31 December 2012

Dream of the Beach

Last night I dreamed I was in a small coastal town. There were no street signs because people believed you were always exactly where you need to be. No one locked their doors. I wandered into a little house with lots of windows. A beautiful, friendly young woman lived there. I liked her, she made me laugh and I was also sexually attracted to her. She noticed a change in the daylight and said "It's time" and cheerily left by the front door. I followed her to the beach, wondering if my wallet was safe in her unlocked house. There were lots of people on the beach, singing and dancing. I could not locate the source of what was definitely live music. I don't remember what he looked like now but I found a man in the crowd who'd been looking for me all his life. We recognized each other and spent most of the first hour together laughing at all we'd been through before this moment.

29 December 2012

Sometimes the Curve is Steep...

"The Unmaker" painting by Ryan Ulrich
Knowing right and doing right are different things and each can be very difficult to achieve.

Carlton and I are hosting an open house together today. Among those invited is my new friend, the young Christian woman I mentioned in a previous post. She did not RSVP by the requested date but she wasn't the only one. I dashed a quick reminder text message to her and a few others. All of them responded -- except her. A couple of days later, I found the CD I'd loaned her in my mailbox and a note saying "I will not be able to come to your party."

Who knows what's actually going on. She hasn't said it outright but my gut says she may have reached the limit of her tolerance for my heathenish ways. Her faith teaches "Love thy neighbor" but, judging from their actions, she like many Christians find it easier to love other Christians than non-believers. "Right" is spelled out in their doctrine so they know "right" but doing it....

And perhaps it's still a question of discernment for her:  Does loving my neighbor mean going into places where non-believers are present and actively being their non-believing selves?


The open house is our first collaborative project since we decided this summer to join our visions and talents to create an artist retreat/education center in his hometown. We've never worked together so adjusting to each other's work styles has been, for me, a challenge.

With the first guests scheduled to appear in less than an hour, I'm in my room at my desk with my nose out of whack. I've felt like I was hosting the event alone until about 30 minutes ago when Carlton returned from the market with bags of supplies and his brother arrived with a cooked turkey. Where were these guys last night when I was assembling 5 dozen ham and cheese minis?!

I know the right thing to do is to let go of my disgruntlement, accept what is and move forward. I can even see fairly clearly the specific ingredients of my disgruntlement and understand them in terms of Tolle's "pain body" concept.

And yet

here I sit. Clinging to what ails me.

Clinging and breathing, releasing on exhale....taking my attention to the vital essence of my aliveness, the energy that courses through every atom, every cell of my body.  Detaching from the disgruntled thoughts. No judgment.  Just watching them roil and float. Breathing. Breathing.

The grumpiness, of course, bounces back as Ego struggles to keep a foothold in the face of all this breathing and releasing. "No! No! Don't fold on this. Stand your ground! Stay mad!"  Ego's existence depends on there being a crisis or problem or conflict of some kind. Peace is the last thing Ego wants.

I'm breathing the whole thing in.....and breathing the whole thing out. Ego. Energy. Thinking.


There's nothing to prove. There's no one to convince. I'm not in danger.

Yeah. I know "right" and I can do it, too, this time.

25 December 2012


I just drove from Memphis to Holly Springs in blinding rain. My eyeglasses are shot and vision in my left eye is still obstructed and I was unfamiliar with the area I left from in Memphis. The car started acting funny; it stuttered and shuddered every time I shifted into 5th.

Tense drive. Difficult journey. 

I logged into FB after returning home and found the image above on my Wall. .I started thinking about journey generically and as metaphor.

I had passed on having dinner with Carlton and his family, preferring to spend the balance of the day alone; but halfway home, teeth clenched and gripping the wheel tightly, I had the sense that the journey would have been easier with someone along for the ride.

Some journeys are more dificult than others; though every journey is risky business since arrival is never guaranteed. You will end up somewhere -- but it might not be where you set out to go.

My mind is full now of journey-related ideas:
  • How does journeying relate to sojourning?
  • Some journeys are definitely easier to make alone and some can only be made alone.
  • Journeys happen between departure and arrival, in the space from "here" to "there"
  • Sometimes we have a plan, we know where we're going, there's some place we are headed. Sometimes we are forced to go, propelled by strong belief...or circumstance; called by passion ....or lured.
  • Music as journey and the journey of the musician
  • The view at the start of a journey...and the view of the same journey at the end
 Inspired to follow this idea, these snippets out and see if there's material for a show.

Reflections on Christmas Eve Mass

 Christ Church, Episcopal - Riverdale (Bronx), N.Y.     
I have just returned home from the 10:30 Christmas mass at Christ Church of Holly Springs. My friend is rector there; and another friend is organist.

I walked home, past the nativity scene on the courthouse lawn (How soon after tomorrow will they remove it? Wouldn't a true Christian leave it up all year long? I mean, isn't the birth of Christ of utmost importance every day of a believer's life?). Quiet streets. Clear night; I saw the moon. My heart was a little heavy. My thoughts churned.....

I remembered a radio interview I heard on NPR about "habits."  What I liked about the premise of the writer's theme was that it asks you to think about the fact that you think! This is a huge step for many people but the theory set forth in Charles Duhigg sets out bravely in his "The Power of Habit " confident the reader will come along. .
I didn't feel brave or confident coming out of the mass. I was actually thinking "Fuck! Humanity is doomed."

In song and prayer and responsive reading, over and over again throughout the service, the people are called to confess their sinfulness. Their unworthiness. They speak of God's "just wrath". The message underlying everything, an endless loop of "I am not whole yet...I am not whole yet..."

We are doomed. Religion holds believers to a treadmill, contemplating the tragic, gruesome death of Christ on their behalf, a debt that can never be repaid. Believers can never  be free of the debt. The liturgies are iterated year after year....  Religion bonds people to self identities of imperfection and an unending quest for redemption.

There is also connection with others and sometimes the beauty of music and the comfort of familiar symbols and gestures. There is a call toward the ineffable (which I think yearn for even as we fear it) There is space and encouragement to step toward Mystery.

