Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Goodkin Wenceslas

As a kid, I always got a kick out of thinking that removing one g put me into the song Good King Wenceslas. All these years later, finally got to use this in a parody/poem. Who knows where these things come from, but walking through Golden Gate Park, I found myself imagining the first line and off I went, walking and singing and speaking it into the Notes feature on my i-Phone so I wouldn’t forget it.

So here it is, probably as fitting a way as any to close this, my 9thyear of this Blog— still a music teacher, still traveling and still confessing more than anyone probably wants to hear. Thanks to all you readers who stick with it and wishing you all the best in 2020! 

1)   Goodkin once loved Santa Claus,
       Loved his jolly spirit.
      Pledged that this would be his cause,
            To help bring others near it. 

              Now that feels a good league hence,
              Far from generous giving.
              Living with Trump and Mike Pence,
              (If you can call that liv—ing.)

2)   Goodkin went once and looked out,
              As the year was turning.
              Looking back he heard the shouts,
              ‘Midst flooding and the burn-ing.

              “We won’t take it any more!
                The ignoring and denying. 
                Disdain for the victimed poor
                Deafness to kids cry-ing.”

3)   In the tyrant’s steps some trod
              Bringing down democracy
              Like peas sheltered in a pod
              Hiding in hypocrisy. 

              Therefore all good folks unite
              Wealth or rank possessing
              Let us join in the good fight
              Bring healing and some bless—ing.

4)   Those who now can sing this song.
              With these words can read it.
              Let’s pledge now it won’t take long
              Before we start to heed it. 

              May truth and love be our reward,
              And small things feel like plenty.
              May our vision be restored
              Return to 20/20. 

The Year in Review

Here is two-faced Janus looking back over the year— and wasn't it glorious! Included here, in random order, are trips to Puerto Rico, Singapore, New Jersey, Salzburg, Verona, Istanbul, Lapland, Sweden, Halifax, New Orleans, Carmel Valley, Salt Lake City, Palm Springs, group shots from my 50th high school reunion, men's group, Orff courses, Orff Interns, school, family and beyond. Most are interesting to very few people, but hopefully a nice break from all the words on the year's Blogposts. A fond farewell to 2019 before Janus' other face looks forward to 2020!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

9 to 5

Or rather, 9 by 5— 9 hours driving, mostly on the I-5 Interstate returning to SF from Palm Springs. From the breathtaking open skies at the beginning past the exit to Mt. Baldy, home of so many memorable Zen retreats, to a traffic jam around Frazier Lake where L.A. folks want to sled and maybe ski?, past the sign to Pea Soup Andersens (holding its own amidst the hostile takeovers of fast food joints off every highway exit, Anywhere, U.S.A.), through a torrential rain just as night descended. Had hoped to dive into an audio book, but us oldsters still struggling with the technology and gave up and went for Podcasts instead. 

One of them included some pretty interesting research of psychologists who randomly gave one of each two people playing Monopoly twice as much money at the beginning and two turns for every one of their opponent’s one. They noticed that their behavior grew quite aggressive and cocky and when interviewing the inevitable winners at the end, each attributed it to their superior playing skill, completely ignoring the big headstart they were given. That’s some important information. They conducted another experiment watching how much candy people took from a big bowl meant for children and noticed that those with the highest economic status took the most. Knowing some kind and generous wealth people, I’d be cautious about drawing too hasty a conclusion, but there are some deep truths hidden in the culture where so many people born on third base think they hit a triple and that a life built on amassing wealth feeds greed more than generosity. 

Two other take-aways from the last 9 hours:

1)   After trying several Podcasts that I found remarkably underwhelming, I’m determined to achieve my goal of starting my own. My first New Year’s resolution.

2)   The most interesting sign we passed:   “Pleasant Valley State Prison.”

Now to unpack.

Palm Springs Postcard

"Having a good time. Wish you were here." 

Realized that these last few entries have not given any kind of picture of where we are. Between spending hours in the hot tub and swimming in the warm pool with the grandchildren, plus cooking, reading, games, a few hikes out in some surrounding parks, haven’t felt like I’ve gotten to know Palm Springs at all. But yesterday had the good sense to simply walk around the neighborhood and it is certainly a unique place. 

