Thursday, January 31, 2019

Hares and Rabbits

Since I first heard about Hares and Rabbits some four decades ago, I’ve more or less kept to it. The simplest version is this: At the turn of the month, the last thing you say before going to bed is “Hares” and the first thing you say in the morning is “Rabbit.” Some variations have you getting to the bathroom and dressed in ten steps and I still have a hilarious image of an old roommate attempting that with giant steps in the hall. Naturally, I have no idea where this came from and don’t know what it means and it’s surprising that I only just now turned to Google tonight to shed more light on it.

There I found an article in New England Today by someone whose family said “Rabbit, Rabbit” at the beginning of each month and was baffled as I am. She also consulted Google and found some reference to traditions from the 13thto 15thcenturies in England, with some vague link to the idea of “rabbit’s foot” luck or jumping ahead into the new month.
Not too enlightening.

But still I persist. And so a few last words before “hares” to bid a fond farewell to January, with its workshops with college students and beyond, a fun trip to Puerto Rico, the blessing of good health, intermittent exercise, some inspired piano moments, progress on my book, a few great movies, some exciting developments in the Mueller investigation, the rare and satisfying opportunity to give a workshop and talk to my own school staff and mostly, class after class after class with kids and almost every one a gem. Meaning I had a great time, the kids seemed to enjoy them,  we made some spirited music, I came up with some interesting new material and generally discovered that teaching at my school still makes sense in all kind of ways. Definitely harder than the Fall of marching entirely to my own drummer, but though the drumbeat of 6 to 8 classes a day never faltered, it felt like a strong life-giving groove. That counts for a lot.

More school ahead in February, a 2ndgrade play we’re starting to rehearse for, lots of important birthdays, a mid-month trip to Singapore and so on. I’m ready for it all.

But first, “Hares!”

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I have to say that it gave me a perverse kind of pleasure to see the FBI in full battle gear approaching Roger Stone’s house the way they would a drug dealer. Because truth-be-told, the kind of white-collar crime that he stands for, the kind all the other Trumpies are being indited for and the kind “Individual 1” hopefully will be is so much more damaging and hurtful to people than the worst drug dealer. They all hide behind their big money and privilege and get self-righteous about dangerous Mexican immigrants while continuing to thrash around with their heavy shoulders of power like the proverbial bull in the china shop—and getting away with it all. But for some of them at least, their day of reckoning is coming. One hopes it will continue. 

If the news is a mirror to what human beings are or could become, it’s not looking good for us. By any elementary standard of common human decency, the people making the headlines —and the Foxy people spinning the headlines as well—are despicable people run by greed, prejudice, cynicism and small mindedness, trying to grab more than their share in a world of great affluence and knocking down anyone who gets in their way. Nobody I would want to present a guest session to my 5-year-olds or 8thgraders. Beyond all the scandal and intrigue and party-lines and fake outrage, simply looking at the humanity (if you can call it that) of a Mitch McConnell next to the integrity of say, Stacey Abrams, is a study in both the depravity and the exaltation of the human spirit. The two extremes of the good and the ugly and then all the bad folks who excuse the latter and use precious votes to defend lying, cheating and purposeful ignorance. 

Seeing these folks every day in the news, listening to Sarah Huckabee Sanders dance around simple questions thinking she’s so clever in her constant defense of what is indefensible, takes its toll on the human psyche. How can one have hope in “the intellectual, imaginative and humanitarian promise” (from our school Mission Statement) of people in the face of the constant assault of the opposite? 

And yet I do. The children I teach daily, the colleagues I share this worthy mission of education mind, body, heart and soul, the musicians and music teachers I encounter, family and friends, are a constant reminder of what human beings might be—imperfect and flawed, to be sure, as am I and as are we all, but within a proper proportion. None of us are pushing others down in Walmart or using our minds to concoct schemes to scam our neighbors so we can buy another personal jet or waving MAGA hats and shouting mindless things just to feel part of something, however ugly it might be. 

Most of my days I spend wondering how I can be at least a slightly better version of myself and how I can help, encourage, inspire, others to be the same. I refuse to be pulled down into Roger Stone’s ugly world and that helps make it all bearable. But every once in a while, I just wonder what the hell happened to these people. And feel just a little bit happier knowing the FBI are out on their lawn. Just sayin’.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Who's in Charge?

Time for a confession. I took LSD some 10 times during my college years. It was a time of experimentation with mind-expanding drugs and I was along for the ride. I hated the first two times, that sense of being swept away and completely out of control and then came to enjoy some of it. But not enough to keep going. I believe the last time was around 1973 at a Hot Tuna concert in San Francisco. I probably continued with marijuana for a few years more and then not again for the next 40 years or so. 

And here’s another surprising statistic. I’ve never been flat-out in-the-gutter drunk. A little buzz here and there and I still have my half-a-beer each night, but again, not out-of-control with alcohol.

