Saturday, June 22, 2019

Day 6: Stay Unplugged

And then there were four. With Marcia taking a day off given her non-functioning electric bike, my wife Karen, former school boss Terry, family friend Heidi and I set off yet again through lovely countryside. The sun out yet again, the constant wind (but warm) blowing, the silence of the trees and occasional cows, horses and a few colts. A lovely lunch by the side of the lake— cheese, bread, avocado, cherry tomato, cucumber, cut on Heidi’s little board she carries with her. Some time on the main roads with a shoulder 1 foot wide and occasional cars roaring by (see photo below), then off to the dirt roads through the barley fields, down a hill with a particularly rough washboard surface. We came back to the main road and suddenly, Heidi’s electric bike gave out. We suspected the washboard jiggling jiggled something loose. Some 30 miles from our destination, we had to call the woman who organized the tour and have her pick Heidi up. And then there were three. 

On we continued around the lake and after a relatively flat first few days, these past two were constant ups and downs. Luckily, my San Francisco bike riding well-prepared me for hills, but it was still somewhat challenging, especially with the accumulated 300 or so miles we rode over the five days (with one day off). We alternated between the gravely dirt roads through fields and forests and the “tarmac” main road. The smoothness of the latter was always welcome, but it came at a price. Cars whizzing by with that aforementioned narrow shoulder. 

We finally arrived at one of the bigger (but still small) towns of the ride—Mariefred. Off for a beer at a hotel that was founded in 1609, a light dinner and a hilarious game of miniature golf in a little park nearby. Tomorrow a day to ourselves before a 3-hour boat trip with bikes and bags returning to Stockholm. We could spend the day biking around the area, but I suspect we’ll opt for casual strolling, park-sitting and catching up on e-mail.

All in all, a delightful 6 days and happy to know that this almost 68-year-old can bike some 200 miles in a week and have it feel just fine. And more than just fine, with all the pleasures of trees, lakes and fields as company, the busy mind falling out into the wind, time to refresh from an always-hard-working-industrious year. Still a week ahead in Sweden with touring in Stockholm and visiting a friend out in the countryside. With or without more bike riding ahead. 

“Stay unplugged” was the take-away after the failure of the electric bikes, but also good advice to unplug from that always-busy self. Gratitude to bicycles, nature, friends and Sweden’s hospitality. 

Day 5: Falafel on Midsummer's Day

After one of the best meals we’ve had yet and memorable conversations with our hosts Carl Michael and Leif, we set off yet again for another 50 kilometers or so of biking. Food was on our mind because of these three observations about the Swedish countryside:

1)   There are very few people here. I’m sure I’ve passed more people walking a half a kilometer in Ghana, Bali or India than biking 70 in Sweden.

2)   There seem to be very few cafes, restaurants or places simply to buy food. 

3)   The few we’ve encountered have often been closed and since it was Midsummer’s Day and a National Holiday, we were concerned about lunch.

So we were thrilled to pull into Malmkoping (mentioned in the book I’m reading about The 100- Year-Old Man…!) and find a Pizza-Kebab-Falafel place open. Right next to the park where the Maypole (okay, I know it’s called something different) was being prepared. So I had falafel for lunch, served by a Middle-Eastern man who was one of the many immigrants come to Sweden. 

At 2:00 sharp, exactly the time we were told, they began to raise the pole while two fiddlers, a bass and a keyboard played. There was a crowd of perhaps 100 people (a giant group given our experience!), the women decked out in beautiful Swedish dresses and with flower garlands in their hair. Some Muslim women with head scarves were there as well and it all seemed fine and I wonder if they would someday join the flower-garlanded folks. Across the street was a Thai Take-Out Food truck (not open). Welcome to the new world.

Once the pole was up, the people began dancing led by a women singing out directions. Simple folk dances moving right and left, in and out, miming work actions and so on. Sweet. Not the intensity of festivals in Ghana, Bali, India, not the beer-drinking at Maibaum outside of Salzburg, but a simple sweet greeting of the summer on the longest day of the year. 

We stayed for a while, but as Malmkoping was only the halfway point of our ride and it was nearing 3:30 pm, we set off again. Soon after, one of the two electric bikes gave out and the rider, Marcia, was concerned about making it to the end. I offered to take the heavy battery and that helped and gave me some extra exercise. Finally arrived at our Air B&B in Skykasa and spent some of the evening checking out Swedish TV. Interesting for a bit, but not easy since none of us speak a word of Swedish. 

