Category Archives: childhood

Is This Cup Half Empty? (Dedicated to Ray North)

I’ve been struggling with a thought lately. Here’s my question: Am I living life to the fullest? What does that even mean? I hear people talk about it all the time, but who actually does it? I asked some of my friends and family what they thought.

I have a friend at work. Yeah, can you believe that? His name is Joe. He is a writer. Not only is he a genuinely nice person, but he makes me laugh every day. He’s one of those people that just makes the day better. You can give Joe the most boring topic and he will think of something clever to write about it. He self-published a children’s book, They Don’t Make Books About Uncles and he’s working on a play that I know will be successful…he’s just that kind of guy. Although I’ve only known Joe for a short time, I very much admire him and I know that he has changed my life for the better. He has inspired and encouraged me to write and create and try. That being said, I asked Joe what it means to live life to the fullest. We have the same job and it’s not always glamorous. Yes, we write and create, but there are rules and guidelines to follow and it can get monotonous and frustrating. It’s not always easy to be a creative type in the corporate world. Joe told me that it’s hard to live every moment to the fullest, but it’s what you make of the good things that happen. He said we have to fully enjoy the successes and the happy times. I happen to know that Joe’s family and friends are very important to him and he works to cultivate those relationships. Immerse yourself in the great moments and don’t worry about the small, mundane stuff. Maybe work is just what you have to do to get to the next great moment. I think Joe is on to something. He seems like a happy person to me.

Jeanne and Joe

I also discussed this topic with Steve. You all remember Steve; he’s my husband. You may remember him from such blogs as…you get it. I asked, “Steve, are you living life to the fullest?” He said, “Well, I sure am busy.” That’s not what I meant and I’m sure he knew that. Steve’s passion is music and sound. I believe that when he’s playing music or recording, he is doing what he loves most. In those moments, he is living life to the fullest. In our discussion, we talked about how it may be hard to live life to the fullest when you have to worry about bills and money. One cannot simply travel and take time out to write a novel or produce an album. How can a person be happy when he is hungry or homeless? Well, that’s an interesting thought. Is it only rich people who can really take advantage of a full life?

Jeanne and Steve

I have been listening to a book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic. In this book, Gilbert talks about living a creative life. It’s a choice one makes to pursue their creative endeavors in a responsible and mature way. She explains that creating is free. It’s for the rich and the poor. She mentions that if only the rich could create, the world would surely be a boring place. She cautions her listeners/readers to never make the artistic craft a burden. Work at it because you love it. Don’t do it to impress other people or even make a living. Do it for yourself; to make you happy. She describes a different way of thinking about being creative and talks about her path as a writer and novelist. She wrote Eat, Pray, Love for herself to work through her own life issues. It just happened to resound with millions of readers. (If you’re a creative type, I would highly recommend listening to or reading “Big Magic.”)

While I’m tossing all of these ideas around in my head, something sad happened. One of my brother’s best friends from high school, Ray North has been battling cancer for awhile. After a brave fight, Ray passed away on November 10th. My brother flew to Texas where Ray was getting treatment to be with him and to ultimately say goodbye. I hadn’t seen Ray since I was in high school. We went to the same school, but my brother and Ray graduated the year before I started. Basically, I knew Ray through Paul. Since I always thought my brother was pretty cool, I knew that Ray was cool, too. He was really cute, he could sing, he was in marching band and he had this killer smile. Oh, and he wasn’t rude to me, his friend’s stupid kid sister. Paul recently talked about when he walked into his new high school as a sophomore, he was very nervous. Ray was one of the first people to talk to Paul and made him feel welcome, including Paul in the “cool crowd.” That’s pretty powerful stuff. That’s a gift you never forget about.

At Ray’s wake and funeral I learned even more about him. He has a lovely family. A beautiful wife and four happy kids. Paul and his friend Eric, (also one of Ray’s good friends from high school,) made a slideshow about Ray. In every picture Ray’s smile shone. There were pictures of Ray goofing around with his family growing up and then enjoying happy moments with his wife and kids. I am not kidding, at Ray’s funeral, the church was packed. Not one empty seat. And it was a pretty big church. I was astounded at all of the lives Ray had touched at church, at work, through Scouting, or just within the community. Everyone in that huge room loved Ray. He wasn’t the type of guy you sorta liked. You could only love Ray. One quote from the homily stuck with me. It’s a quote from Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts.

“No one can pass through life, any more than he can pass through a bit of country, without leaving tracks behind, and those tracks may often be helpful to those coming after him in finding their way.”

Every person who spoke was touched by Ray. Ray enriched the lives of others just by being himself. He created a happy life for himself and for those around him. He wasn’t rich and he wasn’t famous, but without a doubt, he lived life to the fullest.

I’m not sure what got me thinking about living life to the fullest, but God or the cosmos, or whatever you believe in, brought me an example when I needed one. So, I’ll take a dash of Joe, a pinch of Steve, a generous portion of Elizabeth Gilbert and mix it all up with Ray to fashion my own life from now on. It’s probably not something I will be good at every day, but at least I have some wise and trustworthy guides to lead the way. I wish I could tell you exactly what it means to live life to the fullest, but I’m not still not entirely sure what it means. I think it’s a different story for all of us. It’s about finding contentment and creativity inside of yourself, loving everyone as hard as you can and ultimately leaving behind a legacy of infectious joy. Also, if you have a killer smile, that could really help.

