Monday, August 31, 2015


Could it really be as simple as this? Happiness, I mean.
To spend a morning playing piano until the keys feel like they’re growing out of your fingers and you can go anywhere in the landscape of music you want.
To have lunch with an alum student taking a gap year to travel around India and then bike across the U.S. from the East Coast. His life ahead of him with just enough plans to imagine and dream about what’s ahead and miles of space for possibilities to blossom and open in the great and beckoning unknowns that await him.
To bike around a lake and along the ocean and through the park and feel the tightness in the legs like the power in the piano fingers, the body tuned and toned and inhaling the cool ocean air beneath the hot summer sun.
To prepare a simple meal of fresh corn from the Farmer’s Market, roasted peppers stuffed with goat cheese, mixed green salad with early girl tomatoes and small glass of beer. To eat slowly, savoring and not too much (for a change!).
To wheel out the ancient TV, put in the DVD and sit with my Dad again (in his new invisible form) to watch Perry Mason and see how it holds up.
Is this all it takes to be happy? Amidst all the pomp and circumstance and conflicted relationship and torturous self-doubts and outrage and disappointment and heartache and heartbreak, could it really be as simple as this?
Yes it can. 
Yes it is. 

Farewell to Summer

It’s the last day of August. It has been quite a month. Opened with a wedding that I officiated of my sweet friends Kim and Micah and closing with the beginning of my first full week of my 41st year at school. In-between were two glorious Orff Courses, one in Carmel Valley, one in Toronto. Meeting my grandson Malik in Ashland, Oregon on his 6-week birthday, time with my beloved granddaughter Zadie, her impressive 16-year old stepbrother Alijah come to finish out high school on the West Coast and—oh, yeah— my daughter Kerala. Horseshoes, Rummy 500 games, Zadie in the town swimming pool, a few days of real summer. Before that a short trip to Ann Arbor and officiating the Memorial Service of my mother-in-law. A few work days at school and then a splendid Opening Ceremony, first classes with 8th grade and 5-year olds, my beloved Preschool Singing Time and then Jewish Home Singing Time. Beginning the work with the four new Interns. Back in my home reunited with my piano, my bike, the Inner Sunset Farmer’s Market, Trader Joes, cooking, some evening videos. Like I said, quite a month.
And the six weeks before were pretty eventful as well. The trip to Portland in June to greet Malik at his birth and his refusal to come out on time. A memorable week in the Turkish countryside with folks from Turkey and Iran playing music and dancing together. A 60 person family reunion in the Rocky Mountains with daily 8 mile hikes at 8000 and above elevations, communal meals, games at night, informal singing time with the kids. A Jazz Course back in San Francisco and then the first week of the Carmel Valley Orff Levels training, where I turned 64 years old. I missed the week of swimming in Lake Michigan, when things slow down to the heart of Summer, but still it was a perfect blend of work, family and time outdoors. Amidst all the other perks of being a teacher, time to stretch out in the summer ranks high!
I’m reading a new book that I’m thoroughly enjoying titled A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. There’s a 104-year old Zen nun character named Jiko. Her teenage granddaughter is telling about her and writes:
 Old Jiko is super careful with her time. She does everything really really slowly, even when she’s just sitting on the veranda, looking out at the dragonflies spinning lazily around the garden pond. She says that she does everything really really slowly in order to spread time out so that she’ll have more of it and live longer, and then she laughs so you know she is telling you a joke.
I mean, she understands perfectly well that time isn’t something you can spread out like butter or jam and death isn’t going to hang around and wait for you to finish whatever you happen to be doing before it zaps you. That’s the joke and she laughs because she knows it.
Summer has always been the time for me to slow down like that. But seems like I’m packing it full of intense experiences and maybe that’s my own laughable strategy to stretch out time and try to cheat mortality. You know how it is when you travel and three days feels like three weeks because of the intensity of each day and the novelty, the constant new experiences that avoid dull routine and make each moment vibrant and alive. And so from Portland to Turkey to Estes Park to San Francisco to Carmel Valley to Michigan to Ashland to Toronto and back to San Francisco, that’s quite a merry-go-round and each one delightful in its own way.
Now it’s back to school schedule and routine and every day with a known character and that is its own form of pleasure. Farewell Summer, Welcome Fall and mortality, don’t bother me, I’m busy.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Still With Us