What will tomorrow bring?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Day 4: Singing in the Rain

There’s a forgettable movie (Ishtar) with a memorable scene. Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman play two songwriters who are lost in the Sahara desert and as they’re crawling to an oasis with their last breaths, they start to write a song and trade rhymes back and forth. 

So yesterday afternoon, we got caught in a rip-roaring thunderstorm. Out on our bikes in the middle of the proverbial nowhere, no shelter within miles and no idea what to do. The lightning seemed to be flashing dangerously close and the thunder roaring over our heads as we biked through a birch forest in the pouring rain 5 miles from the town of Blaksta, where there was a church we thought we could take sanctuary in. 

It potentially was a life-threatening situation and I found myself like Warren and Dustin in the movie, singing some songs and thinking of clever titles for my eventual blog about the experience. That's pretty weird. But hey, it seems to be a big part of who I am. Some of my potential titles:

• Get Me to the Church on Time

• Celebrating Plastic 

• What to Do When Out Biking in a Thunderstorm

We did make it to Blaksta Church, but by then the thunder and lightning and stopped and it was more important to soldier onward to our accommodation still two miles onward. We arrived with sopped shoes, dry shirts and backpacks (hence, “celebrating plastic”). After a welcome dinner, I looked up the answer to that last question.

Basically, everything you might do is wrong. Don’t be out in the open, don’t be under a tree, don’t be under an overhanging rock, don’t think rubber tires will make a difference to a lightning bolt (it won’t), don’t stop riding if the rain is strong and you’re in danger of hyperthermia from being wet and chilled or swept away by a flash flood, don’t keep riding, seek shelter in someone’s house but if there are no houses then…

Like I said, everything you might do is wrong. The most concrete suggestion was to park your bike away from you and crouch down until it passes. But they forgot the most important part. Crouch down and…


Preferably in a dry church giving gratitude to plastic. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Day 3: All Things Swedish

Yesterday was a day of rest in Nykoping. The usual catch up on e-mail and writing and then a stroll through the town in search of lunch. Water, water everywhere we’ve gone in Sweden, including canals and rivers winding through towns. Nykoping was no exception. What a difference water can make in the feel of a place. We picnicked looking over the river, climbed a hill or two and wound our way back to the hotel. At some point, we started naming all our associations with Sweden, without the help of Mr. Google. Here’s what I came up with:

• Dag Hammmerskold —U.N. diplomat

• Greta Garbo—film actress: "I vant to be alone!"

• Ingrid Bergman—film actress: Hitchcock and Casablanca. Love her!

• Ingmar Bergman—film director: even our Swedish host tonight said, "Ach! Depressing!"

• Jenny Linn—Opera singer: “The Swedish Nightingale”

• Alfred Nobel—scientist/ inventor/ philanthropist: inventor of dynamite and when his brother died, the paper made a mistake and wrote his obituary as "Mr. Death dies. Grew rich by discovering how to kill more people more quickly." After reading it, Nobel had his Scrooge "A-ha!" and decided to donate his fortune to …you guessed it, the Nobel Prize!

• Sankta Lucia— the December holiday and young girls wearing a garland of lit candles

• Swedish meatballs/ pancakes—the former served at dinner tonight, the latter for breakfast

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—the thriller series written by two different authors

Elvira Madigan—the romantic movie of my college ears, with Mozart soundtrack

The 100- Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared­—the international best-seller by Jonas Jonasson that I’m reading now. Fun!

• Saab/ Volvo— the car I once had, the one I used to hope to have

• IKEA— provider of shelves in the school music room

And of course, 

The Swedish Sisters!! —my favorite part of the story of how Carl Orff created the approach to music education that created my life as I know it. People who know me know the story! I’ll save it for the rest at a later time.

On to Day 4!

PS Found out that Ann-Margret of Bye Bye Birdie fame was born in Sweden!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Day 2: Rye Krisp and Licorice Ice Cream


    The earth expanding right hand and left hand, 
     The picture alive, every part in its best light, 
    The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted, 
     The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road. –Whitman

     I was 16 years old when I first read Walt Whitman and re-reading his Song of the Open Road, I’m drawn back to that sense of adventure, of excitement, my whole life a beckoning road before me, enticing, inviting, the delightful sense of the possibility of the unknown given language by this poet. It will be the poem to frame this bike trip and though so much of the road is behind me, still I have not reached its end and each new horizon keeps my feet pedaling with excitement and enthusiasm.