For starters, it’s out in the desert, so front lawns are not grass and bushes, but rocks, cacti and palm trees. All houses are one-story probably because of the heat-rises law and though each day here in December has chilled air amidst the sun, I’m told that the summers are brutal. Streets are wide and the surrounding, now snow-capped, mountains provide a lovely frame for the whole setting. Many streets are named for entertainers/ celebrities, many of whom (I believe) vacationed here to get away from Hollywood—Gene Autry, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope Way and the like, Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway. Like the Southwest, the sky is immense and larger yet as one drives in the outskirts. 

Last night, finally strolled on the downtown strip, Palm Canyon Way, which predictably was filled with restaurants, stores, hotels and was jam-packed with the holiday crowds. There were stars on the street naming a long, long list of yet more celebrities who had some kind of relationship with the place. I’ve heard that Palm Springs is a gay Mecca resort, though that sense didn’t dominate with the crowds we saw. Yesterday we hiked up a small mountain not too far out and saw a mountain goat framed against the sky, looked down on the sprawling city complete with its many golf courses. Something for everyone here.

Today the last day of our lovely week, a perfect place to be with the grandkids and yet more that we didn’t have time to explore. I came expecting little and am leaving impressed with the possibilities. The pools are just perfect for the kids—and I enjoyed them as well.

Not the most inspired travelogue here, but just a little taste of where we’ve been for getting up to pack and prepare our last breakfast together as an extended family of the decade. Grateful for it all and with a world-record time together with Zadie and Malik, Kerala and Ronnie, Karen and Talia—11 days—ready to return to a quieter and more solitary life in San Francisco. Reunite with the piano, my bike, my little routines and soon turn to my final six months at school. On we go!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Rhyme and Reason

One marker of family vacations is the leisure and good sense to play games. Such a fun way to be together—even when the competitive streaks emerge in colors just a bit too bold. In the past week, we’ve played Ghost, Hangman, Twenty Questions, Boggle and I’ve continued my solitary Crostics. Also card games like War, Go Fish, Trash, 5 Crowns and my usual Solitaire. And it struck me that the first category are all about words and the second about numbers. The Rhyme and Reason of human intelligences. 

School as we do it at my school goes far, far beyond the 3R’s, but words and numbers remain at the center of success both in and out of school. And games are a great way to cultivate them—with sociability, fun, challenge and discovery about how each of these human faculties work. I recently discovered a cafĂ© near my house that is piled high with Board games and folks go to play with friends or strangers. Fun! It’s on my list of new things to do in San Francisco. 

Any good English teacher will tell you to stick with one theme and develop it and resist too many side roads. I began wanting to simply praise games as a great way to be with people and develop one’s intelligence. But thinking about Rhyme and Reason enticed me down a dark path that we need to light up with our continued concern and understanding. 

In short, our recent play version of The Phantom Tollbooth talks about the banishment of Rhyme and Reason from the land and the chaos that results. Written in 1961, its warnings remain so sadly relevant. Here we are with a so-called leader who not only displays a 2-year old emotional intelligence with his tantrums and an ADHD 4-year old level of impulse control with his tweets, but also models an impaired Rhyme faculty with his 2nd-4thgrade vocabulary and command of language and an incapacity for Reason with his climate change denials, also at a level with… well, I don’t want to insult the 2nd-4thgraders. As above, so below— a cardinal truth of leadership and how it can lift up and inspire or dumb down and give power to ignorance and stupidity. Amidst the complete lack of any moral compass, this ongoing flogging of Rhyme and Reason is just one of the many ways we are suffering. 

But we flexible humans also have the capacity to resist and refuse, to rise beyond bad models, to awaken amidst all of Fox News’ attempts to put us to sleep and I hope these resolves will be at the top of most (why not all?) American’s New Year’s Resolutions.

Meanwhile, I’m going to play cards with my grandchildren.

Friday, December 27, 2019

To Save and To Savor

Finding a new poet is a bit like discovering an unreleased Hitchcock film or unknown Mozart score. If you like his or her style, point of view, ideas, imagery, great pleasure awaits you. And so I felt when I stumbled into the poet Jack Gilbert.

