Thursday, March 31, 2022

Listen to Your Mother

“How to cope in a world gone mad” was the theme of last night’s Men’s Group. A timely theme indeed. But when has it not been? Pick a year, enter it on Google and read about what happened that year. The world has always been a mess and though it’s hard to imagine it, we are so much better in so many ways than we ever have been.  Yes, there is a horrendous explosion of backlash from those watching their unearned power and privilege slipping away and the desperate acts of men—and women— driven by their fear of losing their right to hate and dominate and dismiss and refuse to look into the state of their own soul. That’s one way to read the Capitol Riots, the invasion of Ukraine and the existence of Tucker Carlson. And yes, every time history repeats itself, the price goes up. And yes, the race between education and catastrophe has a time limit that is fast approaching and the banning of teaching social justice in schools, the burning of books, the approved bullying of trans students and other nightmares is not a happy sign. For those who cling naively to the notion of the light at the end of the tunnel, it appears that it just might be the headlights of a train coming the other way to run us down. 


And yet. Given the choice between living with the despair of "we're all screwed!!" and considering the possibility that there is a larger story at work here, that the buds of Spring on the branches outside the window may flower after a long, hard Winter, why not choose the latter? Not naively, but actively. Nature will take care of the trees, but the blossoming of human nature needs our effort. What would that look like?


It might begin with grabbing hold of our depression about events and cook it into grief, that active choice to feel the full pain and sorrow of a human life, to sit with it, to hold it, to live with it, to sing it out in a glorious blues. And in so doing, get on top of the sadness pressing down on us. In so doing, to open our compassion to our fellow limping, wounded, suffering souls, which is everyone, no matter how you might try to hide it under money or blaming others for your failures. In so doing, to say a full Yes to the difficult demands of a human incarnation.

It might mean taking your raw anger that the world is not the way you want to be and cooking that into focused outrage, the long, hard, path of political action. From the click of online petitions to writing postcards to knocking on doors to attending city council meetings. 


It certainly should include answering the incomprehensible and meaningless destruction with the beauty of meaningful creation, be it writing poems, playing music, creating artwork, choreographing a dance, cooking a festive meal. It would be good for us all to spend more time with children and be infected by their innate delight and hope and curiosity and humor and the way they’re counting on us to bequeath them a world. It’s always good to walk in the natural world, where no tree throws its pine cones at you if it doesn’t like your race, gender, class, sexual orientation or religion. To notice how the trees grew around the one struck by fire in a circle of compassion. (See drawing above of redwood trees in Muir Woods). 


Here’s the deal. No one — and I mean no one— has any idea what the future will bring.The future is a story being written by how we act and think now. What happens tomorrow depends so much on what we do today.  So if we wallow in despair, feel paralyzed by hopelessness, try to escape into distraction, we help write a hopeless story. If we dig deep and move forward with the most hopeful, imaginative and compassionate part of ourselves, the story we help write might turn out better.


And even if it doesn't, why not do it anyway? As Mother Teresa said:


The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway. 


Honest and transparency make you vulnerable.

Be honest and transparent anyway.


What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. 

Build anyway.


Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.

Give the world your best anyway. 


Listen to your mother. 


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

To Be of Use

 I always knew that my “retirement” was not going to mean lawn bowling, golf or cruises, but the reality of it —even narrowed by two years of pandemic— is an occasion for great gratitude. I believed fervently in my life’s mission of dynamic music education, not only as an offering to the world for music’s healing tonics, to children for meeting them at their level of delight and dignity, but also for my own unabashed pleasure in playful teaching and playful music-making. It was clear that I would continue tending the garden of what I spent my lifetime cultivating — the seed-planting, the watering, the weeding and sharing the harvest with others at the table— but I didn’t yet know what shape it would take. 


Yesterday, I attended a morning sharing concert for parents of 1stand 3rd graders at the school where I subbed a couple of weeks ago. I had taught two of the six pieces and even got to drum alongside some 3rd graders for one of them. Sitting in on the band of 3rd graders is an honor and delight equal to being asked to play with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Maybe more. 


After the concert, I walked down the street to the Middle School and co-taught the piece Sway to a fabulous group of 6th graders. By the end of one hour, they had put together the melody and bass on xylophones accompanied by the tumbao pattern on the congas. One hour. From scratch. They sounded great and they knew it. We all did. At the end, many rushed over figured out how to play the melody on the piano while others walked out singing. 


