4054 “Selling Pencils In A Ball-Point World”

"Selling Pencils In A Ball-Point World" - LEANING TOWARD WISDOM Podcast Episode 4054

“You and I always go together…you make summertime last until December.” Happy at home is the message of the song by Martin Sexton’s song, You (My Mind Is Woo). “It’s a crazy kind of clarity when my mind is on you.” In episode 4053 I talked about love. Go back and give it a listen if you please.

“Following in our father’s footsteps. Selling pencils in a ballpoint world.” Maybe you’re thinking it’s being behind the times, but I prefer to think of it as finding distinction and being true to it. Everybody is unique in the sense that we’re all different. But not everybody is unique in the sense of finding distinction – able to stand out from the crowd like a pencil in a ballpen world. Martin Sexton is distinct.

Jeff Giles wrote a review of Martin Sexton‘s latest album, Mixtape Of The Open Road, for Diffuser.FM. Giles begins the review like this…

At one point during ‘Mixtape of the Open Road,’ Martin Sexton sings about “selling pencils in a ball-point world,” and from a certain point of view, you could hear that line as a tongue-in-cheek reference to his own recording career: Eight albums into a critically acclaimed and largely independent run that stretches back to 1992′s ‘In the Journey,’ Sexton’s music has never come anywhere near the level of world playlist domination that it deserves, and at this point, it seems safe to say it never will.

"Selling Pencils In A Ball-Point World" - LEANING TOWARD WISDOM Podcast Episode 4054And Mr. Giles aptly ends the review with this paragraph…

A pencil in a ball-point world? That’s a pretty fair assessment, really — this is a record that sounds carved out of life instead of screwed together on an assembly line, worn to perfection and pockmarked with one-of-a-kind divots, built to last with a minimum of moving parts. You might get cleaner lines out of the ones that make mechanical clicks, but they’re a lot harder to sink your teeth into.

Today’s episode is a departure of sorts – an experiment perhaps. I’m a longtime fan of Martin Sexton. This record was released just last month. I hope you’ll buy it because it’s great music by a man with a unique voice, and because I agree with Jeff Giles – Martin’s music deserves a greater degree of playlist domination. I’m going to be playing some snippets from the album for today’s show because I think there are thoughts to be provoked by each track. This record is a mixtape, which means there are a variety of flavors on the record so I think it can serve to help us all in our efforts of leaning toward wisdom.

Let’s start with Martin’s story, but first here’s a track entitled, Do It Daily (all today’s tracks are from Mixtape of The Open Road…so make sure you buy it from your favorite music seller).

Track 1 – Do It Daily

Sexton took his own advice when he left home at 22. By then he’d been playing the guitar for about 8 years. He was the 10th child of a family that sounds straight from Cheaper By The Dozen. Yep, there were 12 kids. When he left home he headed to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts so he could busk as a street player. It must have seemed along way from Syracuse, but I’m sure he was doing what he wanted to do, daily.

There’s our first lesson – daily habits define us. They make us who and what we are. For Martin, that meant not following the current musical trends. He’s a child of the 80’s, but he apparently was more interested in more classic rock and roll and Americana music. According to Wikipedia he produced a collection of demo songs in 1992 on some cheap 8-track machine in the attic of a friend. But his persistence in playing daily paid off because he sold 20,000 copies of it out of his guitar case while playing on the street. A year earlier he released a record, In the Journey, only on cassette and sold 15,000 even though only word-of-mouth and live concerts. “Good things happen if you do it every day.”

What do you want to become? What do you want to do?

Start doing it. And do it every day. And keep at it. Larry Bird, famous basketball star, said he’d stay out in the backyard on the dirt court and make shift hoop and shoot for hours on end. He chalked it up to his obsession with getting it just right. Whatever the reason, he did it every day and by the time he got an opportunity to play he was ready. He’s still known as one of the NBA’s all-time great shooters.

You may not end up in the NBA or on the stage of a big arena in a major city or on a big screen — but wherever you end up, and whatever you end up doing is surely going to be a result of the things you devoted yourself to every single day.

Track 3 – Pine Away

“Don’t make me pine away…” The pain of a man who loves a woman. Love can drive us crazy sometimes. Maybe the message is to avoid neglecting love while you’re chasing who you most want to be. Stuff and ambition don’t much matter if you don’t have somebody to love – and somebody to love you.