Having read a book of his poems, he’s not quite as consistently engaging as Mary Oliver or clever as Billy Collins or as thought-provoking as Wendell Berry, but he does hit the gold of a few great lines in many of his poems and generally does justice to the great themes of mortality, love, loss and more. 

In the poem that first attracted my attention, Brief for the Defense,he opens with:

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies are not starving someplace, they are starving somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils. 

That’s a strong beginning that certainly gets you attention. And then the surprise of:

But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.

And follows this idea later in the poem:

We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. …we must admit there will be music despite everything…

Now that’s a worthy theme. The conversation between fixing the broken world and enjoying it, between saving it and savoring it. In fact, the very theme I invoked in my Blog description when I began this 9 years ago (worth a re-read off to the right). It could be easy to feel your gratitude for food on the table, a roof over your ahead, enough money to rent a vacation home in Palm Springs with a hot tub and pool as a kind of privilege in an unjust world, to make “injustice the only measure of our attention.” It would also be easy (for some—never has been for me) to take injustice off the table altogether and just concentrate on balancing your bio-rhythms and savoring your organic vegetables. 

So to keep both balls up in the air and juggle them in your own particular way is one of the many difficult tasks we humans are charged with. Today it’s likely that I’ll sign some political petition on e-mail and then go off with the grandchildren into Joshua Tree State Park and exult in the blessing of silence and space and sun. 

And you?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Piece by Piece

You know you’re really on vacation when this is the biggest accomplishment of your day: 

A Simple Day

Christmas began with a miracle. Two kids, aged 4 and 8, happily playing in a hot tub waiting for their Dad to wake up so they could open presents. Not a flicker of impatience. 

Then the big event and the squeals of delight that Santa seemed to know just what they wanted— the longed for, the needed, the invitation to try something new. A big breakfast and out into the world on a sunny day, savoring it amidst the rain predicted for the next two. Off to Indian Canyon and joining a surprising number of folks who had the good sense to walk amidst cacti and palm trees for a 3 to 4 mile hike. Malik telling us his story about a red chicken to encourage him when his 4-year old legs got tired. Zadie, that sometimes wonderful big sister, giving him a piggyback when his energy flagged later in the hike. But mostly both of them enjoying the gifts of the near-desert with the adults who love them the most. 

    Then home to the pool for a few hours of non-stop happiness, Malik with his new water wings and Zadie with her new inner tube which allowed her to float around after the next steps after beginning to master the Australian crawl. I think of Suzuki Roshi’s wise advice when it comes to child-raising (and classroom management): 

     “The way to control a cow is to give her a bigger meadow to roam in.”  

     And Whitman’s deep insight:

     Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
     It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.

    Well, we’re not going to sleep out (desert nights are cold), but kids are much happier roaming around outdoors in big spaces than inside a car for 10 hours or inside a classroom for 10 years. Imagine an entire day with barely a single reminder to the grandkids to “behave themselves!”

    But on we went to a delicious fajita dinner and then the kids left the table and were so happily engaged, Zadie weaving a pot-holder and Malik building a little city and road with his new wooden toy and cars. A good-night story and the day was done. No guiding stars to announce a miraculous birth nor three wise men starting off on their journey to bestow gifts. Just the simple pleasures of time well-spent with people well worth spending it with. 

    Writing this on the tomorrow become today and the rain indeed has arrived. So now we will try on our indoor selves. Perhaps a jigsaw puzzle, play our new 5 Crowns game, drawing, reading, singing and maybe an afternoon movie. 

      Or hot tub in the rain anyone?

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

'Tis the Night

‘Tis the night before Christmas in our Air B ‘n’ B
With Malik, Karen, Kerala, Tals, Zadie, Ronnie 
The stockings are hung in this house in Palm Springs
Where the night’s filled with stars and the desert wind sings.

And inside the house, generations they gather
For the family vacation where nothing else matters.
But cooking and swimming and readings and walks
And touring and tickling and TV and talks.

Where days they are warm and the nights they are cold
Where grandparents feel young and the grandkids feel old.
Where the jokes they are funny and the music is groovy.
Where we surf Netflix for a good Christmas movie. 

Where no one is feeling down in the mouth
Only wondering if Santa will show up down South.
Where happiness reigns and we shoo out the blues
By vowing each day that we won’t watch the news. 

