Sunday, October 25, 2020

Remember Me

Way down yonder in the brickyard.

Remember me.

Way down yonder in the ole brickyard.

Remember me.


Gonna step it, step it, step it down.

Remember me.

Gonna step it, step it, step it down.

Remember me.


Gonna turn my loved one round and round,

Remember me.

Gonna turn my loved one round and round.

Remember me.


-       Georgia Sea Islands game song


I often use this song to open a workshop, invoke the ancestors to be present in the circle. This is not a common practice in American education. Yet the ancient understanding is that time is not just the present moment of our ticking clock, but a fuller mix of past, present and future. To feel the fuller dimension of the moment, the seriousness of our undertaking, why not invoke and invite those who have come before? They can be particular people who have passed on—in my Orff workshop, it might be Avon Gillespie, Carl Orff or Gunild Keetman—or a more general invocation, like thanking the original inhabitants on whose land we’re standing.


How have we arrived where we are, in a world that mindlessly razes rainforest, that excuses 20,000 lies from a national leader, that shouts angrily across created divides? I think some of this is a forgetting, both unintentional and purposeful. It is as if we have drunk from the River of Lethe, erased a collective memory of how to be on this earth, in this life, in these human bodies. We certainly need political strategies, clearly annunciated laws, scientific solutions, new imaginative ideas, but all of it can, and perhaps should, begin, with the simple act of remembering. 


We have forgotten so much. 

• How to welcome creation and re-connect with the bugs and the birds, the trees and the flowers, to feel ourselves as a co-participant of the natural world intimately, directly and more profoundly than just taking our dog for a walk. 

• How to expect and insist on civility in our leaders. 

• How to keep money and material things in proper proportion to the really important things in this life.

 • How our body can be an instrument of intelligence and carrier of spirit beyond an appendage to merely exercise and count out steps. 

• How the imagination is not an add-on, but a central faculty to be nurtured and cultivated. 

• How the heart is made to love and can only love fully after being repeatedly broken. 

• How the mind gifted with the capacity to think, to analyze, to compare and contrast, grows through the habit of constant reading and writing and thinking and discussing, how exercising that capacity is essential to good citizenship. 

• How the simple pleasure in moving bodies expressively, feeding the mind, working the imagination is sufficient unto itself and doesn’t need an American Idol panel with their bells and whistles. 

The list is long.


To forget how to honor our human incarnation is like losing a limb. To remember is to re-member, to grow that lost limb again. Also to sign-up again, renew your membership in both the human and the natural community.It is to move toward the truth we need, truth as in being true to ourselves and what life promised us that we have squandered. The Greek word for truth is Aletheia, which means “remembering” (notice the word “lethe” embedded there). 


So the “me” in the song “Remember Me” can refer to a person or our own plea to be remembered when we are gone. But it is also the rainforest speaking, the diminishing habitats and their inhabitants speaking, our Constitutional promises speaking, our sense of civil discourse speaking, our lost imagination and diminished intellect speaking, our hardened heart and inexpressive body speaking. Note how the song suggests we step it down, which means to get up to dance and not just alone, but with a partner and not just one partner, but all our loved ones. It will be in the act of remembering that we can begin to move forward from our stuck place. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Uncorking the Bottle

No secret that my daily practice of trying to gather experience in the net of language is somehow something I simply have to do. Some people’s minds are still water, some are on a low simmer, but mine, for better or worse, is a constant rollicking boil. Whether it be a Zoom class or a workshop or an interview, someone asks me a short question that lasts five seconds and off I go for 5 to 15 minutes. A bit like uncorking a bottle and out comes the genie (related to the word genius, our unique pattern of soul) and the one wish it rarely grants is that it be silent. J


I have to consider the simplistic conclusion that I’m just one of those obnoxious mansplainers that can’t shut up and should have stopped 4 minutes and 55 seconds ago and anybody shaking their head in agreement is entitled to their opinion. But others listen attentively and notice that I’m tying in all sorts of ideas normally outside of the question and bringing them together inside of an answer that goes far beyond the simple sound-byte, that generates more questions and leads to more ideas and reveals the true complexity of even the simplest questions. A lifetime of reading, writing, thinking doesn’t automatically qualify me to do so, but in many cases, has gifted me the ability to thread them all together in a coherent whole. I’m not boasting about it nor feeling shamed by it, it simply is my truth and hey, I suppose that’s partly what writing these blogposts is for.


