Guest blogger: Paul K. Swardstrom


When we create, it has an effect on us, on our friends and family, on our relationships. The impact can be positive, it can be negative, it can even be relatively neutral, but there is an impact nonetheless. I knew this when I began my writing my first novel last year and because of it, I didn’t even tell any of my family for months. When I did, the admission was made with a lot of self-doubt and humility. Not because I was guaranteed success; no — because I was simply fulfilling a dream when some of my friends and family had let their dreams run off long ago. Me as a writer reminded them of the ruts we fall into in life, but even with some, it took some time to really work itself out. 

That impact eventually turned positive. Over the past few months, I’ve really learned to treasure my relationships with my family even more. In doing so, my brother Paul, and my sister, Betsy, have collaborated with me on a short story collection we are calling Baking With Swords, to be released soon. I’m really proud of the work we’ve put together and am excited to see their names on a book for the first time. 

In anticipation of that, I opened my blog up to Paul and Betsy to share some of themselves and their motivations for writing. This is Paul’s entry: 


Choices. We all make them – well, not all. I suppose if you’re in a coma, you’re not making choices, but then you’re not reading this either.

Let’s start over. My name is Paul K. Swardstrom. If that name sounds familiar, then you’re right. I am the son of Paul D. Swardstrom, the son of Paul W. Swardstrom…


Paul told me to just take a picture from his Facebook page, so here is one with a bird on his head.  - Will

Paul told me to just take a picture from his Facebook page, so here is one with a bird on his head. – Will

What? Oh. Will. Yeah, He’s my little taller than me and eight years younger than me brother. Ok, back to the subject at hand….

Choices. They are like rubber bands. When we make them we never know when one will snap us in the katookus. What will we do today? Will we use our time wisely? When confronted with a difficult situation, how will we react? Do I brush my teeth after a meal with lots of garlic and onion?

I’ve made my share of choices – some good, a lot bad.

Excuse me, I have to go brush my teeth…. and, back.

I think that for me I think too much. I always have. I think if I were in the debate club in school I would always have been in last place, but by the next day, I would probably have 5 good zingers. That’s my deal with choices, and life, and my place in the world and well, everything. I analyze, and sort, and reanalyze and try to place meaning, and pray and pray and rail angrily, and …. shrug.

When I was seventeen-nearly eighteen and had to make choices for college, I had no idea what I wanted in life. I decided to take music classes in college and become a music major because I had taken private lessons on my instrument in high school and didn’t want to waste it (the responsible attitude of a first-born child) and since I enjoyed marching band so much as a teenager I thought the best thing I could do with my life would be to associate myself with it by becoming a band director – I suppose that’s a moderately acceptable as a reason for wanting to become a band director.

By the time I was in my early twenties, I wanted to be one of the best band directors in the state – Arizona at the time.

Well, life has a way of going sideways. I was a young man with not a very clear head on my shoulders. I’m a good thinker, but again those in-the-moment things are hard for me. Additionally, I was quite a right-brained thinker back in the early 90’s. Its taken nearly two decades for me to train my left brain to be able to do some heavy lifting.

I was never the success I wanted to be back then – partly because I wasn’t ready for it, partly because I didn’t properly prepare myself for it, and partly because life just went sideways… a couple of times.

Malcolm Gladwell has a theory in one of his books, The Tipping Point that it takes about 10,000 hours working on something before you attain expert status at something. For me, I calculated my hours teaching band a few years ago and it came out somewhere north of 9,000. You could say I was approaching my tipping point, and I knew it. I also felt it. Things I did were making sense, I had quite a few instinctual reactions to situations that I knew were simply because I had been in that role for so long. However, I read The Tipping Point and made this calculation one year after I had been shifted into a different teaching role in my school district. It would be two more years before I would be back in front of a band again. It was the most professionally frustrated as I’ve been, and it has been going on for the last four years.

I’ve had a lot of soul searching in the last few years. Do I try something else? If I do, what would it be? I had an opportunity to go into financial planning, but I know the right brain side of me is too dominant for that to work. Do I go back to school and find something else to do? Do I move to be able to find other opportunities? Whatever I’ve been faced with, it always seemed that the best option was to stay right where I was – which only continued the frustration.

When Will began to write, I didn’t take it very well. I wanted to be supportive, but it hit pretty close to home. My brother. Doing something that he loves. While I felt unable to do the thing I felt I was made for? It was tough for me at the time. Will and I hashed it out some months back, which I think was a major step for me. Strangely enough, I think that was a block in my own head that kept me from being free to explore other ideas. That… well, let’s name it here…. petty jealousy…. kept me locked up and once I was able to let it go I was then able to make something of some ideas that have been floating in my own head for a long long time. By the way, Will was extremely gracious about the whole thing. Another thing he’s good at, hmmm.

