Thursday, June 30, 2022

Cultivating Kindness

I have had to eat my own words many times, and I have found it a very nourishing diet.


-      Winston Churchill


What were you thinking, Doug? Really? A culture of kindness? Have you read Social Media lately? Did you ever hear of Twitter? Have you noticed that a simple opinion or fact gently stated can unleash a tsunami of venomous vitriol? That it’s difficult these days to have a simple conversation over the chasm of differing points of view without each side hurling their stock phrases of insult and contempt? Where exactly is that kindness and caring you celebrated in yesterday’s post?


I confess— guilty as charged. So here I chew on those words and try to find the nourishment in re-considering them. Not to take them back, but to put them in a larger context. 


First of all, the explosive wrathful responses to what could be simple conversations on social media are real, disturbing and deeply damaging to civil public discourse. The perfect storm of spite, harshness, nastiness and mean-spirited talk is brewed by four (and more) different weather fronts:

• People unwilling to reflect on their own shortcomings and desperate to find others to blame for their life’s failures.

• An ex-President who modeled that pitiful state of being and expressed it daily in his toddler-tantrum-tweets.

• An entire political party that equates caring with weakness.

• The very nature of social media where people can hide behind the anonymity and safety of not having to say their piece face-to-face.


One simple solution is to understand that e-mails, Facebook, Twitter and the like are not the places to engage in conflicting conversations of any kind. Use them to show cute pictures of your cat, share your amazing dinner, post some shots of the pyramids you finally got to visit. And if you feel compelled, as I have, to share things of greater depth that might include a political point of view, invite anyone who differs to call you up or meet you for coffee rather than engage electronically. The very nature of the medium works against any hope of respectful listening, considering alternate points of view or coming to a new perspective and understanding. 


Secondly, the daily raging storm of unkindness, shown in its extreme in the behind-the-scenes stories revealed in the January 6thhearings, for example, does not cancel out the daily news the newspaper never reports. People of all sorts who show care for others, themselves, plants or animals are forever amongst us. 


Thirdly, even as I reported my school culture based on welcoming, even as I witnessed it yet again as SF School kids in my daughter’s summer camp welcomed and included her niece in the camp, I also sometimes hear stories of behind-the-scenes meanness and bullying between certain kids that has gone on for years without me suspecting it. If kindness is an indelible potential in the human psyche, so is its opposite. Celebrating one without acknowledging the other is simply naïve and thus, not useful.


I think what I was aiming for in yesterday’s post is simply the fact that the possibility of kindness as an ongoing practice has made it to the table, is now included in a conversation in which the idea had been formerly excluded. It’s a long way to go from flashing a sign in Golden Gate Park that says “Be kind” and actually cultivating it as a habit, but the first step is simply to say those words out loud and suggest that this should be expected of us.


A spiritual teacher once said, “I have both God and the Devil inside of me.” “Which one is stronger?” asked the student. “Whichever one I feed.”


Feed kindness.


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Prepping the House

Scrape, scrape. Tap, tap, Bang, bang. Out on the scaffolding outside my window, the painters are prepping the house before beginning the new paint job. Better to get rid of all the flaked and chipped paint from the last twenty years than simply try to paint over it. 


Hard as it is to believe in the wake of everything that's happening, might we have entered a new era where kindness is—or at least, is on its way to becoming—  the new norm? Every day as I walk or bike through Golden Gate Park, I pass the electronic sign that reminds us all to “Go slow. Be kind.” In my school, the new children and teachers and even guests visiting the campus always remark, “Everyone was so nice to me!” In my own life, I do my best to treat the actual people I meet with some measure of kindness and lo and behold, I feel it coming my way as well. 


Think of every book you’ve read or movie you’ve watched about the new kid in school  and you’ll see that "in the old days" the kids felt that it was their job to taunt, tease and even torture the kid just for the crime of being new. The teachers looked the other way and also accepted it as “just the way things are.” But are they? They seem to be the way things have been, but much that was accepted as "the way things are" changed when people made better choices. You know the list. (Start with human sacrifice.)


I’m re-reading Wilkie Collins’ book  Armadale (written in the mid 1800's) and when a wayfarer falls sick and a young man, without knowing anything about him, helps take care of him and treats him kindly, it feels like an exceptional act. As described later by the wayfarer himself:


“ Remember what my experience of other men had been when I first saw his hand held out to me, when I first heard his voice speaking to me in my sick room. What had I known of strangers’ hands all through my childhood? I had only known them as hands raised to threaten and to strike me. His hand put my pillow straight, and patted me on the shoulder, and gave me my food and drink. What had I known of other men’s voices, when I was growing up to be a man myself? I had only known them as voices that jeered, voices that curses, voices that whispered in corners with a vile distrust. His voice said to me, ‘Cheer up! We’ll soon bring you round again. You’ll be strong enough in a week to go out for a drive with me in our lovely country lanes.' … I love him! I love the very ground he treads on! I would give my life—yes, my life that is so precious to me now, because his kindness has made it a happy one.”