Back to the lower school, which is behind an apartment building for Seniors and up to play piano for the 80 and 90 year-olds. Warmed up the room with Bach’s Cello Suite (on piano) and then one of the residents asked if I knew a Chinese song to play for the person sitting next to him. I did— at least the melodies minus the words. In honor of another resident in the room, he requested a Russian song. No problem— I had three at my fingertips. Then a Spanish song. I started talking Spanish to the two people he pointed out and found out they were from Guatemala and Ecuador. I didn’t have those folk songs repertoire easily accessible in my memory, but they were delighted when I played La Paloma, Besame Mucho, Solamente Una Vez and … Sway! And sang along. Another woman requested The Moonlight Sonata and off I went— at least for the first 64 bars or so. A man asked about ragtime and I was playing the Maple Leaf Rag before he finished his sentence. 


It was quite a day. All of this— including one more class back at the Upper School with 5th graders— is to say that I’m lucky beyond my wildest expectations that the choices I’ve made about what to do and what to study and what to practice and keep alive in my memory have turned out to be useful for others. And that I continue to find the venues and the opportunities that allow me to be of use in this new world of post-retirement. To have the chance to continue to share the fruits of my labors with people of all ages and circumstances. I never doubted for a moment that the work that chose me was real and necessary, but couldn’t know what shape it would take.


Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use” ends thus:


… the thing worth doing well done

Has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. 

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

But you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

And a person for work that is real. 


Tuesday, March 29, 2022


As the cricket’s soft autumn hum is to us, so are we to the trees. As are they to the rocks and the hills.   

                                                                          -Gary Snyder



Thursday night is garbage night. Once every seven days. 


Once every six or seven weeks, I get a haircut.


Once every six or seven months, a dental cleaning.


So when I take the cans from the alley to the street, I feel that small marker of time passing, another week out of a lifetime of some 3,673 weeks. 


When I see my haircutter, there’s that moment when I think—“Hmm. Six weeks already?”


And then there’s my dental hygienist, a long term relationship that lets me know that almost half the year has passed. I went to her the other day and immediately remembered that we had an appointment just when I returned from Singapore two years ago and I was joking about this hysteria about something called the corona virus. They did ask me some questions, but that was the extent of it. Little did we know.


Soon will be the annual check-in with my tax accountant. From garbage to hair to teeth to money, all these small, medium and big cycles that mark the turnings of time. Life is indeed periodic and our lives move in cycles of different lengths.


Right now, I’m working with a music teacher at a school that has a six-day rotation schedule and it’s a nightmare. It is so anti-musical not to know that the melody will repeat in its proper place in the cycle and to have it constantly displaced so that it takes six weeks before it completes its rotation. Too long to feel the metrical rhythm of it all. Aargh.


So this is what I thought about when I went to the dentist. And I’m happy to report no cavities, root canals, extractions or implants that require another visit. I will see her in September and once again, feel time’s passing.


Monday, March 28, 2022

Winning the Oscar

The last night of the grandkids grand visit was spent watching the Oscars, an annual ritual my wife particularly looks forward to. It was the usual drama and melodrama, notched up yet higher by that strange and unexpected Shakespearean slap. Wars have started for less. 


As a lifelong movie buff, I appreciate the effort to honor the work of these artists and thank them for their dedication, mastery of their craft and hard, hard work. What I don’t love is the overblown spectacle of it all, the over-the-top gowns and suits, the glitzy stage and schmaltzy music. But hey, that’s Hollywood. It would be interesting to hold it some day in a modest high school auditorium— but that ain’t gonna happen.


My two-year pandemic-delayed retirement party is happening in two weeks and though I won’t be walking away with a golden statuette, it feels appropriate for myself and my two fellow retirees being honored to have our lifetime work recognized and publicly valued, our own dedication, mastery of our craft and hard, hard work appreciated by the community. Just as I have honored and publicly appreciated all my fellow colleagues— and there have been many over my 45 years at school!— who have left or retired before me.


But it would be hard to top my personal moment of Oscar-like glory this morning. I awoke at 5:30 to drive my daughter Kerala and Zadie and Malik to the airport and met Malik in the hallway. We hugged good morning and he said,

“I wish I was staying for a month.”


