Category Archives: General

What Would Toots Do?

Saturday evening, 9/10/2016, Albuquerque lost a true citizen – an active, feisty, hilarious woman who was so incredibly engaged in her life, her family and her community that I struggle to imagine another like her: Toots (Virginia) Rideout Obenshain. I’ve thought for the last few months about why and how Toots lodged herself so deeply in my heart.

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As an educator, she spent years working with APS students who required special attention, focus and patience, and from every tear-jerking and/or side-splitting story I’ve heard, did so with uncanny people-smarts, love and (sometimes scandalous) humor. I get the impression that she got called to the Principal’s office more often than her students did. Her work inspired her own children’s careers in innumerable ways, within and outside of the Albuquerque Public School system.

 

Speaking of her kids, she raised four of the finest people I know: smart, kind, funny and competent people who think far beyond themselves, always. They all married equally awesome people and now have a gaggle of sweet, bright, thoughtful kids of their own. No doubt in my mind they’ll all contribute to their communities.

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Getting uke-y with Dair and other awesome musicians at Toots’ Celebration of Life, 2015

But other people’s kids are where many of even the best parents stop short. Not so with Toots and family. There’s the young man who was turned out of his home after coming out. Toots and her husband Scott took him in and eventually saw him off to college, all the while encouraging him to reestablish communications with his family. There’s yours truly, who met Toots’ daughter Dair, Dair’s partner Mayr, and the rest of the Obenshains during one of the toughest times in my life. How they managed to make me laugh, even smile, in those days, I don’t know, but they did. It might’ve had to do with my first Easter Sunday at their house, when another daughter, Becky, cheerfully presented me with a dyed egg that said, “The Easter Bunny sucks.”

It’s hyperbole to say that they saved my life but… to be honest, not by much. That was 22 years ago. I’d never seen such a close-knit — and yet welcoming and ever-expanding — family; it was foreign to me and frankly pretty magical. To this day the Compound, expanded with homes for the grown kids and their families, has some sort of “everything’s going to be OK” fairy-dust dome over it for me and so many others.

As an advocate for underdogs, outcasts and overlooked people of all stripes, Toots was unstoppable. I’m fairly convinced that she became president of ABQ PFLAG within about 24 hours of her own daughter coming out. I watched her march with PFLAG and the Raging Grannies in ABQ’s Pride parade many a time. I just recently saw scanned images of a letter she wrote in 1966 to Pres. Lyndon Johnson (yep) regarding the casually dismissive treatment by the Fort Riley (Kansas) Officers’ Wives Club of their Jewish members. Dair refers to this as “How the Obenshains Joined the Fort Riley, Kansas Jewish Community and Scott’s Future in the Army Was Nipped in the Bud.” I tend to think Scott’s future was affected more by the time Toots tried using the clothes iron to defrost the freezer in their base housing but then fell asleep with her napping kids. So many stories!

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Scott and Toots at Karen’s and my wedding – that smile!

I bought The Artist’s Way for her a while back and begged her to use it as motivation to write down some of these stories, but she demurred, citing a lack of confidence in her writing abilities; she passed the book to Scott. I was disappointed but not surprised. She supported and encouraged and loved and inspired everyone around her. I hope someday to receive a collection called “Toots’ Tales” or… (geez, you guys need to come up with a better title!) from a family member, for belly laughs and for lessons in how to live a life.

 


The holidays — time for the “little” things

Did anybody really have a break this winter holiday? In our household there was a whole lotta working going on, though in my case most of it was at home, at least.

We’ve all heard the productivity gospel about making our work spaces comfortable. Why do we blow that off as a would-be-nice?

Karen, as a spa employee, worked Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve — but we still managed to celebrate. I worked whenever she did and played whenever she was available. We went on some great trail runs, made amazing meals, shared some old and new traditions with good friends, played a few curse-inducing matches of FIFA 2012, and overall did manage to rejuvenate.

