Companion

How rare in life is it to find a true companion? Someone who agrees daily to travel the highs and lows of existence with you, not turning back or away when tragedy or failure strike? I find myself in the minority, I have found that companion.

I met my wife when she was a clerk at a local bookstore, and I was a wandering, lanky bafoon with poor fashion sense (nothing has changed). I didn’t know her name, but her knitted owl hat and soft smile caused my attention to shift away from the books. I decided I would keep visiting on the off chance our smiles would someday turn to actual conversation, a plan I am proud to say paid off.

During one of my awkward visits to the bookstore, I noticed the mystery girl alone working a register. Having no measurable suave or bravery, I decided purchasing a book would be a legitimate (less terrifying) way to introduce myself. I grabbed a copy of “Surprised by Joy” and headed to the kiosk.

I guess I owe my marriage to C.S. Lewis.

Despite my eccentrically dated, hand-shake introduction, I somehow made an impression on her and even though it took a while to launch, we eventually became an item. (I knew we were a solid match on our first date when she gave me a handmade medallion, a replica paying homage to the yogurt lid Olympics from “The Office.”)

What I didn’t realize during the early days of our relationship, was that this woman would become not only my wife, but my confidant and best friend.

Most people who know me are unaware of my struggle with fairly severe anxiety, a problem which nearly destroyed my life a few months into our relationship. Rather than run from something so difficult, Brenna (the owl-hatted bookstore clerk) made the tough choice to stick it out and fight for me. I am so glad she did. I will never be perfect, and who I am now can’t erase past failings, but her love and genuine kindness have made me into a better man.

Brenna is the most beautiful soul I know. She has no enemies. She holds no grudges. She is my companion, and it is a joy everyday to be her’s.- AB

 

 

Genius

Genius. A term that unfortunately gets carelessly overused. Our hair dresser is a genius because he/she recommends a conditioner we have never used before with amazing results. Our mechanic is a genius because he/she finds a leak in our tire that was eluding us. While both situations requite an enormous amount of skill and knowledge (more than I can imagine having and respect greatly), they are not displays of genius.

Genius is reserved for someone who excels in their field to an incredible degree. Einstein developed multiple revolutionary theories in the world of physics, and his ideas have propelled science forward long after his death. Christopher Hitchens was a prodigious writer and debater who covered religion, politics and social issues to a degree yet repeated; his wit is missed in today’s volatile climate. These are geniuses.

We recognize true genius when we see it. When studying Issac Newton or Thomas Paine, genius jumps off the page and we immediately note a level of competency which seemingly defies normal human limitations.

In a world flooded with talent, who are the geniuses of our time?

As a musician and lover of all things original, I am biased toward the creative arts. The purpose of this post is simply to share the artists and talents who have shaped me, and who I consider to be true geniuses. I have picked two who found their way into my mind and art.

The first, and probably most influential to my mandolin career, is Chris Thile. Chris Thile is the mandolinist for the phenomenal, Grammy Awarding winning groups Nickel Creek, The Punch Brothers and The Goat Rodeo Sessions (featuring fellow masters Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan and Edgar Meyer). He recently received the McArthur Fellowship award, commonly known as “The Genius Grant.” His mastery of the mandolin is unprecedented.

Thile first appeared on the folk scene as a young savant who won the Walnut Valley Mandolin Championship (a prestigious, national competition) at age twelve. Even as a child, Thile’s understanding and virtuosity were impossible to ignore.

Thile’s impact is not limited to the commercial success of the aforementioned groups. Chris has been a first-call session player for over a decade and recently took the helms of the highly successful radio program “A Prairie Home Companion” from Garrison Keillor, a position which Keillor held for over 40 years.

His career has been a creative masterpiece, and it appears he is still trending upward. As the attached video below will show, Thile is a true genius.

 

Moving to a completely different realm of creativity, no one has influenced me more than Robin Williams.

If a “Renaissance Man” has ever existed, it was in the person of Robin Williams. He was a genie, a professor, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Mork, Patch Adams and in his most important role, a genuinely great man off the screen. For those who only know Williams as an actor, there is a world of talent to explore.

I have never been more in awe of a performer than the first time I saw Robin on “Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton”. He was one of the most spontaneously artistic comedians when onstage, possessing the ability to invent a fully formed character while in front of a crowd. This ability to improvise made him the perfect voice actor for animated films, and allowed his acting career to be extremely diverse.

Despite his immense gifts, Williams struggled with depression like so many geniuses before him. His suicide felt personal to me, as if one of my horcruxes had been destroyed. Williams was and remains on my Mt. Rushmore of talent, but losing him seemed more like losing a friend or mentor.

Robin Williams was a beautiful human being, and an artist whose acting career is only the visible portion of a massive iceberg. I have attached a link to one of Robin’s appearances on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” that should give you a laugh and a glimpse into something more.

These are just two of the geniuses who have influenced me as an individual, but they can enrich and bring joy to your life as well. I hope they enchant, entertain and inspire you, and I hope we continue to celebrate the true geniuses in our world.- AB

Chris Thile- “Jessamyn’s Reel”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88q9syere0Q

Robin Williams- with James Lipton  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEAdMPdJdBY&t=73s

 

 

Heat death

Scientists generally agree that if our planet is not destroyed by another calamity, the death of our Sun will take care of the job at some point. When the Sun does die, Earth will be consumed in a beautiful but tragic heat death.

While I don’t know what the fate of our planet will be, I do understand heat death and I understand it on a personal level.