And so Day 2 of the 8 day biking adventure began with a blue sky and slight breeze as we began one of the longer rides, some 45 miles from Trossa to Nykoping in the land south of Stockholm. On the first day, we stopped at a palace and decided to swim in the lake surrounding it. Well, more jump in and jump out, as the water was colder than this old body is comfortable with. On this day, we arrived at a small sandy beach on the Baltic Sea, but with a slight morning chill in the air and a memory of yesterday’s freezing water, no one was enticed to jump in. So after a short snack of carrot, apple and chocolate, off we went into the woods and out through the fields until arriving at a small town and a large fancy Manor that would serve us a needed and delicious lunch. Except for the fact that the restaurant wasn’t open until June 23rd

We learned the hard way that the Swedish countryside is different from any countryside we have encountered in that there are hardly any small towns, more like various clusters of six houses. Hence, no little cafes or restaurants or convenience stores or Farmer’s Market stands for miles and miles and miles. (Technically, kilometers and kilometers and kilometers). And even with long stretches on a major road, never once passed a gas station, which theoretically might have some chips or some snack food. With some 20 plus miles ahead of us and no food prospects, we were a bit concerned. Whipped out our phones and tried to find if the nature reserve on the way might have something and there seemed to be a chance that one place did. 

So off we went to find out and saw a sign on the highway with a fork on it that seemed promising and headed off in that direction. There we stumbled on an industrial park of sorts that was a Tech Place with lots of cars in the parking lots. Cars, people? Must be food! So we wound around and found a cafeteria of sorts that was…closed. But a worker was there and she sold us some fruit from the basket, invited us to grab some of the Rye Krisp crackers they had and let us buy an ice cream or two. We sat on the grass with all of this for lunch and my wife Karen yelped with disgust when she discovered that her ice cream bar was not chocolate on the outside, but licorice which she hates. Well, that was a memorable meal. 

The place itself was a bit odd, hidden away in the countryside with parts of it behind locked gates with “No photography” signs. It was called a “Vital Installation” and we conjectured about creepy experiments going on there. Later, when a lovely woman helped us with directions to get to our hotel, we asked her about the place and detected a guarded, “I don’t know what goes on there” response. Well, maybe we imagined it.

Earlier, we passed a field with a horse standing over another horse who was lying down and not moving. We conjectured that it had died and its friend/ mate was mourning. But then the horse lying down sat up. So best not to jump to conclusions too early!

A lovely dinner at a lovely hotel overlooking a river and a welcome sleep with muscles toned and body well-exercised. Had a dream that Trump was deposed and Nancy Pelosi given the Presidency and in the dream, woke up and wondered if it was real and had it confirmed that it was and I was so happy. Several more times in the dream, I “woke up” and asked the same and each time was affirmed. Imagine how disappointed I was when I really woke up. Though maybe I should check today’s news!

Day 3—today—is a “day off” and well-timed as it is raining a bit and it feels good to catch up on the storyline, such as it is. More to come!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Life on the Open Road

                                                 Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, 
                                                Healthy, free, the world before me, 
                                                The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. 

                                               Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune, 
                                              Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing, 
                                              Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, 
                                              Strong and content I travel the open road …

                                                    -      Walt Whitman
And so begins the first day of an 8-day bike ride in Sweden. Traveling and teaching workshops like I do is my idea of summer vacation, my hanging out on the beach in my island paradise. And yet it is still work and schedules and plane flights and planning and sending notes after the workshop. 

But this. This brings me back to the mythology of my childhood and young adulthood. Time spent wandering in the woods or aimless exploring a new city or hitchhiking across the great open expanse of America with Keruoac’s On the Roador Steinbeck’sTravel’s with Charley in my back pocket. That exhilarating sense of freedom, of following one’s nose, of being open to the great, grand surprises a generous Universe offers. Nothing particular to do, nowhere particular to go. Ah, how I have loved it! And how little time I’ve made for it these past years. That will now change. 

And so I set off on Day 2, the Incredible String Band song singing in my ears:

Farewell sorrow, praise God the open door
I ain’t got no home in this world any more…

 Or rather, every place and every moment is my home in this world. Ta ta!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Gone Fishing

What does a culture suggest when life’s inevitable curve balls knock you down? 