But not too far.

Not so far as to consider that Christ did not attend church, was completely unorthodox in lifestyle, attire and philosophy and frequently taught that the Truth and Light their lives want is within them, not in Scripture--words written by someone else centuries after the fact -- or sermons, words spoken by someone who sits no nearer to Christ then they themselves. .

The repetitive ritualism of religion makes it so dangerous. It's hypnotic. For devout believers, it's a lifetime of rehearsing how to stand still, how to keep consciousness treading water and heaven or enlightenment always just .....out....of .....reach.

But it's not just religtion.  It's also thought systems like Landmark Education. To varying degrees, the thought systems, just like religion, require belief (that there's an answer and it lies somewhere outside/away from me) and conformance:  to a dress code or a food regimen or jargon, for example. ..

I grow impatient with some of the people posing questions at the Eckhart Tolle TV website because they seem to hold the Tolle teaching the way MS Christians hold church doctrine. "How can I remain present when I hate meditating?" someone will ask. Still trying to learn which ways of thinking and feeling are good (i.e., productive, enlightened, holy, compassionate, etc) and which ways of thinking and feeling are wrong (evil, inauthentic, fear-based, etc) --- and collecting as many helpful hints (all those quotes by famous people or dead people that are so very very popular on FaceBook) as possible to set as a screen saver or turn into a refrigerator magnet.


What is to become of us?

22 December 2012

After the Tragedy...Again

The buzz of outrage and grief is widespread and audible across the country eight days after the tragic mass killing in an elementary schoolhouse in Newtown, CT. 

Average citizens beat their breasts and moan "Why?!" and broadcast media intones the same question but masks it with the furrowed brow and somber enunciation their profession requires at such times. "Investigators are still conducting interviews and searching the home for clues to explain what motivated this heinous act."

The question is ridiculous and ultimately unanswerable but its spontaneous anguished utterance by a largely unenlightened society is no surprise. More sinister and frustrating are the political and civic leaders, the news analysts and ministers and educators who publicly entertain the question -- whether sincerely or not -- as though it is ever possible to know "why" anyone does anything or "why" anything happens, let alone the questionable value of the answer to the question. The answer will be hypothetical and the particulars unique to each situation.

The spokespeople have the privilege of highly visible and regularly witnessed soapboxes. People listen to them; society takes cues from them. They could make a valuable contribution toward the evolution of consciousness among us by speaking to the larger deeper issues that hide behind the simplistic, useless "why".

The NRA's outrageously inappropriate and short-sighted suggestion to place armed guards in every schoolhouse is also no surprise. It's another response to the impossible "why?!" People are demanding an answer. You feel like you gotta say something....

As is usually the case when confronted with a problem or mystery, we want easy, immediate answers and solutions. It's a cultural proclivity that we see over and over again. Can't afford that new furniture? Get a quick loan. Can't "control" your kids? Give them a pill? Feeling lonely? Call 800-???-??? and find love tonight.

Wanting a quick, concrete explanation of why a lonely young man would make off with his mothers arsenal and automobile, kill her, wreak bloody havoc in a school and then kill himself? Want someone to blame for the pain you're feeling?

Among the people and things I've seen blamed over the past week:  President Obama, the NRA, the gunman's mother, society, Congress, gun manufacturers, Satan, lax security at schools, the high cost and/or unavailability of mental health providers, gun dealers, Evil,.....

Identifying where to place blame will not prevent this from happening again. Demonizing a group or individual will not prevent this from happening again.

We want only "good" things to happen. We want to never ever feel pain. We want to understand everything.

And yet, as is abundantly clear, life continues to bring both good and bad things. We continue to experience pain and pleasure. There's a lot we don't understand.

When the rain falls, the option is there to cry "Why is it raining?! Why, why, why isn't the sun shining?" But the question will neither stop the rain nor prevent it from ever happening again.

Other options include taking a course in climatology to learn more about rain
procuring an umbrella to stand beneath and a raincoat to wear (if you don't like getting wet)
stomping around in puddles
composing a poem or a piece of music that expresses your disappointment
doing something indoors till the rain ends
collecting some rain and washing your hair

None of these will stop the rain or prevent it from happening again, either.

I don't mean to equate the horror of Newtown with an untimely downpour. What I mean is that asking "why?" in hopes of preventing or predicting the occurrence of "bad" events is pointless. A more relevant inquiry is how to live, given that something will always be happening and not all of it will be what we want to happen.

Shit happens.
Grace happens.
Mystery happens.

How do I live as the precious, priceless wonder that I am in a universe that doesn't know my name?


Some friends in CA sent me a birthday/holiday gift this week. They are a beautiful young family with two musical, artistic children ages 7 and 10. This is a game they love and since they were paying attention back in August when I said I love games, it occurred to them to gift me this way.

I cannot express how touched I am. What feels better than being listened to?

I watched a demonstration of the game on YouTube. It looks like fun. When a neighbor stopped by last night to RSVP he and his wife's attendance at the party I'm hosting next weekened, I showed him the game and explained it a liltle bit.

The game requires players to look at one of the picture cards dealt to them and come up with a word or words or sounds to describe it; then, after that card is displayed with other cards, the other players try to identify it. My neighbor commented, "But your description can't be just describing the card?"

This is one of the beauties of the game:  the rules do not prohibit the active player from simply describing the card in her hand. The twist lies in the scoring system. If all the other players guess which card belonged to the active player, they each score 2 points and the active player scores nothing. This encourages the active player to avoid a simple, unimaginative description. If less than all of the others guess correctly, the active player gets 3 points.

The subtlety of this system and its encouragement of creative imagination thrill me.

Now to find someone to play with....  Maybe at the party after the party this weekend?

17 December 2012

Me and Tina Turner

One of the first people to cross my mind this morning was Tina Turner. Today is my birthday and a residual feature of my former enthusiasm for the astrological zodiac is a short mental list of famous people born under "my" sign:  Beethoven, Walt Disney, Frank Zappa, William Blake, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Sinead O'Connor, Tina Turner and a few others.

