Jody

Walk into the service with your head hung low; a sign of misplaced respect for the deceased. Hug old friends and shake the hands of people you only slightly remember.

The deacons tell you to pick up a stone from a basket at the entrance. Curious, you think, but you gladly hold the small gray stone in your palm and massage the smooth surface with your fingers.

Smile and wince simultaneously at folks who nod as you pass them by in the tight pews. Too tight, you think, why do they make them so close together?

Throw the back of your brown, tweed sportcoat behind you. Notice, for the first time, that every man is wearing a black or navy blue suit with a white shirt and a dark tie and every woman is wearing a black dress with white fringe somewhere. 

Organ music swells. You wonder how they build instruments like that. So encompassing, the sound.

The service begins. The minister speaks like poetry. A rhythm that’s unmistakable. There’s no words out of place. Each word is as beautiful as the last. Each word carries a cosmic weight.

Friends and siblings speak effortlessly about her kindness, her wit, her writing, her love. Your friends cry when her sons get up to speak. When was the last time you saw any of them cry? You can’t recall really, but it’s been a long time, you’re sure of that.

They get through their short speeches with indelible strength. They pause when they must, to choke back all the things that come rushing forth. You are proud of them and wonder how you will do when you find yourself in their shoes one day.

You feel something hanging all around the room. God? You ask the inside of your head. He doesn’t answer audibly, though, maybe he doesn’t need to.

Her husband speaks. He is a good man and his goodness is profound in that moment. How deep his love is for her. Is not was. Is.

Piano playing, poems recited, favorite blues songs echo from the speakers. All of it quiet reflection for a woman who was like a second mother to you. You cry too, but mostly because it’s beautiful.

The minister tells the congregation to remember the stone they are holding in their hand. This stone is from Rhode Island. She has been going to the beach where the stones were collected since she was a small child. Feel the weight of the stone. Feel its texture. Cup it in your hands. Now, imagine that in one of her many years at that beach, she may have picked up the stone you are holding in yours hands. Then, think of a word that describes your relationship with her.

“Mother”

That’s the only word in your head. Mother to her sons. Mother to her son’s friends; adopted and brought in to the family.

The minister asks everyone to get up, row by row, and place the stone in a basin at the front; an act of letting go.

You let the stone go and listen to the sound it makes as it hits the rocks below it with a slight thud. It sounds like a final page turning and a book closing. It sounds like closure.  

You throw your arms around her sons and her husband. You sing a hymn you’ve never heard and you leave; with your eyes forward and your head up, a true sign of respect for your second mom.

10 Books

Books that inspire me.

1. Sum – David Eagleman

sum

You will read this book in one sitting. A look into 40 possible afterlives that are not meant to be taken literally and instead allow us to reflect on what makes this life valuable and magical. Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor studying the brain’s many secrets. It’s the most fun I’ve had reading and I laughed at the end of each chapter in amazement and disbelief. I keep giving this book away only to realize that I always need it on hand … so I’ve bought it many times. 

2. No More Prisons – William Upski Wimsatt

no_more_prisons

Hip hop. Urban life. Self education. Hitchhiking. The Cool Rich Kids movement and philanthropy as the greatest art form. Wimsatt, a graffiti writer and grass roots organizer, talks his slick style through many social and economic problems, but this book is more about solutions. 

3. In persuasion nation – George Saunders

in_persuasion

A collection of short stories from the Syracuse Creative Writing instructor, now known for one of the greatest commencement speeches on kindness and regret. The stories are dreadful and hilarious at the same time. Sympathetic and satirical, Saunders will display his genius within a few lines. 

4. My name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok

asher

“As an artist you are responsible to no one and to nothing, except to yourself and to the truth as you see it.” This is what Asher Lev is told as he walks through the challenge of being a painter and a Jew. Potok himself was a writer and a rabbi, and the tension between faith and art for him, was lifelong. 

 

5. Jesus’ Son – Denis Johnson

jesus-son

There is a short story in this collection that changed the way I think about writing. I feel like Denis Johnson is part of my family. He’s my Vietnam-vet uncle who taught me how to shoot skeet and pick up girls. With a cigarette hanging from his lips, he saunters in to any pool hall and dares meathead, frat boys to mess with him. 

 

6. Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller

Bluelikejazz

Donald Miller is a man after my own heart. The things he struggles with. The doubts he has about God. His history with women are all very familiar to me. It feels like my own subconscious is penning the pages. This book seems to reach the hands of young men and women who are having a coming-of-age crisis. Just like all struggling with mental illness find underground hip hop, so do church burnouts find Donald Miller. 