Plus, I was fortunate enough to receive some much-appreciated gift cards from various family members. Between those and some Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales on various music software, I’ve got myself very inspired for another year of hard but totally fun work.

As mundane as it sounds, here’s one thing I’m quite excited about: A heater! Glamorous, right? The truth is, my little studio, a.k.a. the guest bedroom, is pretty cold throughout the winter. OK, it’s FREAKING GLACIAL. But not just any space heater will do. Loud fans have no place in my composing and mixing space.

I did some research and soon thought I’d found a stylish and compact solution in this hip little orange/white number from Sunpentown.

A review claimed that it was “absolutely silent.” Sadly, that’s absolute b.s. It’s cute as a button and quieter than many, but not silent by a long shot. Back it went.

In exchange, I’ve ordered a really well-reviewed oil-filled radiator heater by DeLonghi. As radiator style heaters go, it’s pretty sexy! …in a Darth Vader sort of way. So we shall see.

So, I know that this might seem like a small thing, but I realized last winter – yeah, a year ago! – that the cold was making my studio time uncomfortable, but I was too busy to do anything about it. I even caught myself avoiding working there – which meant I was out on the living room couch with headphones rather than good speakers, and with a fraction of the sound library I’d saved and saved for. Oh. And all because I didn’t want to be in there freezing my scrawny butt off. That had to end.

So I’m getting a heater, dadblammit, and I’m not settling for a cheap, noisy piece of crap, either.

Look, we’ve all heard the productivity gospel on this topic: Remove all possible obstacles. Make your work space humane, at minimum, and ideally inspiring and soulful too. Make it a joy to be there. So why do we blow that off? I’m really good at working hard… and not as good at taking time for creature comforts. But this stuff that might seem unimportant catches up to us.

What gifts will you give yourself for the New Year?


Getting Better, Getting Pickier, Getting Better…

Ever seen the Web site There I Fixed It? No? Oh, go! Go now and check it out to see gems like this:

That should do it!

That should do it! [From There I Fixed It]

So, I haven’t done anything worthy of that site, but there was a time — early in my new-homeowner years — when I was just clever enough to pull off some questionable DIY feats… and apparently not clever enough to take the time to do things properly. The truth is, sometimes I preferred the wham-bam-done! method because I knew that if I tried harder, I might open a can of worms that I couldn’t handle. Or didn’t think I could at the time.

That’s the funny thing about learning: When you’re intimidated by something, you’re in no condition to learn; you’re too freaked out to handle the challenge! Evaluating your own work is much the same. When you’re unsure of yourself, you’re more likely to accept “good enough.” But if you want to go from amateur to pro, “good enough” never is. You have to raise your standards. And just as with learning, you’re much more capable of pushing yourself when you’re feeling secure.

Until I did it, I had no idea I could do it — and that’s the value of pushing yourself.

So I find this a fascinating chicken-or-egg question: Do you get better at something and then, from that new foundation of confidence, get pickier? Or do you start being pickier and then get better because you’re pushing yourself?

My experience points to the former, but who knows for sure? The one thing I do know is this: Once you discover that you’re able to do better, you’ll never want to go back. The first time I earned straight A’s in my undergrad years, that was it. I wasn’t satisfied with anything less for the rest of my education. But until I did it, I had no idea I could do it — and that’s the value of pushing yourself. It’s no coincidence that I loved all of my classes that semester. You’ve got to love what you’re doing enough to really, really dig in.

So, yeah, better and pickier… I’m not sure “which came first” even matters. As long as you keep things positive and healthy – don’t browbeat yourself; don’t impose unreasonable expectations – this is a great cycle to initiate and stick with. Whatever it is you do, make each finished work better than the last. Compare your best stuff to successful work in your discipline and reset your targets accordingly. Get pickier, get better, and then get even pickier. And whatever you do, don’t get featured at There I Fixed It.

One way to add that guest room you've always wanted.

One way to add that guest room you’ve always wanted. [From There I Fixed It]


It’s my 1-year anniversary!