For some, it is a trip to the priest in the confessional booth. In others, you head straight to the bar and weep in front of the bartender or seatmate. Some send you to the therapist’s office, with the clock ticking as you pick apart your miseries. Some get you singing in the Gospel Choir or dancing to drums in the ring. And so on.

In a fascinating conversation with some of the indigenous Lapland Sami people here in northern Finland, I found out that there are very few words for emotions in the Sami language. The basics of happy, sad or angry, but not all the nuances of bored, disappointed, melancholic, anxious, lovestruck, confused, joyful, depressed, etc. There are many, many words for snow, for the nuances of eight seasons, for stages of reindeer development, for the flow of rivers. In short, the linguistic imagination is tuned to the natural world. 

If you’re a Sami person and you’re sad, you go fishing. If you’re happy, you go fishing. If you’re angry, you go…well, fishing. No therapists, priests, 12-step programs, identity groups and so on—whatever the affliction, Nature is the cure. 

Or at least it was before the typical signs of the invasion of mainstream, “Christian,” “civilized” governments that stole lands, forbid the native tongue in indoctrination schools, forcibly converted “the natives” to the religions of Jesus and economic development and rape of the land. The same sad story of Native Americans in the U.S., First Nation people in Canada, Aboriginal people in Australia and beyond. First destroy the culture and then introduce alcohol to get the people to drink themselves into a stupor to bear up the pain of losing one’s land, culture, language and identity. So though Nature was the preferred cure, alcoholism is a real problem. And still today, even as Sami are struggling to reclaim their heritage, there is a proposal to invade and destroy their land with a railway designed to move oil, there are no Sami representatives in government, there are only 3 or 400 remaining native speakers in two of the nine Sami groups. Again, the same sad story.

And sadder yet, going fishing won’t bring the full cure. Dear reader, if you ever see a petition calling for help to protect the Sami’s land and culture, please sign it. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Unlocked Doors

In the dance of familiar and comforting repetition and surprising and exciting variation, travel is mostly about the latter. New sights, new sounds, new tastes, new people alongside Wifi and Starbucks. In just one day in the town of Ivalo in Northern Finland, I’ve had my fair share of the new and delightful. Amongst them:

• Drank water directly from a stream and was assured it was safe. Haven’t been able to do that out in the American wilderness since 1970 or so. 

• Went to the Sami Museum in Inari and learned a bit about the indigenous people of the area. Thoroughly “modernized” now, but holding on to their language, arts and customs. Yet there are only 300-400 Inari Sami left who still speak their native tongue, five of whom will be coming to my workshop tonight. That should be fascinating. 

• Went to a restaurant in the town of Inari (population around 580) and it could have been in New York or San Francisco. Passed over the reindeer course and had cauliflower patties with red pepper sauce, chaga mushroom tea with sweetgrass syrup and birch leaf sorbet with tar licorice and smoke for dessert. All delicious! 

• The usual jet lag and awakening at various times during the night and the sun still out no matter what time it was. (Luckily remembered to bring a sleep mask!). The Land of the Midnight Sun is real!

• The countryside reminds me of a less mountainous Lake Tahoe region in the Sierras, dry with pines and lakes. 

• I’ve heard nightmare stories about hordes of mosquitoes and my host Jessika (one of the ex-Interns in our Orff program) assures me they’re true. But they don’t arrive until next week. My timing is perfect!!! (I leave on Sunday)

• Nobody locks the doors to their house or car. Last time I experienced this was on Peaks Island, Maine back in 1987. What a lovely feeling.

Today I have some time to walk around a lake, prepare my classes and then begin teaching my two and half day course. So grateful for this life, jet lag and all. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Ball Over the Fence

Without publicly revealing too much, there were some administrative decisions made in the last few months that came as surprises to the teachers. That’s my first rule of a decision poorly made— that the people who are stakeholders in the decision, are affected directly and indirectly by it, are surprised. It’s a sure sign that some necessary steps were missed and the result is that it widens the “us” and “them” gap between teachers and admin rather than narrows it back to where it belongs as a “we.” Teachers don’t feel like they were trusted to be in on the necessary conversations and a lot of backpedaling is needed to repair the damage. But even in a school that boasts about teaching children to speak out in the name of fairness and social justice, our staff that complains at the water cooler gets a bit on the silent side at the meetings. 

