Patrick and his Dobro 33D

Social Security and the IRS think I am dead.

I was not going to argue this, but Dear Old Dad argued that it could complicate things down the road. So, albeit reluctantly, we are taking steps to remedy the situation . . . but I have to admit that I am enjoying my status as a zombie.

My health after the harrowing Suboxone withdrawal has been steadily improving. Lately I find myself battling my old foe peripheral neuropathy, but I have a good neurologist on the case. Last week on a scale of 1 to 10 – with pain being the worst pain I ever experienced – I was at around 23. Crying time.

Today I am between 7 and 8. So it is improving bit by bit.

There is a lot going on here musically. The Daily Frail is still happening over on Patreon. A few folks are either unnerved or just plain angered by the fact that I am breaking away from using tab. Somebody pointed out that my very popular books used tab and I replied that the books were written long ago and even Picasso was prone to painting over old works to create something new.

Tab never helped me with the guitar, and I used it so rarely with the banjo that I practically had to relearn how to use tab when I wrote my first web-based workshops. On plain paper tab was a useful way to help people visualize the left and right hand mechanics – but we are living in 2019 and the printed page is going the way of the rotary phone. We don’t need to cling to old methods that never really worked. This should be a time of innovation and discovery!

So I am getting myself mentally, physically and musically ready for something new. For the banjo I find myself thinking back to the way I used the teaching methods employed by my karate instructors. There was nothing written in the dojo. I was expected to pay attention, internalize what was presented and then put it into action.

When I was learning music I only met my teachers briefly. Some encounters lasted a few minutes but I left with enough to work on for months. Given my progress over the years it’s safe to say this approach works. My challenge now is to create the same sort of environment on the Internet.

So a new banjo method is on the way. My friend Dobro Libre will be doing similar with the guitar to take some of the workload off of me.

A lot of this new teaching method will fly in the face of a lot of the material out there now – including my old workshops. This is inevitable because change always generate conflict and controversy. The momentary angst will not bother me because I am looking at a larger timeline. Forget somebody being pissy today and look fifty years down the road or beyond.

When I met Tiny back in the 1980’s the fiddler’s picnics in Pennsylvania were filled to capacity. Every time I go back there are less musicians. We lost something at some point. The same happened to karate, going from tough training to a weird sort of day care where seven-year old kids get back belts without throwing a punch.

Keep an eye on frailingbanjo.com for updates on the new lessons, the book in progress and some other cool things we have in the works. I would share more details, but that would spoil the fun.

Right now I am off to do a bit of yard work and then scare the neighbors by practicing Modern Arnis on the heavy bag. Nice to know I can still throw a punch and make an even heavier blow with my sticks. I hope Ed Parker and Remy Presas will be watching my comeback!

Stay tuned!

God bless,

Pain, Pain and More Pain

So far quitting Suboxone has generated only minor side effects. I’m doing pretty good except for one thing – peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition where your sensory nerves get damaged and start sending pain signals to your brain.

I am okay during the day, but when I try to sleep the pain jumps in and just kicks my ass all over the room. On a scale of 1 to 10 – with 10 being the worst pain ever – I was at about 15 last night. It got so bad last night that Dear Old Dad handed me a double shot of some seriously good Irish Whiskey. It helped.

I see my doctor on the 27th, but from what I have read there are not many effective treatments for peripheral neuropathy. I am guessing that I will have to learn to live with the pain and/or look for alternative therapies.

I could wring my hands and cry, “oh woe is me”, but that never accomplishes anything. My hands still work and my head is clear. I’ll keep on fighting.

Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday. We’re taking her to Salisbury for the Chinese Buffet and shopping at the Hobby Lobby – she loves that.

On Monday I turn 49. Dear Old Dad is going to drive me to Assateauge, and then we will pick up the heavy bag and other equipment for the backyard dojo.

The Daily Frail will be back on Tuesday.

Moving From YouTube To Patreon

Starting today, all 788 of our YouTube music workshops have been unlisted. The full playlist will be available on Patreon for $5.00 a month.

Visit https://www.patreon.com/join/Dobro33H? and choose The Costello Video Archive option for $5.00 a month. We will send you a URL to the full playlist.

If you are already paying $5.00 in the Funky Folkies program, contact us for a URL.

Alive! Alive! Alive!

This morning I woke up well before sunrise. I put on the heavy walking boots I have not been able to wear for years and put on my pea coat. I got my camera and stowed one extra lens in my coat pocket. I fed Pooka, quietly slipped out the front door into the cold darkness before dawn to watch the sun rise at Jenkins Creek.

Jenkins Creek is a special place to me for reasons I will not share. I don’t take many people there. Nowadays it is not what it was when I first came to Crisfield, but I still love it there.

