Monday, January 17, 2022

Leonard Bernstein Appetizers

 

Looking for a quote from Leonard Bernstein that I couldn’t find, I stumbled on others that I’m happy I did find. In the spirit of the one-line snacks from yesterday’s post (and arguably much more interesting) are some select gems from the maestro.

 

• The joy of music should never be interrupted by a commercial.

 

• I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never seen a statue of a critic.

 

• Children must receive music instruction as naturally as food, with as much pleasure as they derive from a ball game and this must happen from the beginning of their lives.

 

• Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time… the wait is simply too long.

 

• I’m no longer sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is Yes.

 

• To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.

 

(Compare to Duke Ellington’s: A goal is a dream with a finish line.)

 

And finally, in honor of Martin Luther King Day:

 

I believe in people. I feel, love, need and respect people above all else, including natural scenery, organized piety and nationalistic superstructures. One human figure on the slope of a mountain can make the mountain disappear for me, one person fighting for truth can disqualify for me the entire system which had dispensed it.

  

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Virtue of Snacking

Sometimes snacking is as satisfying as cooking a full-blown meal. Sometimes even more so.

 

As with food, so with writing. It certainly is easier not to have support your thesis statement, give thoughtful examples, make sure the themes are connecting. Just take the sentence as it is, no cooking needed. Like these: 

 

• Each day, thoughts knock at my door. I let them in and invite them to the table.

 

• I awaken with my demons and go to sleep with my angels. 

 

• The line to maturity crosses from milk chocolate to dark chocolate. 

 

• The disco beat— Satan’s preferred tool of torture. 

 

• So many joggers running past me. None of them smiling. 

 

• The i-Phone — the surest way to ruin a sunset. 

 

• The line between solitude and loneliness is as thin as an early morning bird call, as wide as Johnny Hartman’s voice in the empty housed-night. 

 

And one from Blossom Dearie singing Blossom’s Blues (borrowed from various folk songs):

 

• If you don’t like my peaches, baby, why do you shake my tree? (2x)

   Get out of my orchard and leave my peach tree be. 

 

Just a Little Bit More

 

When John D. Rockefeller, the world's richest man in his time, was once asked “How much money is enough?” He replied, “Just a little bit more.”

 

I get it. I dove back into the jigsaw puzzle world and started assembling a new 1,000-piece puzzle at 8 am yesterday. It was a lovely day outside and I fully intended get out and walk, but I kept promising myself, “Just a few more pieces.” And then breaking my promise over and over again. I guess that’s how addiction— or at least obsession—works.

 

If we are in the grips of its hold, obsessing about jigsaw puzzles is pretty benign. It feeds some neurocircuits in my brain that make me feel wholly engaged and a little bit more alive and alert, gives a steady stream of dopamime rushes as each piece clicks into place and offers some aesthetic satisfaction as the image slowly gathers into coherence. My wife out of town and my children grown and me retired, it’s not taking me away from family or social obligations. If I’m prone to mild addiction, it’s not a bad choice.

 

In fact, it seems like many of the people we admire are driven by some engine of obsession. Shooting 10,000 free throws, practicing piano eight hours a day, meditating in 7-day intensive Zen sesshin retreats from 3 in the morning to midnight, takes both will power and an inner drive that refuses to stop. With results that bring some measure of pleasure, happiness and healing to both oneself and the world.

 

By contrast, Rockefeller and his ilk’s obsession with making more and more money just for the sake of making more and more money brings harm to both the soul and society. (More on this in a future blogpost). So if you are blessed or cursed with an obsessive personality, be careful what you choose to do. The “just a little bit more” story perfectly describes my experience yesterday and helps me understand John D. Rockefeller better and feel like we share something in common. The object of our obsession is where we part company.

 

I finally did get out for a robust walk yesterday. 

 

At 3:00. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Love Vaccine

I’ve had to face some hard news and hard truths these last few months. Two alum students committed suicide, another attempted it and a fourth is swamped with traumas beyond her capacity to hold. These are all people I knew as smiling kids dancing joyfully in my classes, making beautiful music in my concerts and acting with such fun and flair in my plays. They spent years in our loving, supportive community with many caring teachers watching over them and loyal friends by their side. And still, this. 

