Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Differences in Educational Focus

When I began college in August, 1976 at California State University, Sacramento, it was a month after my 17th birthday.  I had graduated a year-and-a-half early from high school and was ready, I believed, to take on the world. 

The truth was that only five months before, my girlfriend had given birth to our daughter and we were to be married that next January.  The reality of fatherhood and marriage were weighing heavily on my mind and heart and what I really wanted was to escape.  The move 200 miles away from my hometown was just that ticket. 

My first semester after matriculation was pretty good, actually.  My second semester, after my marriage, not so much.  With concerns about money, issues of parenthood and being a husband, and adjusting to life as a nearly-adult young man with very-adult responsibilities was taking its toll on my time at school.  My grades dropped, I began drinking, and by the end of my third year, I dropped out of college.  I wasn't even bright enough by that point to withdraw to keep my classes intact.

Although my parents were generous enough to pay for everything for those three years, I couldn't rationalize them paying for my wife and now two children any longer, especially because I wasn't doing very well.  I decided it was time to go to work.  Another three children later, returning to school became just a distant memory for me.

I tried to return twice.  Once in 1982, I attempted to return to Sac State, only to find my youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, which would require a three year chemotherapy and radiation commitment.  It was more than I could do emotionally, so I once again left school.

The next time I tried to finish my degree was several years later at which time I had a mild heart attack. It appeared my returning to school was simply not in the cards for me.

After all my years at Sac State, I had completed nearly all my core work. Admittedly, I spent more time on my major in theatre and minor in music, but miraculously, I did seem to get some of the work done, albeit with glitches in my grade point average.

At the end of 2009, I decided I would try a different approach by going to an online school so that I would have a bit more freedom to complete my education.  The University of Phoenix was the perfect choice for me.  I could study communications in my home office, and they would accept my core credits from Sac State.

My first, five-week class began in March 2010 and went swimmingly.  I actually had a grade of 100% by the end of the course.  I was just about to begin my second class when I got the call that one of my closest cousins was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.  I had to be a part of the support team.  After all I had taken a leave of absense from work to care for my mother who eventually passed away from the same disease.  I knew what was ahead.

Since that class began, I've been to Santa Clara twice, for nearly a week each time.  I've gotten my work done, but it's suffering for the time away.  The difference now, though, is in my mindset. 

Although it is difficult, I'm also 50 years old and my ability to structure my schedule and adapt to challenges has changed. My priorities now dictate that I continue plodding down my educational path, if not receiving a score of 100% for this class, at least passing as I continue helping to care for my beloved cousin.  It will not be for long, sadly, and I can get back to the business at hand when his journey is complete.  I wouldn't miss this time with Joe for anything.

I keep thinking of the Kathy Bates' character, Evelyn, in Fried Green Tomatoes, when she had a parking space stolen by a couple of girls in a small car.  When Evelyn complained, one of the girls said, "Face it, lady. We're younger and faster."  They laughed and headed into the Piggly Wiggly supermarket. 

Evelyn had heard the story of Idgie Threadgoodes' alter ego, "Towanda," from Idgie's cousin, Ninny, played by Jessica Tandy.  Towanda was nearly a legendary hero for her bravery and sense of adventure in the tiny town of Whistlestop.  Bellowing the name, "Towanda!" Evelyn backed up her car and bashed the girls' car six times.  As the girls screamed in protest, Evelyn drove off, smiling and saying, "Face it, girls. I'm older and have better insurance!" (IMDb 2010)

That's the way I feel now; only, my version of this statement is, "I'm older and I have better self-assurance."

I know I can complete my education this time around.  The total time I have left is under two years.  At this point in my life, that's equivalent to 20 minutes.  I can work, go to school, and still help with my cousin's care.  I'll be tired, but what I lack in stamina, I've gained in wisdom and planning ability.

I've had a great career and my children are now 30 to 42 years old.  I have ten grandchildren.  My husband is happy and so am I.  It's time.

I haven't suffered for living this long without my degree, really.  I've had a great time and been able to support my family all these years.  It's just that knowing I haven't completed my degree has stuck in my craw as something I never completed.  It's not a good feeling. 

It's time to finish what I started 34 years ago.  Who knows?  Perhaps this degree will lead to another adventure.  I do so love an adventure!



Reference:  Internet Movie Database, 2010, received from

For blogs directly to you, go to

Friday, May 21, 2010

Where I Saw the Light Tonight...