I watched the sun rise. I took a few pictures. I pondered on some big decisions. As I turned back towards home a great blue heron I had not seen rose up from the marsh grass in front of me – so close I could feel the air from the beating of its wings. I threw up my hands and danced for joy on the lonely street.

Driving home I started laughing with joy. At the end of a dark grueling journey I am finally coming back to my old self. Back to visiting herons and watching the beginning and the end of each day with joy. Alive! Alive! Alive!

Ten Years Younger

Looking in the mirror yesterday I was shocked at the face looking back at me. I couldn’t place what was different, but then it hit me. Color. I wasn’t all pale and washed out like I have been looking for the last ten years.

I am back and it feels . . . well, it’s hard to say how it feels. Imagine ten years of pain, struggle, heartbreak and illness – then suddenly everything comes back into focus. Music sounds better. Food tastes better. Colors are brighter. The headaches seems to have stopped. I can type again without difficulty.

Money is tight, but I treated myself to a Spotify subscription. Headphones still don’t do much for me unless I crank the volume all the way up, but soon I will have my new BAHA implants with better audio connectivity and I will be happily be finishing up my current book with music blaring in my skull. Rock, country, folk, old-time, punk, jazz, Celtic, classical and everything else I can get my mitts on. I write better with music blasting, so this will be good!

I still have my hurts. I would give up all of the music in the world just for Amy to see me now, back to the person she saw trying to fight his way back to the surface. To come back up from such depths to find her gone is . . . well, let’s just say that the English language lacks the eloquence to describe these emotions.

It has been emotional for my parents as well. Mom and dad have both stopped to stare at me in a sort of wonder, saying, “It’s nice to have my son back.”

I still have to get my body back in shape. Long walks, work in the garden and I plan to make an open air dojo under the big pecan tree. I don’t care about fighting anymore, but I can use my Kenpo and Modern Arnis training to get my body moving and my mind focused. it would be nice to have a heavy bag to work with, but I can probably scrounge a stack of junk tires before Dear Old Dad gets wind of what I’m up to.

Dear Old Dad and I are making plans. More on that soon – and keep an eye out for the arrival Dobro Libre!

Today I plan to studiously do nothing except play some music, listen to some music and enjoy this day. Sprawl out with Pooka and wait for the future to arrive.

It’s nice to be back. I missed me;

49 Years

In a scarily short amount of time I will be celebrating my forty-ninth trip around the sun.

The fact that I have managed to live this long makes me wonder about the old joke that Heaven doesn’t want me, and hell is afraid I’ll take over.

I have learned many hard lessons in my life. I have had dreams come true and hopes dashed upon the proverbial rocks. I have lived with and worked through handicaps. I have fought impossible odds and won. I have taken the sure bet and lost more than I could bear. I have been the new kid in school many times and have battle scars inside and out that I wear proudly.

While advice is usually self-indulgent nostalgia, I have learned a few lessons that may be useful.

You are surrounded by beauty every second of every day.

When I was young, my mother would say, “See beauty.” I started making a game of it, first noticing obvious things like crocus flowers in spring or autumn leaves. Over time I started seeing beauty even in dark places. Cracks on the sidewalk or the graffiti on the Philadelphia subway. The lines of an old mans face and the clover mites on a graveyard wall.

Eventually I started seeing this beauty in human interaction. Two old friends meeting at the park. The way the librarian at the Haverford Free Library sorted and shelved books with almost superhuman ease. The grace of magicians. The clumsiness of a young child.

By seeing beyond the visual I learned to look beyond the exterior when I met the musicians who helped me learn my trade. When I met Harmonica Joe everyone walking by saw a bum, but with that harp, to me, he was beautiful.

Even at my lowest moments, I have comforted myself by finding something with my eye, heart or mind that makes me stop and stare in wonder. From the grass under my feet to the stars overhead, from the swirl of cream in my coffee to the sensation of salt on my tongue. Think of the way your lover smiles at you in the dim twilight. Look around and really see what everyone misses in this age of digital distraction and you will find the world beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

Practice kindness.

Just being nice won’t cut it. Eventually our base instinct takes over and we are kicking women and children aside to get into the store at opening on Black Friday.

What is kindness? Kindness is putting yourself second to the needs of others.

Years ago, I was on the Crisfield City Dock with friends from overseas. I was wearing this red flannel hoodie that I loved. One of my friends was not dressed for the Chesapeake Bay air and I saw that he was cold. I gave him my coat.

It wasn’t something I thought about. My guest was cold, and I had the means to help so I acted.

To my surprise, witnesses to my action were dumbfounded.  Somebody said, in utter disbelief, “He gave him the shirt off his back.”

Like seeing beauty, practice this sort of instinctive kindness long enough it takes on a reflexive quality. You give expecting nothing back.