The presents are gathered ‘neath the palm tree
Lots for the kids and perhaps one for me
Which suits me just fine, not much do I need
And it’s the right time to downsize on greed. 

For it’s clear that the greatest gifts are both love and time
And music and reason and laughter and rhyme.
The things with no price-tags in this large land of plenty
May all good rise up in the year 2020!

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Tree in the Forest

Yesterday our 38thneighborhood Christmas caroling party that we host and wasn’t that wonderful? Old neighbors since moved away who were there at the first come back yet again, new neighbors, alums from school, 10 young kids including my grandchildren—the tradition lives on and gloriously so. And then boarding the N-Judah bus, our version of drive-by singing, riding 8 blocks belting out Jingle Bells and more singing at Yancey’s Saloon, Pasquales Pizza, Crepevine Restaurant. The startled customers all smiling and of course, the first impulse is to whip out the cell phones instead of singing along, but some did eventually join in.

And speaking of cell phones, those of us singing never took a single photo or video. So in the new version of the tree falling in the forest and no one witnessing the sound, I ask this modern riddle:

If something wonderful happens and no one records it and posts on Facebook, did it really happen?

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Unanswered Question

Amidst life’s many imponderable mysteries, here’s the one that came to me making pancakes for my grandchildren:

Who first figured out that you could beat egg whites to make baked goods fluffier?

I mean, really. What would be the thought process that led something to discover that?

Perhaps that’s what Charles Ives had in mind when he composed our title piece.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Grinch Yet Again

17 years ago (!!!), I wrote a parody of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It went mildly viral , but my name as author got detached so eventually a school parent sent it to me and said, “Thought of you when I read this. I think you’ll like it” and I replied, “You’re right. I wrote it!”

Though what has happened since has made us almost weirdly nostalgic for Bush, the Grinch de Jour in 2002, it’s important to remember all the bad things afoot that he did and stood for. Don’t have the time and energy to re-do it yet again for the guy whose heart is TEN sizes too small and whose mind seems to have moved away with no forwarding address. But worthy revisiting this one. Enjoy!

THE GRINCH REVISITED(with thanks to Dr. Seuss) ©2002 Doug Goodkin

The Whos down in Whoville liked this country a lot,
But the Grinch in the White House most certainly did not.
He didn't arrive there by the will of the Whos,
But stole the election that he really did lose.
Vowed to "rule from the middle," then installed his regime.
(Did this really happen or is it just a bad dream?)

He didn't listen to voters, just his friends he was pleasin'
Now, please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason.
It could be his heart wasn't working just right.
It could be, perhaps, that he wasn't too bright.
But I think that the most likely reason of all,
Is that both brain and heart were two sizes too small.
In times of great turmoil, this was bad news,
To have people in power who ignore all their Whos.

But the Whos shrugged their shoulders, went on with their work,
Their duties as citizens so casually did shirk.
They shopped at the mall and they watched their T.V.’s.
They drove their gas guzzling big S.U.V.’s.
Oblivious to what was afoot in D.C. 
Ignoring the threats to Democracy. 
They read the same papers that ran the same leads,
Reporting what only would serve corporate needs. 
(For the policies affecting the lives of all nations
Were made by the giant U.S. Corporations.)
Big business grew fatter, fed by its own greed, 
And by people who shopped for the things they didn't need.

But amidst all the apathy came signs of unrest,
The Whos came to see they were fouling their nest. 
And those who cared for the ideals of this nation, 
Began to ask questions, exchange information. 
‘Bout things they couldn't read in the corporate-owned news,
Like closed World Bank meetings and CIA coups.
Like drilling for oil and restricting rights.
So they published some books and created Websites. 
They began to write letters and use their e-mail 
(Though Homeland Security might send them to jail!)

What began as a whisper soon grew to a roar,
"These secrets and lies we'll no longer ignore!"
They started to rise up and fight City Hall, 
Spoke up with strong voices and rose to the call, 
To vote, to petition, to gather, dissent,
To see through the ways of the false President.
To choose not to give “manufactured consent.”