Kindness matters. Kindness is possible. It is both a personal and collective choice to use our hands to strum strings, write poetry, paint pictures, tenderly caress or to threaten with clenched fists, strike or God forbid, pull triggers. It is both a personal and collective choice to use our voice to sing, to speak truth, to give encouraging words, to whisper sweet endearments or to shout, scream, tell lies or speak hate. Neither is just "the way things are." They are what we create by the choices we make.


Scrape scrape. Tap tap. Bang bang. Maybe—just maybe— the maddening din and clatter of the daily news is simply prepping the house for a long overdue paint job, the needed prelude to beautifying the house we live in. May it be so. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Illegitimi Non Carborundum

The little piece I wrote below showed up on my Facebook Memories. Interesting to read about “waiting for a vaccine” and “might be curtailed within a year.” Equally interesting —and depressing— to consider that a mere two years later, the needed truths revealed in the 1619 Project are now prohibited from being taught in schools in far too many states. More than ever, this sense of backpedaling into a history we needed to leave behind has us reeling in disbelief. It takes great imagination and faith to understand that this backlash comes from people terrified of losing their unearned privilege and re-doubling their efforts to make their narrow, hurtful and soul-killing values the law of the land. But though we suffer from the one step back, we need to remember the two steps forward and regain our faith that though it’s hard for us to see, things are still moving toward more justice, equity and inclusion. And re-double our efforts to keep them moving in that direction. As the fake Latin phrase reminds us: “ Illegitimi non carborundum: Don’t let the bastards grind you down!”


Here's the piece: 


Here we are in the midst of two pandemics. COVID 19 has been causing havoc in the U.S. for over 4 months and COVID 1619 has been causing unbearable pain and suffering for over 400 years. One can be partially healed by wearing masks, the other by unmasking the purposeful lies and hidden truths. One asks people to stay apart, the other asks people to come together. One affects everyone regardless of class, religion, race, ethnicity, etc. and the other one does as well. (Though both are far more dangerous for people of color.) One waits for a vaccine to inoculate against the spreading of life-killing germs, the other waits for an education, awareness and awakening to inoculate against the spreading of soul-killing hate. One requires intelligence and care to act responsibility, the other does as well. One might be curtailed within a year, the other would need either miraculous transformation of hardened hearts (not likely) or a vast commitment of every cultural resource—news media, schools, churches, neighborhood associations, film industries, Twitter, Facebook, sports industries, etc. —to educate the young to know the real deal, to care, to act. Also not likely, but who can tell me really, why not?

Monday, June 27, 2022

"Stop! In the Name of Love…

… before you break my heart” sang Diana Ross and the Supremes over half-a-century ago, sending a message into the future to another group of Supremes. But those Supremes didn't get the message. Or rather, blatantly and shamelessly ignored it. Even in the face of polls showing overwhelming support for Roe Vs. Wade, those who voted to overturn it turned their back on, closed their eyes to, transgressed against the founding principle of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Or at least defined "people" as any group of sub-humans wanting to bomb the moral arc of justice back to the Stone Age of their brainwashed beliefs. To turn the clock back on progress made by women, by people of color, by gay people, to finally be included in the group called “people,” only to see their children about to grow up with less rights than they had yesterday. 


What’s next? Repeal gay marriage? Interracial marriage? (How will you vote on that, Clarence Thomas?) While we’re at it, don’t you think it’s time for Jim Crow to come back? Or heck, why not slavery? That was a pretty good deal for our economic bottom line. 


My silence since that decision is not complicity, but yet again—and again and again— my thought-numbing astonishment in having to read the next chapter in the book “Lowering the Bar," an epic novel with a plot that any editor would dismiss as uncredible, but now is a best-seller and rivals Tolstoy’s War and Peace in length (deleting the “Peace.”). In the face of yet again being too stunned, shocked, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, to try to say something that has not yet been said to shed light on this sacrilege, I defer to all my Facebook friends sharings below. Thank goodness for such responses of collective outrage, but yet again, why aren’t we marching into the Supreme Court, not in Capitol Insurrection style, but more like a group of friends’ intervention fiercely insisting that they cannot leave until they hear the story of every pregnant woman who has been raped, every mistress of a politician who had their problem “taken care of,” every parent of a child who they birthed wanted or unwanted only to have them gunned down in a school shooting. 


At any rate, read the below. My only comment is” What they said.”

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Tell Me Your Story

                                           A wise old owl sat in an oak.

                                          The more he heard, the less he spoke.

                                           The less he spoke, the more he heard.

                                           Why can’t we be more like that wise old bird?

-      Mother Goose


Here’s a fact that will surprise no one who knows me or reads this Blog: I have a lot to say. A lifetime of reading and writing and reflecting on experience, a determination to build a coherent vision thought by thought, a commitment to speak both for my own ever-emerging clarity and on behalf of others who need the words, all lie behind my obsession with expressing my thoughts. Thoughts that are the meeting place of a multiplicity of others’ thoughts (reading) re-expressed in my thoughts (writing) drawing from my own unique experiences (reflecting). Like I said, I have a lot to say.


