Autumn arrived in Italy.

South side of the Arno

Turning from warm summer breezes in the shade, to cool gray rains, the fall season clearly was approaching. Winter wouldn’t be far behind. We were grateful to be staying in a friend’s small unused apartment in Florence, just across the Arno river, with easy access to the historic center—a delightful 10 minute walk. We enjoyed being in a different part of the city, which offered us new perspectives.

We had stayed in many different places over the past four years as we waited for the long-delayed completion of our dream-studio in the nearby Florentine countryside. Our romantically naïve plan was to run off together to a peaceful place of inspiration, leaving behind the often hectic pace of the Silicon Valley. The Tuscan hills beckoned.

Awesome view

We imagined ourselves living a simple life in nature with just the bare necessities—a small stone one room studio with an awesome view, where we could write stories and music about our experiences of life in Italy. We planned to share heartfelt conversations in front of an old open Tuscan fireplace, while sipping on hot mugs of coffee—dreaming, creating, spinning story and song into contemporary fables and fairytales that could actually come true. Still very much in love after nearly 30 years together, we were up for the challenge of taking our relationship to the next level, whatever that meant—longing to find out.

We decided to recommit

The message of another delay in the project arrived on that cold rainy day, and we felt our patience fray. Frustrated and deeply saddened by the thought of yet another problem, we actually considered ending the project. Just call it quits. As we talked it over, though, the vision slowly started coming back into view. We reminisced about our feelings and desires that led to this dream in the first place. We found ourselves re-engaging, breathing new life into our intentions. Determination and commitment rallied to fill in the gaps as we took a collective deep breath. Looking into each other’s eyes, we both felt a shared resolve.The answer: the dream must continue. The strength of our partnership literally rose-up in that moment of need to protect our fragile possibilities.

As is our custom, we turned to music and story to sort out the jumble of feelings we were experiencing—the hope, love and appreciation for both the challenges and successes. We decided to write a song to commemorate that time as if we were getting married again—recommitting to our shared vision, the romantic dream, the Tuscan studio. It became a  ceremony of rebirth (Renaissance) in our little borrowed home in Florence.

Music can sort things out

Friends Patrizia and Virginio dropped by for an unexpected visit later that evening. We had just finished a rough version of the song, and decided to sing it for them. They quietly listened as we stumbled through our newly penned lyrics and still-settling melody. Little did we know, that song would became the touchstone for this journey of the heart. We were delighted to share that moment of celebration and hope with them as they unknowingly became silent partners in our autumn sojourn.

On that cold, damp fall night, we did exactly what our hearts desired, fulfilling the essence of our shared dream. We vowed an Uncommon Promise to one another, knowing that it would be strong enough to carry us through—whatever was to come!

Music

Uncommon Promise

Here’s the song we wrote nearly 20 years ago to commemorate that turning point—commitment no matter what! It remains a touchstone for our relationship to this day. The name is as you might expect, “Uncommon Promise.”

Note: This post became the first to be recreated into a podcast with additional commentary, also under the name of “Uncommon Promise.”

Wow! How did this happen?

Last night we watched “The World’s a Little Blurry,” documenting the meteoric rise of the American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, whose actual name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. In 2015, at the age of 14 she decided to record the song “Ocean Eyes” written by her brother Finneas. Then just for fun, she posted the song on SoundCloud. Almost instantly, she was acknowledged with 10 million hits and her career was launched. Then in 2020 she won five Grammys. That same year Forbes reported that she had an estimated net worth upwards of $50 million, even before the release of her documentary-style movie.

Like many creatives, she expresses herself not only in her art, but also in her appearance. You can’t help but notice her brightly colored hair, baggy eclectic clothing and jewelry—lots of jewelry. She was born and raised in Los Angeles. Billie and Finneas were encouraged to be unique, creative and expressive. But LA and and the US are full of talented people. So we wonder, “Why Billie? How in the world did this success happen for her?” 