 

7. The girl in the flammable skirt – Aimee Bender

skirt

“My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month and now he’s a sea turtle.” 

8. and still I rise – Maya Angelou

And_Still_I_Rise

I love poetry. I write poetry almost every day. I will say I love to write it more than I love to read it. But not when it comes to Maya. Her poetry rings in my mind for days after. In fact, if I am quiet, I can still hear it now. Her work is like a big “Fuck You” to anyone who practices oppression in all its various forms. But this “Fuck You” is so eloquent and elegant that it stings even harder. Kill them with kindness yes, but I would also add: she kills them with hope. 

9. The things they carried – Tim O’Brien

things-they-carried-cover-image

You don’t know war until you are a soldier, but this book is as close as a civilian will get.  Honest, gut-wrenching, thought-provoking, deeply sad, deeply brave all at once. I read this book in high school and the imagery is just as real 10 years later. I was totally heartbroken by a scene, but I am a better, more compassionate man for having read it. 

10. The prophet – Kahlil Gibran

The_Prophet_Cover

Almustafa is set to leave town and knows the ships that come to take him away are close to shore. Before he leaves, the townspeople gather by the docks to bid him farewell and ask him one last time to speak to them about love, marriage, friendship, money, work, death and many other topics. Almustafa answers each of their questions, all the while lamenting that he must leave them. The book is almost like a collection of speech transcripts. With such beauty, Almustafa speaks in poetic language that allows the people (and the reader) to understand complex topics and relate to them with such ease and depth. A book you will finish in 2 hours. 

Blues Guitar

 

            Many modern genres must tip their hats to the blues. Since the start of blues music, jazz, rock n’ roll and alternative music have come to fruition. If you want to start playing the blues there are certain characteristics in a guitar to look out for.

           “Most blues music requires a lot of bending or pulling the strings to add that soulful vibrato sound,” Ken Strittmatter said, who builds his own guitars. “Larger radius necks make string bending easier.” Chris Baney, a guitarist and worship leader at Basic Truth Church said that he finds semi-hollow bodied guitars to be the best for the blues. He said that Gibson and Gretsch provide a full, rich and deep tone that is perfect for the blues. Baney also noted that many blues greats used a solid body Fender American Stratocaster because it can provide a raw cut through solo sound. In his opinion the Strat has the fastest fret board around the guitar world.

           “With blues music there is a really raw sound that is made from the guitar itself whereas other genres use multiple amp effects to sculpt their sound,” Baney said.

            No matter the style played or the level of skill, finding the right guitar does not have to be a daunting experience. Find out what you want to use your guitar for and what kind of music you will be playing. Pay close attention to the wood used to make the guitar and how it is set up. And the first few times you play get a bunch of buddies to play along with you so you cannot tell the mistakes you are making.

            “If a lead guitarist is on stage with a drummer, percussionist, keyboard player, rhythm guitarist, four horn players, three backup singers, and a lead singer, you really cannot tell if he is playing a $189 Fender Squire or a $2,000 Fender American Stratocaster,” Corky Ballard, a longtime guitarist said half joking.  “The important thing is that you are playing man, experiencing music.”

Setting up your guitar

Electric guitar pickups

So once you have your guitar, what is next in the process? Setting up the guitar is vital once you have the model or body style that you like.

Lowering the action is an easy way to make the guitar easier to play. The action of a guitar is the amount of space between the fret board and the strings on the guitar. You usually want a lower action if you want the playability to increase. If you go to any guitar store that does set ups and ask to lower the action, the guitar technician can usually do it for relatively cheap. What they do is file down the bridge of the guitar, so that the strings sit lower, making it easier to press down on the strings.

Chris Baney, a local musician, said that once you have the desired electric guitar, the first thing you should do is get new pickups. Pickups send an electronic signal to an amplifier to create the sound we associate with electric guitars and give it a distinctly different sound than an acoustic.

“New pickups are relatively inexpensive and can enhance the sound of a guitar tremendously,” Baney said.

Making sure the action of the guitar, the bridge, the pickups and electronics are all set up correctly is huge according to Ken Strittmatter, who has been building his own guitars and amps. “Many beginners give up because the guitar is set up wrong and they cannot figure out why their guitar sounds bad,” Strittmatter said, “You have to make sure that your guitar is mechanically solid.”