And a third confession. A few years ago at a family reunion in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, my daughter convinced my wife and me, along with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, to try one of the now-legal gummy bear marijuanas with her and my niece while hiking in the mountains. Marijuana apparently has changed a lot since my day, because this ended up much closer to the old LSD trips than the mild high of passing around joints. It’s actually a pretty hilarious story, to be told another time. But the punch line was that I didn’t enjoy it at all and realized that though people may go to drugs of all sorts to escape their everyday realities, that I actually don’t like at all the feeling of being swept away out of control. I like to be in charge of my own consciousness.

I’m a firm believer in the value of the sub-conscious, but lately, have not been enjoying releasing myself to whatever dreams choose to come each night in my sleep. Sometimes they’re sweet, usually they’re intriguing, but mostly I’m happier waking up and taking charge again. 

That sense of steering the ship is one of the great pleasures of teaching and there’s few things I love more than leading a group of kids or adults knowing that I’ll be making most of the decisions about where we go and how fast and what route we’ll take. Ironically, I am steering toward some moment of releasing control, letting an activity follow its own logic and end up in surprising places. Just like jazz improvisation. Or meditating. Or writing. The enterprise starts from the will, from the discipline of controlling the fingers, the breath, the sentences, with the aim to gradually relinquish control and let the other voices enter. I’m not trying to live in the fortress of my inner and outer companions goose-stepping while I bark out orders. More like the tour guide saying, “Let’s turn down this alley and see what we will find.”

In fact, life’s most memorable moments are the ones when we finally step out of the way and let the music sing itself or the words dance to their own inner song or the breath lead us to some previously unexplored corner of how we’re connected to everything else in the world. It’s when we get off the merry-go-round of our self-enclosed Facebook friends list and checking text messages and listen to what the world has to offer. Those intense drugs blow down the walls to let all the gods and demons rush in, but me, I prefer mostly staying in the house, but opening the windows a bit. Or leaving the house to wander the neighborhood of my own volition. 

Just in case I decide to run for President, let’s keep this confession between us for now. Meanwhile, I’m off to take charge of five groups of kids today and see what surprises they have in store.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Math of Love

“Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.”

                                                          -Song by Malvina Reynolds

I love preschool singing. I mean, I really love preschool singing. Amongst many joys is the way it stretches me to explain profound ideas to 3-year-olds. With Valentine’s Day approaching, naturally our theme is love songs and one of the kids suggested the old Malvina Reynolds stand-by. But how to explain what it means?

So there was 3-yr.-old Cedar sitting in front of me and I took a penny out of my pocket and asked the group:

“How many pennies do I have?”


“How many does Cedar have?”


“Excellent! Now here’s how math works. I’m going to give the penny to Cedar. Now how many do I have?”

“None. And he has one!”


“Now, let’s imagine I really like Cedar a lot. Because I do! I love Cedar! So if I want to tell him that, I might give him a hug. Cedar, is it all right to have a hug together? Thank you!…Now I gave a hug to Cedar. Does that mean I don’t have any more hugs left?”


“And when I gave away my loving hug, did that leave me with hate?”

“(Laughter as I show an angry face). Nooo!”

“So there you go. Love is a different kind of math. The more you give away, the more love you feel. You have morelove than when you started. That’s why the song says:

‘It’s just like a magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t have any. 
Lend it, spend it, you’ll have so many, They’ll roll right over the floor.”

Do you all understand about the math of love?”


And they do! But not everyone does. Isn’t that sad? 

Friends, that’s the kind of math we need a bit more of in school. A little less of the penny-pinching, dollar-counting kind and little more of the magic penny kind. Okay?

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Limits of Nostalgia

What strange creatures we are! Today I went to a dentist appointment. Same dentist I’ve had since 1977, but a new location from the one I’ve gone to since 1989. And I felt nostalgic for the old place!

You have to understand that I like Bob, my dentist, and taught three of his kids. His wife Linda is my dental hygienist and for the first five minutes of every appointment, I enjoy chatting and catching up. But after that comes the pain. Sometimes the physical pain, certainly the financial pain and generally the emotional pain of paying back a bad inheritance from my parents. For though I have dutifully dental flossed since 1972 and eat a generally healthy diet, bad teeth have been my personal cross to bear. A trip through my mouth is an obstacle course of bridges and crowns and root canals and none of it was exactly my fault. 

So there should not be a single pleasant association with entering their building, walking down the long hallway, entering the inviting waiting room and then sitting in the chair looking out at a lovely view of Twin Peaks, sometimes with Linda’s dog nestled on my lap. And yes, sometimes the nitrous oxide during vigorous cleaning takes me back to the 60’s, so by no means is it all unpleasant. But generally, this home away from home was not something worth being nostalgic about.

