Friday, October 15, 2021

The Art of the Pitch

My one baseball game of the year I watched yesterday was thoroughly unsatisfying in terms of the excitement that players generate when they actually hit the ball and get on base. This was mostly a game of strikeouts and clearly a pitcher’s game. And yes, there is a subtle drama as the pitcher tries to fool the batter (and yesterday succeeded) with the pitch swerving left or right or down, the speed varying and the unknown of which kind of pitch is coming next. And so I remembered this poem by Robert Francis, comparing writing poetry (or it could be improvising jazz) to pitching: 

 

PITCHER

His art is eccentricity, his aim

How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

 

His passion how to avoid the obvious,

His technique how to vary the avoidance.

 

The others throw to be comprehended. He 

Throws to be a moment misunderstood. 

 

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,

But every seeming aberration willed.

 

Not to, yet still, still to communicate

Making the batter understand too late.  

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Four Meditations on Watching the SF Giants Lose the Playoff Game Last Night

1) Remember Mary Oliver’s advice:

You must not ,ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life. (Or for your happiness.)

 

2) Console yourself with this realization: You have just freed up some 20 to 35 hours of your life by not having to view any more games. Good time to finally read Moby Dick, master Chopin’s Impromptu  or learn Coltrane’s Giant Steps in all 12 keys.

 

3) Secret to happiness when your team is losing? Suddenly switch allegiance to the other team! Go Mookie Betts!

 

4) Consider the moon and stars when you step outside after the game. No star is trying to slide into the moon, no crowds are cheering, the celestial orbs are all perfectly content to be where they are, slowly circling without ambition, nothing to win or lose. 

 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Apples and Walnuts

 

I took my usual 5-mile walk through the park today, but something felt different. There was a certain feeling in the air that soaked into some ancient part of the psyche—or at least as far back as some childhood recollection. Crisp feeling, slight chill, a familiar smell that sang of “Fall!” Back home had a fresh apple with some walnuts and now taste joined sight, smell and touch to evoke the comfort of Autumn. A few posts ago, I shared the October Song that sent me to the heart of the leaf-falling descent into darkness and the settling in to the solace of home. 

 

Comfort food. Comfort music. Comfort smells, sights and the touch of the Fall breeze on the skin. We could always use these touchstones in our lives and certainly, now more than ever. It’s tempting to say that once we could just absorb the beauty and not worry about protecting it, but that has never been true for indigenous people encountering the Western conquerors, for our own small farmers in the face of agri-business, indeed, for most anyone in any field dealing with the ravages of time and change and especially, changes imposed by human short-sightedness. But of course, that mandate of protection is hitting more of us, more often and larger than ever before. 

 

But see how quickly our happiness on a Fall day can go off the rails. Somehow I hope we can immerse ourselves fully in it without the fear creeping in, settle down into the hot tub without the tension of the emergency pager going off. Just eat a crisp red apple with walnuts and savor each bite. When the moment calls for us to rise up and act to defend what we love, we will be acting from that love, pushing the car off our child from the accumulated power of life properly lived and loved. Joy and Justice belong together, like apples and walnuts, walking hand in hand through the crunch leaves on a splendid Fall day.

 

 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Browsing in the Bookstore

Amazon be damned—I’m a lifelong browser of bookstores and CD/ record stores(Amoeba Records is still alive and well in San Francisco and yes, the vinyl records are coming back!). It’s a pleasure akin to fishing, with the same sensation (he says as someone who has never fished) of having a sense of which kinds of fish lurk below the waters in this particular bookstore aisle, but never knowing which will nibble on the hook. The element of not-knowing, of surprise, of serendipity that this fish chose you, gives a distinct pleasure to the enterprise. 

 

At the same time, sometimes I’m overwhelmed and feel that there are simply too many to choose from and how does one actually decide? It’s a practice of checking in to some part of yourself to see what you need at the moment. Some of it is time— Medieval times? The Future? 1969? (like the one I just finished—always a winner.) Some is place—China? Norway? Ghana? San Francisco? And of course, some is genre—mystery? Romance? Sweeping family saga?

