Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

It was Tim's turn to speak on Sunday. Funny thing, since two weeks before, after church he turned to me and said, "Have we spoken in this ward since we moved back?"  Nope. I guess God or the Bishop heard him say that.

Anyway, it was an awesome talk, especially considering he left all his notes and everything at the studio the night before and didn't have time to go back to Erie to get them before he had to speak.

The topic, predictably, was gratitude. It is that week after all.

I found Tim's talk profound. I hadn't ever thought about gratitude on the grand scale, or even that there might be a grand scale to consider.

So here are some of Tim's thoughts (from the notes he retrieved today) on thanksgiving that I've been pondering this week and would like to share.

"Gratitude and thanksgiving are more than gladness or happiness. All the lepers were glad; they were all happy about the miraculous change. Yet only one felt the need to return and express thanks. A sincere expression of thanks is an act of humility.

"True gratitude is related to a shift in universal perspective. The natural man orients the universe on self. Around me the galaxies revolve, and I only deserve consideration. Honest thanksgiving is a re-orienting of the soul to align with things as they really are. We are dependent...The grateful heart acknowledges reliance on others and is not diminished by this knowledge."

"By design we depend on others: Friends, family, and the goodness of God to merely survive; depend on the atonement of our Savior for ultimate but also daily spiritual salvation...What is worship but fervent and soul-deep thanks to the Father?"

"Our willingness or refusal to express gratitude might be the soul's barometer, a measure of how I am aligned in relation to the Universe."

"True thanksgiving leads the faithful to a life of obedience and service and action."

"As our ability to comprehend spiritual things increases, we become aware of the true magnitude of what our heavenly parents have done for us: the great plan of happiness, the condescension of the Lamb, the Father's work and glory, the whole of creation and the intimacy of the still small voice--all for us."

He also talked about how who we are--our worth and value and personality and character--should not be defined by what we have or our circumstances, whether impoverished or wealthy.

Anyway, it was a lot of new ideas for me, and I've enjoyed pondering them for the last couple of days.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Adopt a Song

Early reviews of the album are coming in fantastic. I am so so anxious to get it out and available to people, but we can't get this CD mastered without some help, thanks to all the car repairs last month.

So, instead of doing a Kickstarter to get Tim's CD mastered, we're asking anyone who wants to help to adopt a song. $30 masters one song, and there are 19 songs. If you adopt one of the songs, the song gets mastered, and you get:
         An advanced copy of the song emailed to you as soon as it is done being mastered
         Both physical and digital copies of the album as soon as they are done
         Recognition in the liner notes for the song

If you want to adopt a song, you can do it here: http://mistertimdotcom.com/store/

There are 18 songs to adopt (possibly 19--we have one additional track that is ready to be mastered, but we're not sure if it's going on this CD or the next--it's marked with an asterisk below). That means if you love a particular song that you, personally, want to adopt, you could email Tim tonight to be sure you get the song you want most (tim@vocalitysingers.com).  Some of the songs are new ones that almost nobody outside my household has ever heard before, so if you want to have the first listen of a new song, adopt it. You'll get the first copy that goes out.

The track list for the full album:

Bang on the Door
Clearer Skies
The Fire That Consumes
I Have Become
There Must Be Something More
A Full Set of Heartbreaks
Fine Fine Line
Fire Can
A Question Like a Tiger
Are You Satisfied*
Stick Around

Monday, November 18, 2013

Did I just read that?

Google usually does pretty well at transcribing voicemail for me.

Today, it totally scrambled one--a pretty mundane voicemail, too, and easy to understand when I listened to it.. Transcription fail, with hilarious results:

"Hi. This is *******. I was listening back for the info box. I'm going to be helping a bowel. I have to the park it okay. I can swing by. Ami wayback. I just wanted to get your. I just real quick. Because, I hate you briefly in tired and box. I've talked to Mr. Simpson the other day. Pink you know I don't have anything important here and then I do have a that's I did and it was your address. Hello. If you can gimme a call back and just tell me. I just. I remember it on, told her across the street from 12. Hopefully you'll just find and I'm a if you can by. I don't know, okay. Give me your address are just give me a Irene, Thank you so much. I'll talk to you soon. Bye. "

Well, I hate you briefly, too. Have fun helping a bowel. Oh, and here's your Irene.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Did I just read that?

"Keep all your social media set to privacy and really only accept friends with people you know for sure and not someone who could be misinterpreting themselves," Hasty said.

"Oh, I'm sorry officers. I misinterpreted myself. I didn't understand what I was saying."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Positive Attitude

Today I finally made it to church. Benji was his usual hyperactive self times ten, so I didn't hear any of the meeting except two or three times I heard, "My topic is 'The Light of Christ and Having a Positive Attitude.'"