 

I’ve leaned my whole life to what might be called a na├»ve notion that people are mostly good, that much of life can be fair, that a good education can cultivate wise choices. “Not so,” the cynics have been shouting to me for years. “People are rotten to the core, the universe is indifferent and we constantly make foolish choices.” Well, yes, but since we are given both the challenge and blessing of choice, it indeed makes a different when a school makes every effort to know each child, to welcome each child, to praise and bless each child, to give each child the tools to know, value and praise their own best selves. It’s not foolproof— humans are too complex and the factors of family, peers, genes, the soul’s journey all enter into the picture — but there are countless testimonies from our alums as to how our school's gifts to them continue echoing and sometimes have helped draw them back from the abyss. That’s also real.

 

Though I continue to be loyal to the notion that we all— both institutionally and individually— could do a much better job creating and sustaining loving school communities, these alums above force me to look a hard truth in the face. There is no guaranteed inoculation from pain, suffering, depression, disaster. (Indeed, Buddhist teachings have been telling me the same). 

 

And yet. For a while, it seemed vaccination made us immune to Covid and now the variants are sneaking past the guards. But note that vaccination indeed does make a difference as to the severity of the case. From what I understand— and I could be wrong— a positive diagnosis for most vaccinated people (though some exceptions from folks with pre-existing conditions) does not mean a rush to the hospital and respirators. Because of the vaccine, it’s more like a mild flu from which one can recover within a few days. For those without vaccines, it’s a much more serious matter. 

 

So yes, children immersed in supportive, welcoming, effective and loving educational communities are receiving a lifetime vaccine that doesn’t offer full immunity, but makes a difference. A habit of critical thought inoculates them somewhat against crazed conspiracy theories and obvious lies. An education that attends to the social-emotional aspects of learning helps people develop coping strategies when depression or self-doubt sets in. A school committed to social justice teaches people to work beyond their personal pleasures, powers and privileges to contribute to a greater good. A curriculum that pays serious attention to the arts creates people to express the full range of emotion in paints, clay, movements, poems, plays, music, all of which helps steer them away from guns and angry outbursts. A school community built on caring teaches people that we need each other and are available to each other in times of crisis and in times of joy. All these lifetime vaccination that don’t shield us completely from life’s catastrophes, but lessen the impact when they arrive. 

 

When the young woman shared her attempted suicide on Facebook, I immediately found a photo of her at six-year-old playing an instrument and looking into the eyes of her fellow musician with an infectious smile and loving joy. I wrote to her:

 

"I am so sorry to hear your difficult, difficult news. It was hard for me to connect it with this beautiful, joyful child I knew. But I know she’s still there with you and I hope you keep her by your side as you move forward.”

 

My attempt at a vaccine booster to lessen the impact. 

 

The Omicron Carol

(Yet another blogpost dictated to me in a dream. Sing to the tune of “Oh Christmas Tree.”)

 

1) Oh, Omiocron, oh Omicron

Thou germ so mean and nasty.

Oh, Omiocron, oh Omicron

Thou virus everlasting.

 

You came to us after Delta hit

We’re tired of this pandemic. 

 

Oh, Omiocron, oh Omicron

Thou germ so mean and nasty. 

 

2) Oh, Omiocron, oh Omicron

We’re in your chains and fetters.

Oh, Omiocron, oh Omicron

We’re running out of letters. 

 

Leave us alone who face the facts.

And hang out with the anti-vax.

 

Oh, Omiocron, oh Omicron

We’re in your chains and fetters.

 

3) Oh, Omiocron, oh Omicron

Your presence is outrageous. 

Oh, Omiocron, oh Omicron

Why are you so contagious?

 

You’ve spiked up, now please spike down

Go leave us be, get out of town.

