The Key(s) to Success

I’ve been asked in the past what my favorite song or piece of music is. As a musician who enjoys almost all types or genres of music, that is an incredibly difficult, if not impossible, question to answer. However, in one sub-genre of music I can answer it definitively. Without a doubt, my hands-down, no-questions-asked favorite work of classical piano music is Mozart’s Concerto No. 20 in d-Minor (K466). Written in 1785, it is one of Mozart’s later piano concerti and was a favorite of young Ludwig van Beethoven, who kept it in his personal repertoire for the duration of his career. Many music historians consider this work a forerunner to Romantic piano music, paving the way for the likes of Beethoven, Paganini and Schubert. It is haunting, mysterious and beautiful. It is also an incredibly difficult piece to learn. I know this because after first hearing it and falling in love with it when I was only a freshman in high school (1985 – 200 years after it was written), I purchased the score so that I could follow as I listened to it over and over again. I could only ever dream of being able to play it. Fortunately, I had multiple recordings of the concerto by accomplished performers, each with his or her own interpretation accentuated different aspects of the work. I have listened to this concerto probably thousands of times, but have never been so astounded as I was today when I read this story in the London Telegraph Online.

Maria Joao Pires is one of the best pianists in the world. She has performed all of the great piano works with all of the great ensembles and in all of the great venues around the globe. Recently, she was on stage with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw ready to perform a Mozart piano concerto (not the d-Minor concerto). As the conductor lowered his baton, the orchestra began playing No. 20, much to the surprise and horror of Pires. She was visibly shaken. You can see her reaction in the video clip below. She whispered to the conductor that this was not the piece she was prepared to play, but that she would do the best she could. Then, like the consummate professional she is, Pires calmed her nerves and performed the work, having had no preparation or rehearsal with the orchestra, amazing both the audience and her fellow musicians. In short, she did what seemed to be impossible.

Very few of us is ever lucky enough to go through life without having unexpected events come our way. Everyone I know has, at one time or another, faced an unexpected and seemingly impossible situation. Regardless of the outcome, the lesson in most of these instances lies not in the result, but in our response to them. There is less to be remembered about the details and more about our actions in the face of certain failure. Years from now, the people in the audience there in Amsterdam will scarcely remember the nuances or Maria Joao Pires’ performance — some may not even remember the piece — but, most of them will certainly remember the manner in which she handled a situation which surely could have been both personally and professionally disastrous. It is not necessary to be a musician or to even appreciate music to draw on what happened to Pires.

I’m going through a difficult time right now. There’s no need to get into a lot of detail. Suffice it to say that I have some major decisions to make very soon and I’m having trouble making them. Nothing I had planned has really turned out the way I expected it would. I understand the way Maria Joao Pires felt when she heard the orchestra introduce a piece she wasn’t prepared to play. I, too, feel unprepared for the situation I’m in right now. The orchestra is playing a tune I didn’t expect to hear. I think I can take a lesson from Pires, here. I think maybe it’s time for me to close my eyes, take a deep breath and trust that I know enough; that I remember enough; that I’ve been given enough to do what needs to be done and to do it the best way I know how. I might make mistakes. I might hit a wrong note now and then and I might get out of tempo, but the end I can trust that the keys to success are right at my fingertips and that I know how to make them work.

If you think about it, my dear friends, say a little prayer for me. I need wisdom and strength and the courage to keep moving forward.

…Now, give yourself 15 minutes and listen to this recording of Maria Joao Pires performing the opening movement (Allegro) from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-Minor (K466). She performs it as brilliantly as anyone I’ve heard.

What would I tell?

When I was in third grade we went to art class once a week. It was exciting for a lot of reasons, but mainly for me because it was on the fifth grade hall in the newer part of the school building. The walls in that hallway were not cinder block like they were in the third grade hall. They were covered with ceramic tile about two-thirds of the way up and then sheet rock above that. The tiles were white with a stripe of navy blue at the top. (Navy blue and white were our school colors at L.B. Barton Elementary School.) Above the tile on the sheet rock, fifth grade students had painted pictures of clouds and the sun and moon and rainbows and kites — pretty standard art work for elementary schools. I loved that part of the building.

lb bartonTo get to the fifth grade hall from the third grade hall we had to walk through a long breezeway that connected the old building with the new building. Actually, the breezeway probably wasn’t that long, but it felt long to me. It was carpeted with the green all-weather carpet that many schools and businesses put on their porches and there were windows along both sides. As we left the breezeway and turned left down the fifth grade hall my teacher, Mrs. Bales, would have us move over to the right side of the hallway. We were supposed to walk with our hands behind our backs, but I always ran my hand along the smooth, cool tiles on the wall. I would curl my fingers so that my fingernails scraped the grout lines. Before long we arrived at the art room — the last room on the right just before the library.