 

But truth be told, if you took all the back cover synopses and mixed them together in a salad bowl or in a blender, they all come out pretty much the same.

 

“The story of a terrible tragedy, the secrets that get revealed, the hard-won redemption that shows the intrepid human spirit.”


 Nobody ever seems to write a book about the reasonably well-adjusted family that have a pretty good time and make good decisions. Who would want to read that? Likewise, no one would ever go to an opera about a couple who falls in love, receives the blessings of their parents and the community, learn to be honest and forthright with each other and content with what each has to offer. Even in music, the classical music listener wants some serious straying from the home theme, some sense of exile before returning to the triumphant closing chords. The jazz listener wants that horn or the singer’s voice to scrape down deep into the marrow of the soul far beyond where polite conversation ever goes. There was a short period of New-Age music where no note was ever in any kind of tension with another, a smooth Jazz station with all the dissonant notes removed, and I imagine that still is played in the yoga class or the dentist office, but it doesn’t satisfy our deep yearning to get down into the muck of it all so the rising up has some value. 

 

Every wise teacher I’m listening to these days (and always have) agrees that the only genuine path to the spirit is through the wounds of sorrow, suffering and trauma. Don’t wallow in the wound but don’t kid yourself that you can simply walk around it and find the yellow-brick road to Oz. So art is a replay of this in miniature in the safety and comfort of your armchair, with the luxury of imagining that all of this is happening to someone else and at the same time instructing you that there is no someone else—they’re all you. As many yous (and more) as there are books in the bookstores with their back covers acting as if this story is unique. And yes, the time, place, artistry of the writer, idiosyncracies of the characters and details of the story are unique, but the overall narrative is universal. 

 

In fiction and in life. On one level, everywhere we go is a browsing through a bookstore to discover which story is singing out to us and figuring out how to claim it as our own. Without the damn Prime truck delivering it! 

 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Which Holiday Will You Celebrate?

 “They willing traded everything they owned…They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… They do not bear arms and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” 

-      From the log of Christopher Columbus meeting the Awarak people for the first time

(p. 1: A People’s History of the United States)

 

And that is exactly what Columbus did when sponsored in a return voyage by the King and Queen of Spain, with the promise that he would return with “as much gold as they need—and as many slaves as they ask.” He commanded that these native people who had so generously and peacefully shared anything they owned with him had to go out and bring back gold. If they collected a certain quantity within three months, they were given a copper token to hang around their necks. Those without the token had their hands cut off and bled to death. And in celebration of it all, Columbus wrote:

 

“ Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way…”

 

And so a wrathful and vengeful God (whose Son preached love) created a mindset based on power, domination, greed, private ownership of material goods, brutality, punishment, violence, intolerance that created a story of White Supremacy, Manifest Destiny and the plundering of the earth that has brought us to exactly where we are. A nation (and world) beset by collective trauma, injustice, climate catastrophe, fear, cynicism, hatred, abuse, purposefully perpetuated ignorance and all the other cancers carried in our cells from these short-sighed ancestors that make it so supremely difficult to wake up each morning and have a nice day. 

 

But a worldview created by the human mind is one that can also be dismantled by the human mind, a mind that can consider a different worldview created by other human minds. And there are other Ancestors singing in our blood. For example: 

 

“We love the earth and all things of the earth. Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky and water is a real and active principle. For the animal and bird world there exists a brotherly feeling that keeps us (the Lakota people) safe among them and so close do we come to our feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood we speak a common tongue.

 

Man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; that lack of respect for growing, living things soon leads to a lack of respect for humans too. So we keep our youth close to its softening influence.” 

                       - Chief Luther Standing Bear (p. 6 of Touch the Earth)

 

Here is a worldview based on kinship, on interrelations with humans and non-humans, on relationship with the natural world, on a kind and mostly benevolent Great Spirit, on the sense of belonging. A world that can lead us to a new vision of humanity and our place on this precious planet.

