Friday, April 16, 2021

Letter to Michael Meade

Our current culture seems to care less and less about these kind of things, but I’d like to nominate Michael Meade as a National Treasure. The work he has done extending Joseph Campbell’s look at mythology and its relevance to our everyday life is impressive—and especially since he has taken it at least two places Campbell didn’t go—drumming and singing and more importantly, applying this work directly to youth at risk. In terms of poetic style, he’s not my favorite writer, but his ability to articulate the ideas most needed seen through the depths of mythology is breathtaking. I’ve been listening to him since 1990 and I still always come away with something important.


I’m finally at the age when I don’t feel intimidated by those I admire, so just as I wrote a letter to poet David Whyte and storyteller Garrison Keillor offering something to consider, so did I just write one to Michael Meade. Not necessarily expecting a response (though one would be welcome), but happy just to write it. And since I don’t have anything else of interest on my mind today, I share it below: 


Dear Michael, 


First and foremost, immeasurable gratitude for your work and your dedication in sharing it.

My name is Doug Goodkin and I’m writing from San Francisco. I’ve come to many of your talks and workshops starting in 1990,  read all your books and this year attended many of your Zoom workshops and still come away with new insights and details that feed my own work. Some of that work was teaching music to children via the Orff approach for 45 years at a progressive school, the balancing half was (and is) training adults (mostly teachers) around the world in this dynamic pedagogy. Between the drumming, singing and dancing we both do and my own interest in mythology, poetry and storytelling (which I also do with the kids— the Orff approach is about the meeting points of all these art forms), there are many intersections in our evolving paths.  So coming from this place of mutual traveling, a call from the back of the line to make a daring suggestion.


I noticed in the last Zoom workshops some three or four times, you prefaced telling a story about yourself with “Generally I don’t like to tell stories about myself.” But to let you know—we LOVE these stories. (Well, I should say I, but I’ve talked to some others and they agree.) The personal stories shed light on the collective mythologies, which shine light back to the personal, so the two together are a powerful combination. I think that all of the walking wounded wandering in the wilderness (ie, all of us) need to tell and hear each other’s stories, both to re-assure us that we’re not alone and to shed light as to the many ways genius specifically reveals itself to us, the many traps we encounter, the many strategies for negotiating the minefield. 


In short, may I encourage you to tell more stories about yourself in that context? Dare I suggest a memoir seen through the “transparent to transcendence” light of your life in mythology? I’ve heard a few of your stories— about your aunt’s mythology book, your remarkable flight out of your body, your time in solitary confinement, your meeting with James Hillman—and they all resonate deeply. But I realize I have no idea what you did in your 20’s and 30’s and early 40’s and beyond mere curiosity, I suspect there are other helpful stories about how you came to arrive where you are. Yes? 


And if I may boldly make one more suggestion, I love the way you acknowledge the source of your opening song as coming from the Dagara people of Burkina Faso. Yet I notice that many times you talk about or tell an “African” story. Our ignorance about Africa is one of the many dynamics of our white supremacy narrative and I think it is always a good idea to be as specific as possible. West Africa or South Africa? Ghana or Zimbabwe? Ewe people in Ghana or Akan? I know it’s sometimes not possible to know because the collectors were not specific, but both worth researching and educating your listeners so they know who to thank. Just something to consider.


I’ll end as I began, with immeasurable thanks for your dedication, courage, humility, generosity, depth of feeling for what’s wrong in the world and height of hope for what could be healed. May it continue!


All the best to you,


Doug Goodkin


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