained and lost and gained again. Many people have passed through my life. Some of them are still with me and some are gone. I know what happened to some and wonder what happened to others. I’m sure that what I’m describing is typical for most people but I like to think about it. I’m not living in the past, just remembering what was and wondering at how it has changed. Life really is amazing. There have been times when I didn’t have enough to eat, and times when I didn’t have my own place to live. I’ve slept on peoples sofas, and went through a day eating only a can of soup. And then there have been times of plenty. I’ve never been in a war or had my life threatened. The people in Palestine and Somalia live lives I couldn’t imagine and I’m grateful that I haven’t. But I do my best to bring awareness of these things to others like myself who don’t really have a clue.

So on this last day of the year I am sending out good thoughts and blessings to all the world. (Why limit myself?) I hope that everyone thinks about the good and bad things that have happened and I hope that the good has outweighed the bad. Please remember those whose lives are not as good as they could be and do something (even if it’s just writing about it) to help make a change for the better. Peace.
Mr bean