Songs I know by Heart

Essay

I discovered Jimmy Buffett when I was in my early teens. Our neighbors had a music collection that went far beyond that of my parents’ Jazz and classical music. Buffett’s Songs You Know by Heart was tucked in among the likes of Queen, The Beatles, Edie Brickell and Lou Reed. Pure curiosity drove me to put on this nondescript album, and I’ve been a Parrot Head ever since. As with many songs, it is the words that drew me in. I have friends who only hear the beat of a song, but for me, it is always about the words.

It was on a trip to Florida with my brother when one of his friends, also a Buffett fan, gave me the cassette of Songs You Know by Heart. I kept it hidden in the console of my car when others were in it. I didn’t need any more proof of how uncool I was. But when I was alone, I’d blast it and sing along as I drove the winding roads of Vermont.

I picked up my second album, Fruitcakes, after I fled Vermont to work at a fancy summer camp in Pennsylvania. It is this album that has the song “Quietly Making Noise” on it. When I decided to change the name of my blog from Smart Men Marry Doctors to Quietly Making Noise, I did it as a nod to my Parrot Head ways but also to my dad who loved the idea of quietly making noise so much that he had the words scrolling across his computer as a screen saver. 

Though Fruitcakes is my favorite album I don’t have a favorite song. I simply love too many of them and can sing along to almost all of the ones recorded from the 1970s to 2002. Recently Jimmy came out with an album called Songs You Don’t Know by Heart. I knew them all, and they are some of my favorites.

After the stint at the summer camp, where I met a girl from Florida, I worked for a time at an insurance agency in Harrisburg, PA. The death of my friend that previous spring had thrown my world into turmoil, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I quickly learned that insurance was not it. I had spent time in St. Augustine as a kid visiting my maternal grandmother and between that and the visions Buffett had put into my head I pointed my car south in the fall of 1996–I was chasing dreams that would soon crash into reality and evaporate. I moved to Gainesville, which is a swamp; the coast is hours away. The relationship fell apart after the first semester and I spent the next semester learning how sheltered I had been in my small town in Vermont. Through it all Buffett was my “guide.” I joined the fan club, added to my album collection and looked forward to finding the Coconut Telegraph, the Buffett fan booklet, in my mailbox each month. Why I never packed up and moved to the coast I don’t know. The lines Mother mother ocean I heard you call. Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall. have always pulled at my soul. Unfortunately, I get such horrible motion sickness that despite the fact that I would sell everything to go live on a boat in the islands, it is just not something I could do. There was also the fact that I still had not accomplished my long-held dream of moving west to ski, which was about the only direction I had in those days. I was a lost and scared soul then and for many years to come. 

As my Florida experience became more erratic, all I wanted to do was get home to my friends who understood me. My paternal grandmother would write and ask me when I was going to return to the United States. After three semesters, I beat feet north taking my parrot head dreams and attitude with me. 

I spent the next three years at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire where the rum drinking part of the Parrot Head attitude became my leading operating procedure. The college had a radio station and on Sunday mornings I would load every one of my Buffett CDs into my messenger bag and drag my hung-over self across campus to do a two-hour radio show I called Setting Sail.

Now as the snow continues to pile up outside my office window I often have “Margaritaville Radio” on. It is the sun tan for my frostbite as I sing along to the songs, remembering my younger days when, well warmed by rum on frigid winter nights, I would mount the dive bar karaoke stage and get the bar to sing along to “Margaritaville.” Those days of rum drinking and bar hopping and dreaming of being a ski bum are far behind me. Now I dream of warm weather and beach living. I remember the adventures we’ve taken as a family to tropical shores and dream about the ones yet to come. 

Lines of Understanding

Essay
Part 1: Throwing Ink

With two amazing trips planed for 2019, one to Hawaii with my side of the family and one to Alaska with Erin’s side of the family, I concluded that not only did I need to make a travel log, I needed a special book for each trip. I bought two 5×5 Handbook journals with grand visions of combining all of the travel log ideas I’d done before into one amazing book. This would be my best travel log yet. I put so much pressure on myself that the Hawaii book turned out to be the least detailed travel log I’ve done to date, barely filling a quarter of the seventy-five pages. Crestfallen and berating myself for not capturing the trip as I had wanted to, I hastily finished the book before we left for Alaska, vowing to capture this trip as I had wanted to capture Hawaii.  I managed to letter the title page and make one very rough sketch before I let it all go and returned to the words. It was day one of the trip. 

