Episode 022 - Earthly Angels Bring Me Puzzle Pieces

Today we have Steve Birch, who is chock full of stories about sneaking into shows as a teenager and tracking down musicians at their hotels. He has been a musician, a producer, a songwriter, an author, and played many other roles on his journey through this world, and he shares a couple of those stories about the beautiful people who turned up in his life at the right time and in the right way to really make an impact on him. Here is my favorite quote, because it’s just what I need to hear at this point in my life, “That’s the key, moving in a direction but not being rigid about it, releasing expectations of the destination but move in the direction of where you think you want to go. And then that’s when the surprises happen. That’s when those doors swing open.”

My deep gratitude to Steve for spending the time and sharing himself and his experiences with me. I can’t wait to read his book.

My loving thanks to Flora Folgar for her help with the editing.

Music for this episode comes from Free Music Archive which, at the time of publication of this episode, has been acquired by Tribe of Noise and is not currently linkable. Our opening theme is “Start Again” by Monk Turner and Fascinoma. Other music that appears in this episode:

“Trio for Piano, Violin, and Viola” by Kevin MacLeod at 6:49

“Kelli’s Number” by U.S. Army Blues at 12:51

“The Edge of Nowhere” by Scott Holmes at 16:17

““Driven to Success” by Scott Holmes at 20:14

“Sweet Spot” by Scanglobe at 27:12

“Bells and Vibes” by Michael Brückner at 35:23

“I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” by John H. Glover-Kind at 41:41

“Deep Dual Love” by Jared C. Balogh at 44:32

Here’s the transcript:

As a kid, I remember my earliest memory, my earliest really vivid memory is being in a basket under my mother’s grand piano in our living room. And she was like the president of the chamber music society, and she was always having chamber music rehearsals and everything. So I was in this basket, and I looked over to my right, and there were my mom’s bare feet working the pedals, and I could hear the dampers on the strings above me thunking on the strings, and I looked out, and there were the string musicians, like a cellist and a violist, in their folding chairs swaying with the music, and I could smell the resin from the bows.

So music was, it was just always there. It wasn’t, “Do you want to play an instrument?” It was, “Which instrument do you want to play?” So I picked up the flute. It looked like an easy thing to carry. And I liked the way it sounded. Because I saw these other kids lugging tubas and euphoniums and stuff around.

I was pretty resolved that I was going to be in the music business. I didn’t know how, but I was just so drawn to it. And at 13, I started working in this college radio station. They were in the midst of an inventory, and I asked how I could help, and they gave me a broom and put me to work doing things that no one wanted to do, just helping them with inventory and emptying the waste baskets and stuff. But that changed really quickly. If someone didn’t show up for their show, I was on the air, and before I knew it, I was doing radio shows and teaching the new college students coming in how to run the equipment.

And then when I got older, I got into junior high and high school, and I was not working at the radio station anymore, but I still wanted to meet all these people that were coming through town. First, I would cold call all the hotels in town and ask for their rooms. One of the people I wanted to get was Chick Corea when he was in town doing a concert, and so I called around and just asked for his room at the Hyatt or whatever hotel it was, and his manager picked up, and he figured out what this was. I was just a kid who wanted to meet Chick. He gave the phone to Chick, and so we talked for a minute, and he said, “So are you coming to the concert tonight?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well just, why don’t you just come backstage?” I said, “Ok.” 

It’s almost like these footprints were laid out in front of me, and I was just as nervous and scared and ill-prepared as I was, I just put one foot in front of the other.

And so I went to this concert, and when it was over, I went backstage, and there was just this crowd of people there, and they were all getting autographs and taking pictures, and people bringing him flowers and all kinds of things. I’m pressed against the back wall, and the people started to part, and he points at me and says, “Steve?” I say, “Yeah.” And he calls me in, so I go in the dressing room, and we sit on the backs of these folding chairs next to a fruit bowl, and we just, I started… He was so open with me, so giving. He just says, “So, what’s going on? I heard that you wanted to go to New York. What do you want to… Is there anything that you wanted to ask me about?” And we just had this probably half an hour conversation. Me and Chick Corea, in his dressing room, sitting on the backs of the folding chairs, and it was expanding my world to know that this person who I had been listening to and studying and admiring was just a guy, and he was accessible.

And you know, when it didn’t work, when I couldn’t reach them at a hotel, I’d call around, call everyone, and no one would have them staying, they’re probably under a different name or under someone else’s name, so what I would do in those cases is I would go to, the afternoon of the concert, I would go to the venue to the stage door, knowing that they would be off-loading equipment onto the stage from the trucks. And I walked up to the stage door, and there’s a stage manager there and everything, and just walked over and grabbed a mic stand off the back of the truck and walked it in and went back out, grabbed a little box of mic cords or something, and did that like 3 or 4 times, and then I was in. And it worked. It worked so many times. It worked time after time after time.

So that was my bridge from this small town in Michigan to getting up the nerve to say, “OK, yeah. I’m going to go and immerse myself in this world.” And so that’s what I did. L.A., when I was 20.

I was so ill-prepared. I had been there for maybe a week, and I decided, “OK, I have to go down to the Hollywood Musicians Union and see what this is all about, see if I can make some connections and stuff.” I remember, I went downstairs into the basement, and there was a big band rehearsal going on. They have the door open because it’s blazing hot down there, and they’re just doing this rehearsal, and there’s this guy with this tenor sax on a stand, and he’s just slumping in a chair smoking a pipe while this rehearsal is going on. And I’m listening. The band is kicking. And he takes his pipe and puts it on the music stand at one point and reaches over and picks up the sax and straps it on, and still laying back slumped in his chair just blew the most blazing sax solo I had ever heard, effortlessly. And I remember being just awestruck and defeated at the same time realizing that no, these were world class players. I had stepped into something that I was absolutely not prepared for.

But I was picking up whatever I could, and there just wasn’t any work. And it got to a point where I just had to make a living, just to be able to stay there and not move back to Michigan and lose face. You know? Because I was the one who got out.

Talk about transformational moments. Sometimes they’re nice and perfectly laid out, as if planned. And sometimes they’re trainwrecks. And this was my trainwreck, this was my bottom. I was driving a delivery vehicle in Skid Row and the Jewelry District and the Garment District, and just all over L.A., and I was doing a lot of drinking, and so I would drink to put myself to sleep at night, and I’d get up in the morning and take little white pills and stuff to get me going, sometimes like a handful. And drinking coffee and taking these pills. And I remember, I was in this frenetic state, and so I would rush through everything, and I was driving very recklessly and everything. I came around a corner and realized as I swung around the corner that there was like a shadow of a person in front of me, and I just brushed past them, and I looked over as they fell away from my truck. I could see this horror on their face, this terror. And I still see that face today. I will always see that face. And as I continued to drive, I looked in the rearview mirror, and he’s cursing me. He’s OK, and he was just one of the guys on Skid Row. You know? But in a way, he’s the guy who saved my life because almost running this guy over, almost killing this guy, was the thing that made me say, “I can’t. I can’t keep going like this.”

And so, I drove the truck to my therapist’s office and just sat in the waiting room until she would see me. And she came to see me, and I gave her the keys to the truck and said, “I’m done.” And that afternoon, I was checked into a hospital, and I was there for about 10 months. I was having suicidal feelings. I was having even homicidal feelings at times. I just had all this rage inside that was unresolved, and so I had to take that time. And fortunately, I had insurance that allowed me that time. I just stopped my life and said, “No, I have to fix this.” And I had this sense that, if I didn’t fix it, I wouldn’t be able to live out my purpose or even find what that purpose was.

And I had a boss who kept my job for all that time and in fact welcomed me back when I left. I was so blessed with just wonderful people. There were these angels that just kept appearing that were just wonderful. That’s a theme for me, is these angels who pop up. And sometimes it’s a very mystical thing, and other times it’s like that guy I almost killed. To me, in my memory, this is the guy who helped me turn that metaphorical corner in my life as I almost killed him turning the corner with the truck. And I imagine, in my musings I imagine, maybe I had the same effect on him. I don’t know.

I got back on my feet. And I was at this for a long time. I mean, I was getting my act together for the good part of a decade, and I got to a point where I was feeling really grounded and assessing my life and saying, you know, there were problems. Some of that stuff I did with music, I did for the wrong reasons and all that, but I still loved music, and there was still a big part of me that wanted to be there because those are my people. That is my tribe, you know?

So I decided I’m going to go for it again. And at that point in time, I was pretty clear that, yeah, it wasn’t going to be as a musician. I just wasn’t that good. So I decided that I still liked putting music together. I liked the studio aspect of it, putting the pieces of a song together and working with musicians. So I thought, yeah, OK, I could be like an engineer or producer or something. So I took a bunch of classes at Cal State L.A. and UCLA. And I met this guy, he was one of my teachers, he was a Record Production teacher, and he was a serious working musician. This guy was a monster player. And we hit it off, and he helped me put together my production demo so I could show my skills as a producer, and I decided, OK, now I need to find somewhere where I can work my way into the business and do this record producing thing. And again, I had no idea what I was doing, but I just went for it anyway. And I remembered that there was this guy who I had met a couple times in passing back in Kalamazoo.

So I figured, if I could get this tape to him, since he had become a producer, a really hot pop producer, then maybe there could be some work there. But I didn’t know how to reach him. But I knew he had a studio in San Francisco, and I knew he was from Kalamazoo. And I figured he’s gotta still have some family there. So I went back to my old childhood ways, my tricks, and started cold calling. 

So I called and called and called, and then I got his mother, and I said, “I’m going to be in San Francisco on business, and I was really hoping to connect while I was up there, but I don’t have any of his current contact information or anything.” And so she just assumed I was an old friend. She said, “Oh, baby, just a minute, let me get it.” So she gave me the address to his studio and the telephone number to the studio. So I drove up. I rented a car, booked a hotel room, spending all kinds of money I didn’t have. I was going to take this tape, I was going to get in that door somehow.

So I drove up there, found the studio, it was just around the corner from San Quentin, found a phone booth, and called the number. Now this guy, he was huge at the time, and he was just in this incredible zone as a producer. So I called him, and he had like 10 people working for him in the studio, but for some reason when I called, he picked up the phone. So I just went to work. I just started to talk my behind off. He said, “So where are you now? What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’m just up the street in a phone booth.” He’s like, “Here? In San Rafael?” So he reluctantly asked me if I wanted to come down. I said, “Yeah, be there in a minute!”

So I drove down to the studio, and he met me at the door, and the first words out of his mouth as I was walking through the door, he said, “So what do you have for me?” So I reached in my pocket, and I hand him this cassette tape of my 3 little musical pieces, and he put it immediately into a boombox there in the lobby and listened to, oh, I don’t know, maybe 20, 25 seconds of it, turned it off, and handed it back to me. Oh man. OK. So is this how it’s all going to end? All this stuff, all the classes, all the studio time, all this stuff, he was my best bet to get in with a production team. And he was clearly not interested. He knew that I wasn’t up to their level.

But he was nice, and he said, “Hey, look, you want to come back and see what we’re doing?” So I followed him down this dark hallway to the control room, and there was this little guy hunched over a piano in one of the booths, and he walked over to that room. He slid the door open, and he stuck his head in and said to the guy inside, he says, “I want you to meet Steve. He’s from Kalamazoo. He’s a writer. You guys talk.” And then he turned to me, and he said, “This guy is the songwriter of the ‘90s. You guys need to work it out.” And then he left.

So we talk, these 2 socially awkward musical geeks trying to carry on a conversation, and it’s going nowhere. And so, in my head, I’m tallying up all the money I’ve spent and saying, well, I’m just going to have to write this whole thing off as an experience. And so I’m starting to say my goodbyes, and I get one foot out the door, literally, and he says, “So do you write lyrics?” I say, “Yeah.” I had never written a lyric in my life. So he reaches over to his desk and picks up this cassette tape, and he’s going, “I have these 3 songs. I need lyrics. I need these things done. I was like, “Cool.” So yeah, I took the cassette, I said, “So when do you need them?” And he said, “Tape rolls tomorrow at noon.”

So here I am, with the opportunity to write the first 3 songs of my life, and I have about 18 hours to do it. So I drove up and parked under a streetlight in front of an all-night diner so I could keep the coffee flowing, stay awake while I hammer out these songs. Now, I had no idea how to write a song. I never paid attention to lyrics because I was so into the music, but here I am being asked to write the lyrics to these songs. And they were completed songs. They were studio-quality with a la-la melody over the top and a song title. So I had to create these stories around a song title to match the melody. I didn’t know what to do, so I just went by the seat of my pants and said, “What would a writer do? How logically would they go about it?”

So I just wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote, until I fell asleep. Woke up the next morning. The lyrics are crumpled at my feet, and I pick them up, flatten them out. The sun is high in the sky, and I still have 2 verses to write. So I crank them out really quick and hit the road. I get there about 20 after 12. They’ve been there, they’re just waiting for me. The music is up on the monitors. The vocalist is all warmed up waiting in the vocal booth, and this writer is across the room nervously, I’m sure, imagining the extra money he’s going to have to pay for the studio time because he doesn’t have lyrics for these songs.

And he sees me walk through the door. “So you have it? Do you have it?” And I just raised up this legal pad, this crumpled legal pad with the lyrics, just cooler than I had any business being. And he rushed over and took it from me and read through the first one, then flipped the page real quick and started reading through the second song and started to slow down, and slowly turned the page and read the third and just sat there for a second and then turned to me and said, “Cool.” Walked out into the studio, put this pad on the music stand and taught this singer the melody to show her how the words would go with the song. So those 3 songs ended up being the first 3 of over 200 songs we wrote together. And that was what launched me into this career that consumed the next 10 or 15 years of my life. Never had I set my sights on being a lyricist. I’d never imagined that. But I found that it was the perfect thing for what I had been prepared for in life.

I set the intention, but when you set the intention, one of the tricks to that is that you can’t be rigid about it. You set your intention, and you release it to the universe to whatever is going to happen, whatever door swings open for you. I was on this journey to reawaken this childhood dream of being in the music business, and I thought I knew where I was going, but I didn’t. And that’s happened to me so many times in life that I’ve come to really trust it. That’s the key, moving in a direction but not being rigid about it, releasing expectations of the destination but move in the direction of where you think you want to go. And then that’s when the surprises happen. That’s when those doors swing open. 

I have to go back a little bit. My immediate family, my father and us kids, we were like black sheep in the family. We were really different. But it always bothered me that I didn’t know why we were so different. And then we had a grandfather who I did not connect with at all. He was this beloved doctor. He delivered me, and I never connected with him. 

When I was probably 16 years old, my dad pulled me aside and explained to me that my grandpa was not his birth father, that he was his stepfather and that my father had been adopted when his stepfather married my grandmother. It was apparently very serious for my dad. And “Don’t bring it up because it really upsets your grandmother” and all this subterfuge, all this stuff. It was apparently a chapter in her life that she just wanted to bury.  I knew that my dad was really, he was really wounded when his father left him. He was 9 years old. His dad left, and he was never heard from again.

But I wanted to help my dad find what happened to this guy, and I imagine from the way my grandmother tightened up and got angry whenever the subject would come up, I just assumed that this guy probably just died homeless under a bridge somewhere. But I continued to help my dad look. And his name was Joe Miller. We didn’t know what state he was in. But years into this, after helping my dad search every 5 years or so, I’m grown. And I’m on the phone with my brother, we’re having this conversation, and we’re finishing up the conversation, he said, “Oh yeah,” he said, “Did you hear about the circus picture?” It’s like, “Huh?” He said, “Yeah, yeah, there’s… Larry found a circus picture.” And Larry was a guy who was my parents’ best friend. He introduced them to each other and everything.

So what happened was, he was down in Florida, and he was going through a local yard sale. He came across a stack of New Yorker magazines for a nickel apiece, so he bought the whole stack to have something to read while he was down there. And he opens up one of these New Yorker magazines to see this picture, a class picture of the sideshow from the Barnum & Bailey Ringling Brothers Combined Circus. And there’s a guy down in the corner who my dad’s best friend said looked just like my dad looked when he met him in college. And he was doing a contortion that my dad used to do when he was in college. It’s like when they met, when these 2 guys met, my dad and his roommate, they’re getting to know each other, and my dad says, “Yeah, they tell me that my grandfather was a contortionist in the circus, and look, I can do some tricks too!” And he disjointed his shoulders and crossed his arms behind his head, with his arms sticking out straight the wrong way. And there’s this picture of this guy looking like my dad doing that same contortion in this picture from Madison Square Garden in 1929. It’s entitled “The Congress of Freaks.”

And I’m doing Google searches to try and find something. Boom, there’s a posting from a circus genealogy bulletin board where people are looking for their relatives from the circus. There are no responses to this posting that was posted like 6 years prior to my seeing it. It’s just sitting out there. And this woman is looking for, I think her great uncle Lan, or her uncle Lan, or something, who was double-jointed.