Don’t be the person who accomplishes good things – maybe great things – but you pine away because you don’t love. Invest in the people you love. Let them invest in you, too.

Track 4 – Set In Stone

“The grass will grow. And the wheels may change direction. But I need you to know the love I have is always set in stone.”

“We may fuss and fight, but mom and I will be alright…the storms will blow. And the clouds make way for sunshine. Child we need you to know that the love we share is always set in stone.”

In spite of his traveling as a minstrel, it seems Martin values home. His love is always set in stone for his family, no matter what. Fussing and fighting don’t damage it. Distance won’t either. Because there’s a commitment that is set in stone.

Well, there’s more proof that Martin is a pencil salesman in a ball pen world. Is your family – your marriage – that distinct. “We are trying to keep our house a happy home.” It’s a noble work. More of us should give it a stronger effort…to make sure the love we share is set in stone.

It demands commitment and dedication in the face of adversity. Love gives us a better sense of direction.

Track 5 – Remember That Ride

The song, Remember That Ride, is about a fictitious carnival ride that a collaborator of Sexton, Ned Claflin, first thought up. Maybe you remember a carnival ride of your youth – or your adulthood. I do. But mostly I remember cars or trucks. Those are the rides that I remember most. And I’ve driven a few where life was upside down, or almost. When I first heard the song I thought of all the close calls I had as a kid (and an adult). “If I live to be a hundred I’ll remember that ride.”

The song provokes 2 thoughts for me. One, experiences — especially experiences centered on riding. Whether it’s in a car, a truck or every child’s favorite roller coaster around here, the log ride at Six Flags Over Texas.

“Ride, ride, ride remember that ride. Big ones laughing and little ones cry. We nearly lost our dinner and we almost died.”

Haven’t we all been there and done that? I know I have.

Track 6 – Give It Up

Too many musicians fall into drug abuse. Is it the road, the absence of stability, the culture? Maybe it’s all of those things and more. But whether our bad habits are drugs, alcohol or something else — we need to give it up.

Track 7 – Shut Up And Sing

Martin has paid his dues on the road, pushing the ping and pong of the song. “Shut Up And Sing” is another catchy tune that ends with a much-needed message…

“The world’s gotta hear what you’ve got to sing.”

Track 8 – I Believe In You

Few things are more important to a man than to have a woman who believes in him. And it’s important for a man to believe in a woman, too. I know you’re seeing a recurring theme here between the last episode about love. It wasn’t entirely planned. I told you in the last episode that no subject has more songs written about it than LOVE.

And memories of love are part of everybody’s life. Some of us have memories with the person we’re still in love with. Martin remembers a mixtape with The Grateful Dead on one side and ticket stubs to a Grateful Dead concert before Jerry Garcia died in the summer of 1995. Every memory I have of young love includes music. Don’t you think of songs when you think of young love, or lost love? It must be a universal fact.

It’s as ancient as the Bible. Boys need to show off. They need attention. They crave respect. And women crave love. That’s why God commanded husbands to love their wives in Ephesians chapter 5. And for wives to respect and honor their husbands. God created us so He knows what we need.

“Funny how it takes music to find out what we had.”

dandelionTrack 9 – Doin Something Right

Wisdom involves doing things right. And it involves doing the right things. Even people who have experienced tremendous failure will often remark about one area of their life, “I did THAT right.” We need to do more things right. Musically, Martin Sexton is doing something right.

Track 10 – Dandelion Days

Again the theme is love – springtime love. The Dandelion Days.

This song makes me smile ’cause I remember digging in the dirt and making forts. And rolling on the ground. I remember blowing dandelions a lot, too.

Catching lizards. Sitting under pine trees on a bed of pine needles. I still have a strong urge to go walk through a stand of pine trees, even if I see them when I’m on the Interstate driving through the South. If I had stopped to walk through them every time I had the urge, I’d have likely taken twice as long to get to wherever I was going. But I never stop.

You may feel like the Dandelion Days are over, but as long as we’ve got memories I don’t think they ever leave us. I just think we should act on them more often. Pull over when you see some pine trees you’d like to walk through.

Track 11 – Virginia

Our life is largely defined by places and people. Maybe it’s where we come from. Maybe it’s our family heritage. But it all impacts our life.