Gen Z

Billie belongs to Generation Z, sometimes called Zoomers. In fact, she’s one of the charter members of that group—nearly 68 million strong in the US. The general characteristics of this “selfie-generation” according to experts, is that they’re completely comfortable in a digital world, entrepreneurial, and insistent about diversity. They’re mostly unaffiliated with religion, and generally less rigid—blurring traditional “lines,” which results in being very progressive and individualistic.

Reach out and touch someone

But, lurking beyond this seemingly unlimited potential is a blaring contradiction. Although they may be quite connected via technology, they seem overwhelmed with life in general, somewhat lonely and depressed. Why? Of course they exhibit the same needs as every previous generation. Everybody wants love, significance, meaning, and belonging, right?  But the Zoomers have the added overlay of the extreme complexity of today’s world. Imagine being a Gen Z whose reality is constantly changing with rapid-fire high-tech information, coupled with an immediacy of communication and potential influence in the world. In this case, writing a song is daunting and the recording process is another task altogether. Then, and only then comes the marketing, right? No! Gen Z’ers write, record and upload all within days or even hours—the entire world is at their fingertips!

Finneas creating music at home in the bedroom studio

In a way, it all makes perfect sense. Think about it: young Billie is highly charged in a creative environment at home. She considers many different directions for her life, but is naturally drawn to the freedom and expressivity of music which is already a familiar part of her home-life. She adores her older brother Finneas and they develop a collaborative style of writing and producing music together in their bedroom studio. Being spontaneous and comfortable with social media, she probably had no hint of hesitation about putting their first song out on the airwaves.

Billie with her adoring fans

Nearly 70 million young people are listening for words and sounds that reflect how they think and feel about their place in this world. They’re not looking for answers, but rather, a voice that’s poetically and romantically asking their own personal questions. Billie projects a dark but playfully creative persona that resonates with them. Just imagine hearing her music for the first time. Perhaps feeling an immediate resonance, each listener forwards it on to several friends, inviting them, “Listen to this! You won’t believe it. She’s like me. She feels the way I do. She sees me!”

Like magic, suddenly everyone knows and loves Billie Eilish and can’t get enough of her personalized musical view of and from the Gen Z perspective. Creating a musical narrative of her life is just Billie doing exactly what she loves to do with her best friend/brother, all the while being coached and encouraged by loving parents.

Sizzling spark of energy

Billie Eilish is the classic electrical spark, the confluence of powerful forces at play—the right person at the right place on the right platform at the right time. Boom!

There’s really little reason to wonder how or why Billie Eilish became a phenomenon. Her passion is that she speaks (or sings) from the heart on behalf of millions. To quote philosopher, Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.” Seems that Billie’s bliss is both magnetic and magical.

2020

What did you do over the Pandemic Sequester?

As for us, we basically laid low, hunkered down, worried about all the wonderful people working the front lines in the battle to heal. We cheered and clattered with wooden spoons on pans at 8:00 pm, as everyone in our neighborhood poured out onto their porches and balconies. We video-chatted with our loved ones, read everything we could find, watched some great movies, shows and documentaries, focused on self-help, exercised, did lots of remote therapy work and on and on and on—much like so many of our fellow Americans. 

But there was one other thing we did that perhaps helped us keep our sanity while processing everything that was swirling around us in the news each day—we wrote music and stories together, a privilege that we’ve enjoyed for the past 20 years. We were “working from home” before it became a necessity. 

Following are the stories and music that showed-up for us during the turbulent and often disturbing year, 2020. We decided to collect them all together for our continuing reflection and conversations, asking ourselves and each other, “What just happened?”  It certainly wasn’t all bad. Overall, our assessment is that it was extremely sad and devastating, but also an interesting and transformative time that we shall never forget. This post includes a quick synopsis and links to each separate story that will serve as our way of documenting what 2020 inspired, as experienced by two 70 year old Patriots from inside their apartment looking out—for 10 months, and counting!