 

Oh, Omiocron, oh Omicron

It’s time for you to go now. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Sinful Jazz Soul Wreckage

One of my Jazz Course students just forwarded some choice quotes from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of 1922. Written by upstanding, upright, moral citizens concerned about the debilitating effect of jazz, these choice quotes were the last stand of a prurient repressed Victorian Society terrified of the body’s freedom, fun and sex. In an article by Matthew J. Prigge (real name?) titled “The Year of the Flapper,” he notes: 

 

Early in 1922, the Journal described jazz a "decadent African rhythms moaned by a saxophone" while dismissing it as "a panacea for nagging housewives, Bolshevism and the sorrows resulting from the Volstead drought" - a reference to the Prohibition legislation. But when it became clear that jazz was the preferred form of dance music for the flappers and the "flippers", "goofs" and "dew droppers" (varieties of boys who chased flappers) she attracted, the matter became more serious. "The sooner we get rid of jazz, the sooner we shall have the return of real national prosperity, " the paper editorialized. "To let boys or girls become jazz addicts is to excite in them sentiments that handicap and debase. It may even be to ensure soul wreckage."

 

 It continues:  “To respond, as is inevitable, to the musical anarchy, the sensational sounds, the tom-tom of modern jazz," said a representative of the Federated Church Women of Milwaukee, "is to yield to close, improper positions and a series of fatuous squirmings and wrigglings and gyrations."

 

 To which the flappers of the 1920’s, the Lindy Hoppers of the ‘30’s, the Jitterbuggers of the ‘40’s and 50’s said, “Yeah! Bring it on!” And the musicians did. 

 

Today I taught two jazz pieces to 7th graders at a school and it gave me great satisfaction in knowing that I was introducing them to sinful jazz soul wreckage. Yeah!

 

 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Pessimist Club

 

A long-time fellow teacher at our school instituted a club. She and I were the only members, switching off Presidency depended on who brought the best offering. Titled, “The Pessimist Club,” the idea was to share news items that stretched the boundaries of just how absurd, stupid, bizarre and just plain crazy human beings can be. The stories had to be true, but skirt the boundaries of belief. To give you a taste, here’s a couple I remember from over 30 years of club membership: 

 

• Two men in the South were having an argument over a passage in the Bible and one of them beat the other one to death...with his Bible.

 

• 57% of Americans think that we shouldn't teach Arabic numerals in school. Even though, of course, our numerals ARE Arabic. 

 

You get the idea. The club was put on hold somewhat during our last four years at school (we both retired in 2020) because every day the news was one Pessimist Club item after another. And the echoes of that insanity continue to resound. As in this latest item I found posted in the Daily Kos: 

 

The Republican assault on the teaching of “divisive concepts” like the existence of racism continues, and a new bill proposed in Indiana makes it ever more clear that this is an all-out assault on public education itself. The bill drew attention when one of its co-authors said that teachers should be impartial in teaching about Nazism. State Sen. Scott Baldwin’s appalling comment came in response to a brave question from history teacher Matt Bockenfeld. 

“For example, it’s the second semester of U.S. history, so we're learning about the rise of fascism and the rise of Nazism right now,” Bockenfeld said at a committee hearing on the bill. “And I'm just not neutral on the political ideology of fascism. We condemn it, and we condemn it in full, and I tell my students the purpose, in a democracy, of understanding the traits of fascism is so that we can recognize it and we can combat it.”

Bockenfeld expressed concern that the bill would prevent that teaching, saying, “Of course, we're neutral on political issues of the day. We don't stand up and say who we voted for or anything like that. But we're not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do.”

Baldwin took exception to that. “I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of” Nazism, fascism, or Marxism, he said. “I believe that we've gone too far when we take a position on those isms ...  We need to be impartial.”

 

Impartial on Nazism. For as he-who-shall-not-be-named once said, “There are good people on both sides.” And the slaves were happy and well-cared for, the Ku Klux Klan is a respectable civic organization and QAnon is a trustworthy factual research center. That’s what our kids should be learning.

 

It’s a field day for the Pessimist Club. Anyone want to join?

  

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Car Wash

 

I never went to Disneyland as a kid. I'm sure I wanted to, but I lived in New Jersey and California was a long ways away. By the time I had my own kids, the appeal had long worn off. But as an adult, when my young family was down in L.A. and within shouting distance, we figured we might as well take the kids there. As you can imagine, the high ticket price and long lines and dubious attractions (though I did like the Haunted House and the nighttime fireworks) and tired, hungry, whining kids confirmed my suspicion that all in all, it’s not worth it. 