 

One of the chapter in Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost(p. 70) tells a story of some Spanish conquistadors (note the language: conquest) who got separated from their group, wandered until they were taken in by an indigenous tribe and “went native,” learning their ways. The indigenous view of the conquistador culture these Spaniards came from was right on target: 

 

“We came from the sunrise, they from the sunset. We healed the sick, they killed the sound. We came naked and barefoot, they clothed, horsed and lanced. We coveted nothing but gave whatever we were given while they robbed whomever they found and bestowed nothing on anyone.”

 

And there you have it. One world view that leans towards death (the sunset), kills the healthy, clothes our vulnerability and barefoot contact with the earth, carries weapons, robs all and gives nothing. Another that arises from the promise of the sunrise, walks in direct contact with the earth, brings healing, lives simply and gives generously. That’s what we’re choosing when we decide whether to celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day. 

 

On Friday, President Biden officially declared this day its renamed Indigenous People’s Day. That’s a good sign. Yes, the lost children of the conquistadors who have built their identities around conquest and domination and privilege and power and money will sputter and spout and fume on Fox News, but there is a growing movement of folks ready to change the story for the benefit of our healing in the moment and the future of our grandchildren. 

Really, there is no choice as to which to celebrate. Let’s do this. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

On Monk's Birthday

On the occasion of Thelonious Monk’s birthday (he would have been 104 today), I’m sharing a chapter from my upcoming book written for 5th to 9thgraders and beyond. After you read it, comb through your record/CD/ iTunes collection and play one of your old Monk recordings. And if you have to shamefacedly admit that you don’t have any, get beyond the mild guilt I’m throwing at you and start listening now. It’s never too late to do the right thing and listening to Monk is always the right thing!

 

A man with the unusual name of Thelonious Monk and a woman with the unusual name of the Baroness Pannonica “Nica” De Koenisgwarter were driving together through Wilmington, Delaware when Thelonious asked to stop to get a drink of water from a motel bathroom. As he got back into the car, a policeman came by and asked him some questions. When Monk didn’t answer, Nica explained that he wasn’t feeling well. As she and Monk drove on, the policeman followed. Because Nica was a white woman and Thelonious a black man, the policeman decided to make trouble for them. He pulled them over and demanded that Monk get out of the car. “Why should I?” he answered and refused to move. The police called for back-up and when they arrived, they pulled him by force out of the car. Monk grabbed on to the door handles and they started beating on his hands with billy clubs.  His hands!

 

It’s important to understand that Monk was a piano player and his hands were his life. They were also his gift to the world. In fact, Nica first heard about Monk through a recording. She was on her way to the airport to fly back to her home in Europe when she stopped to visit a friend who played a Monk album for her. She was so enchanted by the sounds that she listened to it twenty times in a row and missed her plane. In fact, she never went home again but was determined to find this man who could play such beautiful music. It took her six years to find him and they became friends for life.

 

The police continued to beat Monk and then arrest him for “resisting arrest.” They then illegally searched the car and found some marijuana, a mild drug legal now but illegal then. Nica claimed it was hers, wanting to protect Monk even at the risk of she herself being deported. The case was eventually dismissed because of the illegal search and Monk’s hands and body recovered from the brutal police beating. But this was just the beginning of further trouble. 

 

In order to work in the small clubs in New York, musicians needed something called a “cabaret card.” Twice before, police had unjustly taken away that card and left him struggling to work for years. At the time of this incident, it had been re-instated, but even thought he was falsely arrested and not convicted of any crime, they took it away again. Aching from the injustice of it all and the prospect of again not being allowed to work in New York, he fell into a deep depression, couldn’t sleep, lost his appetite and eventually checked into the psychiatric ward of a hospital.

