Updated: May 4, 2020

"Procrastination is the thief of time." I don't feel I procrastinate, except when it comes to developing relationships. This initial song title inspiration was further developed when I read Willa Cather's, O Pioneers, a 1913 novel surrounding the harsh realities of life on the midwestern prairie. A key theme surrounds life - how we live our own, how we treat others, and how we respond when those we love are taken "before their time" (that's what we like to call it). Like most of us, I have experienced the loss of young people in my life. Chiefly, my cousin, Lucas, who was 3 months younger, died when we were only 28. My mother-in-law, Marsha, died in 2012. Last summer, we lost my 2-year-old cousin, Jack.

The death of the young, whether from suicide, illness, accident, or any other equal unfairness, has until recently been incredibly difficult for me to accept. Then I read a meditation that reminded me that no one is mine. No matter how much a loving, caring person has helped me believe that we belong to each other, I know instead that everyone belongs to God, only on loan for a while. "Thy will be done" (Matthew 6:10) has become a daily mantra for me. Sometimes I still feel I need or even deserve explanations. In reality, I don't.


Where the waves meet the sand, the present in motion

Then pulled to the deep, tossed around by the ocean

We're asking for more time

But we can't be living and doing the asking

"The present" is that line where a wave rolls over the beach. Unlike the sand and water (the past and future), this line is intangible, constantly moving, and unpredictable. Poignant to me is that we never know how "tossed around" our future will be. "The Thief of Time" might be the worst in each of us, spiting and stealing from ourselves with less meaningful, less love-centric activities. Beyond things we can touch, taste and see, I hope to remember the importance of the experiences we share, "living," not "asking" for more.


  • "We've touched the future, at least I felt its grasp." The "grasp" is that of a baby or child (the future) around my one grown-up finger. In this case, my young cousin, Jack.

  • "These hands are...still praying that they might vindicate our deeds" Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. ~Matthew 11:19

  • "This time is worth something; Day traded, guaranteed" What I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.

  • "Learn from disciples; I’ll make mistakes again" Inspiration from the many stories of Peter's impetuous blunders throughout the new testament, and the quote, "Immediately they left their nets and followed him." ~ Matthew 4:20

  • "Right now is worth something. Forget remember when" From Tony Soprano (don't judge), "'Remember when' is the lowest form of conversation."

  • "No matter 'bout the time; the grass will still grow high." From O Pioneers, “I don't know what is to become of us...if father has to die...I wish we could all go with him and let the grass grow back over everything.”

This song was the last to be written for the album and was almost not included. Musical ideas of "time" are represented through steady repeated notes on the piano (end of verse 1), electric guitar (vs. 2), and the use of clock chimes. It continues to be my favorite song, and I hope this "Behind the Music" inspires you as to why.

Thanks for listening, Friends.

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When I left classroom teaching in May of 2017, I was given a gift inscribed, "You made a difference! Pursue your dreams!" Earlier that spring, I had begun writing music again for the first time in fifteen years, and now I was in search of subjects to write about. This subject of "dreams" turned me toward Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic "Dream Speech" from 1963. On the heels of the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, North Carolina, this re-reading was saddening for me because over half a century later, so much of it still rings true. It was also transformative and I recommend you read it soon.

The original title, "I've got a dream," opens the song and is a message to myself - simply that I must get out there and start working. This idea was inspired by a quote taped to my computer, "There is no such thing as a good or bad artist...only hard-working or lazy." The remainder of the lyrics are largely King inspired. The second verse is my favorite and most spiritual, with the central idea that we must believe in change and follow the positive footsteps of those who began the process before us.

The arrangement of the song is still up in the air, even after producing and releasing my own recording. I still envision a powerful African-American voice, man or woman, singing the song in a slower, blues feel. The original recording harkens toward this idea, with an electric guitar solo and gospel "choir" in the final verse (all done by me with various voices and mic placements). I am most grateful to the King Estate out of Atlanta for permission to sample the audio from Dr. King's speech. This idea has been there from the first demo recording, and continues to be surprisingly emotional each time I listen.

The gift - a caricature of me in my office - with the inspirational inscription.

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This is the first of several blogs to tell the stories behind my songs. In the end, all songs are really love songs. Over the last 20 years since I wrote What Is Success, the love song has morphed over three phases. First, it was for my Grandma Dorothy, the central character; second, to my children and students; and finally, we have to love ourselves first - this is a song about the life I know I'll love as I grow older.

The first verse is told from my voice, with the "man" and "he" really being my grandma as poetic license goes. The second verse is from her voice, telling me about her success. The song was written in my parents' breezeway, and first recorded in 2001 on an album titled Outside the Box (give it a listen under my Music page!). It was re-recorded in 2016 on a Horseshoe Road album, Fear or Faith.

I originally read Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem, "Success," in 1999 while awaiting a meeting with my education advisor at Oklahoma City University. An aspiring teacher and someday a parent, it was immediately poignant to me. Right away, I thought of my Grandma, Dorothy Semrad Markes. Still living at the time just a quarter mile from my family home in Waukomis, Oklahoma, Grandma fulfilled nearly every vision one might imagine - soft, indulgent, funny, and alive. With the tough farm memories well behind her, she still kept alive a small garden patch in her front raised beds. With over 20 cousins, aunts and uncles living within two miles of each other, we would gather each Saturday morning at Grandma's house. Every visitor was encircled with the same full hug, welcomed equally. I now know, this was truly a last vestige of the "extended family." That was her success.

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