Further down the hall, I hugged Zadie and even as a pre-adolescent 10-year old, she hugged me longer than usual and said, 

“I don’t want to let go.” 


No golden statue could be more meaningful than those two sentences.


Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Open Air

               “Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,

               It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth… Walt Whitman

It has been a glorious week with the grandchildren. Not only because they’re fun and funny, quirky and curious, insightful and imaginative and we love them both beyond human reason, but also because we had the good sense to get them outside most every day. The short adventures in Golden Gate Park biking, walking, playing paddleball or frisbee, visits to other city parks like Buena Vista, Sales Force Tower, the Presidio. Then the whole day excursions to Angel Island, which included a ferry ride and an 8-mile hike (they’re hearty hikers!), another hike to Muir Woods alternating looking up at the redwoods with awe and on the path’s edges at poison oak with anxiety and today, a visit to Tilden Park in Berkeley which included feeding celery to cows at the Little Farm and riding the Steam Train. 


Whitman had it right. Though we’re choosing to sleep and eat most dinners indoors, the days out in the open air are just the ticket. Their intense kid energy is diffused in the wide open spaces, they’re happier moving and taking in the sights and sounds and smells, they’re beginning to learn a wide variety of plants and trees and whether the weather be hot (last Tuesday), cold (boat ride to Angel Island) or in-between, it just feels good to be outside. For all of us. 


Also a good time to praise and express gratitude for this most remarkable San Francisco Bay Area with its diverse eco-systems— the woods, the hills, the shore of the Bay and ocean, the expansive views, the intimate forested paths, the inviting broad meadows, the world alive with crows, gulls, seals, coyotes, colored with poppies and cherry blossoms and lupine, illuminated by bright sun or shrouded in misty fog. 


Might at least some of our restlessness or boredom or aloneness simply come from too much time indoors? Sometimes just opening the door and stepping outside (with the phone buried deep) is enough to remind us of “the secret of the best persons.” 

And extra credit if we take the kids with us. 

Friday, March 25, 2022

Full House

I’m in the kitchen frying shishito peppers while tending the potatoes, red peppers and chicken sausages in the oven. My daughter Kerala is making chimichurri sauce in the blender, my daughter Talia is putting together a kale salad, my wife Karen is sewing with granddaughter Zadie and grandson Malik comes in the back door with his new friend Teo who lives in the building where Kerala’s best friend Ariel use to live and both she (and now Teo) could come into our yard through a gap in the fence. Our upstairs neighbor John stops by and for a brief moment, the house is abuzz with that communal energy that I lived another lifetime ago when my kids were growing up and my parents might stop by for a visit. Only now, we’ve all moved up a slot. My wife and I at the age my parents were, my children coming home from work through the front door, my grandson coming in the back door with his neighbor friend. Another turn of the wheel.


I’ve settled into the two-person quiet life of the retired, mostly happily enjoying the solitude and the time apart from the hubbub of the bigger family, the energy of young kids, the challenges and delights of young parents. But the moment in the kitchen felt like life the way it’s supposed to be led and has been for millennium. All ages together, the warmth of cooking food, the community of neighbors, the air vibrant with the chatter of people happily connecting with each other. This the feeling I always admire when I travel to places like Ghana or Bali or Peaks Island in Maine, places where everyone knows their neighbors and they stop by unannounced to visit or chat over the fence or in the marketplace. 


I remember seeing a documentary once about an anthropologist from New Guinea coming to the United States to study an exotic tribe of people known as Americans. She was stunned to find a culture where people sat alone in homes staring at blue screens, children sued their parents, elders where isolated away in special homes, kids were isolated away in schools in classes where ages didn’t mix, people spent thousands of dollars to sit alone in a room with a therapist wondering why they were so lonely. To her mind, this was both incomprehensible and sad. I agree.


Naturally, I will always appreciate some space and solitude, but it’s good to remember that feeling in the kitchen. The grandkids spent the night at Aunt Talia’s and I’ve spent the morning catching up on e-mails and such. And now they’ve come through the door. Back into the din, the uproar, the clamor and tumult and hullabaloo I go!


