May 2016 – Reaching Shore

spacerdulci on waterfront

The Simple Story

dulci on waterfrontThe fact that I am writing this perhaps tells it all. After almost three years of hardship and struggle, at the beginning of 2016 and then as Winter has turned now to Spring, I have essentially gotten past the first stage in this journey of the house, a watershed event, where I cross a divide, after a long uphill struggle, and cross into another land, a new chapter in my life.
In concrete terms, I’ve completed almost all of the work necessary and I have my first two housemates. There is still one major job to finish stage 1, renovating the last bedroom, and I still need another housemate for it when it is ready. Or possibly two, if I decide I don't actually need a room for myself, because I am gone so much. There is still a lot of work yet to do on the house and on all the other things that have been waiting while I focused on this massive undertaking, which will be stage 2, but I can finally divert some energy away from the house and back into the music, beyond street performing. Having housemates will put me on stable financial ground, that is the "shore" I have been struggling to reach, the safe harbor after a difficult passage. Though I can't ease up yet, not on playing the street or the work on the house too much, yet. Still, it is the end of the huge job I took on, that really started when I got back from Alaska almost four years ago, and we finally put the house on the market, which ended up with me buying it the next summer.
The next big goal is going back to Alaska on schedule this August, and for that, I need to get ahead enough to pay for it and cover my expenses while I'm gone, and have all the work done on the house that is required for having housemates, like finishing the final bedroom, the one I was staying in while I worked on the rest of the house. I may get more done, I hope I do, but the last bedroom is the only priority. And even though it is my goal, I won't depend on it. I have been through too much, here, and in life, to depend on reaching any goal, though I keep trying, and one day I get there, or realize I can't. Though there are some goals that are worth striving for, reaching for, even when you know they are unattainable, an impossible dream. They are still a star to steer by.
In my philosophy, I am focused not on getting somewhere, but being somewhere, of doing what is Right, and knowing that if I am going in the right direction, on the right course, it will take me where I need to go, the right place, even if I do not know what that is or where it is. If you are on the right road, it will take you where you need to go, if you aren't on the right path, you will never get there.

multinodal rose in a budvase on my deskI am not sure what else I am going to try to do in the relatively short time before it is time to go to Alaska, with the relatively limited time and energy I can divert from the house and playing the street. But what I am doing is getting the webjournal back up to date, and hopefully finishing and posting several entries I wrote but never completed and posted to fill in the gap, tell the story.
Otherwise, I’ll focus on setting up the audio and video studio gear again, and the general music area in the house, as both of my housemates are musicians and are into dedicating a part of the house to that, something I had hoped might happen, but couldn't expect. I've dug out the studio computer, which was a big discouragement when it failed after I got it back in the house and tried to set it up. I need to either replace or rebuild the studio computer so I can produce audio and video again, take up where I left off. Just doing that much will be a big step forward, though it is sad to think that "a big step forward" is just trying to get back to where I was years ago. And in fact, it may be too big a job to get done before it is time to go to Alaska, and I have to stay focused on that goal. I will be back, to take up whever I leave off. But that is the first task, to catch up again, and think about being ready to actually make true progress, whatever that is, as I start the next chapter, stage 2 of working on the house, while starting shifting time and energy back to the music.

But that will be another story. Right now, I have my work still cut out for me, to finish the getting past the milestone of getting housemates, and stage 1 of the work on the house, and it will be enough just to get this journal up to date, for a start.


The Story

shakespeare an actor statues silhouetted against snow outside the windowsIt has been over two years since I updated the Web journal. Though it is what I said to expect, in the last entry I posted, it still feels a bit wrong and strange to have left this gap in a memoir like this. It makes me pause to think that I have had an on-line journal for twenty years at this point, just like I was there at the beginning with digital audio, and digital video. Perhaps this is one of the oldest on-line memoirs, perhaps not. It doesn't matter, not why I did it, but it does seem that perhaps I should have kept posting instead of deciding to wait till I was done with this chapter. I felt that nothing new was going to happen, I would play the street and work on the house, day after day, week, month, and year. Though there were little stories, still, always is. But generally, I was right. Even now, it is a fog of sleep deprivation and endless work and endless scenes on the street that I have trouble remembering now, or sorting out in my head. And, since I am still going, now, having a long pause is not necessarily a break in continuity. But it is a regret, but unavoidable, another price I had to pay to do what I have done here. And I did pay a big price, and have my doubts. Life is short, and I wonder if it was worth it to lose so much time, to drop everything in my life, and just do nothing except this for so long. I did make a compromise, and I played the street, so I have done what I am here to do, be here for people, the People, and played hundreds of hours more in my life, made some great music, countless great scenes, have been what I am, what I am here to do, here to be. "All the world's a stage" and I have been a character, a great one, done great things, and a great thing, and lived the moments and hours of incredible and terrible beauty and pain.

There has simply not been time to write journal entries, and there were long periods without internet access, even without a working computer. As I start to catch up, I find I wrote several entries, starting with one before I went to Alaska in 2014, but left before I had time to process the images and get it up. I re-wrote the entry when I got back from Alaska, to add that story to the entry, and I updated it again to try to post at New Year's, to begin 2015. But in the end, I got trapped in the demands of the house and didn't have time to process the photos and complete the posting of either entry before I ran out of internet access, and then, the computer went as well.
But now, I'll be able to finish those entries to fill this gap, and with this entry, cover the first part of 2016, as I normally would. It is still a pretty simple story, but it has been a long time since I did this, so in some ways a lot to cover, and probably repeat myself as I try to tell it, but at least I am telling the story again.

my desk and journal, snow outside the windowI still see this journal as an answer to the promise I made to so many people who asked me to or told me I should "write a book." I saw the start of the internet as a way to self-publish, an new type of writing, so I did. I started writing a book, a journal and a memoir, by doing it as it happened, a serialized memoir. Rather than trying to reflect or choose what to write about, try to understand or explain it all, find some meaning or message, simply tell the story, document the life, and let people draw their own conclusions. It is meant to be read from the beginning as much as followed in the present, and in fact, many things in the present don't make sense unless you know the whole story. I always planned to write it backwards as well, filling in the years from my hand-written journals, which I've kept since I was a kid, and photo albums, and old video as well.
Even though I let the web journal wait till now, I have kept writing in my journal, that seems more important to maintain, and easier. Beyond that, I am a writer, so I write, and it is for me a simple pleasure, to write. It was a small distraction and a great release, to be able to write, do something outside the endless grind, pause for a moment, as I drank my morning coffee, and tell a story, or reflect on something in my life or in my mind. Often enough I'd end up with cold coffee in my cup, lost in writing something, all through this period, boring or not. Even if my life was routine, my mind still bubbled with ideas and visions, thoughts running through my mind, reflections on the scenes I'd go through on the street, or in the world.

dulci on street with music is in the air in shop window displayExternally, things went as expected, more or less. One of the biggest problem for me is how dull and tedious this has all been, compared to my old life, except for the music, and the great scenes on the street, which never lose their beauty and intensity. Though there are many long, hard hours as well, for those minutes and moments of light. But in the end, it is all worth it if I can really be there for even one person, make their day, bring some great, intense, positive energy into their lives, into the world, with my music or my words. And I do, again and again. It is an honor and a priviledge, one I do not take lightly. I often ponder what it is I do, what it is I am, and if I should be doing more, but in the end, I keep doing what I am doing because I know it is real, good and great, true art, true magic, true service, and Right. It is what I am here to do, so I do it, and get it done, one more day, one more night.

I really wonder what people will think when one day I am gone. Would I get a big turn out if I show up again and have a gig somewhere, maybe with a band, do I actually have a local crowd that will come out to see me again? Or will people follow my YouTube channel to see where I go and what I do, playing other places? I am getting pretty well known locally, because I am hard to miss and hard to forget, being unique. But just being a recognizable and appreciated feature of the local scene isn't the same as people having an active interest. Though only time will tell what I could have to offer people if they do want to follow me, maintain an interest.