 

But yesterday, I experienced a sensational ride that far-surpassed anything Disneyland has to offer. With an $11 ticket price and no line. Yes, it was the automated car wash. In my young adult days, washing my own car was a mostly-fun ritual every month or so, but as life got busier, as it does, we started farming it out, as we do. My go-to place had some 40 workers, mostly Latinx immigrants, at the gas station and on one hand, I’m sure they were paid less than they deserved and on the other, I’m sure they needed whatever they got paid. So I went with that mixture of supporting them and supporting a broken system.

 

And then, last month, that gas station closed down. I scoured the Internet for alternatives and read about services that could come to your home and do the job for $200. Then I remembered the gas station on 19th and Lincoln had an automatic car wash and recalled enjoying sitting in the car while those big brushes enveloped you. So off I went and how I wished the grandkids where with me! It’s really quite a feeling— and a little bit scary— to have the tri-color water descend and feel like you’re inside some kind of diving bell, surrounded on all sides by water and those brushes like threatening creatures trying to get at you. Some moving belt moves you back and forth, the water comes in waves or mist or sprinkles, the sounds thunder and whoosh and whisper and then the hot air starts blowing. Quite a multi-sensory experience— and the end, your car that had been attacked by pigeons when you left it parked under a tree, emerges squeaky-clean. What a bargain!

 

So next time you’re bored and need some sensational experience to perk you up, may I suggest the car wash? And take the kids. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

Martin Luther and the Rhyming of History

I’ve always thought that Martin Luther and I would not have been Facebook friends, but looking a bit into his life, I’m wondering if we might have hit it off. I’m not a big fan of blind believers who never question either themselves or others and apparently, neither was Martin Luther. According to the Wiki source, at 17 years old, Luther “was deeply influenced by two tutors who taught him to be suspicious of even the greatest thinkers and to test everything himself by experience.” 

 

After a few years in a monastery working through his own self-doubt, he continued his academic career and rose to become a professor of theology at The University of Wittenberg in Germany. In 1516, a friar named Johann Tetzel was sent by the Pope to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica. His fundraising strategy was selling something called indulgences, a promise that giving money would cancel one’s sins. The motto was, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul into heaven springs.” Luther objected, writing “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” Go, Martin! My kind of guy!

 

He posted this critique, along with 94 other “Theses,” by nailing it on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. (Or so says the urban legend. No one knows if it’s precisely true, but it makes for a compelling image.) At any rate, the word spread and the Church was not happy. In a shouting match with a Cardinal who challenged his critiques, Luther proclaimed,“His Holiness abuses Scripture. I deny that he is above Scripture.” 

 

The Church banned the distribution of the 95 Theses and called Luther to appear before the Diet of Worms. (No, this was not a cult health fad— “Diet” meant an assembly and Worms was a city).  Luther was excommunicated from the church and declared an outlaw of the State by the Holy Roman Emperor, who also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. It permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence.

 

Let’s pause here for a moment. Is anyone else feeling the loop of history repeating itself? People who give money given a pass on their behavior, then a seat in heaven, now an exemption from paying taxes? One abusing Scripture and proclaiming himself above Scripture, another doing the same with Democracy? A law that says you can’t give Luther food or shelter, another in Georgia that says you can’t give food to black voters waiting for hours on line to vote? One permitting people to kill Luther without consequence, another (in Oklahoma) saying you can run over protestors in your car without consequence? 

 

Hold on to your hats. The parallels continue. Some took the opportunity to question as an excuse to pillage, burn and commit violence. Alarmed by this, Luther came out of hiding and returned to Wittenberg writing: “During my absence, the Devil has entered my sheepfold and commit ravages which I cannot repair by writing, but only by my presence and living word.” Here is a departure in the cycle of “history rhyming” — our present-day guy just sat silently for three hours while the mob he incited wreaked their havoc. Luther charged the rebels with blasphemy for calling themselves "Christian brethren" and committing their sinful acts under the banner of the Gospel. (One can’t help but wonder what he would have to say to Ron Johnson, who identifies himself as a Lutheran!)

 

And finally, the coup de grace. Around 1527, there was yet another outbreak of the plague and the anti-vaxxers of that day acted carelessly. Luther reprimands them: 

 

"They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They distain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health."


