Ladies and Gentlemen, Ross DeMerchant!

Ross-DeMerchant---headshotI’ve been wanting you all to meet a dear friend and trusted confidant of mine, mostly because everyone needs a Ross DeMerchant in his or her life. During the 90s I had the privilege of working with Ross for several years.  He showed me what the term “servant leadership” can look like on a day-to-day basis.

He routinely brought in Perkins muffins (you know, the ones the size of a human head) for random departments around our office building just to be nice.  This wasn’t normal behavior where we worked.

When Ross asks people, “How are you doing?”  he wants an honest answer.   Every single week my social media feed is full of photos of Ross meeting up with people of all ages and from all walks of life simply to encourage them.  His main priority in life could be summed up simply: to love people well. In my opinion, that alone makes him one of the most successful people I know.

During our years working together, I mostly remember a lot of laughter.  I’m not talking polite, office-volume laughter.  I’m talking belly laughing until tears were rolling and my face hurt.  When he was telling stories to our staff, neighboring office workers often checked in to see what all the noise was about because they could hear us howling all the way down the hall.  And when got on the phone with his brother, we braced ourselves for a whole new level hilarity. I almost called an ambulance more than once. “Ross?  Are you breathing??  Say something!”

He loves his family fiercely. He has one of the best marriages I know of. He would make no apology for leaving work if Shirley or one of his kids needed him.  Ross showed me how to be myself, to keep laughing, and to love people well, no matter what else I decided to do with my life.  I am so grateful I had that kind of example to follow before I had kids of my own.

I also need to tell you that Ross is cool, mostly because he is admittedly uncool.  He does the kind of things I do when I’m trying to be smooth, like sticking a swizzle stick up his nose at a fancy-dancy cocktail party.(I don’t mind telling you, it remained lodged there until he removed it by hand!  Yes, that happened!)

Once I had the unprecedented joy of watching him introduce himself to Wayne Watson (remember him?) and let me just say… it played out way differently than Ross had rehearsed it in his mind.  I still DIE laughing every  time I think about it.

Ross DeMerchant

Throughout the years decades after we worked together, life took Ross’s family and my family in different directions but we tried to stay in contact, usually less successfully than we wished.  He and his family experienced some challenging years, and so did we.  Regardless of where we were in life, whenever we and our spouses would reconnect we still kept the joy alive and agreed that loving people is worth the risk, even when they disappoint us.

Not too long ago, we reconnected for a coffee appointment and I could see that Ross was about to birth a really important idea. He had become a grandfather and was starting to realize that if he didn’t write the book brewing inside him, he would be disobeying his calling.  (By the way, if you have an idea burning in your soul like that, you simply must do it.)

Today, little more than 2 years after that coffee appointment, Ross is the author of 26 Letters: How To Have The Conversations of Your Lifetime.  It’s a thoughtful book about leaving your legacy for future generations. Guided by the 26 letters of the alphabet and stories from Ross’s journey, this book helps you consider key words you want to be remembered by and will hopefully prompt you to share your own important stories with your kids, grandkids and the generations that will follow.

Ross is a gifted storyteller (and, in case I hadn’t mentioned it, a funny human being).  But he is also deeply sensitive and tenderhearted, so he knows how to make that turn from a wacky story to a moving, heart-stirring point.  So if you or someone you know happens to be looking for a fresh face to inspire people at a special event or conference, he would be a great chose.  Check him out or contact him here at www.rossdemerchant.com.

I’m not telling you about Ross for any other reason than I think you’ll really like him, and I know he will really like you!  I think his book is such a wonderful way to begin thinking about the things you want to impart to your kids and grandkids while you’ve got time.

Also?  His kids turned out wonderfully.  In fact, Ross’s son was my son’s first boss.  Let me tell you… the apple did not fall far from the tree with that one.  I mention that only because Ross can speak authoritatively on the subjects of leaving an eternal legacy and loving people well, because I have watched him do exactly that – in his family and with those around him – for the 25 years I’ve known him.