And yet I was. The new office is a block down, Linda’s space had no window, Bob’s looked on the wall of another house and it just was weird to be with them there. I missed the old place!

But hey, that’s me. I was also unhappy when the computer fellow at school updated my operating system and some things looked just different enough that I noticed. I always survive and get through it and move on, but not casually so. 

So there you have it. Nostalgic for my old dentist office. Go figure.

Reality Check

I just spent two and a half hours with someone I despise. Not fun, but a necessary reminder. Like so many, I have been almost weirdly nostalgic for the Bush years in the face of Trumpty Dumpty’s circus. But I knew then that very bad things were happening and last night came the reminder.

I’m talking about the movie Vice. An insight into what we all knew and now confirming it—George W. wasn’t quite as clueless as D. T., but pretty close. Cheney was the Wizard behind the curtain pulling all the strings, driven by a carefully-crafted cynical vision of the world and a determination to bend it towards his self-serving and hateful plan.

From the beginning, I’ve said that the comparisons between Trump and Hitler don’t hold up because Hitler had a vision and a plan and Trump’s plan is just to confirm his pathologic view of his own ego and power. Cheney was much closer to the Hitler model, methodically shutting down checks and balances in favor of “unitary executive power” and opening the door to right-wing media, no-bid Haliburton contracts, manufacturing consent to turn 9/11 into an opportunity to get oil and so much more. All of it slyly and silently, with few people noticing. The scenes with him and his family could almost be occasionally touching, but then you must remember that some million families around the world might have been in the midst of a nice dinner when the bombs he ordered blew them to smithereens. And to the end, he showed not an ounce of remorse. Even when accidentally shooting someone on a hunting expedition. 

Trump is a pathological narcissist, but Cheney is what is called a psychopath. Four of the twenty traits of such mentally disturbed people are that they are cunning and manipulative, show lack of remorse or guilt, exhibit shallow emotional response and demonstrate callousness and lack of empathy. Watch the movie with that in mind. 

Of course, power itself seems to attract its fair share of crazy people—think Attila the Hun, Henry the 8th, King Leopold, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot and so on. But if we are to fulfill any sense of evolution in human consciousness and human rights, we would do well to remember that in the U.S., it is we ourselves that elect these people. If schools did their job to create citizens with the ability to think, with a beating heart that can feel beyond its own needs and the capacity to see through the lies and manipulation (the way we were duped into invading Iraq, well-covered in the movie), there is hope that we can at least lean toward the Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi brand of politician. Not perfect people, but not publicly-sanctioned psychopaths. 

Go see the movie for this important reminder.

Friday, January 25, 2019


The poet William Stafford’s advice to young poets: Write every day. Don’t wait until you’re inspired. Sit down pen in hand, put it to the paper and see what emerges. Some you’ll use, a lot you won’t, but it’s the act of committing and opening the door to inspiration that counts.

This blog is far from poetry, but it has been a similar kind of discipline. Though discipline doesn’t feel like quite the right word, implying some willful, teeth-gritting practice. Instead, the opportunity to post whatever is on my mind has been more like someone to daily share a beer with. It’s rarely an effort and the ideas and words just tend to flow.

When they don’t, I get a wee bit nervous that some door is starting to close that I like open. But in the case of the past few days, it has simply been the busyness and the business (one and the same) of school. There have been significant blog-worthy moments—like giving a workshop to my own colleagues and sharing some of the book I’m writing with them. A long-time colleague having a difficult open-heart surgery (opened up three times!). Getting a short letter from an old family friend (son of my parent’s friends) with black-and-white photos of him visiting my sister and I in the 1950’s and us all playing with guns. My daughter getting calls from CNN asking if she’s the one who tweeted the MAGA-Hat/ Native American video. (She wasn’t). All of it worthy for the kind of comments I habitually make.

But simply didn’t have the time or psychic space to do justice to any of it. And in 15 minutes, our annual Martin Luther King Ceremony is about to begin. 

But William Stafford would be proud. I took the time to write something, whether or not it will bring comfort, information or stimulus for greater thought. Just something.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Make America Great Again

The circus is back in town. Well, really, it never left. The latest side-show is MAGA-hatted young conservatives shouting across the great divide to Native American elders. The media is in pig-heaven as the theater of opposition ramps up yet again without a single civil word being spoken or a single coherent thought considered.

If I was the Native American elder and —miracle of miracles—there was an opportunity to dialogue with those hatted folks, I’d say: “Let’s talk about that word “again.” I dare you to name a year when America was truly great. Meaning living up to its promise of liberty and justice for all. Name a single year when every American citizen was judged solely by the content of their character, where any one was welcome to visit or live in any neighborhood, when schools gave equal opportunity to all. You know the list. But now, name the year.”

