Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lets Go Build A Fort

"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” 

Do any of you remember what it was like as a kid to pile up couch cushions, drape some blankets on top of it and crawl inside with your friends and tell scary stories?  Well, I do.  And it brings back such vivid and powerful memories.  So about 4 years ago when my oldest said, “dad, will you help me build a fort?” I couldn’t have been happier to oblige. This innocent question awoke a primal urge that has been part of man since our Australopithecus (yes, I just name-dropped an obscure anthropology reference) ancestors started looking for caves to adorn with pictures of mammoths.

So not too long ago my family and I were staying at a good friend’s cabin and it just so happened that, due to a pine beetle infestation, there was a significant amount of cleared and cut wood lying like manna from heaven for the taking. Our first attempt at construction was feeble but valiant none the less. Falling short of the mark (and both of us knowing it), my daughter and I spent the next 6 months discussing plans for re-designing our fort in a fashion that would gain the acceptance of the famous fictional architect Howard Roark.

With a healthy amount of anticipation built up during the drive to the cabin, and a general idea of how we were going to make this thing legit, we went to work. For the next three days we were in the zone. At the Brown construction site, my daughters made sure I understood that rest was for the weak. Being equipped with only the essentials…twine, a shovel, and a knife, we let our imaginations drive our creativity. As our veritable “edifice of frontier functionalism” began to take shape, an interesting thing occurred. For the first time as a father, I found myself and my kiddos on the exact same level of intellectual involvement. I was not pulling them to do something, neither were they pulling me. In that moment we were one in purpose.   And dammit, we were building the greatest log fort that Duck Creek Village has ever seen.

I don’t think I’m alone.  I mean...honestly…who doesn’t like building a fort? At home, couch cushions and blankets become sibling’s tools of the metaphorical communal Amish barn raising.   In the woods, sticks and logs do the trick.  I can only assume that thousands of years ago the ancient Druids were goofing around with their kids in a field full of rocks and someone said, “Son, have you heard of post and lintel architecture? It’s all the rage.” Fort-building is in our DNA.

Part of it is because let’s face it, when you finish the job, the pure awesomeness of crawling inside with a flashlight can be rivaled only by Ed McMahon’s surprise visit with a giant check in hand.  And do you want to know what the most satisfying and pleasantly surprising outcome was for me through the building process (I use the word process because although the fort is technically done…we plan on working on it every time we go back)?  I’ll tell you.  The most wonderful part of this was that the emotions I felt in those moments were the exact same for me now as an F-er as they were for me as a 7-year-old boy.  As the Brown family stacked logs, I was able to catch a perfect glimpse into the creative souls of my girls.  And at the same time, my girls were able to see a side of their dad that had long since been boxed up and locked away.  

So now whenever we go back to our friend’s cabin, we park, we unload our luggage, and we immediately go to work on the Brown family fort.  I get to feel like a kid again, and my girls get to travel back in time to see what their dad was like at their age.  And if you allow me to wax a little poetic for a second, this humble frontier dwelling is a terrific symbolic expression of my relationship with my kiddos. From the outside it may seem imperfect and haphazard, but step inside and it’s a stable refuge offering shelter and security. And no matter where we seem to be in the process there is always something to improve.  See… I told you it was poetic.

But seriously, all metaphors aside, this experience has been a priceless bonding experience for me and my kids.  So fellow F’ers, your assignment this week is to get out and build a fort. Grab some blankets and pillows, and get to work.  Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself driving the DeLorean at 88 miles per hour into the deep recesses of your childhood. And when you’re done bonding with your kids, send them to bed, grab some popcorn, and watch a scary movie in the palace you just created. I promise you it will open dusty old memories that you will be glad to re-live alone or with your family.  Happy Building!!

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hello- My Name is Quinn Brown... I am 39, and I Play in a Band.......

This is a post I have wanted to write since the “F” word started but was unsure on how to put it together without sounding like epic blowhard.  Today I’m willing to risk it. 