Music and Stories 

Lightning Rod

January 1, 2020

Lightning rod sculpture

Not knowing about the pandemic that was stealthily making its way to the US, we started the year with hopeful introspection, working in therapy on ourselves and our relationship, anticipating an even better year than 2019 had been. Fortunately, it was the therapy that prepared us for all that was to come—global turmoil, chaos and unbelievable sadness. The world was suffering in ways too many to count.

Playing with Echo

May 17, 2020
Then came the beautiful springtime and the May birthday of our dear Rosie June. Even a pandemic can’t dampen the contagious youthful energy of a birthday celebration. We were captivated by the creative mind of our 3 year-old granddaughter. As she arrived at her newly remodeled home, she discovered an unexpected playmate for the first time ever—ECHO. They were suddenly best friends!

No Better

June 1, 2020
Summer arrived and we found ourselves returning to a more reflective mood as the harsh realities of the global catastrophe became clearer and closer to home. The new fears and concerns were layered on top of what was already overwhelming heartache for many people—regular life. Divorce left a friend lonely and all alone—not quite what he imagined. We could see firsthand, how the accumulating psychological weight was dangerous for all of us. You might think we would all KNOW BETTER!

Lucky Day 

July 1, 2020

We were missing family due to the isolation of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders—becoming quite sentimental. Simply being together with loved ones suddenly seemed like an incredible luxury that we used to take for granted. Em’s brother sent an old audio recording of a song that Em had sung for his Mom and Dad for their 50th anniversary. We decided to seize the opportunity to recreate the gift of the original music, bringing it into today’s world as a way of commemorating that special time of family gatherings and freedom—the ability to hug, laugh and celebrate without masks or fear of risking harm to those we love. 

Quiet Comes Along 

July 13, 2020
The heat of summer matched the heat of battle required to fight the relentless virus. For us, and perhaps even for others, we felt a need to create an adult “lullaby” for the times. We know that soothing songs are  important for children, so we pondered that they could be equally meaningful to calm grownups. We acknowledge those responsible for the safety and healing of others. With that in mind, we decided to write a quiet, relaxing and hopeful song that would lull us into much needed rest, peace and compassion.

The Pusher

September 8, 2020
By the fall, our spirits were tattered and worn with all of the death, destruction and division. It seemed that our president wouldn’t  or couldn’t stop the chaos, and intentionally added incendiary rhetoric to it every day. We felt like the dynamics of conflict and negativity were determined to push and push and push us to the brink—of what we didn’t quite know. Life felt, we imagine, like a powerful drug overdose—we were given far more bad news than we could tolerate, and the situation went from dangerous to dire.

Follow the Leader

November 23, 2020
Late fall brought us to a fever pitch with the upcoming presidential election on top of the pandemic. We thought things couldn’t get worse, but they definitely did. We were struck by the awesome power of a charismatic leader. As if in a trance, people seemed to follow their hero no matter where he decided to lead them. Hearts and minds had already been captured and there was really nothing left to think about—just FOLLOW! The danger to our democracy was palpable! 

Feathers and String

December 31, 2020
Exhausted yet hopeful, we closed out the year by returning to the way we started—reflection. This musical story is about a deep meditation on love, joy and compassion in the midst of the horrific, ongoing winter wave of the pandemic. We found ourselves relying on meditations to keep us centered and resilient—musing about the mystery and magic that abides in every day, no matter what life tosses our way. We pondered the power of a smile, even though masked. We decided to trust the awesome logic of the universe. We know that healing is in the future. 

 

 

The last line of the message was left unfinished.

Our therapist said that WE would need to complete the sentence later. That evening, after re-reading the notes from the day’s session, we both paused at the unfinished line as if slowly, cautiously walking up to the edge of a cliff. We each knew the answer. Then together, we spoke the missing words like the powerful ending of a sacred song—we whispered. “Her Destiny.” Silence followed as we pondered the significance of what we had just spoken. Hmm. Something shifted.

That moment was actually foretold 17 years prior as we put the final touches on three important musical stories: “Out Of the Block,” “Swinging Statues” and “Letting Go.” Looking back, we hear the words of those songs describing in great detail what was happening within us then. And now, they speak about what is happening once again, but in an even more powerful way.