I hope you’ll get to know him.  And feel free to let him know I sent you, so maybe he will read my blog!  🙂

Here he is (below) being a charming grandfather. I mean, seriously, this was SO worth stalking his Facebook!
Ross D 2

 

 

 

 

 

Standing Up To Live

“How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.”

Henry David Thoreau

This Thoreau quote perfectly describes where I have been for a couple years now – standing up to live.  When I turned 44 last year my sister wrote the sweetest note in a birthday card. Among other encouragements, she observed that I had “truly blossomed” during the previous year.  I know what she means. I had stopped looking at everything through my “writer’s lens” and stopped trying to do 100 things at once and just tried to live fully inside each moment.  I had started trying to look people (especially my family) in the eye when they speak. I multi-tasked less. I got my hands dirty in the garden more, played more games, did more puzzles, tried new recipes and projects (thank you, Pinterest) and reconnected with my pmountaintopriorities.

Now, a year after my sister’s sweet observation, life has brought a number of changes and a great deal more busyness. And a 45 minute commute each morning and afternoon. What a challenge it is to keep fighting that multi-tasking monster inside that tries to “do” (five things at once) and “be” at the same time!

Below are three of the specific ways I continue try to stand up and live…

1. Waste less time trying to meet others’ expectations.  Being overly concerned with ‘what people think’ is a train of thought that has led my soul straight out of the present and into the lonely wilderness time and time again.  At this stage of my life, I understand with fresh clarity how wasteful it is to squander my energy and abilities on trying to keep everybody in the world appeased. Of the hundreds and hundreds of people I know, they don’t all get a piece of me. The Lord needs all of me to accomplish the purposes He has for me. Period.

2. Waste less energy fretting about the future.  This really comes down to trust. Do I believe my days are ordered by a loving Savior, or do I not?  I can make plans all day long to try and ward off emergencies and figure everything out…but why would I squander the precious time I have today trying to control what hasn’t yet come?  YES, make wise decisions. YES, embrace delayed gratification when appropriate. YES, continue to sharpen the God-given gifts that will help us live a fulfilling, well-spent life. But NO to getting so obsessed with the future that we are robbed of the simple joy of breathing in and out today, knowing we are in Good Hands for all eternity.

3. Seek Christ continually. The things He wants to say to me are life-changing. Why would I not keep both ears tuned to his every wish??  It is truly mind-boggling what I miss when my head is swimming with my own tentative, needy, self-focused thoughts. His thoughts are not our thoughts. They are WAY better. I want to hear more of them!

The rewards are significant. At long last I have started to feel the quiet underpinning of confidence that comes when the mind, body and soul are all headed the same direction. I’m on time more often. My relationships are more healthy.  I have stopped making excuses for myself when I mess up.  (For the most part, anyway. I mean, we are just broken human beings with so many demands on our bodies, minds and souls.) planting seeds

In “standing up to live” I have not been as focused on “sitting down to write” as often as I have in the past. And, for now, I’m okay with it. So much about my journey I can’t fully put into words at the moment. I guess you could say I’m like a human teapot… brewing up some strong stuff that isn’t quite ready to pour out. (The song “I’m a Little Teapot” is suddenly swimming around in my head, which is awesome.)

Friends, even if for a few minutes at a time, try to tune out all of the messages from the little voices that sit on your shoulders and whisper all that crazy stuff into your being. Just focus on living – really LIVING – inside this one powerful moment. Listen for His voice… stand up…and live the life that has been specifically cut out for you (whether or not you get a humorous or validating Facebook status out of it). You will not be sorry.

“Great Rules of Writing” :>)

It is so easy for writers (or any creative people, for that matter) to get all bogged down with how we are “supposed” to approach our craft.  What does great writing look like? And what if we break some cardinal rule without even knowing?!

No question about it, skill-building and knowledge are imperative.  But just when hard and fast rules are set down in the creative realm, there are a million exceptions. How convenient, since lots of us creative-types love little more than getting by with breaking a rule!  So, I couldn’t resist sharing with you William Safire’s “Great Rules of Writing” below.

Writers, take heart.  He brilliantly expresses what our hearts need to know as we are spilling thoughts with ink.  (There is freedom!)

