Tag Archives: Lyric Series

(365) Breathe It In


A year ago I visited the beach after reading Parker Palmer’s Five Questions. I had this idea to write a blog based on the Five Questions, and I went to the beach for discernment. It was there I felt the move to do the blog.

This past week I have been looking forward to getting this done. But then today, coming on to the site, going to click “Add Post,” I was overcome with sadness. It is the end.

There are many things I will miss about writing here every day. It was hard at first to be “out there,” but I have gotten used to it. I have appreciated my followers and the comments I have received. I have loved that this was a place I could struggle with the issues of aliveness-vs-fixed answers; what it means to dare to be human; the moments of human and natural beauty; looking forward to what to love next; and to uncover and discover and explore what creations are waiting to be birthed. The Five Questions will continue to travel with me, as they have become a part of me now.

WordPress sent me a review of my year. Here are some stats from them:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

There were 625 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 433 MB. That’s about 2 pictures per day.

The busiest day of the year was December 19th with 86 views. The most popular post that day was(353) Best Day Ever.

The stats don’t tell the full story, of course. Besides what I have learned from the Five Questions, I have learned a lot about what it takes to write every single day. For those thinking of starting your own daily blog, here are some insights:

  1. Don’t be afraid to write short.  At first I thought it all had to be long. It is impossible on a daily blog to write long all the time unless it is your only job. Don’t even try.
  2. You will feel like giving up.
  3. When you feel like giving up, keep going.
  4. Create categories to fall back on.  For example, I had my Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Parallels, Tributes, Lyric Series, and Micro Memoirs. These can help be having a frame to fill when you aren’t feeling particularly inspired.
  5. Know that whatever you decide to do with your daily blog, it is leading you somewhere you weren’t aware you were going. Words are a river that carry us. Your blog will carry you to unseen territory. Relish the journey. Know when to end, and gratefully disembark to a new destination.

This project has been extremely fulfilling to me as a writer, a teacher, a friend, and a human being. I have considered all kinds of directions from here.  I am committing myself to my music on a more structured basis. Just like with my writing, I’ve diddled around a long time not getting serious about music. Now that I have this fine year of blogging behind me, I can move forward on making music. And, as already discussed with my music teacher, I can use blog posts as fodder for songwriting. Win-win!!!

For some reason today, the song “Beautiful Like You” popped into my head.  I feel it is a good send-off for my blog. I will miss coming here and writing for the 2-100 of you who happen upon my blog. At the same time, I am looking forward to putting my time and mental energies into other areas. Meanwhile, remember to breathe and take time to look and listen to the world around you. It will reflect all the beauty you need in the moment.

I know. I’ve learned it through the Five Questions.

If you could only just stop, stop, stop running
If you could only take a second to breathe it in
Everything that you know would be beautiful like you

You know they’re never gonna stop, stop, stop your love
Let’s pretend that the world is waking up
Everything that we see is beautiful like you, like you



(363) Don’t Fence Me In

When I was a kid, my dad gave me a record player and two 78 RPM records that I could keep in my bedroom.  I listened to these records over and over again. One was Jimmy Durante and the other was a western artist — Gene Autry or Roy Rogers most likely. That record had my favorite song: “Don’t Fence Me In.”  This was before I was allowed to listen to my dad’s stereo kept in his bedroom, where I later played The Music Man cast album over and over again. That is, until the Beatles hit the scene.

But when I was 4 or 5 years old, “Don’t Fence Me In” –written by Cole Porter — was one I listened to again and again. It is the reason I love western music. I recently downloaded a whole album of western songs sung by Emmylou Harris, although sadly, she didn’t do “Don’t Fence Me In.” The main lyric of the song really spoke to me as a kid. It evokes a real sense of freedom; it goes beyond being a cowboy. I think it is about losing yourself in the natural world with nothing to stop you, certainly a favorite activity of mine.

