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Just a writer (mostly)

Now I know for sure I’m  a writer. My “pieces of string” file was nearly empty, meaning there might be a week with no column, or at least no column with an original, personal essay.

And, like the mind of a true writer, mine, faced with a deadline (even a self-imposed one) met the challenge and generated, in the space of  one day, a dozen essay ideas; things that interest me and will hopefully interest you.

I found myself starting to say, “I always knew I wanted to be a writer,” but that isn’t quite true. I wanted to be a TV Host or a disc jockey, but time proved to me I lacked those skills. As Stewart Chefeit once told me, “Once you learn to fake sincerity, you have it made.” I never did.

Yes, I taught 8th grade U.S. history for a decade, but that was paying it forward for my terrific public education. All my other jobs were writer jobs.

I considered the possibility that Oregon hasn’t turned out very many great writers, except, in my opinion, the vastly underrated Doug Baker. But Wikipedia quickly set me straight. As an Oregon writer, I join the ranks of Ken Kesey, Cheryl Strayed, Beverly Cleary (whose books are set in my childhood neighborhood), and Ursala K. Le Guin.

My pre-written obituary starts with a complaint about me not getting to 20 million words. Clearly I am also a writer of quantity; as my reader I am sure you’d agree.

Mom’s Pearls of Widom V (two-fer!)

 If my brother or I reported something lost, my mother would often say, “Last time I used it, I put it away.” When we were teenagers, she apologized, saying sarcasm wasn’t appropriate for young children. She never used the phrase in her daycare practice, nor with her grandchildren. I only used it rarely, out of habit.

Here’s you bonus pearl; near the end of her life, mom always said, “I don’t even buy green bananas.”

Healthy Roots

Thank you Tamara Levitt  for your mindfulness teaching during a recent Daily Calm. It centered on the importance of healthy roots. A tree can be as much as 50% root; her point was your branches and leaves aren’t happy if your roots aren’t happy.

This resonated with me because I had a case of emotional root rot for a half century, cured with the help of another person. As a result, my own already healthy visible emotional leaves and branches have blossomed like never before.

As I write this, I realize it sounds a bit Freudian. He was right when he said that the past (in particular, the way we think of and deal with our past) is the foundation on which we build our future.

I am feeling pretty good about my past and my present, and for that I am literally and verbally grateful every day. Healthy roots.

 My Musical Heritage

Neither of my parents were musical (although there were musicians among my mother’s distant relatives), but they felt my brother and I needed music lessons, in case we had talent.

I didn’t have much talent. At age 8, I took lessons from Mrs. Sweet, in the special rotunda at the front of her house on N.E. 42nd Avenue, across from Beaumont School. I am sure I was a disappointing student. We spent our half-hour together each week, during which she quickly and accurately deduced that the upright piano in my basement bedroom wasn’t getting much of a workout between lessons. After four years of scales and Hot Cross Buns, I had learned two discernable tunes. I could play a simplified piano transcription of Die Fledermaus, which I can still hear in my head today, a half-century later.

I used the other song, Mother Dearest, Mother Mine, to torture my mother annually on Mother’s Day. I have never been able to find the sheet music. Its not in the ASCAP or BMI databases. If you find it, I’ll buy it.

The important thing about my piano lessons was that I learned to sight-read the treble clef (the bass clef is beyond me to this day).

I heard Fred MacMurray play tenor sax in one of his films, and then heard him belt out the theme to the My Three Sons television show every week. I fell in love with the instrument.

Alas, the Beaumont Grade School band had no saxophones. “Play clarinet now and you can switch to Saxophone in high school,” the music teacher said.

However, the siren call of radio soaked up all my time at Benson High, so I never made the switch. My sole connection with the Benson Band was when I irritated the conductor every year at Tech Show. The band had won one award, once, so I persisted in introducing it as “The award-winning Benson band.” I thought it was funny, even if the teacher didn’t. Maybe he’s why I lost the job of announcing the show in my junior year.

Then I turned 40 in 1992 and realized if I didn’t take up the sax then, I probably never would. I used a $3,000 inheritance from my grandmother to buy a Selmer Paris horn; that may seem like a lot, but it works out to about $8 a  month over the years I’ve owned it.

Since the brass bands I play in perform several black tie concerts a year, I took my $3,000 winnings from the TV game show Scrabble and spent them on a custom-made silk-lined dinner jacket and silk-stripe trousers (along with patent leather shoes). Turns out a quality custom tuxedo was flexible enough to follow me through 40 pounds of weight gain and loss over 29 years. It has always looked good, even when I didn’t.