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Atlas Unchained

The grandkids have arrived and amongst the plans of bike rides, walks in the park, cooking, board games, select movies, jigsaw puzzle, I’m reading the D’ Auelliare Book of Greek Myths to my 6-year old grandson. From Nike to Cupid to Athens to the Kronos Quartet and far beyond, it’s remarkable how much of Western civilization sprang from these roots and continue to echo down through the years. Might was well start them young. 


And so Atlas, carrying the Universe on his back and that sense so many of us have now of shouldering the burden of the world’s calamaties. My own blogposts offering my tiny ideas about healing enormous problems a case in point. But with six of the eight days left in the visit, I’m putting down the world and giving Malik a piggyback ride instead. And Zadie too, though she’s already 5’2” and a bit beyond my capacity to physically carry. 


I imagine I’ll still check in and tell little charming stories— like the way Malik asked his Mom if they were “un-entering Grant’s Pass” when they left the town they entered. But the large world-shaking insights hoping to carry the large world-shaking issues I put down for now. To be continued.  

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Pandemic Aftershocks

For the second time in the last two months, I went to an actual movie theater. The choices are fewer and fewer in San Francisco as theaters are closing down left and right— including the beloved Castro Theater! (Not wholly closed, but just open sporadically for film festivals and stage shows).  Despite the ease and convenience of watching everything at home, there is no replacement for the big screen and the fellow viewers. It has been an ongoing part of my life and I’ve missed it.


But one thing I haven’t missed is coming attractions that assault me with constant guns and bombs and fear and distorted evil faces, all those Hollywood shoot-‘em-ups that exploit our lower chakras and brain-stem engagement with fear and survival to make their money. Using their human intelligence and precious resources to make films that no one needs to see. Especially now, when real people in the Ukraine are being bombed and shot and killed and it’s not while eating popcorn with their $15 ticket in their pocket.


Okay, okay, I know we’re not going to stop these kind of films from being made, but it was my fervent hope that with the two-year reflection of the pandemic, we might come out the other end determined to do something more meaningful, intelligent and forward-thinking. That the audiences would tire of the sensational senseless violence and withdraw their support and show that we all need to do better and be better than we’ve been. That the medium of film would tilt yet further to an art form that ennobles the human soul or helps us laugh at ourselves or intrigues us with its ideas. And yes, also just entertains us to give us a rest from the actual assault of the news rather than intensify it with all the doomsday scenarios and constant rat-a-tat of assault weapons. 


Last night’s movie was “Licorice Pizza,” a sweet, quirky, eccentric coming-of-age story, but the three coming attractions were 15 minutes of non-stop killing. It’s a high price to pay for going to the movies. What the hell, Hollywood? Can you just stop? Actors and actresses, can you just refuse these roles? Fellow movie-goers, can you withdraw your support so such movies are financial failures? Can we keep the best of the pandemic’s “no business as usual” going? 


I hope so. 


Saturday, March 19, 2022

Wearing the Mask

 “In a well-wrought song, the text is swallowed hide and hair.” — Susanne Langer


Last night, I had the great pleasure of going to a concert by jazz saxophonist Chris Potter featuring his compositions for poetry and big band. The music was complex but accessible, the playing (especially his solos!) virtuosic and extraordinarily expressive, the concert a meeting point of imagination with instrumental mastery, intellectual depth and emotional breadth. The poems were exquisite and eclectic, including the Greek Sappho, the Indian Kabir, the American Edna St. Vincent Millay, the black American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and even two by Mr. Potter himself.  


My one disappointment was that the poems were sung rather than spoken and their power was lost in those long drawn-out vowels and changing tones. I think it would have been more effective to speak the poems accompanied by the music or tuck the lines into some of the silences or over quiet held tones that then flew out after each stanza to re-express the images in sound.  One of the band members had sent me the poems ahead of time and had I not read them, I certainly would not have understood them in the singing— and even then, it was hard to follow. As Susanna Langer comments above, "the text was swallowed hide and hair."


But besides the inspired music and the pleasure of simply being out at night and back at the SF Jazz Center, it was good to be reminded of Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first celebrated Black poets in our long, twisted history. Born in 1872 of two parents who had been enslaved, he went to high school in Dayton, Ohio, the only Black student in his class. He became class president and class poet and worked briefly for a Black newspaper published by classmate Orville Wright! (Yes, of the Wright Brothers!). His mother could not afford to send him to college and he was excluded from work on local newspapers because… well, you can guess. He had to settle for a job as an elevator operator and wrote poetry, articles and short stories on the side.


