Friday, November 30, 2018

Life at the Movies

When was the last time you went to a movie and the audience applauded at the end? (Perhaps these days, the question is, “When was the last time you went to a movie in a movie theater?!”)
Hollywood was pulling all the right strings in the movie I went to tonight and you could complain that you were being manipulated, but hey, isn’t that exactly what art does? Asks you to “suspend disbelief” and get swept up into a world? And if that world is the 60’s in the U.S. and the characters are multi-dimensional and complex and the acting is extraordinary and they’re traveling around parts of the country and the music is (sometimes) great and there is believable and deeply moving transformations happening with each of the two main characters, well, those are precisely the right strings for me. I accompanied the applause with unabashed tears and though it diminishes it all to call it a “feel-good” movie, that’s mostly how people felt it and what’s wrong with that? Couldn’t we all use a little feel-good after two years of “What the hell?!!!!”

So treat yourself and may I suggest, go to an actual movie theater and if it’s a single screen or old neighborhood theater not in a mall, extra points. Don’t wait for it on Netflicks and watch it alone in your home. Maybe go with a whole group of friends, dinner before and dessert after and re-live it again in your conversation about favorite parts.

Oh, would you like to know the name of the movie? Well, there’s a color in the title and another noun that has to do with reading. Good luck and enjoy!

Hedge School

In a conversation yesterday, the way four Universities had done me wrong came up. I was doing my best to play the game and fit the Orff training into these institutions and in each case, ended up unappreciated, misunderstood and dismissed—figuratively and literally. The deep lesson is that what the Orff approach was offering and my own view about what education should mean simply didn’t blend with University thinking— and much to their shame, I might add. In each case, our course was successful, meeting the needs of the students beyond anyone’s expectations and making money for the school, but the fact was that the ruling powers didn’t care. If they randomly decided they needed to clean the dorms a week earlier, it was up to us to change our schedules. And so on.

Ah, me and school. We both need each other, in different ways, but the relationship is often so contentious. But not always. I went to a college where I got college credit for canoeing, bird-watching, hitchhiking and wine-tasting in France. I’ve worked most of my life in a school where I teach barefoot, the kids call me by my first name and no one makes me turn in my lesson plans.
And the music I’ve studied has often not been in university classrooms, but under trees in Ghana, on verandahs in Bali, in hotel rooms in Bulgaria, in my teacher’s home in India, in church basements and rec centers, in summer camps with gurgling streams and redwood trees, in elementary school gyms on Saturday.

I mentioned Michael Meade’s book The Genius Myth in yesterday’s post and found this intriguing passage:

The ancient Irish storytellers used to wander from village to village using old stories to bring life lessons to light for both the young and the old. After the colonization of Ireland, there were severe punishments for even using the native language. The old tellers had to pull the young people out of sight, often behind the hedges in order to share the wisdom of stories. Thus, “hedge school” named a moveable place of sudden education being offered amidst the dangers of life.

“A moveable place of sudden education offered amidst life’s dangers.” Yeah! That well describes our summer Orff training. And though disappointed, bitter and angry at the time these institutions closed their doors to us, in the end, I had to thank them. For my search for the right place landed me at Hidden Valley Music Seminars in beautiful Carmel Valley, a retreat center run by a marvelous, warm, wise man who gets what we do and loves it. It is indeed a retreat from life’s dangers and idiocies and bureaucracies and you can walk through the grounds and find people working out dances on redwood decks, playing recorder under eucalyptus trees, singing out in the field.

And another great center of Orff training, though connected politically with the staid and conservative Mozarteum Conservatory in Salzburg, is off in a field away from the city’s center with a view of the mountains and alongside the Allee where Julie Andrews skipped her way to the Von Trapp home. Another Hedge School where folks from all over the world come to study this dangerous pedagogy that dares to promote thinking and feeling and community bonding.