So I write to her, and it’s after midnight, and the house was totally asleep. And there’s this email from a woman who says, “I can’t believe it. Seems like every year at Christmas, another relative finds me.” She was in her early 70s. She had been a lifelong genealogist who had done the whole family tree, but it had run cold at her uncle Lan, my great grandfather, that leg of the tree.

So she writes this letter back to me, tells me what she knows, and I’m starting to close this thing down, and I notice that there’s an attachment to the email. So I open it back up, click on the attachment. It opens up, and there’s this picture, this sepia tone picture of a little boy, probably 4 years old, who looks exactly like I looked at that age. And written in calligraphy underneath the image, it says Master Joseph Dustin Miller. This was the first picture I ever saw of my grandfather, and I’m at this point, I’m well into my 40s when I see this for the first time.

It was one of these moments where everything became very surreal. It was very unreal feeling as I’m sitting there looking into the eyes of this child from generations before me. And I get a sense that my wife is coming down the stairs, and I call her name, and she doesn’t answer, and so I look up from the picture, and that’s when I saw the ancestors gathering, gathering like they would around a street performer, with little kids trying to see between legs and between people to see what’s going on as I’m reconnecting with this lost generation in my life. I mean, and it was filmy, and it was just light, but it was clearly people. And they were there for the moment.

So the next morning, I write to the woman. She writes right back, and she introduces me to a couple of people, and they introduce me to a couple people. And I’m doing more and more searches now that I know where he was.

He’d left in Prohibition Chicago. My grandfather, turns out, was an emcee in Vaudeville and burlesque, and he would tell corny jokes. It was like, he would take a piece of bread out, and he’d say, “Now I’m going to sing, ‘A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody’,” and he’d put it in his pocket. He’d come to the end of the song, he’d pull out a piece of toast. It was just really bad, corny Vaudeville stuff. This man who was a Vaudeville burlesque entertainer had had a knock down, drag out fight with my grandmother because he caught her with the grandfather I knew growing up. They had this fight, he disappeared, was never heard from again. Nearly 70 years, never heard from. And she would never help along the way, help us put it together.

So I break the code. The code is broken with this circus picture, you know? That’s the thing that lit me up to search again, and to search with passion. Things started falling into place like... you know, they talk about moving in the direction of your passion, and the universe will conspire to support you. I felt like I was riding a wave and like I was having all these, at the time I would refer to them as rolling epiphanies because it was like everyone I talked to, every turn, every email I received, there were all these people welcoming me to my connection to my family. People who knew my grandfather, people who loved my grandfather.

So there’s all this stuff is emerging, and it’s all emerging, I’m telling you, from the moment I opened the picture in the email, to see that picture of my grandfather, that little 4-year-old boy, to 5 weeks later, I’ve met all these people. And all these people come together to celebrate what would’ve been his hundredth birthday, and I was the guest of honor. All these mystical experiences started coming at me. It was this season of awakening for me that changed everything.

But I learned through this experience and connecting with these aunts and uncles that had no idea that I existed or my dad existed. I was able to bring them all together and find a place for healing those wounds, for reconciliation, for reconnection. And ultimately, I believe, to heal those wounds for those who had long past. There was so much damage through the generations, so much disconnection, so much pain that it needed to be healed. It needed to be healed for all those who are living today who struggled with their strained relationships with their father, you know, this man who abandoned my father, and for all the generations to come.

And that happened very miraculously. It just… It just happened. It fell in my lap, the one person who was best equipped, because it meant so much to me to solve the mysteries for my dad. And also because I was the one who was, who had become now a wordsmith, through my lyric writing and all of that. So I didn’t know how to write a book, but I knew enough to get a start and imagine what a writer would do, just like I did with the lyrics. And so I started doing it, and more things started coming, and I started getting visited by Spirit and by earthly angels who had a piece of the puzzle to bring to me.

And so I’m taking pieces of that, stringing all those experiences together, those things I didn’t feel like I was worthy enough to tackle. Who am I to say I’m a writer, or to suggest that I had anything worthwhile to hear? But I’m at the point now where I’ve had so many experiences and learned so much in life and feel like I’ve been gifted so much that now I’m compelled to get to that place where I can share it, share it out.

But it was so cool, you know? And it’s just… It’s all very pedestrian. It just happens in my life. None of this is sacred. I like to have fun with it all. I don’t take myself that seriously. I’ll tell you, when I hit 50, that’s when I decided that I was going to be honest and speak my mind, and when I hit 60, that’s when I decided I was, if I’m going to share myself, I’m going to share my heart. And I’m not going to do it halfway. I’m going to do the damn thing. You know? My wife says that. Whenever she sees me backing away from something or being cautious, she says, “Just do the damn thing.”

Episode 020 - We're All Real Nice, and We're All Assholes

A very Merry Christmas Eve to you all! Here is our last episode of the season, an interview with Curtis Myers, longtime Austin sound engineer and shredder. He’s the perfect person to represent goodwill toward men this holiday! I had a great time talking to him, and I’m grateful to get to work with him day in and day out. All of our best to you and to yours, from me, Flora, and all of ours. See you next year!

Our opening theme is “Start Again” by Monk Turner and Fascinoma. Except for “Pick Up On My Mojo” by Johnny Winter and “DOA” by Blood Rock, all music for this episode comes from 1 by Cave Pool, which you can find here:


Here’s the transcript:

Curtis: That’s when I started recording, when I was 10. And I just had like a two-track machine that I could do ping ponging. You record on one track, and then you take that track, and play along with it, and then record onto the other track. So now you have two things on the one track, and then you play that one back and record on it, while you’re erasing the… And you just keep… And then you have three things on that track. And then… And as you go, you sort of lose stuff in the quality.

That’s pretty much how I started in recording and figuring out how to lay down recordings and make sounds and stuff. The guitar just became natural to me. I just sort of understood it, you know. I could look at how other guys were playing, and I said, “Oh, I can do that.” And so I understood that, and then I just was into the guitar like crazy. Then I heard Johnny Winter. Then I heard Jimi Hendrix. The day I bought my first Jimi Hendrix album, the guy at the record store, he said, “Oh, that guy just died today.” And I was pissed at the guy for telling me that. I just was like, “What’d you tell me that for? You just ruined it. He’s my favorite guitar player.”

And then that was in the Philippines, so I bought it at the PX, on base. I was just a military brat. 14. 9th grade. And I was really into Hendrix, and Johnny Winter. I thought everybody else sucked. I kind of liked Clapton a little bit. Thought he was OK, but…I just was into the faster guitar players. Shredders. They didn’t call them shredders back then; they just, guitar players. I don’t know. But I liked Roy Clark, because he was fast. And I liked Glen Campbell, I thought he was pretty good, too. If they played fast, I liked them. I probably didn’t even know who Chet Atkins was at that point.

Rod: So how did you turn it into a professional gig?

Well, I first went to the Teen Club on base, and I played with my band. At first we were called the Thunderbirds, and then we found out there was another band called Thunderbirds. Of course, there’s been probably a lot of Thunderbirds. And then one guy said Blueberry Doorknobs. So that was our name for awhile.

Rod: Must’ve been the ‘60s.

Curtis: Yeah, well, that was about turning into the ‘70s, yeah, about that point. And all I had was, I had a some kind of weird turntable that I’d turned into an amplifier, and it had a 10” speaker that I would set out, and that was my amp. And we just played the shit out of it, you know. We only knew probably four or five songs, and none of us would sing because, you know. But I mean, we’d make a little bit of money. They’d give us french fries, and they’d give us Cokes for playing and stuff.

So then I moved back to the states, here to Austin, and the first band, I mean, within two months, I was playing in a band. I loved playing guitar. I just, I would skip school and go play guitar. And I went to this place, and I met this drummer, and I liked the drummer.  He was 14; I was 16. And he was huge. He was like 6’, and he swole up like, he just started, I don’t know if he was taking steroids or what, but he got real musclebound. And his brother was a guitar player, but I didn’t like him because he was shitty. I thought he was shitty. And then we found this bass player, and he was great, and he was like sasquatch. And I was just a little bitty guy.

And so I played with these guys. I didn’t like standing up when I played, and I didn’t like, and I was writing music, but I didn’t like vocals. I really didn’t like listening to vocals. I’d rather just hear the guitar. So all the music I wrote was all instrumental. And I found out that after I learned a song by Hendrix or Johnny Winter, I didn’t like it anymore when I’d listen to it. So I quit learning other people’s songs because I figured if I learned it, then I wouldn’t like listening to it anymore because it would just kind of, I don’t know. It just did something to me if I learned the song, then it wasn’t any fun playing it or listening to it anymore. It was kind of weird. Now it’s different. Now there’s certain things I like learning, as I’m older now. I’ve learned to appreciate learning other people’s songs, but back then, it was kind of like, “Eh.” It takes the, I don’t know, the fun out of it, once you learn it.

So I basically went playing and playing with these guys, and we got some gigs. We got a Battle of the Bands at the Sacred Heart Church over there on the northeast side of Austin. And we ended up winning it, and I didn’t, we just packed our shit up and left after we played. And then everybody came back to the drummer’s house and says, “You guys won! You guys won!” And said, “Won what?” We didn’t really think of it as… We were just wanting to play. Anywhere we could play, we’d play parties and stuff. And we just had a blast.

And by the time I think we were, the summer was over, the band sort of fell apart because the parents were getting tired of the, the bass player’s parents were telling him, “You’re going to college. You ain’t doing this shit.”  We were all dedicated musicians for about a whole summer. It was hard finding musicians that I was happy with. I had, ended up hanging out with this one bass player for the next two summers, and during school. And we formed a band. We found four guitar players. I was teaching them all the parts. So I was trying to do like orchestrations of my music, and the only thing we had to record was an 8-track. Not an 8-track like in a professional studio, an 8-track tape, you know, and I’d buy blank 8-tracks and record on that, and we had two microphones, we’d stick them in there. And it sounded like shit. It was god-awful. And I took that down to Armadillo World Headquarters, and a matter of fact, Carol was the lady that took my tape. And she listened to it, and she said, “Eh, you guys need a little work.” And so we never did get to play there, but I kept at it.

Then I got to work for, I was, Johnny Winter was coming to town. It was about ‘75, I think. And he was playing with Floyd Radford, another badass guitar player, and it was probably my favorite lineup with Johnny Winter, just because it was a really rockin’ outfit. And I got there at like 9 in the morning, and it was nobody there except the roadies. And I was there, and one of the roadies came up to me, and he goes, “What are you doing here?” I says, “I’m here to see Johnny Winter.” He said, “Well, you’re a little early, aren’t you?” And I said, “Well, I wanted to make sure I got good seats. I’m here to see him.” He says, “You want a job?” And I says, “Sure!” So he just put me to work. He said first thing, he says, “OK, see this thing? Write on this piece of paper ‘Winterbago.’ OK? Just make it big letters. ‘Winterbago.’ One piece of paper.” And so I just took that pen, and I wrote “Winterbago,” and then I says, I started writing all this other stuff on it. “Cool man! Far out!” You know, stuff like that. And the guy comes back, says, “What the hell is this? I said just write ‘Winterbago’ on it.” He flipped it over. “Write ‘Winterbago’ and that’s it.” So I did that, and I said, “OK, I’m sorry man. I’m just excited.” And he says, “OK, what else you want to do?” He says, “How many tickets you need?”

And so I got tickets for all my brother and everybody. I called them up. So we had four seats right there in the front, man. And Point Blank opened up for him, and they kicked ass, and then Johnny Winter came out and just tore it up. And just smokin’. And I was like, “This is the coolest.” We were right up front, had the best seats. And then at the end of the show, the roadie that was put me to work and everything, he says, “Come up here. Come on up.” My little brother came up with me, and we looked kind of alike. And Johnny Winter’s cross-eyed, right, so I had noticed it, because that was the first time I’d seen him up close like that, and so I stuck my hand out to get my hand shaken with Johnny Winter, and my little brother, and Johnny Winter reaches over to my little brother and shakes his hand, and then walks off. And I’m like, “What the fuck?” That’s just the way it was. But it was cool. I still, I’ll never forget that. It was just the greatest day of my life, I thought.

I got more involved into different things, and playing music wasn’t really my big thing anymore. I was trying to support myself, looking for jobs and stuff, and I found out it was hard to find bands that would stay together and really work hard, find dedicated musicians. And so, it was kind of tough, and I ended up doing odd jobs and stuff. But later on, about as I hit about 19, 20, I started really working harder on the music thing. And we went into this one band, and we were called Tough Luck, and we started getting gigs where we were opening up. We opened up for Bloodrock. I don’t know if you remember them. They had the one song, “D.O.A.” “I remember we were flying along and hit something in the air,” and then it would go, “Doo doo doo doo...” They had this big hit. But they were sort of regional. They had a regional hit, you know. And then we opened up for, let’s see, Bloodrock, Bubble Puppy, Leslie West of Mountain. We opened up for them. And we got to play the Armadillo World Headquarters, and so we actually did some stuff, played around, and then our bass player got shot in a drug deal, and then we got all our equipment stolen, and sort of things just went to crap at that point. And that’s why were called Tough Luck. No, that wasn’t why, but we thought Tough Luck was actually a cool name, you know, when… But it wasn’t.

And we sort of had a pretty good following for a local band and stuff. And we did as good as we could, went as far as we could, but they, the paper wrote an article on, the Austin American-Statesman wrote an article, and it was called “Glitter Punk” is what they called us. Our vocals were just really weird, because I had a real low voice, and then the other guitar player had a real high voice, I mean higher than Geddy Lee. So when we sang together, it was kind of neat, but it was just, we just weren’t that great of singers, I think.

But after that, I went to a recording studio. Back then, there was like maybe 4 or 5 studios in town. One of them was Earth and Sky, and it was ran by a guy named Kerry Crafton. And he took me under his wing, started showing me how to record, and how to use the mixing board and stuff. And he used my house for a pre-production studio. He’d come over there, and he’d do his bands. He’d say, “Rehearse over here, then we’ll go over to the studio and lay down some tracks.” And so he started teaching me that, and from there, I got into, I was going to electronics school at the time, and I said, “Oh, I really like electronics, and I might as well get into it,” because I was figuring computers were just about to happen. This was about 1983, ‘84, and all this stuff was happening.

And so I just got into that, and I learned all about electronics, and I learned to record. And then I got an offer with Radio Shack to work on their computers, Tandy Computers, after I finished school, and I moved to Houston. And there I met a guy who had just retired. I got a gig playing this one homeless shelter, and his wife’s sister liked me, so she told him about me. He came and saw me, and I was trying to run live sound and play guitar at the same time, and he says, “Do you mind if I help you out? I can adjust this for you.” And I said, “Sure, go ahead. If you know what you’re doing, that would be great, because I’m having a hell of enough time just playing the damn guitar.” So he started twisting my knobs, and we just started sounding great. And I was going, “Damn, this guy knows what he’s doing.” So I said, “Where’d you learn to do that?” and he goes, “Van Halen.” I’m going, “What?” He says, “Yeah, I used to work for him, but I don’t do that anymore. I got out of the business.” And he sort of showed me a few things, a few tricks here and there, and I learned from that.

Then, after, oh, I guess about three years in Houston, I had had enough of working on computers for all the prisons. There was one day that I walked in, and one of the prisons, I was on death row, and I’m working on the computer, and one of the guys, one of the prisoners walks in, and he goes, “I like computers.” Two guards rushed in and grabbed him, and they came in and said, “Oh, Mr. Myers, we’re sorry about that.” And I said, “OK. That’s all right.” But after that, it was just, I just said, “You know what? I think I’m going to go back to Austin and get out of this business.” And then I moved back to Austin, and I started a little, I built a little recording studio, and from there, it just, I started getting gigs there. And then one day, a friend of mine says, “Hey, Curtis, can you come to the Back Room? Their sound man left.” So that’s how I started getting into live sound. I started working at the Back Room. And that, and the studio, and then I started getting gigs with Johnny Hernández, that’s Little Joe Y La Familia’s brother, and I just started getting all kinds of gigs, and people started hiring me here and there, and I just went crazy after that. I just started doing sound. But I still liked to play guitar.

Curtis: Well, I got to work for Jimi Hendrix once. But he was dead.

Rod: He was already dead!

Curtis: But it was, you know, it’s a pretty cool story. I entered this contest. It was the Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition. You had to mail in a tape and everything, so I was like, “Cool.”

Rod: Did you mail in an 8-track?

Curtis: No, it was actually a cassette, and I thought it was a pretty good tape. And it said, just record a couple Hendrix songs and send it in, and I sent it in. And then, the sound company I was working for called me and says, “Hey, I got you a gig. You’re going to be doing sound for the Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition.” And I said, “Shit! That means I’m disqualified. I can’t work...” So, but I had, that’s how I made my money. I had to do it. But I got to work it, and I’m sitting there, I ran the sound for everybody in the whole competition, and I was like, “Oh, man. I’m better than all these fuckers.” You know how guitar players are. We can all do that better. So I walk in, after it’s all over, I walk in the green room, and I’d met Jimi Hendrix’s dad. That was cool. I got to meet his dad, talk to him for awhile, and I met his sister. So I got to know them, and that was great. And then, so I walk in the green room, and they’re, all the judges and everybody’s in there,  I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know y’all was in here,” and one of the guys, one of the main judges, I think he was from Fender, he goes, “Wait a minute. What did you… Who did you think was the best?” And I said, “Ah, it was that Italian guy.” And so I walk out, and thinking nothing of it, and then the Italian guy wins.