Luther went on to warn that those who "make no use of intelligence or medicine...become a suicide in God’s eyes." Then he leveled the most serious charge against the "rash and reckless" trying to "prove how independent they are," saying that...

"It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over.

 

Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. … See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

 

Yes, history rhymes and sometimes the poem is not a happy one. Food for thought.

 

 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Elemental and the Civilized

(Another excerpt from my next book project. Italics are from my journal entry in 1979 while living in the state of Kerala, India.)

 

When visiting England, Gandhi was asked: “What do you think of Western civilization?

 

He replied: “I think it would be a good idea.”

 

When I first read Thoreau and soon after, Whitman and Emerson, I was already resonating with the idea that our best selves lie closest to nature, that our true nature is close to us and right at hand and gets needlessly obscured by too many layers of “civilization. “ Our feet are imprisoned in thick-soled shoes, our body wrapped in layers of cloth that limit our movement, our hands made dumb by too much button pushing, our legs grown weak by cars and buses, our intuitions buried under mountains of printed dogma, our souls made small by too much social niceties. Even music, that most direct path to soul and spirit, is blocked by sheets of paper with little black dots. By the 17/1800’s, the English poet William Wordsworth was already complaining: 

 

The world is too much with us, late and soon.

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

Little we see in Nature that is ours, we have given

Our hearts away, a sordid boon…

 

And goes on to wish that he could return to the state of a “a pagan suckled in a creed outworn” to revive his Spirit. 

 

Some part of me was looking also to the Pagan, not the one proclaiming “a creed outworn” but the one in tune with the timeless alignment of one’s own natural spirit with the spirit of the natural world. And so I was attracted to teaching three-year-olds, to sitting silently in meditation with attention to breath and posture as a way back in, to backpacking, to the vibrant rhythms and soulful singing of jazz and West African music, to brown rice and vegetables and water over fancy French cooking and coffee. 

 

All of this made the time in Kerala especially rich. On one hand, it was about as far away from my American upbringing as one could get, completely alien and unfamiliar— like that moment of awakening to the thundering drums and cymbals and otherworldly-costumed Kathakali actors battling on a stage and then stumbling into an elephant sleeping in the field. On the other, something was clearly recognizable, resonating with some timeless and universal quality in my soul. The foods, the dress, the language, the musical instruments, the music, the land, the gods and goddesses, the rituals and ceremonies, the myths and folk tales, the arranged marriages, the absence of cars and minimum electricity— all of it completely new and foreign yet strangely familiar. The feeling of connection I had with the people, that at-homeness in the festivals, the growing intimacy with the land, all of it had to do with removing the unnecessary layers and getting to the root of the matter.

 

India indeed is a civilization in the dictionary definition of the term —“the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced.” Far from the tribal cultures of hunter-gatherers living in the forests or small agrarian cultures out in the fields, but much closer to both than England or the U.S.. The people are more wholly in their bodies, the religious festivals with vibrant and powerful drumming offer a direct line to Spirit without the bland intermediaries of polite prayer or hymns sung from a book with little feeling, the lifestyle in Kerala intimately tied to the land and the natural cycles of the seasons. As noted in my next entry.

 

Feb. 19, 1979— my chappel (flip-flop) broke today and had to walk back barefoot from town. How nice! To feel the contours of the earth, the coolness of dried cow-dung paths. Even a half inch of rubber can break our direct connection with the earth, the ground of our being. We met a Canadian traveler who described a month’s walk down a river in Borneo with tribal villagers who hunted monkeys with blow darts, walking in complete silence and full awareness, sometimes smelling the game before sighting it. Alive in all their senses, at home in the rain forest attuned to the plants and animals and watersheds, hunting their food directly, with respect and gratitude.

 

This puts a whole new light on the usual notions of primitive and civilized society. If we accept the Earth as Mother, it is “primitive” society that is most advanced, living with alert bodies, sharpened senses, deep respect, great intelligence, a beautiful sense of the wholeness and integration of life, with art and religion woven into the fabric of the daily round. Thinking along these lines, primitive becomes primary, elemental (a word Orff used often), living close to the Source without all the unnecessary layers. Of course the modern world will not hearken back to these primary cultures, but we can work to keep in touch with the source of our being within the structure of civilization— hence Orff, Zen and Jazz, for example. Where they still exist, we can protect these primary cultures and learn the lessons they have to teach us. 

