Sunday, January 28, 2018

Keep on Laughin'

At the airport getting ready for the trip to Beijing. Not clear about Facebook/ blog policies of present-day China, so if there’s a lull here, that’s why. If indeed I’m blocked, I’ll keep writing and post when I get to Thailand. Not that anyone is going to miss me terribly, but in case anyone is wondering, that’s why. Meanwhile, another thing I found in my “Other’s Writings” folder to keep you entertained.

The following questions were set in last year's GED examination 
These are genuine answers (from 16 year olds)............and they WILL breed.

Q. Name the four seasons.
A. Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

Q. Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink.
A. Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large  pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists.

Q. How is dew formed?
A. The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire.

Q. What causes the tides in the oceans?
A. The tides are a fight between the earth and the moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins the fight

Q. What guarantees may a mortgage company insist on?
A. If you are buying a house they will insist that you are well endowed.

Q. In a democratic society, how important are elections?
A. Very important. Sex can only happen when a male gets an election.

Q.. What happens to your body as you age?
A. When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental.

Q. What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty?
A. He says goodbye to his boyhood and looks forward to his adultery.               

Q. Name a major disease associated with cigarettes.
A. Premature death.

Q. What is artificial insemination?
A. When the farmer does it to the bull instead of the cow.

Q. How can you delay milk turning sour?
A. Keep it in the cow.                                  (Simple, but brilliant)

Q. How are the main 20 parts of the body categorized? (e.g. The abdomen)
A. The body is consisted into 3 parts - the brainium, the borax and the abdominal cavity. The brainium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs and the abdominal cavity contains the five bowels: A, E, I,O,U..                (wtf!)                                                  

Q. What is the fibula?
A. A small lie.

Q. What is the most common form of birth control?
A. Most people prevent contraception by wearing a condominium            (That would work)

Q. Give the meaning of the term 'Caesarean section.'
A. The caesarean section is a district in Rome.

Q. What is a seizure?
A. A Roman Emperor.          (Julius Seizure, I came, I saw, I had a fit)

Q. What is a terminal illness?
A. When you are sick at the airport.           (Irrefutable)

Q. What does the word 'benign' mean?
A. Benign is what you will be after you be eight.   (brilliant)

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Comic Relief

After taking a look at the History of Humankind, it’s time for some comic relief. Looking through my folders on my plane ride yesterday, I came upon a series of one-liners. They made me laugh. And goodness knows, we could all use some of that! Enjoy!

1. Where there's a will, I want to be in it.
2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.
3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
4. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.
5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.
6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
8. They begin the evening news with *Good Evening,* then proceed to tell you why it isn't.
9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
10. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted paychecks.
11. In filling out an application, where it says, *In case of emergency, notify:* I put *DOCTOR.*
12. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.
13. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a
successful man is usually another woman.
14. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.
15. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
16. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.
17. There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.
18. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
19. I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.
20. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

Standing Behind You in the Starbucks Line

 I’ve been doing some light reading lately. A book called Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. The subtitle is: A Brief History of Humankind. Now there’s a topic to tackle in 470 pages.

Miraculously, he does it expertly, tracing all the revolutions in thought, social structures and technology that brought us to where we are today and are responsible for the good, the bad and the ugly of our daily experience. I’m sure when you order your coffee at Starbucks that you’re not wondering about everything that happened to bring you this moment. But the fact is is that without the Cognitive Revolution 40,000 years ago, the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago, the first Empire 4,000 years ago, the Alphabetic/ literacy Revolution 2,500 years ago, the Scientific Revolution and the rise of Capitalism 500 years ago, the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago and the Consumer Revolution 50 years ago, you would not be sitting in a chair sipping coffee, reading a book, texting your friend, using the flush toilet bathroom and thinking the thoughts you are thinking and feeling the things you are feeling and wondering while checking out the news whether it all would have been best to just keep hunting and gathering these past 40,000 years or so.

It’s quite a tour-de-force and one of the more provocative books I’ve read in a long time, making me pause to consider that three things I’ve mostly considered evil have actually helped unify humankind in strange ways.

For example, money. Really? Well, here is a currency and universal language we all equally understand. We mostly are willing to take it from and give it to anyone without inquiring about their religious or political beliefs. So we are united in our understanding that money is what will help us make some kind of exchange.