Photo by Judi Lohn
photo of me finishing with a flourish as I look at the camera, by Judi LohnThere's always been this great reaction on the street, positive feedback, and at any venue, but in the end, it doesn't seem to translate into something tangible. People take my card, take pictures, and say they want to connect me with somewhere or someone, to record, do shows, work in the schools again, or work or jam with other musicians. It so seldom is real, I don't expect anything to happen. Though it sometimes feels like the music, the dulcimer, is reaching some critical mass, some threshold of potential energy that will result in something, some recognition, some opportunity, some reaction. I've had probably hundreds of thousands of pictures taken of me over the years, and now, everyone carries a video camera in their pocket, and then they can share that video or their pictures on the internet, privately or publicly. One day I was sitting with a friend bumming about not posting any new content to the web the last two years, and he decided to do a quick search, and told me I was all over the net, and that is just the posts where they actually identify me as
Brian the Folksinger. Or I walk into Starbucks one day, where I get hot water to make coffee on the street, as I can't afford to buy it there, and the woman behind the counter tells me that she saw me on ZimZam(?), an Ethiopian channel on YouTube. Pretty regularly, videographers want to take a video with pro-gear, or even a crew, and I play, and I do interviews, though I seldom know what comes of it. Sometimes they send me the link to their post, like this video by Austin Rooney, using his new video camera. I once went down to the Voice of America studio as a featured performer in a potential news/culture show, though in the end, they decided on an all news format.5 dollar bill with to my favorite and a heart written on it I did a piece with the host of an Arabic program that was videoing an epidsode down in Old Town. I’ve been on the weather, interviewed on the street by the weatherman and his crew, "Is it cold?", "Yes!" I really can't remember every scene I’ve done.

It was also cool how for the first time I have been able to develop friendships with local folk, by being here so long and so regularly. I have gotten to know a lot of folks who live and work down there, though in many cases I still don't know their names, and it doesn't really matter. What does matter is the genuine respect I get for what I am doing, as an artist and a person, an acceptance as one of them, and sincere compliments, some casual, some profound. It helps me to make it through, to have the admiration of the people who see me over and over, and being told in one way or another that they appreciate what I do, and what I am, and that small familiar personal connection, as I play for the endless stream of people, being there for them when they meet me, not holding on when they go. I may even have made a few friends I could stay connected with even after I leave here, or can socialize with off the street, as I start to have time to.

dulciman being sketched by Gregory RobinsonPeople are still sending me their pictures, from pros to the regular folk, which I am still using for this journal. I have a backlog of them to use, now, and when I fill in the gap of 2014 and 2015, finally. An sketch of me playing by Gregory RobisonArtist named Gregory Robison sent me a picture of the sketch he did while his daughter was taking photos of me for a University photography project. He might use it in his next exhibition. One of my latest jokes is that the Videography and Photography professors at the Universities here must know me pretty well by now. It reminded me of the collection of artwork I found here at the house, portraits artists did of me, and gave me in thanks for my music, in lots of mediums.

I just try to be there for everyone, that is what I am there for, whatever they need, a song or a story, a few words of wisdom or just a smile, from taking a picture to someone with a project. For people with an idea or a project, I always try to be cooperative and encouraging, indicate I'll be there for them if they want to follow through, but I have no expectations, leave it behind as soon as the moment is past, as I do with most everything. I focus on really being there, not holding on to anything, knowing that in almost every case, I don't need to remember, as I will not see them again, and also knowing that if someone does appear again, I can be there for them again, in that moment. And if they really become part of my life, I'll not need to make an effort to remember.Black and white portrait by Dave Hu
There’s so many great scenes that I wish I could remember, but after a long weekend, there are so many scenes, too many scenes, and it is all like a dream, fading, slipping away, as I try to eat and get to sleep. The next weekend I’ll do it again. And as always, there are scenes that I remember without trying, or come back to me in an odd moment, or haunt me.

One documentary videographer, Dave Hu, did follow through and do an interview, in late 2015. He was serious about it, an on-going personal project, a collection of interviews, so he came by the house to shoot as well as shooting on the street. It was interesting, more of an art film, rather than the usual journalistic style of most interviews, which was cool, and you can see it on his site. Photos by Dave Hu
spacerBrian the folksinger by Dave Hu
spacer Brian the Folksinger by Dave Hu.


The dulciman on the street in winterIt was the same simple routine, though an extreme effort, for the last couple years. I played the street every weekend, and worked on the house during the weekdays, and nights. I worked to the limit, barely made time to eat and sleep. Sometimes when things got tight, I worked the street every day and night. Sometimes I skipped the street and focused totally on some major job on the house, or the weather pushed me to choose the work on the house as being more productive. Though mostly I worked the street no matter what, heat and cold, wind, rain, and snow, as the only way to make it through financially, without running out of money before I was done.

I have been a man rowing and bailing a sinking boat, knowing if I just keep going, I can make it to shore before she sinks, but I can't stop rowing for long, or I'll never get there, and though I can bail, that doesn't solve the problem, so I row, and stop to bail only enough to stay afloat, though I am still slowly sinking, and getting to shore is the only hope. And now I have, almost. That is the source and meaning of the title of this Journal entry, "Reaching Shore". But it has been a long and worrisome pull.

Though as I reflect upon it, I have often enjoyed some pretty monotonous work, like digging, or rowing, but usually in a great natural and beautiful place! sanding the livingroom floorAnd I could even enjoy this type of work, repairing and renovating, though sanding the entire house, the walls, ceilings, and floors, with a small hand sander was a pain, it reminded me of sanding boats. As we say, regular people measure boats by feet, boat owners measure them in square inches. I know every square inch of this house, now.
I also just enjoy building things. I once bought myself a couple big pails of nails for my birthday. It all would be ok, If I could have been doing other things, as well, and if I didn't have other things to do, and if I didn't have a great life that I know how to live calling me to return to it. I have often thought of the creative things I could be, or should be, inventing, designing, and building, rather than just repairing old things, from boats to cars to houses.
There is even just the satisfaction in a job well done, in repairing something, making it right again, useful, rather than contributing to the endless and unsustainable culture of disposable stuff. Once they built for centuries, now we build to last just long enough to sell.
A basic truth is that stress takes the pleasure out of many things. If there wasn't the relentless financial pressure and anxiety, and the pressure to work to the max, keep pushing as hard as I can, no matter what, it would not be so bad, so hard. Though I am also good at that, I've never had to do it for two years without a break. This is another one of the biggest troubles, just the extreme endurance and perserverance, being forced to live such a limited life, and work so stupefyingly hard, with the added stress of the financial pressure and uncertainty, wondering how and if I am going to make it, then doing it for so long without a break. I am tired, and bored, and worn out in every way.