 

That was wishful thinking! Decades later,  the “civilized” corporate destroyers continue to raze rain forests to graze cattle for McDonald’s, displace indigenous people, ravage the earth to get fossil fuels so suburban Americans can drive to the mall to buy plastic products made in China they neither need nor truly want. Both children and adults spend a good part of their day sitting pushing buttons manipulating artificial worlds and staring at two-dimensional screens that have no taste, texture, smell. 

 

And yet, there is some movement toward farmer’s markets, more bicycles and less cars, more people hiking in national parks. Westerners are playing djembes and didjeridoos, taking yoga and Afro-Haitian dance classes, growing gardens in their back yard. There is a move to re-awaken the body, re-connect with the natural world, re-examine the ways to bring Soul and Spirit into the daily round, re-imagine a more sustainable and ecological way of life. Perhaps we are learning some of these needed lessons, though possibly too little and too late.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Around the World and Back Again

With a lot of blank spaces on my January calendar, I figure it’s time to get back into a writing project I started in the Fall. First-draft got as far as March of 1979, as we’re about to travel to northern India after spending three months in the state of Kerala. Before continuing, I wrote a little prologue today and so I share it here as an article of faith that those interested might someday read the whole book. Publishers, take note— I’m open to all offers!

 

In August of 1978, my soon-to-be wife Karen and I left our teaching jobs in San Francisco to take a year off and travel around the world. With $6,000 in our pocket, off we went—from San Francisco to Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey and Maine, from England to Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Greece, from India to Nepal, Thailand and Singapore, from Java, Indonesia to Bali and Japan. We returned to San Francisco on my 28thbirthday, resumed our jobs at our school, found an apartment, got married and pregnant and began the next phase of our life. That trip echoed on into our future in many significant ways. We named our first daughter Kerala (from the southern state in India where we settled for three months), incorporated much of the visual and musical arts we learned into our teaching and helped create a school ritual life that included Balinese flags and gongs, Indian drums and cymbals. 

 

The world in 1978, though a mere four decades ago from this writing, was a markedly different place. San Francisco’s City Council passed the most comprehensive Gay Rights Bill in the United States, California voters passed Proposition 13, the property tax initiative that killed funding to schools, libraries and other vital services, China lifted its ban on the works of Aristotle, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and Starbucks was a single store in Seattle. Computers were enormous military machines, the Internet did not exist, long distance phone calls were expensive and most luggage still didn’t have wheels. To journey away from home was a different beast altogether from what it later became.

 

Now in 2022, it’s tempting to look back nostalgically at that lost time when travel was more adventurous, more challenging, more difficult — and thus, more memorable. When English was not that widespread, all signs were in different languages and sometimes, different scripts, all communication with folks back home was on thin blue aerograms sent from post offices and received at American Express offices. Finding a hotel often meant wandering the streets, with or without the help of locals offering their service hoping for a “finder’s fee,” train tickets were bought at the station and travelers checks were your portable bank. Each day was often a plunge into the unknown, calling on all our resources and counting on the kindness of strangers. 

 

Today, travel is easier and more comfortable. Flight, train, bus tickets or rental cars purchased at Orbitz.com. Hotel reservations also, with photos of the rooms. English spoken more everywhere and Google translator at your fingertips where it isn’t. Loved ones back home a text, Facetime or Zoom click away. No need to give up your Starbucks coffee or fast food addictions. No waiting days, weeks or months to see how your photos turned out. Banking on your phone or with a credit card— goodbye, traveler’s checks. 

 

In spite of the ease and comfort, travel today can still hold surprises and memorable moments. But I am grateful beyond measure to have taken this trip around the world in a time when it meant something altogether different. With a short look at beginning travels as a child and then as a young adult in my early 20’s, this book tells the story of just how different it was in that one-year trip around this most extraordinary planet. Drawing from my memory and my extensive journal writing from that time, it converses back and forth between my younger and older self. It has been a pleasure to dive back into those old yellowing pages, to re-live that life we lived and to invite you along on the journey. Draw up your armchair, prepare a cup of coffee, tea or chai and enjoy the trip! 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Why Music?