Anyway, sometime soon after Will and I had our hashing out, he posted a blog post called I Am Inadequate, where he went and described a lot of inadequacies, hangups, choices, lazinesses (is that a word?) and such that I also struggle with (we are related after all). For some reason, the genesis of an idea popped into my head after reading that, and combined with the struggle you see noted above, a story idea was born.

Concept 3Over the next few days, I popped in on that story every time I had a break and had draft one finished pretty quickly and showed it to my author-brother. With his encouragement, the story expanded, shifted some focuses and refined. What resulted was a story that is called The Price of Greatness, which will be part of the forthcoming collection Baking with Swords.

It feels as if the story of this blog post is unfinished, but I suppose that is as life goes. Life is unfinished, and to borrow a phrase, my story is still unwritten. I found it quite interesting that Twitterverse had two things to say about this today (5/23/2014), which I in turn found inspiring enough to write a blog post about. I will leave you with them.

Oswald Chambers @myutmost ·

“Ambition means a set purpose for the attainment of our own ideal, and as such it is excluded from the Kingdom of Our Lord.” –Chambers


kulturhack ‏@kulturhack

The Odd Wisdom Of Brian Eno: “Craft is what enables you to be successful when you’re not inspired.”


The Saxophone is the Story


Yesterday was a big day in the Swardstrom household. 

The sorting hat was placed upon my daughter Molly’s head and chose…the saxophone. Except there was no sorting hat. And it wasn’t chosen for her. Molly chose the saxophone, but in a way it was her destiny all along. After all the saxophone has been though, how could it not be?

The instrument she brought home yesterday was the same instrument that I took to elementary school on my first day of band when I lived in Arizona. 

…and it is the same instrument that my brother, Paul — eight years my elder — played as he learned the intricacies of music as well. 

It’s just a simple Yamaha alto saxophone. Nothing fancy, but a decent horn nonetheless.

ImageBut…its history in our family goes back almost 35 years. My brother started on the alto sax and used the instrument to soar to new heights. By the time I was ready to play, my parents purchased him a new, more professional model, and I inherited the original. A few years later he went on to college, majoring in music education. I still remember going to his senior recital at Arizona State University and thinking how amazing it all was. He’s taken that degree and used it to teach music, choir, and band at schools in three different states and instills the love of music in children still today. None of that possible without the companionship of that first saxophone. 

As for me, I started under the direction of Mr. Yunker in elementary school and kept it up into junior high and high school. I was never as good as Paul, but I can’t even imagine my life without the love of music and where that saxophone took me. I still keep in contact with a few of my high school band directors (looking at you, Mr. Timmins and Mr. Jones) and have lifelong friends from high school with relationships forged in the heat of summer band camp. I eventually switched to the baritone saxophone in high school, but the old standby served me well for pep band and the occasional jazz band gig. 

That alto saxophone is international — I took it along when my high school marching band was invited to the London New Year’s Day Parade my senior year. Coldest parade in 20 years, we were told. Trombone slides were freezing shut and trumpet valves were stuck, but the saxophones weren’t having those problems. As long as we had hot air, we could play. And we did. 

That saxophone came with me to college. I didn’t sign up to be a music major like my brother, but the desire to play stayed with me and I played all four years in my college’s concert and jazz band. I may not have been a music major, but my girlfriend (then fiance, then wife) sure was. Also a saxophone player, but a tenor player, not alto. 

All of those experiences. All of the friends I made. The love of music. The love of my wife. None of that would have happened had I not picked up that saxophone and took it away from my brother. 

For years this saxophone has sat in storage. I played a little after college, but it has been relegated to its case for a long time. That is, until the fourth graders had to choose their instruments. The wife and I had a suspicion she might go for saxophone (kinda runs in the family), so we had it fixed up — new pads, new springs, shined to perfection. It looks better than at any time I ever played it 20+ years ago. 

So Molly chose the saxophone.

Of course she did.

She brought it home and immediately took it out of its case and began to play. (If you can call that “playing.”) Right now she sounds a bit more like me than my wife or brother, (really, she sounds more like a dying goose) but I’m sure with practice she can eclipse her old man. With practice, she too can make memories with that saxophone. For her, the saxophone is just the beginning of a story. For me, we’re somewhere in the middle.