10 May 2024: Life Lessons from Édouard Manet 

Cleaning my office today, I found a journal of mine from 2011 when I went to Paris for a conference. Flipping randomly through it, my thumb and attention stopped on the following.  It's in my handwriting, but I have no recollection whatsoever of having written it. The advice, however, is useful for creatives types, indeed, for all us us, I submit.

Life Lessons from Édouard Manet

  • We go through many different periods in our careers.
  • Our friends can fail to support us, can hold us back as much as be our…
Read more

28 March 2024: Wabi-Sabi 

Two years ago, following a conversation about my music and the rough-hewn recordings on this blog, Michelle Sterling -- an outstanding photographer and architect I met through the study abroad program I work with -- gave me a book to read: Leonard Koren's Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Designers (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 1994). I am deeply grateful she did and wish I had read it sooner.

There are powerful ideas here offering a very different aesthetic for the things we make, very…

Read more

10 March 2024: This Is What It Sounds Like 


This Is What It Sounds Like
What the Music You Love Says About You
Susan Rogers and Ogi Gas
New York: Norton, 2022.


For Christmas this year, my daughter, Madeleine, asked around online for suggestions for "books about music that don't suck." As a result, she gave me This Is What It Sounds Like by Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas. It is, indeed, an excellent book, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is passionate about music, whether musician or listener.

Rogers is a professor at the Berklee School of Music in…

Read more

23 April 2023 -- Gold Stars 

When I was in kindergarten, I got my first gold star. Miss O'Meara put it next to my name on the bulletin board where every student's name was listed, where everyone could see it. As I recall, we got a gold star (or a silver or blue or a red or a green one) for each book we read, and the public display of my achievement was pretty delicious. It felt really, really good, so good, in fact, that it soon became a competition between me and the other students to see who had the most stars on the board. But more…

Read more

12 February 2023 -- Super Bowl Sunday = Paul Getting A Life Day 

On Super Bowl Sunday, 1988, Aileen Murphy and I went out to where our friend Natalie Costanza was living in a farmhouse on the prairie near Laporte, northwest of Fort Collins, Colorado. It was snowing, and the foothills were beautiful, tranquil. It was very quiet, with the snow muffling every sound. There was a black, potbellied stove cranking in the central room, and the warmth was welcoming, comforting, just permeating the house. The game was on a television somewhere, but no one really cared. There was…

Read more

5 September 2022 -- Postcard from Ocracoke 

As we do every summer, we spent the first two weeks of August out on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.  Ocracoke is a 12 mile-long sandbar just south of Cape Hatteras, 11 miles of which is a National Wildlife Refuge.  The length and shape of the island are constantly evolving – sometimes drastically – as a result of the currents and tides and winds, including the hurricanes that regularly tear into its shores and flood the entire village at the southern end of the island.  It has always been so: the island…

Read more

17 April 2022 -- On Proms, Now and Then 

The Architecture and Honors students here at our study abroad center in Switzerland just held the first-ever prom in the facility, and a delightful time was had by all. There were multiple themes to work with, including "Under the Sea," "Euphoria," "Met Gala Camp," "Disaster," and "Slut."  "Disaster Slut" and other inventive intersections were quite common. Happily leaning against the wall for the evening as a chaperone, I got to watch the students dance, sing, scream, laugh uproariously, and crown their…

Read more

29 March 2022: On Romeo and Juliet, Real Teen Tragedy, and the Heroism of Teachers 

“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene . . .”  

Aileen and I have just returned from a lovely weekend in Verona. The weather was perfect and we fully enjoyed the Roman Amphitheater, the imposing Castelvecchio, the large and small piazzas, the views of the city from Castel San Pietro and the Giardino Guisti, and the outstanding food, Prosecco, and espresso at the many al fresco cafés. The one thing we did not do was to visit “Juliet’s House,” or “Romeo’s House,” or “Juliet’s Tomb” – the completely…

Read more

19 March 2022 -- On Mentors, Crossroads, and Lives Saved or Lost 

Tonight is the last night here in Naples for this year’s study abroad program.  I am reminded of what I was thinking and feeling two years ago, the last time I was here, right before COVID blew up.  Here’s what I wrote at that time. 


A recent email from a former student has me thinking about a critical moment in my life when things could have gone terribly, terribly wrong for me -- a fork in the road that would have led me to a very different life -- if it had not been for the mentoring and…

Read more

20 February 2022 -- The Critical Necessity of Play 

We are now five weeks into the spring semester, and I recently asked my students how things were going, how they would describe their current mental/emotional landscape. One student offered, “Oh, the grind. We’re into the grind. The novelty of new courses and the new semester is over, the fun part is behind us, and from here on out it’s just work – work, grades, stress, and exhaustion.”  Everyone else in class readily agreed, as if this was a universal and obvious truth, and it broke my heart. There is no…

Read more

3 November 2021 -- Images of the Creative Process 

If you Google "creative process" and filter for images, you will encounter a seemingly endless parade of visualizations, often bewildering in their intricacy and complexity, and therefore not particularly useful or helpful as a result.

