Tuesday, December 1, 2009


There is no such thing as a coincidence. We all know that deep down, don’t we? Sometimes the alignment of circumstances that grabs our attention is a big thing, like meeting someone seemingly by chance, and recognizing them instantly as a meaningful part of your life. I’ve been there more than a couple times. And sometimes, it’s just a little moment that serves to remind us that the universe really is lined up in our favor. This past Sunday, I was leading a discussion session with the lovely folks at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks – Kitty Hawk, NC. Part of the talk had to do with the importance of creating quiet time in our lives, especially to give our brains a break from the blinding onslaught of information enabled by modern technology. In particular, I brought up something we all know, that these days almost all of us have communication devices strapped to or near our person so we can avail ourselves of information, and make ourselves available to others anywhere, any time. And, don’t you know it, right as I finished making that point, what happened? You got it - a mobile phone went off. Coincidence? You may call it so, but I say no way. The universe has great timing, and a great sense of humor, and all of us in the room enjoyed a big laugh at this small reminder. The laugh got even bigger when I shared that at my home church, there is a suggested love offering of $100 if your cell phone goes off during a service. The owner of the offending device on Sunday morning took all the playful ribbing in stride, and I sent out a silent thank you for yet another reminder that the more I look for positive outcomes, the more I will find. The opposite is just as true. Don’t we all know someone who looks for trouble, and finds it without fault? I choose to look for good, even in the face of outer turmoil, and my life is filled with little reminders of the universe responding in kind. For all of this, and for the appearance of “coincidences”, I am thankful.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Songwriting Journal - Passion

The process of songwriting, for me, comes from a place of interpersonal exploration. Little moments with loved ones, whether frustrating or inspiring, an enticing string of words in conversation or movies or books, old memories that want to be explored – these are the things that catch a tune in my head and morph into songs. As the writing process goes along, the songs take on their own unique character and point of view, eventually bearing little resemblance to the point of inspiration, which still remains, but only as a shadow in the background.
The original inspiration for the song Passion is taken directly from conversations with my mother. I can, on occasion, be heard whining about growing up in a non-artistic household. True, there was appreciation of the arts, but since neither of my parents had artistic leanings, at least none that they acted on, they encouraged me in areas within their comfort zone (academics, athletics), and I was left to sort out the rest for myself. My efforts on stage did not go unnoticed - my father was known to swell with pride following one of my performances at school. And, I am certain that my mother did all the things moms do to support their kids in their activities, driving to and fro, buying costumes and uniforms, etc. But when it came down to it, my mother looked upon me as some sort of oddity, something outside the norm; a puzzle she knew existed but had no clue how to solve.
I think my mother was actually concerned about my path in life, and perhaps with good reason. Lawd knows show business ain’t easy. More than once she pointed out how my focus on performing arts was making my life more difficult than it need be. If only I could set aside this drive, this passion of mine, then I might have a chance at a normal and easier life. But I am who I am, and even after having children, which provided some common ground for the two of us, my work continued, and I could sense the cluck of her concern in every conversation.
My mom was certain that my drive, my passion was unique, but I disagree. I think everyone has a passion. It may involve career, a relationship, a hobby, an addiction, watching TV, or a behavior pattern that feeds some deep seated need – but we all have something. We all have a passion. So, that’s what the song Passion is about, the thing that blows you skirts up, or gets your juices flowing. Very often at live shows I’ll ask if anyone is brave enough to share his or her passion. One night, a fun lady I know announced to the room that her passion is belly dancing. So, there you have it – this song is about belly dancing, or whatever it is that lights your fire.

© cheryl fare 2007

You have a passion, she said, you have a drive
But she made it sound like something dirty,
something I should hide
You have a passion, she said, well don’t we all?
To build, to eat, to breathe, to learn
Or do nothing much at all

Hmmm I think about it all the time
Hmmm I dream about it all the time
I can’t put it down, and I can’t make it fit
No matter what I do, there’s just no cure for it
Must be a passion

What is it you crave? Can you give it a name?
Does it bloom into love, or curl back into pain?
Do you use it to heal, or just cover up
the hole in your heart that never gets enough?

You have a passion, uh-huh, you have a drive
The devil voice that calls you home,
Or the angel by your side.
You have a passion, uh-huh, well don’t we all?
To build, to eat, to breathe, to learn
Or do nothing much at all

Hmmm you think about it all the time
Hmmm you dream about it all the time
you can’t put it down, and you can’t make it fit
No matter what you do, there’s just no cure for it
Must be a passion, Just a harmless passion
A yen, an itch, a passion, I can quit when I want - passion
We all got one – passion, Can’t put it down – passion
Can’t make it fit – passion, It’s just a little passion

Friday, November 13, 2009

Beyond Brain Tumors

This week, I had the privilege of speaking at a healing service at my home church, along with my daughter Denise, age 16, a 10-year brain tumor survivor. I truly believe that our children are our finest teachers, especially those who face uncommon challenges. Denise has agreed to allow me to share her written remarks from the service with you here. Enjoy:
“Now and then we hear a story of how positive thinking and a good attitude can help cancer patients live longer. That optimism can keep us healthier and even extend our life span. Well, though some of us may believe differently, this idea is very much true. When we feel happy, we are happy towards everything and everybody. But when the bad feelings; fear, loneliness, or doubt set in we consume them. They influence our thoughts and our actions. If we let these feelings of fear take over our whole body they have the power make us sick. If I had put my fear first in front of hope and love, many years ago I wouldn’t be here.
When I was six years old I was diagnosed with a brain tumor called “craniopharyngioma”. This tumor was large and growing fast. The first time it was MRI-ed it was approximately bigger than the size of a golf ball. I was scared, sure. The morning of my first surgery I woke up and found myself tangled in my bed sheets and on the opposite side of the bed flat against the wall. I felt scared, mainly because of the things I didn’t know. What could and would happen. But I kept going through after the first surgery and then a second, and MRI’s and IVs. After the end of the second surgery I went to MCV hospital for 5 days a week for radiation. Every school day I left early, to go and get the pieces of killer cells “zapped” out of my head. Those last few remaining pieces of fear.
The thing that helped me a lot were the people that wanted to help me, to see me get through. Every day going to the hospital I would have a friend to ride in the car with, people I really loved. We would read books and share stories and often I would get little gifts J, so I walked into Radiation Oncology, Level B feeling happy. The process was long, tedious and intense. Most patients will completely lose their hair, but I didn’t. This was unexpected, and made me really happy. And that’s where I remember that I began to feel the confidence that I would be all right. And the fear began to go.
I feel that same confidence now. It’s only become a stronger part of me over the last ten years. Along with the help of the people, and surgeons and family, my confidence steadily grew, and I was cured. I cured me. I am ready to take on my challenges in life because I don’t think my small certain disadvantages can stand in my way. My only hope is that my family can fully see this in me the way I do. I want to go to college in less than two years and I know I can do it. No past can block my future - because I cured me. And knowing that, I can get through anything, anything else.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Uppity Blues Women

Saffire, the Uppity Blues Women recently gave their final farewell concert as a group, in their hometown of Fredericksburg, VA – and I got to go! The show was held on the University of Mary Washington campus, which provided me with a trip down memory lane, since I spent 4 years studying there when it was still called a college. Although a stately college auditorium is an odd fit for blues concert, the ladies of Saffire seemed quite at home playing for a full house of friends and fans from near and far, supporters from their 25 year history, and luminaries of the blues world. In the course of the evening, the tremendous trio was showered with accolades, bouquets of flowers and thundering rounds of well-earned applause.

Over the past quarter century, Ann Rabson, Gaye Adegbalola, and Andra Faye have taken Saffire from a largely local group in Central Virginia, to an internationally respected cornerstone of acoustic blues. Their impressive talents were all in fine form on Saturday night, all three showing off their abilities on multiple instruments, as vocalists and songwriters, and performers extraordinaire. The music was naughty and raucous, at times gentle and poignant, and touched on themes ranging from domestic abuse, to odes the generous attributes of the band members, and powerful anthems of pride and power. By far the greatest achievement of Saffire seems to be not only a deep musical catalogue in acoustic blues, but also the overreaching theme of empowerment that inhabits all their work. As their songs celebrate the empowerment of women, victims of domestic abuse, people of color, homosexuals, so they empower us all through the cleansing process of enlightenment. As they go on to other musical pursuits, I hope to catch each of the Saffire ladies playing their individual brands of joyfully naughty and Uppity music.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Time to Speak Out About Domestic Abuse

I had the pleasure of performing this past weekend in a benefit concert for Safe Harbor, a domestic abuse shelter and service organization in Central Virginia. Initially, I was lukewarm about the event, not because of the gig itself, but because finances (or lack thereof) had forced me to pass up on a theatre reunion kinda thing at my grad school alma mater. So, with a pout firmly in place, I said yes to the benefit gig, and even agreed to attend a rehearsal or two, since I was going to be around anyway. As things got closer, and I took the time to plug into the cause promoted by the show, it became more and more clear to me why participation was not only meaningful for me, but has become a catalyst for me to step out on an issue very near and dear to my heart.