So it’s 7:42 pm and I am sitting in a hotel on a Saturday night in Jackson Hole, WY. The TV is on in the background and I just woke up from a quality 20 minute power-snooze. My musical cohorts (all fellow “F”ers) and I will be taking the stage at a half-filled bar, presenting a musical odyssey that will last until about 1:30 in the morning. This will be our second gig of the weekend and since I am no longer 21, I am mentally preparing and caffeinating myself for the marathon ahead of me.  At my age, it’s a struggle just to not look and feel like a zombie on stage most nights (cough, Keith Richards, cough).

As I write this, I am taking stock of how just how lucky I am that I have the chance to follow this passion.   But at the very same time, not losing sight of how valuable this is experience is for me as a person.  Music, and the creation thereof, has always been a passion I have chased and an outlet I have cherished. There have been times when it has dominated everything in my life and times when it simply meant playing guitar to my kids at bed time. Through the years, the thing that has become very clear to me is that “I need this”.

In my twenties playing music started out as a passion and over time turned into a profession. There were times when getting on stage seemed like landscaping a yard and other times it was the cats pajamas. Throughout that phase of my life and before almost every gig, my friend and drummer Leo constantly reminded me that what we were doing was a gift. He would say, “first-this is not normal, second-there is a lot of people that would kill for this opportunity, and third-drink it all in because one day it will be gone.” His wisdom in that stage of my life was an incredible revelation.  Just as Leo Prophesied, one day we divided up the gear and it was over.  All of a sudden those super long gigs with two people in the audience seemed more like a fading dream and less like a nightmare. The questions that remained in the years that followed were….

Do I walk away and say, “I used to do that?”


Do I keep it going?

So here was the struggle I encountered as I put the musical side of my life in a proverbial save box in the basement. On one hand I felt the societal pressure saying, “time to grow up and let it go.” On the other hand I felt the self-doubt that if I play again, I will just be another balding old guy trying to chase a dream that has long since passed him by.  The one thing that remained constant was that I truly missed playing music.

This is where the wisdom of prophet Leo comes back into the story. One day we were talking about table saws, reliving the old band days, and just generally marveling about the Zen of life. During our conversation, he mentioned something in passing that made me take an introspective step back and look into my current state of happiness. He said, “Quinn you love to create.  You are an artist regardless of whether you like it or not.” He went on to say, “If you try hiding or suppressing that part of your life and personality, that part of you will die in the process.”

At the time I am certain he had no idea how much I needed to hear those words and how true and timely his declaration had been.

It was that day that I decided it was time to get back in the game.  I reached out to my good friend Jeff and pulled that side of my life out of cold storage.  The funny thing about it was that everyone we found to play was in the exact same proverbial boat. We stacked hands and the journey began again. 

With different logistics and life circumstances this time around, we decided if we were going to make this work, we would jam at 9 pm in Jeff’s sound proof room in his basement. This allowed all of us to put our kids to bed and not have our “musical bowling league” get in the way of family duties. As I read that last line, I realize how far away from the days that the goal was to “not get the cops called on us for noise abatement” or to “not interrupt our Friday night testosterone-filled gallivanting”.  As we started practicing together again and our band took shape, each of us felt the same void filled by the musical tapestry we were weaving. Wondering where this all fits into my adult life was replaced with the desire to create and share.

When you play in a band in your teens and college years, society views it as really hip past time. When you play in a band in your “F” word years it’s viewed as, “something you need to grow out of.” The question I propose is why? Should skateboarding only be reserved for 12-21 year olds? Should golf be reserved for those 30 and over?  The point I am trying to make is if you truly love to do something, then do it. That’s the point, right? Each of us knows deep down inside what makes us tick, what brings us joy, and what parts of our lives need fulfillment. I have no delusions of grandeur at this point in my life, only gratitude for a chance to practice and perform my craft.  These are the things we do for ourselves.

The challenge I would like to issue in this post is find that “thing” you have put away in your save box. Get it out, dust it off, rediscover why it made you happy, and share it with your friends and family. When I take the stage tonight, I will remember Leo’s advice, look around at my friends I have the opportunity play with, and create a musical “F” Word blow torch that can only be rivaled by the dragons of medieval legend…even if it does make me look like an epic blowhard.