It was 2004 when those songs first appeared. Little did we know that just over a decade later, on the 17th of May, in 2017, our sweet little granddaughter would arrive in this world—a force to be reckoned with. And now, four years later, we’re faced with the awareness that in this our 70th year, we must prepare for our own “Transformation.” We ready ourselves to pass on that which was promised.

Our promise is our Destiny writ large—a message magically scrawled among the stars. The time to deliver is upon us and we are prepared to do our part. Like in a relay race, the crucial handoff that only we can make is fast approaching. And, our granddaughter is undoubtedly determined to carry it forward in her words, deeds and the precious DNA. The lineage shall continue unabated and unaltered, on into the distant future—forever and a day! Destiny.

Music and Story

Out of the Block

In 1999, we found ourselves on a partnered journey of discovery in Florence Italy where we fell in love with the city, the people and the glorious history of the Enlightenment. There, we were moved by images of Michelangelo in his studio workshop, carving the stone to release the form hidden within. That was a major turning point as we felt the same urgent chisel, chipping away at us. We were beginning our own personal works of art—our destiny, waiting to be revealed! But it’s more than that. We now see that “lineage” links multiple destinies together. Like a relay race, each relies on those who come before!

Out Of the Block

Swinging Statues

We opened ourselves to change, not knowing exactly what that would look like. It reminded us of the childhood game of Swinging Statues. Regaining our balance after a few extreme spins was always exciting: What would we look like? Who would we be? That simple game set us in motion, twirling and tumbling in surprising ways. Invigorated, yet quite unaware, we were preparing ourselves for something grand that would happen. Well, later has finally arrived. Twenty years have landed us in a form never quite imagined. We scramble back into position, take another deep breath and extend our arms again—ready for one more spin. This is our destiny—directly tied to the destiny of our precious little granddaughter.

Swinging Statues

Letting Go

Beginnings and Endings have a lot in common. They both challenge us to reach deep inside, trust completely and let go! Any step we take toward our destiny requires that we begin something new and end something familiar—trade what we know and love for the unknown. That’s just the way it’s been for us. Without the ability to let go, we would be stuck in the past. Destiny requires us to listen closely to intuition and heed the call. The discomfort of not knowing has been our only path forward. Surrender. Release. Then soar! We are ready, once again.

Letting Go

 

Without-Words-Graphic
Listen. . .Shhhhh!

Poetry and music are powerful forces, actively shaping our world whether we realize it or not.  The poets and troubadours are those sensitive souls venturing out into the inexplicable, teasing, coaxing it into our consciousness. This glimpse provides us with the faint outlines of who we are beneath the familiar trappings of culture. Preoccupied with the drone of the ordinary, the mundane, the every-day, we sometimes need a nudge from a visionary to stop us in our tracks, suddenly catching our undivided attention—as if taking our face in both hands and saying shhhhh! We listen intently. We hear the message for the first time. Something stirs within. We may unexpectedly and suddenly feel deeply. Perhaps we are taken aback with innocence and a penetrating honesty. And sometimes, we spontaneously weep at a sobering revelation.

Brandi

This type of awakening recently happened for us. We must admit that we were predisposed, already poised to find meaning, both obvious and hidden within music. For years we have admired the music, lyrics and irresistible poetry of Brandi Carlile, the talented singer, poet and prophet in this age of accountability. In the middle of our tumultuous 2017, she stepped forward with a new musical story to tell, called The Joke.