 

Luckily for the world, he did finally recover, resumed composing, recording and giving concerts. Some of them were benefit concerts for organizations working for social justice. He was once invited by a high school student to give a concert in Palo Alto, a city that at that time was troubled by deep racial strife. He accepted and both black and white people sat together in the audience, unified by his music. He used those hands that were hammered by policemen’s clubs to bring happiness to the world. In his own words: 

 

“I know my music can help bring people together, and that’s what is important. I think that jazz is the thing that has contributed the most to the idea that one day the word ‘friendship’ may really mean something in the United States.” 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Marching Soldiers and Dancing Hippos

I awoke at 4:30 for the usual middle-of-the-night quick trip to the bathroom and snuggled back under the covers in our cold house ready for more sleep. There was a skirmish in the mind going on between images, those messengers of the dream world, and words, those foot soldiers of the day world. The images like to dance with Wordsworth amongst the daffodils and if I see them cavorting around, I’m assured that more sleep is on the way. But those pesky words demand to be lined up in orderly fashion and strut purposefully from here to there, each step in place. Once they start marching, I know I’m doomed and they’ll march me straight out of bed, the colonel demanding that they be written down and properly filed away. And I have no choice but to obediently answer, “Yes sir!”

 

But somehow the images sweet-talked the soldiers into waiting and now it’s 7:30 in the morning, a more reasonable hour to set this down. Not that it’s necessarily worthy of posterity, but I’ve learned not to argue with the dream-mind, be it operating by night or day. I wonder whether anyone else is awakened and feels the thoughts invading, either the march-formation organized ones or the random ones running through the obstacle course of basic training and thinks, “Damn! That’s it for any sleep tonight.” Whether anyone else notices the images dancing like the fanciful hippos in Fantasia and thinks, “Thank goodness. More sleep is on its way.”

 

And so to paraphrase St. George from the ritual St. George and the Dragon play:

 

Now I am awake.

Alive unto this day. 

Let the dancers have their dance

and the soldiers take their pay.

 

Happy Saturday to all!

 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Letter to San Francisco

 

The Blue Angels are a flight demonstration squadron of the U.S. Navy that put on some 30 aerial shows throughout the country. They first came to San Francisco in 1950. As I sat in my yard quietly reading, they boomed overhead and prompted this Facebook post.

 

On a crisp Fall day, writing on this dubious Facebook platform (that mixes our deep desire to connect with purposeful lies and mis-information that breeds avoidable sickness and death), I raise my tiny voice against the deafening roar of the Blue Angels invading the San Francisco skies, as they have every October for far too many years.  Why? I speak on behalf of the wandering ghosts of those killed by American planes who thundered over distant skies dropping bombs and bringing death and destruction to innocents below cowering in fear. I speak on behalf of the terrified birds and woodland creatures. I speak on behalf of the American Iraq and Afghanistan war vets who will have their PTS trauma triggered and run for cover.  I speak out against the wasteful consumption of precious fossil fuels and the toxic masculine posturing of power given over to machines. Yes, there is a weird artistry to the coordinated dance of the planes, but there are other paths to artistry that bring a quieter joy and beauty without the ear-piercing deafening rumble and roar of the death machines or the burning of oil. 

 

And so I raise my tiny voice and whisper “Stop.” San Francisco, are you listening?

 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

All-American

When I think of America’s cultural stamp on the world, I think about actors like Charlie Chaplin or Edward G. Robinson. I think of iconic movies like Orson Welle’s Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart and based on the book by Dashiell Hammet. I remember  Lee J. Cobb in On the Waterfront or 12 Angry Men (he also was the lead in Broadway’s version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.) and Zero Mostel in The Producers. (I also saw Zero Mostel on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof). I think of Ossie Davis acting alongside Sidney Potier in a radical 1950 film about racism called No Way Out. Then Roman Holiday, one of my all-time favorite movies, with screenplay by Dalton Trumbo (who also wrote the screenplay to Exodus and Spartacus). And another all-time favorite, Stormy Weather,  starring the one and only Lena Horne. And why not include some TV memories, like Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt and Eddie Albert in Green Acres?