Two months later, I’m getting ready, I got a gig, and I got my bass player and drummer, I’m calling… I call up my bass player, and I says, “Hey, you ready for the gig? Are you going to come pick me up, or how are we going to do this thing?” or whatever. And he goes, “Oh man, I was going to call you, but I just got this gig. I’m going over to Italy. This guy that won this Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition just hired me to be a bass player.” And I said, “Son of a bitch!” And the guy that it was was the guy that I said, “It was the Italian guy.” So he ended up winning the whole thing worldwide.

Rod: Wow. All on your vote, huh?

Curtis: Yeah, and then, my bass player, I lost my bass player to that guy.

Rod: Casual word in the wrong ear, and all of a sudden you lost your bass player. You’re a dad, right?

Curtis: Yeah. Yeah, I have two wonderful kids. And I found out I have a third kid a couple years ago from when I was out on the road. And the lady finally got a hold of me and told me that we had a son together. He’s 38. He went to Rice University. He played football for Rice. He’s doing fine. He did fine without me, and she did probably a lot better without me than…

Rod: Did you get to meet him and everything?

Curtis: I haven’t met him yet. We… I’m waiting for the opportunity when it’s, when he wants to know about me and all that.

But yeah. And the best I think that I’ve learned as, because I set out to be a rock star, the best guitarist in the world, set all that in my head, but I feel like as I went, I think I learned that the best things in life are just the best things in life, just doing it. And there’s failures and there’s highs and lows, and I think I’ve had a good life at this point. I’m 62 now. I don’t regret a lot of it. There’s things I do regret, of course, but I don’t regret not being a rock star, because it probably would’ve killed me, and I don’t think I would’ve lived to be 62, because I was pretty wild. I had my wild streak. You know, I don’t want to use the names to protect the innocent. But I’m pretty mellow, I think, as far as it goes, and I think it kind of kept me on an even keel.

Rod: You got any other, any other stories? Ones where you don’t protect the innocent?

Curtis: I could say some things about, you know, but there would be times where I would meet musicians, and then they would be, just turn out to be complete assholes. But I think of it now, as I look back, and I think, “Well, they probably were having a bad day, and no telling what they were going through on the other side of it,” and what I could’ve done maybe to make them nicer. And I could mention names, but I don’t want to do that, because a lot of people will have, it could’ve been a bad day they had, and they’re probably really nice people, because we all are. We’re all real nice, and we’re all assholes at the same time, so I don’t want to say any of those bad stories. And I could say some good ones, too, but I think I’ll leave it with the Jimi Hendrix and the Johnny Winter, I think it’s better that way.

Episode 019 - Nothing Out Here Can Stop Me

Today we have a conversation with Brandon Foster, a coworker of mine. Brandon’s has a charisma and energy that I really like and admire. Despite everything he has been and continues to go through, he keeps a positive attitude and a focus on growth. As he says, he’s always grinding. Thanks for taking the time, Brandon.

As always, please rate and review us in iTunes, and if you have a story you’d like to share with us or you’d like to be interviewed about a transformative experience in you life, let us know! i’m at rod@rodhaden.com.

Our theme song is “Start Again” by Monk Turner + Fascinoma.

Other music used in this episode:

4:14: “Far From Home (and feeling bad)” by Squire Tuck

8:01: “Home at Last” by John Bartmann

17:47: “Get Out” by Jahzzar

24:55: “Get Out of Dodge” by Frenic

32:38: “Roaming the Streets at Night” by Daniel Birch

35:08: “Back Up The Truck Jam” by Podington Bear

39:45: “Homebound” by Audiobinger

Here’s the transcript:

Rod: So where did you come from? How did you get to Austin?

Brandon: I moved to Austin 6 years ago. Unfortunately, the police of Buffalo, New York killed my father, and my uncle came for the funeral of his brother’s death. We sat for the couple of days that he was there, and we vibed, and we had a chance to talk and everything, and he told me about opportunities out here. So, while I was back home in Buffalo, New York, surviving, I had a chance to get online and look for jobs out here. So the first job that offered me an opportunity to come out here, I explained to them that I had tattoos on my face; would that prevent me from getting a job? And they told me no, no problem, come on in. So I winded up calling my uncle, down, calling him, and let him know that I had got a job offer sooner than what we planned for. So he brought me down here. It was all because of my uncle. I stayed with my uncle for the first 6 months when I moved down here, and by me having the mentality that I have, I was already in the “grind and go get it” mode, be on my own, so within 6 months, I kind of was looking for a place, and he was helping me look for a place. So we found a place, and he helped me co-sign the first lease. He helped pay the rent for the first 2 months, so I was rent-free for the first 2 months. I had to get on my grind and do what I do to keep myself out here, unless I would’ve been back on a plane going home. So here I am. If it wasn’t for my father passing, would I be here? Would I not be here? You know, that’s the question I ask myself.

Rod: Do you want to talk about what happened to your dad?

Brandon: My father, the night before he was in jail, me and my father was together. And he wanted me to go out to the club with him and hang out. My dad was a bar owner. He owned a couple different bars, and that particular night, I didn’t want to hang out, so I winded up going back home. And the following morning, I get a phone call from my grandmother saying my father killed himself. My dad was tied up to a pole on his knees by his t-shirt. And Buffalo, New York, the Erie County facility, you have to do your rounds every 15 minutes to check on the inmates. And it took them 45 minutes to do CPR on my dad.

Rod: Were you living with him at the time?

Brandon: No, I wasn’t. I never lived with my dad. I was always with my mother. Him and my mother had always had their differences, so we’d always go to my dad’s house on the weekends.

Rod: How old were you?

Brandon: When he passed away? I was 23. So they did the 45 minutes CPR and brought him back to life, but he was basically like a vegetable. The hardest thing was sitting at the table with nothing but doctors, and my mother, and my uncle, and all eyes on me. They wanted… I’m the one that has to answer the question of pull the plug or not on my father. And it’s like, do I let him live? Look at him, like he is? Or just let him go? So at the age of 23, that was the most hardest thing for me.

Since I’ve been here, I lost my father. I lost my brother. I lost my sister. I lost my niece. My niece hung herself 2 years ago. She was found in the closet by her mother. When I got that phone call, it was very crazy, very crazy phone call.

After my niece, I buried my other brother. So I lost about 6 people since I’ve been here, in the past 6 years. It’s hard being away because it’s like when you get certain phone calls, and people need help, and you can’t do nothing because you’re so many miles away, and it’s like, what do you do? What do you do? And you try to make phone calls to other people to see if they can get to the situation and handle it for you. I just really hate getting phone calls and not knowing if it’s good or bad or not. In the past 6 years, no matter, I tell myself now, no matter what phone call I get, early morning, I’m always going to think bad, always going to think it’s something bad happening because it’s been going on for the past 6 years, and that’s what haunts me. No matter what, 2 o’clock in the morning, 3 o’clock in the morning, if my phone is ringing, I’m always jumping up thinking something bad is happening back home. It’s crazy that I feel like that, but I do. So I don’t necessarily miss home. There’s nothing there. I miss my family, that’s it. If I could bring them all down, then I feel like I did my job. They still surviving. I’m living.

Rod: Are you the baby?

Brandon: No, I’m the middle child, so I have my oldest brother. He was 32. He passed away, he just turned 33. So he was back home at a club, and a fight led from inside the club, and it led to outside the club. A couple guys left; they came back, and they shot the bar up, and my brother winded up getting hit by a stray bullet in his head, and one in his neck. That was hard as well, getting that phone call at 3 in the morning.

So my sister, I say it’s my sister because my brother’s wife, so my sister-in-law if you want to technically say it like that. So she passed away first, and a couple years, two years later, he passed away. She died at the age of 29. She was fighting cancer all her life. She had her foot amputated at a young age, so all her life, she was going back and forth to the hospital, just treatments and treatments. And it was falling to a point where she knew that she was going to be taking her last breath in a couple months. So we just basically prepared ourselves for it, because she knew that, we knew that she was in those stages. So, you know, you got to prepare. You’re just hoping for the best, but you’re prepared for the worst. It was sad, but I was prepared for it. That’s all I can do.

My second oldest brother was 31, or 30, when he passed away. He was in jail for 25 years to life, and he did 15 before the cancer got the best of him. He was facing cancer for eight years and never told nobody until he was on his deathbed. That was an unexpected death, so that kind of hit hard.

Rod: Do you think him seeing her go through it was why he didn’t tell anybody? Like he didn’t want to put people through what…?

Brandon: Probably, but my brother always been a quiet person. He never really was into the social media kind of things, or he was never into the limelight, but at the same time, my brother spent most of his life in jail, in and out of jail, so he didn’t really have a chance to be on the streets of Buffalo, New York. Probably a year or two, he had a chance to be out, but my brother was in and out of jail his whole life at a young age, I mean literally. When he went to, when he was facing 25 years to life, he was young. He was about, I want to say almost 18, 19 himself. He died in the hospital of cancer, stage 4 cancer, some kind of skin cancer. It was hard. It was hard.

And my little brother is 28. He’s been incarcerated for the past 6 ½ years due to a robbery. He came home for 10 months, and he violated parole, so he’s back in jail now. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to come home, try to do something with his life.

I don’t talk about my problems, or anything like that, so I may tend to shed a tear or what not, but I’m OK. I can talk about it. I just don’t know who, you know, how people are going to take it. And it’s like the things that we talk about, it may be some things that people may not want to hear, or people may be scared, but I don’t want you to take that and make your perspective on that. Just look at me now. The things I’ve been through is what’s making me the man I am today. Every day, I’m trying to change, some way, somehow, shape or form. If that’s helping somebody else, then so be it. So I’m really open to whatever, it’s just how open are you to hear the things that you want to hear?

Rod: Do you ever get down, like “Why me? Why all of this in my family?” Do you get like, “That’s not fair?”

Brandon: I ask that every day. I’m not one of them guys that go to church every Sunday. I didn’t grow up in church. I believe in God, but I don’t believe you have to go to church to be surrounded by colorful windows and hear praises and everything to believe in the Man. So we have our talk. God gives his worst battles to his strongest soldiers. I’ve been through a lot in life, and I’m still going to go through things in life that’s going to be bad, worse, so I feel like if I can get through the things I’ve been through back home on the streets of Buffalo, New York, then nothing out here can stop me.

Rod: Is it strange to you, like getting older? Getting, like thinking about someday being older than they were? Like you’re the oldest now?

Brandon: Yeah, I’m the oldest now, living. So it’s just me and my little brother left. That’s why I work hard every day and try to better myself, so that way, I could try to get him down here with me.

Rod: That gives you a sort of sense of responsibility being the oldest one now?

Brandon: Yeah, definitely a responsibility. I was always the… not say always, but I was more of always the caretaker, like taking care of everybody back home when I was home. So now it’s like even more hard trying to take care of everybody being so far away. I just try to take it one day at a time and stay focused. I just grind hard every day, trying to come up with a master plan to figure out how can I make more money a positive way.

So it’s just a blessing to be here, having opportunities to sit right here with you and have this conversation, and people get a chance to see a different side of Brandon, not knowing the B Boy. That’s my nickname, B Boy. But I kind of stopped calling myself that because I don’t consider myself B Boy no more. B Boy was somebody who was in the streets heavy, who did a lot of activity that wasn’t right. As I get older, I’m just realizing that that’s not my name, and I don’t want to carry that on no more, so when people would call me that, I’d tell them, “Don’t call me that, because that’s not me.”

Everything happens for a reason, but it’s all about timing. Anything lost can be found again except for time wasted. So I try not to waste time on things that don’t benefit me or what I’m trying to do.

Rod: That’s why you left?

Brandon: I left because I just had a, you know, I had the opportunity to get a better chance at life and to just stop doing the things I was doing and living the lifestyle I was living. I didn’t have a pretty good childhood growing up. My father was around, but he didn’t teach me how to ride a bike. I didn’t learn how to play basketball. I didn’t learn how to do fatherly things with their son. Like when I went to my dad’s house on the weekends, I learned about different kinds of drugs and things that kids shouldn’t learn at a young age.

Rod: When your uncle talked about you coming here, were you already looking to get out, or that hadn’t even occurred to you, or…?

Brandon: Before my uncle talking to me, no, I wasn’t looking to get out. I was, I had a job. I was working for a private security company, and we traveled throughout the United States, so the job can last for a day, it can last for six months, it can last for a year. And we did things such as fire disasters, rural response, strike work, you know, things like that. So I was doing that on and off for like a year or two before I had the opportunity to come out here.

Rod: Wow. My brother worked, when he was in his early 20s, he did clean up after fires and all that kind of stuff. He said that was a horrible job.

Brandon: It was, but you get paid good money, though. I was loving it. I was young. I don’t have no kids now, I didn’t have no kids then. So it was an opportunity to see other things, even though I was stuck in the streets of Buffalo, New York. I had an opportunity to get out and see different things. I wasn’t really fully developed as far as trying to get out what I was in, but it did give me a chance to open my eyes up a little bit more. But at that time, I still wasn’t fully ready to just switch my whole life around.

I mean, I always had goals. I always wanted to be my own contractor, but I never really took the steps in going to that direction. But I’d love to remodel houses and do construction and landscaping and things like that. That was always my goal was to be my own contractor. I’m different in ways of not doing the things I used to do. I don’t hang around the same crowd of friends that I used to have. The friends I have now are amazing. They’re all doing something positive in their life.

My job gave me an opportunity to go on a business trip, and on that business trip, there was over 65 people in that conference, and there was only two black people. And I was the youngest one. And when I went there, I went there with the perception of, how was I going to be able to uphold conversation with some of these big people in high positions? I didn’t really have the qualifications, or it felt like I didn’t meet the criteria to be at this conference. So for the week that I was preparing myself, I was really trying to figure out, was I going to be able to handle it? And when that time came, all I can do is just be myself. So that’s what I did, and within those 72 hours, I took notes. I asked questions. I was being proactive. And a couple of different big people in high positions pulled me to the side, and they didn’t have to do that. So when they pulled me to the side, they’re talking to me about different things in life, and goals, where I want to be, where do I see myself. And it really dawned on me when I got back to my bed, and I asked myself, “Well, Brandon, what do you really want in life? Where do you see yourself?” And the only thing that’s really holding me back is myself, because I’m a young black man with a tattoo on my face. I have no felonies, by the grace of God, or anything like that, so really, it’s really me that’s holding me back. So I said, “You know what, Brandon? You’ve been here for six years. You’ve been closing chapters of your life since you’ve been here. You need to take this step and close this one.” So I just got online one day and looked up Eraser Clinic, and I gave them a call. And I’m taking my steps on getting my tattoo laser removed from my face. So going to that conference really gave me a different perspective on life. So I have 12 treatments altogether. They do my treatments every 6 to 8 weeks to give it time to heal. But hopefully by the end of next year, March, it’ll be completely gone. So it’ll be a whole new Brandon.

Rod: Were you afraid at that conference that that tattoo was shaping how people saw you? Do you think it did?

Brandon: Honestly, yes. I was afraid that people was going to judge me. You know, they say, “Never judge a book by its cover.” But there’s also a saying, “There’s no second chance at a first impression.” So I was going there being myself, but at the same time trying to be distanced because I didn’t want nobody to just stare and look and say, “What is that?” And you know, people asked me. They did. “What is that? What is that?” I tell them, “Everything is for a reason. Some things are just not meant to be talked about.” So I left it as that. And you know, people, at the end of the day, they loved me because I was being myself. I was being very talkative, and I was going around just being proactive and being in the mix of everybody and asking questions and talking and mingling and being very open with everyone. And so when I got back, and I called that tattoo laser removal, I just was ready. I was more eager then than I was last year or four months ago, prior to the conference. Before the conference, I wasn’t even ready to remove it. So within those three days of me being there, it just really gave me a whole outlook on life and said that there is more. You can do more. You can achieve more. The only thing holding you back is yourself, so I’m taking that next step, trying to close that chapter and elevate.

Rod: You having any feelings about it? Like you feel like you’re betraying who you used to be, or betraying people you used to know, or…?

Brandon: Not necessarily. Not at all. At the end of the day, it’s still with me. I know that. But I don’t have to show it, people don’t have to have a second judgement on me, or just figure out what does that mean? Because there’s been times I done walked into places and instead of getting a hello, I’m getting a what does that mean? What does that tattoo mean on your face? I mean literally, the first thing that’s coming out of people’s mouths, so I just don’t want that no more, for them or for myself. I was 17 when I got it. I wasn’t expecting to live, so I really didn’t care about it. I didn’t really care about the consequences. I didn’t care about what people say. I didn’t care about what people anything. I didn’t care about nothing. So now that I’ve had this opportunity to be out here, it’s all about growth. And that’s what I’m trying to do. Just grow day by day, some way, somehow, and I’m taking the steps with that.

