Monday, October 25, 2021

The Most Boring Story Never Told

 

Sometimes we should listen to our children. At the beginning of my Oklahoma journey, I defied my daughter’s advice that airport mishap stories are surefire ways to make your friends at dinner suddenly realize they had a prior engagement and tried to make my trip to Oklahoma interesting in my post “The Seventh Deadly Sin.”

 

Last night I returned to rain-ravished San Francisco at 1:30 in the morning after 15 hours of travel, only 3 ½ of those actually flying on a plane. But today is your lucky day.

 

That’s all I’m going to say about it.  

  

Sunday, October 24, 2021

One Fainting Robin

 The world sits heavily on our small shoulders, so when Emily Dickinson speaks and suggests that we needn’t take on the full burden, it’s a nice thought to consider. So in a change of venue, here’s the score to the poem I composed, with an additional verse of my own. 

                            If I can help one heart from breaking,

                                I shall not live in vain. 

                                If I can ease one life the aching

                                Or cool one pain.


                                Or help one fainting robin

                                Unto its nest again,

                                I shall not live in vain,

                                I shall not live in vain.





Thanks to Oklahoma

A lovely ending to a lovely four days. Gathered one more time this morning to prepare our 5-minute closing performance, our rousing version of Peter Piper with speech canon and body percussion(yes, I get paid for this), a group photo, a short “name that quote Jeopardy game (see below), my choral arrangement of an Emily Dickinson poem and a closing circle with people naming their “takeaways” and appreciations. Amongst many moving testimonies was a teacher who said that she had gone to many workshops and come away with good ideas, but they never changed her teaching that much. She felt like this workshop will not only radically changed her as a teacher, but has changed her as a person. As a teacher, there are not more welcome words than that to hear!

 

And so I write from the Denver Airport, wondering if the plane will indeed go to San Francisco, but a good time to take one more look back at this marvelous gathering in Oklahoma. And so I thought it appropriate to share here the quotes from my little game, each one from a notable Oklahoman (and don’t forget to listen to the Charlie Christian story and hear his music). 

 

Thanks to the Oklahoma Arts Institute for their stellar work and to these marvelous human beings below.

 

• Will Rogers:“Schools ain’t like they used to be and never was.”

 

• Woody Guthrie:  “I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built. I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. 

 

Ralph Ellison: “Education is all a matter of building bridges.”

 

“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.”

 

• Charlie Christian:1916-1942 (25 years old)

Seven Come Eleven: https://youtu.be/syfDk5W5PrM

• Short Youtube bio: https://youtu.be/zcC18U5HoY8

 

 

 

 

It's Us

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”  - Walt Kelly’s comic character Pogo, in celebration of the first Earth Day in 1970.

 

I’ve spent a lifetime with all of humanity on the psychologist’s couch trying to understand the patterns that led us to where we are. And then eventually get on the couch myself, as I am most certainly a part of the “us.” We all are in different degrees. 

 

And so I was a struck by some passages in a mystery novel I just finished, Louise Penny’s Still Life. Food for thought on a Sunday morning, where some may be hoping Jesus will save them, some putting that heavy burden on their partner or a drug or some alcohol or a psychopathic narcissist who they once helped elect. Anything to avoid that needed look in the mirror. 

 

But note the hope in these quotes, the possible of grace and the choice of kindness. 

 

“I think many people love their problems. Gives them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life.

 

Life is change. If you aren’t growing and evolving you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead. Most of these people are very immature. They lead ‘still’ lives, waiting. Waiting for someone to save them. Expecting someone to save them or at least protect them from the big, bad world. The thing is no one else can save them because the problem is theirs and so is the solution. Only they can get out of it.”

 

The fault lies with us, and only us. It’s not fate, it’s not genetics, and it’s definitely not Mom and Dad. It’s us and our choices. Most unhappy people blame others. But it’s us. 

 

But the most powerful spectacular thing is that the solution rests with us as well. We’re the only ones who can change our lives, turn them around. So all those years waiting for someone else to do it are wasted. The vast majority of troubled people don’t get it. The fault is here, but so is the solution. That’s the grace.”