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies,
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in

When I searched YouTube for the song, I was amazed at how many versions came up. Not just Gene and Roy, but Bing Crosby, the Killers, David Byrne, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick Jr, and Bob Hope with the Muppets. By far, my favorite is the Ella Fitzgerald version. Not only is her voice wonderfully smooth, but she sings the complete lyrics, which is rare. “Don’t Fence Me In” is a narrative about Cowboy Kelley, who at the beginning of the song is about to be carted off to jail. Thus, he begins to sing the song to the sheriff. Later, he is being roped into marriage by his sweetheart. Okay, a bit sexist and cliche, I suppose, but still…

Here is Ella’s version with lyrics. Listen for yourself and see if it doesn’t take you somewhere far away, where there are no fences and no one to straddle you into situations you don’t want to be in!



(352) Angel

It was the summer of 1997, the month I was told I might have ovarian cancer. My friends and I had tickets for Lilith Fair, the first year, and nothing was going to stop me from being there. I recall Sara MacLachlan, Paula Cole, and Mary Chapin Carpenter were on the bill.  I don’t remember who else.

I was in the throes of getting several tests before my scheduled surgery, and the day after the concert I was to have a procedure.  I needed to be cleaned out for this procedure, so had to bring a huge plastic jug of stuff to drink while at the concert, in order to maintain the proper timeline. I was fortunate they let me into Blossom Music Center with the jug, as they were being very picky about what was being allowed into this outdoor venue.

At one point of the concert I left our seats and made one of many treks to the bathroom. I decided it would be better to park myself on the hilly grass rather than keep going back into the pavilion. The moon was out and Sara was singing. I didn’t know her music that well at this point. I rested on the grass, looking at the moon, and realized she was singing about an angel.

In the arms of the angel

Fly away from here…

You are pulled from the wreckage

Of your silent reverie.

You’re in the arms of the angel

May you find some comfort there.

This was the first time I would hear her soon to be hit “Angel.” There, alone in my own reverie, future uncertain, I heard these words for the first time. And yes, I “found some comfort there.”

After my surgery, this was the first song I would have my friend play for me in my hospital room. I had brought my CD player with me specifically to listen to certain music that I believed was helping me heal that summer: James Taylor’s Hourglass, Sara’s Surfacing, and Gabrielle Roth’s Ritual.

Less than a year later, I would hear the song at a significant time. I had just left my father’s hospital room and was heading toward the parking garage. I had this thought that my prayer for him was to be in the arms of the angels, perhaps because the last prayer we had prayed together was the Guardian Angel Prayer. I heard “Angel” as I was getting on the highway.  Not long after I got home, I would get the call that he had made his transition.

Sadly, I feel “Angel” got overplayed, and it is really hard for me to hear it with any of the feelings I used to associate with it. Regardless, it is still a lovely song, and it helped me tremendously through a difficult time.

Here is a beautiful version with Emmylou Harris.


(347) Across the Borderline

My favorite Willie Nelson album came out in 1993. It was an album of covers, which many of his are, including “Graceland” and “Don’t Give Up” among them.  I’ve been listening to the CD in my car, and today the title song caught my attention: “Across the Borderline.”


As I listened to the words, I thought it was pretty ambiguous. Is the narrator talking about heaven or making or dreams come true?  It is all about loss and having to let go.  It talks about a “broken promised land.”


There’s a place where I’ve been told
Every street is paved with gold
And it’s just across the borderline
And when it’s time to take your turn
Here’s a lesson that you must learn
You could lose more than you’ll ever hope to find


When you reach the broken promised land
And every dream slips through your hands
Then you’ll know that it’s too late to change your mind
‘Cause you’ve paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline


But then the lyrics take a shift, and it seems to be talking exclusively about Mexicans crossing the border:


Up and down the Rio Grande
A thousand footprints in the sand
Reveal a secret no one can define
The river flows on like a breath
In between our life and death
Tell me who’s the next to cross the borderline En la triste oscuridad (In the sad darkness)
Hoy tenemos que cruzar (today we have to cross)
Este río que nos llama mas alla (this river which calls us further away)


This took me back to my classroom of 10th graders, March 2010. They were working on an immigrant project, and as part of the project they were to do panel discussions regarding their immigrant background. The Mexican group was most compelling because of a story by one young man: David. As he told the story of crossing the river, tears streamed down his face. They had to meet up with a man and his mother lost track of the group, got swept away somehow. She ended up having to walk ten miles in the desert to find them — how she survived such an ordeal, I’ll never know. The story had every single person in the classroom in tears. I know it had a lasting impact because at the end of the year when we discussed the favorite things about the class, that day stood out to many students. They had received a huge lesson in empathy and understanding for the plights and traumas of others…something we can all use a bit more of these days.