The art room wasn’t like the other classrooms. It was bigger; probably twice the size of the other rooms. Unlike standard classrooms, it wasn’t carpeted. The floor in the art room was the same tile that was on the hallway floors but it was spattered with every conceivable color of paint. The art room didn’t have desks. Instead, there were large tables (eight of them, I think) with small stools around them instead of chairs. Like the tile floor, the tables also had paint spatter, dried glue, chalk and clay all over them, but I loved them. They were smooth and cool like the tile walls in the fifth grade hall. Around the perimeter of the room were built-in shelves full of art supplies: paints, brushes, canvas, paper, glue, yarn, string, clay, chalk, sponges, paper plates…and on and on. For a kid like me with an artistic bent, the art room was like a toy store at Christmas. I wanted to touch everything and take one of each of them home.

I don’t remember the art teacher’s name or what she looked like. When I remember her I remember only the idea of her. In my mind she is a younger woman, small in stature and frame, energetic, passionate and friendly. I do remember that she did not sit at a desk. Rather, she had a table like ours, only taller. Most of the time, though, she walked around the room. She would slowly walk past each student, look over our shoulders and encourage our efforts regardless how unimpressive most of our work must have been. Amidst the vague idea of my art teacher, one very specific memory stands out. It is a memory that has come to me many times in the thirty-two years since third grade and it came to me again tonight.

On one particular day when we went to the art room I remember walking in and seeing white paper plates, small sheets of manila paper, paint brushes, water and paints of all colors in the middle of the tables. I was excited. I expected that this would be another opportunity to paint a picture of the Death Star, X-Wing and TIE Fighters, and the Millenium Falcon to take home and tac to my bedroom wall. But, the teacher had other things in mind this day. She intended to teach us about color. First, we learned about the primary colors — red, yellow and blue. We learned that mixing red and blue make purple; red and yellow make orange; and yellow and blue make paintinggreen. Then, she told us to mix all of the primary colors together but not to stir them too long. What did we get? Brown. “Now,” she said, “keep adding colors and keep mixing.” Eventually, I had a blob of black paint in the middle of my circles of red, yellow, blue, purple, orange and green. She explained that black wasn’t really a color, but was rather a mixture of all colors. Then she brought around a tube of white paint and put a small amount on our paper plates. She then told us that, like black, white was not really a color, but was the absence of color. She told us to mix the white paint in with the black. Suddenly, the black blob turned grey. Then, she taught the lesson, no one color is dominate over another. All colors can be mixed and will turn into something completely different.

I held on to that piece of manila paper for years. Long after all of the hopeless attempts at Star Wars recreations were lost to the Irving Sanitation Department, that piece of paper with those blobs of color stayed with me. In fact, I found it as we packed to move to Tyler in 1993 — twelve years later. It is gone now, too. I have no idea where I lost it along the way, but the memory is still very much alive in me. It is as vivid today as ever. It is the story of one of the experiences that helped mold me into the person I am today.

For a few years now I’ve had friends tell me I need to write the stories of my life in a book. Although I can’t personally imagine buying the book, they insist that I have so many stories to tell that it would, at the very least, entertain the people who love me and, just maybe, sell a few copies. I’ve given it some thought. In fact, I’ve started writing the book. But, I keep running into a problem. If I’m going to tell the stories of my life, which ones do I tell? It’s a question that plagues me not only as a writer, but as a person. I dread being asked to tell something about myself. What on earth is there worth telling?

Do I tell about being a kid who was afraid of everything?

Do I tell about being the kid in middle school who DIDN’T want to play football?

Do I tell about being the fourteen year old who decided to spend his weekends practicing music instead of hanging out with friends?

Do I tell about being the high school senior who won every award imaginable for his musical talent?

Do I tell about being the college freshman who figured out it’s really easy to be a big fish in a small pond?

Do I tell about floundering to figure out who I was for twenty years?

Do I tell about the abject loneliness of anxiety and depression?

What stories could I possibly tell that anyone would care about? I’ve got happy ones, sad ones and too-absurd-to-be-true-but-absolutely-are ones…the list is endless. The stories I could tell are as varied as those blobs of paint on that manila paper. And, like those blobs of color, they’re all mixed together now in a giant mass of grey. All of the stories and memories run together in my head and it’s hard to separate real from imaginary. It’s hard to know what is really true and what I only want to be true.