 

In the music world, I grew up watching Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, listened to Harry Belafonte singing Jamaica Farewell and Day Oh and had a record of Burl Ives singing the old classic folk songs (and also saw him as Big Daddy in the movie Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Later came Pete Seeger with his fabulous song If I Had a Hammer and later yet, the fabulous jazz clarinet of Artie Shaw and breathtaking piano of Hazel Scott. I came to know a bit about the blues artist Josh White and listened to the remarkable field recordings of other blues musicians and American folk musicians done by Alan Lomax. And speaking of American music and film, what can be more all-American than Judy Garland singing the words written by Yip Harburg in the song Over the Rainbow in the movie the Wizard of Oz?

 

Then there are authors like the witty Dorothy Parker and the prolific poet Langston Hughes. 

 

Look at the list of names again. All of the folks in bold are part of the landscape of a unique American culture that has helped define us as distinct from France, Uganda, China, Australia or Brazil. They were recent immigrants or second or third generation, marginalized blacks and Jewish people excluded from country clubs, men and women, straights and gays. But besides all being fellow Americans, they also shared one other thing in common. Can you guess it?

 

Each of the above called up before the House on Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) led by Senator Joe McCarthy in the early 1950’s and either reprimanded or actually blacklisted, unable to easily pursue future work in their field for up to a decade later. All for exercising their right to look into and consider a different idea about government (communism) than the capitalist one that had caused (and still causes) so much damage to the world economically, environmentally, racially and beyond. Their “freedom” as Americans to think differently and express their thoughts was removed under the name of protecting “freedom.” In short, all these artists who helped define what it means to be an American were targeted as Un-American and a fascist like Senator Joe McCarthy and his sidekick Roy Cohn (who later helped create Donald Trump) were the model Americans.

Go figure.

 

Amongst all the other untold stories in American schools, I believe that this is worthy to tell the children, especially since the same intolerance that fueled McCarthy is still with us in new forms today. 

 

But hey, that’s just my opinion. If you drag this Blog Post up before the court when the next incarnation of Joe McCarthy seizes power,  I’ll plead the 5th

 

PS There were over 300 actors, writers, musicians and others blacklisted during this time. And Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan were two of the Hollywood industry people encouraging McCarthy and naming names.  

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

October Song

Last night I ate dinner at 7:00 pm and lit some candles. This morning I awoke at 6:30 am and it was dark. After a week of wearing shorts and basking in the sun, it is overcast and the air is chilled. Fall has arrived. 

 

And it is welcome.

 

It will be an indoor morning, the growing list of things I couldn’t get to in the face of actually living my life, those things that are needed to wrap up one activity or prepare the next, have come due. 25 of them to be exact and my vow is to tick at least 20 off before calling it a day. After an hour and a half, I’ve accomplished three. But even busy work deserves some pleasure and with Bach playing on the stereo, the leaves of the mayten tree out my front window dancing to the Preludes and Fugues and some cellular memories of decades of Autumn running through my blood, that cozy feeling as the darkening days begin to wrap around me is pleasure enough. 

 

Fall has always held a special allure for me, some sweet melancholy as I trade off dancing with the Spring daffodils or frolicking in the Summer lake’s waves and turn a bit more inward. Start making soups for dinner, take the heavier shirts off the hangers and the jackets from the closets and spend some time with Chopin’s nocturnes, Miles Davis ballads or Incredible String Band songs—like their classic October Song. How often I would set off into Glen Helen next to Antioch College singing this song, the crunch of the Ohio fallen leaves accompanying my singing and a great gladness in my heart, an 18-year old with the world’s promise walking by my side. This was the Fall of 1969 and in spite of Vietnam, the assassinations of the year before, the Kent State shootings soon to come, I was wholly convinced that there was a better world a’comin’ and I was ready to be part of it, to help create it, to keep dreaming it. And in many ways, all of that was true and in many ways, all of that was not. 

 

But here I still am, doing what I can, determined to keep that spark of hope alive and glowing, still grow younger towards my innocence while older towards wisdom’s experience, still strolling along the path of timeless time. 

 

While checking off the next 21 items on my list. 

 

(Here’s the song. Better if you can listen to it with the music.)