The Boxcar ChildrenI was born in Ada, Oklahoma – most famously now known as the birth place of Blake Shelton. We moved away after I started 3rd grade in Mrs. Goddard’s class. I was upset about leaving because she was reading The Boxcar Children to us. And I thought she was a terrific reader. But just weeks into the school year we moved. I never got to hear the end of the story. To this day I’ve not read The Boxcar Children. Something makes me want to keep the story suspended in time at Hayes Elementary School in Ada, Oklahoma on a top floor classroom with Mrs. Goddard.

Places. People. They matter to us. They shape us. And we all know it.

I used to think of moving to places, mainly because of my career ambitions. But I could never venture very far away from this section of the country because…well, I don’t know why exactly. Partly familiarity. Partly roots I guess. Partly people and my sense of who I was. But talk with people from other regions of America – or the world – and you hear the same thing. People from the deep south of America are tethered to their region as much as New Englanders are to theirs. Home is home.

Track 12 – Supper Time

Does anybody use this phrase any more? I grew up in an era where every kid knew it. “Be home by supper time,” said every mom in the neighborhood.

Be different. Be distinctive. Maybe it’s time to hide the pens and break out the pencils ’cause you realize everybody else is using a pen.


P.S. Buy the record and check out these other online stories about Martin Sexton’s newest record, Mixtape Of The Open Road:

And I’m fond of Premier Guitar videos, including this one with Martin…watch it and he’ll introduce you to Bubba, his bass player.

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4053 Time Alone Will Tell The Story Of The Glory Of True Love

Time Alone Will Tell The Story Of The Glory Of True Love - LEANING TOWARD WISDOM Podcast Episode 4053

Just this morning Demilked, the design, art and photography website posted a series of pictures in a posted entitled, In Love For More Than 50 Years: Couples Pose For Heartwarming Photo Series. Here’s what Demilked wrote about the author and photographer Lauren Fleishman

When you’re about 20 years old, it’s hard to imagine couples that stayed together for more than three years. But photographer Lauren Fleishman aimed at ones that had been in love for far far longer: her book The Lovers is all about couples who had been together for more than 50 years. The lovebirds seem very open when talking about how they got together – and still very much in love.

“This project was inspired by a series of love letters written by my grandfather to my grandmother during World War II that I found in a book next to his bed.” Lauren states on her website. “The letters spoke of a young love, the type filled with expectations of a new life together. They connected me to my grandfather and his 59-year marriage in a way that I had not been able to connect to him in life.” And this was the inspiration behind the project. The stories that these old couples tell are heart gripping and cut at times.

That’s the kind of love we wish to be asked about in fifty years or so.

Some of us aren’t going to have to wait nearly that long. I’m joining the ranks of those quickly closing in on the golden anniversary.

When Dr. Phil first burst onto the national media stage – he was a DFW guy who had a firm that helped attorneys with the jury selection process – I remember hearing him describe seasoned marriage as a “soft place to fall.” We had probably been married 20 years or so at the time. This January we celebrated our 37th year of marriage. Well, that description – a “soft place to fall” – resonated with me because it’s exactly how I felt about my love for my wife. I feel more so that way today. Old love isn’t like young love. It’s better.

Randy And Rhonda - Selfie Circa 1977
I took my first selfie with Rhonda in 1977 with an Instamatic

Don’t get me wrong. Young love is terrific. The romance, the passion, the energy, the discovery and optimism. Just look at these kids to the right, me and Rhonda circa 1977. That’s young love. But like my hairline, young love fades. Unlike my hair, it doesn’t fade away though. It fades into something far, far deeper.

A soft place to fall.

But this isn’t about my marriage. It’s about love, marriage and finding that soft place to fall. I hope you’ve got somebody special you love very much. And if you don’t, I hope you find them sooner than later because true love changes everything. And that’s the subject of today’s show.

The Senses Of Love

Music is a big part of my life, but you know that already. Love has fueled more songs than any other subject. For good reason. We’re either chasing it, figuring it out, enjoying it or lamenting the loss of it. There’s nothing like it. NOTHING.

Music enters every courtship. That’s why you hear couples talk about “our song.” Even non-music lovers find a place for it in their heart when their heart is in the throes of love.