I think life is like that, you know? I think we’re always looking for just the right story to tell to just the right person at just the right time. We’re always looking for the story that makes us look the best. Sometimes we embellish details and sometimes we omit them. For instance, the story I wrote about going to art class — I have no idea how much of it is actually true and how much is just my memory filling in gaps with a nice picture. We do that with memories and with our stories. We fill in the gaps with details that change the tone, the hue and, sometimes, even the “family” from which our stories come. I think we do it because if we can fill in the gaps with the right color, the story will be prettier and maybe not as hard to look at.palette

I don’t know if I’ll ever finish that book. It’s a daunting task to even think about, much less to undertake, but maybe someday when the color palette is just right.


Jason Walker:

I’m reblogging this post because today is the last day to give. Friends, I humbly ask once again that you please consider giving. Regardless of your religious or political beliefs, this is an opportunity to provide aid and comfort to people who desperately need it. Please look into your heart and consider giving. No donation is too small and all are greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Originally posted on I Breathed Again:

tccI wasn’t really around during the late 1980′s and early to mid 1990′s when deaths from the AIDS epidemic were at their height. I was just out of high school and, although I remember hearing about it on the news, I didn’t understand its full impact until I first joined the Turtle Creek Chorale in 2003. As an organization, the TCC has lost nearly 200 of its members to AIDS…nearly 200! That is four times the size of my high school graduating class. I’ve heard the stories about the Chorale singing at or attending a funeral nearly every week for several years. I’ve never lost a friend to AIDS, but nearly all of them have. Their memories of that time are still vivid and painful.

HIV/AIDS has, as so many things do, faded somewhat from our consciousness. New drug treatments have made HIV/AIDS somewhat of a chronic illness rather than…

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tccI wasn’t really around during the late 1980′s and early to mid 1990′s when deaths from the AIDS epidemic were at their height. I was just out of high school and, although I remember hearing about it on the news, I didn’t understand its full impact until I first joined the Turtle Creek Chorale in 2003. As an organization, the TCC has lost nearly 200 of its members to AIDS…nearly 200! That is four times the size of my high school graduating class. I’ve heard the stories about the Chorale singing at or attending a funeral nearly every week for several years. I’ve never lost a friend to AIDS, but nearly all of them have. Their memories of that time are still vivid and painful.

HIV/AIDS has, as so many things do, faded somewhat from our consciousness. New drug treatments have made HIV/AIDS somewhat of a chronic illness rather than a fatal disease. I know several people who were diagnosed HIV+ over twenty years ago who live healthy and active lives — most of them are healthier than me! Look at Magic Johnson. I remember watching his press conference in 1991 when he announced that he was HIV+ and was retiring from professional basketball. That was 22 years ago and Magic is still vital and active in the world of professional sports. The point is, because many people infected with HIV now days are living with the disease rather than dying from it, public awareness has waned. That is why organizations like AIDS Arms, Inc. are so important.

AIDS Arms is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit which provides support for North Texans living with HIV/AIDS…AAI complete logo

Mission: AIDS Arms, Inc. combats HIV/AIDS in the community by improving the lives and health of individuals living with the disease and preventing its spread.

Who We Serve: Since 1985, we have been helping those living with HIV and AIDS in the community, as well as those at risk for infection. Today, our dedicated staff provide medical care, testing, prevention, research, outreach, education, and case management. (From the AIDS Arms, Inc. web site)

AIDS Arms employs doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, mental health practitioners, researchers, lab technicians and case managers to provide quality care to members of the community who could not otherwise afford it. AIDS Arms relies heavily on donations from the public to continue their mission of mercy that has been active for nearly thirty years! Many of those donations come each year in the fall through the AIDS Arms LifeWalk.

This year, I am proud to join my brothers in the Turtle Creek Chorale and participate in the AIDS Arms LifeWalk! For years I stood on the sidelines and watched as others took care of the business of community outreach. I believed that my job with the Chorale was simply to sing and to help entertain audiences. However, the last four years that I spent in near total seclusion suffering from depression and anxiety have taught an important lesson to me: none of us should ever be alone and especially in a time of need! My job as a human being — as a member of the family of mankind — is to reach out beyond myself; to give a piece of myself away to someone else; to make sure no one is alone.

