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A Place; A Space

Over the last few years, I have increasingly exlored how we use language. For example, we use the word organization as a noun for places where we work, learn, and play. It grows static and lifeless Yet, its root, organ, suggests life and interacting with one another. John Dewey and Ivan Illich referred to interacting and communicating as intercourse. This suggests we engage in intimacy and love as we communicate with one another.

As well, an organ, as a musical instrument, needs a human touch. At our best, we organize, work, and learn, through a common purpose, like in a jazz ensemble, and what calls each of us in some meanfinful way. In a neo-liberal and neo-conservative world, organizing, working, and learning fall short of the common good (common weal) and what calls each of us to feel fufilled, perhaps self-actualized.

Out of this reflecting emerged the following poem.

This place–

This space–

Welcoming–

Beckoning.

When cold, aloof–

As a frigid lover–

Pushing us away;

Denying intimacy.

As an anxious lover–

Frantically clinging;

Giving no room to breath.

As a capricious lover–

Now here;

Now gone.

At its best–

Fully alive;

Not on life support!

Exuding hearty warmth–

Healthy, vibrant;

Touching in human ways.

Gentle lover embracing–

Inviting and holding close;

Letting us breath.

A place–

A space–

Wanting to be.

A place–

A space–

Calling, giving voice.

Sharing–

Drawing us each closer;

To our common humanity.

Yesterday, I heard the following song by Mavis Staples. It reminded me, regardless of how things are going, there are always high notes in life.

Gettin’ My Mojo Back

I looked at this poem a month ago and decided not to post it. As I listened to music today, a song came on called Getting My Mojo Back and felt it was time to post it.

I wrote this during a retreat on Bainsbridge Island based on the work of Parker Palmer. It was at a time I was wrestling with staying in teaching due to the politics. I felt I was not giving it my all and lacked confidence in my teaching.

During the retreat, I reflected and had candid conversations with others and concluded it was time to control what I could control. Interestingly, it was in the conversations with others that I had to choose to be all in really came to the forefront. I went back to my classroom, spent another 5 years teaching, and giving it my all.

I think, when we lose confidence, we do not realize it. It sneaks up on us, rather than being a cataclysmic shift. Recovering confidence is similar. It is done in small steps and realizing we are not alone in the moment.

I had to realize anger was born out of fear and loss. Once I acknowledged this, I was at ease with letting go and moving forward.

It just happens–

Letting go;

Speaking without anger–

Embracing one’s sadness;

For what is lost.

Staring into an abyss–

Sitting with unformed questions;

Terrifying darkness–

Sensing incompleteness,

Feeling uncertainty.

Taking stock–

Looking inwards;

Accepting extended hands–

Discarding baggage

Moving towards a place of light.

Mojo gaining momentum–

Emerging at its pace;

Creating healing space–

Living one’s own truth;

Living in each moment’s question.

I attended a John Lee Hooker concert in 1972 or 1973. I grew up listening to jazz, gospel, folk, and blues with traditional country, early rock and roll. I took it for granted that I attended a John Lee concert until an American, who shared a love for the blues, told me he never did. African-American performers toured in Canada on a regular basis at a time they did not have that same ease of movement in their own country.

When I used Langston Hughes’ poetry in my teaching, I remembered he wrote from a different understanding of what America was. This was an outgrowth of an awareness of my privilege as a white Canadian male.

Listening

I began to write this poem after a long and tiring week. Sometimes, when I step back from the visceral nature of my emotions, postive and negative, I find a kernel to prompt writing, thinking, and acting.

Too often, I find myself talking when I should be listening. This includes listening to me, and, more importantly, listening to those whose stories are silenced in unjust ways. I think those two forms of listening go hand-in-hand. Not listening to others is often a product of being so busy with the noise of my own life. When I listen from the heart, I hear words anew.

Rich stories silenced–

Seeking just spaces,

Sharing and healing;

To speak freely.

Listening deeply–

Sadly, stories unheard,

Of being oppressed;

Shunted to the margins.

Listening with heart–

Leaning into stories,

With grace and humility,

Hearing for the first time.

Am I ready to act?

Listening, hearing–

But, without doing;

(In)justice remains.

I listen to the blues, gospel, and jazz most of my life. When it comes to the blues, gospel, and jazz music I am aware of the privilege I experience and do not take it for granted.  As a Canadian, I attended concerts, because African-American performers came to Canada. They had access to venues I could attend here that they did not have in their own country.