I saw Tina in concert back in the 90s. What a performer! It's annoying to pay big money for tickets to a show and walk out thinking "What's the big deal? I'm as good at that as (s)he is."

No such annoyance after Tina's show. High high high energy! Non-stop intense engagement with audience. Slow song, fast song, didn't matter. She was "on" for the entirety of the show. Present.

When she danced like a wild woman
When she walked toward us and stood still
You felt her heart, her life force.
She was Present.

Presence is the bottom line and the first stop in much of my performance work. I design the playshops allowing lots of opportunities for participants to explore "presence". 

Presence is also central to most of the spiritual disciplines and traditions that have resonated with me over the years. I brand my work under the registered "Staying Awake" whenever I can. 

The breeze at dawn has a secret for you. Don't go back to sleep...don't go back to sleep.

When I sing that song, it is a meditation on "presence."


I passed through the kitchen earlier tonight. As my eyes fell on the the sink of dirty dishes, a yammering set up in my head immediately:  I don't feel like washing dishes! It's my birthday. I can do whatever I want. I don't have to wash them now. ..."

My attention shifted, without actually deciding to shift my attention, and I found myself walking to the sink and rolling up my sleeves. I was not thinking. When thinking resumed, it sounded like this:  Whoa! What just happened?! It's like I was sleepwalking. How did I get from over there to over here? How long was I out?

My attention shifted again. Away from observing my thoughts to the sound of the water running from the tap, and the feel of the scratchy side of the sponge on my palm, and my other hand searching underwater for the silverware...finding...a knife, the feel of the knife in my hand, the gleam of the knife when I pulled it out of the water...

I'd moved from compulsively thinking thoughts that had nothing to do with the real world (I was fighting against an imagined entity that demanded I do the dishes);

to thinking nothing while moving without awareness of my body;

to compulsive thinking with some body awareness;

to not thinking, with full attention on body and motion. I was awake and present to what I was doing without thinking about what I was doing. 

I felt more intensely, fully present than I ever remember feeling before. 

...At least I think that's what happened.

Or maybe I'm losing my mind.

When I thought about Tina this morning I wondered what she's up to these days. I looked her up on Wiki and saw that she is 73 years old. 

I haven't seen or heard anything about her in awhile. I like to think that at 73 she's pursuing other interests and relaxing, enjoying life outside the limelight. I'd love to meet her and hang out. Talk some and just be quiet some.

11 December 2012

Room for Us All

It's cold this morning. First serious frost of the season on the lawn and windshield. I stayed up a full 34 hours hoping to reverse a sleep-til-2 trend that was taking hold in my sleep cycle. Went to bed about 9 pm and woke up, without alarm a little after 6 this morning.

The frost outside and the sound of the furnace blowing inside...early morning quiet surrounding and permeating the house...the harmony of waking up as the town wakes up. It's good.

I am finding new friends. Online. For all the Luddite-esque negative sentiment about "the computer" and the Internet I hear from some folk, I've always believed that any tool can be used for good or for harm. The recent presidential election campaign was a license for verbal violence throughout cyberspace. With my own "voice" raw from trying to talk sense (and my soul battered from failing at this), I took a break from FB and other online forums for about six weeks.

I'm returning. Judiciously. Selectively. Influenced strongly by what seems to be missing in my social diet in Holly Springs.

I've found the "non-theists" at Atheist Nexus and the "left leaners" page at It's Not Easy Leaning Left in Mississippi on FB. As is true everywhere, both groups include personalities best left alone:  at the Nexus, there are some who are clearly wounded and angry; on FB some are "leaning on the Lord" or "fighting back" to survive their leftist proclivities.

I'm not angry; just hungry for community with like-minded others.

The question of religiosity is primary now. The doubts and questions that arose for me as a child at the mercy of the staunchly religious worldview on my father's side and the less assertive but no less devout orientation on my mother's side have returned. Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" made a lot of sense to me when I read it last month. After years of taking a "no comment" stance when confronted with Christian proselytizing -- easy enough to do in liberal environments like northern CA -- I am coming to see the danger that religion poses to a free society.

In Mississippi, the evangelicals are vocal and oppressive. Conversations are liberally sprinkled with references to "the Lord" and "His Truth". There is a clear assumption that Christianity is "the Way" or the unquestionably correct orientation for all people, especially for "true" Americans.

I realize now that I have crouched and cowered for a long time in the company of devout and vocal Christians, feeling in some way wrong or guilty about being a non-believer. I am in the process of shedding those feelings. Finding others like me is a part of the process.

Yesterday S______ stopped by to return a CD I'd loaned her. She is an artist and entrepreneur here whose acquaintance I made at the hummingbird festival in September. I admire her because she is devoutly religious but despite a faux pas when we met -- she inquired, as most people do here on first meeting, "Where is your church home in Holly Springs?" I responded I don't have one and she suggested "Maybe we can get you to make your home at our church."  I said that was unlikely but I do enjoy making field trips to churches to observe the theater and hear the music. She was visibly taken aback by the comment, especially the term "field trips".-- she continues to be a new friend.

When I shared my story about the tree lighting episode on the square with her and admitted the disappointment and fear it evoked for me, she listened without argument. "it's the 21st century!" I told her. "Holly Springs will die if it cannot turn the page on outmoded, discriminatory perspectives." She suggested some things must stay the same. "Such as?" I asked. "Well, faith and belief," she responded. "Scripture teaches us we must love God and keep loving God no matter what the world says," she added.

"Adherence to that teaching is a personal choice. But in the public commons, what about those who study a different scripture?" I asked. "What about faith traditions other than Christianity?" She paused then and admitted she'd been uncomfortable the previous evening at the Christmas concert at her daughter's high school. The event opened with an impassioned Christian prayer and she'd wondered how the Muslim families in attendance felt.

"Precisely!" I said. "This is the face of humanity in the 21st century. This is the face of America.We have viewed ourselves as a welcoming beacon to the world and they have come. America is now Christian, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist.... Is it compassionate or just or welcoming to require submission to Christian belief when they arrive?"