 

And later in the book, as the detective tells a gay couple why he didn’t suspect them:

 

“ I think you’ve both been hurt too much in your lives by the cruelty of others to ever be cruel yourselves. In my experience people who have been hurt either pass it on and become abusive themselves or they develop a great kindness. “

 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Back to Work

I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a workshop setting and group of people more. I’m spending my days on an outdoor deck shaded by a tree looking out at the rocky outcropping of Quartz Mountain in perfect temperature and delicious air. Sitting in a circle with 18 lovely souls playing all sorts of music, sharing stories, laughing, dancing, singing (with masks off outdoors!). All of us blessed to be together in a temporary community that offers the “compassion, safety, equality, justice, mutual respect and appreciation, beauty and fun” that we all deserve and that drives my 80% lifelong commitment as noted in the last post. 

 

I confess that I came to Oklahoma with some trepidation, knowing its conservative history and a bit anxious about encountering first-hand the things I’ve read in the news. And starting with the two delightful dance teachers who picked me up at the airport and told me of their wonderful work and continuing on through every moment of this retreat sponsored by the Oklahoma Arts Institute in a most beautiful setting, I was prepared to report that I had been duped by the news and that Oklahoma was the most delightful place filled with friendly, good-hearted and aware people. And based on my personal experience these past three days, I can faithfully report that good news. 

 

But of course I know that teachers and artists are far from the whole picture and at breakfast today, found out about some of the 10% news that looms large in my awareness and deeply troubles my glad heart. Back in April, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill granting immunity to drivers who “unintentionally” injure or kill protesters while attempting to flee. House Bill 1674 directly states the drivers cannot be held criminally or civilly liable for killing or injuring a protester if they are “fleeing from a riot” and there is “reasonable belief” that they are in danger. All those quotation marks means that it will be up to the white-run justice system as to whether the murder was indeed “fleeing from a riot” and had a “reasonable belief” that they were in danger and “unintentionally” ran over the protestors. You know how that's going to go.

 

Alongside the recent Texas law of penalties for any connection with an abortion (like happening to drive the taxi to the clinic) and the Georgia law punishing people who give food to people in line waiting 10 hours because of the change in voting procedure, this is a new low in our legal system, the last refuge of scoundrels who don’t even pretend to hide the evil of their actions and the hatred in their hearts. These are the wild vicious dogs purposefully unleashed in public places to do their damage with no consequence. 

 

Oklahoma lawmakers (to be distinguished from all Oklahoma citizens) continued their campaign against hope and reconciliation and restorative justice with another law banning the teaching of anything related to “critical race theory,” an examination of how racism functions in our country. Teachers are afraid to discuss issues that bear discussion, because if one parent complains or one student feels uncomfortable, they could be fired. Similar bills are in place or pending in North Carolina, Tennessee, Idaho and Texas. And so purposefully perpetrated ignorance is becoming a legal requirement and an education that teaches actual history and tells the truth is now grounds for dismissal, fines or imprisonment. 

 

None of this cancels the lovely interactions I’m having with the teachers here and in fact, inspires me to think more about how to support them. But to be brutally honest and real, I can only say, “This is some sad shit.”

 

Back to work.

Friday, October 22, 2021

80-10-10

 

“I know the world’s being shaven by a drunken barber. I don’t have to read about it!”

-      From the movie Meet John Doe

 

That has been my philosophy explaining why I’ve rarely habitually read newspapers my whole adult life. Instead I used the time to read poetry or history or great literature or other such things that give a much greater pleasure and a much deeper insight. But I finally came to realize that this was a luxury and privilege the world can’t afford. As a responsible citizen, I need to know “what’s going on” and respond accordingly.

 

I put “what’s going on” in quotes because what the newspaper reports is a small fraction of what is really going on and one with a skewed perspective. It leans heavily towards the violent (“if it bleeds, it leads”), the sensational, the catastrophic. If the music teacher helps a child make a breakthrough to a new level of expressive beauty, the news will not notice. If the music teacher loses his cool and throws his student’s trumpet out the window, the news is there in a flash. Especially if the trumpet lands on the car of a visiting politician visiting the school and breaks the windshield. 

 

Such power the media has! It inflates, it exaggerates, it stokes the fires of fear and division, it simplifies complexities into soundbytes that flash or bludgeon or threaten, not necessarily out of ill will, but from the business bottom line of selling papers or attracting viewers. The lower chakras and the brain stem, programmed to be alert to sex and violence and necessarily uninterested in nuanced discussion and subtle emotion, will always attract our attention—evolution demands it. But that brain and bodily systems formed long ago was made to survive the sudden appearance of a tiger or a dangerous lightning storm or a stampeding herd. It was never intended to be the brain we live in, the one that contemporary life presents, amplified by a media having us imagine tsunamis even when the weather outside our window is pleasant and the flowers are blooming. 