Rod: What’s the chapter that you were closing? What does the tattoo represent to you? Like why did you get it?

Brandon: I was young when I got this tattoo. I was about 17. I wasn’t expecting to live past 21 the way I was going. I used to be in a gang. I used to sell drugs. I used to do the whole 9. That’s the way I was going, dead or in jail. I dropped out at 9th grade. I got my GED. And I wasn’t expecting to live past 21, so I didn’t care about nothing. I did some things in my life that I wasn’t, I’m not proud of, but when you come from where I come from, you have no choice but to do what you have to do to survive. So I managed to still get through it, and by the grace of God, I’m still here. Some people don’t get a chance to make it, to see 30. So I’ve done some things in my life that made me who I am now. I’m not the best, but I am a better man I am today than I was six years ago.

Rod: You talk about closing that chapter by having the tattoo removed. What are you taking with you from that chapter, from those days? What are the good things that came out of that that you still carry with you as part of yourself today?

Brandon: It just gives me a chance to look back and say, “Damn. If I can make it, and these young guys made it through the things that they’ve been through, then we all can make it. We all can make it. So just the fact that I can get on social media and look at some of the guys and see them doing positive things in the Air Force and meeting counselors and different lawyers and senates for the New York State, it just gave me a different outlook, like there’s more to it. So I say, “You know what, Brandon? You need to go ahead and close it.” I wasn’t ready then. I wasn’t ready.

Rod: What do you think are your strengths, like the characteristics that are part of who you are that are going to help carry you where you want to go in the world?

Brandon: I want to say everything I’ve been through is my strength. I still go through things to this day. For six years, I’ve been getting phone calls every morning, and it’s always been something bad. Someone has died. So I think that is what scars me, is going to scar me for the rest of my life, getting those early morning phone calls. But at the same time, it’s motivation, because it gets me up to knowing that I have to strive and grind every day to make it better for myself. Having my father in my ear and my brothers on my back. Knowing that I got nieces and nephews to take care of, and a mother to take care of. Knowing that I have a little brother that’s incarcerated that needs to come home one day. Hopefully I can get him a chance to come out here and make a better life for him as well.

I was always born to be a leader, so I kind of take that and try to mold it into my work ethic, and grind hard, and show them that just because I have this tattoo on my face, don’t judge me by that. Let my work ethic speak for itself. I love to work. I’ve always been a working man, no matter how much I was in the streets back home. I always kept a job for myself. It always just kept me going. I love to hustle. I love to work. I like to get my hands dirty. I don’t like just sitting around not doing nothing.

I’ve been through a lot. It makes me the man I am today. I come from a place where it’s a jealous city. It’s a bad place to grow up. There’s no good schooling for kids. There’s no opportunities for jobs out there. I mean, you can’t be doing good and let someone see you doing good, because instead of it being motivation for them, they want to go try to rob you, to take your stuff or what you have and what you’ve been working on. And it’s just sad. It really is sad.

Rod: You said you don’t have any kids, right?

Brandon: No, I just turned 30. No kids, no girlfriend, no wife. Nothing like that. I thought I would.

Rod: Is that important to you?

Brandon: It is important. I do want kids. I do want a wife. I want a family. I’ve been to more funerals than weddings. So I’m definitely not trying to go that route. I want to have kids. They can have different lives. They don’t have to go through the things I go through or deal with the things I deal with or seeing the things I’ve seen or anything like that. I want them to have normal lives, be a normal kid, do what kids do. Kid things. I want a son, so I can show him how to treat a lady by the way I treat his mother. I want a daughter, so I can know what she can look for in a man by the way I treat her mother. Until I have that, I’m just going to continue working and grinding hard and try to secure my bag, until that lady comes.

I don’t know. You know, when I was younger, I was always scared of rejection. I used to always thought I was the ugly fat kid, or being around my friends. So I would never talk to girls. I didn’t go to clubs when I was younger. I wasn’t doing the club scene. I wasn’t going to parties or different things like that, so I just really stayed to myself and my area.

Rod: You just talk to everybody. You’re not shy any more.

Brandon: Yeah, that’s why I am who I am now, because you just, you’re either going to get somewhere, or you’re not. You’re going to gain something, or you’re going to be back where you started. So that’s who I am now, very forward, just straight forward, just trying to get in and get somewhere. So I’m growing. That’s all I’m doing. Growing.

I like to get out and do different things, try different things. Being here in Austin, there’s all kind of things to do. You can do something every day. Where I come from, there was nothing to do. There’s nothing to think about but trying to live. But being out here, you can go… I go tubing. I go water rafting. I go jet skiing. I like to go to the mountains and go hiking. I want to go see the Inner Space caves out here, that they have out here. I like to do indoor skydiving. I’m down for adventures. I like being open to new things.

Rod: You seem like you’re good at making connections and making relationships. It’s always about who you know. It’s always about who you know, who you can help, who can help you, and I think you’ve got the skill.

Brandon: Yeah, you know, that’s crazy, because I was just telling somebody that last night. In this world nowadays, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As long you know the right man or woman in the position, you can get the things that you need to get done. I want to start getting more involved in it. I don’t have to just be secluded in my area. I want to be able to mingle and talk to different people. I used to work at nights when I first started there. I used to work night shift, 10pm to 6:30am, and being on nights, you don’t see nobody in the day, so nobody knows you. By working nights, when you have meetings in the daytime, and you got to go to these meetings, and everybody’s talking to everybody, but you’re stuck at a table with your group of night crew, and nobody’s not mingling to you. So when I had the opportunity to come on days, I made sure that I was going around to different departments, showing my face, talking to them and being open and just showing them I’m here. I made it. Don’t nobody know, didn’t know me or know my story or anything like that. I was just trying to get more open within the company myself, because by me being myself and going around and being proactive.

Just trying to stay positive with the things I’m doing, trying to stay with positive people in my life. So I’m just glad to be here, having an opportunity to come to Austin, Texas and open my doors to people if I can and show them that there is a better way. You know, my dad always told me, “If it’s going to make me mad, don’t do it.” So I still think about that. If it’s going to make him mad, I don’t do it, even though he’s deceased. So I carry that with me throughout my day to day basics or what I do and how I go about it. I’m just trying to better myself at every aspect that I can. Hopefully this will reach out to somebody young, old, who knows? Just get them a different perspective on life as well. There’s more to life than just doing the same thing that you’re used to doing.

Episode 018 - Too Old For This

Earlier this month, I told a story at the Austin Public Library’s live storytelling event. This whole project is having the desired effect of making me more comfortable with public speaking, and storytelling themes are a fun way to have a built-in writing prompt. I highly recommend it as a creative outlet!

We have two more episodes almost complete. As always, please rate and review us in iTunes, and if you have a story you’d like to share with us or you’d like to be interviewed about a transformative experience in you life, let us know! i’m at rod@rodhaden.com.

Our theme song is “Start Again” by Monk Turner + Fascinoma.

Here’s the transcript:

So I am definitely way too old for this. Deep in a dark cave, with my heart pounding, and my lungs burning, and my limbs weak and shaky, I know, with absolute certainty, that I am going to have a heart attack at the age of 42 and die. And the rangers will have to come and fetch my body. And my son is going to be traumatized for life and have nightmares about dark, narrow spaces. And children who will never know my name will whisper stories about me over campfires: The Ghost of Enchanted Rock!

And actually, I didn’t die in that hole, so don’t be scared. It’s October, and Halloween is coming, but this is not actually a ghost story.

When my son was born, I became a stay-at-home dad. I quit my job, and I spent all my time with him. We went everywhere together. We did everything together. But as he started to get older and went from a baby to a toddler to a preschooler to an elementary school kid, I got more and more depressed. He went to school, and I didn’t know how to get back into the workforce. I didn’t know how to represent that time on a resume. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. So because I didn’t know what to do with myself, I did nothing. I would drop him off at school, and I would go home and go back to bed. And I drank heavily, every day.And my marriage that wasn’t exactly rock solid to begin with, started picking up speed on its downhill race towards divorce.

So when my son was 7, and I found myself with him on top of Enchanted Rock, I was not in great shape spiritually, emotionally, and definitely not physically. I can tell you, it is a long, steep walk up that rock when you’re 50 pounds overweight and you have not exactly been keeping up with the cardio. So I was already spent when he noticed a little wooden sign that says, “Cave Entrance.” So I thought, “Well, let’s go check it out,” but it wasn’t like a cave. It was a hole in the ground, about two feet wide. And I thought, “Well, that can’t be it.” But a group of about 10 or 15 high school age kids came by. They were with a church group, and they started disappearing into the hole, one by one.

And my son said, “Dad! Dad! Can we go in the cave too, Dad? Can we go?” And I thought, “Oh, shit.” I had been a Boy Scout, so I had a flashlight with me, you know, “Be Prepared,” so I couldn’t use that excuse, but I started thinking, “What if I lose him down there? What if he slips and falls and breaks a bone? Or what if I do? His mother was already pretty annoyed with me at this point, and if I lost her son or brought him back in several pieces, it was not going to be good for the marriage.

But I had never discouraged him from trying new things and finding out what he was capable of, and I didn’t want him to grow up terrified of the world and all the many ways that it could hurt him. So I said, “Sure, buddy. Let’s go.” And we went down into that hole after those kids.

And he wanted to be the one to hold the flashlight, so I put the wrist strap on his wrist, and he was just bursting with pride and excitement. And I was the best dad in the whole world.

And then he scrambled off like a monkey, going after those older kids that were surging through that cave, and I was left in the dark. And I couldn’t see where to put my hands or my feet, and I was not the best dad in the world. I was just the biggest idiot.

But I managed to reel him back in with my voice. He came back, and he shined the light for me, and we worked our way through together. There was a lot of climbing and sliding and crawling. It was a very narrow, slippery space. And he kept calling out, “Hey guys! Wait up!” to those older kids. He is an only child, and he’s very sociable, and he very much wanted to be on their team. So I tried. I tried to go faster. But my heart was pounding in my ears, and I was drenched in a cold sweat, and that’s when I knew, I was not going to make it out of that hole. We were too far from the entrance to go back, I had no idea how far it was to an exit, and I did not have very much more left in me.

But at that moment, we heard one of the high school kids say, “Hey look, a light!” Thank God! And we came around the corner, and sure enough, there’s a gap in the rocks, and the sunshine is shining through, and all those kids have kind of bottlenecked at the exit, waiting their turn to climb out. So my son got to catch up with the kids at the back of the line and chat, and reminisce over the gave and go over every inch and remember every nook and cranny, and I heard him say, “Yeah, that wasn’t so hard.”

So no, I was not too old for this. But I was too far down a dark, deep hole of my own. And I started to climb back out. And within a couple of months, I quit drinking. I got back on track with the exercise. And within about half a year, I had accepted that my marriage was over, and I got a job and an apartment, and I started living again.

So my son, now he’s 11. When we go back to Enchanted Rock, which we do a couple times a year now, he encourages the people that we find there that are almost too scared to try. They stand on the edge of that hole, and they look down, doubting themselves, and it’s almost like he’s talking to that other version of me when he tells them, “It’s not that scary! You can do it. Come on, we’ll do it together. I’ll show you!” And he does.

Episode 015 - Survival of the Collaborators

Will Taylor and Strings Attached shows have been a semi-regular part of my post-divorce life, and it was at one of their shows when Flora and I first held hands. We even had our first kiss that night. They are a wonderful part of the Austin live music world, and their skills with every instrument and every style of music, plus their improv and collaborative abilities, make them a joy to watch and to hear.

You can find info about their upcoming shows at StringsAttached.org, and you can find out more about their community service and outreach work at StringsAttachedCares.org. And if you're looking for a curated Spotify or Pandora playlist of local Austin music, and want to help these artists keep generating income from their work, go to WePlayAustinMusic.com.

Thank you so much to Will Taylor for sitting down with me. 

Our theme music is "Start Again" by Monk Turner + Fascinoma. I made our outro music on Soundation. All other music in this episode is from Will Taylor and Strings Attached:

2:06    "Brand New Me"

8:43    "Feel Again"

12:27    "My Name Is Truth"

20:24    "God Only Knows"

24:50    "Overjoyed"

28:38    "Secret of Life"

33:29    "Tigris"


If I think of my past as a child growing up, I enjoyed the process of play with music. Playing. That’s why we’re called players. Musicians are players. We play.

Yeah, I got into music through elementary school, it being presented as an option, and just fell in love with it. But so you’re spending time, like there’s a piano over here right now. I’m looking at that piano, and I remember as a kid, I would just disappear into that world of sounds and try to make things happen just because it was fun, because it was enjoyable, and that whole culture around creating something that didn’t exist before, in the air. So yeah, I started very early, and I can remember just disappearing in the activity so much. Even by myself.

You spend a lot of time by yourself if you’re doing traditional, like let’s say classical music or jazz. A lot of time alone, so you have to get used to being alone, solitary, you know? And then you get rewarded, because you can take that skill and then bring people together, play with others with that skill on a high level, collaborative level. It’s not like painting where you’re just, that’s it, you’re alone. Fell in love with playing with other kids in orchestra and string quartets, and just everything around that, like I said, the whole culture, the conversations, the meeting people that are passionate about that. You just connect, so it’s an activity that can fuel you for a lifetime, easily, if not several lifetimes.

And now I realize it even more than then how much of a practice it is for things that you need to know to just enjoy life and communicate with others. There’s so many lessons built into it. When I say music, I mean the study of music and the activity of doing it with others. So I enjoyed that solitary process and then also the process of working with musicians. It’s a natural high like none other.

I love rehearsing, too. Just getting people together and … Something might sound like crap, and then working through the difficulties. So that’s the other opportunity that music can provide to people that are willing to study it is how to navigate problem solving, how to navigate communicating with people that don’t communicate the way you do, and they are not understanding how you’re trying to explain a musical idea with words. And sometimes it helps to not even talk about it. You just play, and you find your way. And it can bring up a lot of, it can trigger people. It can get people angry, you know, if … So you have this opportunity on how to learn how to communicate non-violently in a way. A lot of musicians don’t learn it. 

And there’s just so much behind the scenes that has nothing to do with playing your instrument to make that music happen, psychologically speaking. Navigating personalities and making people feel treasured or loved or appreciated that then will contribute to the group dynamic. And just by picking the correct words, Joni Mitchell talked about this a lot. She’s like, it’s just this so delicate, paper-thin thing that you’re always aware of when you’re producing an album or you’re working with your band. Just the wrong choice of words, and then it’s ruined, or it’s tainted, and then you’re … there’s no getting back from that.

So that’s one of the things that the music journey can bring. There’s so many things. And then just the act of performing can be a meditation in itself. You are practicing, when you perform, being in the present moment. The more that you can be in the present moment when you’re performing with your musicians, generally the more joyful it will be. And then you’re given the opportunity to just accept things as they are. So a lot of musicians don’t get that. They’re so focused on perfection, and I was this way too for a long time. I would get upset on stage. I would make faces. And it’s only in like the last 4 years, maybe 5 years, I’ve started to try another way, just to smile if a mistake, or something goes wrong. We just smile. I still, I’m not perfect. I still might get triggered. “We rehearsed that! What the heck? What are we doing?”

But it really, music, because you’re in rhythm, it’s different than regular life. When you’re playing in a band, and you start playing, there’s a commitment that happens. You just, “OK. We’re on this. We’re going. And everybody’s on board until this piece is over.” You know? So, what other areas of life are like that? If you’re talking to somebody, you can stop and think about what you’re going to say. But in music, you’ve got to stay in the rhythm. You’ve got to stay in the flow. Not “got to,” but you have the opportunity to really be in the present moment. But most of life is not like that.

It can just be fun, too. It can be just playful. The whole playful aspect of it, when you lose yourself and you forget, you kind of lose your identity. You’re just playing and hearing sounds. So I’ve been playing music for, been a musician since I was 10. So that’s 39 years. And it’s one of the things where, yeah, I can, my thoughts will stop, or they’ll just focus on that one thing, and sometimes I won’t remember maybe a song go by. Sometimes I’ll find I don’t remember what happened during that time. You just sort of disappear. It’s what meditators go for, or they’re hoping that might come up is that your brain activity starts to calm down a little bit.

There’s a magic spot that occurs. So when you’re practicing, you’re really pushing. You’re pushing your comfort zone. You’re continually trying to raise the bar in little incremental, just teeny little bits. And then when you perform, you back off into a comfort zone where then that’s where the magic occurs. You don’t want to be on stage, “I’m going to go for it. Risk!” Like that. It’s just a little bit back behind that. You still might have this playful, like, “Let’s go! Let’s do it!” But it’s … the stuff you really know well, that’s where you’re like watching your hands and you’re, “Wow! What’s going on there?” You know, the magic.