I move forward on the premise that America is yet a free country. For my own sense of well-being and freedom, I will take a stand -- and become visible to the world in this stance. We are in this boat together and there is room for all.

05 December 2012

After Cloud Atlas

I've never been one to drink alone. Sipping wine while cooking?  Yes. But "drinking" -- as in "I need a drink"-type drinking? All by myself at home? No, thank you. All alone, with my mind on some kind of  rampage already, alcohol has to be one of the least helpful additions I could make to the situation.

When I'm upset enough to feel or say that I "need" a drink, what I really mean is that my mood needs altering via the distraction and commiseration that drink with others provides. Alone with a bottle of Jack Daniels, there's no distraction -- just digging deeper into whatever Hell I'm in already.

I'm living on a notch of the Bible Belt and I'm new in town. Where and with whom am I gonna drink? 

A couple of drinkers in the community have identified themselves:  a minister friend shared a funny story about his strategy for discouraging gifts of cheap liquor at the holidays; the couple down the street stopped by one night and invited me to join them for "a couple drinks" at JB's (I declined because I had house guests...people from the Midwestern end of the Belt). But it feels yet too soon for showing up on either of those doorsteps on a Wednesday night with a bottle in my hand.

And after what I've observed of the social culture here over the past week, I'm not tempted even a little to wander into a bar alone.

Not surprisingly, the watering holes here are all "shady"-looking. Fundamentalists culture shrouds alcohol in denial and shaming so the places where you buy it or consume it often look and feel like "bad" places. 

But i was visited by a mad mad fantasy earlier tonight. I imagined myself drunk and disorderly in Holly Springs; ranting, eyes wild, arm-flailing and finger-pointing. "Wake up! The Civil War is over and the myths of God and White Supremacy have been debunked! Give it up..."

The Emperor's New Clothes was one of my favorite stories as a child. My heartbeat quickened every time; that exhilarating moment when finally, from within the throng of ingratiating villagers, stooped beneath the weight of Denial, a voice of candor rings out: "But the emperor has no clothes!"

But I'm not drinking with friendly acquaintances or friends.

And I'm not ranting in the streets.

And I don't have a piano in the house.

So I'm a little bit nuts now. Just a lee-tul bit currr-aaaaa-zeee.

I've just joined a non-theist social network online. They might not become drinking buddies but right now I need a reassuring distraction, some clear and tangible connection to what my first contact at the site calls a "world of rationality and peace".

Yeah. Rationality. Peace. Sounds good.  Sign me up.

02 December 2012

Happy Birthday Holly Springs...

Holly Springs celebrated its 175th birthday this weekend.

Sort of.

The town was founded in 1836 so technically last year would have been the 175th anniversary. I'm told time got away from organizers last year so they put off celebrating until Spring 2012.

But Spring crept up on them and before they knew it, Summer was busting out so they postponed the official birthday show for later in the year, setting it to coincide with the annual lighting of the city's Christmas lights. That was this weekend.

On this last day of the celebration (under skies that threaten rain), with the wisdom of retrospect, I can see how the hit-or-miss, lackluster quality of the celebration flowed from the similarly marked lead up to the celebration. It was as though the town believed it would be improper and embarrassing to let the birthday pass without an observance of some kind but lacked the imagination and enthusiasm to produce a truly celebratory event.

On Thursday, I strolled up to the Visitor's Bureau to pick up a Schedule of Events for the weekend. I was greeted warmly by a heavyset young woman seated at the front desk over a styrofoam plate heaped with fried chicken, mashed potatos, etc. and a large Coke. She introduced herself as the soon-to-be Executive Director of the tourism bureau. She directed my attention to a rack that held half a ream of 8 1/2 by 11 sheets titled "Holly Springs, Mississippi: All Kind of Character. Celebrating 175 Years." I pondered whether the typo changing "Kinds of Character" to "Kind of Character" was intentional.

The bulk of the space on the flyer was taken up by an uncaptioned sepia-tone ink drawing of the town square around the time of its founding, a black-and-white photo of "Senator Hiram Revels: First African American elected to U.S. Senate" and a paragraph of copy that began "Cheerfulness will spread throughout the city as we celebrate 175 years defined by a rich and varied history." Although all other sources I've consulted list the founding year as 1836, this flyer asserts it was 1837.

In a narrow sidebar bearing the title "175 years of Homes, History & Holiday Happenings in Holly Springs, MS!!!" the schedule of events for the weekend was printed in a tiny font. Most but not all of the items mentioned the time of the event; most but not all of the items mentioned where they would take place.

Friday night's Opening Ceremony on the Square included "Lighting of Christmas Tree & City Lights." Drawn by the alluring prospect of seeing a quaint small town bathed in holiday lights, I walked up to the Square a little after 5. Judging from the astounding volume of vehicular traffic along Van Dorn Avenue, I anticipated a large crowd on the square. There were perhaps 60 people standing on the grass around the gazebo when I arrived. Besides the Mayor, I spotted only a handful of other black residents in attendance:   one or two standing a distance away on the periphery of the "crowd" and one well-dressed black woman standing inside the throng.

When I arrived, the Mayor was at the microphone, finishing his remarks. After polite applause, another man took the mic, welcomed the crowd and introduced the next speaker who would "lead us in prayer." Although the sight of a small crowd of "white" people gathered on the courthouse lawn where day to day there are mostly "black" people gathered was slightly unnerving, this man's prayer disturbed me even more.

It was a long prayer, delivered in what struck my ear as a domineering tone, demanding that "Father God" return the city of Holly Springs and the State of Mississippi and "our great nation" to our true roots as Christian people believing in the saving grace of God's only son, Jesus Christ. There was something of a warning in his request "Let everything we do be a testimony to our faith and done only to glorify God."

I wondered what he was not saying about non-believers:  Jews, atheists, Muslims, agnostics, Unitarians and others who do not worship the Christian God. The implication was that all of these people are unwelcome transgressors in this city, this State and this country.