I’ve often said that had I not become a music teacher, I might have liked to be a lawyer because I find myself constantly mounting a defense for a client who didn’t hire me, building a case without the formal credentials to speak in court. I’ve contracted myself to defend the missing pieces in our culture— the essential presence of sincere art, the dignity and delight of children, the needed uplift of playfulness, beauty, humor, the conversation between solitude and sociability, the allegiance to justice and more. 


Like any defense attorney, I can get tangled up in my own argument, determined to only listen to that which proves my case. In court, that makes sense, but in life, I need to sometimes shut up and just listen. Don’t we all. 


So when a colleague texted me this morning that his mother had died, I suggested we talk when he is ready. My first impulse might be to share my own experience and give my thoughts on death and honoring the departed, but my second impulse tapped the first on the shoulder and suggested something else. My first words when he calls will be, “Tell me about her.” And then I will listen. 

We could all use more conversations like that. “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine” said Mary Oliver, reminding us of the kinds of stories we carry worth listening to. Not our beliefs, political or religious dogmas, conspiracy theories, blamings of others, but our authentic stories of despair and joy, of blessings and loss, of hopes realized and dreams deferred. How we held up and how we fell apart, how we moved forward and how we hunkered down, how we carried the great weight of grief and how we flew with the unbearable lightness of being. 


Death is the land mine that blows apart our business-as-usual-self trying to have a nice day and when it knocks on our neighbor’s door, we often try to side-step it with a superficial Facebook “condolences, thoughts and prayers” and then get on with our day. “Tell me about her” opens up another level, the beginning of the many ways we learn to keep those we loved in the present tense. And we will need friends who will take the time to listen.


Thank you for listening. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Packing Up the Circus

Republican Rusty Bower, refusing Trump’s commands to “find votes” and fix the election,  says: “I don’t want to win by cheating.” This is what we should expect from any functioning adult human being, and yet, because it is so rare these days, particularly in a party hell-bent on winning “by any means necessary,” it feels like Mr. Bower should be elevated to sainthood.  This is the adult version of the current Self-Esteem education of children, where teachers say “I like the way you didn’t hit your neighbor over the head with the xylophone mallet. Great job!” When the bar is so low, simply being a normal functioning adult—or kid— suddenly merits high praise.


Once upon a time, there lived a group of people who could recognize hypocrisy, call it out and refuse to accept it in anybody, but particularly public officials. Once upon a time, a video tape of a President clearly telling officials in Georgia to “find” 11,000 votes so he could win would be jailed or at least,  never allowed to run for office again. Once upon a time, crooked politicians had to hide their misdeeds behind several smokescreens. Now, with a public stupefied by a tsunami of such misdeeds and incapable of outrage, unable to insist on accountability, they can publicly decree “I could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it.” A long time ago, a lie was considered unacceptable, especially when spoken by someone in power. 20,000 lies later, who cares anymore? And though, as Will Rogers quipped, “Schools ain’t what they used to be and they never was,” there was a time when scientific and logical thinking was valued and any assertion needed to be backed up by actual facts, evidence or at least, the coming together of multiple points of view clearly articulated by those in the know. Now it’s perfectly fine to spin conspiracy theories about Italians changing votes via satellites and Jewish space lasers and call that newsworthy, with the contemporary byline, “If I choose to believe something, it’s true.”


How I long for the days when the stories about those who lied, who cheated, who stole, who chose to hate people they never met because of differences, were seen as flawed adults who eventually faced consequences instead of getting elected to positions of power and idolized. When winning by cheating was seen as weak instead of strong, when asking for Presidential pardons so the members of the “good ole boys” club could do whatever they wanted without penalty was unacceptable, when those who broke the law went to jail, when deliberately breaking one’s oath to defend the Constitution was seen as treason and treason deserved punishment. 


In short, I’m so damn tired of these fools wrecking havoc as they drive recklessly in their clown cars allowed to keep their driver’s licenses and now upheld in their antics by the ringmasters in the highest court in the land. The circus used to be fun, but now the elephants are stampeding, the trapeze artists are falling and there’s no net, the bullies are stealing popcorn from the kids and the Freak Show has become the norm, hosted by Fox News.  Time for the whole damn show to pack up and leave town.


Friday, June 24, 2022

Red Rover

“I first met my friend Gretchen 50 years ago” I told the kids when I introduced you, without actually having done the math. 


It wasn’t until later that I realized,

“Damn! That’s true!”


It was the Spring of 1972 when we met at that Summerhill school in rural Maine, two Antioch College students on the same work/study assignment. Neither of us knew each other before, though we had lived one dorm apart back in Ohio.


And so it began. The mutual recognition through music, through teaching, through playful humor and the shared sense that “Heck! Why shouldn’t school be fun?” We played cards with the kids, walked the surrounding hills, sang songs and sometimes even joined them in an illicit nighttime kitchen raid. 