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

~William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”

Songwriting: A Love-Hate Relationship

I have a love-hate relationship with songwriting. (The photo to the left is not a stock photo.  It is part of a lyric I worked on yesterday containing a few decent lines and many more scribbled-out lines.)

I’m getting this out of my system today for two reasons: 1) I hope I’m not the only one, and; 2) I hope other struggling songwriters who are reading this know you’re not the only one. (Or there’s this 3rd bonus: Those of you who know me will finally understand why I’m half-insane.)

I LOVE the way songwriting combines my two favorite mediums in the world – words and music – to give voice to life’s nearly-inexpressible mysteries.  I love playing with words, meter and rhyme.  I love when just the right tune gels with the right idea. It’s magical. Correction. It’s miraculous. I love singing good songs, hearing good songs and studying good songs.

I HATE the angst that comes with honing this craft (which, for me, has taken 20 years and I still feel like a kindergartener).  I know a great song to hear it and I’ve written a handful of decent ones (in-between a couple hundred mediocre or downright lame ones).  And what really drives me nuts is… I’m a professional writer at my day job! Why does this craft make me so crazy? Sure, it’s more intimate and raw than writing copy other people read on-camera,  or factual articles for magazines or websites, but seriously, nothing brings more terror than letting someone in on my latest song idea.

And while it’s terrifying to share my latest songs, I also hate that no one cares. (See? Insane!) I refuse to be that person everyone hates to see coming because I might be trying to plug some mediocre song I just couldn’t resist writing for my own self-aggrandizement. I made a solemn commitment to myself a few years ago to be a “no-selfish-agenda” kind of girl, so I’m not going to throw CDs at people or lock someone in my car so they can hear my latest idea.  To me, it cheapens the beauty of a potentially great song to stuff it down someone’s throat (particularly since I work with artists and want to use the utmost integrity and professionalism in those relationships).

I REALLY love the process.  The flow of words and ideas and that sense of “Ahhh! I said it!” that follows actually finishing a song (which happens far more rarely than I’d like to admit because they never reach “good enough” status in my mind).

I love to co-write. Yet loathe the awkward scenario of getting into a co-writing session that I immediately know isn’t going to work and having to use the famous break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

I hate being disappointed.  I have written a few songs people loved (oodles more that have never been seen or heard) and I’ve written a song that got recorded…and even aired on TV. Yet somehow two things keep happening: I either get ripped off or forgotten.  One artist got “convenient amnesia” after recording my idea (and basing an entire tour on that idea). So after several years I have finally given up ever seeing a nickel of those royalties.  And, of course, every songwriter has heard, “Wow, that’s a great idea.  I’d like to record that,” only to find later you didn’t make the cut. This craft just comes with disappointment and I hate it. But that’s the deal.

I love reading about songwriting and I’ve attended enough songwriting workshops that I could almost teach a session. I got an A in Music Theory. I even love the hours of pouring over an idea. But the economy of time spent vs. results seems ridiculous to me when I stop and think too hard about it.

I’ve thrown in the towel so many times, it’s embarrassing. A rough ballpark would be between 20 and 25-gazillion times I have promised myself through tears that I would never waste another valuable moment of life on this good-for-nothing hobby.

But here’s the thing. After all the ups and downs, disappointments and lost sleep, the truth is: I can’t give up. For whatever maddening reason, I can’t stop an idea from bouncing around in my brain at the most inconvenient times, robbing me of sleep until I write it down. No matter how hard I try to dispense with this mind-melting form of expression, I will probably always express certain ideas in the form of a song. I will not stop just because the two decades I’ve spent doing it haven’t yielded one blasted penny (or even a measly “thank you”).

During my most recent season of “giving up again” my really smart friend and occasional co-writer, Scott Naylor, sent me the following link. What Ira Glass says in the following video keeps me from breaking up with songwriting.  After all, the next one I write might actually live up to the standard in my mind. Then again, it might be awful. But I’ll keep doing it because I can’t stop. I just don’t have a choice, apparently.

Here is Ira Glass with the most helpful songwriting lesson I’ve heard in a while:

Are there other songwriters or creative types out there who experience this angst?  Please tell me I’m not the only one.

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