So here I am, already one year into my big adventure new life. OK, I took a break from the blog for the last several weeks; it’s true. I’ve been busier than… well, you know. Fill in your own favorite colorful simile here, because all of mine are a little too colorful. 🙂

How has it worked out, this first year? Not too shabby. I’ve had music used on ABC, BBC, VH1, G4, The History Channel, Animal Planet, Univision and TLC, plus the Breaking Bad webisode I mentioned in an earlier post. And those are the ones I know about; it can take six or more months to find out about placements.

My writing partner, Clementine

My writing partner, Clementine

As for my writing goals, also not bad. Just by coincidence with this anniversary, I’m two tunes short of having 100 pieces of music represented by various publishers and libraries in the film/TV arena. When I’m not teaching (summer and winter breaks), I’ve been meeting my original goal of producing a piece per day, and I’ve found that pushing for that pace has sharpened my focus and built my confidence. It’s been a fantastic first year, really.

Other updates:

  • I’ve been picked to score the independent feature film Roswell FM. I saw a rough edit last week and it’s a funny, good-hearted film that fits some of my favorite writing styles to a T.
  • I’m just finishing up teaching an online music technology course for UNM for the first time; it’s been fun and – as with any new challenge – full of learning experiences.
  • I’ll be doing my more experimental electronic stuff at the opening reception for the ISEA2012 conference, which will be very cool.
  • I’ll be teaching my same two in-person courses this fall plus a new one with a wonderful UNM colleague.
  • I’ve got a theater-scoring gig this fall too, with a great local company focused on teens who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to theater training.

I’ll be stretched a little thin, but I’ll make it work.

Clementine helping

Clementine helping. Please notice who’s in the comfie chair and who’s not.

I’m trying to think, right now, whether I feel different. Yeah… calmer, strangely. I wonder if it’s sort of like getting  married: There’s no lightning bolt that says, boom, you are forever changed; yet there’s this underlying, awesome feeling of home and fulfillment.

Yep, it’s a little like that. It’s all kinds of great.


Going Home.

I was born in the Pacific Northwest.

Not really. I was actually born in Texas and grew up in the Southwest: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico. But when I graduated from college I moved to Seattle —trading drought for damp and chiles for blackberries.

The landscape of the Pacific Northwest was so different from anything I had experienced. A big city with buses and ferries and mountains unlike anything I had seen. Water and boats and bridges, rain and clouds and more rain.

I was young, and I was living far away from my home and my parents. I was truly on my own for the first time in my life. I felt free to push myself creatively, free to allow myself to change, free to reinvent myself, free to make mistakes. I dove in headfirst, taking in the city and the surrounding landscape, making friends, falling in love, falling out of love, changing jobs, staying up too late, creating art, and generally trying to figure out who I was going to be.

So in a way, I was born in the Pacific Northwest; I became someone new there. It is as embedded in me as the Southwest: my two homes.

When I left Seattle, it was because I felt like I was done there. I had accomplished what I needed to accomplish. I had a better sense of the kind of person I wanted to be and it felt right to leave the Pacific Northwest behind to pursue new things.

But I’ll always go back.

To revisit the city is to revisit myself, to see how much I’ve grown and changed and to embrace that young person who was so hungry for life, but so uncertain where she was headed.  I’m happy to tell her it’s all going to be wonderful.

To read about Seattle eats, go to Buried Carrots.


Postcard From Orlando

This week we travelled to Orlando, Florida — the theme park, gift shop, outlet mall, chain restaurant, six-lane highway capital of the world. Or at least of the southern United States. Not exactly my first choice of destinations, but our aunt kindly and generously gave us a week at a timeshare property, so off we went to make the most of it and enjoy some time away.