So in your face, Universities! I’d still like to believe that you could be large and wise enough to include a hedge school alongside your ivory towers, but I’m not holding my breath. And note: I’ve managed to achieve world-wide notoriety as an accomplished teacher in my field, get to travel the world over to teach, will soon publish my 10th book, have been the Keynote Speaker at various conferences—all without a Masters Degree or a PhD. If you wanted to give me an Honorary Doctorate, I wouldn’t refuse it. But meanwhile, I’m content and grateful to keep teaching behind the hedges wherever people are hungry to discover who else they could be alone and who else we all could be together.

And get University credit, of course.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Life with the Lizards

If you’re looking for a great non-fiction read, may I recommend A GENERAL THEORY OF LOVE? Published in 2000 by three doctors (Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon), it is a perfect combination of engaging writing joined with important information about the science of human emotion. I was flipping through it the other day and stopped to notice two passages:

Reptiles don’t have an emotional life. The reptilian brain permits rudimentary interactions; displays of aggression and courtship, mating and territorial defense.

This quote is in the context of discussing our own reptilian brain (a term coined by Paul McClean that is not used so much these days). It is the brain stem that controls our vital instinctive functions of breath, heartbeat, swallowing, etc. It is the part that will react when confronted by danger with the three F’s—fight, flight or freeze. (Some have added feed and another “F” word, but this is a Family Blog Post, so I’ll just use the above three). J When fear is purposefully manufactured as an ongoing threat, it blossoms into three more F’s—Fundamentalism, Fanaticism, Fascism. When observing the arrested emotional development of our Toddler-in-Chief, one can see only the most rudimentary of social interactions—aggression, dubious courtship with hookers, forced attempts at mating from Supreme Court justices, a country run by reptiles. And it gets worse:

Mammals bear their young live; they nurse, defend, and rear them while they are immature. Mammals, in other words, take care of their own. (emphasis by the authors) Rearing and caretaking are so familiar to humans that we are apt to take them for granted, but these capacities were once novel—a revolution in social evolution. The most common reaction a reptile has to its young is indifference; it lays its eggs and walks or slithers away. Mammals form close-knit, mutually nurturing social groups—families—in which members spend time touching and caring for one another. Parents nourish and safeguard their young, and each other, from the hostile world (emphasis mine). A mammal will sometimes risk its life to protect a child from attack. A garter snake or a salamander watches the death of its kin with an unblinking eye (emphasis mine)

None of this should be surprising to anyone. But keep reading.

In Michael Meade’s book THE GENIUS MYTH, he tells how he once was brought in to mediate a truce between rival teenage gangs. He wisely ended up telling them a story, an old Native American tale in which a tribe moves to a new place in search of “greener grass” and leaves behind two children. The abandonment of the children, their reaction to it and the reconciliation that takes place further down the line is the crux of the story, but along the way, the troubled youths could find examples of all the things that had happened to them. The white flight to the suburbs, the broken schools with federal funds slashed under the lie “no child left behind,” the feeling of adults interested in them only as future consumers addicted to their corporation’s product— the actual true story of how we have abandoned our inner city children. And now the epidemic has spread to the suburbs. School shootings where the adults let the NRA continue unchecked and the national head of schools suggests arming teachers (more profit for the NRA), the presence of drugs everywhere, music and art programs cut, families raising their children with electronic devices. Meade remarks:

“Increasingly, the symptoms of mass societies appear in both the violent acts, depression and suicidal tendencies of young people who feel abandoned and not invited into the village of life.”

And so. Here I am reflecting on these parallel quotes from two books and then this comes across in my e-mail:

“Right now, Congress is considering a funding bill that would increase the already-bloated budget of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS and its sub-agencies ICE and CBP are President Trump's key tools for terrorizing immigrants. Just this week, they fired tear gas at children seeking asylum at the border.”

Connect the dots here. Adults with the capacity for mammalian nurturing and caring are lowering themselves into their reptilian territorial brain (the border) and firing tear gas at children!!!! As they earlier separated children from their families with the full blessing of the Head Reptile.