I have always had plans on the back burner to take action, speak up, find a way to do more than write a couple of songs about the abuse us humans visit on each other. The kind of abusive behavior I have the most experience with is the yelling, name-calling, ridiculing, controlling kind. It’s a sneaky kind of thing. It doesn’t leave any scars on the outside, but you can spend a lifetime trying to run down and heal the internal damage. In some ways, I think that the walking wounded find their way to each other, no matter what kind of abuse they have suffered, or whether they talk about it openly. Over the years I seem to have collected a great number of lovely souls with abuse stories as friends. Both men and women, it seems we strive to say the right thing for a loved one who has rarely heard a kind word, be the shelter for a moment’s peace, or solace in helping each other find an authentic way to stand in our own truth.

Themes of release and healing have surfaced repeatedly in my writing, whether intentional on my part or not. No doubt I will circle back around related ideas in the future, but for now, I’m looking for something a little more tangible. Following the concert for Safe Harbor, I dialed up their website, and filled out a volunteer application form. How I will find time for this, I don’t know, as my life is already well populated with issues and causes. But, the time feels right for me to step out on this issue, and I look forward to whatever opportunities come my way.

To learn more about Safe Harbor and their crusade against domestic abuse, go to: http://www.safeharborshelter.com/

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Songwriting Journal - Stones in My Pocket

On the surface, Stones in My Pocket is a bittersweet remembrance of a song, a reflection of a past relationship, still treasured, but long gone. But below the surface, there is something more to be shared and explored. The impetus for this song, written back in 2000, came from a ripple of memory, some words said by an old friend that took on new and deeper meaning. And isn’t that the quality all our truly meaningful relationships have? No matter who the people are that fill our every day lives, the relationships that really matter are the ones that stick with us over time, through changes and ins and outs, continuing to echo with meaning at every step along the way. Maybe we see them every day, or never will again - maybe they we there for years, or maybe just five loaded minutes every few years or so. Whether or not we see them every day, the impact our treasured few have on shaping who we are becoming stays with us, mirrored in how we see the eyes in our reflection, and in the choices that we make. It’s as if we carry them, like little stones in our pockets, taking them out in quiet moments to roll around on our palm, noting the new ways that old snippets of conversation resonate from where we are standing now. It’s these people, the relationships that continue to sing with meaning, that are celebrated with this song.

stones in my pocket
© cheryl fare 2000

Carry you with me, roll you around some
Carry you with me, deep in my heart
Carry you with me, like stones in my pocket
Memories bittersweet and never forgot
never forgot

The minutes fly, the stars spin
My hair's gone grey and my eyes are dim
But your face it shines, those sweet words you say
My mind falls back like I met you today, and I

Carry you with me, roll you around some
Carry you with me, deep in my heart
Carry you with me, like stones in my pocket
Memories bittersweet and never forgot
never forgot

Reminiscence all my own,
recollection calls my heart home,
all these years could pull you away,
but the longer you're gone, the closer you stay
the longer you're gone, the closer you stay, and I

Carry you with me, roll you around some
Carry you with me, deep in my heart
Carry you with me, like stones in my pocket
Memories bittersweet and never forgot
never forgot
never forgot
I never forgot

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Readers' Theatre

In one of my ongoing activities involving theatre and writing, I write short plays and direct a readers' theatre program at my home church. These short sketches are not designed to so much to present issues or provide answers, but more to promote thinking and ask questions. I'm working on one of these writing assignments today, and it's going about as smoothly as a molar extraction. But as always, if I can mange to get myself out of the way, the words will flow, and the results will hold a message meant for someone in my audience. For now, please enjoy the text of one of my previous works:

Bus Stop Scene
©Cheryl Fare

(Actors come to center stage, and face the audience. They are waiting for a bus. Pause.)

1: I think the bus is late. I always hate it when the bus is late.
2: I think it’s hot out. I always hate it when it’s hot out.
1: When the bus is late, then I am late, and it ruins my whole day. Nothing to be done.
2: When I start feeling hot, my cheeks turn red, I get light-headed, and I can’t think all day. As you say, not a thing to be done.
1: For some reason today, it crossed my mind to wonder if it really matters. Imagine that.
2: Really? Curious. Very curious, indeed.
1: Did you hear about what happened with the lady with the big you-know-what?
2: No. I must know all about that. Do tell.
1: Well, if you must know,……it fell off.
2: No! I didn’t know that was possible.
1: There you have it. You spend your time looking back to keep an eye out, as they say you should, and then looking ahead to be sure, as they also say you should, and then it happens. After all that time being there, it falls off, and that’s bad.
2: Yes, bad. So they say, very bad.
1: But I wonder, if it happened to me, would it be all bad?
2: What a thought! They always said it would be bad.
1: Yes, but I wonder.
2: (dubious) Well, that seems worth considering, at least.
1: Every day I come and wait. I did it yesterday, and I expect I will do it tomorrow.
2: I made a mistake once, and now it happens over and over again.
1: One day I did not come, just to see what would happen.
2: Really! So, what happened?
1: I didn’t know how to act, so I thought it was a mistake.
2: No matter what I do, I still make a mistake. It happened yesterday, so now I’m just waiting for it to happen today.
1: There’s an expert on TV. He says that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So, there you have it. Nothing to be done.
2: Well, if he said it on TV, we know it must be true.
1: Just so. Nothing to be done.
2: Just so. Not a thing to be done. (pause) Do you ever wonder what words mean? I mean, once you say something over and over again, do you forget what it means, or wonder if it really means what you think it means?
1: Um, maybe. Pardon?
2: If there is nothing to be done, must that be a bad thing?
1: It always has been before.
2: But what if it is not a bad thing? What if it means something else?
1: Really? But what else could it mean?
2: Perhaps, just perhaps, it means that we need do nothing.
1: Do nothing? But what are we if we do nothing?
2: We just are. I am, you are, and everything is in order.
1: Radical. Brilliant, really, for you to think such a thing.
2: Oh, I don’t think I thought of that myself. Perhaps it just is.
1: What an idea. But then, what about being late?
2: Perhaps you need do nothing.
1: Huh. And what about being hot?
2: Perhaps I don’t mind.
1: Maybe.
2: Maybe.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Songwriting Journal - Same Old Dance

I'm not sure if this is a smart move or not, but the writing I've been doing the past week is a new song, so I've decided to share some fresh lyrics here. This one is for all of you out there who share a piece of your life with someone who travels. I'll move this song on stage soon, so I hope to see you then.

Same Old Dance
©cheryl fare 2009

I’m tired of watching you walkin’ away
Without sayin’ goodbye
Like that dulls the pain
And I’m standin’ here in the hole you leave behind
If I stood right here for a month, or a few
You’d come rollin’ back
Like you always do
With the freshest words, and that lonely in your eyes

And I will take your hand
I will dance that same old dance
I will know how this will end
And I still dance that dance

Instrumental break

I will take your hand
And I will dance that same old dance
I will know how this will end
And I still dance that dance
I will dive into your eyes
Blow right past your little white lies
I still know how this will end
And I still dance that dance

And there’s no point tryin’ to change the man I see
And there’s no point pining for how I know it could be
So I’ll stand right here with my aching open arms
And love you here and now the way you are
I’ll stand right here with my aching open arms
And love you here and now the way you are

I’m tired of watching you walkin’ away
Without sayin’ goodbye
Like that dulls the pain
And I’m standin’ here in the hole you leave behind
If I stood right here for a month, or a few
You’d come rollin’ back
Like you always do
With the freshest words, and that lonely in your eyes

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Songwriting Journal - This Thing