And the songs that you know really well, too, this is the ironic thing, too. I used to be like, when I was a kid, “Ah, I don’t want to play that song again. We’ve played it so many times.” Or like, say, James Brown’s “I Feel Good” or something. But then I notice later on, “Hmm.” With the band. Some of those songs that we’ve played a million times, those are the ones where the kind of the little magical things start happening. There’s familiarity, where everybody’s just sort of watching and observing, and then it moves into that playful zone.

So yeah, it’s a two-step process. Practice, and then perform. The performance zone is where you get to let go, hopefully. And you hopefully find musicians or attract musicians who can do that. And some of them you find that you don’t even have to talk about it, just, that’s what happens. So it’s really cool. And those ones you stay with a long time. I have a few that I’ve played with a long time, and constantly just new people coming in. That’s what makes it, that’s the uncertainty piece again that makes it not boring, that makes it interesting and challenging and juicy is when I find new musicians to collaborate with and try to meet them wherever they are, find their unique gift to the project.

There’s no destination. It’s always, it’s change. You know? That’s the thing. The one thing you can count is change, so it’s never, for me, it’s never an arrival. I used to have this fixation with, if I speak about my music career, “One day, I’ll have enough time to do what I want to do and spend a lot of time being in the creative mode, and I just need to get all my financial stuff in order and all that. I’ll have a platform where I can, one day I’ll get there.”

In our culture, western culture, we’re taught to strive, to push hard, that struggle is necessary to get there, to get to the other side where you can do what you really are here to do, what is your calling. “We’re going to make it happen. We’re going to strive. We’re going to work hard.” That’s what I did for a long time. And I still see some beauty in that, actually. Because you don’t just accidentally write a symphony. But some people might say you do, I don’t know. Some people might. I don’t think Beethoven accidentally wrote a symphony. I don’t think Mozart. I think that tradition of writing music, or like the Sistene Chapel. There’s the tradition of study, of studying with a master, studying, going to school, learning the basics. And it’s not easy. So there’s a struggle there that results in something.

OK, so that’s transformative. Creating something that is left behind. This is another thing that’s been coming up for me, is we humans want to leave stuff behind. We want to leave things or creations. And for me, what has been coming up is at my current age, almost 50, it’s really becoming important. “What do I want to leave behind, and what can I do that is beyond just me?” You’re creating something from nothing. It’s just thought turning into things. And left some things behind. Left some arrangements, left some new works of music that some people might enjoy. 

This relates back to that, again, like one day, if I work hard enough, I’ll be able to relax and just do music. Because I’ve been just working for 30 years to get to that point. Do I want to keep up this push, push kind of, strive, push the envelope? How much of it do I want to keep, and how much of it do I want to relax and enjoy witnessing life? Observing life a little more. Enjoying my relationships. Enjoying getting to know people. So there’s this question mark. Why do I want to spend a lot of time writing music and pushing the envelope at this point in my life right now? It’s kind of there.

And there’s so many different genres and flavors, and you get to … I try to see the worth in all of them. And I used to be, as a kid, I was very opinionated. Classical music was the best thing. Or straight ahead jazz was the best thing. Only the music that had the tradition of study. Folk music, eh. Rock and roll, no. But later on, I definitely learned to appreciate fiddle music and folk music, so it’s great. It’s been a great ride. It still is. It’s just ongoing. It’s an ongoing transformation. It does not let you down. It throws uncertainty at you all the time. So you have an opportunity to take that lesson and then go, “Well, what other areas of my life am I being thrown uncertainty? So I could take it over there, too.” With a relationship, or … It takes you down those roads, if you want to.

Sometimes we just have one or two rehearsals, and then it’s “Boom. Go.” Jazz musicians are used to doing that a lot. Classical musicians as well, but especially jazz musicians. They’re used to playing on the spur of the moment, playing something they just heard off the top of their head, just going for it. So there’s that creative alchemy that occurs when things are on the edge. So I try to get musicians that are comfortable with that space, comfortable being on the edge, comfortable being pushed a little bit.

They also, musicians I have, that I work with, they have to be able to work fast. They have to think on their feet, because stuff just happens. You can’t stop, again. So a lot of times, I’ll be in rehearsal, and a couple of the musicians I work with, have worked with for like 25 years, 20 years, will say stuff, and the new people will, they can’t follow it. They’re like, “What are we talking about?” So it’ll just go like right over their heads. So I’ll say something to them, “Why don’t we go back to that chord, and … ?” So you got to be quick on your feet with the musical language.

There are so many choices now for an audience member, for somebody who is a music lover, that it’s really hard to keep regulars coming. It just requires an immense amount of push, immense amount of marketing, which I resent. I hate it. I’m still doing it because people show up. 

So, 20 years ago, that was easier. I’m making peace with that, but I’m thinking about it all the time. I don’t want to have two jobs. I don’t want to have marketing and music. I want to get back to just music. Look, I don’t think Beethoven was, not that I’m Beethoven or anything, but was dealing with marketing. He probably had somebody that was helping him with that, his benefactor. So I’m trying to at least get toward that, where I have hired help. And I do. I have hired help right now, but it’s still not enough. I’m still having to do most of the marketing myself. That’s what modern … it bothers me all the time. 

If I was just spending five hours of my day writing music, practicing, what would my music look like? But on the other hand, in the grand scheme of things, like the Buddhist way of looking at it, it doesn’t matter. Who cares? There’s a million other people. Why should you get to do it? Because I want to! Because I’m here! What makes you … ? So then I go back to, “Well, I have a community, so maybe I do deserve it, because I … or maybe it is worthwhile, because I do have, built a community, and they enjoy it, and so I’m bringing something that’s greater than myself to a community. So then I should do it. I should spend more time on the music, less time on the marketing.” I mean, it’s ridiculous. 

With music, you have two worlds. You have the music business, and then music. And they are completely different things. Completely. Here’s an interesting thing. I’ve actually gotten pretty good at the music business because of necessity. You know the mother of invention thing again. I’ve gotten to the point where I have a club in Austin that want to bring me in as a partner, and I was pretty excited about that because we have an opportunity to build something that you could duplicate and take it to other cities or … and it could become an asset. That’s the first time in my music career that somebody has seen my worth as a businessman and is willing to … So it’s pretty exciting, but again, it’s not what I wanted to create. But it’s fine. I’ll take it. Santana owns shopping malls. That’s one of his … he invests in those strip centers. He’s been doing that for years so that he can do music. Anyway, that’s the new world of modern music making, making it. Willie Nelson, Dale Watson has a couple bars.

I guess I’m struggling now with deciding how I want to, what do I want to do? Again, because I’ve got more time coming up after raising kids for … How long have I been raising kids? 22 years, 23 years. What do I want to create next? But I do feel like, again, looking back, when I’m most happiest is when I’m on a mission that involves a lot more people than just me. If I’m raising money, or if I’m doing a music project that’s a benefit, I have all of a sudden this endless well of energy. So I was listening to this podcast recently, and the guy said, he said, “Nature’s way of punishing humans that are just doing things for themselves is depression or pain, anxiety, or whatever.” If you’re out there working toward a mission, working with a mission that is about something that’s just huger than you, just gigantic, then Nature rewards you with energy and passion and all this. I’ve noticed, just looking back, that that’s true. Some of the projects that I have exhausted myself on are free ones. And as long as there are people there with me, and I’m not alone, have collaborators, the energy just appears. The universe rewards you.

So I’m thinking, “Well, what can I do next musically?” And I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire for that, to bring people together. So one of the things that I’m, one of the many projects, is there’s right now in the world we live in, cover music, taking very popular music that people are familiar with and redoing it is very popular now. It’s a very popular way for artists to get known and make a lot of money. So I thought, “Well, why don’t we harness the power of covers and give all the money to somebody, or give all the money to a good cause?” And I’ve got the relationships with Strings musicians and play with musicians in town, and I can bring all that together. So that’s something I’m really excited about. And that’s something that’s totally within my skill set. So one of the things I’m doing is I want to do that one by one. I want to talk to all my musicians about that mission. Instead of sending out like a blanket email, I want to meet or talk to each one on the phone and see how they resonate with that and build an orchestra of musicians that will do this for good, for no pay. For nothing. And I’ve already got a few that are willing to contribute arrangements and scoring and the recording. I mean, everybody just starts coming together.

There’s nothing that’s completely selfless out there. Right? I mean, we enjoy helping others because it makes us feel good. But if you’re going to feel good, you might as well bring some people along with you, then why not? Then you have more to give. You have a well to give from. If you’re just struggling and in survival mode all the time, then you don’t have anything to, you don’t have any resources to then help others.

But I really feel like this could be the time when people wake up, more and more people wake up. People are waking up in the time of where we are with the current things that are going on in our American climate. In other words, instead of operating from the survival of the fittest mode, which Darwin taught us. What does that mean? Is it everyone for themselves? And everyone making a little pile to then at the end of life they have some pile they can live off of? That was the old model that my parents followed. What’s the new model going to be? Could be helping each other and living off the simplest way that you can live, and really survival of the collaborators. So, that project which I’m talking about, bringing the orchestra together, where I know every musician, and I get to know, talk to them one at a time, that’s an example, people coming together and doing it for just for the love of it and to give it away.

But it’s all about we have only so much time, so I want to just be writing music and then going on walks, spending time with family. But right now, the whole day is split between marketing and barely writing music ever. Barely ever. And I’m actually mastering and mixing an album right now. Because I don’t have the money to pay somebody $100 an hour. I can do it. I know how to do it. A lot of musicians have that skill as well. But it’s in the back of my mind. Maybe it’ll happen. Or do I need to push and make it happen?

But one thing that I’ve found that really works is house concerts. So there’s an endless supply of venues when you connect with people one-on-one and bring their family and friends together for a house concert. So I don’t do much with clubs in Austin. I have one show a month at a club, and that’s it. And then the house concerts are just amazing. There an amazing way to connect with people in an independent environment. We did two this weekend, and I don’t have to worry about the turnout, because the host is doing that. For a house concert, a lot of people ask, “Well, how much space do I need?” Enough for 20 people. 20 folks or more, and it can be inside or outside, either one. We did one last Saturday, it was outside. We had 80 people, right by a pool. I brought a little P.A. system and some lights. It was magical. The sun went down. It was gorgeous. But we require a minimum of 20, and that may go up as the years move on. I’ve got another friend who requires 30. And so you just go out, and you enroll or get your friends excited about it. It can be like a potluck, you can bring food, or you can provide hors d'oeuvres and drinks, and everybody has a great time. We usually have a meet and greet for an hour, and then we do an hour concert, and then people hang out afterwards. And we’re all friends at the end. We’re strangers at the beginning, and at the end of the show, we’re all friends. I encourage you to check that out. You can find out about Strings Attached house concerts, just Google “Strings Attached house concerts,” and it’ll take you to a landing page with information on how to sign up for that. We travel all over the world, not just Austin. Working on one for New York City right now. So it’s a lot of fun. So it’s a great model that seems to replenish itself. It seems sustainable. Whereas the club model in Austin is soul sucking. I have the responsibility. This one club I play at, I fill it up, but let’s say if I was playing two or three of those a week, it’d be ridiculous. There’s no way to sustain that in Austin. It’s done. The way Austin used to be in the ‘70s, it’s gone. It’s gone. There may be other communities in America where it’s like Austin was in the ‘70s, so I encourage musicians to not give up and maybe find places like that.

I use every opportunity, every time I’m performing, to put it out there. I plant the seed. I’ll say it once at every show. I try to, at every show, just as an invitation. If you see a concert like this, if you see us playing in your living room or your backyard, if that’s something that seems exciting to you, come up and say hello to me. And then people will just come right up to me, and then we’ll actually even, sometimes I’ll say, “Let’s pick a date,” right there, and make it happen. And then I have mailing list cards that people fill out so I can follow up. And then that just grows, every show. It just grows and grows and grows, new people, new people, new people, all the time. And you’re just following up, following up. There’s endless number of people.

So I’m excited. There is plenty of opportunity. We’re in a great time. But the big question mark is, how to get back to just doing mainly music. That is my big question mark. I think it’s learning to live as simple as possible. I’m willing to live out of a trailer if I have to. I don’t need a house. And start from there.

Am I good enough? That’s come up. Definitely. A lot. It still comes up. You know, the questionable voices in your head. Absolutely. But then when you see what people that aren’t even close to your level are doing out there, then you get that answer right away. Because I’ve spent so much time doing it. It goes back to my 9 years old, I was playing professionally at age 16 or 17, so I was already good enough to play in the symphony. I got into the Austin Lyric Opera at age 20. So there are jobs available if I want to do that model, be a highly trained musician, I was already doing that. 

I do definitely come from that tradition of people that have teachers. They aren’t just stumbling into this. This is a craft. This is a mastery that takes 10,000 hours. I do struggle with seeing people that don’t follow that. I struggle with it. I have some judgement about it. But there’s a lot, like in this culture of endless shelf space, digital shelf space, anybody can do anything. Throw some words up, it’s a song. Yeah, I struggle with that. I struggle sometimes, but then I feel the feelings and go, “That’s a waste of time. Why do I need to do that? It’s going to happen anyway. So just go back to your thing. Do your thing. Have fun with it. Connect with your people.” 
But gosh, the environment that we’re in is, everybody can do it now, so then we’re flooded. Everybody’s trying to do it. I’m competing with a lawyer who is doing this on the weekends, you know? But it’s all good. Everybody can find their tribe. There’s enough people on the earth.

I feel like I’m on a good path. I feel like I’m really onto something. I really feel fulfilled in the relationships I’m building with musicians, with volunteers, with fans. Because if I get more people involved with me that really see the mission, and then that can reverberate out even more. It’s like an amplifier. I would love to get more people on board that get it and feel a strong love for it, and that I don’t need to explain a lot. I would love to see that, that kind of quick transformation, because it can happen quick. I’m just speaking to the music right now.

I like for things to be exciting, and sometimes I don’t know what to do about boredom. You know, there’s boredom. There’s this drive, and this must’ve been from childhood. You know, drive. Be in an adventure. Life’s an adventure. Yeah, let’s go! Let’s do it! You know? That’s part of being a musician, pushing yourself. But there’s a lot of boredom in life, and being kind of like trapped. It’s like, no matter how hard you try, there’s still an element of life, you’re just trapped. Sometimes you can’t make shit happen. You’re just there. So I’m sitting with that idea. This was how I was feeling before the podcast. I’m excited about the podcast, because see, that’s uncertainty. I don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a thrill to it. That’s great. But then, what about after the podcast? You know?

And Stevie Wonder said it, I want to be free. I’m really working on being free. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it. But then I’ve seen Stevie Wonder, age 68, 69, or whatever, and he’s touring these big arenas. He’s got a big machine behind him. And I don’t know if that’s free. He’s got people taking him around. Maybe it is. Maybe he’s giving all that money to a good cause. Probably is. What does it look like for him to be free?

I don’t know what a rut is. I’ve known boredom. I’d rather get in the car and go to Barton Creek, or go meet up with some people, meet some people. If there’s any rut, that’s the rut I feel in my life is I want to connect more with people and meet new people, because studying music is such a solitary activity. So at this point in my life, I love connecting with people. I love meeting new people and finding out about them. That’s exciting. So that’s one way that I get out of a rut if I’m in a rut, or I feel bored. But at the same time, I want to challenge myself. “Well, maybe you’re supposed to be sitting here today not doing anything, not driving downtown and trying to meet somebody and hear music. And maybe you need to sit with that for a bit.” I don’t know.

The chase, you know? A lot of it’s a chase. Chasing uncertainty. But isn’t it funny? Because there are some people that are happy to just sit in their chair at the end of the day and watch TV. And that seems like death to me, sitting and watching a TV, or being on a screen for a long period of time. I mean, watching a work of art, that’s great. Movie can be a work of art. But coming back and doing the same thing every day? Ah, no. I don’t want to do that. But yeah. We’ll see. We’ll see what comes next. That’s what’s exciting about life.

Well, I’ve got this project called WePlayAustinMusic.com, which is two playlists I’m curating, and the idea is, what if thousands of businesses, restaurants, bars, coworking spaces, if they were playing Austin music all day long, day after day, and that multiplied across, like I said, thousands of people, thousands of business in Austin, celebrating the diversity of Austin music, and all those plays through Pandora and Spotify generated interest in Austin musicians and music, and generated some income? Wouldn’t that be cool? And it could work that way. Again it’s called, “WePlayAustinMusic.com.” All the information’s there.

And all our shows are at StringsAttached.org. We do house concerts on the weekends. We play once a month at the Townsend. And I encourage you to follow us on Pandora and Spotify. Just look up Will Taylor and Strings Attached. There’s a lot going on.

You can check out the outreach work we do, which is StringsAttachedCares.org, where we go to places around Austin and bring vibrant musicians and get people to sing along and play with us, memory care centers, retirement homes, schools. We get kids that have never seen a violin or a viola to get to see that and touch it firsthand in elementary schools.That’s StringsAttachedCares.org.