But hope remains when pride is gone
And it keeps you moving on
Calling you across the borderline

When you reach the broken promised land
Every dream slips through your hands
And you’ll know it’s too late to change your mind
‘Cause you pay the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline
Now you’re still just across the borderline
And you’re still just across the borderline






(344) Dangling Conversation

This morning I stepped out onto the lanai at around 5:30 a.m. to say my prayers. I listened to the frogs conversing across the lake. One would croak, and then across the way another. After a bit I realized there were three frogs involved. Sometimes there would be a break in their croaks. That brought to mind the phrase “dangling conversation.” I would be eagerly awaiting the next croak that would not come.

“The Dangling Conversation” is a song written by Paul Simon and performed on Simon and Garfunkel’s album “Sounds of Silence.” I looked up the words today and, although it has nothing to do with frogs, it certainly has a lot to say about relationships. I have contended for many years that Simon is our greatest American songwriter, and this is another example of why. You don’t even have to know the song to appreciate the poetry in these lyrics. How he could evoke something like this at such a young age is truly marvelous.

Every year I think I am going to do a lyric study with my students on Paul Simon’s songs.  Reading these words makes me think once again what a great unit it could be. This song along is so full of subtle metaphor and hints of who these people are. My favorite: “And I only kiss your shadow…”

It’s a still-life watercolor
Of a now late afternoon
As the sun shines through the curtain lace
And shadows wash the room
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
The borders of our lives

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our places with bookmarkers
That measure what we’ve lost
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm
Couplets out of rhyme
In syncopated time
And the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives

Yes,we speak of thing that matter
With words that must be said
“Can analysis be worthwhile?”
“Is the theatre really dead?”
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow
I cannot feel your hand
You’re a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives


(340) Wood Stork

In the middle of the night a couple of evenings ago, I heard this line of poetry in my head:

There comes a time you leave a place…

I made myself get up and write it down because I knew I would forget.


wood stork
Photo via Sarah Kaizar’s blog, 2013

Yesterday morning on the way back from my music lesson, I saw a wood stork flying above the road over Harlem Heights. I felt there was a poem there. Ever since my workshop with Nick Flynn, I have been paying close attention to images that stay with me. This wood stork is one. Not only that, but my friend Laurie and I had a short conversation about wood storks yesterday.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so!

Today I combined these into a poem, which  includes a lyric from a song that naturally seemed to fit right in.

There comes a time

you leave a place

of knowing.

And instead

take time to just listen.


The energy swirling around you

has a purpose.

The wood stork wafts over the road

intent to fly against the draft,

and is pushed back.

Be one with the wind,

and let the spirit take you

where your heart wants to go.


(329) Stand

My energy has returned over the past few weeks.  Even with a few blips in the classroom that were tough to take, in general things are going much better.

It has taken me until late afternoon to get to this blog because I have been busy. A couple of weeks ago, I came across an idea that I think is a good foundation for a unit for the 7th graders, one I think will really speak to them. I have been eagerly waiting the day I can begin, which will be the day we return from break.

Most of today was spent organizing and adding to the unit. This is me at my creative best. I have struggled the last few years to really indulge in a deep unit — one driven by writing activities and texts of my choosing.  One that includes all the things I love to teach. This unit is based on Linda Christensen’s “Can’t Buy Me Love: Clothing, Class, and Consumerism” in her book Teaching for Joy and Justice. Her unit slides into one on injustice — I’m connecting them together, and making a unit that will probably last well into third quarter.

So besides what Linda has in her unit, I’m pulling from all my favorite sources: classroom activities from Teaching Tolerance.org; writing activities from Writing Fix.com and Hip Hop Poetry and the Classics. I have videos, poetry, songs, short stories, art, quotes, the novel The Outsiders and the film Holes. Sylvia Plath to Common, Gwendolyn Brooks to Gary Soto. Langston Hughes to Sandra Cisneros.