Put your partner, your friends and even strangers before yourself and you will find yourself generating a chain reaction of love and goodwill. It does not need to be a grand gesture. Simply letting somebody cut in front of you at the checkout line can change that person’s day. Help your mother, roommate or partner with the chores. Have a conversation with a stranger.  The smallest consideration has the potential to change a life. Simply by putting the good of others ahead of yourself.

The more you give, the more you truly have.

Follow your Way.

Every craft has a Way.  House painting, poetry, carpentry, management, dancing, fighting, parenting, music – whatever the path your heart is called to, there is a discipline that takes the work into the level of art.

True art is an expression of self that quietly makes the world better in some small way. If all you ever accomplish is making one soul stop and savor the moment you make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich, you have arrived.

My Aunt Mannie’s Way was selfless kindness. She performed her craft with the precision of a ninja. With a few greeting cards she taught me lessons that are carved into my heart forever.  

My father is the best person I have ever met. His is the Way of the husband. He simply puts his wife and son first – much like I described when I spoke of kindness, but he takes it to the level of quiet art. There is no hesitation to put his family first no matter the personal cost. This is how a true man carries himself. Quiet artists like this are too often overlooked but watch him make breakfast for his wife and you cannot help but be moved.

The trick to art is to work for the love of the work. No thought of progress, profit or loss. Simply work until the work becomes an expression of yourself. When you work with no thought, you have begun.

Take that big risk.

My marriage ended in heartbreak when my wife died. It would be easy to curse my fate and even wish we had never met and spared myself this pain.

Despite the way our story ended, we had moments of absolute bliss. Our first kiss. The night we developed our own language of caresses to communicate in the dark when I was not wearing my hearing aids (words were never so beautiful). The day we held each other close as thousands of snow geese circled low overhead. The way we would dance in the kitchen as I sang old love songs. I could write for hours.

When I met Amy, I had just gotten my hearing back. After years of silence I was at a loss at how to talk to a beautiful woman. I had been alone so long that it was natural. I was terrified when I asked her out.

I was scared, but I took the big risk with my heart. At the end of our story my heart was broken – and it was worth it. I would happily bear the pain of loss all over again and again just to relive one sweet kiss.

Fear is a monstrous thing that makes us pass up opportunities that could lead to love, self-discovery, a kiss in the rain, singing a song on stage in front of thousands and, yes, having your heart broken into a million little pieces.

Flying runs the risk of crashing or being burned by the sun – but it also means the chance to touch the sky.

When your moment comes, and it will, put the fear aside and take that big risk. Even failure has its lessons and rewards.

Treasure your true friends.

As a musician, teacher and author, I know thousands of people. I only have a few true friends.

Acquaintances are wonderful, but your true friends are the people who know you better than yourself. They see you at your worst and love you anyway. They tell you the hard truths. They can even rescue you from yourself.

If you are lucky enough to have somebody like this in your life, be aware that the universe is constantly expanding. We are always in motion away from each other just as the stars and galaxies drift apart.  Age, health, change and fate can separate us from our true companions.

Knowing this, tell your friends that you love them. Embrace them. Say the words in your heart while you can. Learn the lessons they share today. Be present. Now. This moment. This heartbeat. Too late is too late.

Trust me, I know.

Count your blessings.

As I write this I am listening to music. Given that my hearing began to fail when I was young, this is amazing. I am sprawled out on a warm quilt writing on my laptop. A tortoiseshell cat is sleeping next to me. A redwing blackbird is at my window. Outside the world is filled will little signs of spring. Daffodils are beginning to bloom. The sky is blue and the sun is warm.

I enjoy the feeling of my fingers on the keyboard. The thump of the bass from the music. I take a sip of cold seltzer water and love the sensation of bubbles on my lips and tongue.

I ruffle my cat’s fur and marvel at the rumble as she purrs.

I don’t have much in terms of wealth, but I have music. I have love. I am surrounded by small blessings that remind me how precious every moment of this life truly is.

Yes, there are tears. There is loss and grief and shame and fear. These things are part of the human condition. Fighting them only gives these emotions power. Just let them come, accept them and then count your blessings. Even the smallest bit of joy has the power to build a bonfire in your heart.

That fire can light up the darkest hour. It can burn bright enough for lonely strangers to warm their hands, face and heart.

With my music and my life, I want to burn so brightly that I can be a beacon for anybody in darkness. To share a song, a story, a cup of coffee, a hug, a filthy joke, a kind word, guitar lick and more and more until the fire spreads to more hearts. As the fire spreads my name may be forgotten, but the light and the love will carry on.

If I live for another forty years or four, the fire has already been lit in my students. I see it in their eyes. I hear it in their songs. The embers dance across the sky like fireflies. In joy or grief, at my big moment or my fall from grace, I set my eyes on stars I helped foster into brightness. I stand up and begin working all over again.

Count your blessings. Build your fire.

May God bless each and every one of you.

~Patrick Costello / March 2019