I did not bow my head. I looked at the quiet people with bowed heads. The dark blue velvet of the night sky above us. The bumper to bumper cars crawling the streets around the Square. The vacant storefronts lining the Square. I felt like an alien. I felt at risk. The narrow-minded exclusivity of the prayer and the antiquated belief system underlying it was offensive and disheartening.

The prayer concluded with uttered "Amens," some of them impassioned.

The unidentified but apparent Master of Ceremonies returned to the mic and thanked the minister for his prayer. He admitted his bias as a member of the pastor's congregation but assured us this man was the finest preacher in the city and urged us all to visit First Baptist to witness his exceptional oratory firsthand.

Senator Roger Wicker spoke next. He expressed his great pleasure to be in Holly Springs again. "My family came to this city 160 years ago," he told us, "and I'm always happy to return." His remarks were generic, with the expected focus on hopes for "continued economic growth". And I wondered, a) where in this city can "growth" be perceived, and b) what kind of growth--economic or otherwise-- is possible in a place where only Christians are welcome and all enterprise is focused on the glorification of "God."

The emcee was notably excited as he reclaimed the microphone from the Senator. He had a "surprise" to announce:  this year, instead of lighting a Christmas tree, Holly Springs would light a nativity scene.

I'd observed the installtion of the creche on the courthouse lawn the previous week. Is that legal? I'd wondered. "We in Holly Springs want to be in the forefront of returning our great nation to its Christian roots and the true meaning of Christmas," the speaker intoned with pride. And, with that, they flipped a switch and the all-white figures and objects of the life-size nativity were flooded with white light.

I was mortified. Not that I have an especially strong attachment to Christmas trees or distaste for nativity scenes. What bothered and confused me were questions like "Who made the decision?" and "Does it have to be either or?" and "Is this display financed by tax dollars?" and "Is the in-your-face exclusivity of installing Christian iconography on the front steps of a courthouse a sign of ignorant blindness, intentional disregard or outright bigotry?"

I was first in line at the Finale:  distribution of cupcakes, packed tight in a box to resemble a large sheet cake. White cupcakes with white icing.

I walked back down the hill toward home sobered, a little bit afraid and a little bit broken. What kind of art is possible in a place that evidences this level of narrow mindness, fear and lack of imagination? How do I reach these people?

On the recommendation of the young woman at the Visitor's Bureau, I stopped by the Square on Saturday to catch the "Historical Play". She warned there would likely be some grumbling in the community because the coordinator had reportedly chosen all the actors from the local Christian academy, a 99.99% "white" school. I don't know if the play ever happened; I waited about 15 minutes and left after seeing no signs that a performance was imminent.

I stopped in the Visitor's Bureau office to ask if perhaps the play was being enacted at some other location. The same young woman was at the front desk -- this time with a full meal from McDonald's before her. She was on the phone but introduced me to her husband and young children and said she was at that moment trying to find out what had happened with the play.

As I left downtown to put in some piano time in at Christ Church, I learned from a woman selling commemorative T-shirts that the decision to replace the traditional Christmas tree with a nativity scene was made by the city clerk after numerous requests from town residents.

The final event of the weekend is a Christmas concert at Rust College. Two days ago N______ invited me to be a backup pianist for carol singing at Rust College on Sunday night. He's had some health challenges lately and was insecure about his capacity to accompany the singing. When I read the promotional flyer, however, and saw the event described as a "concert" I contacted N_______ to get clear on what kind of event I'd agreed to attend.

By that time, he'd learned the event would celebrate his decades of service as music faculty and that the organizers had already lined up another pianist. He emailed his hope that I would still attend and sit with him. I responded my congratulations and assurance that I would be happy to accompany him...to which he responded, yesterday, 

I have had a chance to think –to reflect—I couldn’t have been more wrong.  As I used that term surprise party I knew it was not what I really meant to say ... this message that I am typing to you right now is meant to say that ...there is an edge to this thing that I have to be very cautious about and leery about. ...Sometimes they have you in the well before you realize you were even near it.  Retirement dinners or “going away “ celebrations—beware of them . Normally a good rule of thumb is probably to decline –resist say no retirement celebration for me please.  ...YOU MIGHT WANT TO SEE IF THERE IS A DOOR OPEN TO CHANGE YOUR MIND...  
 The event is slated to kick off about 60 minutes from now. I am undecided about attending.


A few hours later...

I attended...  Let's just say the weekend ended much as it began.

25 November 2012

Cloud Atlas

I am reading Cloud Atlas. David Mitchell is a genius. I concur whole heartedly with the New York Time review on the back on the book:  “Mitchell is clearly a genius. he writes as thought at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition s written in magna across this novel’s every page.”

I have absolutely no idea how he does it. It is magnificent writing. Mitchell takes me somewhere. Takes me wherever he wants to because the worlds he creates are irresistible, complete; simultaneously strange and familiar, compelling and outlandish. I love the novel. I love David Mitchell.

Morning in Holly Springs

Leaving Christ Church last night after a good session at piano, I took this picture with my cell phone. It doesn't approach an accurate rendering of the colors, but some of the mood is conveyed. It's funny how a sunset picture harmonizes with my new song about dawn in Holly Springs.

Up all night
And I found myself
Morning in Holly Springs
A lacy sleeve
at the edge of a velvet night
Morning in Holly Springs
A crazy early morning bird is singing with me
Harmony the Secret on the breeze at dawn
first light
naked autumn trees
Morning in Holly Springs

Took all night
but I found this song
Morning in Holly Springs
a sweet reprieve
in the dark alone
Morning in Holly Springs
Sleepy little town
snug in dream around me
Fragile first light
naked trees
Morning in Holly Springs.

24 November 2012

Maybe It's More Than a Headache

I have not read Susan Sontag's "Illness as Metaphor."  Things are happening in my body lately and my attention is frequently drawn to it. I ponder whether they are "age-related" or need immediate attention by a healthcare professional. I ask myself if it's related to cigarette smoking.

And I consider it as metaphor. As a symbol of some metaphysical expression from my deepest self that I should attend and translate...and be healed of.

In CA, lots of people pay attention to their bodies. They exercise and eat right; they avoid scents and additives and gluten and nuts. They buy ergonomically correct furniture and footwear.

