Friday, July 5, 2019

The Homeless Problem

The homeless problem in San Francisco and other places is real and growing. It is grueling to live on the street, devastating to have no warm, safe, secure and dependable place to lay your head and debilitating to feel an outcast in society. All of that is real and needs to be dealt with. 

But we have another kind of homelessness we don’t talk about. Where do we house our extravagant energies? Our deep grief and red-hot outrage? Where do we find room for the Shakespearean dramas of our lives? A house where we can sing the operas of betrayal and bad fortune full throttle without the neighbors calling the police? 

A student in the course yesterday asked what to do with the kid who jumps into the middle of the circle uninvited and starts showing off his dance moves? The other kid who runs to the congas and starts playing wildly? How to honor those energies without squashing them, but at the same time, have a harmonious class that includes all the other kids politely following the agenda? What a great question!!

My answer is simple: Find the proper time and container for those energies, temper them in the fire of art and cool them into a useful hard steel with artistic craft . Promise the dancing kid a game in the next class where he’ll get to go in the middle and show his dance and then all will copy. And help him understand that then he’ll have to leave to make space for someone else. As the person asking the question wisely remarked, there’s a good chance that when he finally gets in the middle to show his motion, he’ll just stand there and do nothing. But at least you have the beginning of a conversation with the child. Frame it with the goals of “Blend in-Stand out- Know when to do each and for how long” (this part of a chapter in my upcoming book). The kid at the djembe will surely get a chance to play, but before she lets herself go with a solo, first she has to learn a coherent pattern. And when she does solo, any random kind of banging is the beginning of the discussion about music and communication and the need to shape articulate sentences that everyone can understand. 

My perfect example of this is the tradition at my school I started called “Wrong Words Day,” a chance at the Winter Holiday time for kids to sing all the naughty words to carols. But first they have to earn it by one week where not a single child sings a single wrong word when we first sing the songs. If they do, Wrong Words Day will be cancelled. When it comes, the delight on some children’s faces is a wonder to behold. All we had to do was create a home for their naughty impulses, find the proper container for their excesses. Richard Gill, a brilliant Orff teacher who did much to move the field forward, wrote an autobiography titled “Give Me Excess of It.” And he did. But always contained within the rigorous disciplines and demands of art. 

Those energies simply released are like wild bulls in china shops. Those energies systematically repressed to damage to the psyche and are vulnerable to later explosions. The third alternative is to house them in the discipline of art. It might also be sports or martial arts or mediation,  things that require forceful energy married to discipline, like nuclear explosions contained in a reactor to generate useful energy rather than cause wanton destruction. 

Talking about this, I said something like: “War is the failure to shape our extravagance by the proper vehicles of art.” I liked that sentence. It is also a failure of imagination, art’s twin sister. So when we see people wantonly throwing their power around, we see people who have failed the promise of their human possibility, whose artistic self is homeless, thrown out on the street looking for doorways to sleep in and scraps of food in the garbage. Not a pretty sight. 

So there’s a problem of our time, one which schools can easily attend to. Give a home to our deep need for lavish expression, feed our hunger for beauty, provide shelter for our angst and sadness next to our joy and ecstasy. It’s as simple as that. 

1 comment:

  1. It’s interesting you post this, as I recently saw an article addressing the homeless problem in San Francisco, which mentioned that the city’s streets now harbour more dangerous bacteria than many developing world slums, not to mention the stray needles and excrement. It also mentioned that the situation in SF is much worse than even NYC in the 1980s. I’m curious whether this has affected your enjoyment of the city as you walk and bike around town. And what do you think the future holds with some cities now providing their homeless populations with one way bus tickets to SF?


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