the dulciman in winter by Ellie ChristensenIt was a hard road, but I took it of my own free will, because I figured I could make it, and it seems I have, more or less. It was a hard job, because it was a job, and a big one in a short time, to earn a lot of money, I suppose. Though I wonder why, of course. I've never done anything just to make money, and even here, if it was just about making money by renovating an old house, I wouldn't have done it. It helped that this was the house I grew up in I was saving from the wrecker, that I had already put a lot of work into it that I was utilizing instead of losing, and that I was preserving an old and great neightborhood, the old trees. But if it wasn't that this place could be a significant help as I try to do more with the music and my life, if it wasn't that it will make me feel I have done enough to responsibly secure my future so that I feel free to follow the music without concern for the future, I wouldn't have done it.
Using my life saving to buy this house, and earning sweat equity, has perhaps secured my future, financially, if I ever get where I need it. I did save up a lot, because I don't want to be a burden on anyone, or Photo by Ellie Christensen dependent on anyone, if I manage to get old. One of the primary justifications for this job was so that I could go back to focusing on the music, without worrying that it doesn't pay, because I have been responsible and prepared for when I "retire", though music, and art, isn't something you retire from. But eventually I may need to settle down somewhere. So years ago I bought my land in Alaska, and got and rebuilt an old boat, so I have a place to go and stay, if need be, in a place I want to live, where I can use my homesteading and cruising sailor skills to live cheap in a place I would love to be, right now, living a lifestyle I enjoy. Possibly teaching people to play their dulcis, using video calls through the internet. Though my plan is to put it all on video, so they don't need me.
statue of buddha with sculpture of geese in flight and clipping that says Do Something, all on my deskReally, I could happily go back to living on a small boat like Horse. Or living in a small house or cabin in the forest and mountains, tending my garden and living off the land, keeping bees. And I know hundreds of places I could live a quiet gypsy life camping far off the beaten path, not needing to drive far, living happily out of some old rig. Though at heart, or in spirit, all of these things are about living on the Way I chose, a mystical, spiritual, or philosophical way of life, however you might define it, it is all the same to me. I am happy being "The Fool On The Hill". It is a simple life I know well, has served me well, and am good at, and love, and still long to return to, almost every day. Perhaps one reason I am able to handle all I am doing and trying to do, with the house, and the music, is that I know my old life is still there waiting for me, if these tasks I have taken on don't pan out somehow, or no longer seem worth doing, or will be done, and I can leave them behind. And in the end, when I succeed and finish this, I plan to leave this place behind, the job done, and go back to the music, and the wild, and this place will be part of the mix, as it always was, though never the center of my life.

the Alaska haul road heading north to SukapakStill, in the end, you always do wonder, no matter what you choose, and doubts can be a useful tool. I make my choice and follow it through, ignore the doubts, till I've got it done, and then decide what road to take next. Hindsight is much clearer, but often enough you can never know where a different choice, another road, would have led. Sometimes you can still chose to take the road you didn't and see where that leads, though of course, a road taken at a different time will not always lead to the same place it did at another time.

At the moment, however, the simple truth is that taking on this house has taken all my resources, saved and present. Everything is tied up in the house and going into the house, and there is nothing left to put into anything else. On a practical basis, it has made me much poorer than I was before. While I never made much money as a street performer, I never needed much money, so I usually had more money than I needed. Isn't that what being rich is? Brian the Folksinger by B.SperlinMore seriously, I lived a life that was totally concerned with and focused on other things, things that didn't take money. Though money might be a means to an end, it was never an end in itself, just an incidental detail I didn't pay much attention to, really. I had a life where enough money came just doing what I did, without ever needed to do anything just to make money, and I never thought about it. I chose to pursue a life that wasn't about material possessions, that was instead rich aesthetically, spiritually and emotionally, and I succeeded. I chose a life focused on giving, not on getting, of being there for people, with the positive energy I can manifest, through the dulcimer I built, the music I make, the things I say, the character I am, and through some undefinable something that I just am, that I am still trying to understand, and perhaps never will. And I don't need to, to just do it, be there, one more time. I chose a life focused on the richness and content of my character rather than personal wealth or public recognition, on a life of honor and integrity, of ethics, that only I will ever know the measure of. I focused on the depth and quality of my experiences, on seeking beauty and intensity, focused on the energy, not on things, and I succeeded. I chose the path of higher consciousness and awareness, and I succeeded. I have no regrets, and nothing but gratitude, for making that choice.
Photo by B. Sperlin
looking down at the dulcimer, masking tape, dust, dirt, and rusty wire

Of course, the fact is I am out of CDs and can't afford to buy more. I just somehow lost a spool of piano wire for the Dulci and can't afford to buy more, but am making do with a lighter gauge left over from long ago, so it is ok. Everything is in need of repair, but I couldn't do anything but limp along on duct tape and bailing wire while everything went into the house. But I’ve managed to go many long trips under jury-rigs, gone a long way with duct tape and bailing wire, and probably will again.
This was all part of the plan, more or less, to get by while I pushed through this huge task, and everything is running out or wearing thin as I reach the end. And now, finally, I am at the end of the tunnel, reaching and passing significant milestones, though the journey is certainly not done yet.

Back to the story, what actually happened so far this year, over the last four months? It hasn't been an absolutely uneventful journey, though not anything like my old life.

The main story is, of course, finally getting to this point in the story of the house, where the house will stop dominating the story of my life! But there is always the simple story of what happened, or the many stories. I have lived a life full of stories.

gold nugget in my hand, 2014After some disappointments looking for housemates after I got back from Alaska and on through the winter, I’d decided it would be too hard to try to work with someone living here, unless I found someone really special, to make it worth it. The best way to go was to wait till I had everything done in the parts of the house that housemates would need to share. There would still be work to do to finish stage 1, primarily the final bedroom I was staying in while I worked on the rest. Then I’d start stage 2, the utility room, the last room inside the house, and work on the outside of the house and in the yard. I had done well digging gold Alaska in 2014, and I also had the gold I’d collected over the years, probably enough to make it through, or at least try, combined with playing the street and running up credit card debt. Sometimes I had to stop working on the house and work 7 days a week on the street to make it through a month, sometimes using my credit cards to fill in shortfalls, slowly accumulating that debt, sometimes paying it down. But I made it, time after time, month by month.

I always expected it might be difficult to find the right people, though I was only looking for a few special folks, exceptional people, like me, and give them a great place to live as cheaply as possible. I wasn't just looking for tenants to rent a room, but for partners to share a house with, be friends with, and work together to make this place work for all of us, as a base to work on our goals and plans, needs and wants, and make it a positive and productive place for us.a finished bedroom I also expected it might take some turnover to finally find the right people. Practically, there really isn't enough you can tell about someone from a few short meetings, and I didn't want to have too specific expectations about who would work as a housemate, since I don't really know. So I opted for real world testing, if folks seemed a reasonable possibility, let them move in on a trial basis and give them a few months to either work out or move on.

As I got towards the end of 2015, I had gotten far enough along in stage 1 to invite in the first housemates and have everything they needed ready, and everything done they might get in the way of, or close enough that I couldn't justify not starting looking, not giving people the opportunity to get into this place. It is still a great opportunity for the right person, or people, even if it will be a little bumpy at first, as I finish off the rest of the work. I still had one bathroom to do, but one was complete, and the three bedrooms were essentially complete, though lacking some details. But I couldn't justify not letting someone move in if they wanted to, while I kept on working on the rest.

feet of new snow in the backyardThe oddly warm December turned to January and Winter, wind and snow. I worked on the house and played the street. I started playing Thursday nights, as well, and sometimes Wednesdays, just to get a little farther, make up for the slow season and lost weather days. I split firewood and shovelled snow. Most significantly, I started sharing the house with housemates, and a new chapter in my life had unmistakeably begun.

I got my first housemates, a couple who moved into the double room, at the very end of 2015. They were generally the type of people I was looking for, but it was obvious after the first month that they weren't going to work, incompatable lifestyle, attitude, and personality, not people I would be friends with, and not good housemates, either. They didn’t like living here, weren’t interested in living alternative, just wanted a cheap place to live. So I had to ask them to move on, though out of kindness and consideration, I gave them plenty of time. In a stroke of luck, though I’d given them a couple months to find a new place, they found a new place right off, and left in the second week of February.
I was always continuing the search for new housemates, with two rooms still available, and communicating with potential new housemates. So, coincidentally, at the begining of February, the second housemate, Tom, moved in. He was much more what I was looking for, a scientist, and a musician, eating organic and natural, though not fanatically, and focused on raising his son, just finishing elementary school within walking distance of the house, and staying with him on weekends. He is developing his own research and analysis business, and developing a plan for what to do with his own piece of family property up in Northern Virginia, in the contect of organic agriculture and permacuture, which was a huge connection for us, common ground, as well as the music, and having an intellectual and educated outlook, while choosing to seek outside the status quo, seek alternatives, explore other ways of living and other ways of being, higher consciousness. In many ways, he is just starting on a road I have been on all my life, though in other ways he has done things I have not done, from advanced education to having a child, or just finding other sources and ways in the wide range of alternatives that existed and have developed in the last decades.