I did not hear a single talk. I was chasing Benji around the building. So I just want to clearly state that this is not a criticism of anything anyone said. I didn't hear anything anyone said, so how could I criticize it?

But, since that was the topic for the meeting, I thought about it some while I followed the boys and watched them throw ice from a pile they found on the lawn at the church.

I realized I have some hangups about the "having a positive attitude" part.

1. I don't see how having a positive attitude is related in any way, shape, or form to the light of Christ. So I'm guessing the bishopric speaking assignment was actually about something other than what I interpreted those words to mean. (So this isn't to say the bishopric gave a bad speaking assignment, either--just to say that particular phrase has meanings to me that bother me).

2. Speaking only about adults and children (teens might be different), my experience is that people don't need to be taught about having a positive attitude. Generally speaking, being positive is a self-rewarding behavior. It is its own reward, and most people seek to be positive and happy because it's inherently better. Most people have a generally positive attitude most of the time. And the people who do not have a generally positive attitude usually need help, not a lecture, because they are suffering from some disorder or other challenge--ADHD with a negative outlook, depression, and intensely difficult stretch of living they have to suffer through. None of those people is helped by being told, "Well, just change your attitude." People become negative when there is something wrong in their lives, and it seems like it would behoove us to find out what's wrong and help rather than lecturing people on their attitude. So this is a non-issue, or its a major issue that is best addressed in a more healthy, realistic, psychologically sound way. Or maybe this is a real issue and I've just been blessed to be surrounded by generally positive people in my life.

3. The scriptures never advise anyone to "have a positive attitude." Prophets have advised the people to not despair. There are scriptures about cheerfully doing all things in our power. And they push hope heavily. But it's not hope in general--it's hope in Christ.  Clearly, God wants us to choose happiness--and I recognize it is a choice. So I don't know why I get hung up on the phrase "Positive attitude."  Maybe it goes back to the business philosophy that says that if you're  a failure, it's your own fault for not believing hard enough because if you just have a positive mental attitude, you can do anything. And that's just a bunch of baloney. I think there is more to the "cheerfully going about" thing than just having a positive attitude.

4. To me, teaching "have a positive attitude" is teaching the gospel of me. The philosophy attached to that, in my mind, is that you can just try harder and things will magically work out. And, if you happen to be unhappy or miserable, it's your own fault for not being more positive, regardless of the circumstances.

I have a real issue with that last one.

Because what happens when you get to that point in life where you hit the wall? Where you've done everything you really truly can do, worked hard, had faith to the breaking point, and you really cannot go on? That point when your heart is truly broken? That point when your enemies are rallying against you, your friends are sure you're doing it all wrong, you need help and neither God nor man will step in and save you, and you are completely powerless to save yourself despite all you've done?  What about when you're hanging on by your fingernails, and the best possible outcome is terrifying or miserable, and everything else isn't worth living for, and when you cry out for help, the people around you cannot hear, or, worse, they mock you and criticize and tell you it's too bad you got yourself into trouble?

Surely I'm not the only person in this whole wide world who has been to that spot and tasted that despair, fear, sorrow, and exhaustion that comes from trials that just don't go away.

And I can tell you that, when you hit the bottom, having a more positive attitude just doesn't cut it. There really are times when you have literally--physically, emotionally, intellectually, psychologically--done everything you can possibly do. And you cannot find the willpower or the energy to just be positive so that everything will work out. And where you know, deep inside, that smiling at that dragon isn't going to stop him from eating you.

But the other thing I know is that God never leaves us alone, even when he refuses to rescue us, and when we get to that hopeless spot where you have truly done all you can do (and therefore cannot even dredge up even a mite of positive attitude, which is a lie and won't fix things anyway), that's what Jesus came for.  And you don't have to be sad, and you don't have to despair, and you don't have to hang on by your fingernails and you don't have to cry any more. You don't have to live in that dark place, and you don't even have to stay there, despite the trials not going away.

The thing is, you can go forward, cheerfully and with patience doing the will of the Lord, waiting on His time. But it's not because you tried harder to have a positive attitude. It's a gift from God that comes from choosing faith (the active kind, not just stating that you know God is there), from praying for patience, from having hope in Christ, and from turning to the atonement to heal your broken heart and help you through. It's not because YOU can do any more, but because God can. And will.

The answer is not a positive attitude. The answer is Jesus.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

So what's it about?

That's the question I failed to answer.

I know, I know--I keep writing about Tim's album. It's kind of a big deal for us here--lots of work and sacrifice has gone into this project, and I really like how it's turned out. And I'm anxious to share it, but I want people to go in prepared for what they're going to hear. So far, when we've tried to share Tim's music with people, it doesn't go well because people's expectations for what they're going to hear don't jive with what they experience. So we get comments like, "I can't dance to this." Or "You really can't sing along to this." (We hear that one a lot).  I think those are the reactions we hear because I say, "This is really cool," and the person I'm talking to (rightly) translates that to "Oh, it must be the same kind of music I think is really cool," and then they're disappointed. Because often it's not that, whatever "that" is.