The other day I read that women are highly attracted by smells. More so than men. But smells are important for men, too. For me it wasn’t perfume so much as it was the totality of the smells. Subtle smells like her leather clutch. Her scent while sitting next to me in the car. The smell of her lip gloss (and yes, the taste). The scent of her hair. Roll them all up and package them and while we were dating with hundreds of miles separating us, and I could survive for days or weeks. The smells triggered a sense of her presence providing instant comfort.

We survived a long distance dating life for about 3 years in the mid-70’s. Music was big because when you’re driving all night long – 11 hours one way – you have time to listen to LOTS of your favorite tunes. Time alone.

I wheel into her driveway around 6am on Saturday morning. Arriving anywhere else, I’d be bleary-eyed and incoherent. But not parked in her driveway. There’s nothing like anxious love. Times when you can’t wait to see somebody you love. Time alone with them.

From the time we first dated, neither of us dated another. We wrote snail mail (’cause it’s all we had) letters every single day. We saved our money so we could make phone calls occasionally after 11pm when the long-distance rates went down. The glory of true love is seen when a man loves a woman.

After nearly 3 years of this, I’d had enough. It was time to make this love permanent by asking her to be my wife. We joined hands and my best friend‘s dad presided over the ceremony over 37 years ago. Time alone does tell the story of the glory of true love.

Taking Love (and loved ones) For Granted

I know it’s impractical to live every day as infatuated with her as I once was. But I confess that daily I walk by the room where she’s sewing, or typing (she’s always had a medical transcription business out of the house) and want to walk in, hug her and tell her how much I love her. Sometimes I do it. Other times it seems like it might be too much of an interruption. When you both work out from home offices this happens daily. Every single day.

But now, for hours we can be under the same roof, doing our work, living in our own world, without speaking. See that young man in the picture above? There’s no way you’d have convinced him that that’s how life would be about 38 years after I took that selfie with my Instamatic camera. You don’t remember those cameras, but you had to develop the film. I had no way to know if I even got us both in the frame. It’d be weeks before I got that film developed. You kids are spoiled with digital photography. ;)

I didn’t take her for granted in 1977. I don’t take her for granted in 2015. But through the years I’ve grown more scared. Scared of losing her. To sickness. Or death. We’ve enduring many trials and struggles. No different than most couples who’ve spent a lifetime together. Faith in God. Faith in each other. Faith in our union. That’s guided us through it.

northern_lights_southern_crossTime alone can tell lots of stories, but time alone doesn’t make for deeper love. And time sure won’t cure the hurt that comes with some love. One of my favorite songs was written in 1975 by Robbie Robertson, the leader of The Band. He wrote about a lost love and how nothing he did made any difference because the “sun don’t shine anymore.” The song first appeared on their 1975 album, Northern Lights – Southern Cross.

It Makes No Difference

by Robbie Robertson

It makes no difference where I turn
I can’t get over you and the flame still burns
It makes no difference, night or day
The shadow never seems to fade away

And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

Now there’s no love
As true as the love
That dies untold
But the clouds never hung so low before

It makes no difference how far I go
Like a scar, the hurt will always show
And it makes no difference who I meet
They’re just a face in the crowd on a dead-end street

And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

These old love letters
Well, I just can’t keep
Just like the gambler says:
“Read ‘em and weep”
And the dawn don’t rescue me no more

Without your love, I’m nothing at all
Like an empty hall, it’s a lonely fall
Since you’ve gone it’s a losing battle
Stampeding cattle, they rattle the walls

And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

Well, I love you so much
That it’s all I can do
Just to keep myself from telling you
That I never felt so alone before

The hurt of lost love is a bad, lingering hurt. And when you’ve been married as long as I have, the prospect of lost love – not lost love because you lost the person to somebody else, but because something else happens – is among the most dreaded fears I know. I don’t want to take a single day for granted with my wife. But I know I do in spite of my best intentions. We have to work and do things other than embracing those we love.

Lately, in the day job I’m having lots of conversations about “being present.” Increasingly, people in work places are challenged by schedules that are too hectic and demanding. The conscientious people want to improve their ability to be in the moment. Proof that the same problems we face at home creep into our work, too.

Electronic distractions can tempt us to take people and experiences for granted. Sit in any conference room in the world and unless they collect the cell phones at the door you’ll see people staring at their phones during the meeting. Increasingly, I see tablets even in organizations with a low tech IQ. I’m not talking about surfing the net or checking Facebook. They’re sending and receiving work related text messages. They’re doing the same with work emails. Talk with them individually like I have and you find out many of them (sometimes all of them) feel too disconnected during their face time together. They wish it were different. They just don’t know how to fix it. For some, leaving their phones or tablets out of the meeting isn’t reasonable because they’ve got too many people who need to be in touch with them. It’s a problem that has no business infecting our homes — they simply have too many touch points. Too many people who need just a bit of time and attention at work. That’s not usually the problem at home.