None of us knew what we were doing and Summerhill proved to be a failed idea: “Leave kids alone and they will naturally gravitate to their interest and ask you the deep questions that will give rise to a meaningful teaching curriculum.” Not exactly. There was a lot of sleeping until noon and those endless card games, but hey, for these middle school kids already damaged by repressive schools, maybe that was just what they needed. At least for a short time..


Back at Antioch, the bond deepened, ending in the infamous Drake House where twelve of us lived, you and Nancy, me and Bobby forming the “the third-floor-hard-core-four.” Instead of the school cafeteria, we cooked our own meals, ate dinner each night on our porch bantering with the passerbys on Xenia Avenue. One meal we made our own fortune cookies with messages like “You will get older as time goes by.”


And damn if that wasn’t true! 50 years later, here we still are, still carrying the same playful spirit that had us playing Red Rover at your Virginia house, Wind-Up the Bunkin at the Mime School in Maine, dancing in wild abandon on the Antioch front stoop in Ohio.  Each visit like the next minute in what would become a lifetime conversation. 


That Spring in Maine opened a beckoning path to you and you returned to live your whole life there. Mine led me to San Francisco and though we lived at opposite ends of the country, the thread was long enough and durable enough to stretch all the way across, unbroken by either distance or time. You studied mime, taught, found true love and a miniature communal Drake House, raised a beautiful son and recently turned to poetry, now published. I kept on with music, taught, married and raised two beautiful daughters and wrote essays with poems on the side. We met on either coast perhaps once every five years ago or so, but when Souls connect, time is incidental. 


The years have chipped away at us, changing our bodies, but not our spirit. We have grown larger with grief, more loving with loss. The country took a shocking left turn away from the peace and love we were sure would blossom from our efforts, yet our heart of hope still beats. Yes, we are startled, stunned, stupefied and staggered, bewildered and bowled over, astonished and astounded by it all, but nevertheless we persist. 


“Red Rover, Red Rover, send that one— the corporate raiders, the NRA, just about the whole damn Republican party—on over” and we grab hands and hold the line so they can’t break through.


And then fall down, still laughing. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Soul Time

Yesterday I had the most marvelous visit with a college friend I met 50 years ago! She ended up in Maine, me in San Francisco and what with being at opposite ends of the country, we probably saw each other on the average of once every five or ten years, with no correspondence or phone calls in-between. Yet as happens with some people that you have a deep soul connection with, two minutes into our next visit felt like simply the next moment after the last visit, whether two or ten years earlier. Why is that?


We spent some four hours together this afternoon, along with her wife who I had met maybe three or four times and all three of us were in some zone together, with the conversation flowing effortlessly and as refreshing as a cool spring in the mountains. Whether it was sharing funny stories from college days, catching up on news (“So, what have you been doing these last ten years?”) or just returning to the kind of humorous banter and profound observations that we’ve always had, I was buoyant with the sense of being wholly known, that ebullient freedom of being wholly yourself, no need to impress, no need to explain. 


Truth be told, I’ve felt some of the same these past two weeks with my granddaughter Zadie, that sense of me just being happy in her presence and her being happy in mine. That is, until Demon Zadie rises up explosively and unexpectedly and I have to be the stern adult and she gets to be the tantrum-throwing child. Not easy for me to not take it personally and feel betrayed (“But we were having so much fun! What are you doing?!"), but a good spiritual exercise for me, helped by the mantra “She’s 10. She’s 10. She’s 10. I’m 70.”


Our culture is obsessed with finding one’s true love, one’s soul mate, all of it condensed into one romantic relationship, but the fact of the matter is that these soul connections can be made anywhere with anyone when the chemistry is right. No jealousy or exclusivity, doesn't matter if it's two or twenty people. A chemistry that is wholly mysterious, inexplicable, unattainable by reading books about relationships, something that simply is or is not. And if you have the good fortune to cross paths with these people who just make you feel wholly yourself and happy just be being in their physical presence, regardless of circumstance or what is said or what you’re doing, well, isn’t that a blessing?

They may live halfway across the world (as many of my “soulmates” do) or come from decades ago and re-appear only occasionally, if at all, but when the two of you meet in the realm of soul, time and place don’t exist in their normal states. You don’t “work on the relationship” or get better over time, you simply are in a state of grace whenever you have the good fortune to meet. 


Soul chemistry is real, is a rare gift, not to be clung to, but certainly to be savored. The  opposite is also real, those people who make you feel small or unseen or unhappy just by being within your orbit. Stay away from one, find ways to keep crossing paths with the other and do what you can with all the other relationships in-between, with their gradations of connections and disconnections that require attention and work.