They want to live as long as they can, feeling as good -- physically -- as they can.

I couldn't get into it very much when I lived there. When it comes right down to it, my core belief runs along the lines of "Whatever happens will happen." You might devote your life to eating healthy and then get hit by a truck one day, crossing the street after an appointment with your chiropractor. Anything can happen and it's all out of my control.

Here in MS, people don't pay much attention to their bodies (although I learned this holiday weekend that lots of people "don't do sweets"). I see a lot of obesity and there's no such thing as an "organic aisle" at the only market alternative to Wal-Mart.

And, paradoxically, I am more and more inclined to take care of my body living here.

I would not ask to lose my sight or mobility; still, when my knees bother me or my vision blurs after hours on the computer or at the piano, I contemplate what life would be like if I could not see, if I could not walk. The contemplation doesn't frighten or horrify me. People live good lives without sight or mobility. Life is not about our physical existence

and yet

an essential aspect of living is profoundly physical.

I tease myself with an invitation to go all out for physical health: start exercising, stop smoking, drink water, eat organic. Just do it for a while and see what it's like.

I tell myself "You can still be your own juicy, spicy, edgy self. You don't have to get all California-airy-fairy."

I see the whole thing as part of that thing I was talking about in the last post. That feeling like it's time to get on task with some projects. Including stepping up the maintenance of my physical health.

23 November 2012

Work to Do in Holly Springs

I'm searching files for a Project Timeline template used by Landmark Education. If you took a stroll through my mind, you'd see lots of gorgeous, sexy, exciting Ideas lying around a pool admiring their own reflections. If you perched as the proverbial fly on the wall of my bedroom (because that's where you'll find me 80% of the time when I'm at home), you'd likely fly away after a day because I don't look like I'm doing anything.

I'm playing computer games and reading and playing guitar and piano and writing and baking artisan loaves (and, today, a chocolate bourbon pecan pie) and hosting CouchSurfing.org guests. I'm also smoking cigarettes and growing compost and raking the yard and collecting trash from the entrance to Johnson Park. And retrieving mail and showering and sleeping. 

But I'm not engaging with the sexy ideas and moving them from latent to active.

And I'm feeling called to engage. Hence the Project Timeline template. We used it in a seminar I took with Landmark. It was a useful tool that supported me through the steps of turning Idea into Project. And completing it.

"The Idea" by Latent Vision
I want to do a "community story play" (as developed by Jo Carson) here in Holly Springs. Two of the motivations stirring me are

- - the work feels like a constructive "next step" for me artistically, flowing naturally from what I've been doing the last 14 years. It combines performance and teaching generally; more specifically, it relates to recent exploration of solo performance work and improv playshop facilitation with diverse populations.

- -there is what I call "prelim work" to be done in Holly Springs before Chrysalis HS can thrive. It has to do, in my opinion, with the stranglehold that religion and race have on local culture. Storytelling is a way for the people to resuscitate themselves and their town.

Chrysalis cannot succeed in Holly Springs as it is.

In July, The "Holly Springs Plan" was drafted. The Plan is "overseen" by "a planning advisory committee, the planning commission and, ultimately, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen". The mission statement of the Plan is somewhat vague (and needs editing) 
The City of Holly Springs will develop as a growing, united and economically thriving community which [aggressively] facilitates the health, safety and wellbeing of its citizens. Recognizing the value of its all its assets, with citizens being the most important, we will pursue a balanced approach to the future by protecting our natural environment, promoting a quality townscape, pursuing the preservation of its all its history, cultivating local business talents and encouraging arts and cultural concerns. The City will
pursue this mission through the implementation of [progressive] public planning policies, strategic community development initiatives and complementary partnerships with like minded organizations. 

Still, the boldface items suggest Chrysalis could find a seat at the table. (Among the steps to be plotted on my Project Timeline worksheet, "Determine current status of the HS Plan."

Now, where did I file that template?

20 November 2012

Things Change

Every now and then, I feel a bond of kinship with my mother with an intensity that is momentarily shocking. I recover from the surprise highly "awake" conscousness and "buzz of Life" feeling in my body, like my cells are champagne bubbles.

I haven't detected a rhythm or cycle to these bursts of expanded consciousness.

The experience is beyond words; but, of course, we are by nature inclined to seek words, to capture our experience by thinking about it, writing about it, singing about it.

Serene. Forgiven. At peace. Forgiving.

Except for two occasions -- a nuclear family reunion at Lake Tahoe marked by volatile, vocal conflict and the two-day combined family and friends gathering on the occasion of my son's wedding, during which we exchanged no more than 100 words -- my mother and I were hermetically estranged from each other for the last 20 years of her life. The separation was not emotionally painful most of the time but I carried the wound of it in the background of daily life.

I wrote bad poetry -- "I do not love you, my mother" -- and tearfully, relentlessly, retold the stories of our conflict and my wounds to a series of therapists for a few years. This gradually resolved into an acceptance of things as they were and getting on with my life. 

Increasingly, as the aging process sculpts my body and Time delivers me to the places and lessons it must, I have noticed both physical and personality similarities between us.Some of the similarities are very funny to me. Others are embarrassing.


These instances of new sight, of seeing something I could not see before or seeing something I've never seen before, are miraculous. How does the invisible become visible? How does what seems solid and incontrovertible disappear?

16 November 2012

The Trouble I See

Sometimes everything breaks at the same time. Light bulbs burn out. Batteries expire. Printers jam.

Sometimes everything breaks at the same time for a few days in a row.

Some people call it "a run of bad luck" but in my mind that phrase is only used when drugs or bloodshed are involved.

There's a scene in the movie "Pinocchio" that takes place in the belly of a whale. The image lives like archetype in my head:  tossed and tumbled in the garbage-cluttered swell of a contained ocean, the sound of water echoing in a large space.  This image comes to mind lately. There's no terror but things are falling apart around me. First one thing and then another. "What next?" is the cry from the whale's belly.