Didn’t think you could. But I can. The year was 1491. And all the years before that. It wasn’t perfect. There was tribal warfare, but there wasn’t genocide. People would move from one location to another based on weather or food, but not because someone else re-located them to a virtually unlivable place. There was occasional drought and pestilence and fires, but there wasn’t anything called climate change. And if you could measure the environmental impact people made on the land back then over a hundred years time, it would probably be 1% of one day in downtown Los Angeles. I’d say that all makes America pretty great way back then.”

Now, young man, you seem to be all for this wall and against criminal immigrants. You want to keep them out and deport the ones that are here. Is that correct? Yes? I thought so.”

So, now, please give me your hat and get off my land. You, sir, are an illegal immigrant with a proven criminal record and my people and I are the only ones qualified to say, ‘Make America Great Again.’ It was nice talking with you.”

Did you get that, Fox News?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Late Bloomer

I was nobody special in high school. Not the captain of the football team or student council president or valedictorian. In college, I wasn’t the hip jazz pianist nor the political rabble-rouser nor the spiritual yogi nor the brooding poet. And certainly not the hot womanizer. So I sometimes wonder how people saw me back then or remembered me.

In Puerto Rico, I connected with another music teacher who I had taught for three months back in 1971. He was a high school student at this alternative public high school called Shanti and I was an Antioch College intern teaching there briefly. Our meeting got me looking back into scrapbooks from that era and I found a letter written about me from the principal of Shanti to my Antioch advisor. He wrote:

Doug Goodkin is a young guy doing lots of growing and addressing himself most seriously to the tasks of learning, helping and loving. He has strong intellectual, personal and social commitments. He has rare integrity and a strong sense of fairness. He’s the kind of guy who ought to be working with kids.

I am reminded of Browning’s words in his poem Rabbi Ben Ezra:

Come along, grow old with me
My best is yet to be.

Well, isn’t that interesting? The things I still care about—integrity, fairness, intellectual commitment, learning, helping and loving—apparently were in place almost 50 years ago in some kind of seed form. I’ve always felt like I’m a late bloomer, the flower of my efforts taking a long, long time to blossom. But of course the seed would have needed to be in place before any of that could happen. I love that he predicted my life of working with kids and I believe he has passed on, so I can’t have the satisfaction of finding him and letting him know his insights were spot on. (Still, thank you, Gene Mulcahey!)

Today I’ll give one of the most challenging workshops of my career. In honor of my AOSA Distinguished Service Award, I’ll be presenting to my own colleagues at The SF School. One of the requested themes is my own path to Lifelong Learning and re-reading this letter is well-timed. Each year for the last ten years or so, I’ve felt like I’m at the top of my game and teaching better than ever before. And I can say the same for piano, meditation, writing, even biking. The dedication to daily practice indeed has reaped it’s half-inch of progress each day until suddenly I discover myself a couple of miles down the road. So the invocation of the closing poem still rings true for me 48 years after working at the Shanti School—“Come grow old with me. My best is yet to be.”

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Politics and Poetry

Without care, this Blog could become the Mary Oliver Fan Club site! But in honor of this marvelous writer, and while it’s fresh, at least two more of some 50 poems I’d love to share.

If you know her work, you’re aware that she probably writes less about people and the human world than any other poet, living or dead. So when she does slip in a poem about politics, for example, you stand up and pay attention. It’s not that she doesn’t care. More that she made the choice of placing the center of her life elsewhere, into the reliable world of Nature’s bounty, even with its storms and death and expected and unexpected terrors.  Consider this poem from her book Red Bird:

Not This, Not That

Nor anything,
Not the eastern wind whose other name
    Is rain,
Nor the burning heats of the dunes
   At the crown of summer,
Nor the ticks, that new, ferocious populace,

Nor the President who loves blood,
Nor the governmental agencies that love money,

Will alter

My love for you, my friends and my beloved,
Or for you, oh ghosts of Emerson and Whitman

Or for you, oh blue sky of a summer morning,
That makes me roll in a barrel of gratitude
   Down hills,

Of for you, oldest of friends; hope;
Or for you, newest of friends: faith;

Or for you, silliest and dearest of surprises, my
Own life.

On the opposite page is another, yet more political poem, published in 2008 (before Obama’s election), that doesn’t console at the end with love, hope and faith and describes so perfectly part of who we have been as a country and never more disastrously than today.

Of the Empire

We will be known as a culture that feared death
And adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.

How we need poets to tell the truth!


A twelve-day marathon of non-stop music teaching

And now it’s Sunday.

I could have slept late, but I didn’t.

At 6am, the sentences were swirling about to be placed

in the book that has waited patiently,

neglected amidst all the comings and goings.

If I stayed under the covers,

they would leave, never to come back.

So here I am, sleep still beckoning in its foggy way.

But the bright screen awaits the black shapes that speak

of the twelve days I have just lived,

hoping to guide others foolish enough to disturb their own sleep

by dancing down this beckoning path.