 

So how do we stay alert to important issues that the news does bring to us without getting beaten down, defeated, discouraged, even cynical, without cowering in the corner of our flight, fight or freeze brain stem? How can we cope with the constant onslaught of news about climate change, systemic racism, drug addiction, attempts to dismantle democracy and more? What is the proper proportion of news delivered and the news we actually experience in our day-to-day life? 

 

Sherri Mitchell, author of Sacred Instructions, has an answer. She writes: 

 

 We can’t create change if we are unwilling to look poverty, pain, injustice, environmental destruction,  and all forms of hatred and bigotry squarely in the eye. As we do so, we must learn to limit the mental, emotional, and energetic investment that we make in those images. (boldface mine). This is what I call the 80-10-10 rule. We invest 10 percent of our energy looking at what needs to be changed, another 10 percent holding back the tide of harm that has been created by our previous investments and the final 80 percent creating a reality that offers compassion, safety, equality, justice and sustainability for all life. “

 

Brilliant! It means that yes, I’m responsible to read enough of the news to know what the issues are and what’s happening and my sense of outrage (or occasionally, happiness) about the news I hear is what helps lead me to articulate what needs to be changed. But I don’t need to furnish that sense of outrage and make it my swelling place. Just 10% is enough and then on to the next 10%. Writing letters, signing petitions, marching on the streets, donating to good causes and so on. Now with phone texts added to e-mail threads, I could give away my entire life’s savings in a month or so if I responded to every plea that came my way. But instead of deleting them all, choose my 10% wisely.


And that leaves 80% for doing precisely what I’m doing at the moment and love doing at all moments—through the vehicle of the Orff workshop, “creating a reality that offers compassion, safety, equality, justice and sustainability for all life. “ And I would add “beauty” and “fun” to Ms. Mitchell’s list. 

 

Thanks to Sherri Mitchell for addressing what so few have—knowing how much is to be done and our tiny contribution so small, how much is enough? Or rather, can we begin to understand that each of these percentages is a way to contribute (note the 80% does not say “after paying your dues with the other 20%, go to Club med and party, party, party!”) I believe it is wise to not venture too far down the rabbit hole of the news junkie, to not simply respond to the outrage and defend, but to actively create the world we want and need and deserve in the unique ways that each of us can do so.

 

And so back to an afternoon of music classes with these beautiful people from Oklahoma, people the news suggests are on the other side of an uncrossable divide. But they are not. 

Not even close. More on this later.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Atlas Dancing

I don’t know what made me think, early on and continuing my whole life, that I need to take the world on my shoulders like Atlas, to help carry its weight and someday—or each day—set it down safely in the place it should be. But so it is and has been and more so than ever these days, where every moment that can be a teaching moment is, trying to illuminate what has stayed hidden and move forward what has been stuck. And so I dip into the separate but related fields of mythology, poetry, psychology, child development, history, spirituality, search for the common threads connecting them that reveal the stories lived over centuries that got us here and the ones yet to be lived that can lead us out. It appears that through a lifetime of reading, writing and thinking, I can sometimes articulate what needs to be said far beyond my narrow little field of music teacher.

 

And yet, the field of music teaching is indeed my home base where I am most effective and real and authentic. It is in the Orff workshop that the coat of many colors fits best and within minutes, can bring strangers together as if longtime friends, instantly knit together the cloth of community, find the right words at the right time to make the right connections to the ideas far within, behind and beyond each joyful activity. Words that sometimes create a deep listening space and when they feel like they’ve reached their limit, the needed song or dance or body percussion music is at our fingertips to transpose it all from ideas to the alive presence in the blood, bones and nervous system. It’s the place where 45 years and tens of thousands of classes with kids and adults of all ages have created an integrity and clarity unlike anything else in my little life. I certainly can’t cook or play piano or discuss politics with that level of confidence, but standing in a circle in a room large enough to hold us with people come to make music and improve their teaching is exactly the world I hope us all to live in. In each and every workshop, more so in this ripened maturity and yet more so with this year and a half of screened reduction, I am left with the certainty that “this is what I was born for.”

 

And here in Oklahoma, I get two more days of heaven on earth. May such future opportunities thrive and prosper.