Maine is a long way off, but I’m determined to find my way there to keep the engine running. It helps remind me who I like to be. And who are those people in your life? 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Sumer is icumen in


Both as a kid and as a teacher my entire adult life, I have loved the summer. It symbolized freedom, adventure, travel, the healing powers of the beach or the lake and long slow days where time seemed to stop and the ring of the ice cream truck’s bells was enough to announce that heaven had arrived on earth. Later in my life, it also meant teaching the adult Orff courses that had all the fun of teaching kids minus the runny noses, explosive outbreaks, whiny complaints and occasional refusals to participate. (Well, all of that actually did happen in some adult classes as well, but a much smaller percentage!)


Now that has changed. Summer has some new associations and most of them are not happy. Fires in California. Hurricanes in New Orleans. Soaring temperatures in many places beyond what they’ve ever been. The various signals of a climbing climate change that have felt mostly dormant the other three seasons. Alongside possible Covid spikes and the predictable mass shootings if the politicians the NRA holds hostage don’t finally do something. Teachers trying to relax at the beach, but dispirited about returning to what has been. If they still have a job at all. The usual travel opportunities curtailed by both the echo of Covid fear and soaring prices for flights, for gas, for restaurants and hotels. My Jazz Course in New Orleans was cancelled because of low enrollment and the Orff Afrique Course in Ghana will happen with numbers too small to pay for the flight for me to join the teachers. Grateful that the annual Orff Certification Course in Carmel Valley is full, but it is the only course I’ll be teaching this summer. 


So as the season turns on this summer solstice, the time when there’s usually an exhale of relief, I find myself holding my breath in mild anxiety about what might be around the corner. Worried about reading the news or waking up to the smell of smoke in the air. Wondering what we’ll have to do if Covid appears in our summer course. 


And though that special sense of having the day before me to do what I will, freed from the school work schedule, has become the norm of retirement and doesn’t mean what it used to, yet still I hope for the best. Some rare time to enjoy San Francisco in the summer (fog and all),  the Orff Course, the annual pilgrimage to the Lake Michigan cottage and the rituals of daily swims, walks on the beach looking for Petoskey Stones, climbs up sand dunes, bike rides on country roads, fresh corn and peaches,  paddleball with the grandkids and at least one trip to the Cherry Bowl Drive-in Movie Theater. 


“Summer is a coming in” says the old Medieval English canon and its text celebrating the cuckoos singing, the seed growing, the meadow blooming and the woods springing to life feels wistfully nostalgic, a time before the ravaging of the earth for fossil fuels so we can drive a few billion cars to the malls to buy things that we mostly don’t need, cluttering our homes, cluttering the earth with the debris we throw out when we’re done with our stuff, cluttering the air with exhaust and the seas with plastic. “We all sit down to a banquet of consequences” and summer’s banquet is not as tasty as it used to be. 


Yet still we savor what we can. Happy summer!

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Gifts of the Pack Rat

Many people (my wife amongst them) are impatient with people like me who save letters, workshop notes, sometimes train tickets or concert tickets or other such reminders that “This happened. I was here.” But I’m sticking with my intuition that such things matter, that looking through old workshop notes I sometimes get an idea for my next one, having forgotten that wonderful song/game/activity that I did 30 years ago. That reading a letter from a friend from way back then carries a certain sweetness. That finding something I wrote long ago reminds me, again and again, that nothing has changed much in terms of the things I think about it, the things I value, the things I dream of. Of course, I know that my children will not want to deal with these things when I’m gone and that there will come a time soon when I pass through them all once more, enjoy the memory and let them go. But not yet.


This on my mind because a student I taught back in 1972 that I’m still in touch with recently sent me some notes from a music class I was teaching. She’s over 60 years old and is probably going through that process of sorting and letting go, but once again, her fellow pack-rat proclivities brought me a moment of happiness and again, that sense that I could have written the exact same thing today, with just a shift in language. There’s no date on my little essay about listening to music, but the fact that it was a ditto sheet (the original handwritten!) makes me suspect it came from the late 1970’s when I was teaching an Orff Course to teachers. She sent this to me as a photo, but said she would snail-mail the other ten pages, relieving her rat’s nest and adding to mine. So it goes. 


Read on (if you can decipher ditto-print!) and see if any of this ideas about listening to and playing music resonate with you.


Monday, June 20, 2022

Third Childhood

My granddaughter Zadie, now 10 years old, has just finished a full week with my wife Karen and I and will be with us one more week attending her Aunt Talia’s summer camp in Golden Gate Park. It has been a rich and fun-filled time and unleashed a cornucopia of delights. In seven days, we’ve done the following things:


• Flown a kite on the Marina Green.

• Ridden bikes in Golden Gate Park.

• Taken two seven-mile city walks, one to the Moraga St. stairs, one to the Lyon St. stairs.

• Rode the cable car, took a water taxi on the Bay, went up the Hyatt Regency Hotel glass elevators and peeked into the Palace Hotel where I used to play piano.

• Had tea at the Japanese Tea Garden, enjoyed the view from the De Young Museum tower, rode a paddleboat on Stowe Lake.

• Went to a Circus Theater performance of The Secret Garden.

• Went to the Herbst Theater to see Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers jazz tribute to Peggy Lee. 