The thought occurs "I should be careful" and I consider it. The thought stems from belief that I've floated into a maelstrom and I have no control over events.

It's true I'm powerless. The car battery dying was not my doing. The heel of my shoe falling off is the result of a chemical decay process of glue and wood and leather over which I have no inluence.

But if there is such a thing as a cosmic Things Falling Apart tsunami, I have no control over it either. It will move on when it moves on.

It helps that at the same time, wonderful things are happening in my life:  I am writing songs again. A friend's timely gift of money facilitated replacement of the car battery and purchase of super glue to repair my shoe.

I'm meeting the people I need to meet to accomplish what I want to accomplish.

The choice is between focusing on the calamities -- being cautious, feeling sad and afraid -- and  noting calamity while focusing on the creative business at hand.

When I was growing up, my father called it "Kinchlow luck" when things went "wrong." He expected things to go wrong -- misfortune was attached to his name in his mind -- but he remained jovial. He was a mail carrier and believed his job required a happy face.

Now he's retired and it's like his energy for putting on the good face ran out. Now he's just stuck with "Kinchlow luck."

Some beliefs persist like wearing a suit made of heavy, dirty carpeting.

A current project is to create a public story-telling space in Holly Springs. I want to launch the Story Circle and community story plays here. I'm inspired to this work because sharing stories through theater is transformative. It can turn dirty carpet into something to dance on instead of wearing.

How do I share this with Daddy?

13 November 2012

Finding Freedom: Every Breath

Life is Change.

I know this.

Yesterday on the phone with Daddy, I reminded him "The only constant is change." He said, "Um hum," in a tone that said "We're entering dangerous waters conversationally." He didn't want to make that journey with me.

My father is 77 years old. He's had "health issues" for several years -- I can't say exactly how many because we were not talking to each other for several decades. He was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes sometime before I left CA in 2004. His health had declined to a mostly-homebound existence when I visited him in June this year.

Yesterday, his voice was strong, full of vigorous commitment. He's walked to the end of the block without his walker several times in the last two weeks. He visited the physical therapist yesterday and they're beginning a new physical therapy regimen:  twice a week at the rehab center and daily exercises at home. He wants to be walker-free.

He thanks me, at least in part, for the improvement in his health Something I said about how mental and spiritual and physical health are interconnected and synonymous.

I'm a little surprised. After years of estrangement, we don't know each other very well. He is religious and fearful. He resists change:  grumbles a handful of favorite complaints about how much better life used to be. He clings to painful, guilt-laden memories of his divorce from my mother (45 years ago) and the decades he suffered, cut off from "you kids."

These painful memories are cherished, familiar stories for him.

He's hearing me. He's entertaining the possibility of a new story. New stories.

With me.



The rhythm of my life these days is vastly different from the rhythm of my life two months ago.

I've noticed some recurring anxiety twitches in the backof my mind. Sometimes I even feel it physically, in my body:  tightness in the neck and lower back; or a sudden extreme thirst.

There's nothing wrong;  the rhythm of life has changed.

Every now and then I stop short. I look at my life and I am amazed
and I think I freak out for a moment. Just one intense wide as the universe shudder in the body kind of "Wow! How did I get it HERE?"

It feels like I've lost the thread, dropped the rein. Like I'm not in control.


And then

I breathe into the monster's face. I breathe into the knot in my neck. I breathe into the milling throng of thoughts that "OCCUPY ALEX's MIND".

Breath. Air moving. Exchange. Rhythm.

This is the Rhythm of Life.The main rhythm, ya know? The only rhythm...

Breathe. Dance with Life on the wings of breath.

Let go.


30 October 2012

Two Stories

Last week I drove down to New Orleans to catch composer Sarah Quintana's performance/installation at A Studio in the Woods. Just the idea of driving on my own to the city I love most in the world was exciting enough to keep me awake the night before.

For some people I talked to during my 22 hours in The City, seven hours of driving seemed excessive for such a short visit. For me, it's one of my favorite ways to work.  Drive time is usually think time for me; all the more so through MS where kudzu turns pastoral landscapes into magical kingdoms full of soft but slightly scary giants. In the same way I looked at cloud shapes as a child,  Mississippi kudzu-covered power lines and abandoned houses are re-imagined as imaginary creatures.

The performance/installation turned out to be much less evocative than two stories I heard:  one told by my friend and overnight host and the other by a man I met at an open mic show in a bar on the edge of the French Quarter.

My host told the story of a new client whose adult son recently committed suicide. Unconvinced the death was a suicide, this 60-something woman was in pursuit of official confirmation of her suspicions. Poised and well-dressed, she sat in my friend's office with dry eyes and no visible signs of grief. My friend found the woman's composure and single-mindedness unnerving, unnatural.

The more she talked, the more I was reminded of my own late mother -- and, by extension, myself and my siblings. We are people adept at putting on "the good face". The irony is that in some situations, the better face is the face where grief, confusion or pain are transparently in evidence.

I made my way to the Wednesday open mic at Buffa's to catch a new friend's performance of three new songs. I also hoped to hang out and catch up with her and other folks I'd met there back in May. When I arrived, the act on stage was uninspiring. I stepped outside for a smoke and was introduced to Walter, a bearded bear of a man whose gentle, philosophical nature was quickly evident.

Conversation meandered from the upcoming presidential election to "life in the South" and race relations. Walter prefaced his story by saying "I am from what you would call "poor white trash" stock. I grew up in rural Georgia." He recalled one night when he was about 4 years old.  His father was away, as he often was for work. A deputy sheriff came by to pick up his mother (Walter suspects she was "messin' around" with the deputy). He said he had something to show her.

They drove for what seemed a long time to young Walter. They parked the car and walked into the woods. Walter is in his 60s now but he said he still remembers the night clearly. The deputy switched on his flashlight and raised the beam to focus on the charred remains of a human body hanging from tree. "He was laughing and proud but I felt scared and sick and confused." The dissonance of the experience reverberates still for him, half a century later.

I am taking a break from FaceBook. I have seen too much of the worst human behavior in the last several weeks leading up to the Election. Like little Walter, attending the social network has left me scared and sick and confused. People are showing not "the good face" but the dark heart behind the veil of anonymity that online discourse enables. 