After a gloriously relaxing day of kayaks and tobacco (see “Paddles”), I faced a woe unlike any I have known before; heat death by sun-burn. My legs, nocturnal by nature, were cooked to a degree that would make steak connoisseurs curse in shame.  In hue, my legs resembled a slightly weather-worn fire hydrant. From a moisture standpoint, each leg served as it’s own small desert, cracked, burned and devoid of life.

To combat this evil foe, I bathed in a gooey layer of Aloe, but the magical plant was no match for the carnage the orb’s rays had produced. Only time, positive thoughts and long-suffering would be enough to rise above this near mortal wound.

Just as the wind had challenged my ability to successfully light my pipe, this burn was pressing my fortitude.

Having too much to live for in my wife Brenna, puppy Chester and the next season of “Game of Thrones,” I persevered. I will most likely live to kayak again, albeit soaked in sunscreen before braving the waves this time.

I know not whether humans will be around to see the Sun die gloriously, but I am confident my whitewashed legs will carry me on to fight another day. Learn from my tale of sorrow, and if this burn does best me, please don’t let my story perish in the ashes.- AB

 

Paddles

Pairings exist in life, we all know this. Wine and steak, beer and cheese, “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and Fridays, but what about tobacco? What could possible enhance the experience of a good pipe weed? This is a mystery with as many answers as J.F.K.’s assassination, but I think I may have nailed down the definitive partner of a good smoke, kayaks.

It was 75 degrees and sunny in the densely populated (3,000) Tennessee town where I live with my wife Brenna and highly-evolved puppy Chester. Today was one of those days which cause visitors to eventually move here, and one that makes a trip to the lake compulsory. With the Good Friday holiday giving me a day off, and a best friend/next door neighbor who owns two Jackson kayaks, conditions were prime for a paddle or two around a peaceful body of water.

Luckily, our local city lake doesn’t allow outboard motors, making the water clean and the space plentiful for rowing; our destination was set.

As an avid, albeit inexperienced smoker, I considered this the perfect opportunity to try my pipe out on the open seas (small lake). The only question now was what tobacco to use? As fate, and the gods of pipe would have it, a fresh tin of Sutliff: Molto Dolce delivered just before we loaded the kayaks up for our romp. Being someone who is fascinated by anything new, there was now no debating what I would be loading in my Dwarf pipe today.

Expectations were high as we paddled from the shore and settled into a good spot near the opposite bank. I feared the favor of the gods had left me as I tried in vain to light my newly packed pipe, gusts of wind making it nearly impossible. What the gods didn’t know is that no element, or force of nature would prevent me on this day.

After trading jabs with the wind, I proved victorious; finally the tobacco was ablaze.

To say that Molto Dolce is smooth, would be like saying Miles Davis was a fluid trumpet player; no words yet exist to express the fullness of the Dolce experience. This tobacco is more than mere matter, it is almost spiritual in taste, scent and burn. Caramel, vanilla and honey notes rise to the surface, both to the nose and mouth, and the tobacco smolders with no bite, making for a long, enjoyable smoke.

While the Dolce was incredible, and the kayaking serene, the pairing of the two was divine. I am firmly convinced that a simple day on the lake may have solved tobacco’s greatest conundrum.

Peace always pairs well with peace, and good tobacco always pairs well with life. Have a smoke and a row soon. – AB

 

 

 

 

A long drive with Carter Hall

If heaven exists, I hope it resembles a quiet drive and smooth smoke. Nothing settles, or helps me more than slowly puffing my way through a good bowl of fresh tobacco as I cruise around a tree-lined neighborhood.

As a sufferer of daily anxiety, solace is something precious and often elusive. I am constantly looking for new ways to navigate life so that I can be more present as a husband, friend and man. My newest escape is pipe tobacco. It’s my night cap and morning joy (along with a few cups of coffee) and I am just beginning the process of exploring new flavors and blends.

My latest purchase was a small pouch of a familiar brand, Carter Hall. Carter Hall is a staple of the “daily-smoke” tobacco world, and after a few tokes,  it’s easy to see why. The blend is smooth, with little to no bite (even for a novice smoker like myself) and the room notes are lovely. My car has never smelled better. While the taste, scent and even-burn make Carter Hall a tangibly good tobacco, the fact that it lights easily and stays lit make it all the more effective as an escape tool and comfort.

A tobacco is only as good as the pipe it rests in, and I love my current daily pipe. My best friend introduced me to Missouri Meerschaum pipes a few months ago by getting me the “Lord of the Rings” inspired Cobbit, Dwarf model. The Dwarf is a corn-cob pipe, with a blackened bowl to simulate age and a long church warden bit. It provides a very consistent smoke, and seems to stay burning longer than any pipe I have yet owned. If you are in the market for a new pipe, or a first pipe, you can visit Missouri Meerschaum using the link at the bottom of the post.

For someone whose days often include internal battles and over-reactions, any tool I can add to protect and heal myself is a treasure. If anxiety or mental health are not battles you face, consider yourself very fortunate (although I am sure you have other struggles of equal difficulty). Something as simple as a cheap bag of Carter Hall and a dependable pipe can be the difference in a good day and a bad day.

Pipe tobacco, in my experience, works like a time machine. It connects me to the same world my great-grandfather lived in, and a pace of life foreign to our ultra-connected, modern society. Though a simple device, my pipe partners with the tobacco, helping me be more reflective and introspective, while setting a positive tone for the day.

I hope you find your own quiet drive and smooth smoke.

This is the first of many posts, and the purpose of this blog is to help you find joy in music, tobacco, coffee, philosophy and books. More importantly, I hope you can find your own safe, peace-filled hobbies and enjoy your life more everyday. – AB

http://corncobpipe.com/ – Missouri Meerschaum

www.andrewbucknermusic.com – My music site