His work attracted the attention of James Whitcomb Riley and in 1893, again helped by Orville Wright and also Riley, he published his first book of poems titled Oak and Ivy. Thus, began a career that included giving readings throughout the country and in England, continuing to publish poetry, short stories and novels. He wrote both in standard English and Black dialect and much of his work confronted directly the horrors and abuses of racism. Fellow poet James Wheldon Johnson wrote of him: 


“Paul Laurence Dunbar stands out as the first poet from the Negro race in the United States to show a combined mastery over poetic material and poetic technique, to reveal innate literary distinction in what he wrote, and to maintain a high level of performance. He was the first to rise to a height from which he could take a perspective view of his own race. He was the first to see objectively its humor, its superstitions, its short-comings; the first to feel sympathetically its heart-wounds, its yearnings, its aspirations, and to voice them all in a purely literary form.”


 He suffered from tuberculosis and alcoholism and died at the tragically young age of 33.


Below are the two poems from last night’s concert. SF Jazz still requires wearing a mask, but this first poem had quite a different meaning! And wouldn't we do well to accept his invitation to love in this time of unleashed epidemic hatred?


We Wear the Mask



We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.


Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

       We wear the mask.


We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

       We wear the mask!



Invitation to Love


Come when the nights are bright with stars

Or come when the moon is mellow;

Come when the sun his golden bars

Drops on the hay-field yellow.


Come in the twilight soft and gray,

Come in the night or come in the day,

Come, O love, whene’er you may,

And you are welcome, welcome.


You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,

You are soft as the nesting dove.

Come to my heart and bring it to rest

As the bird flies home to its welcome nest.


Come when my heart is full of grief

Or when my heart is merry;

Come with the falling of the leaf

Or with the redd’ning cherry.


Come when the year’s first blossom blows,

Come when the summer gleams and glows,

Come with the winter’s drifting snows,

And you are welcome, welcome.


Thursday, March 17, 2022

Holy Trinity

Three is a powerful number. In Christianity, there is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Buddhism speaks of the Buddha (the teacher), the Dharma (the teaching) and the, Sangha (the community). In Hinduism, the three top gods are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer). In the face of world events and particularly an extraordinary video clip I saw on Youtube, I’m intrigued by this Hindu Trinity. 


As an artist, I’ve both experienced, witnessed and been the recipient of the power of creation. I feel most alive when creating, be it music, words or a solution to a life dilemma. When the spark of the creative instinct bursts into flame, it brings light, warmth and the mesmerizing beauty of fire. Thus, Brahma.


Then comes the tending of the fire, the preservation of the initial inspiration through disciplined practice. Vishnu.


The law of entropy suggest that things tend towards disorder over time, energy disperses and systems dissolve into chaos. That which was once alive and vibrant— be it a human body, a cultural practice, a tree— decays and in the natural order of things, becomes the food for the next cycle of creation. Thus, Shiva.


But destruction can also be unnecessarily sped along by our human failings and thus, disturb the natural order of growth and decay. Shiva is often depicted in a monstrous form and seems to personify the death-dealing side of humanity— the wars, genocides, abuses, dominations. 


If you’re a Hindu scholar or physicist, you may rightfully scoff at my incomplete and simplistic notions here and apologies for that. But I’m just searching for the images of creation, preservation and destruction that all live together in this 1 minute and 45 second clip of a woman playing Chopin in her bombed-out home in the Ukraine. Through her lifetime of discipline, she is boldly and bravely preserving the wondrous creation of Frederick Chopin in her home that has been cruelly torn apart by the monstrous Putin and his henchmen. The contrast between the beauty of the music and the ugliness of war’s havoc is breathtaking. 


There is no question how real the results of heartless power and hatred are, as the camera shows the chaos of broken glass, furniture destroyed, buildings smoldering outside. But the sounds of Chopin as an antidote to the death-dealing are equally real. They don’t stop the bombs from dropping, but they remind us of the ennobled human soul, that Creation and Preservation call on us to affirm and sustain life amidst the Destruction, and that every moment dedicated to them, whether in peace or war, is a vote for the higher possibilities of our humanitarian promise.