I have been married for a long time. Even when you have been married for a long time, and are happy overall, you still meet people. You still meet people you are interested in. You still feel that elusive spark, that certain something that draws you to another person, even when your life is well entwined with your chosen mate. So, when you meet someone, and you’re already committed to another, whether you’ve been married 20 years or engaged for 3 months, the question becomes – what do you do with that, what does it mean?
The range of options seems pretty obvious. Run away; avoid at all costs – a good option for the straight arrows. Dabble with the new flame, and risk ruining what you already have. Or perhaps, as the old saying goes, throw the baby out with the bath water, drop what you’ve got, and dive into the unknown. I’m guessing here, but it seems apparent by the rate of divorce in modern society, that many choose to dabble, or ditch their current situation, and go for the new thing that takes their breath away. Not that it’s ever that simple, but I know I can name at least one couple who ended this way, and I bet you can, too. There is, however, one other option, an option difficult to see through the fog. Let’s start with a brief historical analysis….
In centuries past, marriages were based mostly on tribal affiliations, dynastic concerns, economics, and procreation. The energy involved in basic subsistence, and having enough healthy children to keep the family business afloat, was about all people could manage. Relationship dynamics and monogamy were an afterthought - if you got on well with your mate, great, if not - SUX2BU. As human societies have evolved, we now have more time to consider the quality of our relationships, the notion of individual choice, and the powerful allure of the love match. The American passion for personal freedom has led us to an almost obsessive belief that the one key ingredient for a long-term relationship is that indefinable chemistry – the click, the spark, the love thing, the “soul mate”. Of course, anyone who has been married for a while can tell you for sure that the bliss we all seek is one of the first things to pass in a meaningful relationship, as you progress to levels of true intimacy. And yet, the allure of the “soul mate” endures, leading some to wander from one date to another for years on end, and others to destroy their marriages and careers in a huge bonfire of shame by traveling all the way to Argentina for a quick fix.
Part of the problem lies in our limited understanding of the phrase “soul mate”. After all, everyone with a significant role in our life, no matter how we feel about them, is a soul mate of one sort or another. These significant others come in all ages and genders, show up in our homes or out in the world, and stick around for years and years, or maybe only for a week. They are all our mates, here for us to learning, loving, and moving us along on our life path. Honoring our soul mates, and the spark we feel when they come along does not mean we have to abandon all that we are, and all the good things that we have created. Instead, it means that we are charged to remain open to learning and growth, without betraying our vows and our principles - a fine balance, and a challenge to maintain at times, but fully worth the effort.
In the spring of 1999 I wrote a song called This Thing. For me, This Thing is about the delusional nature of romantic love, what happens when you meet someone after you’re already in a committed relationship, and how our modern notion of “soul mate” gets in the way of meaningful interactions. That’s a lot for a ditty of about three and a half minutes, but there you have it. Give it a spin, and let me know what you think.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Trip to Italy

Seems only fit that after traveling all the way to Italy, I might have something to say, exciting tales of adventure, special memories to recall and reflect upon, something like that, anything really. I did try to keep a travel diary, I really did. But, the pace of the trip was vigorous and intense, and the travel diary was sacrificed in the interest of maintaining the basics of enough food to keep the engine running, enough sleep to renew the batteries, and very necessary showers to wash off everything stuck to the sticky arms, legs and unmentionables of an Italian heat wave. So much for the travel diary.
And so I figured, once I got home, I would write a song, an essay, a short play - some thing or another, put together a photo album or two, have time to talk with friends. This process would be an accustomed and expected pattern of behavior. There is still time for all that, however, the overwhelming feeling I have had since my return has been that of emptiness. It’s as if the time away has literally wiped the slate clean, as if spending a week and a day away has faded all familiar patterns to the point that I am not sure which way to go. I find myself asking what it is that I am here to do, and why. Given my normal driven nature, the distinct lack of direction is a bit alarming and unsettling. Given my perpetual interest in attaching meaning to the world around me, the impression of unlabeled space surrounding me feels also like opportunity. I am still here, in the same physical form, and yet nothing feels the same.
This sense of a new reality was defined even more as I managed to find my way home, setting aside the faulty directions and navigating on instinct alone, as if discovering a special new way to reach the same old place. Once at my familiar front door, I find that my husband, in his usual style of explosive creativity, has made huge strides in the ongoing kitchen renovation project. And so, my home is both recognizable, and very different, with new counters, fresh piles of construction debris all over the back porch, and things put back, but not quite in the same place they were before. Reaching for a spoon or a mug could be a habitual humdrum experience, or it could end up as an act of domestic discovery, depending on whether I have happened upon the fabulous prize behind Drawer #1, or Cabinet #3. And so, I am here, but here is not the same as it was last week.
My calendar tells me that there are things to be done - doctor appointments, laundry, bills to be paid, children to get ready for school. And so, bit-by-bit, I am coming back in line with some of my normal life. But, much of my bigger picture is still unclear, yet to be re-defined, and I guess that’s ok for now. As whatever my process is continues to unfold, here are a few impressions of Italy to ponder:
· Italian people, as a whole, are warm and friendly, passionate and dramatic, have a great sense of humor, and drive and talk very fast;
· The Italian population seems to be gifted with a larger than normal proportion of truly beautiful looking individuals;
· Rome is wonderfully vibrant mixture of ancient and modern – one minute you can be strolling the historic Piazzo del Colosseo, and the next, hop on the Metro over to Vatican City;
· If you can find a seat on a bench in the Sistine Chapel, block out the never-ending chorus of “Ssshhhh!” and “No Photo!” from the Vatican guides, and just sit and stare at the ceiling – you lose your breath as the paintings come alive, and appear to be real people, resting on the ceiling and looking down at the curiosity below;
· The Basilica of St. Peter is truly too huge to describe;
· Rome has many fountains with sweet and abundant drinking water, Florence has no such thing - as they would like you to buy a bottle of water, and the fountains of Venice flow with delightfully icy water from the melted snow pack of the Italian Alps;
· On the whole, it is difficult to find a public WC in Italy, even harder to wait through the line, and one should never expect air conditioning in the bathroom, even at your hotel;
· Gellati is the best afternoon snack in the world;
· When in Italy, do your shopping in Florence at the Mercato di San Lorenzo;
· No matter how many pictures you have seen, to stand in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, and gaze upon the massive sculpture of David created by Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1504, is an awesome experience in the truest sense of the word. It takes several trips around the statue to even start to take in the unbelievable level of detail, not to mention begin to understand the meaning and intention of such an example of the potential for human creativite expression. Compliment this with the collection of Robert Maplethorpe photos that are currenlty on display in this museum, and you have enough images to ponder for half a lifetime;
· Before visiting Venice, step up your work-out routine, so that you’ll be ready to go up and down all the footbridges over the canals that comprise the “streets” of the city.
· Yes, an evening gondola ride is all it’s cracked up to be.
· A water taxi ride to the airport is the next best thing to a gondola ride.
· The beauty of Italian food lies in two essential qualities – fresh and simple.
· Italians have junk food, too. I could go for some Extreme Crik Crak right now, and wash it down with some Slam.
· When in Italy, roll your Rrrrr’s, and add a dramatic flair to the end of every other word, and you’ll get along just fine. All signs and menus include English, as well as lots of other languages. Hand gestures help, too.
· Ciao!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Prayer of St Francis

Did you know that the Prayer of St. Francis cannot be attributed to any of the writings or works of the 13th century saint known as Francis of Assisi? According to various Internet sources, the earliest appearance of the prayer is said to have been in 1912, when it was printed in a small devotional French publication known as La Clochette. One of the first printings is said to have been on the reverse of a devotional card depicting the image of St. Francis, and so the prayer began to be associated with the spirit of simplicity that emboies this particular saint. Over the next few years, the prayer was included in more widely read French publications, and became well known as a prayer for peace during the First World War. The prayer became popular in the United States in 1936, when it was distributed on leaflets as a peace prayer during and after World War II, and continues to be a favorite for those ranging from Mother Teresa and other world leaders, to recording artists and filmakers.

For those seeking a positive lifestyle and to affect positive change in the world, the Prayer of St. Francis can be used a powerful form of affirmative prayer. There are many different versions of the prayer, from the first known original text, to variations used for Twelve Step programs worldwide. As we resolve to be open to the good flowing in our lives, a few simple adjustments to the text transforms the attitude of supplication to that of positive affirmation, and the prayer becomes a freshly powerful tool for us to claim positive attittudes and positive outcomes, in this very moment, right now. Consider using this prayer as a part of your daily quiet time:

Lord, I am an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, I sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
Divine Spirit grants that
I do not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in releasing the self that we are born to Eternal Life.
So it is.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Why Seven Steps?