Bathroom wall torn outBathroom wall torn outAs for the work on the house, I painted the tub in the first bathroom, finishing that job as my first housemates moved in, then got to work on finishing the second bathroom, and did. After the normal routine of sanding and painting, I had the additional job of tearing out the rotten part of the outside wall to replace the studs, insulate, put up a new cement backerboard, and finally re-tile. At this point, all that is left is painting the tub, long delayed by the weather, cold or high humidity. It is pouring rain now, and has been raining for a week. But there is always work to do, and my basic strategy is that I never stop working, except to eat and sleep.

dulci and snow on the streetIt was a strange winter, the instability of global warming causing extreme shifts of temperature, which was difficult on the plants and ecosystem generally. Some tried to blossom or bud in December, and then got damaged as temperatures plunged, then rose again, then plunged again, with 50 degree temperature swings, and some heavy snowfalls. It looks like the hardy figs may have died, at least, back to the roots again. I fed the birds, propigated basil plants inside, and kept my wall of green by the window, and played the street, week after week, waiting for Spring.

Tom, my new housemate, turned out to be a good fit, happy to be here, loving the house, getting everywhere by foot or bike, with a lot of common ground, like our common interest in permaculture, homesteading, organic agriculture, and general sustainability, with the diffference that he is still discovering and exploring the alternative world from more current and recent sources, while I haven't kept up with developments and go back to the roots of the organic agriculture and permaculture movements, having grown up on the organic homestead of the best friends of my parents, part of the first wave of the back to the land movement of the 50's and 60s, of voluntary simplicity combined with high culture. When I was holding workshops on it back in the 70's, I coined the phrase "Forward to the Land" to describe my vision of voluntary simplicity, high culture, and a sustainable organic homesteading rural lifestyle, combined with high tech appropriate technlogy, alternative energy, and using computers to communicate and run businesses from a rural base, to distinguish it from the older and more traditional "Back to the land" movement, prior to solar cells and computers, and the modern back to the landers who were simply not interested in a technological lifestyle, trying to excape the entire unsustainable world-destroying techno-industrialism of the status quo.
the card I used to give out years agoThough I ended up deciding that while we had the answers, most people, though good at heart, didn't care, or didn't know, that the staus quo was unsustainable, were in denial, deluded, fooled, ignorant, or just asleep on their feet. What was lacking wasn't answers, but conconsious, awareness. And that my personal dreams and plans, my whole life, really wasn't important, and didn't matter, if the world was destroyed. So I gave up my dream of a simple high-tech organic homestead farm, with a computer and alternative tech lab in the basement, and a life as a beekeeper, writer, and mad scientist, and devoted myself to consciousness-raising among the people, as a street musician and folksinger. Music was really just the most effective tool I had, a means to an end, in the beginning. It took me many years before I came to recognize that the dulcimer, and my music, had their own intrinsic value. That, simply, is the real story of my life. I decided there wasn’t much use in building myself a lifeboat, an "economic ark", instead, I'd keep trying to convince people to save the ship, steer away from the rocks, even if I went down with the ship, in the end. Fact is, compared to most, I am more prepared to get by, though most likely it won't come to that in my time. Though I did buy land in Alaska, and get an old sailboat.

Bernie Sanders yardsign at houseWhich leads me to a related thread. It follows that I have been supporting Bernie Sander's run in the primary, since the beginning. I am an independent, because the Democratic Party has been in opposition to the Progressive movement, and counter-culture, for decades, dominated by a conservative center-right Clintonian coalition, expecting us to vote for them because they are better than the Republicans, theoretically, but in actually, giving nothing but lip service to most of the Progressve issues, except civil rights. From Bill Clinton to Barak Obama (I voted for Nader), they have avoided any serious change to the status quo, whether in the environment and sustainabilty, or populist issues like income disparity and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a smaller and smaller percentage, or the corruption of the electoral system, and really adopting Republican economics and agendas, like misquided de-regulation and anti-government rhetoric, a tax code that favors the wealthy, and continuing denial of the economic and environmental unsustainability of the staus quo. I gave up on the political system decades ago when it was obvious that wasn’t happening, to focus on consciousness-raising among the people as the only real hope and path to change. There has been a continuing and growing ground-swell, a rising tide, and I wait for a tipping point, as the desire, pressure, and need for change builds. The change needed becomes only more radical, as change is delayed. Even if this is not that point, yet, he may, or may not, force the Democratic Party establishment to recognize the true size of the progressive movement within their ranks, and shift to the Left. Though I expect again it is just lip-service, once again, which they already have started, as their annointed candidate fails in the primary race, even if Clinton technically wins the nomination. Of course, to listen to the news, you wouldn't know Sanders is even running, or that this is a immeasurably significant story in American political history, in which the assumed Democraticy Party candidate and establishment is being beaten down by a declared Socialist and Progressive, who came from nothing and nowhere to essentially tieing or winning most primaries, on a seriously populist platform, with the promise of real change, sometimes radical change, that is needed at this point to avoid catastrophic consequences, and showing and asking for the courage and determination to take on the hard issues and hard truths we need to face. Surprise, surprise.Folksinger talking with someone over the dulci by B. Sperlin
It is sad to think that this civilization could go down in history as the one that, in just a few generations, squandered all the limited resources, mostly for junk to put in landfills, polluted the entire planet, created nuclear waste that will be deadly for hundreds of thousands of years and contaminated large areas, destroyed huge swaths of the environment and ecosystems, caused the extinction of the majority of other species, then finally destroyed the world environment and ecosystem, and maybe their own civilzation, by denying, ignoring, and avoiding addressing unsustainability: global warming, pollution, and environmental degredation; injustice, greed, and war; ignorance, selfishness, irresponsibility, and stupidity. Quite a sad testament, one that will never be forgotten, certainly, even in thousands of years, when all our world wars and famous people are long forgotten except by a few historans, just like the Roman Empire.

So, I do what I can, which isn't much, but what I have been doing all my life, and that is the story of my life, as a social activist, a street activist, doing my small part as a folksinger and street musician, consciousness-raising at the grass roots level of the street. I am a small player in a great movement, a great struggle, that started long before me and will continue when I am gone. It is the true nature of populism, Photo by B. Sperlin
where the People, though their numbers, force change through the combined force of their small individual actions, even against the will, wealth, and power of the few. "Win or lose, got to do your share" (Jimmy Cliff, "You Can Get It If You Really Want", a song I regularly play on the street), and to paraphrase, and probably misquote, the saying my mom posted on the door to the kitchen throughout my childhood

"You can say the little things I do will make no difference on the scales where the fate of the world hangs in balance, by I defend to the utmost my right to choose which side shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight."

Tom's desk and corner, snow outside the windowsThis is an old story in these journals,but it is still part of the foundation, helps make sense of where I am now, and manifests in many ways, like the "Bernie 2016" sign out front.
To continue the ongoing story, as we begin to talk about sustainability and the alternative counter-culture movement it was part of, Tom mentions that he had tried to find a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog for several years, and I reply that I have one in the attic. This is, pure and simple, the coincidental serendipity I sought. I ended up pulling down my boxes of homesteading books from the attic that I hadn't looked at in years, to go through with Tom and put on the shelf, awaking a lot of old memories and energies. While he turned me on to new books by new people developing sustainable agriculture and permaculture. I always knew that the movement was continuing outside the view of the mainstream, but when I gave up my dream of homesteading and land, and focused on consciousness-raising and a gypsy life, I stopped following what was going on.
This is the situation I’d invisioned for this place, to be a true resource, practical and inspirational, an "incubator", a launching pad, as well as a safe harbor, for people both exploring and developing counter-culture alternatives, or their art, developing their own ideas, plans, or businesses as well. I want this place to be more than just a place to live, but something catalytic in people's lives, a great place to live. Where I am both able to pass on my knowledge and experience to others, and learn from them as well, and be stimulated to think about different things, or things I haven’t thought about for a while, or even a long time. He is happy to have found this place, and sets up his office space in the corner, starts seeds for his chunk of the garden, and gets to work on what he has to do in his life.
He opts to shift into the double room starting in March. I finished off the details there in the couple weeks after the couple moved on, putting in the window trim, and hangers for curtains, and installing the registers (covers) on the vents. I did the room he'd been in after he moved to the other. In a significant step, I am clearing everything out the back bedroom I am still in, starting the final job of stage 1.

