Thursday, June 23, 2016

A good way to make a life

I love the quote above by Kurt Vonnegut and I have found it is so true. Today I was standing in line at Verizon waiting to talk to them about a problem with my cell phone. The man in line in front of me and I struck up a conversation and he asked me, "What line of work do you do? " I said, "I am a musician." He immediately perked up as if I had said the most magical thing then said, "Oh, really!?" Just then his turn in line came up but he pointed to me and said for me to go ahead of him.  It turned out we both got served at once, but I appreciated his offer.

 Being a musician and playing an instrument is a great way to make a life that is full of meaningful connections and times.  I'm often told  by people that they used to play the guitar but _____ (fill in the blank why they do not anymore). I always hear a twinge of regret and sadness about this. I always say, "You can play it again, it's never too late. Your guitar is always there for you like a good friend."

So today I just wanted to say if you are one of those who either played guitar and set it aside--why not pick it back up again? Or if you are someone who always wished to play an instrument --it is never too late.

There are so many ways you can learn nowadays too. You can go to a private teacher or take classes online or buy a book, watch YouTube videos.  There are so many ways you can meet new friends by going to music camps, participating in online forums, going to MeetUp groups, going to a jam. The list goes on and on.

While it may be true that going into the arts is not always an easy way to make a living (financially), it is a great way to make a life.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Tribute to My Mother, Nancy Patterson

This post is the obituary I wrote for my mother, Nancy Patterson. A short version was published in the Chicago Tribune at at this link. 

Nancy Ann Patterson (nee, Post) passed away peacefully on the morning of May 23, 2016 in her adopted home of Arizona.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, on July 23, 1935, Nancy was the youngest daughter of Viola and Donald Post and sister to Donna (Harris). Raised in Battle Creek, Michigan, Nancy left the comforts of home and moved to Chicago in 1956 with her husband Shane O’Connell and daughter Sheryl. Two years later, daughter Renee was born.

While working as a waitress in the thriving artistic neighborhood of Old Town Chicago, she met lifelong friend and legendary jazz musician Jimmy Smith. Attending his concerts at the Plugged Nickel and other jazz clubs over the years with her daughters was among her happiest memories. Nancy’s love of music was a strong thread throughout her life. At Battle Creek Central High School, she played clarinet in the orchestra and sang in Glee club. In Chicago, she learned to play the guitar in the 1960s at the Old Town School of Folk Music and later took up dancing and performed in a dancing troop in Sun City, Arizona, for many years. Daughter Renee (Blue) inherited her mother’s guitar in 1975 and went on to become a professional musician. Nancy’s legacy lives on through Blue’s gift of music and playing for hospital patients, nursing home residents and people with special needs.

In addition to her love of music, Nancy was known for her artistic creativity. She loved needlepoint and stitchery and excelled as a seamstress. She took great joy in putting her own interpretation on current fashions, and her daughters, wearing the one-of-a-kind garments she made them, always looked stylish and ahead of their time.

Her incredible interior design skills equaled that of any professional decorator. Her many phases of style in home décor were tastefully up to date. In the 1960s, the family’s apartment in Uptown, Chicago, was painted in red, gold and olive green, and the furniture was decidedly mod. A leopard skin chair, black chaise lounge and a new hi-fi console were among some of the favorite items of that era. In the ‘70s, her suburban home in Park Ridge resembled an historical museum after she had fallen in love with antiques. A butler’s call box, a roll up desk with a green banker’s lamp, and an old coffee grinder were a few of the things you’d find in her home. During her last years in Arizona she decorated her home in a western cowboy theme. There you would find rodeo paintings, cowboy boot lamps and horse saddles among her collectibles.

Visitors were often in awe of her ability to create a sense of timelessness and beauty. Sometimes they were even afraid to sit on the furniture for fear of messing up the beauty! Her oldest daughter, Sheryl, inherited Nancy’s visual artistic gift and has worked as a graphic designer her entire adult life.   Nancy’s legacy lives on through Sheryl’s gift of beauty, fashion and style.

Nancy’s creative skills and flair were balanced by her practical abilities. In the late 1960s, she became a computer programmer, which altered the course of her life. For it was in this job that she met her second husband Jeffrey Emrich and relocated the family from city to suburbs in 1970. With their shared love of antiques and history, Jeff and Nancy enjoyed volunteering with the Park Ridge Historical Society. In 1974 their son Scott was born. He went on to become a successful tech entrepreneur and currently owns a business in social media. Jeff passed away in 1997.

Nancy was a gentle and kind person who was known for her accepting attitude towards others. She enjoyed being with people but also loved her solitude. She was a big supporter of Goodwill throughout her life. She regarded shopping at Goodwill as a way to help others, knowing that her money was going toward a good cause. Donations to Goodwill can be made in her name in lieu of flowers.

The family wishes to express their gratitude to Paul LaGorce who was a loving friend and caregiver to Nancy for many years. Also, to the staff at Comfort Home Care in Peoria, AZ, who cared for her in her final days.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Smile though your heart is aching...

Just over a week ago on May 23rd, my Mother passed away. As she had been ill for a long time, I do feel some peace that she no longer suffers. Some days are easier than others at such a time. I have found that my work helps me in many ways. The hugs I have received and words of kindness and offers of help.   Singing  old songs with others has always been a form of comfort. At times though,  I feel as though I am living the lyrics of that song, "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin:

"Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though its breaking"

Yesterday I played at the Missionary home I've been singing at for a few years. I've gotten to know some of the residents there and was surprised to see Ms. Florence (not her real name) sitting in the front row waiting for me to sing.  I hadn't seen her in a long time. She was wearing a dozen or more colored beaded homemade bracelets on each wrist. I was complimenting her on her beautiful bracelets and said, "My Mother had bracelets like that. " Just as I said the word, "had"  a lump formed in my throat and I thought I would burst into tears. It was the first time I talked about my mother in the past tense to someone at my gigs. Ms. Florence smiled and said, "What is your mother's name? I want to meet her!"  I stood there fighting back the tears and I could not bring myself to tell her that my mother died only days ago. 

"....Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near..."

Saved by the bell (so to speak), it was time to sing and Ms. Florence and the others sang along with such happy gusto that I forgot my sorrow for a little while. 

"...That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile..."

They laughed at my story I told when I was a child and my father yelled at me for singing in bed. "I told you to stop that singing and go to sleep!"  (laughter)  The song, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is what I could not stop singing and every time I sing that song, I remember that. Yesterday I was glad for the laughs I got because as I told the story, I heard my friend's question in my head, "So how does it feel to be an orphan?"

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child" comes to mind. 

There is a song for every occasion. I was amazed I made it through yesterday's gig without crying and how healing it felt when Ms. Florence and the others seemed so uplifted by our time together. It helps me remember the good things in life. 

"Smile when your heart is breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by"