Friends, this is the crossed line that should have all mammals up in arms. When a culture starts attacking its own young— now physically with tear gas and tearing them away from families, along with abandoning them to their entertainment devices, drugging them to pay attention at school, disempowering the children’s caretakers (called teachers)—we have taken a giant de-evolutionary step backward into our reptilian past. Mammals are meant to take care of their own and both the mammalian brain and the neo-cortex make it clear—all children are our own.
Only a monster would purposefully harm them and another kind of monster purposeful excuse and ignore it from some Party loyalty and profit-making (NRA) incentive.

There is no question that this symptom of our contemporary sickness goes way beyond two-party politics. But only a fool would not notice which group is mounting and sustaining the attack while we sit calmly by. And then have the gall to ask the taxpayers for more money to keep harming children. When will enough be enough?

Is it time for a new bumper sticker? I’M WITH THE MAMMALS!

Simple Joys

It rained all last night, a wind-whipping storm that continued into the morning, with no let-up in sight. What to do? Why, what better time to clean my desk?  And so I did, recycling old bill receipts, past workshop contracts, flight print-outs and such. And then on to another desk piled with papers and a table with books that don’t fit on my shelves, all to the beat of the rain, sometimes vigorous, sometimes gentle.

It was a memorable moment to stand in front of some 1200 teacher colleagues from around the nation to receive a Lifetime Distinguished Service Award a couple of weeks ago. It was thrilling to bask in the applause at the end of our long-awaited Family Jazz Concert at SF Jazz in May. It was satisfying to travel to Oklahoma, Vancouver, Newark and Cincinnati to release happy music-making with hundreds of adults and children.

But it makes me just as happy—and possibly just a little bit more—to look at the clean, smooth surface of my desk and bask in the musical silence of its emptiness. Now on to re-shelving the CD’s piled up next to the piano and the music books overflowing on top of the piano. Of course, it would help if I had just one more room in our small house or a stern professional (not my wife) to tell me what to get rid of. But I’m pretty good at finding little nooks and crannies.

At least until the next rainy day comes along.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Turn to the West

Turn to the East, turn to the West, turn to the one that you love the best…”

It’s been over a year and I still can’t get over the big Sales Force Tower wart on the once beautiful face of downtown San Francisco. I get pissed off every time I see it and I can’t help but see it a lot. Then had the brilliant idea of turning the other way.

Of course, short of walking, biking or driving backwards downtown, I have no choice but to face it. But the truth of the matter is that looking West in San Francisco, I can still feel the city I’ve grown to love these past 45 years. The Sunset and Richmond Districts have been spared the High-rise Mania Disease, the great green spaces of Golden Gate Park, Legion of Honor, the Presidio and more live on unblemished by the smear of development, beautiful buildings like the USF Cathedral, Laguna Honda Hospital, the Legion of Honor Museum, the Palace of Fine Arts still carry the character of the old California architecture.

The other day, I went to Land’s End to watch the sunset and wasn’t that lovely. See for yourself.

Today, I walked the full length of Fillmore Street with its one-story shops with one-of-a-kind clever names like Hi-Ho Silver, Site for Sore Eyes, Primp Salon, Gimme Shoes, Seconds-to-Go. The Clay Theater, one of the three remaining single-screen theaters in San Francisco, still thrives, D &M Wines and Liquors was there when I briefly lived on California St. in 1973 and still is, the Fillmore Jazz Festival fills the streets each year and the mix of bookstores, gift stores, florists, health salons, antiques, restaurants, cafes, pet stores, clothing stories, art galleries, the newly-imported-from-Portland Salt & Straw Ice Cream just down the street from the good-ole-days bar and music club, the Boom-Boom Room, make it a delightful place to walk through and even shop. 

From Fillmore St., I turned towards Alta Plaza Park, with its Playground with a View and again, the turn to the West rewarded me with these sights.

My fellow elders and I love to complain about the San Francisco we once knew slowly disappearing and it’s true that rents and housing prices and carte blanch downtown high-rises are no joke. But still there is much of the city to love. Not the least of which was Forbes Magazine naming it as the most liberal city in the United States. Yeah!

I can listen to Tony Bennett sing with a clean conscience— San Francisco, those “little cable cars” may cost $8 one-way, but my heart is still with you. At least when I'm looking West.