Distraction afflicts us at work and at home. And at restaurants. Just watch couples – forget larger groups – sitting at a meal. I dare you to find a couple where at least one of them isn’t constantly looking at a 3″ screen. It’s digital crack cocaine that people can’t resist. How can such a small handheld device distract us from our spouse? Or family? Or even friends?

We’re Afraid We’ll Miss Something, And We’re Right.

We might miss something. That Tweet or Facebook post. A Vine video or a SnapChat message. It’s truly addictive. And it never stops. The digitally connected world is streaming (and screaming) at us with an endless vengeance. It’s like the Hotel California. You can check in, but you can never leave. Well, you can. You just don’t.

Social scientist will be studying these things for years to come, but I’m not smart enough to participate in the study. I can only observe, working to lean more toward wisdom and away from the foolishness of digital dependency. When across from me sits the love of my life – a woman I fear losing – it should be easy to be in the moment. I may miss a blog post, or a Tweet or any number of other digital footprints made by people I’ve never even met. But what if I miss a moment with this woman I once drove all night to see — to spend less than 32 hours with before having to drive another 11 hours to go back home, arriving around 1am Monday morning, then having to attend early morning class, followed by work.

We’ve all heard that old saying that nobody laying on their death bed ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” Well, I’d hate to realize I didn’t devote myself to being in the moment with my wife because I couldn’t resist something much less important.

Saying “No” To Some Things In Order To Say “Yes” To More Important Things

Lyle Lovett sang, “I married her just because she looks like you.” It’s funny, but it makes me think of how shallow some people can be with love. All the stories of couples whose love turns to hatred makes me wonder what happened…and makes me wonder how seriously they entered marriage. I’m not naive. I know quite a few people marry for reasons other than love. Shallow reasons. Like money. Beauty. Status. Fame.

There are other ways to be shallow though — even when we marry for love. Communication can be shallow.

Some couples never discuss real issues. I know this because throughout my life I’ve had enough conversation with married people who admit they never talk about serious things. I’ve often sat across from a married man and asked, “What does your wife think about that?” Maybe it was some career challenge, or a possible career opportunity or some difficulty in their life. Too often the answer is, “I haven’t told her.”

How can you not tell your spouse something important? How can you not talk with your spouse about what’s happening in your own life?

But that’s exactly how it goes in too many marriages. Shallow conversation. No depth. Keep it simple stupid talk ruins any hope of deeper love.

I guess shallow talk is better than no talk at all though. Inches away sits a person we claim to love. In our hand is a device connected to people we may casually know, if we know them at all. Or complete strangers known only to us through social media. We too often say “YES” to the strangers while ignoring the one to whom we said, “I do.” I’ve got no good explanation for it. It’s a compulsion – maybe an addiction – that many can’t seem to ignore.

Like shallow talk it’s lack of desire, an unwillingness, poor self-discipline. Maybe it’s a lack of love. I could make a good argument that the man who refuses to inform his wife of his most troubling issues is being dishonest, deceitful and not exhibiting the kind of love he’d want from her. You’re either partners or you’re not.

Saying “NO” can be hard. Saying “NO” to keeping the talk shallow so you can sit down together and fully discuss really important things seems tougher for some. I don’t pretend to understand it because it’s not how I’m wired. I’m wired for depth, but not everybody is. Talk of what you ate for lunch can be as deep as some folks ever get. How does that deepen your relationship with your spouse?

I’m baffled by people who can sit still to engage in long conversations about nothing, but seem visibly uncomfortable and quickly leave a room when talk turns to something important. Experience has taught me that some people prefer to live life like a Seinfeld episode though – always having conversations about nothing.

Deception creeps into some marriages and breaks up what was once love. It’s not a Seinfeld episode. It’s more sinister than that. I don’t know how that happens, but it’s sad. Carried to an extreme it can turn the glory of true love in pure hatred. But we don’t want that — and surely that’s not happening to you. We want true love and I hope that is exactly what’s happening to you.


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