Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Garden of Earthly Delights

Heironymous Bosch could not have imagined a hell more torturous than Yancey’s Saloon last night. A room packed wall-to-wall with enough people to give the Fire Marshall a heart attack, oxygen low and hot enough to hold a Bikhram yoga class, with 16 screens cranked at full volume assaultng you with flickering images of men running back and forth with a ball interupted by scenes of explosions, gunfire and fast cars. Sensory overload times ten thousand and worthy of hell’s fiery images of eternal torture and damnation.

I loved it.

It was the Warrior’s 7th basketball game of the semi-finals and not only couldn’t I get it on our antiquated non-cable TV, but I choose to be in the midst of the maddening crowd to get the full effect of the spectacle of modern sport. Thanks to the miracle of the human imagination, all of us vicariously were playing that game and whether or not we wore the number 30 Steph Curry jersey, we were on that court and identifying with each swish of the net, pained faces when it came from Westbrook or Durant, jubilation when it came from Thompson or Curry. Music and basketball share with sex the build-up and release and each basket a collective orgasm. The three-point variety and the two and the one. But unlike making love, the opponent’s pleasure was not a cause for celebration. By New Age standards, this is the downfall of sports, but if there is to be some ancient survival hardwiring that requires winners and losers, better basketball than war or report cards.

At halftime, I needed to escape the din and went outside to get some fresh air with the smokers. Then decided to stroll down to the local bookstore and stood in the aisle reading poetry. From the heat of the battle to quiet poems about the songs of sparrows. Quite a contrast and much needed. But then back into the fray and what was truly a magnificent game, filled with the tension of the Warriors coming from behind, widening the gap to 11 points ahead and then watching it narrowed again to 4 in the last two minutes. Three foul shots by Steph had the place on its feet and his 3-pointer in the last 30 seconds released such a roar that my ears are still ringing.

Had Bosch walked into the scene, I’m sure he would have revised his painting of Hell, but for me and some 300 others, it was a modern-day Garden of Earthly Delights (Bosch’s title for his painting of Heaven), it was the way we lose our self into the roar and feel lifted up off of this earth, a collective sexual release at its finest, the nerves and muscles tingling with electric ecstasy and the aftermath of the cigarette in bed knowing it was good for us all. Well, not exactly all. Not the Oklahoma Thunder team and their fans.

But a good time to re-invoke the etymology of competition. Com= with, petition= a prayer to a particular god. The two teams are playing against each other to bring out together their prayer to the same god, the one of the body’s intelligence in a particular set of skills trained to the highest degree. Both teams played magnificently and at the end, amidst the jubilation and disappointment, you could feel Curry and Durant hug each other with great love and respect. That’s the game at it’s finest.

On to the finals!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Size Matters

In the past few weeks, there has been an inexplicable spike in my blog readership. What used to look like a small village summary of page views has become a New York City skyline (see photo). The usual 60 to 100 readers daily has jumped to 400 to 600. What’s going on?

Someone suggest that “bots” have hooked into the system. I don’t exactly understand it, but I think that these are some robotic search engines looking for certain key words to report back to Google or some such thing. So even my most inspired writing will mean nothing to their narrow minds and cold hearts. I have a little plan (keep reading) to see if that’s the case.

But meanwhile, I’ve noticed how things were in danger of shifting inside me thinking that 600 people are reading instead of 60. I became a little self-conscious and started wondering what they might want to hear and what might offend them. I became, just for a moment, concerned about keeping my readership instead of simply saying whatever was on my mind. And that’s death to a writer or a musician or an artist. In the end, it hasn’t actually changed what I write or how I think about writing it, but it was interesting to consider that attending to the god of ambition, the one who defines success with numbers, is a dangerous path.

I’ve always felt like a microscopic dot in the landscape of national discourse and confident that my thoughts and experiences can contribute something of value, have longed for an expanded audience. And I still do. “Be careful what you wish for” rings true here and truth be told, the intimacy of my audiences is clearly part of my path and something quite lovely. My classes with kids range from 10 to 20, summer courses for teachers 20 to 30, one-day workshops 30 to 60, conferences 60 to 160, Keynote speeches between 100 and 1,000. My largest conference class was in Texas (where else?) with 750 people, the smallest course in Northwest Spain with 4. Jazz performances have mostly been in house concerts, small clubs, intimate rented halls.

In short, almost all of my work takes place in small, intimate settings. And intimacy is something I value. It’s not wholly connected to numbers—Keith Jarrett’s solo playing in Davies Symphony Hall can have that quality and someone told me that Stevie Wonder’s sold-out show to tens of thousands felt like you were in his living room. But there is a critical mass, a line you cross from the warmth of intimacy to the noise of spectacle. The shift from the jazz club to the symphony-size crowds (Keith Jarrett notwithstanding) loses something in the translation. Likewise, the Orff workshop. Size matters. And small is beautiful.

Okay, here’s my plan determining the weird change in my blog readership. If the 500 new readers are actual breathing humans, take a moment today or tomorrow and go to my TEDx talk. It’s on my website (www.douggoodkin.com) or you can just Google my name with TEDx. If I suddenly see a spike in page views, I’ll have a clue that this is real. The talk is 15 minutes long and if you’re reading these blogs, you theoretically should be interested. But even if you watch for 30 seconds, I think it still counts as a page view.