As greed gained in power and power knew no shame,
The Whos came together, sang "Not in our name!"
Then one by one from their slumber they woke,
The old and the young and all kinds of folk.
The black, brown and white, the gay, bi- and straight,
All united to sing, "Feed our hope, not our hate!”
“Stop stockpiling weapons and aiming for war!”
“Stop feeding the rich, start feeding the poor!”
“Stop storming the deserts to fuel SUV's!”
“Stop telling us lies on the mainstream T.V.'s!”
“Stop treating our children as markets to sack!”
 Stop feeding them Barbie, Brittney and Big Mac!
“Stop trying to addict them to lifelong consuming,
In a time when severe global warming is looming!”
“Stop sanctions that are killing the kids in Iraq!
Start dealing with ours that are strung out on crack!"

A mighty sound started to rise and to grow,
"The old way of thinking will just have to go!
No more God versus Allah, Arab ‘gainst Jew,
With what lies ahead, it simply won't do.
No American dream that cares only for wealth
While ignoring the need for community health.
The rivers and forests are demanding their pay,
If we're to survive, we must walk a new way.
No more excessive and mindless consumption
Let's sharpen our minds and garner our gumption.
For the ideas are simple, but the practice is hard,
And not to be won by a poem in a card.
It needs the ideas and the acts of each Who,
So let's get together and plan what to do!"

And so they all gathered from all 'round the Earth
And from it all came a miraculous birth.
The hearts and the minds of the Whos they did grow,
Three sizes to fit what they feel and they know.
While the Grinches they shrank from their hate and their greed,
Bearing the weight of their every foul deed.
From that day onward the standard of wealth,
Was whatever fed the Whos spiritual health.
They gathered together to revel and feast,
And thanked all who worked hard to conquer their beast.
For although our story pits Grinches 'gainst Whos,
The true battle lies in what daily we choose.
For inside each Grinch is a tiny small Who,
And inside each Who is a tiny Grinch too.
One thrives on love and one thrives on greed.
Who will win out? It depends who we feed! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

On-the-Scene Report

It is 3:59 pm on a Wednesday afternoon at my school. If the gods are doing their work well, my daughter and grandchildren are in the air winging from Portland after two maddening delays. It will mean the world to me to have them witness my last play at The San Francisco School and they sacrificed work and school time at their end, only to be foiled by a south wind at the SFO Airport. But according to the last text, I think their plane finally took off and they will arrive in time. All digits crossed.

Meanwhile, today was a joyful dress rehearsal with the 3rd/4th/5thgraders performing The Phantom Tollbooth for K through 2nd, 6ththrough 8thgrade and it was a good sign that they not only came under the 90-minute mark, but the audience was mostly spellbound, older and younger kids alike, for the whole time. Also miraculous that of the 12 kids out with fevers on Monday, 8 of them returned, another may come tonight and in any case, other kids jumped in and immediately memorized lines. 

After lunch, gave some notes to the 4thgrade, details like “move two feet to the right in this scene,” “accent the word ‘Great!’”, don’t forget to react to this word or that” and the miraculous effect that mostly, in spite of body language and focus that seems to say, “I’m not listening,” they actually hear and more miraculously, remember!!

Then came the last Preschool Singing time with the Interns and wasn’t that sweet. Three hours after school to attend to final details (well, now two hours), walk over to the art room where my wife taught so many years that will now be renovated for who-knows-what- reason, take a few photos and there are two alums working with kids who were in our Elementary Plays some 12 years ago. How it goes on.

Now in the school library, rain outside, praying for the South Wind to let the planes land, nothing more in particular to do and the thought to write about the nothing in particular to do that I’m doing right now after all that went into this play. It’s all over but the shoutin’ and I hope I mean that literally as the hardest thing about directing plays is to get kids who talk too loud in the library to talk that loud on stage! 

I should look forward to the release of hard work climbing to the final chord, but then there is a Coda with the 8thgrade’s St. George and the Dragon production which I have to rehearse with them tomorrow and have them perform on Friday. Kind of low stakes, but hey, in the world of art, every performance is worthy of mastery and a public presentation that is memorable. We’ll see, especially as they have also been decimated by the flu and such and we’ve yet to have a full cast. 

So that’s the peek into the music teacher’s world, such as it is. And may I say that when it comes to these plays, no miracle of oil burning or virgin births is quite so astounding as getting 60 children on stage to act, sing, play, dance and generally bring stories to life with humor, nuance, energy and mastery. May it come to pass yet again!