About a year ago, to my great surprise, I found myself in the midst of writing a self-help program of guided meditations. Even beyond surprise, the writing process was transformational, because during the time that this inspiring material was pouring through me, my father was slowly succumbing to congestive heart failure. In my last blog, I touched briefly on the topic of dementia. It’s not my intention to dwell on heavy subject matter, but once again, I must include a short mention of this big issue. For my father, dementia was sneaky and pernicious, a result of natural aging, and the accumulation of years of unhealthy choices. While he appeared to acquaintances to be of sound mind, the eroding process was slowly eating away at his ability to make sound judgments, stealing away the delights of his personality, and gradually laying waste to his relationships through irrational anger and paranoia. And so, as I reflect on my father’s transition and the writing process that took place a year ago, I choose to celebrate the power we all have to make healthy and loving choices, and use our gifts to create good in this life. Positive living absolutely attracts positive outcomes, so here we go……
The focus of the collection of guided meditations called Seven Steps to Positive Living is to affect beneficial change in people’s lives by providing material that is, first and foremost, easy and accessible. Easy, as in easy to fit into your day – each of the meditations runs less than 10 minutes, making it an natural fit for even the most schedule stressed individuals. No studying necessary, no special clothing or membership fees, just a few minutes in a quiet place, and you’re good to go! Accessible, as in welcoming to individuals of all belief systems – the mediations are flexible and appropriate for secular, or a multitude of spiritual or religious approaches. For those who have never tried meditation, and wonder how to get started, Seven Steps is a great introduction to creating quiet time in your hectic life, and reaping all the well-touted benefits of regular meditation. Those who have been practicing meditation for many years will also benefit from the Seven Steps pick-me-up of short sessions that lead you along a steady path of opening to greater awareness.
Most of us have heard more and more about the benefits of regular meditation in recent years. Mainstream media and medicine have become increasingly open to considering so-called “alternative” therapies in the treatment of both mental and physical illnesses, and improving overall quality of life. Of course, many of these alternative approaches have been around for centuries and eons, but who’s counting, right? America’s most read magazine, the Parade section from the good ol’ Sunday morning newspaper, included meditation in the December 14, 2008 article entitled “Alternative Therapies that REALLY WORK”. Their article cited positive effects on blood pressure, insulin and blood sugar regulation, heart health, improving concentration, reducing anxiety, and assisting patients dealing with post-traumatic stress disorders. If you like a scientific approach - the website for Psychology Today notes that neuroscientists have found that study subjects involved in regular meditation shifted the focus of their brain activity away from the stress-prone right frontal cortex, to the calmer area of the left frontal cortex, resulting in calmer and happier people overall. Sweet.
In case that’s not enough to convince you to give it a try, the federal government would like for you to feel better, too. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institute of Health has sponsored studies that have found the following positive results from regular meditation: relieves stress in caregivers for elderly patients with dementia; reduces the frequency and intensity of hot flashes in menopausal women; relieves symptoms of chronic back pain; improves attention-related abilities (alerting, focusing, and prioritizing); and relieves asthma symptoms.
Of course, those of a spiritual or religious bent know the importance of sacred quiet time, although they may call it by different names. Checking one of my favorite resources, Wikipedia, one can find a great variety of citations on this topic. From Buddhism to Judaism, almost every faith path known to man includes traditions of meditation as a necessary practice to enhance spiritual growth. A devout Muslim is obliged to pray at least five times a day. Christians, of course, generally use the term prayer when referring to sacred quiet time. The use of the rosary or prayer beads, the repitition of memorized prayers, and the emphasis on silent prayer are all forms of Christian meditation.
Getting back to Seven Steps to Positive Living, I would like to mention that the initial idea for the CD came about in midst of brainstorming with my friend and colleague, actress and healing practitioner, Katie McCall. (You can find Katie’s fabulous new website at http://www.mindovermattersuccess.com/.) For a short while, Katie lived out her fantasy of being a back-up singer by developing harmony for songs on my first CD, Springfield. While working on music, we began talking about ideas combining my writing with her skills as a voice-over talent, in a way that would benefit others along their path to a better life. We chose a specific audience to start with, the generous and loving congregation of Unity Christ Church of Bon Air in Richmond VA, designed the project to flow along with the fall book study program at the church, and used sales to raise money for the church’s expansion fund. All of these factors knitted nicely together, resulting in the initial release of Seven Steps to Positive Living in September of 2008.
Now, Seven Steps to Positive Living is widely available online in both digital formats, and old style CDs. A simple Internet search will turn up multiple sources, so Google, Bing, dial it up on iTunes, or visit me at http://www.cherylfare.com/ and give it a try, one at a time, or all together as a collection. Given how these meditations came to be, I feel strongly that these messages have the potential to affect positive change in many lives, and I feel it is my responsibility to do my best to spread the word. I’ll be writing again soon about the content of the Seven Steps meditations, as the material continues to develop. Even if Seven Steps to Positive Living isn’t your style, there are many ways to create sacred quiet time in your life. Whether you prefer to use your daily exercise as a time of reflection, or to brew a cup of tea and sit in a rocker for a few minutes before you start your day - whatever your style, take a few clearing breaths, and give yourself the gift of quiet time. You’ll feel better, and be better prepared to be a force for positive change in your relationships and community.
Thanks for reading!

Various Sources:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Don't Worry, That's Normal

Sometimes I worry about getting Alzheimer’s. I’m sure a lot of people do. I’m not a dedicated worrier, but given the genetic tendencies for this particular disease, I could claim some cause for worry. My maternal grandmother was lost in the last 10 years of her life, if not more, in the twisted world of dementia. Following in those footsteps, my mother began to show signs of dementia by her early sixties, and has continued to step further and further away from the here and now for the last decade. At some point, I will want to write more about my experiences with my mother, and there is plenty to write about, but I’m not up to that at the moment, so let’s just say we’ll do that later.
Right now, let’s consider behaviors that we don’t have to worry about – those things that cause frustration, but aught not cause undue paranoia. The behaviors to which I refer fall into categories such as “brain farts” or “senior moments”, defined on urbandictionary.com also as a “spontaneous stupid” (I love http://www.urbandictionary.com/). Now then, I am drawn to this subject by a recent article in More, a magazine for, yes that’s me, 40+ women. The June issue, featuring the achingly beautiful Mary-Louise Parker on the cover, has an article called “New Rules for Saving Your Memory”, written by Judy Jones, based on an interview with John Medina, PhD, director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. Find out more about More magazine at http://www.more.com/.
So, that article starts out with the bad news, urgh, that our brains are basically wired to reach peak capacity at about age 19. Wonderful. According to Dr. Medina, our caveman brains are designed to last long enough for us to reproduce, and then it’s all downhill from there, with 85,000 neurons jumping ship every day. OK, so where is the hopeful part? Well, to begin with, the article explains that we have to understand a bit about how the brain processes information. First, information comes in from our senses; then the brain sorts it and stores it; next the information is retrieved, as we need it; and lastly, the most important step according to Dr. Medina, the brain dumps unnecessary information. This last part is so important because the forgetting process creates the space we need to take in new information. As we go through our days, we encounter an endless stream of visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli, just to touch on the tip of the iceberg. All the while, our brains sort out the keepers from the useless, and dump the trash as we go. And that, apparently, is where middle-aged brains start to falter. As we age, our brains have trouble blocking out the static of useless information, and in the deluge, our filters get clogged, resulting in, you guessed it…….a brain fart, a senior moment, a spontaneous stupid of just where did I put my keys, or why did I come in this room.
Now, consider how much information there is to process in the average 30 minutes of TV. Heck, how about just considering 30 seconds? I did an exercise with the college students in my Intro to Theatre class last fall, in order to demonstrate the difference between recorded media and live performance. I showed a 30 second commercial, asking the class to tally up how many different images their brains were offered in one short TV ad. The counts came in close to 30 - almost one different image per second, in one short and very simple commercial, not even counting music, voices, and sound affects. Just think about your day, and all the information your brain has to process. No wonder our brains can go on overload.
I feel better knowing that the occasional brain fart is normal, and not a sign of impending doom. And if sorting static is what puts my brain over the edge, I’m happy to look for ways to simplify my world. But this leads to the question, what can we do to keep our brains healthy over the long run? Dr. Medina has some answers there for us as well. First of all, and most importantly, exercise, be active, and stay active. An active lifestyle improves your odds of being healthy across the board, physically, emotionally, and in terms of mental acuity. Even if you’ve been an armchair pilot for years, getting started with some form of aerobic exercise, and sticking with it, will boost your brainpower over the long run.
The other advice Dr. Medina has for us to improve the shape of our aging brains is to learn tactics to limit the ill affects of stress in our lives. Apparently, situations that lead to feelings of frustration and powerlessness can actually damage the brain. It’s important to learn to take steps so that, even when experiencing something negative, you can still feel like you have some control. The tactics suggested by Dr. Medina have mostly to do with managing interpersonal stress, like finding a way to talk out a tough issue with a co-worker or loved one. But often, the big stressors in our lives are things that are beyond our control. What is within our control is how we choose to view these circumstances, and doing things to help ourselves stay in healthy balance as much as we can. So, do the thing that helps you to “chillax”, as my teenage daughter would say. Even when things really suck (and I know about when things really suck), you are in control of how you view and address your circumstances. So take some deep breaths, and make some changes that will help keep your brain cells healthy and thriving for years to come.
Before I tie things up here, I will take a moment to mention that one of the best tools for promoting balance and harmony is meditation. If you are new to meditation, and don’t know how to get started, try Seven Steps to Positive Living, a set of guided meditations that are short and accessible, and appropriate to both secular and spiritual approaches to meditation. Already down with meditation? OK, try Seven Steps as a refreshing, less than 10-minute way to enhance your current path. Go to http://www.cherylfare.com/ to listen to samples, and see if you’d like to give it a try. All right, enough with the shameless self-promotion.
Let’s just all find a way to chillax!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The 4th of July