Normally on trips I leave my journal (time capsule) at home, but this time I had brought it along. I put the sketch book aside, and I began to document the trip directly into my time capsule. Soon I was behind on writing daily, but instead of berating myself, I resolved to continue on as best I could and to write down notes throughout the day, as well as a synopsis of the day, in my notebook. Nothing was too mundane, no conversation too short. I wrote not only about the things that we did and saw but the employees that I talked to. I asked them their stories. Instead of collecting brochures, receipts and business cards I simply took notes. It was freeing, and I captured far more about the trip and the people than I ever had before. 

After we returned home I was still catching up on the entries from the trip so I continued to write a synopsis each morning about the previous day, a practice I continue today that has allowed me to be consistent in my journaling. 

Over time I added, to my time capsules, lettering to my entries and at the end of each month a timeline recap. In the spring of 2020 I discovered nature journaling and began taking photos with my phone of the changing world and then using them as reference to sketch directly into my time capsule adding color with colored pencils. I would use the sketchbooks for watercolor sketches that I would then paste into the time capsule.  

My chronicling of life is constantly evolving and I have drawn from many different journaling techniques over the years, pulling out the things that work best for me and ignoring the ones that did not.  I have gone from completely disorganized to over-complicated and still-disorganized to the spot that works best for me and what I am trying to accomplish. I have learned that numbering your pages and labeling everything are two of the most important things I can do to stay organized. I have symbols to put next to entries and a reference system so that I can find an idea in the proper notebook when I want to look something up or write an essay. I use a program called Evernote to keep an idea index of essays, quotes, poems, and many other things as well as a PDF copy of each notebook and time capsule. 

Over the years this process has taught me about myself not only through the words I’ve written but also through the trial and error of finding the proper flow for chronicling life in daily writing. Most important it has helped me to understand what really matters. 

Throwing Ink

Essay

I started my first journal in the spring of 1996. The inside front and back covers are filled with quotes about living in the moment, which is something I’ve been obsessed with most of my life. In 1996 I was so self conscious of my poor spelling and grammar that I wrote exclusively in poems. There are poems about love and teenage angst, but there is a particularly long one about complete despair that I now recognize as a cry for help. I had a couple of other notebooks in the late 90’s and into 2001 but only one has survived and much of that has been torn out because I never wanted to see that writing again. What is left is mostly poetry, though there are quotes, drawings and even some regular writing. It is also the first time I put into writing how important it was for me to keep writing and how I dreamed of being a writer, something I barely allowed myself to believe. The end of the book talks about goals and how I really feel about myself deep inside. I remember writing this while living in Boston just after college. The answers were all lies. I knew it then and I certainly know it now. It is important to tell the truth and sometimes that means you write things that you never want anyone to see, that perhaps you never want to see, but you just need to get it out. You can always rip it out later if need be. I write for myself but I also write for future generations and so I stick to the guidelines of, be honest, be real and show your vulnerability. 

In the early 2000’s I began carrying a pocket-sized spiral notebook that I would fill with quotes, poems, and anything else that needed to be written down. 

In 2005 I received my first Moleskin notebook, and promptly put undue pressure on myself. 

“This is the notebook of Hemingway and other famous artists; therefore, this book should only hold the best ideas and work. The poems should come out one and done,” I told myself. This only succeeded in stifling my dream of being a writer. After nearly three years of this undue pressure I put aside pocket notebooks for larger ones and began to sketch more and write less. 

My new sketching obsession led me to discover Urban Sketching and as I am apt to do with new interests I jumped in feet first. Deep down I was hoping it would make me happy. Of course, it didn’t, and I spent as much time comparing my sketches to other people’s and telling myself I was not good enough as I did actually sketching. In truth some of the pictures are really bad, but that is ok, it is all part of the process.  

Along the way I switched back to pocket-sized books and slowly began writing more. I have always loved the idea of combining my sketches with my words, I love the aesthetic of it. These particular notebooks (Handbook Journals) were great for trying this, but I soon concluded that even though these books fit in my pocket the thickness and the hard covers made them cumbersome to carry when also minding two small boys and all their accoutrements. 