The girls where listed as, "Whores" and "Factory Workers."  The boys included a "Pimp," "Sailors," and criminals.  The best part is that they sang so beautifully! 

We began rehearsals for Les Miserables at the Woodland Opera House tonight with nearly the full cast.  These young people, to the individual, had this gleam in their eyes that startled me.  They looked happy to be together, pleased to be singing this music, and they appeared to be genuinely thrilled to be working on this project. 

I have to admit, it's becoming more common to see this level of joy in the young folk around me.  I don't know why everyone seems to engaged, but whatever the reason, I'm so glad they are.  They even seem thrilled to be adding to their educational background in musical theatre and history. 

Who knew that a very long musical, based on an enormous book by 19th Century author, Victor Hugo, about a guy who stole bread and silver from a priest would incite such animation in teenagers born in the 1990s?  Or is it that at all?  Moreso, I'm beginning to think that our teens are beginning to recognize their own value and hear their own voices.  They are growing in hope and a self-awareness that what they are doing is going to make a difference. 

This level of creative energy is immensely infectious, even in a jaded, middle-aged man who has been doing this type of work for a very, very long time.  I've won awards.  I've received recognition from the newspapers and the audience.  I've had many wonderful experiences in this work.  Suddenly, though, I'm asking myself, "Am I finding a renewed thrill in musical theatre?"  It could be. 

If this is the case, I attribute it to a couple of causes.  I found a terrific creative home at Woodland Opera House.  Jeff Kean and his entire team has made being there a wonderful place to ply my avocation.  The biggest reason, I think, is that light in the children's eyes.  That light shines so brightly that I can actually feel the warmth from their retinal suns.  I can see these remarkable children, with such hope and anticipation in their faces, look toward a show well done.  Their pride in their work is both humble and satisfying to them.  Who couldn't become addicted to this level of utter happiness?

So, as we prepare to open Les Miserables at the Woodland Opera House on July 16, 2010 (which happens to be a day before my 51st birthday for those who want to start shopping early), I can only think that our young performers truly are an inspiration to me.  Their light makes my days just that much warmer.  I live in gratitude for their gifts.


For blogs directly to you, go to

Thursday, May 20, 2010

American Idol - My Crystal Ball

Kelly Clarkson. Ruben Studdard. Fantasia Barrino. Carrie Underwood. Taylor Hicks. Jordin Sparks. David Cook.  Kris Allen. These are the winners of the last nine seasons of American Idol. 

Unless one has been living in an alternate universe, everyone in the United States of America has heard of American Idol, the television show where people between 16 and 29 vie for a recording contract, automobile, and a variety of other prizes and cash.  They sing their little hearts out every week until, finally, one person is selected as that season's American Idol.

Clarkson, Barrino, and Underwood are the only three winners who have become actual stars.  Others contestants, including Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, and Adam Lambert have moved forward in their careers in huge ways; however, the other winners have had moderate to little success along the way. 

All this is to say, here we are again.  Next week we will see another person crowned as Season 10's American Idol.  The two contestants are Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox.  Both are unique and powerful personalities... sort of.

As a vocal director and music instructor, I would like to take a minute to look at each of them as performers and to address their vocal qualities.

Lee DeWyze is an enigma.  He seems to have very little self-confidence; yet, there is something I intuitively sense about his ability to manipulate the public with his humble persona.  DeWyze never seems to find a comfort zone with his music.  It's almost as though he is afraid we will discover his vocal skills really aren't that good.  His gravely voice clearly will not last beyond two or three more years.  He will most likely develop nodes on his vocal cords and require surgery.  His inability to stabilize his pitches without sounding like sandpaper on metal makes very little sense for him to win.  This is not the end of the story, though.

Crystal Bowersox is a powerhouse, internally and vocally.  She has an understanding of her craft that belie her 24 years on this planet.  Her self-assured defiance of some of the judges recommendations have served her well.  She continues to make the right choices week after week.  The clarity of her sound and her understanding of her vocal instrument ensures many years of successful singing ahead of her. 

Most importantly, she seems to know exactly who she is as a person.  She makes no excuses for her methodical analysis of what is happening around her.  She is a thoughtful person focused on growth, manifesting her art, and taking care of her family.

With regard to her presentation, it cannot be understated how important pulling her look together is going to be on a global stage.  She must get her teeth repaired and if she is going to continue to maintain her hair in dreadlocks, she should use more colorful elements, such as scarves and jewelry to create a more finished look.  This, however, is just dressing because her art is where her strength is.  Let there be no misunderstanding - she is an artist. Lee DeWyze - not so much.