When it comes to holidays, I have a tried and true favorite – the 4th of July. Stick around for a minute, and I’ll explain why.
First up, let’s talk about gift giving. Holidays like Christmas, Chanukah, and birthdays (our own personal holidays) all require gift giving. Now, of course, gift giving is intended to be a joyful process of expressing our love through the sharing of significant tokens of our affection. For some of us, this may be a wonderful and creative process, like making jewelry, knitting scarves, or building a birdhouse. Others enjoy the process of shopping, tapping into our shared heritage as hunter-gatherers, seeking and finding just the right something for that special someone. In the interest of being fully up front, most of the time, I fall into that category. However, I know that for many others, shopping is nothing short of painful, torture, a legal form of consumer water-boarding. I have one relative who abhors the idea so much, it brings about nervous shakes just thinking of hours of foot-numbing treks through stores one would never visit on a normal day, or carpal tunnel inducing eons of clicking away online. For those folks, I point out one sublime fact - there are no gifts required for the 4th of July. Aaahhh. Can’t you just feel the sigh of relief?
Now let’s talk about food. So many of the more complicated holidays require cooking. Not cooking for fun, which is, well, fun - but compulsory cooking. This entrĂ©e must be served, it’s a family tradition, we always have that, it takes all day and is worth every moment, things just wouldn’t be the same without it – that kind of cooking. The 4th of July skirts around weighty historic and religious traditions involving the cooking of copious amounts of mostly meats and sweets. On the 4th of July we celebrate freedom, and you have the freedom to choose to cook for fun, or not to cook at all. Sweet! Maybe you will freely choose to contribute a watermelon to the neighborhood cookout, or you enjoy grilling with all the works. But the important thing is, it’s your choice, and yet another reason to love the 4th of July.
Now, let’s talk dates and events. Whereas some holidays occur on the nth day of whatever month each year, no matter what the actual date, some others are honored in a floating fashion with dating systems dictated by ancient methods known to only a select few. Needless to say, I’m not one of those few, are you? Just to add to the confusion, some holidays actually occur on one day, but are celebrated on another. But the day for celebrating American independence is on the 4th of July, occurring on the 4th day of the seventh month, every year, never fails. It’s simple, it’s straight forward, and I like it. Likewise, the 4th remains accessible and uncomplicated because there are no mandatory events on the 4th of July. If you want to do a get-together with family or friends, that’s cool. If you’d rather sit at home and watch fireworks on the tube, that’s cool, too. If you want to travel to a major city, and see a concert followed by the big boomers, go for it. If you’d rather go for a walk in the warm evening air and then hit the sack, more power to ya. No requirements, no expectations, do it your way and have a good time, that’s why I like the 4th of July.
Now, let’s finish off with one brief moment touching on the deeper meaning of Independence Day. All my simple and mundane reasons for loving the 4th of July are rooted in one universal and yet singular ideal – freedom. Regardless of our religious beliefs or political preferences, we can all get on board to participate in a day that celebrates life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What’s not to like? So, here’s hoping everyone will have a fun and relaxing 4th of July. Come what may, I know I will.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

songwriting journal - impetus & inquiry

I love to hear people’s comments about my writing. Granted, it’s not always a fun or easy moment, depending on the feedback. But when you do creative work, and share it with others, then the energy that comes back from the audience needs to be honored, just as much as the energy that brought about the work in the first place. My favorite moment is always hearing from people about their favorite moment. It lets me see how the work grows and continues to develop, even after its been performed, recorded, packaged. It makes me wonder about the listener, and how this one piece resonates with them in a meaningful way. It spurs me on to create more. Some people have a great curiosity about the creative process behind whatever moment has caught their attention. They ask where an idea came from, how it developed, and if they know me, they might ask does it have to do with this person, or that situation. I understand their curiosity, but I also want my audience to experience the work from wherever they are in the moment taking it in, rather than coloring their experience with an inkling of where I was when the work came about. So, sometimes I want to share, and sometimes not so much.

In some cases, I think my answer to curious questions would really spoil all the fun. There is one song I have recorded that has been called a favorite by some listeners. It’s a song about loss, and seems to connect with people on a variety of levels. I hope no one ever asks me about that one. My process with that song was to entertain myself by playing with one particular word in as many ways as I could. Then, I took an old melody that I wrote about 28 years ago, wrote a bridge to create some variety, and slapped it all together. Now, I’m not saying that I have no personal attachment to the song. I do. In fact, a few of the lines offer a glimpse into a particularly deep break in my heart. But overall, the songwriting process on that particular song was very clinical, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the meaning for a curious listener by getting too specific.

In other cases, I am just beginning to explore a particular theme, and have plenty more to say. I may choose to continue the thread in any number of ways. And finally, sometimes the subject matter of my work is very personal. This is, of course, one of the primary conundrums of doing creative work. On the one hand, the impetus for the work comes from deeply personal experiences; moments of meaning the artist may not yet begin to understand themselves. Then, if the work is meant to be shared, come the moments of others shining light into the dark corners, turning it this way and that, and asking how and why. Now, I do not think of myself as a deeply private person. There are not carefully constructed walls around my heart, secret pathways, or smoke and mirrors. It’s pretty much there, on my sleeve, and comes out in my writing, as I work through different levels of meaning and understanding in my life. So, I’m ok with the personal questions for the most part. And if a question does come too close, I can usually find a way to skirt around it for the moment.

What does concern me sometimes is how people I know and love will receive my work. There are times when an isolated event or particular theme is taken out, examined, spun out in a new direction, expanded, explored, prodded, twisted just to see what will happen, and what can be learned in the process. The resulting words no longer resemble what actually happened, the resulting feelings are amplified and enhanced. The words have taken their own path, and I have just followed along taking notes. So, it’s those kinds of things that can cause me to bite my lip and wonder how it all will go over. What will my husband or kids think? How about extended family, an estranged friend, or, as is often the case, an old boyfriend? In my weaker moments, these worries, combined with the wonder of modern social networking, can leave me circling around like a self-conscious tween at a middle school dance. When I’m feeling more at home in my own skin, I know that my task is to listen to intuition, allow impetus the space to unfurl, and allow inquiry to take care of itself.

For all this, I am thankful.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Richmond Ride for Kids 2009

If it’s June, then it’s Ride for Kids time again in Richmond. For those new to this phenomenon, let me fill you in a bit - Ride for Kids is an amazing fundraising program in which hundreds of bikers come together, take some kids with brain tumors and their siblings on a great motorcycle ride, and raise thousands and thousands of dollars for pediatric brain tumor research. In short, it’s fun, it’s inspirational, and every ride is another step closer to finding the cure for childhood brain cancer. This year, the Richmond Ride for Kids event raised more than $117,700.00, a record for the Richmond ride, and proof that there are no economic downturns for caring and compassion.

The heroes in this story are many. I’ve already mentioned the bikers. These are folks from all walks of life, with an enthusiasm for motorcycles, who, out of the goodness of their hearts, use their personal passion to make a difference for others. Some of them contribute with a basic registration donation of $35, and others spend all year raising money for kids with brain tumors, rolling into the ride with tens of thousands in donations tucked into their leather saddle bags. Their connections to the issue are varied, but let me tell you, the difference they are making is truly significant.

Ride for Kids events take place throughout the year, in locations all over these United States, and support the efforts of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (PBTF). What started as a single event in 1984, organized by one North Carolina couple and their biker friends, has grown and grown, and has enabled the PBTF to become the largest non-government source of funding for pediatric brain tumor research. No kidding. All those bikers, bringing in all those donations from generous friends, neighbors, co-workers, and corporate matching gifts – every one of them is changing the face of this disease. The totals are staggering. In 2008 alone, Ride for Kids helped the PBTF raise it medical research funding commitments by more than $8 million. And while we’re on the subject, let me just note that the PBTF has earned Charity Navigator’s highest rating of 4 stars for five years running. So, if you decide you’d like to contribute, you can trust that your donation will go where it counts.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the army of volunteers and the local sponsors. The Richmond ride has been going now for seven years, and I never fail to be impressed by the number of volunteers lining the registration tables from the wee hours of the morning. And I’m sure I only see a small fragment of the work. Each ride has a local Task Force coordinating details with the national organization, and it all appears to come together seamlessly, with lots of dedication and elbow grease. Ride for Kids events are thoughtful and well organized, a fine opportunity for the volunteer looking to make a difference and have a good experience. A lot of what makes these events run so well comes from the support of local sponsors. I don’t know the details of these arrangements, but I can see that the logistics involved require coordination with groups ranging from the Richmond Times Dispatch (host facility) and the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (ride escorts), to the providers of tents, staging, sound system, and food before and after the ride. Did I mention that Ride for Kids provides food for the participants? My kids and I have now had our monthly allowance of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and a tasty lunch, all compliments of Ride for Kids.