I often begin these posts with an image, a phrase, a thought, that leads to other thoughts and helps me make sense of what just happened to me on that day. But without such a lead for today, I decided to just start writing and see what came out.


And this was it.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Letter to My 11-Year-Old Self

Dear Young Doug,


It has been 58 years since we were together, but I thought of you today because I voted and remembered something you wrote all those years back. 


“It was early on a November morning when Old Sol, my natural alarm clock, beckoned me to reluctantly arise. I was in a daze until the chirping of the woodland creatures put me out of it. It was then when I realized that the future may depend on today. For today was the day to select leaders in various states, cities and our country. 


I am grateful that our nationwide leaders provided the ideology of almost everyone being allowed to vote freely. Children or newcomers are not allowed to vote for they do not know the necessary facts. Children have to be over twenty-one years old and newcomers have to become citizens.


I pray that the right man or woman be selected to continue our government of democracy, so our future will be one of peace."


You were the Assistant Editor of the elementary school’s annual “literary magazine,” The Harrison Echoes and this was your editorial. Looking back all those years, I was impressed by four things:


1) Your attempt at poetic imagery and some connection with the seasonality of the natural world. 


2) Your emerging understanding of our duty as responsible and responsive citizens to vote to actively shape a worthy future.


3) Your inclusion of “man or woman” as eligible to “continue our government of democracy”—and timely as today I voted for a man and woman.


4) Your hope for peace.                   


Reading the rest of the magazine, I was struck that the other kids wrote little pieces about bicycle safety, fire safety, their pets and so on. All of which was fine and make sense, but I could feel you already so young stretching for something a bit larger. (Except for Lindy Nimy, who wrote: “Peace is like a quiet stream moving over ignorance and hatefulness.” Good one, Linda!). 


At any rate, young Doug, just want to let you know that those emerging sensibilities kept growing and more than ever, “I pray that the right man or woman be selected to continue our government of democracy, so our future will be one of peace." May it be so.

Your friend,

Old Doug



Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The New Gold Rush

              “Some people are so poor all they have is money.”  - Bob Marley


I can’t be too critical of the California Gold Rush because it was clearly responsible for the creation of San Francisco. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to bike through Golden Gate Park to the ocean today and delight in the view of the fog snaking under the Golden Gate Bridge. But from the point of view of the indigenous people and the land itself, it was, of course, an unqualified disaster. 


But let’s talk about gold. It’s all over the fairy tales, it’s in the King or Queen’s crown, it’s inlaid into exquisite Japanese pottery. It brings the light of the sun to the earth. Gold shines like the sun, but it lives in the dark earth. To get to it, you have to dig deep. 


The problem with Columbus and his successors, all the way to the California Gold Rush and beyond, is that they took the mythological truth of gold as the literal truth and organized their lives around dreams of material wealth. Columbus cut off the hands of indigenous people who didn’t collect enough gold for him, the 49’ers ravaged the land and each other in their quest for striking it rich.


So here we are in a time when material wealth is—or rather, should be— a cause for some level of shame. Just as my pride in attaining my Million Mile Status on United Airlines now is a shameful indictment of my carbon footprint, so should millionaires and especially billionaires feel some shame in plundering so much more than their share of the earth’s resources while others go hungry, are homeless or struggle for survival. 


Our time is calling for the shift from the literal to the mythological/ spiritual, to stop obsessing about the outer gold and begin digging deeper for the inner gold. The New Gold Rush is afoot. Rush may be a misnomer, as the work of the Soul is slow and meticulous, but in terms of how quickly we need to shift our thinking, “rush” is perhaps too slow.


“There’s gold in them there hills!” they used to say, but turns out the hills are the ups and downs of our own soul’s life and if we spend our days paying attention while we walk them, we will become millionaires of the spirit, the kind Bob Marley refers to. Worth repeating his line as our new mantra:


              “Some people are so poor all they have is money.”  - Bob Marley


Sunday, October 18, 2020

This, That and Fear of the Other Thing


It has been a remarkable five-days straight of San Francisco summer without the fog coming in to crash the party. I actually floated in the Bay looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge! The water was still a bit chilly, but possible and believe me, this does not happen often in San Francisco! Perfect temperatures in the shade, that delicious sense of the outside and inside in perfect accord, neither shivering to keep out cold nor sweating to keep away heat. One of life’s little pleasures.