 


As you can see, I did reach the 50,000 views on my TEDx talk (see 1/
5 post) and to celebrate, I watched it again. I’m happy to report it held up. I could reprint it here, but for a change of pace, here is the link and those interested can watch it. It’s just under 15 minutes long. 

 

https://youtu.be/zKZAfDcU6BQ

Lifelong Learning

The world is unfathomable, mysterious and full of surprises. 

 

Last night, at 70 years, five months and one week old, I sewed a button on my shirt for the first time. (With the help of my wife.)

 

The same night, a revelation came to me in a dream. How the word “afternoon” got its name. (Think about it.)

 

The world is unfathomable, mysterious and full of surprises. There is always something new to learn. 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Of the People, By the People, For the People

Against all common sense, I still have a landline. Absolute no one calls me on it except for Forests Forever and similar groups and I pay enough money for the phone to help support Forests Forever. Why haven’t I gotten rid of it?

 

Old attachments die hard and often we cling to them far beyond their use. It’s as simple as that. What—and who— we know that we’ve figured out how to live with often feels easier to keep by our side than abandoning them.

 

As with telephones, so with political structures that have long outlived their use. Or began with a dubious use, one designed to benefit just some of the people in a democratic nation at the expense of others. And so on this anniversary of one of our country’s biggest threats to our democratic ideals, the one that shocked us all because it wasn’t a communist conspiracy or an ISIS terrorist attack, but an assault instigated by our own President and supported by some of the Congress-people who themselves were threatened inside the Senate chambers, it’s a good time to consider the six things that would turn this country back toward its highest promise as a truly representative democracy. 

 

1. Pass the John Lewis Voter’s Rights Act: This is designed to take voter suppression out of the hands of states run by political parties who manipulate law to their advantage and return democracy to fair voting practices that truly reflects the will of the voters— and thus allows us to return to the Mission Statement of government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” with expanded definitions of who is “people.” (All of us.)

 

2. Rebalance the Supreme Court: The denial of Merrick Garland near the end of the Obama administration and the fast-tracking of Amy Coney Barrett just days after Ruth Ginsburg drew her last breath and approval of Brett Kavanaugh in the face of clear sexual abuse charges purposefully tilted the Supreme Court toward one party. Since the Court has enormous power in our representative democracy, handing a dubious election victory to George Bush in 2000 and repealing the Voter’s Right Act (see above) in 2013, it’s time for the present Congress to add more members. 

 

3. End the Filibuster: This archaic practice was mostly designed to halt progressive legislation that would serve the American people. It’s long overdue to end it.

 

4. Repeal the Electoral College: Another archaic institution that allowed arguably America’s worst president to get elected after losing the popular vote. 

 

5. Rebalance the Senate: Population-wise, the people are not proportionately represented in the Senate. Wyoming (population 587, 759) has the same representation in the Senate as California (population 39, 370, 000). A government “of, by and for the people” is not served in this arrangement, especially as the Senate has long blocked and continues to block any legislation outside of the conservative party line. 

 

6. Tax the rich alongside everyone else: A budget of the people, by the people and for the people should be supported by all the people, with the rich and super-rich paying their fair share. As any 10-year old could tell you—“Duh!”

 

And one more. “No taxation without representation!”was the rallying cry for the birth of this nation and yet residents of Washington D.C. (with a 50% black population) have no vote. Gee, I wonder why.

 

So on this January 6th day, let’s focus our efforts to create a democracy that fulfills its true promise. If all seven of the above were changed, we would truly be a beacon for the world. But hey, I’d be happy to start with any one of the above! 

 

And I will celebrate by giving up my landline. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Taking Down the Christmas Tree

Desire cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there around a room. It stops and guilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it. But when we do, the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part. The glitter that made you want it is gone.”   