• Went to a private rehearsal with Bobby McFerrin and three other singers— and joined the circle to sing a bit!

• Went shopping for art supplies, earrings, pants and a belt.

• Watched two Warrior’s games in neighborhood restaurants, including their championship victory. 

• Watched two movies at home— My Cousin Vinnie and Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.

• Went to two exhibits at the De Young Museum


Not to mention cooking, Rummy 500 card games, paddleball in the back yard, a bit of work on a jigsaw puzzle, helping her notate a piano piece she composed, parallel reading on the couch.  Zadie sewed a marker case for herself, turned out some stunning drawings, went into her room and closed the door for her own solitude and private time (with us wisely keeping the i-Pad out of the room). She’s enjoying our excursions, but also values her “relax time.” As do we.


Live theater, live jazz, an art museum, classic films, long walks in parks, tourist sights, games, down time with each doing their separate projects. Like I said, a rich, fulfilling time. 


As her grandfather, I feel it’s my responsibility to expose her to cultural events, get her outdoors walking, biking, running, playing, encourage her to develop her own artistic, musical and writing skills. But let’s face it. It’s also a great excuse for me to keep doing what I love with the added perk of sharing it with someone I love. To be a tourist in my own town (hadn’t ridden a cable car or had tea in the Tea Garden for many years, had never taken a water taxi), to re-visit old movies, to complete my loyal playoff following of the Warriors. Naturally, she doesn’t have to love any of it as much as I do, but I do want her to give them all a try. And yes, I spend time listening to the things she’s excited about and am happy when she shares them with me.


I loved having children for a number of reasons, but part of it was the excuse to have a second childhood. I’m equally loving the grandchildren for the same reasons and I’m having a fabulous third childhood. Don’t think a fourth childhood is in the cards, so I plan to enjoy and savor each and every minute of this one! After today’s camp, I think we’ll bike to our favorite ice cream place. Wheeee!!!


Sunday, June 19, 2022

To the Fathers

It’s Father’s Day. For the few who pay attention to it, it might mean a Hallmark Card and breakfast served. Check it off the list and we’re done. 


But what if we used the day for a collective reflection on the importance of fathering, the issues involved, the list of the many ways we’ve failed and the list of the many ways we could—and should— do better?  So in that spirit, I’ll dedicate this post to fathers and fathers-to-be and return to yesterday’s book (King, Warrior, Magician, Lover) to consider the role of the King archetype in both good fathering and good leadership. Which naturally includes by necessity a look at the damage caused by that King energy wrongly understood and thus, abused. 


Some quotes to give background to the theme:  


 The king is the earthly conduit from the Divine World to this world, the mediator between the mortal and the divine. One of his roles is to bless, to mirror and affirm others who deserve his blessing, to see them— in a literal sense, in his audiences at the palace and in the psychological sense of noticing them, knowing them, in their true worth. Being blessed has tremendous psychological consequences for us— out bodies actually change chemically when we feel valued, praised and blessed.


Young men today are starving for blessing from older men. They need to be seen and when that happens, it heals and makes whole.


I’ve written before of my responsibility as a teacher to authentically praise and bless my students and though, as a mere mortal, I’ve often fallen short, I’ve also risen to it and received, without asking, the testimony from countless people that it made a difference. Often more than I ever imagined. Though I suffered from those elders or people in power who failed to see, know, value and bless me, I also benefitted tremendously by the few who did. My mentor Avon Gillespie, select other teachers and a few memorable moments from my own father (hard-earned, that one!). 


So what happens when men (all people, of course, but again, the Father’s Day theme) don’t receive the blessings they deserve? Amongst other things, they don’t develop the capacity to bless and the unbroken chain of refusing to properly praise the young— including the young child within oneself— continues unchallenged, much to the detriment of both the individuals and the culture. And when someone rises to power that lives wholly in the shadow side of the King energy— alternately the Tyrant and the Weakling— it becomes a national style and collective disaster and the whole nation suffers  Read this description of the Tyrant King and see if it helps you understand that the years 2016-2020 were not only a political disaster, but a deep psychological disaster, wounding each and every one of us. 


The King energy in its fullness possesses the qualities of order, of reasonable and rational patternings, of integration and integrity in the psyche. It stabilizes chaotic emotion and out-of-control behaviors. It gives stability and centeredness. It brings calm. And in its fertilizing and centeredness, it mediates vitality, life-force and joy. 


Order, reasoning, integration, integrity— just some of the things that went missing and continue to be absent in the political party that carries its loyalty to the Shadow King forward. Instead of stability, it’s all chaotic emotion and out-of-control behaviors. Instead of calm, it’s agitation, frenzy, turbulence, anxiety, violence. All purposely promoted by the tyrant/weaklings abusing their power and trust. As described in the book:


The Tyrant exploits and abuses other. He is ruthless, merciless and without feeling when he is pursuing what he thinks is his own self-interest. His lack of loyalty and degradation of others knows no bounds. (Note Trump’s comments on the crowd’s chant to hang Mike Pence.) He hates all beauty, all innocence, all strength, all talent, all life energy. He does so because he lacks inner structure and is terrified of his own hidden weakness and underlying lack of potency. 