At the heart of this is social emotional learning — what my 7th graders need the most. We will be doing many forms of writing — beyond just essays, but some of those as well. They will learn the importance of thinking through a plan before writing. My main goal is to improve their communication with each other. The heart of the unit is the Read Around (from Linda Christensen) and Disagreeing with Grace (from Teaching Tolerance). I plan on taking it slow and easy, because I know these kids: some of this will NOT be easy.

Even though I spent nearly the entire day planning, I feel energetic and alive. And it is because  I am finally taking a stand for my students. In fact, I have two songs picked out from Sly and the Family Stone that go with the unit: “Everyday People” and “Stand.”

In the end you’ll still be you
One that’s done all the things you set out to do
I am beginning to feel more like ME. The exhaustion that has had me down since August is gone. November has turned it all around — transformed everything. Hooking in to what I need to do and making up my mind to do it makes the words of this song resonate deeply within me.
For the things you know are right
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight
All the things you want are real
You have you to complete and there is no deal
Stand stand stand
This song says everything I want to say…everything I believe in my heart of hearts. I write this blog to confirm my feelings and to stand strong in the face of any questions or adversity I may face because I’m going off the program (the textbook.) But funny — when I look at my plan in light of the academic plan, it shines brightly — every learning target hit dead smack on.
They will try to make you crawl
And they know what you’re saying makes sense and all
Don’t you know that you are free
Well at least in your mind if you want to be
I cannot wait to introduce this song to my students!

(328) For Annmarie

This past summer I became a huge fan of Ashley Monroe.  I feel she is the most overlooked artist in Nashville. Her album The Blade is perfection.

I recently downloaded her older album Like a Rose and was listening to it last night, when this song caught my attention:

Used like an old piano played for generations slowly fading out of tune,
Used like the soles on the bottom of my favorite pair of dancing shoes
I know I’m not some bright and shiny polished up car that’s sparkling new right off the salesroom floor

Yeah I’ve got some dents and bruises I’ve been dropped
and there’s a scar where my heart has been broke before,
but in the end I’ll be worth a whole lot more

I started thinking about my friend Annmarie who resigned from our school district yesterday. This is an educator with all the right stuff. But she was pushed to the limit — used for her compassion for children and loyalty to them — and she finally had to push back. She finally had to say enough!  Her heart has been broken too many times by the demands to advance agendas of billionaires and hedge fund managers, and those that will do their bidding.

Used, like a book read so many times front to back it starts to split in two,
Used like a house where a family lived till they died and there’s a soul in every room

I know I’m not some brand new new dress hanging there perfectly pressed,
that never has been worn
I’ve got some button’s missing and there a couple stains
and places where the fabric has been torn,
but in the end I’ll be worth a whole lot more,

Teachers are given impossible tasks — tasks that are ACKNOWLEDGED as impossible, and told to do it anyway. “Figure it out.”

Teachers are asked to give tests to youngsters that are developmentally inappropriate.

A woman I know in Ohio is seeing her 4th grader suffer by the demands of the curriculum that forces her 9-year-old to do homework well into the night because there wasn’t enough time in class. Got to keep on schedule. Got to bribe with a pizza party only for those who will comply. That teacher has been given a mandate that is trickling into family life.

This is all so wrong.

Every week I ask myself, “How long can I keep doing this?” And if I’m not asking, a friend is texting me asking the same thing. “What else can I do?”

It’s exhausting

This fragile heart has been passed around been ignored and been let down,
been learning since the day that I was born
But everything it’s been through has lead me down to this road to
and I can give like I couldn’t give before,
but in the end I can love a whole lot more


Ashley’s point is well-taken. We know at the end of the day that we have to watch the signs and signals in our life. The fact that we have become burned out, fried, and used up is one of those signals. But it can lead to better days. It can lead to a new kind of freedom. One that would never have been possible if we hadn’t been “used.”

I once had to make the same kind of decision as Annmarie did. I am not going to tell my story here, but the reason I bring it up is because when I resigned my safe salary office job for a commission-only sales position, I felt that sweet freedom. In fact, there was a song on the radio that spoke directly to this: “Sweet Freedom” by Michael MacDonald.

