Little Acorns

A couple of weeks ago, as I walked in from the Metro to work, an album to which I was listening brought me to tears. The stresses I have been feeling for the past year had reached a crescendo pitch. Music has become a key part of how I cope. I started playing guitar back in January, inspired by my older son’s intense musicality and some of the fondest memories of my dad when I was growing up.

Almost two years ago my older son asked me if could spend some of his starter savings account on a short scale bass. I remain stunned at how deeply he has taken to making music. My wife has always encouraged both boys, making music and the means to make it always available since they were small. My older son’s passion has far outstripped what even an enriched environment might suggest. He practices for hours on end, picking up techniques effortlessly. In conversation he can rattle off scales and chords like a second language. Bass guitar was just the start, he now has a couple of electric guitars, an electronic keyboard, and is now talking about multi-track recording and mastering. More than once, I have poked my head into his room, asking who or what he was playing to be deeply impressed when he simply replies it was something he wrote.

I remember my dad showing a similar effortless musicality when I was a little younger than my sons are now. I quietly would sit in a room with my dad as he just simply would play. I was in awe of his guitar–polished wood, gleaming metal, and intricate machinery from saddle to tuning pegs. Most summers at that same age, my parents threw wonderful, sprawling parties with all their friends. All of the kids would roam freely around the pool and the yard. My favorite parties were the ones that had a soundtrack of  my dad and his friends playing together at volume, especially covering Summer songs like The Doobie Brothers, “Listen to the Music.”

Just as my dad shared his music with us, I have discovered more music this past year through sharing with my own sons, including the album that brought me to tears. That sharing even spans all three generations. Back in February I got a welcome break from the recent stresses, visiting with my family for the occasion of my brother’s wedding. The day after the beautiful ceremony and epic throw down of a reception, we all recovered at the beach hosted by my dad. My older son, my dad, and I joked about high end, plutonium stringed bass guitars. We talked about guitarists whose playing we particular liked and why. My dad showed us the picks he keeps on him, sharing that deep wish every guitarist holds close, of being called up on stage to jam.

One result of that sharing and deeper appreciation of music is a song I keep coming back to, “Little Acorns” from the album “Elephant” by the White Stripes.

The reason is right there in the lyrics.

But Janet not only survived but she worked her way out of despondency and now she says life is good again. She told me that late one autumn day when she was at her lowest, she saw a squirrel storing up nuts for the winter. One at a time, he would take them to the nest. And she thought, if that squirrel can take care of himself with a harsh winter coming on, so can I. Once I broke my problems into small pieces, I was able to carry them, just like those acorns, one at a time.

The voice over intro calms me. I smile every time I hear it come up when I shuffle through my music collection. I think it mentally primed me for a bit of blogging advice Anil Dash shared recently, too. After fifteen years, he has a ton of practical, simple advice most of which really boils down to simply keeping at your creative endeavors. In his case that is a blog; in mine both a blog but also my poor podcast which I’ve been neglecting for months.

Anil’s last point, in particular, reminded me of the squirrel.

Leave them wanting more. One sure way to trigger writer’s block when blogging is to think, “I have to capture all my thoughts on this idea and write it about it definitively once and for all.” If you assume that folks are smart and curious and will return, you can work around the edges of an idea over days and weeks and months and really come to understand it. It’s this process that blogging does better than pretty much any other medium, and it’s sharing that process with you that’s been the greatest privilege of writing here for the last decade and a half.

Every week that passed since I decided I couldn’t keep up a weekly pace with either my podast or my blog, the instinct to only share fully realized ideas became more paralyzing. Anil’s advice, like the squirrel and its acorns in The White Stripes song, reminded me it is OK to tear down how I approach writing for whatever end into smaller, less paralyzing pieces. I already have a few more acorns I will try to share this week.

Anil also reminded me that “the scroll is your friend.” Many short pieces, even if some are less formed, a bit rough around the edges still, will feel more alive in both the writing and the reading than the longer, more finished I have expected of myself but been unable to finish.

One Reply to “Little Acorns”

  1. “One sure way to trigger writer’s block when blogging is to think, “I have to capture all my thoughts on this idea and write it about it definitively once and for all.””

    Yep. That’s one reason I post more on Twitter and FB these days than my longer-fomat locations — their lean towards shortness seems to short-circuit that perfection compulsion.

    My family isn’t quite as improvisational-musical as your dad and son, but I sang with my sisters a fair bit (mostly hymns and pop), and I treasure those memories.

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