I'll sing you this October song,
Oh, there is no song before it.
The words and tune are none of my own,
for my joys and sorrows bore it.

 

Beside the sea
The brambly briars, in the still of evening,
Birds fly out behind the sun,
and with them I'll be leaving.

 

The fallen leaves that jewel the ground,
They know the art of dying,
And leave with joy their glad gold hearts,
In the scarlet shadows lying.

 

When hunger calls my footsteps home,
The morning follows after,
I swim the seas within my mind,
And the pine-trees laugh green laughter.

 

I used to search for happiness,
And I used to follow pleasure,
But I found a door behind my mind,
And that's the greatest treasure.

 

For rulers like to lay down laws,
And rebels like to break them,
And the poor priests like to walk in chains,
And God likes to forsake them.

 

I met a man whose name was Time,
And he said, "I must be going, "
But just how long ago that was,
I have no way of knowing.

 

Sometimes I want to murder time,
Sometimes when my heart's aching,
But mostly I just stroll along,
The path that he is taking.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Regular People

A participant in my Jazz, Joy and Justice class felt inspired by the examples of famous movie stars who used their privilege to be allies to some jazz musicians. But it left her wondering what kinds of impact “regular” people could have. Even as I know that her answer is more important than mine and that the very act of asking the question is the beginning of her search for the answer, still I offered my two cents. As follows:

 

First do good work. Like teaching! Much better choice than arms dealing. But then figuring out how to do good work as a teacher, to give the children worthy things to do (like making great music), watching for their gifts and blessing them, praising them, let them know you noticed that glockenspiel solo that gave you goosebumps, watching for their challenges and figuring out with them how you can help them.

 

Secondly, look at the blessings you deserved that no one gave, look at the small hurts or large traumas that came to you from bad ideas about human relationship and while doing the inner work to heal yourself, vow which of these bad ideas you have refused or will refuse to pass on. Draw the line that helps stop the systemic harm. 

 

Thirdly, educate yourself about social injustice— take a class (Wait! You are!), read, read, read, the stories, watch the movies that reveal just how embedded racism, misogyny and all the isms hurt both the people at the other end of them and the people hurling them. And then pass the stories and insights on to the kids in the appropriate forms and at the appropriate times. 

 

And since school generally will not want you to talk about these things, here is where your courage is called upon to rise. If enough "regular" people speak up courageously in all sorts of situations— including calling out someone at a party telling an inappropriate joke or defending a fellow teacher at a staff meeting who is being treated unjustly— then things begin to move. Even if you don't see the immediate effect. The next time that person starts to tell that joke, they may remember your voice and decide not to— and you'll never know. 

 

Finally, we're all regular people and the risks we take speaking out are the same ones that Hazel Scott took in the McCarthy hearings (tonight's class!). It's only the size of the risk and its impact that's different, but at heart, it's the same. Alice Walker invoked a Hopi prophecy when she said "We are the ones we have been waiting for." Meaning that the usual pattern is waiting for someone else to save us— be it Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King or in its negative form, Donald Trump. The new revolution is less big-screen heroes and more everyday people doing small acts of kindness and courageous speaking out that collectively begin to add up. 

 

But hey, what do I know? It's a great question and of course, we each have to answer in our own way. I imagine some part of you already knows the answer, has been living the answer, but yes, we could all use encouragement and consider doing yet a bit more.

 

Let’s keep asking the question and sharing our answers —together.

 

 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Trailing Clouds of Glory

 

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere it’s setting 

And cometh from afar.

Not in entire forgetfulness

not in utter nakedness do we  come,

But trailing clouds of glory, 

From God, who is our home.”

               Excerpt from Intimations of Immortality: William Wordsworth. 