But you will also come across a long line of sardonic and snarky and self-deprecating images of the creative process, which all strike very similar chords and cut through the noise to get at the emotional reality of trying to be creative, the ones that let us know we are not…

Read more

28 October 2021 -- Why I Write Songs 

My wife, Aileen, recently visited my creativity course and asked the students to work with Terry Tempest Williams' short but amazing essay entitled "Why I Write."  That piece begins as follows: 

"I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create fabric in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world

Read more

25 October 2021 -- "Ahead" and "Behind" Are Bullshit! 

I like to think that I am smart person, critically aware, reflective about my assumptions, biases, and motivations. Even so, a few months back I had what I can only call an epiphany about how badly I have been duped — and for how very long — at both school and work. Like many people, it seems, the bizarre circumstances of trying to do my job during a pandemic and quarantine forced me to take a hard look at how I was going about my daily life, and they shed some harsh light on forces that would rather remain…

Read more

23 October 2021 -- Stage Fright 

I never wanted to be the front man in a band. I never wanted to be the lead guitar player either. What I wanted was to be the rhythm guitar player and sing harmony vocals while standing over in the shadows, away from the spotlight. And yet, oddly enough, in the last two bands I was in I was both the front man *and* the lead guitar player. And now it’s just me all alone out there, the constant center of attention with no down time whatsoever and only an empty wooden box to shield me from the audience, which…

Read more

21 October 2021 -- Imposter Syndrome and Becoming "Post-Cool" 

Like many people I know, I have had my struggles with imposter syndrome. There are, I suppose, educated and accomplished people who have never suffered with self-doubts and feelings of incompetence, but I have no idea who these people are. Even now, at my ever-advancing age, in my 30th year as a university professor, I still have moments when I feel like a fraud, like I have somehow faked my way this far, and eventually someone is going to figure it out and it will all come crashing down around me. 

For a…

Read more

15 October 2021 -- Reboot 

It’s been seven months since I posted anything new here, and I am sorry about that. I have missed you, and I have missed doing the work. I made a really strong start of things, posting daily for quite a while after launching this site in August 2020, but several forces have pushed me away from music over over the last half year or so — and especially over the last two months. I would like to unpack some of these things here so I can get a better handle on them moving forward.  

Oddly enough, when COVID…

Read more

17 March 2021 -- Inertia 

It was 20 years ago today that my mother, Mary Catherine Wood Heilker, died after a long and difficult decline from COPD.  I wrote a short essay about her passing some years later. It appears below. 

This is, I think, my favorite photo of her. I can see my face in hers -- and both of my sisters' faces, too.




October 1989 

I find the orangutans in a dark rectangle in the oldest part of the Fort Worth Zoo.  Behind heavy glass and gray steel bars, four orangutans sit on three concrete slabs…

Read more

2 March 2021 -- Feeling Like My Lyrics Can't Keep Up 

Here's this week's reflection for my Creativity students, followed by my response to my own assignment:  

Write a reflection of at least 250 words in which you think carefully about a fear that may be interfering with your creative work. Please note: While I will ask you to share this reflection with me, it does NOT need to go on your blog. Posting it publicly or not is entirely up to you.  

Tweedy notes that his fears talk to him, saying things like "Who do you think you are?” and “Are you kidding me with…

Read more

5 February 2021 -- On Playing Cover Songs 

In March and April of 2020, as a conscious response to the COVID quarantine, in my heartbreak about not being able to play music in public, I embarked on a song-a-day challenge to both keep me occupied and to reach and connect better with friends I could no longer see in person. I eventually posted 50 songs in 50 days on my Facebook page, and it was an amazing exercise, actually, with all sorts of positive results: I hadn’t been that focused on playing music since I was 13 and just getting started (since I…

Read more

30 January 2021 -- Be on the Side of Creation 

Not gonna lie: It has been a very difficult last few months.  

I remember distinctly – after six months of quarantine and working from home and social distancing and disinfecting and Zoom sickness – six months of living in a siege mentality, just hanging on from day to day and waiting, waiting, waiting for even a shred of good news – hearing someone on the television say “It is 100 days until the election,” and thinking, “Holy shit. I am never going to make it.” 

And there were days there when I was pretty…

Read more

Join my mailing list for big announcements.

I promise I won't abuse your trust.