closeup of gold in the pan from 2014There's a small but significant event. I am going through the first boxes from the back room, one of stuff that I planned to take in the van, packed long ago. I was actually looking for some of my favorite books to share with Tom. At the bottom, I find a stash of gold I'd totally forgotten about, one I had prepared to take on the road at some point, probably from before ma died. So I dig out all my gold, and decide to sell one more batch, though most of it is coarse enough to be considered jewelry grade, and I empty little bottles of gold I'd made up to sell as tourist souvenirs. The truth is, the street is not going well, of course, due to winter and weather, rain and cold as much or more than snow. I am facing the upcoming bill for taxes, and because in the coming year I’ll have the extra income from renting the house, I have to start paying estimated taxes. I am almost maxed out on the credit cards at this point. Everything is coming down to the line, even as I start to reach the safety of shore. It is a quiet but significant act, a climax. Selling off all the gold I accumulated over the last couple decades of digging is what has allowed me to get through the last two years, as well as running up the credit cards. brian the goldminer, many years agoAnd now, as I am finally making it through, I have to sell the very last, gold I don't know where I found, possibly from places other than Alaska, but it still comes through for me, one last time, to get me through. I might have made it through, but it would have definitely been close, and would certainly have maxed the credit cards, which is dangerous, as I still need them to make it all work, to cover the loss if I can't quite pay all the expenses for a month, which is what they have done all along, slowly accumulating debt, as planned. So I pack up the last of the finest nuggets and send them off to be melted, a shame, as a jeweler would have liked to have them but I have no jeweler to buy them. And I tell myself that this is and always was part of the plan, a price to be paid, though I only sold it as I had to, and hoped not to sell it all. And I stilll have all the real nuggets I have saved, and I can get more gold, eventually. The final sigificant conclusion was deciding that I would go back to Alaska this summer, even if I had to borrow more money to do it, that part of what this gold was paying for was the plane ticket to return to Alaska. Even if it did so indirectly, in fact, it was direct in principle.

Spring begins and the change from brown to green, with flowers, and Equinoctal storms.
The Apricot actually blossomed late, probably because it didn't go dormant untill so late. My brother's new house outside AustinThere’s various distractions still, slowing progress, from repairing a leaky connection on the waterheater to giving rides to DC for some minor surgery for my old friend, Danny, who I’ve been helping throughout the process of settling his dad's estate and as he subsequently decided to buy the house himself. This was the major distraction that stopped me the first year I worked on the house, but now it is just a minor distraction, helping a friend with a ride.
Some are very positive, like my brother coming up for business and being able to visit for a day. It is great to see my brother, but more, he made buying the house possible with his cooperation, and he can see how much I’ve done now, that I am getting it done. He has been going through some troubles and big changes himself over the winter, losing his old house to a flood-plain buyout plan, after he'd just finished a major effort repairing and renovating after last summer's flood. Then searching and finally finding and buying a new house he really liked, outside of town, now, and moving in for New Year's Day. We drive out to a state park down by the river, to walk and talk, and it feels good to get away from the house and into a natural place, even if it isn't so wild, is still close to the urban corridor. The river, the water, always remains more natural, an extention of the wild at least, resisting development and de-naturalization in a way the land can't. and it is good to just walk and not talk, be in a natural place, remembering that this is where my life is really centered, in the wild, and eventually I will return to it. Just as David finally found a place that is out of town, set in acres of land, surrounded by gardens. I have come to realize that while the house here is an oasis of nature in the suburbs, and can be an integral part of my life, I left it long ago, and the urban complex, the East Coast even, except for the water. Beyond the house itself, my true home is out West, and in the wild, my dream is still a homestead farm somewhere in the country, in the mountains, in a place like Alaska.
the garden and compost pile at 1213Tom is interested in gardening, so we both go out and clear the garden area and prep our respective area. In many ways the house is meant to feel like a rural homestead, from the lush natural greenery to the fruit trees and woodstove. There’s been an organic garden here for decades, but I had to let it slide as the pressure grew on the house, though did plant it all when I first started out here, and I’ve always managed to grow something. But now it is back under care, not looking neglected. While I am able to take time to garden again, a simple pleasure, and I am passing on my knowledge as Tom learns about organic gardening, hands on, from the ground up, very cool.

It was also about the manifestation of what I wanted this house to be for my housemates, a catalytic place. So Tom is planting his first garden. Tom scored a load of firewood, too, and we moved it into the driveway as a temporary resting place. He’s been learning to work the woodstove. I’ve been showing him how to split and debark the wood. He said at the time that this is what he'd wanted, to learn "homesteading skills". And though I did get all my homesteading books down from the attic and put them on the shelf for him, it really illustrates a truth we were talking about one evening, that there are many things you can explain to someone, but you can’t teach them, because no matter what you tell them the only real way to learn is by doing, by the personal and internal feedback you get as you find out for yourself what works and what doesn't, like when you are swinging an axe. Someone can give you advice, and even teach you specific things, but in the end, you have to put all together yourself, inside yourself, by doing. It is the same whether it is a simple physical act like splitting wood, or something more complex and long-term like a garden, or developing your personal philosophy, or playing music.The dulciman, black and white photo by Kevin To

On that note, before Danny leaves to head back north, I arrange to have a couple jam sessions at his place with Tom, who sings and plays guitar. Though I don't have time to really get into jamming yet, I wanted to give Tom the experience, a real example, of what the future can be like, what I do, and hope to do with the house, or my life in general, really, as I get out from under the demands of the house. It is part of the dream of having housemates, that we’ll be able to enrich each other's lives by inviting each other to share things we do. He had a great time, so did Danny. It was hard for me, too tired from performing too much, but it felt good, to do this for my friends, old and new, and as a promise to myself as well of what the future could be, what I am working to do. This is what I am working for, not to rebuild the house as an investment, but for the vision and dream of this house as a place to be productive and do things with, not just physically, like shop space for bulding dulcis or studio space for production, but as a social space, for jam sessions or just gatherings of interesting people, or just a friend or two. A place where I can do something with the connections I make, on the street or some other way, both by having a place to invite people, or being in a place, be local, available to go meet people and do things other places, go to jam sessions, studio sessions, and gatherings, as well as host them. What I do is about more than just performing, even more than just music, it is about being there for people, in many ways, in any way I can. The house can give me new ways. Photo by Kevin To

So life continues as a tangle of dreams and realities. I play the street, making an effort, now that I have the time, to give myself some simple pleasure, and relief, by looking up lyrics and adding new songs, or reviving old songs.bunny in the garden At the house, finishing the bathroom, by painting the tub, was side-lined as I finished the bedrooms, though I finished some small details, and did some prep to the tub. I installed the bathroom fan's venting to the outside, a major job, so when I do paint, I can vent the fumes better than last time, where they went into the attic and leaked back into the house.
The garden was really part of a major shift to living at the house, not just working on it, and moving back outside, after Winter, and also catching up on the things that had been sliding. Though some things like the garden distract me from working on the house, slowed progress, and firewood always has, but others are still part of the over-all job, or work on the house that still needs to be done, like the vents. I’m also just working on the outside of the house, again, hanging out with the birds and the bees and the bunnies, and it is Spring. I finished splitting and moving into my yard a bunch of new firewood from trees removed from the community property next to the house, completing that task and promise I made and began in the snow of Winter.

