Serendipity, and Unexpected Inspiration

My guitar teacher and his wife host quarterly house concerts, and the second one, by artist Owen Plant, was in early August. (You should check Owen out.  As a singer, he’s the lovechild of James Taylor’s son, Ben–also a singer–and Art Garfunkel…if that child grew up in Jamaica.  Fine guitarist, too.)  Scott and I went, and met my friend Pam there, and I thought it was a good show.  But Pam was very moved by Owen’s music and she became an instant fan, and decided that she wanted to give Owen one of Beth’s guitars (not one Beth made…there’s only one of those left, and Pam’s keeping it).  She thought it would be nice to keep Beth’s music going forward by sharing her instruments with people who would love them and play them.  Those of us lucky enough to have instruments she made cherish them.

The next day I got a text from Pam, wondering if I was free Sunday afternoon, and I told her that as I was working several nights in the coming week (I had a brief encounter with seasonal employment in August doing school instrument rental events for the music store where I take guitar lessons), we were looking forward to having the day together, as we weren’t going to see much of each other the following week, but if she needed help with something, I could make the time to pop over.  And she wrote back saying there was no rush, but she wanted to give me first pick of the remaining instruments before Owen got there.  And I was touched, and delighted by her very kind offer.  So we worked it out that I would come by Monday morning instead.

Monday morning came around, and I went over, and there were 3 guitars and 2 ukes available.  I tried the first guitar, a Santa Cruz, and was lovely, but it just didn’t call my name like a guitar does when it’s the right one for you.  The second one, a Lakewood, had caught my eye almost immediately I walked in the room, and when I played it, the sound was very warm and thick and rang for ages, and it was definitely in the lead.  The third, a Takamine, didn’t speak to me either.  I gave the ukes a cursory strum, but they were no better, and no different, than my own, which Beth and I had actually made together, so I was unlikely to play another uke unless it had standard tuning instead of the reentrant tuning I (and most ukes) have.  So the Lakewood came home with me, and she is beautiful and well-loved.  I’ve named her Serendipity, for reasons that are about to become clear.


When I pulled it out of the cabinet to try it, I gave it a strum and realized it wasn’t in standard tuning; it was in an open tuning (open G, to be precise).  And as I’m not knowledgeable about playing in non-standard tunings, I did what I always do in that situation:  I played chord shapes I know to see if any of them sounded good.  And what do you know, but an A minor-shape sounded great along with the open G, so I fiddled back and forth with those two chords by way of a test drive.

So I took it out to the kitchen and was picking my chords and talking to Beth’s mom while Pam was out in the garage rummaging to find its case.  I’m not sure how the conversation got there, but I was talking about how long I’d been playing, and mentioned it was 12 years in August, and then even as I was saying it, I realized that THAT VERY DAY was my guitar anniversary.  12 years earlier, that was the day that Antiguo suggested I put nylon strings on my cheapie Walmart guitar so that it would be easier on my fingers as I tried to learn, and changed everything–my guitar progress; my life.  So we were all a bit misty-eyed about how Beth and Pam had given me a guitar on my guitar anniversary.  Pam said, “That’s why you couldn’t come over yesterday…it was supposed to be today.” And I agreed 100%.

Before I even left Pam’s, I’d decided that my first order of musical business would be to write a new song on my new-to-me guitar in the open G tuning that Beth had obviously tuned it to, and left, ultimately (though she didn’t know it) for me to find.  It seemed like a fitting tribute, and thank you, to sort of pick up where she left off with that guitar.

I did write that song, and another, and another yet.  It kickstarted my songwriting, which had stalled so long ago, I honestly can’t remember when I last wrote a new song, but I’m afraid it’s probably measured in years.  Not decades yet, but still, too long.  That being the case, though, while I had a vague notion that it would be nice to finish that song by the anniversary of Beth’s passing (which is today), I didn’t have much faith in my ability to achieve that.  And even if I did manage to write it, getting it recorded in sharable form was a whole other hurdle.  So I decided to just plug away at it, and see what happened, as creative deadlines kind of give me hives.

But on this Monday morning, with Beth on my mind, I decided to take a stab at a quick live recording, using the recorder that she gave me, no less, and share this song that is pretty much the culmination, in so many ways, of her, and her lovely wife Pam’s, support of my musical life ever since I met Beth at guitar camp 11 years ago.