I’ll stop talking now and simply invite you to watch. Many times, please.





The Wisdom of the Puzzle

Earlier I praised the jigsaw puzzle for its vigorous exercising of our visual-spatial intelligence. But there’s more.


First, the content of the particular puzzle. I learned a lot from this one about the various National Parks and Monuments in the United States. Out of the 97 listed, I believe I’ve only been to 27, giving me 70 more possibilities to add to the bucket list.


Secondly, I’m always amazed by how I often get it wrong understanding precisely where each state is in relation to its surrounding ones, despite the fact that I’ve seen the U.S. map thousands of times and traveled to every state but two (Mississippi and Arkansas). 


Thirdly, I’ve spoken before about a host of metaphors hidden inside the jigsaw puzzle, the way we are born with an indelible Soul image that we are meant to be. But the pieces get scattered and we have to gather them one by one and piece them together until the image gradually begins to reassemble and make sense. And so on.


With this recent puzzle, I worked on putting together the words at the top and reached an impasse where it seemed clear that four pieces were missing. Two visitors at my house confirmed the confusion and after looking all over the floor for the missing pieces, were as completely baffled as I was. Later that night, I found the problem. I’ve tried to re-create it here, but impossible to remember the details. Suffice it to say that two letters were in the wrong place and by re-placing them, it all came together.


And so came the deep lesson of the day that speaks to the way we convince ourselves that something is wrong with us, that we’re missing some vital piece of humanity that everyone else seems to have but us. 


The pieces are not missing. They’re just in the wrong place.

The Calisthenics of Multiple Intelligences

The pandemic/retirement combination has given me the time and leisure to turn my formerly occasional diversions into daily practices. On one level, they seem frivolous, but on another serve as calisthenics of the multiple intelligences. Those capacities of the brain to experience and understand the world through the separate (but always intertwined) lens of language, logical mathematical constructs, visual spatial imagery, musical sounds, physical manipulations, emotional responses and social connections. It struck me that my little hidden “vices” are all ways to keep the synapses of those different intelligences firing, exercise their muscles with their particular form of deep knee bends and keep their cardio-vascular systems vibrant and pumping. 


Solitaire, especially the one I play that depends upon intelligent choices and patterns perceptions, helps awaken the logical-mathematical capacity of the mind. 


Crostics gives the linguistic intelligence its daily workout. 


Jigsaw puzzles light up the visual-spatial centers of the brain, fitting pieces together according to shape, color and the context of the whole image. 


Then each day I take a giant leap from these pleasant (but muscular) diversions into the world of Bach and jazz on the piano. Here the logical mathematical world of rhythmic divisions and elongations, melodic flights inside the I, IV , V and more chords, intricately connecting lines weaving together joins with the spatial voicings of harmonies that each give different colors to sound and sometimes is married to the poetry of song. All three of the above-mentioned intelligences exercised in partnership with sound (the musical intelligence), feeling (the intrapersonal intelligence), social connection when I play at the Senior Homes (interpersonal intelligences) and kinesthetic intelligence as the hand searches for the right touch and practices the intricate finger coordination. 


Thus, music as one of the highest human capacities because it depends on a mastery that includes all seven intelligences. If I had to choose just one daily routine, one discipline, music would be a good choice.


Luckily, no need to choose. And so I happily greet each day with my daily Solitaire, crostics and off and on jigsaw puzzles. As well as a walk or bike ride through the park, a book to read or listen to, a friend to meet occasionally for lunch. We humans have many different parts to exercise!


And you? What are you favorite diversions that help you stay both amused and mentally exercised?

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Breaking the Cycle: III - Congressional Opposite Day

Before we deal the cards, we shuffle the deck. Before we roll the dice, we shake them.

If we always kept the cards in the same order or laid down the dice to the same numbers, the game never changes. 


So in this third installment of game-changing ideas, let’s consider “Opposite Day.” In Part I, I wrote:


Imagine …the Senators/ Congress-people (paired as Democrat/Republican) discussed with their partners one of the bills on the floor. Each pair would then report back to the greater body, but speaking their partner’s point of view.


That idea deserves more attention. To begin with, mark one out of every five days in Congress as “Opposite Day” where we have to listen and speak in a different way. We— and here I mean all of us— so often speak from our fixed point of view and when discussing or arguing with someone who disagrees, listen to them only to find the points of rebuttal. Their words become ammunition to shoot down their “obviously wrong” ideas and the level of actual listening is low. 