Episode 014 - Invisible Baseball

We're back for more! Our season 2 opener is a special story to me. My brother first told me a version of this story when we were on a more-or-less annual road trip across the state to watch some football. We live about 25 miles apart, but we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like. Busy work and family lives often get in the way of adult relationships. But when we find ourselves in the car together for hours at a time, we do a lot of talking and catching up. When he told me about invisible baseball, we both knew that it was a story that should be captured in some way. So over the next several months, I asked him now and then if he'd be willing to sit down and record it with me. We finally made that happen, and I really like the result. I think you'll like it, too.

Thank you so much to Rik Haden for sharing this story, for being so open and willing to share his memories, his emotions, and his perspective on the impact of aging on an entire family.

Music in this episode includes:

"Nasty" by David Szesztay

"Keep It In Your Heart" and "Saturday Afternoon" by Lobo Loco

"Sals Piano Solo" and "Sals Place" by Blue Dot Sessions

"Something (Bonus Track)" by Kai Engel

Baseball audio from August 16, 1958, New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox.


Meg’s father was living in Springfield, Missouri, and we as a family had gone to visit him there on his 80th birthday with the intent of talking with him for the first time about moving to Texas so that we could be closer to him. But the unfortunate thing that happened is, on that trip he became very ill and had a health emergency that landed him in the hospital there and was, proved to be life threatening at the time and ultimately resulted in emergency medical intervention and surgery. And so at the end of that summer then he moved to Austin, but he disembarked the plane on a stretcher and then was immediately transferred to a true nursing home. I think his first year living here was in 3 or 4 different rehab facilities just in dealing with certain things to get them back to that level of independence.

I think it was maybe in the fall of that year when Hayley was in 2nd grade and Gage was in kindergarten that then he recovered to the point where he could move to Beckett Meadows. I’d call it an assisted living facility, but it was most definitely not a nursing home. There’s a nursing home component to it, but… Feels a little bit like a hospital because it's full of sounds and smells and things that you might associate with a hospital. But on the whole, it felt more like apartments, but specifically designed to the purpose that they're supposed to serve. They took good care to make it a very livable place at this particular place. There was a central courtyard where all of those rooms that are along those corridors either had a window to the exterior of the property, looked out over the parking lot and grounds to the outside, or they looked back in on the central courtyard. And that interior courtyard was a really well-kept, beautiful place. There were always fresh flowers planted there in pots. There was a gazebo there where somebody could go and sit in a protected space to the interior building, but open to the sky and fresh air and all of that. 

We didn't always go as, entirely as, a family necessarily, but Meg would at least see Ed at least once a week. But it was more often than that most of the time, and surprisingly the kids wanted to go most of the time. And so there was an Activities Director there that would arrange a Valentine's Day concert and 4th of July concert. Those sort of things were happening in the evenings and we were regulars at, because the kids loved it so much and it also made, it was an interesting break in routine, or whatever.
I think they both were a very bright light in his life, in the last stages of his life where there wasn't a lot going on for him except for, for Meg and his daughters and his grandkids came to see him. But I think they also were very much so for a lot of people that we just got to know, got to meet there. It was, it got to the point where any time we brought our kids, there were a seeming dozen or more people who would all be clearly happy to see them, talk to them about what was going on with them at school and whatever. And then most to the point I guess, this community of older men that were living in this facility that would, that had a history in baseball that exactly dovetailed with Gage’s newly developing passion and love for baseball.

One of the big mysteries about Gage is where his just absolute devoted love and passion for that sport came from. We weren’t a baseball family by any means, and most players now that I encounter now, Gage has known thousands of baseball players at this point in his life or played against that many at least, there's always a dad that played baseball or uncle at a high level in college or double A ball or something, or at least it was father and son grew up going to games together. And there’s just none of that in our history or his history or even in his mother's family history to explain why as a 5 year old, he was already asking his Mom, “Can I play tee ball? When can I start playing tee ball?” It’s like it was something that he always knew was in his future and at the center of everything he did for the rest of his life. We had no idea at the time how central to our whole family's life baseball was going to become and how many weekends we were going to be driving all over the state of Texas and sometimes all over the country just to take this kid places to give him the opportunity to play the game for the thousandth time or two thousandth time.

When he started playing tee ball, we thought we were like any other family. We were just trying different things out with their kid. He was taking kung fu. He’d taken a few ballet classes. But through all of the things that he was kind of trying out at the time, he was like, “Baseball is my thing.” Or tee ball at the time at least. And when he started asking us about it, he was too young to play most places. Meg, always faced with a challenge like that, just finds an answer. And so she started checking around every little league in town that offered tee ball and found out what age they would take him, and finally she got in contact with somebody who was actually at the little league that was appropriate for our neighborhood, said, “Well, we don't take kids ‘til 6, but bring him in and let's see if he has the basic aptitude and just fundamental physical build and attention span to be able to participate with the older kids.” And so she went and did that, and he started playing tee ball at 5 with 6 year olds.

It's a silly enterprise to begin with, you know? It’s putting a bunch of kids out on a baseball field, mostly more for the entertainment of the parents than the actual kids, because half of them don’t want to be there, the second half want to be there, but they don't have the attention span last beyond the first general moments of the game and then it's all just after that about the coaches and the parents trying to corral and continue to make the game happen. And it so it becomes this sort of bizarre, scripted enterprise where it’s like, “OK, we can get from action to cut if we can just corral these kids and keep them focused long enough to...”

The thing is, at the time, I didn't recognize that Gage didn't fit that paradigm exactly. Every tee ball game that he played in, took him from beginning to end of the game. And he's kind of a math kid, because from the very beginning, the thing that for him that the game was all about was like that there's just a logic to it, and the beauty that he appreciates, and that it's a numbers game and it's a mental game and everything. And even from that age of 5, he was totally invested in the idea that it was one, two, three strikes, you're out, one, two, three outs the inning changes, and then the seven innings, and it's all this thing that builds up, and it's always what he’s been interested about.

And so that stage of his life, when I look back and remember it, was just, it was so electric and intense because there was just so much to learn. Just to be entering the game, and for me to be entering it too, because not coming from a baseball family, really, the way that the whole first years of him playing the sport, for me was learning everything that he was learning. There is so much more to it than I ever knew at the time. Like I had no idea at that time how much Gage and I both had out there ahead of us to learn together, just about this thing that was going to become the absolute central passion in his life.

He left little league very early. I'm just not sure exactly how it happened. We were totally conventional tee ball parents and little league parents and had no background whatsoever or any knowledge about select baseball and club baseball, which is apparently something that everybody in Texas or any baseball state knows about, but we didn't know about at the time. Somehow Gage found out about it, that there was this other stream for playing baseball that was much more serious and there were professional coaches and professional coaches who played at the collegiate or professional level teaching kids to play baseball in essentially academies. He found out about that, and he realized that they were approaching the game the way he wanted to approach the game. He didn't want to play with a bunch of kids who half cared about it. He wanted to play with a bunch of kids that were serious. And so somehow, I still to this day don't know where it came from, but he learned about tryouts for a club baseball program that wasn't even in our area. He found out about tryouts for an 8U coach pitch team and convinced his, convinced me pretty easily I guess, but then convinced his mother somehow, which is still astonishing to me how he pulled that off as a 7 year old to go to those tryouts. And we didn't understand at the time, even the age rankings. I didn’t have any idea at the time that when I took, I think he was like barely 7 when he went and participated in these tryouts, that I was bringing probably the youngest kid they’d ever seen to their tryouts. And so I just sent him out there and didn't realize, I had no idea that I was sending him out to actually try out with a bunch of 9 year olds. And so ultimately, Gage did, went through that tryout process, was selected to play on this competitive 8U team, convinced his mom with an earnestness that I think is beyond most 8 year olds I’ve ever known, that it was important to him and important enough for us to support him in it and at least consider it. 

And then for Gage, that was, absolutely he took to it right away, loved it, but it was being dropped out of the frying pan into the fire. So he went from that little league, to being coached by a coach who was a semi-pro baseball player in New Jersey. So it was like, New Jersey coach, serious, competitive baseball and Gage just dropped right into the middle of that. And just immediately committed to it and committed to doing the absolute best he can from the beginning.

And so then, suddenly in that period of life, like every minute with him was, “Can we practice? Can we throw? Dad, can we play catch? Dad, can we play catch?” And we spent like all this time, like if we went to the mall, he wouldn't want to go into the mall. He would try right away to convince me that Meg and Hayley should go in and take care of whatever business we had to take care of and that he and I should play catch in the parking lot. Because he's just learning to handle a glove and throw a ball and throw it well. Already at that age, they're telling him, “No, not rainbows. We want you to throw it on a rope.” And so here's this 7 year old trying to learn all that to fit in and be competitive with these other boys who had been doing exactly that since they were, probably the moment they were able to walk, their dads were teaching them how to throw a ball on a rope, you know? 

It's interesting because Meg, has, when Hayley was young, Meg started a practice of writing letters to the kids that she keeps in books. Her ability to see the future and see the value that certain things will have in the future and kind of anticipating that present is remarkable. And you know, she's a very much “stop and smell the roses” kind of person. I'm always like, “Let's keep moving. There's a schedule. There's a goal. Let's go.” And she's like, “Well let's stop for 2 seconds and look at this tree.” And so in that sort of wisdom that she has, she started writing letters to the kids from, I think, Hayley maybe at the age of four. So for Gage, that's an even younger age. And in Gage’s book, she has the first, his first mention of baseball sort of captured in a letter that she wrote to him and she even wrote at the time that she didn't really know where it was coming from and that it was just his, it’s just completely internal and from his own place.  Tied up into it is the two things that have, have seemingly always been present for Gage and are still totally present in his life now as a 17 year old are his just love and what he calls respect for the game of baseball. And then his, secondly, his love and respect and just comfort, like remarkable comfort level with senior citizens or the elderly, just older folks in general from the, from this same age.

We visited all of their grandparents, and so he had a relationship with all of his grandparents. And both of our kids have always had a very deep love for their grandparents. Gage has just always had a sort of unexplainable different connection with grandparents, though. But not just grandparents. Also the friends of grandparents. We would often go to spend a weekend with Meg’s mom and stepdad at the, we just always refer to it as the lake, and it’s a community where it was a lot of like-minded older people who were spending whatever time they could there, fishing, boating, that kind of thing. And there’d be a ton of kids and grandkids, cousins, you know, all of that. There would always be tons of children around to play with, and Gage was always, always, always more interested in being with the grandparents, the older people. Whether it was playing cards or frying fish or fishing itself, it was just, he was always more interested in being with the older folks than kids his own age.

And I think that that's, I mean that's just the way that he lives his life now. That's even more true now than it ever was. But it's always been there. And it’s just a comfort in conversation. It's funny, I remember times just looking back on him just sitting in a lawn chair next to Grandpa, or his Papa Ed, or his Papa Jack, and especially Papa Jack and one of his friends, sitting in a chair between them, and just looking at him and going, you know, he looks, it just looks the same. That looks like three old guys there, sitting there talking about their childhoods fishing where one of them is actually six years old. There's been many instances in my life where you could look at Gage sitting with a couple of old guys like that and just think that's an old man that got put in a young man's body.

So he had, I think that that may partly play a role in these relationships that he developed with seniors at these facilities is, it was a place that he could go where he got a lot of positive feedback for the stuff that he was interested in and wanted to talk about. And guys wanted to talk to him about stuff that he was interested in.

And he just had this group of guys who wanted to know how he was doing, and interested in what he was learning as he got past tee ball into the coach pitch and then eventually started playing club baseball, they’d want to know where he was playing and always had stories to tell him about Shoeless Joe and I mean, players that played so long ago that Gage really should have no interest in them. And most young players still like, you know, even the high school players that he plays with now, I would bet that half of them had no idea who Shoeless Joe Jackson was or you know, they might know the big names, but they wouldn't know what... But Gage can tell you Babe Ruth's shoe size. And the reason that he can tell you that is that when he was 6 years old, he had a conversation with one of his Papa Ed’s neighbors who told him, “Hey, you know the remarkable thing about Babe Ruth? He had tiny feet.” And that's something that Gage has remembered his entire life since and has become something that it's somehow part of who he’s become. And it’s something he can tell you right now. So he can tell you things about the game and the history of the game that he has no business really knowing. I think all of that goes back to that time in his life and those old guys that he used to sit and chat with at Beckett Meadows.

And I can, it's another one of just the beautiful memories I have of Beckett Meadows that there was one of those times where I think Meg had gone up to get her dad and prep him to bring him down. And I happened to look over at the end of the porte cochère, the entrance to this place where they always kept rows of rocking chairs on the other side where you’d see residents sitting sometimes. And I think it was new that year too, they’d also got a dog for the residents. So there was this yellow golden retriever, old, slow-moving dog that lived at the place But that dog was often sitting at the rocking chairs just looking for anybody to pet him for a minute. I mean, he just lived for that. It’s like going back to him with Papa Jack at the lake. I looked over and he's sitting in a middle rocking chair between two other old guys in rocking chairs on either side of him, just rocking with the same cadence and petting this old dog. And I walked over, and sure as shit, the 3 of them were sitting there in their rocking chairs just talking about baseball.

But you know, so Gage was an extremely active kid that required a ton of space, loved going to this place, was always energized when we went there. His sister, the same thing: always happy to go visit, liked the place, but the difference between the two of them is that she had a personality that allows her to sit down in a small space and carry on conversations. And she could do that. Gage, you had like maybe 10 minutes of that with him. And then he was just, as he always did most places, he was sprawled out on the floor and like flopping and kicking things over. He's just always been a boy that required a good amount of clear space to be in or something was going to get knocked over or broken. And as parents at the time for Meg and I, it was like almost always a constant stress in our lives. By the time we get to Beckett Meadows and he's starting to play baseball and all of all of that is kind of going on around it, that's just a little bit more of a window into what it was like to try to manage him at the time.

And so the way that that segues into Beckett Meadows and Ed was that the place to be able to do that was in that courtyard that I described, this sort of carefully landscaped, delicate, full of beautiful flowers and flower pots and elderly people sitting, watching in the gazebo. And Gage unable to sit beyond the first 15 minutes in Ed’s room while Meg took care of just like regular business. And so it was just always, “Hey, can we go throw? Can we go throw? Can we go throw?” And so that became a part of the routine there was, visit Papa Ed, throw a little, visit a little more, throw a little, visit a little bit more. But the only place that we had to really go, because the parking lot  wasn't conducive. And so we just, we needed a way to be close but for him to blow off some steam and then go back to the sitting and visiting and then go exercise, and then go back to sitting and visiting.

And so what I tried for, I don't know, 3 weeks or a month or whatever, was to go into that courtyard and throw with him. And in the beginning when he wasn't, when he couldn't throw that hard, it was like, even if a ball was a little bit errant, it wasn't going to cause too much damage. But then even in the course of the first few weeks, he was learning and developing so fast it, right way, “OK, now this kid’s throwing harder, and if he does go wild or something, it's going through a window, or it’s breaking a flower pot or something.” And it became such a stressful thing for me because, and because  it’s also a very quiet environment too. So you don't want to be, like I’m trying to contain this kid but also allow him to spend time with his grandpa, but also not be disturbing to residents who might be sleeping or whatever. It just, it became a very stressful thing for me to play catch with him in this courtyard to the point where it was just like, what started out as fun wasn't fun anymore because I would just spend the whole time every time he threw the ball going, “Man, there’s, what are we going to break, or is anybody upset?” You know, like every minute waiting for somebody in administration to say, “Hey, you can't freaking do that here. It’s a confined space.”

And so somewhere along the way, and honestly I have no idea of where the, what put this thought in my head other than on top of all the rest of it, Gage has always been very imaginative kid. He’d play a lot of, especially when he was a toddler, he’d play a lot of imagination games, having to imagine whatever. And so I knew he was perfectly capable of role-playing and imagination games, and I think that I had read something where it was like athletes talking about the power of visualization in the sports that they play. And it's always fascinated me because there's certain athletes that will, who write a lot about that like mental practice is almost effective as actual physical practice. Which is like a fascinating idea, right? And I think that I may have read something about that at the time, and I thought, you know, well if we could just like visualize this, if we could imaginary practice playing catch, maybe he's still getting something out of it and then I don't have to worry about the damn ball and all of then stress, and then we'll go to the park later, and we'll throw a real ball, but at least maybe while we're here at Beckett Meadows, we could just imagine playing catch. And thinking that there was no way he was going to buy it, a kid that's like so interested in throwing a real ball, I figured he'd just blow me off. But I suggested it one time, explained to him why, you know I was concerned about breaking a window or something, and he totally bought it. It was just like, “Oh, sure.” And so we started. I just put the ball off to the side, and we started playing catch with an imaginary ball. And I mean, it sounds so silly, but it actually works. It makes me think now more about the idea of the visualization to train in sports, because once you stop, and if you take it seriously and you stop, and you imagine like a real timing and a real, you're going through the real motion and you’re not just, it's just, it's not that much different I guess because your brain can make it up.