closet shelves and tools on the covered bedroom floorIn April, Spring is coming on strong, and we get beautiful days, and a crazy snowstorm the first week, waking one Saturday morning to be surpised by snow on the ground, and deciding I need to pay more attention to the weather, which had been in the 70's. Inside the house, even as finishing the bathroom still waits, I move out of the master bedroom and clear and clean it, lay down dropcloths, preparing to start repairing it, the final job of stage 1. Though first I set up tools and use it as shop space, stripping, sanding, and painting the closet shelves from the entire house, another loose end needing to be finished off. It is another significant step. I move into the smallest room for a few days, then in another significant move, finish clearing out the stuff stored in the van, and the junked remains of some of the interior, ruined when the van roof leaked, and move into the van. I'd done this when the first housemates moved in and proved to be loud and inconsiderate, when I have to sleep late because I work late. The fact is, I am just a light sleeper, and sleep deprivation is a pernicious, subtle, and serious problem. Though now, while it is still to let myself sleep late without having to try and get housemates on a normal schedule to be quiet, it is a positive thing, as my housemates are trying to be considerate, and aren't really that loud, so I could possibly deal wth it. But it felt I was moving backwards, occupying a room that could be available for a new housemate, making two rooms unavailable. And I was moving forward by clearing the van, and seeing how using it as a bedroom works, as an option. Which it is, even a plan. Even when I finish the master bedroom, I wonder if I should use any of the bedrooms, if I am going to be gone a lot. In the near future, I'll be off to Alaska for a couple months, back for a few months, then off to Florida. In the long run, I may be on the road at festivals, or gigging, even locally, gone for the weekend, or fly off to tour internationally, and it won't make sense to take up a room in the house someone else could use. It is all about looking forward, moving forward.

newly stacked firewood at 1213I move the wood from the driveway and stack it in the yard, an hour at a time, late at night, clearing the driveway. I stacked the wood I'd carried over from the community property as well, clearing the way through the yard. I began clearing out and cleaning up the area in the backyard I plan to use as my personal enclave no matter what goes on with the house, for parking the boat and vehicles, as a work area, with shop and storage space in the shed once I rebuild it, and build another, eventually. I finally fix a hole in the muffler of the Toyota so I am not embarassed to drive around. It feels good to both be catching up to loose ends, and doing work on the house that is at the end of the list, really starting stage 2, and really, finally cleaning up from this huge job, as well as doing things that are about the future, like the garden, or next winter's firewood. I grab bags of old leaves and new grass clipping as other people start Spring yardwork and build a new compost pile in a new area by the garden.
The final development is that we’ve got another housemate, Jim, who just moved in May 1, and is getting oriented and settled in. I’ve made contact with a couple potential housemates who looks like a good fit. van and boat on trailer in drivewayMy goal is to have at least one more housemate before I leave, and maybe a fourth, because my plan is to finish the back room before I go, so another room will be available just then, even if the small room is taken by a new housemate. I thought of keeping a room for myself, but really for a shop space space till I get the shed done. But I could use the utility room as a shop space, and move forward with dulcimer and pickup building, without trying to get the shed done next Fall, when I really need to finish the roof. And since my housemates are into creating a music studio space in the common area, the old livingroom, so I don't need a room for that. In the long run, especially when the shed is done, I won't need any space in the house, which was the plan in case I rented out the entire house. More significantly, I am feeling like in the long run, I am not going to be here enough to justify taking a room that someone else could use. There is little so far to keep me here, once the house is done, though I am going to try, there is so much waiting for me in the rest of the world. I’ll be just as good sleeping in the van, in the short periods I am here, or maybe I’ll be living on the boat, or a boat, in the water or on the trailer. I could even have sailed my steel boat up here by then, on my way to who knows where, but not staying here long. Or have gotten rid of it and be flying overseas, and not planning on coming back for a while, or bouncing back and forth. I have felt cramped having to stay here, in a place that really has no great depth or intensity or beauty, like nature, like the music, but the typical crassly commercialized psuedo-culture, superficial and shallow, useless to me. Though the people are still real, many of them, just as some are superficial and shallow, most who stop are real, and that keeps me there, to be there for them. I want the real thing, because that is what I am, and the life I have lived.


Reflections

playing dulcimer with snow on itThe real story, then, is that after a hard journey of a couple years I have reached the critical goal I have been working towards, more or less, the safe shore I have been trying to reach, the turn of the financial tide, and I can shift to starting to pay off the debts, rebuilding my reserves, and investing my income in the music. What is significant is time and energy, my life, not my finances. So much of what I need to do with the music, and life, simply takes time and energy. The house was an incredible burden, and ma’s illness, death, and settling the estate, has dominated my life for 5 years, kept me from doing things much more signicant and important to me than finances. I often had my doubts, whether I should have sold out at the beginning, and put the money into the music, and feel secure with Alaska and the boat as far as the future is concerned. If the music finally succeeded in being recognized, I would get financial security that way. Life is short, and I feel I have lost too many years here, years I could have been doing more with the music, as I lost years dealing with so many things, unfortunate events, over the past 16 years, since I built the digital studio, was first on the web, made video, finished the electric dulcimer, or even in the 26 years since I invented the electric dulcimer.a rose in bloom, from the entry The Name of the Rose I realize that there is a lot more to it than just the house, about being unable to find a woman to love me, who believed in me and what I am doing, understood what I am doing. I realize that I chose to get the house so I could have it to give her and our kids, not "just" be a musician on the road, or in an old boat, or a piece of land in Alaska to homestead. I always hoped I would find a woman who wanted the life I had, but I have always felt dismissed, though they loved my music, and even called me great, I was still "just" a street musician, just not good enough for their expectations. The truth is, I am an exceptional and extraordinary man, and doing great things in my humble way, simple things, and have a philosophy that values depth and character over the superficialities of ego and ambition, wealth, power, and material things. I also seek a romantic love, the personal resonance that connects hearts and souls, a woman who loved me, and I loved. I never found a woman with that connection, who also had the perception to see through what I appeared to be, and see me for who and what I truly am. I realize now that getting this house was driven in part by the hope of finding a woman and starting a family, but not because it would signify wealth to a superficial woman, but practically, as a practical place to raise a family, a compromise from the extremes I would chose. Those options would still be there for us, if she wanted them, but I would not need to ask that of her as the only option to live together, to share our lives, raise our family. People do homestead in Alaska, and cruise on sailboats, and have families. But they are relatively rare. I never met a woman with desire, the strength, courage, and ability to walk beside me on the road I have been on, and so perhaps I was asking too much, or she could not see that I would change all that for her love. I cannot change who and what I am, and the road I am on with the dulci, but that road could lead many places, not just the extreme routine I have lived much of my life. So underneath all the seeming financial reasons to invest in the house, or pragmatic plans to use it to do more with the music, under all that, is my loneliness, and the woman of my dreams, and the home I hoped to share with her and raise our children in.

I decided to do the house, hoping it could be right, and having doubts, but I follow through on my decisions and get things done, then go on. Now, whatever the good or ill of the decision, and years spent, I can move on. That is the real story. Though the reason I am free to move on is crossing the line into financial stability. There is no guarantee both housemates will be able to stay for the long term, they both plan to, and I can find others if I need to. I still have to work to pay my share, here, and work hard to make the financial tide turn, as it won't do it on it's own, nor will just having housemates. At this point, I am really working just to get ahead enough to cover the trip to Alaska without adding more debt, a long shot. But I usually funded the Alaska trip with debt, then paid it off when I sold the gold at the end. The conclusion is still that, even if the change is gradual, overlapping stages, the change has happened, the tide is turning. I am living with housemates. And I have started this journal again, though I really should be in the backroom, getting the closet shelves ready to paint, the remaining task of finishing all the bedrooms.

This was the major choice, the major shift, giving up plans to rent the house out entire and leave, go back to my old life, or a new chapter, but not stay here. I gave it a lot of thought while I was in Alaska last time, and returned having decided to change my plan and priorities to finishing what I needed to share the place with house mates.camping in a hammock in the mangroves, my sailing kayak on the beach behind me That is what I would be doing if I were going to stay in one place. As a single, working musician, I'd be sharing a house or renting a single room, the simple economic facts of life. Though I chose, instead, to live on the road in a gypsy rig, and live on the water in my sailing kayak, or later, in my old sailboat, rather than rent a place on shore, or stay in one place generally. Instead I followed the seasons, and the tourists, street scenes, and festivals, circuiting the country each year, and living cheap enough so I could afford to keep playing music, keep dedicating myself to inventing this new instrument and new sound in music, and to consciousness-raising, a self-funded social activist.