As we read the lyrics and watched her video, we were struck by the musical message. Afterwards, we talked about its meaning. The song is powerful, poignant and spellbinding. There is a lingering sadness in the realization that within our society and extending to the world, we have hurt each other countless times over the years through the relentless priority given to masculine energy. For decades (maybe even centuries) we have pushed forward at the expense of others.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 4.37.23 PM
Seeking Balance

Brandi speaks of the symbolically shy and sensitive “boy,” and the under-appreciated, suppressed “girl” that live within each of us, no matter who we pretend to be or what face we decide to show the world. That image makes us sad because we recognize the painful truth of her descriptions. But she pivots in the chorus, to remind us that she has “been to the movies” and knows how it ends. Her vision and faith in the wholeness of humanity comes through, delivering an overwhelming sense of hope for the much needed emergence of the feminine energy as the under-appreciated equal and balancing partner to the forceful masculine energy. This balanced being, melding both halves, represents who we are deep within—or at least strive to be.

Throughout 2017, we have all witnessed the destructive power of excessive masculine energy run-amok. It has finally been exposed, laid bare, open for the world to see. The reality of imbalance has been made visible right in front of our eyes, never to be forgotten. We interpret Brandi’s message to be that this overtly masculine phase of humanity is coming to an end as it finally “spins, and scatters in the wind.” “Let ’em laugh while they can,” because “the joke is on them.”

We invite you to read the lyrics, share them with someone, and have a conversation about Brandi’s beautiful message. You may want to listen to the music and watch the video again. The vision Brandi shares here is of course her own, but we too feel a special connection and resonance. We’d like to know your interpretation!

Brandi’s “Joke” is really not a joke after all! This post was written on January 22, 2018, the date of the second great Women’s March.

Video – The Joke (live studio recording session)

Video – The Joke (official video)

“The Joke” Lyrics by Brandi Carlile

You’re feeling nervous, aren’t you, boy?
With your quiet voice and impeccable style
Don’t ever let them steal your joy
And your gentle ways, to keep ’em from running wild
They can kick dirt in your face
Dress you down, and tell you that your place
Is in the middle, when they hate the way you shine
I see you tugging on your shirt
Trying to hide inside of it and hide how much it hurts

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

You get discouraged, don’t you, girl?
It’s your brother’s world for a while longer
We gotta dance with the devil on a river
To beat the stream
Call it living the dream, call it kicking the ladder
They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
I saw your eyes behind your hair
And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

Over the next several posts you may notice a French theme laced throughout our stories, for good reason. Our plan to “get out of Dodge” (see the previous story called “Taken for Granite,”) landed us in the beautiful city of Lyon, France, which is the heart of the southwest region of the Rhone Alps. For sure, each day brings a new experience. Add being a stranger in a new town, and you’re pretty much assured of stories everywhere you turn. The tough part is choosing which ones to write about. Last weekend, the magic transpired in a delightful neighborhood park called Place Sathonay. (more…)

Gordon Matthew Sumner wore a favorite black and yellow striped shirt so often, that a friend finally blurted out that he looked like a bee. The nickname stuck. You might know him better today as Sting.

We’ve always enjoyed his particular style of jazz/rock, and have waited for him to show up in concert in our neighborhood for a decade or so. That day finally arrived, and it was well worth the wait. He played at a place called Piazzola sul Brenta, which is a town not far from Venice, Verona, and Padova. Piazzola was never a particularly noteworthy destination until they decided to develop the magnificent 16th century Villa Contarini (attributed to the famous architect Andrea Palladio,) into an unbelievable concert venue. Now, it has worldwide acclaim, and for very good reason! (more…)

According to the classic story of the Velveteen Rabbit, becoming REAL is everything in life. And if that story has a thread of truth in it, then Brandi Carlile is well on her way. At 30-something she has talent and insight beyond her years, as anyone who listens to her storytelling can attest. We enjoy her music and have been trying to catch one of her concerts for years, but we were never in the same place at the same time—that is, until last Tuesday. (more…)

There’s nothing quite like a smarty-pants e-mail.

What I mean by that is: when somebody sends you a message that seems innocent enough at a glance, but beyond the surface niceties, there’s an underlying smarty-pants attitude that can’t be denied. The reason I even bring this topic up is because I got one of those SP messages the other day. It was from our dear friend Scott who happens to be one of the best cooks I know. Yet, that doesn’t give him the right to parade his gifts in front of those of us less fortunate! (more…)