So I requested a private meeting with admin to speak out on behalf of restoring more teacher voice in the things that most directly affect us, particularly when it enters the sacred ground of a teacher’s space, schedule and own way of teaching. I wasn’t quite as articulate as I hoped to be, but the good news was that I managed to maintain a calm detachment that treated the issues as philosophical vision without the he said/she said blame or shame tone and that felt good.

The next day at the elementary meeting, our last chance to speak together before summer, I was surprised that some elephants were still standing in the room while there was a long discussion about the sharing of balls at recess. I noticed comments like:

• Whose ball is it?

• When and with whom should it be shared?

• When a ball gets kicked over a fence or popped, who is responsible to retrieve it? Who is accountable? 

• Why should we get new balls if we’re not even taking care of what we have?

And it struck me—that’s exactly what we need to talk about!! One of the teachers felt her program had been mindlessly and sadly diminished by a decision she had no voice in, the same feeling as someone taking your ball during a game and kicking it over the fence and walking away. So I tried to use that window to bring out into the discussion all the things that weren’t being said about some things that had gone down recently. I parroted the above excerpts from their ball discussion back to them and asked them to imagine that the ball was our shared investment in creating the school of our vision. 

It had the potential of being a brilliant way into the needed conversation. Truth be told, it didn’t quite work, but maybe people just needed to see it in print and have more time to mull it over. 

So here it is. 

Monday, June 10, 2019


“What kind of feeling do you get when you play jazz?” I asked on the 8thgrader’s final evaluation and strangely, almost all wrote down “Calm.” Up until Miles Davis and the Birth of the Cool, jazz was pretty much considered “hot” music, that kind that revved up your energy and got you cookin’. When Miles and friends entered the scene, it was cool to be cool—lay back, nod your head a bit and sink down to a low burn. (Of course, Billie Holiday’s ballads a decade before invited you to do the same). Then Coltrane came and the heat was close to a rocket launch. And then everything at all ends and all edges in-between. 

So I found it curious that the kids unilateral response to playing jazz (not just listening) was calm. Even in front of a few hundred people at the Spring Concert. I don’t wholly understand why that word was the most popular, but I don’t have to. 

And hey, “calm” is good. Because it’s the opposite of how I feel when I opted to not watch the next Warriors vs Raptors play-off game because it was doing me in. But I couldn’t resist checking in on the score and Warriors were down by 3 with just over a minute to go. Do I dare check again? My heart is racing, my blood is boiling, if the number on the right is higher than the one on the left, it means my entire investment of watching almost every single playoff game may not pay-off in the American way—ie, we might lose. Stay tuned. 

WE WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By 1 point. Okay, now I can watch the highlights. (But still two more games to win to win the playoffs—I’ll be in Lapland, so I guess I’ll find out later.)

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Ant at the Edge of the Page

Summer has arrived. Though still two days of meetings, cleaning and report cards, we sailed through the calm and turbulent waters of the intense last week of school and sent another group of 8thgraders off, each one of whom is apparently destined to change the world for the better. According to their teachers’ lovely graduation speeches. They’re probably just hoping they get through the next few years without too many pimples and such, but we have plans for them to transform our sorry country into the place worthy of its vision. And with a clear complexion.

Meanwhile, the next day dawns and blessedly, it’s a warm, windless San Francisco day worthy of the word “summer.” Though I still have my list to prepare for six weeks away of teaching and traveling, I treated myself to a few moments in the backyard and wrote in my journal. While writing, an ant walked across the top of the page and it was a good sign that I was in that summer-frame-of-mind where I took some time to watch it. Back and forth it went and each time it reached the edge, halted as if wondering what to do next. And then turned around and walked to the other page’s edge for a repeat performance. Is there some metaphor there for me?

For this time next year, Fates willing, I will have walked to the edge of the last page of my 45-year epic novel at The San Francisco School. How will it feel to step out of that book and onto the ground of the next possibility? We shall see. But meanwhile, many more steps to take in this last Chapter, starting with time this summer to sit and watch blank ants wander over white pages.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

More Is Too Much

Sometimes less is more and often, more is too much. I love the celebration and ceremony aspect of my school—indeed, was instrumental in creating, crafting and sustaining it. But somehow, they’ve all been backed into the last week and we’re all being thrown helter-skelter by the whirlwind. Tuesday was the 8thgrade play, afternoon and evening, Wednesday was the Samba Contest and me leading a 5-year old evening parent sharing,  Thursday is the Staff vs. 8thgrade basketball and another 5-year old sharing,, Friday is the 8thgrade Graduation sharing, Mud pie dessert ritual, closing ceremony and hug line, Saturday is 8thgrade Graduation. I fully intended to squeeze in the Cookie Jar Contest, but wisely let it go. (No, I’m not going to bother to explain each esoteric thing). The instruments have been moved back and forth some five times between the music room and the Community Center. 