Those chords I stumbled onto when I first tried this guitar set a certain mood, something I feel as a wistful, sweet melancholy.  I hear it in musicI see it in the slant of the light now and again; I have all my life.  I like this feeling, or at least I have an affinity for it…happy to be just a little sad, or sadly happy.  I don’t know how to describe it, really; I just know it when I feel it.  And in remembering Beth on this cloudy September afternoon, that is the appropriate feeling.  We shared so many smiles, so much laughter, and I miss that.  I miss her.

In writing this song, I endeavored to shut off the wordy part of my brain that likes to cram way more syllables into every line of a song than were ever meant to fit.  Which was tough for me, I confess.  But this is what I came up with.  I finished your song, Beth, on your guitar.  I hope you like it.  

Meditation, by K. Cunningham

Leave the cage
Your soul knows
What’s been imposed

There’s no “me”
Just mystery
Just for now
Escape somehow

Forget who you are
Retire from the war
Drift away so far

Clock stops
Mask drops
Time yields
Fate’s unsealed

Forget who you are
Retire from the war
Drift away so far

Let go
Feel, don’t know
Take it slow
Every moment’s not a battle
Every moment’s not a battle

Old tales spun
See right through
Become anew

Never doubt, you
Can break out
You are free
By your own decree

Forget who you are
Retire from the war
Drift away so far


We’ve been engaged in a long-term, spring-summer cleaning project around Casa Cunningham.  My guiding principle has long been, “If it’s not useful or doesn’t make you happy to see it, get rid of it,” and it seems the Mr. is coming around to that point of view as well.  As he’s been revising his office floorplan, I’ve talked to him about getting rid of our big multidrawer CD case, or at least the CDs themselves, since neither of us use our CDs anymore; everything’s been converted to mp3s and lives in iTunes (for me) or Google Music (for him).  

Years ago, I got rid of all my jewel cases and put all my CDs in 2 large binders, but of course over the years I have collected a bunch more CDs from friends, and at shows, and sometimes bought through traditional vendors when there was a good reason to have a CD over just buying the mp3 albums.  Scott was loath to get rid of his CDs because iTunes occasionally sends out a clunker of an update, tanking everything.  Hard drives die and computers croak, and the idea of losing thirty-some years of music because we didn’t keep the disks didn’t sit well with him.  And I thought it was a valid point; after all, I hadn’t chucked my binders, either.

But we did agree that we could save a lot of room and perhaps use some of those CD drawers for other storage, if we got rid of all our jewel cases and switched to those paper CD envelopes:  red for me, and white for him.  Because while our lives are fully merged after 22 years of marriage, and our music collections can reside peacefully side by side, if I DO have to go looking for something, I don’t want to have to wade through every one of his Dave Matthews and REM CDs to find my stuff, and he doesn’t want to go through my endless James Taylor and George Harrison CDs to find his.  Color coding seemed the sensible answer.

So Sunday afternoon, I took 4 drawers of my newer CDs and transferred them to sleeves, and when all was said and done and alphabetized, they didn’t completely fill even a single drawer.  So the space-saving plan was a success.  Which I fully expected, because it was my plan.

What I didn’t expect is what I found as I pulled CDs and booklets out of jewel cases and slid them into envelopes.  I found that I missed the booklets.  I used to read all the lyrics and every liner note, and the PDF booklets you get with some albums are just not the same; at least, to me, they don’t lend themselves to that kind of old school music geekery.

And I didn’t expect to find, inside a Jason Mraz CD, this:


I remember seeing the note when he first sent it to me, but I had forgotten it existed, and that I’d left it in situ and tucked the CD away.  

My breath caught in my throat and my eyes filled with tears, but I was grateful. Grateful for this unexpected gift, the discovery of a forgotten relic, in this of all weeks.  It’s hard for me to comprehend, to even say it, but he’s been gone 10 years today.  10 years.  We celebrate things that last 10 years–marriages, friendships, businesses, jobs–as a long time, but I don’t know how it can be true, how it went so fast.  It seems like a million years ago and yesterday at the same time.  Probably always will.  I think that’s how it is, with these things we get through, but never get over.

What has surprised me in this time is how your relationship with someone who’s died can keep evolving, as you understand circumstances, or yourself, or them, from new and different perspectives as you keep learning throughout your life.  And how you really do carry them with you.   Craig (aka Antiguo) is with me every time I pick up my guitar, every time I listen to the music we shared (quite literally–we ultimately swapped our entire collections), every time I go to a show he’d have liked, every time Santana comes on the radio, and there’s something every day that evokes him.  And when it does, sometimes my breath catches in my throat, and my eyes fill with tears, and I’m grateful to have known such a truly excellent human.  It is my pain, but also my very great privilege, to miss you, Craig.

Antiguo 3.15.51-7.15.06