Today, I heard Mavis Staples (on her latest album) singing and it resonated. For real and just change to emerge, I must be willing to listen and change the things I can.  When I listen to the blues and gospel music, particularlyperformed by African-American women, there is an undercurrent for meaningful and just change in the world.

Ongoing Quest

I wrote this during my last year teaching. It had been a particularly challenging day in the classroom and beyond. The students were full of energy and it was not always healthy. I grew frustrated and visibly annoyed part way through the afternoon. Part of it was a lack of a healthy relationship with the administration, which seeped into my teaching at times. It was challenging to set those frustrations aside, particularly with little support and how it impacted my teaching.

Having said thi, I chose to teach anothere year and wanted to teach those particular students. On myway home, I realized I need to establish a different, encouraging tone. In a sense, my ability to influence is my ability to recognize my reality and walk into the fire, the crucible, so to speak.In his teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me even weeds of a tough day serve a purpose. They fertilize and increase the yield of a crop: children’s learning and this could be lost on on me. For the remainder of the school year, some 7-8 months, I used this as my touchstone.

Sometimes, I allow myself to assume what is out there makes me who I am. If I let it, I succumb to those forces. On the other hand and stepping back from the brink, I reclaim my view and my callings in life. I do not let others and circumstances dictate who I am. I can choose how to respond. This is no mean feat as, in the heat of  the battle, it is hard to not be reactionary. The best I can do is be the best I can be in a moment, reflect later, and grow anew with fertilizer provided by tough moments.

transforming–

ongoing quest,

seeking vision,

unearthing a better, truer self–

digging deep,

resting in my heart.

transforming–

polishing the gems of self,

righting speech! righting action!

influencing others properly–

reclaiming my voice,

bringing forth my best.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I got The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan when I was in high school. I still have it and still spin the vinyl after all these years. Although it is now almost 60 years old, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall still rings true for me today. Dylan wrote this in the midst of the Cold War with nuclear threats all around. Today, we are in the midst of multiple crises: health, wealth distribution, inequities, etc. The question I should ask in difficult times, small and large, is how can I be the difference I want to see in the world to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi? Even if it is difficult, it is noble, virtuous, and hopeful, in the face of great obstacles, to speak truth to power, (re)calling I can only make the difference I can make.

In Seeming Chaos, Hope

I gave a lot of thought today about hope and its lack of it. I do not confuse hope with positivity and positive mindset. Instead, I understand hope as grounded in reality. Emily Dickinson described it as “the thing with feathers,” suggesting we cannot fully describe it. Its ineffeable nature creates a metaphoric meaning for each of us. Without dreams and hope, Langston Hughes cautions “life is a broken-winged bird/that cannot fly.” With hope and dreams of previous enslaved generations, Maya Angelou repeats the title of her poem “I Rise” as a prayer and refrain against hopelessness.

Too often, people want to pigeon-hole others in binary and dichotomous ways e.g. conservative or progressive. It appears easier and less ambiguous if we can label someone, somehow providing a sense of stability about who this or that person is. What we mis-understand is “and” means something. It acknowledges how complex each human is. We are not usually one thing or the other. Instead, we are mingling of things, experiences informing how we live, and the context within which we live. I want to conserve things e.g. Nature and, at the same time, progress e.g. equity regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Neither is premised on political or, in our case, reality TV, sloganeering.

Paulo Freire and bell hooks write about hope, unconditional love, and dialogue in educating children, youth, and adults. I think the critical theory is incorrect. What they propose is critical pedagogy/andragogy where I ground dialogue in listening with lovingkindness to those with different lived-experiences. In mindful, non-judgemental listening, I seek to open up space where the Other shares their reality and wisdom. In acknowledgeing the humanity of the Other and greeting them in dignified silence, I might offer the fragile hope so needed in today’s world. Imagine a world where we greeted one another with dignity, rather than making up slick political mottos and creating disparaging nicknames that assault others?

I wrote this poem after a long, hard day. I thumbed through some right-brain scribbles and this was the result.

Even in chaos, hope–

Faith springing forth,

Beloved Other sharing wisdom:

What do we hold in common.

Communal rhythm,

Symphonic voices arising–

Loving harmonies;

Binding and healing.

Listening,

Giving dignity–

Acknowledging shared ground.

Holding each Other gently,

Unsure together–

Breaking bread

Being safe in this space.