You would never pick up a Andrea Bocelli album and say, "Well, I can't dance to that."  Of course you can't, but you go in not expecting to. Or, likewise, you wouldn't pick up a dubstep album and say, "But there's not really a singable melody here." That's not what dubstep is for.

Setting appropriate expectations for Tim's music, so you can evaluate it on its own merits for what it is (instead of what it isn't), is particularly tricky because if I say, "It's classical music," you expect a different instrumentation and might be offended by the fact that Tim used pop and rock sounds and styles to write art songs. And if I say, "pop" or "rock," you would be expecting different content, different song structure.

Anyway, I've written about what the music is about musically (combining modern, contemporary sounds, instruments, musical idiom with classical vocal song structure and aims). But I haven't talked about what the album is about thematically.

Like any good poetry collection, "The Funky Introvert" is full of layers and has many meanings and layers of meanings. And Tim is usually fairly tight-lipped about what he intended when he wrote the songs. He says if he tells you what it means to him, you might not be able to find your own meanings in the songs. He wants to express things, but he also wants to leave it open to you to own the songs and have them speak to your heart what you need to hear. And he wants you to discover the meanings--and he trusts you can. (Obviously it's not wide open, but he keeps from listing out the meanings on purpose).

But I like a little direction going into a poem or collection of poetry. I like a framework to hang meaning on. So I'm telling you what it is about, to me. Obviously you can find your own meanings once you hear it. To me, "The Funky Introvert" is a collection of art songs about all the voices and experiences in life that compete to give meaning to life. There are songs about discovering that intellectualism is actually quite shallow, and songs about how consumerism actually makes you feel like you're locked out of life instead of giving it deep, satisfying meaning.  There are songs that delve into love, heroism, money, secrets, tradition...all the things that claim they are the way to have a valuable, meaningful life. The centerpiece of the album's meaning, to me, is track 4, "Monument". Everyone in life is seeking to make their lives a monument to something, to find satisfaction and solid meaning.

And, like in real life, the answer is there but it is hidden--not because we don't want you to have it, but because in life, the wrong answers are louder, more prominent, easier to access.

And, like in real life, you go through a bunch of ideas--including the one that has the secret right answer in it--before you even get to the question the songs are answering. At some point, everyone stops and says, "There must be something more to this...." And that question song is in the middle of the album, after you've committed to and tried many things and found they aren't the answer. The album starts with someone stepping back and noticing that the intellectual "nonconformity" that is actually alternate-conformity is really quite shallow and just a different face on the same old story everyone is telling. It ends with what I see as Las Vegas (and, by extension, the idea that money is the key) promoting its approach to life.

And, if you find the secret...the hidden verse (hidden in plain sight, but like a still, small voice instead of a big flashy show number) that is the key to everything--you'll see the album is about the journey a man takes in trying to become a Son of God, and everything that tries to stop him from getting there. It is about the experience of being a man in this world, about making this world into something important and making yourself into something valuable against all odds. It's about monuments and about altars and where you choose to sacrifice yourself (since we all sacrifice ourselves to one god or another--it's inevitable that the sacrifice is made; the altar upon which its made is the choice you have, not whether you participate) and what kind of monument you hope to become, and all the things that try to entice you into their camps.

And because all the songs are also poems, you can find all kinds of wonderful, specific meaning in them beyond this.

We're trying to work out how much more it would cost to include all the lyrics in the liner notes because these songs really beg to be listened to with the lyrics available because, like other poetry, the words beg to be analyzed, re-read, digested rather than just heard.

So, what's it about? You'll have to listen and find out, I guess. But now you know what it's about to me.

Monday, November 04, 2013

First attempts at drawing cartoons

I am trying my hand at cartoon characters to see if I can illustrate my own little books. It won't be fancy, but my goal is for the pictures to be better than the Bob Books (whose illustrations are rather awful). So I've done a lot of online tutorials in using the drawing program of my choice, and some on cartooning. And I've spent a lot of time saying, "Nope. It looks terrible" and putting it away, coming back the next day and saying, "Well, maybe if I just fiddle with this line using the skills I just learned...."

I illustrated 35 books in level 0 and the first 5 books in level 1 using public domain clip art. But I'm at a point where I need to start telling stories. I did a lot of editing pictures on the first 40 books and learned a lot about how people put things together. Now I'm just trying to learn how to make pictures from scratch.

So here's my first attempt at a person:
I can see things I can fix (like the lines being not the same weight, and the clothes being a little boxy still, and his hand being on backwards--oops!), but I'm encouraged. I might just learn this new skill after all!