And empires. Really, empires?!! Well, the genocidal damage they caused is incontrovertible, but anyone celebrating the ideal of a multi-cultural unified diverse society, a republic of E Pluribus Unum, has to admit that empires made that idea and ideal possible. Otherwise, we’d all be small warring factions hunkered down in our narrow tribal identities and beliefs.

And finally, religion. Huh? Well consider that a pilgrim could go to Rome or Mecca and pray next to someone from North Africa, Lebanon, Brazil, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, folks in all those countries united in their celebration of Christmas or Ramadan. And the Muslim precept to offer hospitality to strangers and the Christian invitation to love your neighbor without getting to choose who that neighbor is.

Of course, the way human beings have twisted money, empires and religion to serve their own selfish agendas and hunger for power and dominion hardly needs to be questioned. But I found it interesting to think about the other side of these things.

Now the one field Mr. Harari leaves entirely to the side is the arts. Understandably so. The arts mostly are confirming, reflecting and occasionally opening new doors within cultures, but so far, they haven’t had the power to change the face of the planet. But that doesn’t mean they still can’t help. That’s the next chapter myself and my colleagues are trying to write.

Meanwhile, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Sapiens the next time you go to the coffee shop. And discuss it with the person behind you in line.

Icelandic Sweater

The intricacies of the human mind never fail to amaze me. There is so much bubbling on the surface, but yet more interesting is what’s bubbling below the surface. Like those remarkable electric fish in the depths of the ocean that one rarely sees, but are part of the ecology nonetheless.

So arriving back from Michigan last night, today is all about preparing for my next trip to China tomorrow. And I’ve been baffled about what to pack. China is cold, cold, cold in February, so it seems logical to bring the winter coat I just wore to Michigan. But from China, I continue on to Bangkok, Thailand and then New Delhi, India and it’s a whole different weather there. That bulky coat will not fit comfortably in my suitcase. What to do?

And so the trustworthy formula of “Problem, Incubation, A-ha!!” was set in motion. It’s truly a remarkable process that rarely fails. As follows:

Problem: The mind names and wrestles with some problem that demands a solution. The upper layer of conscious thought examines it from multiple angles, but as of yet, can’t see a way through it. Be it a scientist on the verge of a new theory, a novelist mired down in plot development or a parent trying to figure out how to get Julie to soccer, Johnny to gymnastics and still make it to the meeting at work, the wheels are turning and though they appear to be spinning in the mud and stuck in a rut, something is happening out of sight.

Incubation: Unsolvable at the moment by the willful mind, the whole thorny ball dives below the surface and continues to work in the subconscious, in the worlds of day dream or night dream. We don’t see it or feel it or hear it nor should we. “We” need to get out of the way to let the tangle untangle itself without our muscular interference.

A-ha!!: And then, if we’re lucky, it leaps up from the depths like a diver out-of-breath breaking through the surface of the water. “Eureka!!” Problem solved and we don’t even know who to thank.

And so I went to sleep and in the wee early hours of the morning, the phrase (or more properly, the image) “Icelandic sweater!” came into my dream life. I awoke, walked to my closet and there it was, the wool sweater gifted to me at an Icelandic Orff workshop in 1995 and one I’ve kept, but rarely wear in San Francisco. With my black Northface jacket, warm enough (I hope) for Beijing’s wintry blasts and yet foldable in my suitcase for my next stops in warmer climes. And with the extra perk of a warm (emotionally) association with that memorable workshop in Iceland and connected by an unbroken thread of international Orff teaching in the 23 years that followed.

So the morals of the story:

1.     Trust the unfathomable depths of human ingenuity.
2.     Choose your problems wisely. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Civil Outrage

A friend on Facebook was recently lamenting that he was feeling more miscommunication with both friends and strangers living under this new authoritarian government. And so the question comes up:  How to maintain a civil discourse and respectful interactions in a time when civility from our leaders has descended to the swamp level and every day goes lower? How to keep the needed level of outrage without it leaking into personal relationship and our own psychological health?