The likelihood is that Lee will win American Idol.  He is being perceived as a smoldering sex symbol in the mold of James Dean of yesteryear, and it is this alone that is moving him toward winning this competition.  If all is right in the Universe, however, Crystal will win.  She deserves to be on top.

In this case, I can only hope my view into my crystal ball is wrong and Crystal will win.  I know I'm going to vote next week.


For blogs brought directly to you, go to

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why Are We Surprised?

I just read a brief article on CBS News' website about Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) losing his chance to run for re-election to Representative Joe Sistak (D-PA) in the primary election.  The article continued with descriptions of how others are falling in the post-Obama pendulum swing.  It's being heralded all over the news outlets as though this was actually a surprise.  Why is that?

First of all, two years after every presidential election the citizens of this great nation behave as though the new president has destroyed their happy dreams for the future.  This delusion-shattering experience leaves them angry and ready to battle against those that support this sadness-monger.  Elected officials all over the country are swatted down like flies and we, as a country, are satisfied that we have made our voices heard.

Add to this that Sen. Specter changed his party and we have a whole new level of discomfort. Yet, why would this bother us. Don't we wave a flag in honor of our right to live according to our principles. We're not obligated to maintain the same principles for our lifetime. We can grow and change and learn. Isn't that why our young men and women fight and die in the military so that we can continue to enjoy these freedoms?

Balderdash!  That's all I have to say to that... balderdash!

In the twelve-step system, the paraphrased statement is that repeating actions and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  If that is true, then our entire nation is insane.  We continue to elect people we believe will make sweeping changes, fix what's wrong with our lives, and land us on top of a golden pile of joy.  What a lovely imagination we have.  I suppose I'm being a bit too cynical; however, it is born of a view from history a half-century in the making. 

Nothing really changes all that much.  Occasionally, we see an important movement appear in our society.  We see a new level of civil rights; we have a moment of peace with other nations; we have a burgeoning economy after years of financial turmoil.  The truth is that we are creatures of habit.  We elect people into these offices with all the foibles and strengths to which any human being on this planet is beholden.  It's the way things are.  Superman is a fictional, cartoon character.  He treads the halls of neither the White House nor the Capitol Building. 

I know.  This is bad news.  One would think that as adults, this wouldn't be news either. 

We have 234 years of history in operating a government and we have continued in the pattern of election, reactive election, supportive election, and election every four to eight years since the inception of our Declaration of Independence.  When will we learn? 

Ultimately, we elect the best people we can to do a very hard job.  When we're in the election booth, we don't even realize just how much we depend on these simple individuals to fix our lives.  When they can't do it in the way we imagined they would, we get angry.  Sadly, that's just the way we operate.

Why can't we simply elect these people, like Barack Obama and Arlen Specter, knowing they will do what their integrity and intellect will allow, and that things will remain the same for the most part.  Then, when something really remarkable happens, we will be prepared to gratefully celebrate their accomplishments. 

Our expectations are very high for the people in Washington, D.C.  I know it's because so much depends on them, but how much are we doing to make sure they have the support and input from us?  How much are we doing to actively work to improve our lot beyond our own front door?  When we are all working with a global consciousness, then we can complain if we don't like what's happening.  We are idealists, but we must become activists.  Ideals are grand.  Actions change the world.  Until we realize this, we need to look within before battering those in our nation's and state's capitols.


For myriad blogs direct to you, go to

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Love in the City

I know. I know. What is a grown man doing watching New Line Cinema's 2008 production of Sex in the City, the movie based on the HBO television program, based on the book by American author and New York Observer columnist Candace Bushnell? I don't even live in New York City, which might explain part of this.

As I was watching this film, I realized that the subject matter in this picture was universal in ways I didn't expect. The topics of trusting one's intuition, forgiveness, friendship, and self-awareness all appeared in this film and were characters, at least to me, as much as Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte.

It got me thinking that there have been moments in every one of my relationships that were reflected in this pop culture moment. From the infidelity to the separations, from the unwelcomed notes to the reunions, the moments in the movie resonated with me. The scariest part of the movie for me was Samantha's realization that she was not living the life that she knew she had to live.

As someone who has resigned his job without anywhere else to work, left his wife to rear his children primarily on his own, and wandered 3,000 miles away from home at 16 years old because he knew it was for the best, I know how to make the tough choices and accept the consequences. Why, then, was I bothered so deeply when Samantha left Smith in Los Angeles, even though she felt so grateful to him for the time he stood by her during the chemotherapy for cancer? Why did I feel nearly guilty as Smith's pain showed so deeply in his eyes; or was that my imagination?