I’ve never asked any of you who have been so faithful to read my blog for anything other than your time. However, the time has come for me to ask you for more. I am humbly requesting that you carefully and prayerfully consider giving a monetary gift to AIDS Arms, Inc. this year. Regardless of political or religious beliefs, providing aid and comfort to the sick and dying is a basic tenet of human existence. Charity, love, care and compassion transcend politics and religion. Please at least consider my request!

Should you decide to give a gift, please click on the picture here below. That link will take you to my personal LifeWalk web page where you can give your tax-deductible donation via secure web connection (or by mail if you choose). I have set a personal goal of raising $500 before the LifeWalk on October 6th. Any amount of money you can give will be greatly appreciated and, I assure you, will be used to benefit people who are genuinely in need.


I have also embedded a couple of videos. The first is the Turtle Creek Chorale singing “Grace” which is composer/arranger Mark Hays’ stunning arrangement of “Amazing Grace.” The second video is from LifeWalk 2012 and gives you an idea of what the event entails.

I want to thank you in advance for your generosity. You have been so good to me over these last four years and now, as I am finally ale to get out and live life again, I am giving back in your honor. My participation in the 2013 AIDS Arms LifeWalk is in honor of each of you who have been so faithful and encouraging to me in my struggles. Thank you a thousand times over and may God richly bless you everyday!

What Anxiety Feels Like

One of my friends posted this earlier today on Facebook and I want to share it with you. This little cartoon sums up everything I’ve been writing about for the past four years on this blog. In a very few words it paraphrases all of mine beautifully.


Want to know what anxiety feels like? Read this…


what anxiety feels like


Once upon a time someone told me I was smart and I believed them.


Once upon a time someone told me I was a good writer and I believed them.


Once upon a time someone told me that they thought I would be a good teacher and I believed them.


It’s time I stop believing people so easily.

I’m having a bit of an identity crisis these days. That’s actually an understatement. The truth is I don’t know who the hell I am. I was so sure that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing. Now I’m not sure about any of it. I can scarcely muster the motivation to crack a book or put a word down on paper. I’m stressed. I’m anxious and I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. For the last week I haven’t been able to sleep and everything I eat makes me feel sick. In short, I’m in a really crappy place.

So, what happened? Everything was going so well and I was excited and happy and encouraged. The truth of the matter is I’m not as smart as I thought I was. I don’t know what I need to know and I feel like my contributions to discussions are a mile wide and a quarter of an inch deep. I am not sure that my brain works the way it is supposed to work to make this grand experiment I’ve embarked on work. I’ve resigned myself to simply keep my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself because they don’t seem to add anything to the conversation. I’m not sure I belong here.mask

There is a name for the way I feel. It’s called “Imposter Syndrome” and I posted a link to this article about it a few days ago. I’ve been assured by everyone I’ve spoken with about how I’m feeling that everyone, even tenured professors, deal with Imposter Syndrome to one degree or another. I believe them, but in my case I think there is a difference. I think I actually am an imposter. When I was an undergrad I used to joke about being able to BS my way through just about any writing assignment. It may be time to pay the piper on that. My ability to BS is either not as good as I thought or BS just doesn’t work at this level. Either way, it’s not good.

I don’t know what I’m going to do. Honestly, I don’t know what my options are. I’m not a 20-something year old kid anymore. I’m almost 42 and I have financial obligations that aren’t going away and that I will have the rest of my life. I don’t have a lot of time — actually, I’m not sure I have any time — to keep playing around with school. I really don’t know. I wish I did.

Maybe I should take my cue from Sophocles…

“Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.”

An Open Letter to Johnny Manziel

Jason Walker:

This is really good stuff. It’s good not only because the name Manziel is on everyone’s lips these days, but it’s just good advice to remember. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all said and done things we wish we hadn’t — I know I have. It’s important to remember that God’s Grace reaches out to all of us regardless of how big or small our names may be. Take a few minutes to read this and then take a lifetime to take it to heart!

Originally posted on My Sacred Hideaway:

Dear Johnny:

I live in what was once your home town. I have a son who cannot wait to be old enough to proudly sport a Tivy Antlers jersey. I have a son who watched you play high school football and even met you a time or two when you still lived here. This same son quickly broke his mama’s burnt orange heart and converted to an Aggie when you committed to A&M. He has your jersey and still wears it with great pride. And that’s why, even though you’ll likely never see this, I have to write this letter.

My son, and my family, watch every game. Even this burnt orange wearing mom has cheered you on since blue & gold were your Friday Night Lights colors. But besides the games, unfortunately, we’ve also watched the mistakes in the public eye. How can we miss them? Until recently, you…

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