And so my days are spent walking in company with Dombey and Son on my phone’s Audible (4 hours out of 40 left!) or biking here, there and everywhere, the most constant exercise I’ve probably ever had in my lifetime, literally one day where I missed either a substantial walk, bike ride or swim in the past three months. I’ve heard tell that our present human body is the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors who walked around 12 miles a day (how they figured that statistic out is anybody’s guess!), so I’m almost coming back to my ancestral inheritance. Regardless, it feels good and even better that I’m not in a gym, but out in the world in the fresh air (well, except for those smoky days), noticing the Coyote in the Arboretum, the small group of red-winged blackbirds singing in the bushes and ravens everywhere. 


Back home, the piano still beckons, I’m singing with my neighbors out on the streets, teaching Orff workshops online at least once (and often twice or three times) a week, occasionally practicing banjo from my online banjo class, enjoying new Netflix films like The Trial of the Chicago Seven, searching for the Get Out the Vote format that fits me and doing what I can to keep hope alive amidst the ever-tense shadow hovering over Nov. 3th. As I have many times in my life around Election Time, I’m “waiting to exhale,” either with a long-repressed triumphant shout or an anguished wail. And stupefied that this is even a question after all that guy has done. It’s simply beyond my comprehension.


But a slightly cooler (79 degrees) afternoon awaits me and my ancestral legs are eager to get walking. Just thought I’d check in before taking off, trivial as this all is.


Happy Sunday!

PS Went out I did into the sunny afternoon only to discover… the fog indeed had come! Oh well.


Friday, October 16, 2020


Listening to the talking heads analyze and dissect the Biden Town Hall, going through the details of his policy as if there might be some fine points that bear further discussion, is testing the limits of my patience. In any normal election, that of course, would be normal. But by keeping the appearance of normality going while in Trump’s Town Hall he dodges the question of supporting qAnon, a group that thinks the Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring and Trump is the savior of humankind—well, I think it’s safe to say that the news analysts need to get some perspective here. It’s like there’s a raging fire in the house and folks are taking time to discuss whether this person’s plan of evacuation is a better option than the other person’s. When the needed word is “RUN!!!!!!!”


And so, undecided voters, here’s your real choice in the house on fire we’re all in:


1) BIDEN: Let’s go, people! Now! Get out! Here’s the door!


2) TRUMP: (talking from his fireproof bunker): It’s a fake fire. If there was a fire, I’m the perfect firefighter. And you can wear that mask if you want, but I don’t think it’s necessary. This is just a distraction from Hilary’s e-mails. And aren’t you proud that we have the greatest fires?



Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Circle and the Square

After seven months of Zoom meetings, I finally convinced my Men’s Group to meet outdoors. Instead of the usual 7:30 to 10:00 evening meeting, we met in the Redwood Grove of the Arboretum at 3 in the afternoon.  What a pleasure that was!


The weather cooperated, a Fall “summer” day with temperatures in the 70’s and us comfortably settled in the shade seated appropriately apart, but still close enough to feel the power of the circle. And full bodies in three-dimensions, voices that resonated in open air instead of over computer speakers. When people talked, their words supported by gestures, body postures, facial expressions. And while we listened, we also heard the birds, drifts of conversations from people strolling near, distant drone of traffic punctuated by occasional motorcycle roars, sirens and even a helicopter. I made little sculptures with woodchips while listening and also delighted in their fragrant smell. 


In short, we came together (minus the opening and closing hugs) the way human beings have always come together before being pinched into gridded squares on screens. And it made all the difference in the world.


No great insight, this. Just renewed appreciation for one of the many norms locked away during these COVID times. I remember (and keep this confidential!) that once this men’s group started meeting on Zoom, our words and thoughts seemed so much less interesting that they were before. Were we really that boring?


Maybe. But I think that was more than partly due to the removal of all the other sensory stimuli that makes conversation alive and dynamic. In other words, the music and dance of our speech, the how of what we say and the background surrounding it, is part of, and often, more important than, the what of what say. And that the power of this men’s group that has been meeting for 30 years now is not the depth of our insight into the challenges of being male, but the power of being physically together in a space, to enjoy the simple pleasure of being men together in a room. Or a redwood grove. 


In poetic form: 


    Being together in a room far exceeds 

    Being together on a Zoom. 

    Sitting circled wholly seen far exceeds 

    Being squared on a screen.

    Being out in open air far exceeds

    Being indoors on a chair.