On Opposite Day, opposing forces would partner up for a face-to-face discussion and whatever the issue at hand is, each would present their point of view following these rules of the game:

1) Each gets an equal amount of time to speak (agreed on beforehand) marked with a timer.


2) The partner listening may not interrupt or even ask questions (yet). Simply listen.


3) The partner is encouraged to shut down the argumentative voice in his/her head that is shouting, “That’s not true!” /”Yeah, but what about…?!” etc. Simply listen.


4) After each has presented, the other can ask some clarifying questions. 


5) Each now speaks back to the other the opposing point of view as they heard it. They don’t have to agree with it, simply speak it back as if they were in the other’s shoes and advocating for it. The other may interject clarifications or corrections. 


6) Each then reports back to a larger group  of 8 to 10 people. 


7) Each of these groups reflects on whether the process helped them understand more clearly their opposition’s point of view and from that place, begin to brainstorm compromises as needed. 


The key to the above or the children’s voices idea or the musical pre-talk experience idea is the a priori agreement amongst our Congressional Representatives that things as they are are broken and need a new perspective, that their shared mission to serve a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is the North Star guiding all conversation and that the determination to build an identity and maintain an identity based on the demonization of others has no place in the halls of Congress. In the “takes two to tango” model, those who refuse to dance are subject to impeachment.


So there you have it. My three ideas that are unlikely to catch hold, but nevertheless, are worth saying out loud. What are yours?


Monday, March 14, 2022

Breaking the Cycle: II -The Children's Congress

During the pandemic, a road in Golden Gate Park that was closed to cars on Sunday was closed every day, much to the delight of the people who love to walk, jog, skate, bicycle in the park. Now that things are opening up, there was move to re-open it to cars. There was an open meeting of the Board of Supervisors and people were invited to express their ideas and concerns both live and by phone. Good, listening, responsive democracy in action.


My wife chose the phone option and listened for three hours to people’s one-minute points of view before she had her turn. One of them was an 8-year old child, who testified how much she loved to walk on the road and notice the animals and how without the cars, there seemed to be more of them. How refreshing was that? To hear a child’s voice amongst the adults saying something so heartfelt and simple and true. 


Having listened to kids at my school both speak and write about their concerns around the daily news, I already knew that children’s voices are important, insightful, honest and often much more to the point than the adults who are already ensconced in party positions or thinking with their head only or speaking from the brainwashed part of their mind. 


And then the obvious thought struck. Why not include children’s voices in Congress? Let them weigh in on every decision before it’s to be made? After all, the decision is likely to impact them more than the old Congress-people who will be gone before the effects of bad decisions show up in the future. Might we actually listen to the children and hear what they have to say? I’m not just talking about the Greta Thurnbergs and David Hoggs and Emma Gonzales’s (latter two from the Parkland Shooting in Florida), but include 5th graders and 1st graders and even pre-schoolers. 


For the younger ones, the adults would have to explain the issue at their level, which already would be a great exercise. Without the gobblygook of Foxnewsspeak, how would people explain things like “We want the gun industry to keep making lots of money and let anyone who wants get an assault rifle” to a first grader who had just heard about the latest school shooting? 


Then they’d have to sit back and really listen to the kids. Also listen to their comments like “Why is that man yelling at the others? Why won’t he answer the question? He sounds like he’s lying.” And all those other fresh perceptions of the young ones. 


In short, inviting children’s voices into Congress to at least be heard, if not eventually granted some votes. Listening to children, before they are brainwashed and taught to obey instead of think and kept away from the books that help them hear other perspectives, would change everything. It would teach them to be active citizens in the future by being active citizens in the present. The idea that they’re too young to think clearly is blown out of the water by adult Congress people talking about Jewish space lazers and convincing other adults that Democrats are pedophiles who also eat their young. When well-prepared by adults who share ideas without imposing them, children, in my experience, turn out to be remarkably intelligent. (The quotes I gave a few posts back about the power of music is a case in point.)


So alongside the Orff workshops before each session of Congress, inviting children who are concerned about specific issues to have their say is another game-changer that no one considers. 


Consider it.