The basic reasoning for getting housemates was simple, as I wrote when I first decided to go for it, and about changing that essential decision I made long ago, and try staying in one place, at least, staying in one place more, rather than staying on the road. Though my personal desire is to leave here and go back to a new chapter of my old life, but practically, the right thing to do may be staying here, which may allow me to be more productive than if I went back on the road, as far as "doing more" with the music. A lot of "maybe"s, but I have to at least give it a try, if it is the right thing to do.
The dulciman, by Sergio SanchezBy having house mates, I can also take more time to finish the house, and therefore focus time, energy, and money back on the music, rather than waiting till I finish the house completely. I can also try to use the space here to be more productive, and be productive in more ways than I could do on the road, possibly. Whether physically as studio space or shop space, or more ephemerally, because by staying based here, at least in part, I can network and collaborate locally in ways that were impossible on the road, like forming a band. Even just connect with people socially, other than as a musican. As well as pursue plans like international touring, international connections and collaborations, because the house happens to be in the D.C. area. I meet people from all over the world, and they often recognize the dulci, and I know its name in over 30 languages. Though I could theoretically do some of this on the road, especially now that the internet has matured a bit, but practically, being on the road, and traveling, uses up a lot of time and energy in itself, and is full of distractions as well. One reason I enjoy it is for all the unplanned, unexpected, spontaneous things that can happen along the way, if you have the time and space, and flexibility, for them. Photo by Sergio Sanchez

But again, I believe in real world testing. I can give it a try and see how it works. And now I am there, doing it, and it seems to be working out. Though the future is unclear, that is more about the music, and where that will take me, so how the house will fit into that. In the end, I can always go me and keena on Horse, my old sailing kayakback to my old life, or I can end up in some new balance. But the future has so many possibilities and options, and the very basic fact that "doing more" with the dulcimer and the music isn't very definite, and whatever I do, the results and response, or where they may lead, are all unknowns or in the funny, shifting world of dreams and visions.

So a primary reason for choosing to go with getting house mates is that it gives me more flexibility and options, as I move forward with the music, and see where it leads me. I may need to have a room here, or I may not, while still keeping and using the space in back when I am passing through, or as a place to leave my van when I fly out to tour internationally, leave the place with good house mates even if I am not living here at all, so I could come back, potentially, anytime, wait for a room to become available, if I need one. There are so many possibilites, that the final reason for chosing to the option of housemates is so I don't have to make assumptions or expectations about the future, but can move forward and see what really happens, then adjust to match the realities, able to adjust again, and again, if my situation changes. That is the way I have always lived, in the moment, trying to do what is right, and let that lead me on.

buddha of the road statue next to a tao medallionGetting housemates has also been illuminating, made me think and reflect on things, as I live with people again, the good and the bad, and just the different. It is a stimulation that I was seeking, though the idea is for a positive stimulus, so I turned even the negative experience of bad housemates into a good one by not taking it seriously, knowing I was in control and they were just temporary, and trying to learn from it, use it as food for thought.
In having housemates that didn't work out, I had to realize why they didn't belong here. I could face the cultural and personal divides and differences between me and many and most of the status quo, things that don't matter when I just interact with people on the street, playing music, seeking the common ground in our humanity, not the differences. I have lived a separate life, as someone outside the status quo, a gypsy musician, on my boat or in the wild, practicing a Way of life, where I am not part of any culture but my own. There are many differences, like flavors of food, or types of music, and are all good, but everyone has their own likes and dislikes, and while I accept diversity, there are things I do and don't live with, include in my personal space. Then there are divides, things that come down to essential perceptions of what is Right and Wrong.
Looking at other people makes you look at yourself, since you can't really know someone else, stand in their shoes, you can only try to know yourself, and I can see simple truths in myself, the events and choices I made which made me different. extending on the peak of a mountain
I have an exceptional intellect, like one of my first housemates, a PhD mathematician. I went to a high I.Q. program as a child, and grew up around a lot of very smart people. One thing I learned was that just being smart did not make you a great person, or even a good one. So, very early on, rather than focus on developing my intellect and seeking intellectual achievements, I decided to focus on developing my character, to pursue being a good person, which translated into the similiar decision later not to pursue academic achievement, go to college, but to follow a different path, one I was already on, of heart and soul, of higher consciousness, and character, and the art of life, a life as art.
So in the end, the bottom line is that this is my house, my space, so I can chose to both live with people who share my values and interests, generally, and use it to help people like me, by giving them a great place to live as cheaply as possible. And if they don't fit in here, they have to move on, find a place they belong.

The music area in the house, the piano surrounded by instruments and gearWith my new housemate that has worked out well, we have a common interests and I am both remembering my old dreams, while starting to think about what I want to do in Alaska, once I am done here. I am having good conversations, hearing about things I’d otherwise not encounter, and trying to explain things I never had to try and explain to people, whether philosophical or practical, or just haven't thought about or talked about in a long time, or just the pleasure of intellegent conversation about whatever comes up at the moment, something I miss both by living alone, and by not hanging out in cool cafes having conversations, or visiting friends, or even just hanging out on the street or on the docks. Being on the road was a lot less isolating than being shut away in this house, working all the time. Though that is another change I look forward to, being able to go out, not have to stay here working, and being able to invite people to come here. We are starting to build up a pile of instruments and gear in one part of the old livingroom dedicated to music, and Jim is bringing his digital piano to add to the mix.

This is what I wanted to get housemates for, to have a stimulating social connection here. I am hoping this will build into a wider network, and start bringing people here to jam regularly, perhaps work on serious projects, give me reasons to spend time here, rather than move on. Though the vision is to use this place to create a new balance, between long-term projects and social connections here, that I can leave and come back to, while being free to go when I have a reason, knowing this place will be taken care of while I’m gone, and I’ll be able to come back and make more progress, taking up where I left off, not having to start over or spend time just trying to get everything set up to work on something, winding pickups and building dulcimers, or recording new music or videos.

Me with Further in Tullum, Mexico, 1998I have, in the process of socializing with and getting to know my new house mates, I pulled out my old photo albums, as I have pictures that go with the stories I tell, and many things are easier to explain with illustrations. But it is still hard to explain, sometimes, and something I have never really tried to do, explain my life to any one. It's like when I meet potential housemates for the first time, I have to pull out the Dulci and play for them, shine, because it explains a lot about me, and what I am doing. It is hard to make sense of my life, till you understand how significant the Dulci and the music is, and that is the road I am on, going where it takes me, doing what I have to. Like why I am playing the street, if that is the only venue available. As I tell people on the street, no matter what is happening, I'm not stopping playing. But it also makes me think about this life I've lived, how exceptional it really has been. How easy it is to do, and how hard. I am experiencing similiar moments as I start this journal, and look at all the photos, and old drafts of entries, and try to get a perspective on the last couple years, remember what happened, what I need to include in this story.

While underneath it all, and perhaps something that has helped me make it through, able to keep pushing so hard, is the simple knowledge that I don't need this place, never did, so if it doesn't work out, if I couldn't make it through, I'd still be ok, with my old life waiting for me. So I really am free to do whatever I need to do, go where the music takes me, which is what I need to do most. Life seems short, and I am getting older, don;t feel I have time like I once did. What I really need and want most is to get back to the art of life, living that exceptional life, while I still can, which isn't about rebuilding old houses or just playing the street in Old Town. Though the vision is to make this place an exceptional place, part of that exceptional life.
All my world's the stage cup on top of the dulciAnd playing the street is something I want to include in the mix, always have, because it can be exceptional, is a place where great scenes happen, and where I can really reach people, be there for them, which is my essential and fundamental motivation, consciousness raising, but it doesn't have to be, shouldn't be, the only venue I play, and not just playing the street in only one place, as I do now.