             - F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Beautiful and the Damned

 

The Christmas Season is a sunbeam shining on the things we’ve chosen to ornament our homes and making them glitter yet more brightly— the lights round the windows, the holly and mistletoe, the tree brought indoors and radiant with precious ornaments carrying the stories of family and former times. All of it framed with the songs that open our hearts, the tastes that tickle the tongue, the feel of the wrapping paper and the heft of the gifts, the warmth of the fire and the smell of the mulled wine. It is art, it is theater, it is ritual, all designed to evoke the magic and mystery missing in our day-to-day life and now awakening into the glint and glitter and gleam and glamor, the sparkle and splendor, the shine and the shimmer, the twinkle and the dazzle. Life—all of it— is heightened and we glide where once we trudged, are lifted up where once we felt weighted down, feel cozy and comforted where once we felt the chaos and confusion. 

 

Then without warning, the day arrives when we simply can’t hear Jingle Bells one more time without screaming and even the notes of Silent Night fall flat. The egg nog suddenly tastes sickenly sweet, the gifts are now a problem as to where they will be stored, the tree just takes up way too much room and the ornaments feel like so much dead weight. The sunbeam has moved on and the glitter that made it magical is gone. 

 

I thought we should dismantle the Season on January 6th, the 12th day of Christmas, but this sense of “it’s over” has nothing to do with calendars, comes from the inside as an intuition to be wholly trusted, insists that you admit it’s time. And so this afternoon is when we will unadorn the Norfolk pine from its lights and trinkets and move it back into the lightwell where it lives the rest of the year. We’ll tuck the ornaments back into their boxes, fold up the stockings, pour the egg nog down the drain and resume our secular life. 


The sunbeam now shines on "normal" and suddenly, it's exactly the level of glitter we want.

 

Life By the Numbers

If you see me walking around my house for five minutes or so without a clear purpose, chances are I’m acting out a minor neurosis. I have a health ap on my i-Phone and suddenly, it’s not enough that I enjoy the pleasure of a daily walk around the city and appreciate the benefits of regular exercise. Now I need to know how many steps or miles I walked. If I arrive home and find it’s 8.9 miles or 19, 924 steps, I get mildly obsessed with rounding it off to 9 miles and/or 20,000 steps. If it’s too cold or rainy or late to walk around the block, I just walk around the house until the numbers click in and I get my little dopamine rush of satisfaction. 

 

In a similar fashion, my lifetime views of my TEDx talk I gave nine years ago is approaching 50,000 (I know that’s nothing next to Taylor Swift talking about getting a haircut, but hey, humor me here!). I’ve been checking it daily and there’s six more views to go. (If you haven’t seen it, check it out and you might just be the 50,000th viewer and win… a free Orff workshop?)

 

So I’m confessing here (as I have before on several of my 3,286 previous blogs viewed by 514,924 viewers over the past 11 years) that I’m a numbers nerd. I count my strokes when I swim, notice the 3,631 Facebook friends (and wonder how many I’ve met personally) and when I hear someone has passed away, often asked how old they were. Years back, I had an odometer for my bike that eventually broke and decided not to replace because I was getting too obsessed with the miles ridden. My wife tells me that my walking Health ap might have a switch that works for biking and I’m resisting with all my might seeing if that’s true. Enough is enough. 

 

That was 322 words up to the end of the last sentence and I’m thinking I should keep writing until I hit 500. 

 

But I won’t. 

 

Life Between the Opposites

Wisdom tells me I’m nothing. 

Love tells me I’m everything. 

Between the two my life flows. 

 

                         (From a Facebook friend’s post)

 

One truth tells me I’m utterly alone in an indifferent universe.

Another truth tells me I’m intimately connected with all living beings and helped by unseen hands. 

The two truths dance together.

 

                    (My extension of the above). 

Monday, January 3, 2022

The Best Christmas Gift Ever

THE POP-POP POEM

 

                                      By Zadie Taylor— aged 10: Christmas, 2021

 

My Pop-Pop is filled with love and jokes.

My Pop-Pop is filled with care.

My Pop-Pop is filled with laughter and song.

My Pop-Pop makes everything fair.

 

And when he sings, it sounds like a chime.

And when I’m sad, he makes a rhyme.

My Pop-Pop is filled with presents and stories.

Stories filled with joy and glory.

 

And I hope you like the Pop-Pop poem,

'Cause when he visits, he brings love to your home.