Many people in the corporate business world today are acting out their tyrant King, not at all interested in the companies they work for. There is no devotion or loyalty to the company, only to themselves. They negotiate for their own financial benefit, will willingly sell their company and have it dismembered, are willing to see their friends and loyal employees fired as excess baggage. (Again, look at the massive dismissals in the Trump White House.)


We can see the Tyrant King at work in the narcissistic personality disorder. These people feel that they are the center of the universe and others exist only to serve them. Instead of mirroring others, they insatiably seek mirroring from them. Instead of seeing others, they demand to be adored by them. …They are sensitive to criticism and rage like a toddler in a high chair when challenged. 


On it goes, not only perfectly describing the ex-President and all his cronies still throwing their tantrums, but something to watch out for in all of us. The point here is not just to further illuminate the damaged character of the person elected to serve the nation, to understand better that the harm of living in the shadow of a Tyrant King  is even deeper and more widespread than we thought, but to look at that dynamic at work in all of us and the unconscious ways we carry it forward. To consider that we can consciously refuse it, not by simply deposing and putting down the King energy, but as with the Warrior, transposing it to its life-giving dimension where it serves to unify, integrate and bless. 


And so on Father’s Day, I’ll end with another quote to share with fathers everywhere, to encourage us to reflect on how we were fathered and make a conscious and determined decision as to how to do a better job ourselves (knowing the thousand ways we’ll constantly fail). 


The Tyrant King energy shows in the father who makes war on his son’s (and daughter’s) joy and strength, their abilities and vitality. He fears their freshness, their newness of being and the life-force surging through them and he seeks to kill it. He does this with open verbal assaults and deprecation of their interests, hopes and talents, or he does it, alternately, by ignoring their accomplishments, turning his back on their disappointments and registering boredom and disinterest when they come home from school with a piece of artwork or a good grade on a test. 


His attacks may not be limited to verbal or psychological abuse. They may include physical abuse or sexual assaults, exploiting his children’s weakness and vulnerability.


How were you fathered? If you are a father now, how are you fathering? After we answer those questions, enjoy your card and breakfast!


Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Real Warriors

Like most boys of my generation— and perhaps any generation— I was fascinated with guns and bombs, got little thrills from the explosions in the war movies and felt something stir in my spirit when the bad guys were killed and the good guys like John Wayne emerged as the brave heroes. I remember after one such war movie riding my bike around the block several times singing The Marines Hymn at the top of my lungs. A bit older, I decided I would enroll in West Point after reading a book about it and began a routine of early rising, push-ups and other attempts at rigorous soldier-like discipline. 


I think that lasted for two days. Later, as a teenager, I began reading the poetry of Whitman and the prose of Thoreau, grew my hair long and listened to the gentle music of The Incredible String Band. By the time I was draftable for Vietnam, war and warriors had long lost their luster. Books like Catch 22 and All Quiet on the Western Front fed my intuition that war was both absurd and horrific and I wanted no part of it. The good timing of the end of the draft spared me both Vietnam and two years of service being barked at by dubious commanders. I went on to work at a school with mostly women teachers and we all agreed that weapons were not allowed as part of Halloween costumes. We all wanted desperately to believe that the differences between boys and girls were wholly socialized and we simply needed to change the socialization process to weed out those nasty aggressive tendencies of boys and make all girls math experts.


I had two daughters, but all my friends who had sons shook their heads with astonishment that it wasn’t that simple, that these differences in bodies translated into differences in spirit and that certain things are hardwired into our systems and not changeable. No matter that men didn’t have to hunt to bring food to the table and women could go into the competitive workplace— we were still at the mercy of those ancient divisions of labor that required a certain level of aggression in men to ensure success in the hunt and a certain level of nurturing and homemaking in the women that got the meal on the table and raised the children.


When the dust settled, a few insights that leaned towards truths eventually became clear.


1) That there is a spectrum both along masculine/feminine spirit and bodies and that sensitive men and aggressive women equally deserve opportunities and admiration in the range of available qualities. Including acknowledgement of binary and transgender identities.


2) That the feminine spirit, while to be celebrated in the context of millennia of patriarchal oppression, is not by definition superior. Think of “mean girls” and Marjorie Taylor Greene.


3) That masculinity need not be toxic by definition and that men could turn their energies towards defending, sustaining and nurturing life. 


After the Golden State Warriors thrilling victory in the NBA championships, I started thinking both about their name and their admirable qualities, individually and as a team. It sent me to my bookshelves and I pulled out a book titled King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. It was published in 1990, the year I joined the Men’s Group I’m still in, a time when men were struggling to support the feminist movement without having to deny some essential qualities of themselves. The book suggested that these four archetypal qualities have a destructive shadow side when not consciously developed or considered, but also can be a healing tonic in their mature, conscious and developed form. 