 

Wordsworth’s inspired moment, at odds with the tabula rasa thinking of his and our time, is common knowledge in many native traditions, passed down as the simple truth of human incarnation. In this view, we are not an accident produced by a random Big Bang eons ago nor a simple biologically explainable meeting of egg and sperm from two people who accidentally meet. We have an omnipresent life of the Spirit already in place before we take human form and continuing in some way in the world that awaits when we depart from this body. Our Soul’s destiny, our Life’s star and purpose, come into this world with us and though we may forget it or ignore it or disbelieve it or refuse it, it is forever at our side hoping we will awaken to its presence, to remember the trailing clouds of glory that rode in with us at birth. 

 

The ancient Greeks had a clear idea of this with their concepts of the daimon, the genius, the Muses, so it is not entirely foreign to Western civilization. But read the above paragraph to any random American at the shopping mall and dollars to donuts, the response will be “Huh?!” 

 

Contemporary psychologist James Hillman wrote eloquently of this in his book The Soul’s Code, mythologist Michael Meade continued the idea in his book The Genius Myth and just about every speaker I listened to in the recent Collective Trauma Summit— Native Healer Sherri Mitchell from the Penobscot Nation, Colombian ritualist Hector Aristizabal, Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, poet David Whyte and a large variety of other thinkers/ activists/ healers coming from a variety of fields and traditions, each in their own style, all said the same thing: We come to Earth already gifted and our job is to claim the gift, recognize it, feed it, nurture it, share it. Our soul is connected to the World soul and by coming to know it, we heal not only ourselves, but all around us. 

 

And the stakes are so much higher than simply feeling better about ourselves. Those who have no experience of their inner gift, who have not even realized they needed to look for it, have never had anyone bless them for it, walk around with a hole in their soul that they try to fill with money or sex or power or dominating and/or putting down others, none of which satiates their hunger for inner fulfillment and all of which demands higher and higher levels of purposeful ignorance or hatred or harm or blind greed or deep denial. Everyone knows something is off when the once-respected position of the leader of the nation is abused with over 20,000 proven lies—with no consequence! Where provable cheating, captured violations of the inaugural oath, nepotism and personal gain in a public position, boldface lying, unashamed ignorance of the basic facts of history (the Revolutionary War air force?), refusal to concede in a fair election, instigating a violent insurrection in the nation’s capital— the list goes on— remains excused or forgiven or ignored and this person is still not in jail. Really?!

 

I’m suggesting that one thing driving this extraordinary state of affairs is the national style of spiritual disconnection amplified by the intensity of the crises we face. That if we believe that we are just randomly thrown into an uncaring universe and the best we can do is get as much of the pie as possible before we pass into nothingness again, what motivation do we have to consider that we can do better? Heaven and hell seem to have no weight, since our nation’s former leader flagrantly broke every one of the 10 Commandments and no one suggested that his next real estate deal will be in a burning Hell. And if we’re just in it for mere survival, to watch out for number one and get what we can get, why, it’s perfectly logical to buy into wholesale fear and hatred of the other. And if we’ve found no beauty inside ourselves that invites us to lovingly participate in creation when we wake up in the morning, how do we get through the day? Best to imagine that someone else is to blame for our feelings of failure and loneliness and abandonment and build our day around making them wrong so we can feel just a little bit right. Which, of course, doesn’t work.

 

And so this is so much more than a political or moral or ethical crisis. It’s a spiritual crisis founded on adopting a destructive worldview that promotes fear, cynicism, selfishness, greed, short-sightedness and so much more. Conversely, if we can begin to ease into the beauty of our particular genius that is patiently awaiting, if we can nurture the love that is the road map to our gift and understand how what we love is the cure, if we can find the medicine lying in our wounds and recognize that we’re all the walking wounded and worthy of love and compassion, both from ourselves and others, why then, things can begin to move. This has been true from the dawn of humanity. The only thing that has changed is the due date. The world needs our medicine now. Not tomorrow, not next week. Now.

 

More coming. 

Digging to the Roots

I keep trying to dig down to the root source of our global sickness, feeling that 98% of our attempted solutions to a broken world are like bandaids on cancer. It’s not just greedy, power-hungry politicians or bad laws or endless entertainment and shopping distraction or religions that promote terrorism, stop independent thought and murder love— it’s the spoken and unspoken world view that creates, sustains, passes forward what makes that all possible and sanctioned. 