At one point I tried to go paperless, but I am too much of a stationery nerd who loves the scratch of the fountain pen and the feel of the paper for that. Frustrated with the lack of writing, I decided an entirely new approach was what I needed to write daily. I picked up some softcover pocket Moleskins with the plan of filling a book for each month. This was moderately successful but in the end I abandoned the whole idea because it was too rigid and my daily writing continued to wax and wane for the next several years.

In 2015 I discovered Field Notes which are now my pocket notebook of choice. I also came up with the idea of making travel journals for the trips that we took. My first travel journal was filled mostly with writing, though there are some receipts and cutouts pasted in. These journals quickly evolved to include floor plans of the places we stayed, typography, cutouts and sketches, anything I thought would be relevant and fun. I desperately wanted to capture every detail, but the more I added, the more stringent my rules for filling the books became and the more time-consuming the books became. It all fell apart on a particularly adventurous trip we took to Utah in the spring 2018. My depression was fully leading the tango at the time and trying to keep up with the travel log did not help matters. I came home with a huge stack of brochures, receipts and the like and the pile sat untouched for months while I spiraled downward, the unfinished project of the journal only adding to my discontent. 

I gave up on travel journals after that and the next few trips were little more than notes of the days with perhaps a thumbnail sketch here and there. These synopses would prove to be a breakthrough in my journey to becoming an obsessive chronicler of life, but I would have to fail two more times before I would learn this lesson. 

More Next week. 

I Wanted to Be Indiana Jones

Essay

My Indiana Jones fedora is pushed back on my head as I hunch over my desk on a cold winter morning, looking through my notebooks from the last twenty-plus years.This is more philology than archaeology but I am still discovering treasures. It was from these books that I discovered the poems I posted last month. As a kid I wanted to be Indiana Jones and I had the whole get-up, bullwhip, fedora, though never one that looked like his, and an old leather satchel that was my grandfather’s. I never dared to use the bull whip to swing with but I was pretty good at cracking it. It was a disappointing day when I learned that archeologists were not bull-whip-toting swashbuckling do-gooders. 

I left behind the bull whip and the desire of becoming an archaeologist, but I never lost my love for history, treasure hunting or fedoras. Though the latter I did not begin to wear again until around 2015, when I finally allowed myself to not worry about what people thought of my appearance. My idea of treasure has also changed. When I was growing up I had shelves filled with all kinds of strange knick knacks from a glass head, pewter figures, to happy-meal toys. Part of this was because I liked to collect odd things but the root of it was that I thought displaying these things wold help me be the person I desperately wanted to be. It was not until my forties that I realized I’d been putting on costumes all my life and holding onto material things because I thought I needed them to show who I was. I relied on these material things instead of just being and allowing my joy of Self to shine through. It was an unhappy way to exist to be sure. 

One treasure I have kept and carried with me since I was a teenager is a beautiful multi-colored rock I found on the shore of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It was an extremely troubled time for me then, though that is not why I have kept the rock all these years. The part of the rock I could see showed only a mere glimpse of its true beauty and yet it seemed to be calling out for me to pick it up. I was shocked to find that the other side was filled with colors of purple, orange, blue-gray, tan and yellow. I have kept it all these years because I still feel the joy and wonder of its discovery.

I am known to come home with plenty of pocket hitchhikers when I go out on a walk or we travel. Sometimes I keep the items, like two smooth rocks from the shores of Bowen Island, British Columbia, that sit on my desk and I use like zen meditation balls when I am writing. Other times I sketch them and then return them. More and more, though, my treasures are made up of words, sketches and photographs. Since 2015 I have carried a Field Notes pocket notebook (notebook) everywhere I go. I also write in a daily journal which I refer to as a time capsule because I am writing not only for myself but also for future generations. In my pocket-notebooks I write down all manner of things; nothing is too insignificant. In this way I am preserving history and practicing mindfulness. Along the way I hope that I am teaching the kids and myself to slow down and not just look at what is around us but to see it. To ask questions and to get down on our hands and knees and smell the earth. To stand motionless in the middle of the forest, a beach, or a bustling city having arrived in that moment. I find that all of this together is yet another way to unshackle the joy of this one magical and beautiful life.