Real glove. Everything but the ball. He had a coach that said, “If you set,” I mean said this, even to 7 year olds that, “You're not going to set a foot on my ballfield unless you're wearing a ballcap. You're not a ballplayer if you're not wearing a baseball cap,” was one of the many tenets that his first coach had, and man, Gage took that serious as a heart attack. Still does. I don't think you will ever see him throwing a baseball without a baseball cap on. And so, both of us in baseball caps, gloves. Sometimes, if he'd had a practice or a game or something, he’d be in his full-blown uniform out there playing catch with no ball. But it was surprising to me how convincing an experience it was even for me because even like when you're playing imaginary catch, you'd even snap your glove closed on the ball when you imagine that it came into, because you don't want the imaginary ball to fall out of your real glove, so you've got to close on it.

And so that is like sort of, that's the innocent beginning of it was just me trying to manage my young son in this field, not have something disastrous happen, not cause something embarrassing for my wife, not get ourselves banned from this facility. You know, all this stuff in my mind, we just started playing imaginary catch. And then that's where for me, the, you know I may get choked up going forward from here, because that's, following this point in the story is when this grows into what for me is still one of the most beautiful experiences, beautiful memories, of my entire adult life, I think that maybe this is a story that's more transformative for me than Gage, because I think it was just such a natural part of his whole life. But I do think what happens after this, with imaginary catch, changed me maybe in a way that I don’t even have an understanding of now. Like I can’t say how it changed me, but it’s such a present memory in my mind that I know that it had as much affect on me as any of the other major events in my life.

So, we got in the habit of playing imaginary catch, and I think that there were, probably happened 1 or 2 weekends where there happened to be some residents sitting in the courtyard just enjoying some sunshine while we're playing it. And there’s 2 men that I, I can’t name them. I dont’ think we knew them. But there was a couple of guys that took an interest, enough so that I started to notice that when we started to play imaginary catch, they would turn up. And so then, it was never anything that we thought of. There was no plan to it. There was just particular sunny Saturday where we were out there doing that, and these guys came out where they could look on while we were playing imaginary catch, and then Gage made a pretend throw to me, and this was the first time it happened. One of the old guys just out of the blue all of a sudden said, “Whoa! Boy, he really hummed that one in there!” And so suddenly somebody else was seeing the invisible ball, somebody had seen it. So then he responded to that and started imaginary throwing the ball harder. And so then I imaginary started catching the ball as if it were thrown harder. So now I'm like, “Oh whoa, jeez, that one stung!” That kind of thing. Which of course feeds it even more with a 7 year old. And so then it just started growing from there and was just amazing. Other people would begin to participate, and it went from being a game of catch to a full-blown game. I'm not sure how it happened, but it was like we set up in a catcher and a pitcher position, and Gage would then be pitching to an invisible batter, and the residents would be the one that determined what happened with a particular pitch. I’d set up to catch for Gage, he’d get up there and he’d fake pitch, and it'd be like, “Oh, that was just outside!” And we would take those cues, and different of the residents would say different things. Like it just, it was just this amazing, unplanned, organic thing. And then, of course, it caught Hayley's interest. She wanted to participate. So she would come out and join us, and then we'd have a batter too. And then once you have like a real batter, not imaginary batter. It got so wild. It was so fun, and so… And so pure and beautiful.

And it just, that is what now what I'm talking about when I say, “Yeah, well, when Gage was little, he used to play invisible baseball.” My 7 year old son pitching an invisible ball to my 9 year old daughter, and these old guys who had loved the game and understood it well enough that they would call out in sort of an old fashioned play-by-play like you were listening to an old game on the radio. “Oh, she hit that one deep!”  And Hayley would run the bases, and as she was running the bases, rounding second, somebody would call out, “Oh! Held up on a triple!” And then she would know to stop at third base. And then, we put in an imaginary runner for her at third, and she'd go back and hit again, and her brother would pitch.

And that, I don't know how long that lasted. I think the end of it was just sort of as organic as its beginning. I don't know if a couple of the key spectators just got to a point in that stage of their life where they just couldn’t come out anymore, and that took some of the magic out of it, or if it just got routine enough for everybody that that took some out of magic out of it. There was no definitive end to it. There was no day where it was like, “OK, no more invisible baseball.” It just sort of, like most things in life, just sort of petered out without a real moment of closure. But it’s absolutely something that obviously affected me in an emotional way. Still does. That just is absolutely one of the most magical things that I’ve experienced.

I don't share this story often, and I’ve never, I don't think I've ever shared it in this much depth, but from time to time, where, when I talk about it just anecdotally, usually it’s to make the argument against accepting the perception that these are just depressing, stress-filled, dark places. Usually if I'm bringing this story out for any reason it’s to convince somebody that even though when you walk into an assisted living facility like that or even a rehab facility, although it's is a little more difficult to find the beauty in those places, it’s still there. That's what I came to know from that experience is that you got to get over the hump. You got to get over your discomfort. You got to get over your perception that what you're seeing is, because of the filter you're running through it, that it's automatically depressing. Look past all that. Because it would've been very easy, a very easy mistake for us to make based on the first days of those visits to say, “This is going to be hard on our kids.” Right? And I think that probably a lot of parents do that. It’s a very natural parenting instinct to say, “I need to protect my kids from seeing older folks in pain, seeing some of the indignities that happen in those kind of places.” It would be a very natural thing to say, “I need to shield my kids from this.” But that was one where we did sit down and have a conversation with one another about, “Should we or should we not involve our kids in this experience that we know that we are going to have to go through? Do we involve them or not?”  And we decided, “Yes, we do.” And that's probably the best parenting decision we’ve ever made, because there is vibrant, real life still going on there that can be participated in. I've had this conversation a number of times with Mom and Dad too, because now that they've moved here, they're often saying, “We just don't want to be a burden.” But because of that experience and because of invisible baseball and so many other wonderful things that happened to us in that stage of our kids’ lives, I know, and I tell her all the time, that it's, you’re not a burden at all. You're having a difficult time appreciating how much value you still bring to all of our lives. And you know, it’s understandable. I understand her point of view because I think that I would feel the same way in her shoes. But the thing that I know is that all of these people that we've met and kind of struggled through that last stage of human life along with have brought so much more value to our lives and to our kids’ lives than any effort it took to participate in the last stages of their lives, that I hope that our own parents can begin to be convinced of that. I believe that Mom and Dad are starting to hear it, but I also hope that anybody who's proudly made it beyond the age of 70 in our lives or in anybody's lives know that it's just the beginning, and every day they wake up and spend time with their grandkids is valuable and appreciated. I've got 2 kids that feel it 10 times beyond even what I feel it. So there it is. “Invisible Baseball.”

Episode 013 - Season 2 Preview

Welcome back for Season 2! We're excited about keeping this project rolling along, and we've made a couple of improvements along the way.

First, I'm done trying to record on my laptop. I purchased a Zoom H5 recorder that I quite like, and I've just added a second microphone, a Shure SM48 microphone to use with the recorder so Flora can do the two-mic style interviewing she likes best. I chose a balance of frugality, because I can't really afford for this to turn into a ridiculously expensive hobby, and quality, because it's a turnoff listening to poor audio quality recordings. Win win!

Second, I looked into using Creative Commons license music, because while I enjoy playing with Soundation and making background music myself, having a full-time job, a kid, and a girlfriend, there's only so much time in the day. Besides, I get a much richer range of music to fit the emotional tone of the interviews when actual musicians are making it. Hopefully I don't screw up the attributions required for Creative Commons.

The first is our new theme song, "Start Again" by Monk Turner + Fascinoma. The lyrics fit right in with our message. We're all starting again every day, in my opinion. Words and music by B.A. Monk Turner, Alanna Lin, and Chad Bloom.

We have some new collaborations coming this season, too, and we're always looking for more. If you have music you'd like to share for attribution, you'd like to help write or perform fiction pieces, or you have a story of transformation you'd like to tell, let me know! I'm at rod@rodhaden.com. We're always looking for new content, new stories, new relationships, and new things to try.

See you soon for Season 2!

Episode 012 - The Pupating Is the Hardest Part

Rod Haden

Today we have an interview with Amy, talking about what she learned about herself, life, and love from marriage, divorce, and dating. She has style, charm, and humor, and it was a lot of fun hanging out and talking with her. Thanks, Amy!

This is probably the last interview for a little bit of awhile, until we can find more people willing to share their stories of transformation. If you're one of those people, drop me a line at rod@rodhaden.com. I'd love to hear from you!

Also, if you're willing, please send me a recording of yourself, your friends, family, and pets saying, "Caterpillar Goo!" I want to use them in intros and other fun with audio.

Thanks! Here's the transcript of Amy's story:

Got divorced in, that was the spring of, or summer actually, of 2003. It’s odd. It seems like a lifetime ago in a way. I was married for 4 years, and we were together/shacked up for 4 years before that. I was living in Houston, and he was living in Austin at the time, and one night I was headed out with my friend Jennifer, and of course what precipitated my meeting him was me and my friend saying things to each other like, “Ah, forget guys!” You know? “We’re just a couple of single gals!” The plan was just for us to go and play a game of pool together. Well, we go out to play pool, and who’s at the table next to us but 3 guys who we started talking to and then playing a pool game with.

I met Jeff that night, but he and I didn’t actually date until almost a year later because I started dating another guy in the group for about 9 or 10 months, and during that time, Jeff would come travel to Houston quite a bit, so I got to know Jeff a little bit. Kelly and I were, long story short, definitely not a good match, and not too long after he and I broke up, I had Jeff’s number, and I was like, “Ringy dingy! Hey, this is Amy! Kelly and I broke up. And how you doing? And did I mention I’m single?” And so, we went on a date, and that was that. And we had a long-distance relationship for about 9 or 10 months. And I had lived in Austin before and was just itching to move back, and this was, “Wow, what a great excuse to move back to Austin.” And so we, I moved back to Austin, and we moved in together. Mistake!

I had dated a little bit in college but didn’t really take a deep dive anywhere there. So I was quite inexperienced in dating even though at the time I thought that I had plenty under my belt. I thought that I was well-equipped to wisely select a compatible mate. So I would have been in my mid-20s at that point, and oh, I was so mistaken. 

My parents divorced when I was 11, and their divorce was pretty awful. The only way it could have been worse is if either one of them had had any money. And the fallout of it was just so huge and extreme for the family that through that experience alone, I thought that that alone was going to provide me good lessons in terms of what to do and what not to do. How to pick a mate. What to look for, what not to look for. And of course that’s not what happened.

There were a number of reasons why I selected Jeff as a mate, and I didn’t figure it out until afterward, but one of those reasons was envy. I was fairly isolated as a kid. I was a loner. In high school. I mean I had 1 or 2 friends but was very low-key. Jeff at the time, I idealized these characteristics that I felt like he had in terms of, he had been very happy throughout school and had a lot of friends and had maintained a lot of friendships, even from when he was a very small child. And then his family also, I met them, close to San Antonio where his parents lived in this lovely cabin, and they were just lovely people, and went there and had just this great time with his family that seemed at the time to me almost like a family that you might encounter, you might see in the movies. And I didn’t feel like the black sheep or the ugly duckling like I had even with my own family. With my immediate family, I definitely felt that way. And so in dating him, my world was opening up, and it was opening up to this entire area and this potential new family where I felt very welcomed and appreciated for who I was and what I brought to the table. I grew up in Louisiana, so I of course was a great cook, and his family really appreciated my cooking, and they loved to cook, and so that was something that we had a lot of fun kind of bonding over in their respective kitchens.

I think I had ideas about feeling like I was a likeable person, and almost felt like, Oh! I’m in this relationship with this guy who is very well-liked, well-loved, and if he loves me, and especially once he proposed, if he wants to marry me, then that must say something about me. I must’ve turned a corner, and I must be more likeable, and maybe I’m taking on some of these characteristics or traits. So, envy was a big old part of it, that I failed to see or acknowledge at the time.

He was raised Jewish. I hadn’t been raised Jewish, but I was born Jewish, and I found out when I was in high school and started to take an interest in that. And then when Jeff and I met, and, oh, you’re Jewish? Wait, I am too. That to me provided an additional opportunity to really become a part of something. And so that was definitely part of the appeal too. And Judaism, the more I learned about it, those were things that made sense to me. I had gotten kicked out of Sunday school in third grade because I asked a question that the teacher didn’t like, and I got kicked out. And so when I started to learn about Judaism later and how philosophically it embraces the idea of asking questions, that really appealed to me. And so I loved that we were both of the same religion, and it seemed to me that we appreciated the same things about the religion.

My vision was blurred by envy, idealism, and admiration of traits that I thought were there. Not to say that they weren’t, I mean, he was a funny guy, great sense of humor, and we could always find things to laugh about together. I overestimated humor’s role and its ability to carry a relationship. That only takes you so far. I would definitely advise anybody, don’t get married in your 20s. Don’t do it. My mom and dad, they got married when they were 19 and 20, so by the time I got married at 29, I thought oh yeah, I did such a great job in biding my time, and I thought that I was just all prepared for it.

And I mean, Caterpillar Goo. Talk about gooey, you know? I mean, come on, you know? You’re getting married, and you haven’t even pupated yet, you know? It’s just, how is this going to fly? I do remember the night before the wedding, having the cold feet and thinking, part of, like, feeling conflicted about it. Part of it was, oh, this is just cold feet, and everybody has that. But there really was another part of me that thought this, I don’t, you know, I haven’t been married before, but this does not feel, it doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t feel like something that is sustainable. I definitely played down the red flags, which I think is probably number one mistake, right?

It took a couple of years. It might have happened faster if not for events that cropped up that I think probably were distracting in a way. We had started work on building a house. And building a house is one of those things that unless you’ve talked to someone else, you’re really in no way prepared for what an involved and high maintenance process, and frustrating process, it truly can be. And our house was supposed to built in 6 months; it took 3 times that. Also, a month after we got married, I lost my job. And I got a new job quickly, but between that and the fear about losing a job again, that created a whole focus on my work and my career. It probably kind of distracted away from things that later on got more of my attention. We were living in this house, very close to the lake, and had made friends in the neighborhood, and were leading a lifestyle that was, you know, really happy and adventurous and comfortable at the same time. We didn’t have a boat, but we had friends who did. And so, it was really a comfortable and pleasant time despite little things in, what seemed like at that point, little things in our relationship that started to kind of creep up.

It was almost like if you imagine a pool of water, and you’ve put your hand in that little pool, and it’s just muddy. You don’t see through. But then, when you keep your hand still, eventually, the dust settles, and then you see clear through. Once we started to kind of get settled in as a couple, like ok, this is what our path actually looks like, that’s when things started to unravel. And I’ll bet you now, there were things that were going on that I wasn’t paying attention to. I was selling myself short by not acknowledging that and pulling some threads that needed to be pulled. I let it go. Of course communication issues come up for everybody, but I was not, I wasn’t doing the due diligence. I wasn’t being fair to myself. And the issue in the end wasn’t not trusting him. The issue was me not trusting myself.

I’m a lifelong student, and there are lots of things that I always wanted to learn, like while I was in college for example, that I never really had an opportunity to because I put myself through school, and I just reached a point where, yeah, I would love to do this forever, but I’m broke, and I gotta get a job and gotta do these other things called life. But wherever I could take like a drawing class, or a painting class, or a sculpture class. I got into gardening and set up a garden, and then before you know it, I was astonished to find that, would you believe it, deer were eating, and so figuring out, well how do we set this up so that we can actually have the vegetables that we’re trying to grow here? But we found little things here and there to jump in on together.

We had a lot of areas of agreement. We even agreed in areas where we were more vague or noncommittal, like with kids. We both felt like, well we don’t know. We don’t know if we’re going to have kids or not, but we both felt confident in our relationship that we would agree on if and when that would happen, but we felt like we would be on the same page about having kids. Physically, yeah. I mean, our, we always had had a good sex life, so that wasn’t an area of tension or issue. That only started to deteriorate after other areas started to.

He started to get interested in these TV shows that were on cable access in Austin. I don’t remember the names of them, but they were, the hosts were conspiracy theorists.So I remember he would watch them, and at first he would laugh about them, and I mean, there were some that were, there’s no other way to slice it. They were absurd. I mean there was one guy who wore a toilet lid around his neck when he was delivering his monologue. I don’t know what that was supposed to symbolize, but yeah, take him seriously. But at first, you know, he’d watch these like, “Oh, this is kind of a freak show. Check this out.” And then that changed. That changed to, “You know, I think this guy might have a point.” I mean, his interest in conspiracy theories built up quite a bit. His interest in that to the point where that became very much a second job. He made some friends who were producers with Austin Cable Access, and before you know it, he was producing his own show. And I wanted to be supportive of that because that was in many ways a creative effort, and it was interesting to him, and you always want to support, you know, your mate’s interests. The subject matter was really troubling to me.