My brother-in-law’s Mom passed away this week. 96 years old. The last of the generation above for my extended family. We are all now officially elder orphans.
Talking with my brother-in-law on the phone, I tried to remember a quote to the effect of “now our work is to apprentice ourselves to the new invisible forms of the departed.” It is a tiresome cliché to casually console someone with “They will always be with you.” Most people would like to—or do— respond with, “No, actually they won’t. They were with me and now they’re gone, so don’t try to dress it up. They’re not here and I am. And sometimes it’s okay and sometimes it’s a big hole of grief and maybe for some people, it’s a relief.”
Tonight I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to the town of Larkspur to see a movie. That’s a long way to go for a movie, but my wife saw it this summer without me and loved it and this was the only place it was still playing. Titled “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” it was about just that—a high school senior, his friend Earl and a classmate dying of leukemia. I highly recommend it.
But the point is that to get to the movie theater, I drove past Marin General Hospital where my Dad had triple bypass surgery at 89 years old. I visited him just about every day for a couple of months there before he moved to other facilities further north. This was in 2007, but driving past again brought back the whole scene.
Then in Larkspur, the theater is down the street from The Left Bank restaurant, a place I ritually had lunch with my parents for many years. I’d bike to the Larkspur Ferry, they’d pick me up and drive me to the restaurant. They lived in Novato, so it was a way for us to meet in-between without my Dad having to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. He was driving well into his 80’s, but he did not like going all the way to the city. At the restaurant, my Dad and I always ordered the Jacque Pepin sandwich (since discontinued) and he would have decaf coffee. My Mom often went for some fish. Sometimes my sister would join us as well.
After the movie, I was in a tender mood. Themes about mortality tend to do that to me. The Left Bank was still filled with the chatter of outdoor diners on a warm summer’s night. As I turned the car around, I was greeted by an enormous rising full moon. Going with the flow, I listened to the same Blossom Dearie album (The Diva Series) that often would accompany my sobs as I returned from my visits with my Dad all those years back. The songs did not fail in their promise to get some water flowing again.
And so my folks are with me again tonight and happily so. I’ve had a long apprentice—8 years— with my Dad’s passing and over a year with my Mom— and 4 years with my father-in-law and 7 months with my mother-in-law and I believe I’m getting accustomed to their “invisible forms.”
How could it be otherwise? My parents birthed me, fed me, clothed me, bathed me, drove me places, drove me crazy, loved me in their own weird ways, sat next to me watching Perry Mason and the Walt Disney Show and 100 other bizarre stories (Hogan’s Heroes? Car 54 Where Are you? McHale’s Navy? It’s a long list.) They introduced me to Beethoven and Bach, to Hitchcock and Dickens, to the organ and piano, to Crostic puzzles and Solitaire, to almonds and raisins and sour cream (now yogurt) and bananas. They are inextricably and indelibly part of me and my job is to still thank them and remember them and enjoy the world on their behalf.

And tonight, I did it all.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Passion, Purpose, Profession

First week of school and Friday has a face again. The always pleasurable 8th grade jazz classes, the two energetic 5-year old classes, the ritual potato chips with the week’s leftovers for Friday lunch, the constant delight of Singing Time and two 4th grade classes to finish off the day (here the energy begins to sag—sorry, 4th graders!). The weird satisfaction of ticking off names at carpool time and then it’s off to the Jewish Home for my end-of-the-week sing with my constant friends Fran, Edie and more who have become as necessary to my life as bread.
And then back in the car heading home with the feeling that the week has been well-spent, rich with music, dance, laughter, friendship, work that’s low on the economic scale but topping the charts in spirit and worthiness. I saw a chart on Facebook (below) and it was a nice summary of this life—passion, purpose, profession, mission, vocation all sharing the same cozy room together.
Home around 5:30, write down the day’s lessons, check the round of e-mails and Facebook and blog and such, see what the refrigerator suggests for dinner and look forward to a video with popcorn. Tonight William Powell and Ginger Rogers in an obscure old film.
And so ends the first week of school, the big wheel starting to turn and gain its own momentum and hit its rhythmic groove. Why do we ever think freedom means no schedules or obligations? My freedom is a life-giving groove of a schedule, each day with a particular face and name and character. A life where my obligations are my pleasures, my purpose and also my profession.
Happy weekend to all!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hold Up the Mirror

There’s an old fairy tale—don’t ask me which one— in which the hideous monsters are defeated by the hero holding up a mirror. When they see their own grotesque faces, they die from the shock. Now that’s an aikido move worth learning. But it is perhaps naïve to think that monsters that cultivate their own ludicrous features and feed all the devils inside of them would be aghast at finally seeing their face. But maybe.
There are monstrous people amongst us filled with ugly ideas and bad intentions. It has taken me a long time to accept and try to understand that. But what I can’t accept is that such people be given a public platform to spit out their venom and that so many people revel in the show, give encouragement and support and energy and money. I’d like to think that the entertainment value will wear down and the constant vomiting of outrage will finally fly back in the perpetrator’s face and people will awaken from their drunken slumber. But I have been warned before to never underestimate the stupidity of people and it has proven so sadly true.
You may have guess that I am talking about Trump.
I opened a page at random in Martin Prechtel’s book The Smell of Rain on Dust and came upon this lovely paragraph:
Beauty is anything seen, felt, or realized that charms or delights the better part of us into wanting to live on, in order to see, feel and understand more without the scared part of us being in charge of what it wants the world to be. …we must now get to the real work of life …with our creations of beautiful music, singing, eloquence, plant growing, beautiful food, acrobatics, dancing, woodwork, communal give giving, weaving, knitting, spinning and so on in every kind of well-done creations to gift to the world.
Amidst all the posturing and outrageous statements and hate-mongering is this scared little boy incapable of contacting the beautiful part of himself. He is worthy of compassion— except for the possibility that he could be the leader of the United States. (Frankly, I think he will implode. I mean the guy is pissing off Fox News!!!). But that’s a thorny road, when compassion and understanding can become dangerous if we are too naïve.
I’m imagining that all the rope the media attention is giving him will spur him too yet more outrageousness until he starts to get tangled up. But meanwhile, let’s hold up some mirrors here. If he won’t recoil from his own hideous features, maybe some of his supporters might. Let us reveal, notice, create beauty, feed the fun and not the fear, teach children to love themselves and love each other and love the world. That will be the mirror we will hold up, the card we lay down that will trump Trump. May it be so!