Another strategy is to see if the bots have grabbed hold of the title and skyrocketed the blog to the millions out there looking for sex on the Internet.

In any case, I’ll simply keep doing what I’m doing, no matter who or how many are on the other end. Happy reading!

The Virtue of Naughtiness

How can we improve matters if we know nothing of the human being? All the ideas for improving education may be inspired by the best will in the world, but they possess no knowledge of the human being.”
- Rudolf Steiner: The Kingdom of Childhood (p. 3)

“The first thing to be done is to discover the true nature of the child and then assist him in his natural development. “ 
- Maria Montessori: The Secret of Childhood (p. 136)

The true north and south of education was established over a century ago by these two geniuses—Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori. Each established educational pedagogies that thrive to this day in countries around the world— Steiner schools are called Waldorf Schools, Montessori—well, Montessori Schools.

In some ways, these two giants couldn’t have been more different. Steiner a German-Austrian mystic philosopher, Montessori an Italian physician. One leaning to the fantasy life of children and kindling the imagination, the other to mastering the practical tasks of life and developing the intellect through the senses. (This a simplistic summary). But both agreed that without a clear vision of what a human being is and specifically, who children are and how they change with each developmental stage, all education is doomed to fail the deepest needs of the children, teaching only obedience, compliance, right answers and no time for questions or matters of the child’s soul.

Montessori’s insights came from astute observation of children in various settings. Steiner’s came partly from some early spiritual revelations. He begins his study of children in the time before they’re born.

"At birth, the spirit, descending from the spiritual world into the material world, is suddenly transported into a completely different world, with the new experience of having a body to carry about, acts as we see the child act.” (This and succeeding quotes from The Kingdom of Childhood, pp 7-8)

Pause here a moment. Yesterday talked with my daughter and she entertained me with the latest stories of mischief from my 4 ½ year old granddaughter Zadie. We’re amassing quite a collection. On one hand, we love it that she’s such a spirited little bundle of energy, but it does make parenting—and even grandparenting—challenging sometimes. Our adult self calmly dispenses advice, “Make wise choices. Think before you act.” Dream on! Then it escalates to “Why would you do something like that? Do you see how this makes us feel?!” And then sometimes on to “ZADIE!!! What the f…!!!!!”

Now back to Steiner. He offers some comfort in his next two paragraphs. (Though according to my skimpy research, he himself never had children and one can only wonder how fascinating he would find his son or daughter when they put his cell phone in the toilet to see if it would float.). But for those of us raising or teaching spirited children, the good news is “It’s healthy! It’s a good sign! Enjoy!”

“In so-called 'good children,' their bodies have already become quite heavy and the spirit cannot properly take hold of the body. Such children are quiet, they do not scream and rush about. They sit still and make no noise. The spirit is not active in them because their bodies offer such resistance.

In the less well-behaved children who make a great deal of healthy noise, who shout properly and give a lot of trouble, the spirit is active. It is making use of the body. You may even regard the wild screams of the child as most enthralling. Everything about this child, even the worst naughtiness, is fascinating." (Boldface mine)

In short, naughty is the new good. In your face, Santa!


Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Truly Great

Like any red-blooded American boy growing up in the ‘50’s, I dreamed of being a soldier. I loved to play war with my friends and watched my share of war movies, which convinced me there was nothing cooler than killing the evil enemy. War was the path to pride and glory, the way to become a hero and gain the respect and adoration of all.  I remember watching a movie about the Marines, after which I circled my block on my bike some twenty times singing The Marine’s Hymn at the top of my lungs. I remember reading The West Point Story and deciding that was the place for me. For a whole two days straight, I practiced getting up early, making my bed, doing push-ups and then decided that was enough. And that was pretty much the end of my military career.

By the time I was in college, my hair was long, I painted the Peace Sign on my hippie beads and tie-dyed shirt and tried to convince the girls that I was available to Make Love Not War. The John Wayne heroism promised in the war movies was now footage of Vietnam on the TV and it was anything but glamorous. And all too real for someone of draftable age. I was rescued from life in Canada (though right now, sounds pretty good!) by a high lottery number and the end of the war close to my college graduation.

And so each Memorial Day, I can bow my head with others to honor the fallen, on both sides of any conflict. But I've seen too much to wholly embrace the honor and glory in obeying orders of the rich and powerful who send young people out to do their dirty work. The soldiers I admire can be found in the Civil Rights movement, who killed the enemy with love and prayer and non-violence. I think  of Gandhi’s grand military strategies armed with a spinning wheel, of the ferocity of Jesus proclaiming his sword of justice.

Today I choose to honor another type of warrior, one who fought for life and love and jubilant communal celebration and the flowering of the Spirit. For it was on this day, May 29th, 27 years ago, at the too-young age of 51, that my dear Orff teacher and mentor Avon Gillespie (photos above) passed back through the corridors of light to the other world and left me here to carry his work forward, to keep his memory alive in the waving grass, to point out to others the vivid air signed with his honor, to continue to clothe young people head to foot in song.

These images from Stephen Spender’s poem below, which well-captures the larger-than-life quality that people often felt in the presence of Avon. Perhaps you know someone like Avon, perhaps you yourself need reminding to never allow the traffic, noise and fog to smother your spirit. These are good thoughts for Memorial Day. Enjoy.


I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fĂȘted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.