Ray

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My Buddy and Me

Over the years, many people have asked me who my musical influences are. I never have a good answer at the ready. Of course there are musicians I admire greatly, but as a singer, I can’t say I try to sound like any one particular person. Recently, I was thinking about this question again and I finally thought of a good answer. I would have to say that my first and most important musical influence in my life was my brother Paul.

Back when we were kids we shared a Fisher-Price plastic record player. It played the big records and the little records. It was a portable player that we could listen to upstairs in our own rooms. Most of the time the player resided in Paul’s room because he was older and could punch harder. (Of course my brother wasn’t punching a little kid; he waited until I got older.) We had a few records of our own like The Muppet Show, Pac-Man Fever and Strawberry Shortcake. Big surprise, Strawberry was my favorite. I used to practice my tap dancing to her rousing version of “New York, New York.” C’mon! I was a little kid!

The real treasures were my Mom’s albums. The first time I heard The Beatles was on that record player. My Mom also had the Broadway cast recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” By the time I was 10, I could sing that whole musical. We usually skipped over the death scenes though, as they are a bit much for a little kid. They still freak me out. (Happy Easter, Everybody!)

And then there was the red and white striped box. One of the best, most magical boxes in existence. This plastic coated box had a handle on the top and a hinged closure on the front and was full of 45’s. We played every record in that box from The Beatles to Elvis to The Doors to The Singing Nuns. There was even a version of “The Percolator” which always cracked me up. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, we would carefully carry the box into Paul’s room and look at them all. “Ooh, Paul! Play this one next!” And he would. On very special occasions, probably when Paul was bored out of his mind, he would tell me to gather my favorite stuffed animals and he would make my “friends” dance and sing to the records. Boy, was that cool. He could always make me laugh. Is it dusty in here? I think there’s something in my eye. Hold on.

Well, times, tastes and technology moved on as we grew. Pretty soon cassettes were all the rage. Paul got a cassette/radio boombox. I was not allowed to touch it. My brother, being the music lover that he is, amassed a large quantity of cassettes from Motley Crue to Prince and the Revolution to Missing Persons. He even had a Joe Piscopo comedy album that we thought was hilarious as young kids. (It’s not funny anymore, Joe. Write some new material!) By this time, Paul was a little too cool, or so he thought, to be hanging out with his little kid sister. Silver lining: I got the record player in my room. I would spend hours singing and dancing with Strawberry or The Muppets.

Even as an older kid, Paul would get bored and agree to hang out with me for the afternoon. We didn’t play Monopoly or Scrabble like the other kids, we played Star Search. For those of you not familiar with the 80’s TV show, Ed McMahon hosted a talent competition every week. Singers, dancers, comedians and “spokesmodels” would compete for the highest score of 4-stars. The winner would return week after week to defend their “champion” status. It was a pretty popular show. Here’s how you play the Paul and Jeanne home version: First, pick a song you’d like to perform. Weird Al was always a popular choice, but any song we owned would do. Next, take some time to cultivate your performance. As a dancer, I had a lot of dance costume remnants lying around, so it was easy to put together a unique, silly costume. The performer will also be judged on lip-sync and dance capabilities, so you’d better be good! I don’t remember anyone actually winning the competition, but we put on a good show.

As we got older, Paul and I spent less time together. We had busy lives with band, choir, theater shows, work, school and friends. Luckily, there was always time to watch TV. Maybe we couldn’t agree on a show or movie to watch, but MTV was an option everyone could agree on. We could watch videos for hours. It was so cool to see what our favorite bands looked like. Sometimes when I hear an 80’s song, I’ll ask Paul if he remembers watching the “World Premiere” of that video on MTV. Of course he remembers.

As we became adults we started to attend concerts together. We’ve seen some pretty great and weird shows. Here are a few: Prince, Billy Joel, Korn, Q101’s Twisted 8, Nine Inch Nails, Art of Noise, 311, The Stooges, Henry Rollins, Van Halen, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails again, Bauhaus, Moby…I’m sure there’s more. Ask Paul the next time you see him. Our next show together this June is Weird Al at the Chicago Theater. Anyway, even when we can’t attend a show together, we still share one song over the phone. When I went to see Duran Duran I asked Paul what song he’d like to hear. I can’t remember which song he picked, but he heard “Hungry Like the Wolf.” He didn’t really hear Duran Duran singing it, he heard me screaming the song with thousands of other people, through my phone. Whatever the show, Paul gets a call. We get a good laugh about it later.

Paul and I are still passionate about music. He is a very talented trumpet player and DJ and I am the singer of my band, Puddin’ Head. Music is a major part of both of our lives. If my car is running, there is music on at all times. I’m sure it’s the same in Paul’s car. Thank God for music devices that hold thousands of songs and albums. I’ve helped Paul move a few times and all those CDs are heavy! I’ve got a lot, too, but I’ll never have as much as Paul. He is a true celebrator of music. I would believe that he’s heard almost every song at least once. Okay, maybe not every song, but pretty close. I doubt I would be so passionate about music today if it weren’t for Paul. He and my Mom gave me an invaluable gift in the form of music and creativity all those years ago. I can’t imagine my life without that record player, that striped box of records…or my brother.

So, Paul….how ‘bout another game of Star Search?

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