When I travel I love to get off the beaten path and try to see a place for what it really is. As I researched things to do in Orlando, I began to realize that there isn’t much of an “off” the beaten path. Orlando is designed to draw in masses of people, charge them admission, entertain them, feed them and sell them souvenirs to remember it all by. Everything is BIG and colorful and fantastical. It’s what they do and they do it well. So we went with it, to an extent. We spent a full day at Epcot Center. We explored Downtown Disney, we saw a Medieval Times dinner show, we shopped at an outlet store, we played mini-golf, and we enjoyed it all, but we didn’t give up on finding our way off the beaten path.

After much searching, we found the more beautiful, serene side of Orlando — it does indeed exist. You just have look carefully.

At our resort we rented kayaks and paddled around the small lake bordering the property. Sure, it was right by the six-lane highway, but the sky was blue and the sun was shining. We hugged the shoreline where tall grasses and lilies grew and saw beautiful herons and cranes and even a small alligator hiding in the marsh. We visited two local gardens and explored the grounds filled with lush tropical plants and flowers, and absent of crowds. We were the only customers in a small Falafel place in a strip mall, and we enjoyed huge plates of hummus and pita, falafel, dolmas, and tabouleh. We ventured out to Winter Park to a sidewalk art festival and enjoyed wandering from booth to booth seeing paintings, pottery, sculpture and photography.

Those are the places I would go if I lived in Orlando. They are places and things that bring me comfort and joy and a feeling of peace. They provide some respite from the crazy, bright, crowded bustle that dominates the rest of the city. They must be places that make Orlando feel like home to some who live there. They are certainly lovely memories for me, and I don’t even need a t-shirt to remember them by.

 

Read more about the Orlando trip at Buried Carrots.

 

 

 

 


White Lies and Valentines

Every once in a while, one of my clients innocently asks, “Are you married?” This always stops me in my tracks. Even if I see it coming, it forces me to pause, to think about how to answer.

I’m a massage therapist. Basically, I go into a dark room with naked strangers for a living. There is, of course, much more to a therapeutic relationship than that. There is a great deal of trust involved. Clients trust me to care for them and respect them, as well as maintain their boundaries, both physical and emotional. It can be a delicate balance sometimes. We are two individuals. We might be as different as could be, and yet we agree to spend an hour or so together in a situation that makes both of us somewhat vulnerable.

In massage school, I took ethics classes in which I was instructed not to talk about myself to my clients. I’m to let the client guide any conversation that may or may not occur. And I learned to set my own boundaries regarding what and how much I share with my clients, if anything.

So when the questions begin — like, “How long have you been doing this?” “Are you from here?” “Do you have any kids?” — my answers are short and polite, and I quickly turn the conversation back to the client or to the massage. “I wonder if the pain you’re experiencing in your arm is due to nerve entrapment?”

But when they ask if I am married, everything changes.

Suddenly I have to decide. Do I tell the truth and risk upsetting my client if they are conservative and anti-gay? I’m compassionate enough to imagine that a homophobic person would feel very uncomfortable lying naked in a dark room and being touched by a lesbian. Not to mention the discomfort I would feel. Do I lie? Which way shall I lie? Tell them I have a husband? Or tell them no, I’m not married? Or do I say something neutral like, “I prefer not to discuss my personal relationships?” — in which case I’ve probably raised their suspicions and so I might as well have told the truth.

I hardly think a straight massage therapist would be faced with the same conundrum.

Today it was a perfectly sweet Midwestern woman who asked me if I was married. She was retired, travelling with her husband on a two-month adventure in their motor home.

I lied to her — and then my heart broke and all I could think of was my beautiful wife, whom I love and love and love.

Maybe I would have been pleasantly surprised. Maybe if I had spoken the truth my client would have said, “Oh wonderful! Tell me about your wife.” I won’t ever know. Is it even my place to test that boundary during a massage?

It’s Valentine’s Day. Carla and I are celebrating. We love each other to the ends of the earth and back again. We will keep loving each other every minute of every day until our days are done.  And someday, during our lifetimes, I hope I will be able to tell each and every person I meet how proud I am of my beautiful wife and expect nothing more than a smile in return.

I’ll just keep loving her until we get there.