Yesterday I gave a one-day Orff workshop at a Conference that was mostly held in the DeVos Conference Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A building named for a person who had money and was put in charge of the souls of our children simply because she was rich. I was here to help music teachers improve their teaching and while some of that meant the details of creating fun, inspiring and musically satisfying activities, the greater mission for me always is to help them to remember what their real job is. To give their children the opportunities discover and reveal the beauty inside them waiting to be released, to see their children, to know them, to praise and bless them. And thus, to love them. Children who are seen, known, honored, respected, valued, praised, blessed and loved are children who feel welcomed and now have the possibilities to see, know, praise, bless and love their fellow students. Children who are firm in their sense of belonging have no need to harm, insult, dismiss, ignore, disdain others, have the possibility of growing to be the future citizens we need, people firm in their sense of belonging who have both the curiosity and generosity to invite people different from them into that belonging. And by belonging I mean a proper belonging  where you don’t have to check your thoughts, feelings, religious beliefs, sexual identity, etc. at the door to be allowed into the gang, country club, good ole boys club, etc.

But right next door to where I was teaching was a building named for a woman who supports giving taxpayer’s money to a public charter “Christian” school in Indiana that explicitly forbids children with any connection to gay or bi-sexual people (ie, themselves or their parents) from attending their school. A woman who has no qualifications whatever to weigh in on effective education besides her big money background and her willingness to rubber-stamp the Conservative agenda (Conservative as in conserving white privilege and big money privilege and heterosexual privilege and etc.) and is now actively seeking to reduce funding for arts programs and such. How to express proper outrage over this betrayal of our children’s needs while maintaining civility?

Well, that’s my challenge in my workshops. I’m not there to push my views and my first job is to offer great musical material (the what), a dynamic process of presenting and developing the material (the how) and the food-for-thought about the big pedagogical ideas behind it all (the why). I take that seriously and believe I do it well. But interlaced with the activities are the comments and yes, sometimes making the connection with the current political scene without being too overt.

For example, in demonstrating music’s unique demand that voices, rhythms, text, dynamics, etc. blend into a unified whole and the beauty of feeling a small part of something larger and wondrous, I also show how one person has the power to bring down 100 people if they don’t align themselves with the community task. So I ask everyone to sing Twinkle Little Star and miraculously, if you think about it, they all sing in the same key at the same time with the same text with blended voices. They then sing again and I sing out-of-tune and what was once beautiful suddenly is not. One person can do that. Next time I sing at a different tempo. Same effect. Next time with a different text. Also. Next time I sing very loudly so my voice dominates the others (and even more so because I have the power to hold a microphone) and comment,” You see how in this case, I was like a big bully thinking my voice was more important than yours and ruining the feeling in the room by make it all about me, me, me.  Like someone pushing someone else out of the way to get his photo taken.” A few giggles from those who remembered Trump pushing aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro at the photo shoot. That’s the kind of political comments I make, so people can see that act from the Twinkle Little Star point of view.

But I was in Michigan after all, a state the disappointed me (and so many others) in the 2016 election, and I wasn’t feeling the same kind of energy coming back to me that I did the week before in Oregon.  Should I shut up? Heck no!! But I did need to win over their hearts and minds, first and foremost from treating them as I treat the children, giving them the opportunities to express themselves beyond the norm and feel valued and welcomed and surprised by their own beauty. As the afternoon went on, I could feel that happening and by the time we ended with the stirring Build Me a Mountain song, I felt them singing with great passion my verse “Gonna speak some truth here, from a lot of lies. Gonna speak some truth here, so we all can rise…” Yeah!

And then ended with some final words:

At the end of the day, it’s not about this group versus that group, the constant squabble between political parties, religious groups, ethnic groups, etc. It’s about what we need to do to make it on this planet, how to be together to not only survive, but to thrive. And as people who were called by the noble profession of teaching, I believe you signed up to believe in the promise of young children and how to bring them into their best selves, slowly, with patience and long years of believing in who they are. Next time you hear of a decision being made or a policy proposed, think of your children, visualize their faces, imagine how they would vote. They don’t have the power to weigh in on the conversation about their own future and they’re depending upon us to speak on their behalf. Let’s take that seriously.

Uh-huh. Oh yeah. All right. That’s all.”

So that's my version of Civil Outrage. What's yours?