This was the first secular song I heard in church. It was the late 1960’s. Today, I think we do need mountains we have bulldozed, meadows we have paved over, and water we have contaminated. Having said this, we need love and hope equal measure to make those things happen.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Sunday night, I stayed up late. I stayed up until 10:00, which is late for me. As a result, I listened to a radio show I don’t normally get a chance to, The Road Home, on CKUA. I like the show, because the host, Bob Chelmick, plays eclectic music, reads poetry, and uses readings of poetry.

It appears we share a love of Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry‘s poetry with him, as he often highlights their poetry. On Sunday, the host had a reading by Wendell Berry of Manifesto: The Mad Liberation Front. There is too much in this poem for me to do justice to unpacking it. It speaks to the moment we are experiencing. How we got here is by taking shortcuts and ignoring the inequities in those shortcuts. We sacrifice community, certainty, and care for one another for quick profit, the ready made, and a lack of mystery in our lives.

I remember reading this poem for the first time and realizing how much we sacrifice for the “good life,” instead of appreciating what we have in our daily lives.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

The health crisis reveals gaps in ,many forms of equity: gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc. The environmental crisis is doing the same thing as fires rage out of control. I love the last line: practice resurrenction. Rise up and live life in meaningful and ethical ways.

Although it is often referred to as the African-American National Anthem, I think Lift Every Voice and Sing speaks to what we need in today’s world. We need to join voices and hands to enact our words in concrete ways and make the world a better place.

 

9/11

“Where was I on September 11, 2001 as the planes hit the towers?” This is a question many of us of a certain age revisit each year to mark this date.

I was in my car driving to school when the news broke. It seemed surreal like H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds must have. When I got to school, I found a TV, and we watched it in the classroom. I asked the students, the parent of the day, and educational assistant if they had friends or relatives in the US. About 3/4 of the group raised their hands. Our family has roots in the US with relatives and friends living there. Both my post-graduate degrees are from American schools and we spend a considerable amount of time in the US.

The play Come From Away is about people in Newfoundland opening homes and lives to over 7000 people who were on diverted flights.

On September 10, 2001, who would have thought it would happen the following day? Who could predict the consequences of the act of a handful of men that day and the lasting impact on lives? But, it did impact us in a 6 degrees of separation way. I did not know anyone in the planes or towers, but I know at least two others who knew someone on the flights. In today’s world,  interconnectedness is real and vivid.

Emblazoned in infamy,

Seared into minds–

Surreal and nightmarish.

Senseless and tragic,

Touching one–

Touching all.

Sharing grief,

Never fully healing–

Holding memories.

Loved ones gone,

Never forgotten–

Shedding tears.

In recent days, we have a Blues channel on to listen to music. Today, I heard this song by Bonnie Raitt and it touched me on this day. We missed seeing her several years ago as the tickets sold out before I got there.

The song raises a question for me: “How can learn we are more alike as humans than different?”

Mindfulness

Yesterday was an interesting day for me. I am a diehard sports fan in general and hockey specifically. Even with Covid19, I find time to follow hockey on TV without disrupting my writing. What made it interesting was the “work stoppage” by many professional athletes in North America. More than a love for hockey and sports, I feel there is a need for more compassion and equity in this world.

As the National Hockey League was announcing the “work stoppage,” one of the Canadian sports networks interviewed Brian Burke who is a former hockey executive and current hockey commentator. He lives in Canada while holding dual Canadian-American citizenship. He talked about a need to understand this is an important moment in social justice in the US, and I submit Canada. I was excited hockey players and other professional athletes, regardless of colour, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc., took part in the “work stoppages.” (The video is at Burke Supports Players Regarding Boycott).

Burke spoke about how great change is not kicking the door down. It is more like a mud wall being eroded. I think it is watching a mountain change. You have to leave and come back to see if any real change; transformation happened. He mentioned the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and how little of substance has changed since 1968. There are still major impediments and barriers to equity for those who are treated as less than human, denied of rights those who are privileged take-for-granted.

What does mindfulness have to do with all this? We often use the word to simply talk about being aware of something. In a broad sense, it has moral and ethical implications we can overlook. We just say, “I was mindful of such and such.” To mind something or someone is to demonstrate care, tend for it or them and cultivate it or them in a loving way. This crosses boundaries and is steeped in mystical traditions of all stripes e.g. Buddhism, Sufism, Judeo-Christian, etc. It involves lovingkindness, compassion, flourishing, and stewardship. It is about becoming better in indefinable ways.