There is a syndrome that was first described by Walter Cannon in 1929 as the "flight-or-fight-or-freeze response," that illustrates the physiological reaction to stress and relaxation in the body (Jacobs, 2009). Simply put, when the body and mind are put in extreme stress, the desires that may fulmigate are to run, battle, or stop altogether. When the situation is dangerous, such as when someone's physical health is in jeopardy, we understand this response completely, but what happens when our emotional health is in danger? If we have this response in a challenged emotional environment, would others understand?

What if one day, an individual awakens from a terrible night's sleep and realizes that the life he or she is living is gravely deficient in areas that are important to this person. Perhaps there is no romance or adequate communication. Maybe the other person in relationship with this individual has few interests that coincide with the first person's hobbies. It could be that both the individuals, good people in their own rights, simply have little in common that would suggest they can have a happy life together.

If these things... any of these things... are true, what does one do? In the movie, Samantha left Smith. Is that the only option? No. Miranda and Steve had issues that they worked through in therapy. Carrie and Big simply had to take time to come to grips with what they both needed. Even Charlotte and Harry only had to relax to get what they wanted together, the surprise of their own birth child.

Some days, it's just a matter of sitting quietly, writing, breathing, and hoping that things will get better. Some months are like that, too.

Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of choice. How do we choose to live our lives? How much time will we spend at a lower level of happiness that we believe we deserve? What is the real balance between the days we're happy and the days we're not?

My mother always told me, "If you're happy most of the time, even 51% of the time, then stay. If you're happy 49% of the time, you should think of something else to do because no one deserves to be unhappy most of the time."

My mother was right. Everyone deserves to be peaceful and happy. Everyone deserves to sleep well.


Jacobs, G. (2001). The physiology of mind-body interactions: the stress response and the relaxation response... papers from the Symposium on Scientific Integration of Western Medicine and Complementary, Alternative-Mind, Body Medicine, Seoul, Korea [corrected] [published erratum appears in J ALTERN COMPLEMENT MED 2002 Apr; 8(2): 219]. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 7S83-92. Retrieved from CINAHL Plus with Full Text database.

It's All about the Risk!

In my classes, I've consistently taught that great art doesn't happen without taking risks because, specifically, fear and creativity cannot co-exist!

This is my big move toward committing to my new blog. My previous blog venue,, has had 20,000 hits in the last year-and-a-half, the last 10,000 of which have been since Easter 2010.

With that kind of response, I figure it's time to start looking toward trusting my blog to help provide for our family; thus, the move to Blogger!  If you'd like to read some of my earlier work, take a look at

I look forward to having my readers on board here in my new home. The same writing will populate these stories. The same intention to tell stories that are of interest to others as well as providing a glimpse into my bouncy mind.

I appreciate everyone's following my path as it leads here.

Welcome to my new home!



For blogs of myriad interests, visit

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's In The Eyes

This is my first blog in response to being a part of Practice Random Acts of Kindness.

There is an intimacy I find, even in the most casual of contacts when one person catches my eye and silently speaks to me through a look. Everyone has had that experience in a romantic setting; however, I'm talking about a person-on-the-street, buying-a-newspaper, opening-a-door-for-someone type of environment.

When someone has smiled at me for no reason as we pass one another and exchanged a simple hello, my day is enhanced enormously.

When I open the door for a person with bags in one hand and a baby in the other, smiling, without a word, I see them breathe just a little deeper. As they look back to mouth, "Thank you," their eyes express their truest gratitude. I am changed and humbled in that moment.

It is so incredibly simple to smile or to look at one of our global brothers or sisters in the eye as we pass one another on the street. Are we unaware of the healing power of that level of intimacy in our lives? Have we grown so fearful or callous that we shelter ourselves in our emotional cocoons, afraid that others may breech our psychic boundaries?

I hope not.

I hope that we are still able to engage one another in joy and compassion. I hope that we can see our Universal siblings as equals, in need and in service. I hope that we value ourselves enough to know that we are powerful entities who can change the world by changing one life. I hope we value others enough to know that those we may see as the least of us have something important to offer.

Ultimately, I simply hope... and smile.

Just once today, my friends, add a smile where one may not be expected. Just once today, offer a hand, even if you expect it to be declined. Just once today, love someone most when they seem to warrant it the least. We will all benefit for your choices to love.