About 2 ½ years in, that’s when things started to come apart, and it was a confluence or merger of several things at one time. The, his interest in conspiracy theories had, that had fully matured and developed. And I didn’t at all mind the amount of time that it took. Like have all the time that you want for the things that you want to pursue. It was that he was bringing those things home with him, those topics home with him. And so our interactions and what we really could talk about, that was narrowing in a way that was unfulfilling for me. And at the same time also, there are things that you must do as a married couple that aren’t necessarily demanded of you when you’re living together, when you’re dating, and so for example with the filing taxes, you know, filing taxes jointly, that kind of deal. And that called for a greater level of communication between us that we just clearly weren’t equipped for, and there were things, there were other areas where the trust was being eroded. I was keeping to myself a whole lot. I started to shut down. And I started to not be at home so much. Not going out and partying or anything like that, just kind of going to a neighbor’s or staying at work a little later.

And so, Jeff and I got to the point where our everyday interactions were very kind of vanilla and garden variety. Like he would call me at pretty much the same time every day to ask me what was for dinner. Yeah, things got boring for us just because we weren’t finding new things together to enrich and inform that relationship, and so our interactions with each other got pretty anemic. And I wasn’t sharing, and my feelings of trust, I was starting to tap into that as a need, that I need honesty.It’s not just that we love one another, but we are friends to each other, and we are supportive of each other, yes, but we are also protective of each other. And I was feeling more and more like my best interests were not being regarded or protected. And in my head what I saw, the analogy that I draw is almost like, you see footage of when a space shuttle goes into orbit, and it detaches, it just kind of unlocks from I guess it’s the booster, it just detaches, and the 2 units are never to be united again. They’re just off into their own spaces on their own paths. 

And we had gone to counseling once. We went to a counselor, and we talked about things, and then afterward, you know, we walked out, and Jeff was like, alright, well that was cool. Glad we got that taken care of, like it was something to mark off the checklist, and yeah. We talked about it a little bit more after that, but I don’t remember making like a big, concerted push for joint counseling after that. I went for my own, just for my own individual counseling after that point. I think probably just talking things out and processing things out loud rather than having them just hamster-wheeling, pent up in my own headspace, getting them out and really exchanging with someone probably helped me to process things a little bit more clearly.

So, things got a little bit more clear for me in working with a therapist, but I didn’t know when or how or if divorce was going to happen. I was afraid to pull the trigger, not really sure how to go about that, or what that would look like, and we had this whole life created and built and were set, you know, like we were just going to keep on as we had been and probably could have in some ways. And I knew that Jeff was unhappy, because I mean, sex is a part of how you communicate together as a couple, and we just weren’t communicating obviously through sex or through anything. I mean, we’d really and truly shut down in a lot of ways. And I had shut down. I wasn’t opening up about things that were frustrating me, and I was letting it build up and up and up and up and up. Just letting it build up, but not even perceiving it that way. And my uncertainty about the future and my feelings of investment into our life and our lifestyle just kind of kept me in a holding pattern for quite some time. It was just kind of this murky gray area where I felt like this doesn’t feel at all good, and I don’t see it improving in any way, because I don’t see a path toward things getting better. But I wasn’t ready to take action in any way. And then it just snapped.

The decision to divorce was another off-and-on switch that all of a sudden got activated. That day at work, I had gotten news that my job was more likely than not on the chopping block. So there were rumors about that going around, so it was like, oh, ok, so I’m on the precipice of needing to find another job again, and I don’t know what or how that’s going to look like or how long it’s going to take. So I had a whole lot going on in my head about that and was pretty troubled about it. And so he called me on his way to the studio to check in with me, and I said, I have a request, and it’s important. And I told him what had gone on that day, and I said, when you get home tonight, I just want a peaceful, tranquil night. Maybe we’ll watch a DVD or something, but I need you to not talk at all about this stuff, conspiracy theories, how the show went, anything like that. I don’t want to hear a thing about it. Please, no. I need recess from that tonight. He agreed.

He gets home, comes through the door, sits down on the couch. I’m sitting in the easy chair. He sits down and goes right into regaling me with all of the details about the show’s production that night, and the topic du jour, and I just sat there, and I looked at him. I just stared at him. And finally he sees the look on my face, or recognizes it, and says, what? And I said, I want a divorce. It just switched off. And it was like my mind and my body just went into autopilot at that point. I was no longer troubled about an uncertain future. I wasn’t troubled about anything at all. I just knew what I needed to do. You can’t unring a bell. You said it. Now you have to follow through. 

So Monday night we split up. Tuesday night I was in a hotel 2 nights, and then the night after that, I was in my new apartment. I had barely been able to pick up anything from the house, so I just had sheets, my pillow, just a couple of other things, and I slept on the floor of my new apartment and cried. I remember like bursting into tears at certain times where it was very unpredictable. It just came on all of a sudden, like when I was signing the lease papers of the apartment complex. I burst into tears, and I remember the apartment manager, of course I bet she’s seen many separated people in her time, and she was consoling me. And it felt very disorienting. Just all of a sudden, like what’s my path now? Everything was different. I mean, I got set up with my new apartment, in pretty short order, and on the outside things looked just fine, and they were shaping up. But on the inside, I felt very, that was a very gooey time.

The whole process of marriage and the dissolution of it, it took a long time, and even now, I still have revelations about it. I definitely question things a lot more. I question things about myself, but I also know to trust myself and to consider myself. Hopefully I understand a lot more about what the necessary ingredients are in order for a relationship to make the long haul. I don’t think longevity is, that in and of itself does not necessarily, it doesn’t reflect success. But the quality of the relationship, how are you with each other over time, how will your lives naturally and also through effort mesh well together? You know, what are the components of compatibility that really serve people the best? Humor is still definitely a part of it, a shared sense of humor, but shit, it’s certainly far from the only thing. You know, it’s a matter of figuring out like what areas, like, there should be compatibility, like in terms of things that you have in common and areas that you complement each other, but there can also be areas where you’re too much alike. It’s a matter of how do you identify and figure out that sense of balance where your differences and your similarities fit together well.

I see the early part of a relationship, all those feelings, like the butterflies in the stomach, kind of seeing like, oh, you’re feeling this way. Well, you know that your body is being bathed in all of these chemicals that are supposed to kind of goad you into or kind of lead you down this path. There’s the giddiness and all that that’s, you know, really fun and enjoyable. But I also know your vision gets blurry because of things like that.

So after I separated, I got into dating, and I felt like there’s still a lot I need to understand about who I am. But I jumped into it. God, online dating was really weird and still pretty new I guess at the time. So I got into online dating for a little bit and thought, oh, I’m backing out of this because I was getting into these very short-lived kind of things where I would meet someone and we’d feel this kind of giddiness, and then I would get ghosted before ghosting was even a thing, you know? Hey, I’m a trendsetter. Or, you know, things would just come an abrupt halt, or all of a sudden I’d realize, oh no. I took a big old break.

It was 6 years before I dated anyone. I was strictly on my own and just determined, you know what, I’m going to focus on living like the kind of person that I would want to date. And so I did acting classes and just anything that I got a lark for, that I wanted to learn about, I did. I took acting classes. I went to ACC and started on a second degree in graphic design because that’s, you know, I had things, things in that area that I’d always wanted to know how to do even if I didn’t make that into a career. I just went about fulfilling my intellectual curiosity as I went on the exercise of making friends.

There’s a part of me that would like a relationship. There’s part of me that would like a relationship right now. I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted to have kids or not, but it wasn’t like I had any biological clock ticking or anything like that, but I didn’t want to put myself in the position of not dating at all until it was too late.  But I’m glad I allowed myself some time there just to be on my own in the world, and focus on making friends, making and sustaining friendships because I didn’t see that Jeff and I had done a good job of being friends to each other. And I really wanted to come at it from the standpoint of, if I date someone that’s wonderful, but I want to be sure that we are friends first.

I always had an independent streak, but I’m not sure that I ever gave myself a chance to really explore everything that truly being independent had to offer in terms of benefit, but also growth through challenge. I had lived by myself throughout college, but this was my chance as a fully-fledged adult, to work on something resembling a career, buying a house. I wanted to pursue goals, and this was an opportunity to do those things without needing to partner or compromise or negotiate with someone.

When I re-entered online dating years later, I tried out a couple of sites concurrently. But Jesus. Like I was on OKCupid for less than 5 minutes before I got propositioned by a couple. It was like, uh huh. Wow. Is this what this whole scene is like? And Match, it’s almost like for each of these sites, like each one seems to have its own brand or characteristic or group of people that it tends to attract. Match was like the playing ground for married men from Houston who wanted to make it seem as though they were single and just in Austin for the weekend. And yeah, there was a lot of that. There was, like on OKCupid, there were propositions from couples, or I remember getting a message from this one woman who posted pictures of herself in various states of dress. And I indicated that I was only interested in boys, so I’m not sure why she thought this would be something I’d go for, but she sent me pictures of her in various states of undress, down to lingerie, covering herself in chocolate syrup. And I was on eHarmony for 24 hours, and I was like, no no no no, I’m crawfish-tailing my way out of this one. That one was strange. It was like a whole lot of questions, and then it offered you up your matches, and I had no idea how my answers lead to the profiles that I got. And so I left that. But yeah, lots of nice people. A few jerks in the mix there. I remember a lot of just online chats, online conversations, and then just never getting to the point where I was meeting someone initially in real life, at least not at first. I tried a couple of dates, and it was like this initial giddiness and fun, and then crash. 

I tried PlentyOfFish also. PlentyOfFish was what I used that lead me to my next relationship, my next serious relationship after my marriage, and that lasted for a year and a half. What I learned from that one, though, was that I had intentionally chosen someone who I wouldn’t be able to have a long term relationship with. Sometimes the only way out of something is through it. But I recognized that about myself in that relationship, while I was in the relationship, and took some time off from that and then dove back in, and I think my approach at that point was improved. I took kind of a more playful stance about it. And I took the approach of, well, you know what? Either I’m going to have a great time, or at the very least I’m going to have an interesting story.

But I approached everything like, ok, it seems like we have a couple of things in common in this conversation, ok. Let’s meet up. Let’s have a cup of coffee, or let’s just see what happens. I knew that I would meet someone, and based on the little conversation we had, if we could find something in common, something that was interesting for both of us to talk about, it was usually like writing or art or something creative, I would learn something, or I’d have a good story about it. So I wasn’t necessarily going into it for like, is this the one? It was just a matter of, let’s just meet up in the light of day and see how it works out.

 And it worked out everywhere from I met up with a guy where about 15 minutes into the conversation, and he asked me to wax his mustache for him. Nah. To I met a guy who was operating his own, he called it a porn site, but it consisted entirely of only photos of women fully clothed smoking cigarettes. But it was just interesting, you know, like meeting different people from all walks of life. I just took it on as just a way to meet new and interesting people and just having a, just being exposed to different frames of mind.

And whenever I met someone who was creative, it was always fun to talk about and see what they were working on. I’d meet someone, I’d think oh, well this, we’re attracted to each other, and this has a real possibility, but we just ran into a failure to launch, like where things just got too accelerated too quickly. And then I hit the point where that was getting a little bit painful, I met one guy where I was really interested and really hoping that things would develop, and then he made it clear he wasn’t interested in really continuing to date or anything like that. And that was a painful experience for me, and after that I thought, you know what? I need to change.

And I felt like, ok, this is where I need to become more intentional. And if it’s a relationship that I want, if it’s a boyfriend that I want, if it’s something that really can have a chance of standing the test of time and being good for me and good for the other person, then I need to articulate exactly what that looks like. And I wrote down, these are the things that I’m looking for in a partner. This is what I would ideally like for a relationship to really look like, and these are the things that are important to me, like a shared sense of adventure and an emphasis on having that as a part of life. And even like describing like physical characteristics, not having the expectation that I was going to meet someone who would fill all those things to a T, but just as a way of kind of reflecting back to myself, well, these are the things that I have in mind. By virtue of putting those things down on paper, it helps to kind of start the path to creating it more real, like from wooden boy to Pinocchio. And I didn’t know if that would be effective in bringing it closer to me, but I thought well, what’s the harm? You know, at least I’ve got this more clarified to myself, but I mean, I wrote stuff down, and then I put it on top of my mantle, where I would see it. And just by having it in front of me where I’d see it in passing and review it and reflect on it, that helped. 

And so, I met Steven a couple of months after that, and the trajectory, the path of our early relationship I felt like there was a lot there that we got right. We were friends first and spent a lot of time talking and sharing and being, just truly being friends to each other before we were boyfriend and girlfriend. And that felt really good. We got engaged about a year and a half into the relationship, and that’s one of the ones, that was one where I really, like there wasn’t any kind of feeling of cold feet. Like when we got engaged, I thought, here we have all the ingredients that we need to last. I was wrong, but I feel like I got more right about that one. And that one, the dissolution of that relationship was emotionally a lot harder than my marriage.

The list that I put together continued to evolve, or really I would just make new lists, you know, like progressive elaboration. There were also things that I realized, like ok, so how do I feel about myself in this relationship? And so I would add things or I would write down a list of  you know, how do I want to feel? And more about what kind of adventures do I want to experience with someone?

But I’m engaged now, and it’s a leap of faith in a way, but that’s not, it’s not like a leap of blind faith. It’s figuring out the right questions to ask yourself and not taking things for granted. It’s important to have shared interests. Having shared projects that you talk about and want to work on together is great, and that’s something that Greg and I have. So he’s an entertainer and a mentalist, and I’m learning, I love, I just love being with someone that you learn from. He’s accomplished in but also, he has very much that attitude of, like learning as a lifelong experience. It’s just part of what’s exciting to be human. And we’re both big-time bookworms. And so he’s sharing a lot with me, and I’m learning a lot from him and taking advantage of all of the literature that he has around mentalism. So I’m getting into that and also doing things like card reading, and so I do readings using playing cards rather than tarot, so I’ve gotten the skills down now, and I do readings for people. In fact, if you want one, you’re, I’m happy to give you one. But I don’t have anything like marketing-wise set up yet, so I don’t have a website to plug or anything like that. I’m still coming up with my stage name, as it were. So, I identified a stage name, but then, wisely I Googled it, and it came up as the name of a popular porn star. And I was like, oh, uh, no to that. That could, yeah, confusion around that could be interesting, so I’m going to avoid that. So I’ve got to figure out another name.

I would love to get to the point where I feel very comfortable about being in the moment and extemporaneous. And like with my current job and with previous jobs, they have involved public speaking, and I’ve gotten better at it, and I’m not at the point where it leaves me feeling catatonic anymore, so that’s good, so that’s progress, but I sometimes, like I feel like I plan too much in advance or maybe lean onto that too much as a crutch, which then might result in it feeling a little bit more, seeming a little bit more stilted or scripted or something like that. And I would love for it to feel a lot more natural. Like Greg, I mean, he’s very comfortable with being on stage and in the moment. You know, he’s very well-practiced at it, and he’s great at it, and see, to me that is the healthy kind of envy, for lack of a better word. You know, like I admire this in this person, but it’s not like I’m idealizing that. The things that I admire about him are just one facet of the many reasons why I am with him.

It’s not like I could pass myself off as, you know, hey, I’ve got it all figured out. I mean, I have more figured out than what I did, and I imagine there are blind spots that I’ve got now that maybe, maybe not I’ll realize later. But I, it’s a practice, right? Relationship is a practice, and I feel like I’m getting better at that practice. I’ve had a hard time in the past with, like I’ll have an emotion, like I’ll feel frustration or I’ll feel anger, or I’ll feel just kind of a nagging feeling, but elucidating why I feel that way, feeling anger, without being able to explain why it was. Well then, my reaction would be delayed because I wouldn’t share that I was feeling an emotion much less why. And then it would take me some time to figure out the why. But by the time I figured that out, it was really too late to go back, in my mind I felt at the time it was really too late to go back and say, hey, you know, when I was seeming pissed off? Well, this is why it was, and let’s talk about. And again, that’s practice. I mean, I still have those moments when I feel upset about something, and I don’t know why, but I bring that up, even if it’s not something that I can explain, just to get it out there and even just talking through it. And being with someone who you can talk through those things with, you know. For me I think it’s just a matter of considering yourself. Be selfish in love. I don’t mean selfish as in being regardless of someone else’s needs or feelings, but I mean it’s, you gotta consider yourself as much as you’re considering the other person. Think about what you need.

I’m digging the 40s. I am totally digging them, because I feel more childlike and free than I ever did. And I feel like embracing kind of having the beginner’s mind. And I don’t know what I don’t know in some areas, and being ok with myself over that. Being among other adults, other divorced adults, talking with other adults who have been in, you know, marriages, divorces, significant relationships, and sharing all of those things, it’s like, yeah, nobody really has it figured out. And that is a tremendous relief. Tremendous relief. I don’t know what it is about being young that makes you so worried about what’s normal. Why does it feel important to feel normal? And what is that anyway? I don’t know what my hangup was about feeling normal or fitting in, or anything like that. But one of the wonderful things about getting older is that you find out nobody really fits in, but that said, we all kind of find our tribes in a way.