Observations: Failing, flailing words

Published on: October 27, 2011

When my words fail me, I am happy to have music speaking instead.  Unfortunately, I’m not yet quite sure what it is saying. Mitch Traphagen Photo

When my words fail me, I am happy to have music speaking instead. Unfortunately, I’m not yet quite sure what it is saying. Mitch Traphagen Photo


“Where words fail, music speaks.”  Those are the words of Hans Christian Andersen, a man for whom words rarely failed. As I dive headlong, and not always successfully, back into music, I appreciate evermore the wisdom in those words. Music matters; it means something to almost everyone. Music can transport you to memories both joyous and tragic. Music has the power to heal you instantly, if only for a few minutes. Even if jobs are scarce and the bills are piling up, hearing a song from your youth can take you back there — to a time when things seemed so simple. Or it can just make you feel better in the present and before you know it, your foot is tapping, and you are suddenly singing along with a great tune.

Music is magic. Words, however, are becoming a problem, I think. Words are failing. In my opinion there are simply too many of them, which in turn raises the bar for the drama and rhetoric needed to make them heard. With Facebook and Twitter, our lives are filled with words that tend to say nothing much at all. Now we can know where our friends and acquaintances are having lunch and, if we’re really lucky, what they are having for lunch. The web today is lousy with blogs, the random musings from the known and unknown that all pretty much say the same thing:  “I am alive and I’m justifying my existence through this online diary.” 

On one hand, that is a wonderful thing. Never before have so many people been able to share themselves with the world. Never before have we had the opportunity to be exposed to so many people and their diverse thoughts. On the other hand, people tend to be lazy, and I’m guessing that few of us are seeking anything all that diverse. Most of us probably gravitate to those who share our already-formed opinions. Moreover, there are just so many words and in the flood of them they are failing us.

Politicians, for example, can’t simply say they disagree with an opponent; they have to vilify that opponent. It’s not enough to say, “I disagree with your plan to save us from total destruction. Here’s my plan, which is better because…” No, no one would ever even notice that in the ever-rising sea of words and the copy-and-paste-quotes that inundate the web. Today a politician has to say, in effect, that an opponent is the son or daughter of Satan himself, and that not only will his or her plan lead to Armageddon, but the hidden details in that plan involve sacrificing innocent goats, small children and defenseless multi-national corporations.

I’m no less guilty. Not only did I begin this column with a quote I first noticed on Facebook, but looking back through my columns of the past few months, I see the image of a middle-aged man waxing pseudo-philosophically on times past mixed with an unhealthy dose of maudlin on my waning years and a fixation on death itself. Wow, I’m a party guy.

Dolly Cummings runs Camp Bayou in Ruskin. She has a list of credentials longer than my arm, including everything from small business owner to educator and naturalist. Heck, she’s even a Solar System Ambassador with the Jet Propulsion Lab. Who does that?  Regardless, this is one smart, capable woman we’re talking about here and you’d think she would have been smart enough to have ignored me.

On Nov. 11, 12 and 13, Camp Bayou will host ANEW — A Natural Education Weekend. This is a terrific opportunity for people to experience Florida’s natural beauty in a very cool way. The weekend includes everything from setting up a campsite to nature walks, creative writing classes, watercolor painting opportunities with an artist, and making s’mores over a campfire. From my perspective, ANEW is one of those increasingly rare opportunities to hop off the workaday treadmill and simply enjoy life for a weekend.

It began innocently enough. Dolly apparently noticed the endless stream of guitar photos on my Facebook page, reflecting my newly rediscovered interest in music. She asked if I’d be interested in performing at ANEW on Nov. 12 before the Saturday evening dinner and keynote speaker. “Sure! It sounds fun!” I told her, all the while thinking of the potential for terrifying the innocent participants of the weekend event. I also realized that I had better learn how to play a few songs all the way through since she was probably expecting more than a few random guitar chords and me singing an odd verse or two before fading off and going on to another song. That I am severely hearing-impaired ought to make things even more…interesting.

Without much in the way of planning, I made a list of songs I like and began practicing in earnest. And then, just the other day I noticed there were certain trends in the music I was playing. A whole bunch of the songs contained the word “home”. Two songs were named “These Days,” and another that had the words “these days” in the chorus.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m not a maudlin middle-aged guy fixated on death. The songs I chose, more or less at random, have me living in the present and enjoying it. Then I realized that was truly the case.

I can’t do much about contributing to the flood of words — it’s how I earn my living — but I am now more aware that they need to be ever more meaningful to warrant your time and attention. I’m committed to that. But I’m also happy to have music to speak when my own words fail. I have no idea if I’m any good, but if I see you on Nov. 12 during ANEW at Camp Bayou, I’ll try not to scare you too much with what my music has to say, and, more specifically, how it says it.

Rock on, my friends. Turn up the music, kick back and enjoy the moment. These really are the good old days.

For more information or to register for ANEW, visit, email or call 813-641-8545 to leave a message for a return call.