These songs are dedicated to Annmarie. Girlfriend, you have been through a lot. You have come a very long way.  I am grateful you are my friend.  I share “Used” because I know it will make you cry.  I share “Sweet Freedom” because you are heading into some unknown territory –the glorious unknowing of stepping away from the known. There is no other kind of freedom like that. It will all be unexpected and improbable and miraculous. Trust that.

God bless you on your journey.

Now get up and dance!!!

(325) Why I Don’t Give MC Tests

After one terrible day Thursday, that left me sobbing long into the night, I knew I had to change the environment drastically if I hoped to get through the next day. This caused me to throw out a mandated vocabulary test and opt for getting them to do some writing.

My mode of operation in the classroom usually includes tons of personal writing. Somehow this year I got off my track. I started to realize I don’t know my students as much as I wish I did. Only I can change that.

Something came through my Facebook feed that sparked the beginning of an idea. It is the letter going around that Einstein supposedly wrote to his daughter. Sadly, since the lesson yesterday I have learned that the letter is not authentic.

But still, the sentiments expressed in it about love are powerful and pertinent in the world today. Read it here.

When I read the letter to my students, they were dead silent. I don’t think they have ever heard anything quite like it. I asked for their reaction, and we had a short discussion.

I related it to the novel we have been reading all month. “This book is about love,” I said. “Your job is to figure out what exactly it says about the nature of love.”

They had three questions to answer:

How did the characters in the book show love to each other.

What does that teach us about the nature of love?

How does it apply to your own life?

Here are some of the answers I received from my students to the last two questions (with plenty of grammar corrections!):

This book teaches us when life is falling, don’t give up. When I’m feeling down in my life, don’t give up. When something goes wrong in my life, it’s not the end of the world. — TF

At the end Ben forgives Dad and goes home with his family. This teaches us to forgive and forget the bad things people or family do to you. In my life I can forgive the bad and stupid things people or family do to me. When my dad grounds me for something I didn’t do, I can forgive him for that. — NB

The book teaches us that love is powerful. Risking your life for others is good and shows that you love and care for them. It applies a lot to my life. I have my own quote that is close to love: “Family is stronger than the will to live.” By this I mean throughout life we’ll face tough obstacles and risking your life for others shows that we care a lot for that person we love.— BR

This book taught us about love; even if one of your loved ones is taken away it means you don’t have to forget about them or don’t have to keep memories. And if you’re alone with your brother, you have to take care of each other and help each other out.  I can apply this to my life by showing love to my family. And if one of them passes away I will always and forever love them. And I would keep memories of them because I will learn to never let them go, because Love is God and God is Love. – LB

I think the lesson is to love someone even if you don’t like them. I can apply this in my own life by loving my enemies…just love them and become friends. — AV

The book teaches us about love. When they were on the boat they didn’t give up when the dad left.  I can apply this lesson to my life. When my mom left to work, I didn’t give up, and I was only 10-years-old. — JH

Love is powerful and when you lose someone you love, you lose part of yourself. I can apply this by loving the people I care about and keeping them close. — SF

Love can help you get through problems in life. Love can help my family get through anything. –PH

The book shows us love, like when they are working together when their father wasn’t there. This story applies to my life: instead of my mom passing away, I haven’t seen her in a very long time. My dad is taking care of us.— KD

Friday was a good reminder to me to keep it real, and be sure I am always doing what is best for the students. I am reminded again that it simply all about love. That’s what I believe, and I’m sticking to it!

All You Need is Love — The Beatles











(314) Gold

Over the weekend I learned that my brother lost his job. He is 54-years-old. I feel for him. It has made me sad to know this.

I created my Lyric Series to connect lyrics of songs to events. Today Ashley Monroe’s “Mayflowers” spoke to me. I soon realized an image in the song made me think of Martin. When he was young his hair was clearly blonde. As he grew, it turned darker. Yet, I still think of him as golden-headed.

Richie and Martin celebrating Martin’s twelfth birthday. One of my favorite pictures of all time.

I haven’t seen my brother since 2012, and am not sure when I will see him again. The image conveyed in this one part of the song makes me think of him:

What I wouldn’t give to see you

with the gold back in your hair.

If I could look out the kitchen window

in the garden

And see you standing there.