 

Clear thinking people are all loving science these days, celebrating those heroes creating vaccines, caring for us in hospitals, giving us the facts that once accepted, keep us alive. But let’s not forget that science is a large part responsible for getting us into this mess, lifting us from our given role as co-participants and co-creationists in nature, setting us apart, enthroning us as above the plants, animals and eco-systems and driving the forces of domination, from the extravagant misuse of fossil fuels to atomic weapons to nanotechnologies and robots determined to reduce us to a collection of mechanical parts explained by computer metaphors. The unseen, invisible world, the notion of an authentic human spirit and soul, the experience of being part of a shared consciousness, is summarily dismissed and we become mere inert matter living in a dead world (often coupled with religion’s pie-in-the-sky promise of a better home awaitin’ in the sky). 

 

Our very human development is explained in pseudo-psychological objective terms, born into the world as a tabula rasa, our growth a mere collection of social/psychological experiences and impositions from family/media/ culture. We do what we can to get our little piece of the pie and die wondering why we bothered spending our life amassing all the things that we can’t take with us. 

 

And yet. Indigenous groups, poets, seers, have long cultivated a very different point of view that created a much different kind of society, one that had its issues of territorial warfare and hierarchies that limited human potential, but never ever led to mass destruction of other cultures, of the environment, to the multiple disasters facing us now. “We all sit down to a banquet of consequences someday” said Robert Louis Stevenson, and while we’re gathered around the table, it is precisely these old ways of living and living together that need to lead the conversation. 

 

Earlier, I gave seven shared qualities of traditional cultures and suggested ways that we could fold some practices into contemporary life, but now I’m looking at the root ideas that lie behind those practices. Stay tuned. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Three Roads

I turned my calendar page to October and read the quote: 

 

The person attempting to travel two roads at once will get nowhere.

 

This was not what I wanted to hear. I preferred the story of Joseph and his multi-colored robe, for the threads that weave through each of my days are many and varied, yet part of the same cloth. Switching the metaphor from thread to road, the roads that I walk are sometimes parallel, sometimes crossing, sometimes diverging but, I believe, eventually all arrive at the same place. 

 

So as the month begins, I’m putting the finishing touches on publishing a book titled Orff Schulwerk in Diverse Cultures: An Idea That Went Round the World. It is a collection of articles by some 75 Orff teachers, almost of all of whom I know,  representing some 25 countries, all of which I have taught Orff Courses in. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to attract a larger publisher’s interest in my new book recently retitled Jazz, Joy & Justice: The Stories Every American Needs to Know while writing a new one, Round the World and Back Again—a memoir of a year-long trip around the world in 1978-79. 

 

Putting on my still-working-on-being-a-jazz-pianist hat, I have a concert mid-October with my group The Pentatonics and am booked each Friday to play at the Jewish Home for the Aged. Another neighborhood sing is on my calendar and I’m thinking about reviving the online Alum Sing with a Halloween song theme. 

 

The teaching hat still fits me well and plenty of opportunities to wear it this month. Zoom courses for Rome, Massachusetts, Finland and a live three-day class in Oklahoma. Alongside my Monday night online classes with the Jazz and Justice theme. I have an interview soon with SF State about joining their Olli Lifelong-learning course offerings and followed a lead about teaching university classes at UC Santa Cruz. 

 

So here I am attempting to walk not two roads, but three at once—writer, musician, teacher. My calendar quote tells me I’ll get nowhere, but on a deep level, maybe that’s the point. There’s nowhere to get to. I’m not walking the road to arrive at a specific place, be it counted in terms of fame, fortune or spiritual enlightenment. I’m walking for the sheer pleasure that each road affords me, the sense of arrival in each step while also feeling the beckoning horizon just out of reach. 

 

Finally, it may just be that the apparent three roads are actually one road, different sections of the same path. And whether it's one or two or three, I've taken the journey that "has made all the difference."