Though I do have to say that I am incredibly thankful I have had the street scene here in Old Town, no matter how difficult, without it this entire plan would have been impossible. Though I wish I had had even a little slack to enable me to start booking gigs long ago, developing local contacts with venues, and not spend another winter street performing here. I am thankful ma didn't settle farther north! So it was possible for me to play through the Winter, here, though it wasn't easy. As the weather warms up, the street scene is already getting crowded with new street musicians and various street acts, typical craziness, and intolerably loud with motorcycles and more. I am remembering again why I left this place years ago, and I'm almost wishing it was winter again. "If you want to sing the Blues, then you've got to pay the dues, and you know it don't come easy."

Photo by Judi Lohn
The dulciman, by Judi LohnIt has been hard. I have had to find ways to get myself to face going down to play, week after week, day after day. For me, life is about bringing positive energy into the world, good vibes, do something Right, bring some light into the world, and everyone has ways to shine. Sometimes it is something special and specific, sometimes it is something as simple as a smile for someone who needs one, sometimes it is a moment, sometimes it is a road you travel, perhaps for your whole life. I have had to accept that the way I shine is through the music, and through the dulcimer. It is an honor and a priviledge. It can be so beautiful, and a pleasure to play sometimes, but the places I have to play can sometimes be a pain, and that's what makes it hard, or just endurance, so many hours at a time to make it, I haven't played so long without a break before, and I am tired. Tired of playing in the same place, over and over, even if it is relatively good. Tired of playing the same songs, with no time to learn new ones, no time to write new ones. Though "Lady Jane" is still going strong, I finished that and started playing it last Spring, and really, I first wrote it in Alaska, four years ago. But I have things I tell myself, over and over, like little mantras, chants, to help myself get to it. So, lately, I had been telling myself,
"all you really got to do is shine", the details of what and where and when don't matter, just focus on shining, and forget the rest. If the street is the only place you can go, then go there and shine. I would tell myself this over and over, as I walked down to play, as I tried to center myself as I took a shower. And one day, as I chanted it in the shower, I finally had the light go on in my tired mind, that this would be a good line for a new song, and in the moment of inspiration, thought up a quick verse, then over the next couple weeks I wrote a couple more verses, and then had to figure out how to make the first verse of 6 lines work with the next two of 4 lines, so I repeated the first verse and everything balances. And I've been playing it the last month, a new song! As a songwriter, I know that sometimes I am just getting something out of my system, and well, it goes in the notebook, to maybe get reworked, or inspire a better attempt later, but sometimes I actually write a good one.
"All You Gotta Do Is Shine" is a good one, and it feels great to have a new song to play, that I like to play, and share with people.

gold pans with gold and a dusting of snowThe next big goal is to go back to Alaska on schedule, at the end of July, and return to my old extreme routine, a bit of "normalcy", perhaps? It will be a much needed break and renewal, and if I do well, will help with the next stage, which is paying down the debt I accumulated working on the house, and give me some financial reserves to move forward again, with everything, and have a reserve to deal with the ups and downs of playing music for a living.

I'll still be back here in the Fall, to work on the house and the music, again. I’ll play the street, of course, but maybe have gigs set up, by then, though I am not counting on it, never have.

Next winter, I both want and need to be in Florida, finally dealing with the boat. Though at this point, I haven't decided what I am going to do. I never decide something till I have to, in case the choice becomes obvious. We shall see when I get there. I don't need to think that far ahead. Though that is really the final step of this long road I have been on, all the way back to when I came here from Alaska, and decided to stay here because ma was not well, instead of going to Florida to work on the boat, over five years ago. Beyond the boat, itself, a lot depends on what is happening up here at the house, and with the music generally, whether things are happening here that make me want to come back ASAP, or not. But that, too, is not something I can know till I get there.

In the present, then, the plan is to divert a little time from the house, and focus it on the backlog of other jobs and priorities that have been on hold, from working on the vehicles to getting some things set back up and rolling with the music, from this journal to the pickup winder, as well as new ground like researching local venues, regional festivals, and booking gigs, instead of depending totally on the street. Though it is really about putting out feelers and test ballons, setting up prioritiesof what to do first, since I'll be leaving relatively soon for a couple months, but just as much, I will be coming back. Maybe I can book some gigs for the Fall before I leave town, maybe not. I can even start following up on social connections, take time to contact and see friends, and generally lighten up my load a bit, take some time to relax, though it will take time. I have been pushing so hard for so long, it is hard. Hopefully, going to Alaska again will help.

For now, just getting to Alaska is going to be a hard enough goal to reach. And all the work on the house I want to do before then. But I am starting to get back to my real life, and posting a new entry to this journal is a first step. Next, I’ll try finishing and posting the entries I never finished that fill in the last couple years. Perhaps producing some new video is next. I've dug out the old studio computer to see if I can repair it, make it work, or set it up on another platform. I can't afford to buy a new system yet, but I have another old computer I can install the studio hardware and software in, or enough computer parts to build another system, or some combination of both. I can only do so much, and expectation is the direct cause of dissappiontment. It is better to just try to do a little, and see if I have a chance to do more. I am just starting this new chapter, and there is a lot of frustrated energy built up that wants to be manifested, things I want to do. But I have to be realistic, and patient. I am getting there, slowly but surely, at last. If I don't do them now, I’ll do them when I get back, one step at a time.


So I am starting the Journal again with the first part of 2016, well, even if some of the events and pictures are from last year, to be accurate, but they still help tell this story, which is what is it all about, starting to tell the story again. I actually started writing this in February, but the realities still demanded their due, and I still had too much to do, because I was not and am still not quite out of the tunnel yet, though very close. Or perhaps I have, and I am still just trying to realize it, believe it.gold dig with sluice in creek But I know that pretty soon it will be behind me, for certain, and I’ll be looking back at it as a chapter in my life, another story to tell.

And that brings us up to the present. Even a short story ends up pretty long sometimes. I've already been looking through the pictures from my last trip to Alaska, remembering the story, as I prepare to finish processing the pictures and post the last entry I wrote documenting the last Alaska trip. I am reconnecting to my old life, my real life, and that part of my life, before I head off to do it again, live it again, make the great circle, complete the circuit. That is good. And now that I have started the next chapter, there might even be some stories to tell again in the coming months, before I go. Like many stories, the end is just the beginning of the next story.

raising the hurley, standing in it awashAs I am looking at all the pictures, past and present, and telling the stories, I find myself having to pause to take in the fact that I really did do all this stuff, lived this life. I had the odd thought, one day, that I have to be the conservator of my own legacy, If I don't, no one else will. I do need to tell the story of this exeptional life, save the photos and videos.

Though I have done many exceptional things, it seems, I have also come to accept that I am the Dulciman, this is what I am doing with this life, no matter what else I might have hoped for, or dreamed of, or planned, or done. Perhaps I have done some exceptional things, one of the greatest is certainly the dulcimer, and I need to give the dulci a life of its own, and the musical style I have developed with it.

But that story isn't really just about an instrument, the one that I invented, designed and built it, or the music I play on it, through it. That is really a very small part. The real story is all the scenes, not really the places, but the people, that are the rest of the scene, complete the energy, the magic, and another thread in the life we led, the road we have taken together. Though they are always changing, they have always been there, even when they were not, as with many things, a piece of them, a part of them, remains, a part of the dulci, and me. Like all the pieces of themselves people left hanging on the dulcimer, all the dulcimers, really. As I leave a part of myself with them, "you leave something behind you when you go"… I wonder how many people's stories I am part of, and how many stories are told about me. It is a funny thought. Someone once told me I was a living legend. Actually, more than once, for different things. I suppose it is something to be.
But I thought, the next moment, that I am not done living it yet, I am not retired yet, or really interested in stopping, even if I am tired, actually, what I want to do most is get back to living it, do more, and go places I’ve never been before.

It will be good to live a life worth telling stories about, once again.

Dulcimer closeup of people's gifts hanging on front

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