And finally, I must acknowledge the families. That’s my connection, and how my role is defined. My job at Ride for Kids is to provide kids. Two, in particular - one who has experienced a brain tumor, and one who has traveled the compassionate road at her side, both of whom look forward to Ride for Kids with the unbridled passion that only youth can embody. They may be afraid of roller coasters or bees or snakes, but when it comes to donning a helmet and cruising off on the backseat of a huge motorcycle, my kids have no fear! Ride for Kids is a great reward for all of us families, who spend so much time in hospitals and doctor offices, on the phone with insurance and medication providers, and begin each day with a deep breath as we evaluate the challenges, and celebrate the accomplishments in the process of the brain tumor experience. For us, Ride for Kids is just as they call the closing ceremony of the event - a “Celebration of Life” - joyous, fun, and empowering! We are so grateful for everyone who makes these events possible. So, hats off to Ride for Kids and PBTF, to the motorcyclists of the Richmond ride, and I must not forget to offer a special shout-out to the bikers who escorted my kids this year - Butch and Frankie, you’re the best!

Want to get involved? For more information about Ride for Kids and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation go to http://www.pbtfus.org/.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lost Moments

Two scenarios keep running through my mind. Two kinds of moments actually, in which something is lost, something I would like to find a way to get back. On the one hand, there are lost moments that feel like opportunities unfulfilled. If only I had said this, if only I had done that. We all have those, don’t we? I want to be the person who does not hold on to these lost moments, circling back around as if I might find a way to actually do something this time, or redo, or undo. Unlike the piles of things that gather dust in the corners of closets and backyard sheds, lost moments will never experience the joy of being picked up and finally put to use. Lost moments that are not released, wait, and remind, niggling and nagging, until they collect enough matter to stand on their own, forming shapes like regret, remorse, a pang of guilt, shame, whatever compunction floats your boat.

I don’t expend too much energy on the darker shadows of guilt and shame - enough, a little, but not too much. But the others, the ones that remind me of the limits constructed of my own fears, they nag at me something awful every now and then. What I wonder is, on that day more than 25 years ago, when I walked out of dance class and saw him standing there, a reminder of what I had longed for most in my high school days – how could things have been different? He was taller, and more intense than I remembered. Would his skin still feel the same? If I had not learned so well to toe the line and bite my tongue, what would I have said, how could things have gone? If I had it to do over again, would I find the courage to reach out and take a chance? Could he in his soccer jersey, and I in my leotard, recapture the opportunity we were destined to lose, and maybe go have coffee instead? Would we want to? I will never know, but I will bother myself plenty about it for a while, think of it as a loss, and look for ways to turn that thought around.

The other lost moments on my mind are more than just errant bits of time and opportunity. They are also lost energy, energy that I want to have back. These moments come from the days that change everything. Not the ones that come as a surprise, but the ones we know are coming, the ones we prepare for – getting thoughts in order, girding our loins (a rather graphic sounding Biblical phrase), spinning dreams of how wonderful it will be, or how awful, or something in between. The wedding, the medical test, the interview, the first day with something new – you know what I mean. We live these things all the time, and expend energy in planning what we will do, and how it might go. What gets my goat, sticks in my craw, whatever other annoying string of words that may come to mind, are the days when the anticipated event fails to happen. So you plan, strategize, worry and dream, extend your focus over a range of possible outcomes, all for naught. Zip. Nothing. Reschedule. Maybe later. No thanks.

All that unfulfilled energy, planning for what turns out to be a big steaming pile of lost moments – that feels like a waste, and I want it back. I have lots to do, and I need all the energy I can get. Last month, when we got ready for the big day, reviewed all the recent successes, evaluated once more the potential for long term negative outcomes, only to have the test scrubbed – yeah, that day – I want that energy back. It’s not like I’m looking for trouble. I’m not out there, with my hand out, looking for drama so that I can feel useful - and I assure you, I am very useful when it comes time for drama. But there is a sense deflation in these lost moments, a lack of satisfaction - all dressed up and no celebration, superhero suit on and no bad guy to fight.

I want a way to recapture the wasted energy, from the lost opportunity moments, and the unfulfilled expectation moments. Let’s call it “personal energy recycling” - a very “green” notion, so it must be good and necessary. When I figure out how to go back in time and gather up all my lost power, I’ll write out the instructions, and share it with others, so we can all benefit. I’ve heard a couple of paths that may lead to the amazing discovery I seek. My quest could lead me to reconsider the very nature of time and energy, but not likely - delving deep is not one of my frequent inclinations. One solution could lie in a simple concept I learned in acting class, right around the time of that ill-fated moment outside the college dance studio – that of living in the here and now. Another answer could be found in the newly discovered secrets of good old positive thinking. In short, you are what you think. Think about good, and you attract good; think about crap, and you get that, too. Of course, one key to making positive thinking really work is trust, and this is where I think I may find some solace. Trusting that the potential for good exists in every moment, and that every moment is as it is meant to be, rich with meaning and intent, is surely the foundation for positive living. I could go on a good bit about any one of these approaches, but will leave that for another time. I’ll give my quest for personal energy recycling a try for a while, see if I can rediscover some of my lost moments, and power I’ve given away, and let you know how it goes.

(Cheryl is the author of Seven Steps to Positive Living, a self-help collection of short and easy meditations for those seeking quiet in the midst of hectic lives. For more information, go to www.cherylfare.com)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Benefit Concert May 23rd

Hello Friends -

I’m writing to let you know about a special event coming up this weekend. There are many wonderful things about the month of May, and one of them is that May is national Brain Tumor Awareness Month. In honor of this event, the Richmond Brain Tumor Support Group is presenting a Benefit Concert. Here’s what you need to know:

What: Benefit Concert celebrating Brain Tumor Awareness Month
When: Saturday, May 23, 3:00-6:00pm
Where: Ashland Coffee & Tea, 101 N. Railroad Avenue, Ashland VA, 23005
Admission: a “Pay as You Can” Donation of $5 or more, at the door, no advance sales.

This show will feature the Susan Greenbaum Band, well known to Richmond audiences, and well loved for “masterful songwriting and performance”. Susan, as many of you know, gave up a successful career at a Fortune 500 company to pursue life as a musician. As many of you may not know, Susan lost an older brother to a brain tumor, so she is eager to see a lot of folks come out and support this worthy cause.

Susan and I met through the Richmond Brain Tumor Support Group. Those who have known me a long time are aware that I set aside a career in professional theatre when my now 15-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1999. In between trips back and forth to the hospital for successful treatments, I’ve been developing my skills as a songwriter, and am excited to be opening this benefit concert with my band, The Solid Band - featuring Beth Harvey on piano and Jim Coles on percussion. I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to play with these fine musicians, and share music from my new CD, Springfield.

This benefit concert is presented by and benefiting the Richmond Brain Tumor Support Group (a 501( c) 3 non-profit), an organization that works to provide support for brain tumor survivors and their loved ones, promote awareness for brain tumor issues, and advocate for brain tumor research in Central Virginia. Other local organizations that assist families with brain tumors will take part in the event, and there will be opportunities to support local families as well. In particular, friends of one Ashland family in need have organized a 50/50 raffle to raise money to pay hospital bills for little Charlotte Reynolds, 3 years old, and currently in treatment.

So, ease on into the your holiday weekend! Come on out for a good cause, stay to listen to some great music, and refresh yourself with great food and drink from the new owners at Ashland Coffee & Tea.


Cheryl Fare
facebook - cheryl fare
blog - http://twinmuses.blogspot.com/ "THIS GIRL HAS FOUND HER GROOVE!" - http://cdbaby.com/cd/cherylfare

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Let's Talk About Smoking

In the state of Virginia, a new law banning smoking in public places will go into place some time in December. Without getting into the details, and I rarely get into details on “issues”, it sounds as if over the next several months, restaurants and bars will have a choice to make about how they will address the new smoking ban. I, for one, am looking forward to being able to go out without having to breathe in someone else’s smoke in the process. Now don’t get me wrong here - I am not an anti-smoking-dangers-of-second-hand-smoke crusader – quite the opposite.

I love smoking. I started smoking some time around when I was sixteen. I have quit smoking five or six different times. I have not smoked in nine years. I wouldn’t mind lighting up right now, if it weren’t a supremely stupid move to make. So, why am I looking forward to the smoking ban? Maybe so that I can be spared the envy of watching others enjoy and inhale; maybe so that I can observe others doing things I did for years, such as standing outside in all manner of weather to get their fix of choice; maybe so I can go to the open mic night at the local bar, and be able to sing without feeling like my throat has been scrubbed with Comet – maybe all of the above.