On top of this, we’re finishing up normal classes, signing cards for the teachers leaving, sneaking in a look at the Warriors in the playoffs (aargh! Last night was painful!), preparing graduation speeches and oh, did I mention Report Cards? At a time when we should be celebrating another year well done and easing into summer, tempers are short, people are stressed, kids are edgy. Each event in itself is delightful and just right to bring a unique color and life to the daily round of school. But all of them packed together is like having a special treat each meal– when “special” becomes the norm, it loses its meaning. 

As music needs silence and some steady progress to prepare the peak moments, so does a ceremonial calendar. The question here is not what to abandon, but how to spread it out so it all doesn’t happen at once.

Note to school self.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Can I Get a Witness?

Working on my book today, I pulled up some comments from my 8thgrade class of 2014 about what music meant to them. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to articulate why the arts are important, but these testimonies are so much more eloquent than I could ever be. So next time I’m invited to talk at a Conference, I think I’ll just invite some kids, say a few words about the importance of music and shout out, “Can I get a witness?!!” and have the kids come forward to say it all so much better. Listen to their heartfelt eloquence here:

Music is not just banging on a drum to make a sound. People learn history and rhythm and life skills from music. Music is a part of life because it keeps you sane, it keeps you cool and composed through the many wavy roads in what is called life.   -Josie 

Music is essential to a kid’s academic development. As a middle school student, the connection that I made from music to academics was astounding. I would use music techniques and to study and finish work. It was an important part of my life and I don’t know where I would have been if I didn’t have it.  –Sophia

Music is what completes an education. It is such an essential part of our culture and everyday life that taking it away would be like taking away color from nature and flavor from food.  – Nate 

Music is the key to life if taught correctly. It can open new doors and take you to places you’ve never been before.   –Nashira

Learning music made me think in a way I never had before. It made my brain more flexible. –Claire 

For some kids, music is the voice they never had.  – Casaun

Music is very important because it gives kids a way to express themselves. It can calm them or energize them. It can make them feel safe.  –Lyla

Music is a way to work with sounds with your hands. It forms your brain, helps you to think in a different way. It’s a way speak to people and a way to listen to people.

Without music, I would be a mess. Music is my best friend. It sticks by me through thick and thin, It makes hard times better and good times simply the best. –Maya

Music class always put me in a happy mood. When I looked at my schedule and saw I had music, it changed my feeling about the day. –Shalamar 

Music is an alternate place for kids to exist. You might not be good at math, but could be good in music— and vice-versa. It gives a place to be creative and to learn life skills. It’s a place for kids to be themselves and also bond with their classmates.    -Lucia

As someone with a lot of personal catastrophes and trauma, music became my escape from them. I often spent my day counting minutes until I could be in music. I don’t think most people realize how important the music program is to people like myself and I want more kids like myself to find their escape into music.     –James 

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Opposite of SAD

After a miserable week of San Francisco fog, cold and wind, the sun has appeared! Still windy, but it’s warmer and the bright light and blue sky is enough to boost the lowest spirits. Tried to think of an acronym for the opposite of Seasonal Affect Disorder, but couldn’t figure it out. SAO? Seasonal Affect Order? Don’t think so.

At any rate, the one is as real as the other. One week from today, I’ll be flying to Lapland in the far north of Finland, where the sun will shine 24 hours a day. Are the folks there perpetually happy? Well, they do pay a heavy price in Winter when they live mostly in darkness. I know someone who lives there and truth be told, I don’t know how she does it.

As for me, I’m out the door and into the sunshine to warm my bones and reclaim my joy. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Highlights of the Day

1.    I ate my first peach of the summer. And behold, it was good!

2.    Actually, I ate two.

3.    The San Francisco weather is horrible—cold, foggy and windy. But at least there was no earthquake today.

4.    The Warriors won Game 2 of the Playoffs!

5.    I wrote a good sentence.

6.    That wasn’t it. 

Back on Track

May was filled with excitement, variety and welcome surprises, but the pace was somewhat frenetic. Away from settled routine, I find myself over-eating, not exercising, losing some threads of continuity in the various projects I have going. 