Several years ago, I wrote this poem after reading a meditation from Father Richard Rohr. Often, he writes about a radical unity that brings us together with our self, creation, neighbours, enemies, and something that is transcendent and beyond each of us.

Mindfulness,

Seeking to choose better–

Blending one’s passion;

Joining with lovingkindness,

Binding together.

Nurturing better angels,

Ripening, maturing–

Bearing healing fruit;

Joining a universal banquet;

Responding to life’s bounty.

Assuming responsibility,

Passion for one’s self–

(Com)passion For one another;

Minding the world;

Becoming one;

Becoming whole.

I began talking about hockey, so I will close with a video by David Francey who we have seen numerous times. You will note he has an English accent, but lives in Canada and grew to love hockey while in Quebec. The scene is how many youngsters were introduced to hockey in my generation. I began as a pre-schooler on an outdoor pond. As well, I listened to Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights and La Soiree Du Hockey on Radio Canada Sunday nights. The latter was in French, but, as a person whose first language is French, I was blessed to listen to both. I sat on a kitchen stool in the corner just under the window. When I am on the road, I listen to hockey games on my laptop, never streaming them. I close my eyes and imagine the game as it unfolds.

The Establishment

I wrote this poem when I was in high school, so some 50 years ago about the time I wrote Angry Young Poet. I updated both poems several years ago, but the underlying theme was evident in the orginals and I tried to keep that in mind in editing.

I found both poems as part of handwritten notes I dug through one weeked while Kathy was away. What struck me was how little things change. In fact, I might argue things are more entrenched than ever; the rich got richer and the poor poorer. One only has to consider the enormous wealth being accumlated by billionaires during the multiple crises we are experiencing.

Multiple crises, health, economic, and social justice, might give us room to re-imagine the world we want for our children and grandchildren. Instead, I am afraid we are more entrenched in our binary positions. Despite this, I hold out hope, not optimism and positivity, that we can begin the process of transforming the world to make it more democratic, socially just, and equitable. Part of my writing is revisiting an article I published in 2012 called Rocky River: Building a Learning Organization to re-imagine how we might educate children, youth, and adults. I begin re-imagining with a simple shift in language and call those engaged in teaching and learning educands a word Paulo Freire used in Pedagogy of Hope: Revisiting Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

More broadly, we can apply the learning organization’s principles to other institutions. Peter Senge cautioned it is hard work and takes time. Unlike other revolutionaries, Freire stated incremental change, based on dialogue between humans, was essential to transforming the world. Although Senge does not draw on Freire’s dialogic model, he suggests dialogue, with deep and caring listening, is at the heart of transforming institutions.

They know best for the rest–

Indoctrinating,

Not transforming,

Recalling non-existent good old days.

In disagreeing–

Simply wrong-headedness,

Daring to rebel:

Who are we to question?

Having it made–

Hunting and gathering,

Material wealth signaling success,

Repress, suppress, oppress.

Depending them to know best.

Maintaining existing order,

Demanding blind loyalty,

Failing to practice what preach.

I re-worded the poem again. I see how little changed in 50 years. Without a picture, I thought of which blues musician might best convey my message. I immediately thought of Nina Simone, who sings with edge. When I play her songs for undergrads, those with backgrounds of privilege demonstrate a visible level of discomfort.

 

Stairway to Heaven

Kathy took these pictures at Sunwapta Falls in Jasper National Park. The Sunwapta River flows from Athabasca Glacier and the falls plunge over a hanging valley left by receding glaciers about 8000 years ago. The path down to the overview above the falls is unique with the tree roots playing an integral role in the stairway. The “staircase” is a product of human and nature wearing the surface. With the help of the stairway, I got closer to the edge than I usually do.

I wrote the following poem to accompany the pictures of the and borrowed the title from a more famous group, Led Zeppelin. I took time to read about the meaning behind the lyrics. It appears to be a statement about money not buying one’s way into heaven, whatever one might think that is.

Gnarled and gnarly,

Wending its way upwards,

Nature’s stairway

Revealing beauty.

Gaining confidence,

Moving safely,

Finding my way,

Fuller, richer.

Nature awaiting,

Golden rays find space–

Guiding steps,

Shining on each step,

On a ‘highway to heaven.’

For those who want to compare my poetry to that of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, here is a version of the video.

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