I love smoking because it’s a little bit naughty. Having been raised by a father with a powerful personality and controlling manner, I was well trained to be a “good girl” and try to earn the elusive carrot of paternal approval. I won’t go one step further into that discussion, except to say that this dynamic left me with a never-ending desire to rebel, and be just a little bit naughty. I like to wear black because it makes people wonder, I like men who are less than clean-cut and slightly dangerous, and I like cigarettes because they are a little bit naughty. I have never had any interest in alcohol or anything that might be illegal, but I do likes me some smokes, and “good girls” are not supposed to smoke.

So, let’s talk pros and cons of smoking. The contrary side of the issue goes without saying. For more than the first half of the 20th century, many adults were enticed into smoking by ads claiming the health benefits of tobacco use. My grandmother never went without her after-dinner cigarette, as a way of stimulating the process of digestion and elimination. (Let me just say, snitching a cigarette from her stale stash was an unsavory experience in more ways than one.) But theses days, anyone middle-aged or younger knows that smoking is destructive. Yes, it’s a choice, but nothing short of a reckless and destructive choice for you and all your loved ones. We know that. ‘Nuff said.

Then, there are the benefits of smoking. Aside from the personal benefits noted above, the biggest pro I can recall from my days of lighting up is having a quiet moment on my own to step outside, breathe deeply, and take a break. Oh, how I miss those quiet moments! Without “the pause that refreshes” (ad slogan for Coca-Cola circa 1929, thank you Google), I can get so consumed by my daily activities, that I barely take a moment for a focused breath in an entire day. Now, how many of us could say the same? So, there is something to be said for taking a breather, and lucky for us, we can do that without taking a smoke.

On any normal day where I live, as I drive out to go to some kind of work thing or do errands, it is likely that I will see a particular woman out in front of an older office building down the street from my house. She is out at all times of the day, in all seasons, smartly dressed, coffee mug in one hand, and cigarette in another. My husband has seen her many times as well, and made note, since she is beautiful, tall, long auburn hair, exuding an air of relaxed confidence. I don’t know her, but I could see us being friends, if I could get past being envious of her ever-present smoldering cigarette. I hope that she knows about the dangers of skin cancer, because it looks like she’s been tanning. I wonder if she knows that smoking will give her lots of wrinkles. Most of all, I’m curious – who does she work for? And do they know how much time she spends outside smoking? Must be a nice job.

Quitting smoking is bitch - plain and simple. Nicotine is a most pernicious beast, and does not want to let go, once it has found a likely host. The last time I quit, and it will remain the last time, I managed to do it by replicating the conditions mentioned above. So, I would step outside, (away from the daily grind, and away from my usual smoking place), take deep breaths, stretch, take along a toy of some kind to give my idle hands something to play with, and honor myself with a few quiet moments. Slowly but surely, with a few stops and starts, and some nicotine gum, I was able to let go of my attachment to cigarettes for the last time. And in those times when I find myself yearning for a puff, it is no doubt also a time when I really need to give myself a break, take that “pause that refreshes”, and breathe with intention.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Songwriting Journal - History

I grew up writing songs. Secretly. In my head, in the bath, singing myself to sleep. Quietly, so no one would hear, make snarky comments, tell me I was doing it wrong, or what I should be doing instead. The first fully formed song I recall creating was when I was 11, and had a crush on my best friend’s big brother. It’s a blues song, although I have no idea where or when I may have heard the blues as a child. The only music I remember growing up with, other than Top 40 radio, is soundtracks from Disney movies. I played and played Mary Poppins and Cinderella, until I wore the grooves off the old LP. Even today, I can sing most of Mary Poppins from memory, and know for sure that a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down, and shaking hands with a chimney sweep will bring you good luck.

Anyway, back to the blues, and still not sure how I knew anything of blues music. But, the song is still there, in the memory banks, waiting to be brought into the light and made relevant. It’s a pretty decent song actually, complete with the deep moan of the unrequited, and heartfelt declarations of love for a man who, at the time, must have been nothing more than an awkward pimple-faced teen. One day soon, I’ll pull that song out of my pocket, roll it around some, give it some polish, and a chance to breathe the air in the here and now.

The next phase of songwriting was in my late teens and early twenties. College life gave me the chance to meet new people, and gain some exposure to music other than what came out of the car radio. A friend came along who helped me buy my first guitar (still the one I practice and write with today), and the songs started rolling out. I recall writing songs in a variety of dorms and common rooms, pages and pages of songs exploring love of many kinds, searching, heartbreak, yearning, you name it. Most of these songs have been lost along the years - not a great loss, really. A few of the musical progressions live on; one of those has actually made it into a professionally recorded product. Perhaps more will do the same.

In 1982 I started working in theatre, found the collaborative meld of many different art forms to be endlessly fascinating, and followed that path for many years. One thing about theatre - it is all-consuming, there is little room for anything else between the hours of creation and preparation, rehearsal, performance. Things slowed down a bit when my children came along, and more still in January of 1999, when for a reason I had yet to know, I just didn’t want to do theatre any more. I still wanted to communicate with an audience, but in a different way. What I wanted to do was go back to music. So, I started working in that direction, took a guitar class, started playing with melodies and words, found a partner to work with.

I was preparing, or the universe was preparing me, but for something vastly different than what I anticipated. On a Saturday morning in August of 1999, I played my first show as a singer-songwriter. On the following Monday, I found out my daughter had a brain tumor. (Let me just cut to the chase here and say that she is doing well. Its complicated and still challenging, but no complaints here.) Through the subsequent years of challenge and reward, music kept me going. Playing music and writing songs was flexible enough to maintain in between trips to the hospital, and the level of energy needed to guide a family through this sort of thing. On a more personal level, writing songs gave me the emotional and creative release necessary to keep an even keel when things got really tough.

It has taken me 10 years to go from that first show as a singer-songwriter, to where I am now, with my first album of original songs making its way into the world. My progress has been slow, but steady nonetheless. I have learned to keep paper and pencil on hand at all times, on the bed stand, in the car, a stack of index cards tucked into my pocket to catch strings of words as they capture my attention. I have discovered the thrill of taking small moments, spinning them out this way and that to study the strong parts and weak, and pulling them in again into a song. The music composition piece is a bit harder for me, since I really need quiet time for this to happen, and quiet time is hard to come by. Nevertheless, I keep plugging along. Songwriting is a piece of what I do, along with other writing, continued work in the theatre, and most importantly, keeping things going as a wife and mom. From time to time I’ll take a minute to write about the evolution of a particular piece I have written. Perhaps from time to time you will return to read.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Musings on Merlefest 2009

Musings on Merlefest 2009

Greetings, my friends! I have just returned from Merlefest. For readers who are not aware, Merlefest is one of the premiere American roots music festivals, occurring at the end of April every year in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Like most events of this size and scope, (and I do mean size and scope – Merlefest attendance is in the tens of thousands) it is more than just a music festival – it has a culture, a vibe, a feeling all it’s own, and is a truly mind-opening experience. As I mentioned, Merlefest is a roots music festival, and the list as their mission to present “a high quality diversified American roots based musical experience”. Now, I could quibble with the use of the term “diversified”, since the representation of roots music from continents other than Europe seems slim at best. But, it is not my goal here to pick apart the experience, so I shall let that be. My aim here is to celebrate and share all the wonderful experiences of the past few days. Now, I will share up front that, when attending Merlefest, my first wish is to be able to clone myself 10 times over, so that I could make it to all the sets I want to see. Alas, science has yet to catch up with my desires. The festival runs 4 days. I was able to make it to 2 days this year, and here is what I saw:


Scythian (www.scythianmusic.com) on the Americana stage: Caught a good chunk of one set from this band of young guys, playing a mixture of tunes with Celtic and eastern European influences. Great energy, cute young guys, lots of fun, what’s not to like?

Songwriting Workshop (with James Nash and Warren Hood from The Waybacks www.waybacks.com ) in Mayes Pit: Here’s one of my favorite things about Merlefest – the workshops. These quiet and intimate sessions offer a real glimpse into the creative process, and with the heat this year, a wonderful indoor respite from the weather. Since one of my favorite things is writing songs, I loved this opportunity to listen to a discussion on method, inspiration, getting over writing blocks, and moving from ideas into fruition.

Meandering and Shopping: Don’t think there’s only music at Merlefest. When you go, plan plenty of time to wander and take in the sights and shops, and plan for all the things you will buy when you win the lottery.

Jim Lauderdale and Friends (www.jimlauderdale.com ) on the Austin stage: Here’s a name I have seen many times on the Merlefest line-up, and I finally made it to one of his sets. No wonder he has so many friends who want to join him on stage. I love Jim’s easy and joyful temperament, and his emphasis on songwriting. If it’s country music you love, this is the guy for you.