So June began auspiciously, with my ritual morning meditation, oatmeal and Solitaire and a few good hours diving back into my book-writing and making clear, tangible progress. A welcome break with the Goldberg Variations on piano and actually ended up memorizing a few. A simple lunch and ride my bike to another Senior Home where I’ve started to play piano. An hour of making the residents happy—and me too—and then continued on my bike down to Fort Mason to see the second half of the Balinese Sekar Jaya concert. Back in the mid-80’s, I played with this group and now they’re celebrating their 40thanniversary. As usual, dynamic, virtuosic and stirring music and dance and not surprisingly, saw some folks I knew in the lobby afterwards. 

Then the long bike ride back up the Presidio Hill and all set to watch the Warriors 2ndplayoff game—only to realize that the game was the next day. So instead, saw a video about Chet Baker which sparked my interest in revisiting his recordings. The world of jazz is vast and inexhaustible. 

So I’m feeling back on track with eating better and less, exercising on my bike, back into the flow of writing my book and feeling an end almost within sight, keeping momentum going with piano playing and so on. Today and tomorrow to keep everything moving and then back to a crazy four days to finish up school. We’ll see how that goes.

Why should this be interesting to anyone? To be honest, it shouldn’t. Except to note how important it is to keep riding the rails of one’s interest following a reliable and repeatable timetable. Yes, important to get off the train and wander around the city or town or countryside, but equally important to get back on that track and keep some sense of forward progress. 

On to Chapter 8. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A New Essence

It’s June, which means the end of school and the beckoning hand of Summer. For just about my entire life, this schedule has held true—17 years as a student, 44 years as a teacher. And now that’s about to change.

For this time next year, I will step out of The San Francisco School never to return as a full-time teacher. I may still be involved in after-school projects, sub for my colleagues when they’re off traveling for a few weeks, maybe do a once-a-month preschool sing. But for all effective purposes, I have announced my official retirement in June 2020. 

What will my thoughts be at this time next year? What will I be feeling? What mixture of nostalgia, excitement, sadness, joy will be percolating through my body, heart and mind? 
And why am I doing it?

With all my colleagues at school (including my wife) from the 1970’s and even 1980’s retiring around me, I am indeed the last one standing and the reason for me has been clear: I have continued to love teaching the kids and the generous schedule I have there has allowed me to pursue the other things I care about—traveling and teaching, writing, performing and such. It has been a perfect balance and nothing was broken that needed changing. 

However, I was feeling that the satellite activities mentioned above were growing and it was becoming challenging to balance them with my school commitments. Still, I was waiting for some clear signal and it finally came in the form of a proposed radical schedule change beginning in the Fall of 2020. Something that would change my school life as I’ve known it and may end up just being fine for the teachers and kids, but not without a lot of work to make it work. So bam! there it was, my exit cue. 

I could be grouchy about it, but I think I’m already grateful for a reason to leave and attend more fully to these other projects—including things like more time with the grandkids and maybe even periodic volunteer music classes at their schools in Portland. It will be great to totally decide my own schedule, including room after teaching somewhere to be a bit of a tourist. I’d love to start my own Podcast and I already know what it’s like to stay home and write and play piano and go on a bike ride and I love it. I could be available to mentor fellow local Orff teachers, consult with the SF Public Schools about a growing interest in restoring the arts, do a better job with my Pentatonic Press projects and try to get a few more gigs for my Pentatonics band. No lack of things to do!

Retirement will not mean the end of my teaching, just the end of my official teaching at The SF School. I suspect I’ll be teaching as much as ever if not more so and that’s something I don’t feel the need to retire from. Knowing how World tends to work, I suspect that the closing of the school door will open new doors that never would have opened without that closing.

So on this first day of June, I opened a book randomly to a poem and found one by the Czech poet  Czeslaw Milosz(ironically called Winter just as I turn to Summer) with these intriguing closing lines:

And now I am ready to keep running
When the sun rises beyond the borderland of death
I already see mountain ridges in the heavenly forest
Where, beyond every essence, a new essence waits.

You, music of my late years, I am called
by a sound and a color which are more and more perfect.

Do not die out, fire. Enter my dreams, love.
Be young forever, seasons of the earth.