And so Warrior. Some descriptions from the above book:


•  The characteristics of the Warrior in his fullness amount to a total way of life, what the samurai called a “do.” The Warrior’s aggressiveness is a stance toward life that rouses, energizes and motivates. It pushes us to take the offensive and to move out of a defensive or ‘holding’ position about life’s tasks and problems.


• The Warrior is always alert. He is always awake, never sleeping through life. He knows how to focus his mind and his body, knows what he wants and know how to get it. He is a strategist and a tactician, can evaluate the circumstances accurately and adapt himself to the ‘situation on the ground.’


• The Warrior energy is concerned with skill, power and accuracy and with control, both inner and outer, psychological and physical, with absolute mastery over the technology of his trade. 

He has an unconquerable spirit, great courage, is fearless and takes responsibility for his actions. He has self-discipline, the rigor to develop control over and his mind and body and capacity to withstand pain, both psychological and physical. 


• The Warrior has a transpersonal commitment, a loyalty to something larger than his individual self, an ability to work with and for a team towards a common goal.


• The Warrior is often a destroyer. But the positive Warrior energy destroys only what needs to be destroyed in order for something new and fresh, more alive and virtuous to appear. Many things in our world need destroying—corruption, tyranny, oppression, injustice, obsolete and despotic systems of government, unfulfilling life-styles and job situations, bad marriages. In the very act of destroying, often the Warrior energy is building new civilizations, new commercial, artistic, and spiritual ventures for humankind. 


Read these again and think about the Golden State Warriors. The way they “adapt themselves to the situation on the ground,” take the offensive, equally defend territory with ferocity, their extraordinary individual talents cultivated to a full-blown mastery by relentless discipline working with the “technology of their trade.” (In the old days of warfare, skill in swordplay, archery, hand-to-hand combat was a necessity and in disciplines like the samurai tradition, jousting, fencing, taekwondo, capoeira and such, there is a long training to cultivate both body and mind. Fingers pulling triggers and bombers pushing buttons changed all that and ramped up the shadow destructive sides of the warrior energy.) Note how an incredible athlete like Steph Curry is not only a high scorer, but alert to the open man and equally adept in his assists. When he does score, he often points upward indicating help from a higher power beyond himself and sometimes beats his chest in affirmation of how hard he had to —and has to— work to make that three-pointer. 


Might I add that real Warriors are willing to cry? As Steph Curry did at the end of the championship game. Publicly. Millions watching. No apologies. And also the way they all hugged the Celtics to appreciate their fine work as well. 


And finally that sense of turning that energy towards building something new. Amongst so much I appreciate about this team— their talent, their teamwork, their refusal to go to the White House when Trump invited them— there is the integrity and courage of their coach Steve Kerr, a man who publicly stated that though he lived much of his life amongst black people, he still has much to learn about their experience. And even more inspiring was his recent post-game interview close to the time of the Texas shooting. Please watch this if you haven’t and watch it again if you have.


I stand by my own personal change from glorifying war as a kid to abhorring it as an adult. But here I want to celebrate the developed Warrior energy that we can all use more of. Men and women. My daughter Talia was a warrior on the basketball court and on the soccer field in her high school years and I cheered her on for every minute of it. She’s taken that energy onward to be a loving teacher willing to take on hard subjects with her kids. My daughter Kerala is showing a similar warrior spirit writing pieces for that tackle hard issues of parenting, child-raising, black-white relationships, the patriarchy and beyond. 

We all could use more Warrior energy as the cowards kill innocent children, our elected cowards don’t do anything about it, the Jan. 6th committee finally shines the light on the cowardice of the insurrectionists and their enablers, but still is not clear on whether we’ll hold them all accountable. Especially the Chief Insurrectionist who promised those he duped that he would walk with them and then hid inside his office. A real Warrior is brave enough to defend home and hearth, use their energy and aggression to keep the invaders from over-running the territory. Yet here we are still excusing the shadow King (more on this tomorrow) from his atrocities. Might we keep the ball of Democracy heading downcourt to score the needed baskets?


Clearly too much to think about here, but one more point. When we take the energy of the Warrior into the realms where no one gets hurt or killed— like sports or music or child-raising, good things can flower. We take the self-discipline, the determination, the courage, the teamwork, the ability to act, the ability to respond, the energy needed to move forward, the energy needed to defend ourselves from the slings, barbs and arrows of jealous co-workers, mean bosses or sometimes, just “outrageous fortune” and transpose it all in service of life. The musician improvising through chord changes like Steph dribbling through the defense and scoring the three-pointer (listen to Wynton Marsalis’ recording of Cherokee!), the politician taking a courageous stand having done the required research and thinking, the teacher at the staff meeting standing up and questioning the next curiosity-killing tests shoved down the children’s throats— warriors all. Gandhi. Mother Theresa. Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela. Rigoberta Menchú. Warriors.


When I joined the throngs at the bar roaring with each Warrior’s point scored, I thought I just wanted to be associated with my city’s championship team. Now I realize I was celebrating something far greater.