Chris Austin Songwriting Contest on the Austin stage: Ah, yes, yet another opportunity to take in a session focused on songwriting. This contest is one of many held every year at Merlefest, giving normal folks the chance to move up to the ranks of those onstage. In fact, many a main-stager was once a contestant in one of these contests. This particular session featured the 3 finalists in each of 4 categories of songs (country, bluegrass, gospel, and “general” – hmmm…..I refer back to the diversity question). The winners in each category are then given a chance to perform at breaks on the main stage, and the runners up get slots at the songwriters’ coffee house session. So, some nicely written songs, and some decisions from the panel of judges that make you wonder, but no discussion of how these decisions were reached, so you are left wondering, and clapping your heart out for the contestants. Go songwriters!

The Duhks (www.duhks.com pronounced “ducks”) on the Hillside stage: This band is nothing short of a powerhouse of eclectic creative energy. Their music mixes all sorts of influences, from Led Zeppelin to French Canadian folk songs. When I saw them last, 2 years ago at Merlefest, they had just replaced their lead singer, and were still struggling to find their feet in new waters. Well, struggle no more! All hesitancy is gone, as lead singer Sarah Dugas has settled into the microphone with grace and style, and the band has developed a firm foundation to support their stellar musical exploration.

Donna the Buffalo (www.donnathebuffalo.com) on the Hillside stage: This band must be the finest dance band in the world for regular people without fancy moves. If you can imagine feeling warm and fuzzy, closing your eyes, and grooving along to fun and positive folk rock tunes for hours, you have imagined a Donna the Buffalo show. Now I will say that sitting and watching is not the best way to take in Donna the Buffalo. Their stage style and talk between songs does not inspire enthusiasm. But close your eyes and tune in your other senses, and you’ve got the makings for a lot of fun.

Find some Food: Merlefest features a huge food tent, with lots of choices at decent prices provided by local charities and organizations. The festival has also added smaller food venders throughout the festival grounds, making it easier to get your snack on and your drink on, not matter where you are when you need it. It is best, however, to avoid the busy times in the food tent, when the crowd can be overwhelming.

Songwriter Coffeehouse in The Lounge: (Can you tell I have an interest in songwriting?) An evening rainstorm and main stage delay for lightning made my choice for Friday evening all the easier. I love the Songwriter Coffeehouse, which alternates short intimate sets from main stage performers, with runners-up from the songwriting competition, and aspiring songwriters who have won a performance slot by entering a lottery. In past years, I have seen up close and personal performances in this venue to make my heart sing. This year was no exception, as I had my first taste of Anne and Pete Sibley – I’ll share more on them later. Unfortunately, following a short set by 2 of the Dixie Beeliners, the stage schedule got a little out of whack, and the momentum was broken, and I decided to opt for more rest over staying out the night in The Lounge.


Vocal Workshop in Mayes Pit: The little taste of Anne and Pete Sibley on Friday night was enough to tip the scales for me on Saturday morning, and point me firmly towards the Vocal Workshop. Now, I will say that when I first visited Merlefest, maybe 8 years ago, the Vocal Workshop was nothing more than a line of musicians known for their vocals, each taking a turn leading a song. Luckily, under the firm hand of super-singer John Cowan, this session has become an informative and intriguing exploration of the divine art of singing. (In case I come off as playing favorites, I will disclose here that the gentleman and I have been known to each other as friends for many, many years ;-) you go, Cowboy!) In between fielding audience questions on a variety of vocal concerns and related topics, the panel (Anne and Pete Sibley, Cowan, and Laurelyn and Kari from the band Polecat Creek) treated us all to a few short tunes, and a sing-along of I’ll Fly Away.

John Cowan Band (www.johncowan.com) on the Creekside stage: Ahhh…..where else at Merlefest could one hope to find a Charlie Parker tune than at a JCB set? This band has evolved as the band members have revolved over the last several years, exploring the nuances of each step along the way. This version of JCB adds a full drum kit to the mix, allowing Mr. Cowan to ease up as the rhythmic center of the band, and put more energy into vocals and playful licks on the bass. The musicianship is stellar across the board, the tunes diverse, all forming the backdrop for what the audience wants the most – a big serving of soaring vocals. As expected, The Voice of Newgrass delivers, and the crowd goes wild.

The Greencards (www.thegreencards.com) on the Watson stage: I only caught part of this set, but found what I heard to be compelling in the best sort of way – a neat mixture of powerful and upbeat bluegrassy stuff, with some haunting slow numbers tossed in for good measure. I will look for opportunities to hear a full set from this band in the future.

Tift Merritt (www.tiftmerritt.com) on the Watson stage: Tift Merritt was one of the judges for the songwriting competition, so I was curious to check out her music. A nice mix of folk rock originals ensued, perhaps a little dwarfed by the Watson stage itself. (I have seen this happen before at Merlefest – bands that are accustomed to wedging themselves together on small stages take the opportunity to spread out and try to fill the expanse of the Watson. The result can be a loss of connection in live performance. You just know that when Tift has to run back and forth to talk to band mates between songs, it takes energy away from her performance, especially the vocals.) That said, I enjoyed the songs, and will be happy to listen in again some time.

Anne and Pete Sibley (www.anneandpetesibley.com) in The Lounge: For me, every Merlefest brings some musical discovery that leaves me in awe. This year, once I had a little taste of Anne and Pete Sibley, I scoured the schedule in search of an opportunity to take in a full set. An intimate setting is ideal for this duo, allowing the audience to fully take in the loving give and take of life partners making beautiful music together. Having a romantic heart makes me a sucker for this duo, who recently won the Prairie Home Companion’s Duo Competition. The vocal harmony is sublime, the songwriting achingly engaging, and the overriding sense that this couple is having a wonderful time together just enough to make you wanna cry.

The Kruger Brothers (www.krugerbrothers.com) on the Americana stage: At almost every Merlefest I have attended, I have found myself sitting at one stage, heard a huge audience roar from another stage, and checking the schedule to see who I had missed, found it was The Kruger Brothers. So this time around, I passed up on other great opportunities, and sat myself down on the grass to take in this trio combining European heritage and a passion for American music, with amazing results. Now, I’m a sucker for vocals, so I wish they would sing more, but when they do, the voices are rich and the harmony wonderful. The instrumentals have that wonderful texture that comes from knowing each other well enough to have a firm foundation, and plenty of room to stretch out in any direction. Now here’s where I could just kick myself – I left this set before it was over to check out another session. I won’t even mention the other session, as it was not my favorite. And what happened again? Once again, I heard the crowd roar. And who was it for? ……of course, The Kruger Brothers.

Docabilly – Doc Watson and Friends on the Watson stage: At previous Merlefests, I have spent many hours camped out at the Austin stage, taking in the many languages of the blues. This year, I left my yen for the blues in the capable hands of the patriarch of Merlefest, Doc Watson. Joined by a long string of musical giants, Doc effortlessly guided this delightful session through vintage country, rock, blues, and hillbilly tunes, topped off by a touching tribute to the namesake of the festival, Merle Watson. Good plain fun, all around.

Pat Donohue (www.patdonohue.com) on the Cabin Stage: It’s always a welcome relief at the end of a busy festival day, to settle in at the main stage, and take in the great rotation of talent back and forth between the Watson and the Cabin stages. After years of hearing Garrison Keillor introduce audiences to “Mr. Pat Donohue”, what fun to take in a solo set from a whiz of finger picking guitar. The mixture of Chet Atkins inspired licks, and originals with a playful sense of humor, was a good and informal fun for a big festival audience.

Emmylou Harris ( www.emmylouharris.com) on the Watson stage: When I grow up, I would like to be just like Emmylou Harris. Making beautiful music, carrying herself with confident grace, proudly announcing herself as a grandmother, and wearing her natural hair – Emmylou makes being a grandma truly cool. With a deep catalog of music from which to pull, Emmylou delivered on songs from her most recent release, all the way back to, as she put it, a song that hit the charts when she was “still a brunette”. My favorite Emmylou collection, Red Dirt Girl, with its haunting themes and sound, was well represented, so I was a happy festival camper.

Happy, but tired – not being as young as I used to be, Emmylou was the last full set of my Merlefest 2009. As I slowly made my exit, timed to avoid the crush for the lines to the shuttle buses, I heard a bit of David Bromberg and Angel Band. No one can do the anguished and angry jilted man like David Bromberg. And Sam Bush, a true giant of Americana music, and a fine showman overall….I have seen Sam Bush perform many times, and enjoyed them all. I took in the rest of this set over Merlefest radio, on my drive back to the hotel room, to lay down my weary and well-satisfied head.

Check out festival downloads and information at www.merlefest.org.