I "Liked" a page called "It's Not Easy Leaning Left in Mississippi" the day before I deactivated my account. I'll check up with them again when I return. Sometime after the Election. I try not to think about my expectation that the results will lead to further strife and conflict. There's no place to hide entirely from this mess but I can take a break from standing at the front.

19 October 2012

Story of an Episode (of Writer's Block)

Why is it so difficult to write lately? Urges to document my experience, to follow a thread of inquiry, to reminisce arise frequently; but I don't indulge the urges.

I don't write with pen and paper any more although the boxes of files and notebooks and drawing pads and binders that remain in my possession despite the nomadic current that has defined my lifestyle for several years attests to a previous practice.

I write at the computer now. That is, when I write.

It's not for lack of ideas; although I observe that the ideas have very short tails:  there's not much expansion or elaboration on the notions that arrive like bright bursts of light onto my Attention screen. I am genuinely engaged when the idea arrives but, like a restless child, I drop it and look about anxiously for something else, for the next shiny thing.

I've also discovered that my creative process is still strongly tied to smoking. Even when I am sufficiently motivated to at least open the Bookmark for SITC, I often decide to step outside for a smoke before I start (the current site of sojourn is a smoke-free environment). It is while standing on either of two enchanting porch spaces here, with cigarette in hand, that the previously described "bursts of light" occur.

When I return to the keyboard, more often than not, I am lured into extended explorations on FB or (blush) dalliances with Spider Solitaire, FreeCell and Minesweeper.

Today, this time, obviously, something different happened because here I am.

What happened this time?

Psychological Baggage. Just detaching from all psychological baggage is one way to characterize the process that has resulted in my sitting here now, fingers to keyboard. Writing.
The baggage is still here. I can pick it up and lay it down and pick it up and lay it down....

I know it's there. I know it's here. It's neither "good" nor "bad" -- though I'm aware my mind wants to (and does) pass judgment.

And today, when I released attachment to my thoughts about my psychological baggage, another space opened up

and I found myself here. Talking to you and to myself.

Late Sharing of a Possibly Worthless Post

The post that follows was written a couple weeks ago. I'm not even gonna re-read it. Just post it because I don't want to throw it away. Let me know if there's something here for you. I'm always interested to hear from readers.


I'm in a mood. "Discontentment" is one way of describing it.  It's not mysterious. In the almost-48 hours since the first of this year's presidential 'debates' between Obama and Romney concluded:
  • I finished reading Sam Harris' keenly intelligent Letter to a Christian Nation,
  • talked on the phone with Daddy -- he's depressed, largely immobile and reading the Bible, "this time, cover to cover"
  • browsed MSNBC online video catalog of debate-related reaction/analysis/commentary. One thing led to another and before I realized it, it was 4 a.m. I'd been chain-smoking all night; out to the front porch between video clips...
  • finally to bed a little before 6 a.m.
Wednesday morning I baked bread.

The events just listed are a recipe for a somewhat-sour "starter" dough for a day. I woke up around noon feeling disoriented. And a little grumpy.

No appetite. Made coffee.  Stripped the bed and started laundry.

Sat down to the computer:  email...FB.. shopped for a bra...checked bank and PayPal balances.

The "Sour Day" recipe was augmented by discovering a) I have less $ in personal account because recent auto registration, tag fee and insurance payments went through; b) also less $ than expected in PayPal account;  and c) a startling, unfamiliar $100 payment to BP in my PayPal Activity register (phone conversation with gas station manager offers no resolution but phone conversation with PayPal clears the mystery).

Out to the mailbox: 
    check the mail and find a large envelope of smaller envelopes, forwarded from Berkeley, including notices from Bank of the West (I owe them for an item that arrived after I closed my account); City of Oakland (an unpaid parking citation); Dept of Education (my student loan debt with interest is around $200,000 and they have newly legislated authorization to attach wages earned from a select group of Federal employers).

    Yikes! Just re-read this...  Pretty sobering BUT, clearly, I survived that day and years from now I may find the minutiae charming or interesting.

    11 October 2012

    Correspondence on grey-sky 10-11-12

    This post began as a response to email from a dear friend.  Under the  Subject Line "Why I am not suited for FaceBook" he sent a poem ("Fuck the Middle Class") and a photo of a small cemetery.  I found the entire missive evocative and started my response:  

    Thank you.
    This is a place to start on one more no-sun day in Holly Springs MS: the closed society...

    The main reason I am inclined to "go in order" and deliver a point-by-point response to this luscious message is that I was raised in an aspiring-to-middle-class Negro family in a small town in the midwestern U.S. in the middle of the 20th century.

    An image of a herd, milling and mooing, comes to mind. Cows, buffalo, zebra, antelope. Growing up, watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (on black and white TV! no less) I learned there is safety in the middle of the herd. Those who find themselves on the periphery face the greatest danger.

    Here's one idea:  in the animal kingdom, the danger at the periphery is being killed and eaten by a predator of a different species. The risk at the periphery in the human realm is rejection by members of one's native species...or even being killed (but not eaten; cannibalism is strictly prohibited among civilized people).

    The implicit comment about FB in your Subject line catches my eye.  Likely because the past week in FB World has been bizarre and absurd and emotional. For two days, I've been thinking "FB is whack! Why do I bother? Why do I go there?" The presidential campaign has fried a lot of people. On my Wall I witness people whose devotion to one candidate or another manifests as hundreds of posts fired into the news feed stream every day....and people who log on to fight digitally with everybody about everything that contradicts their world view.

    I've witnessed two meltdowns this week.  Both of them women. One of them, after years of assiduous adherence to a "be nice" policy on FB, went a little crazy. In a thread about "liberal fantasies," I opined that indulgence of fantasy is not restricted by political persuasion. The woman in question responded to that comment (in part....an excerpt will serve to illustrate my point): 
     A fetus, baby, or glob is viable out of the womb at 24 weeks. You could either put the fetus, baby, or glob in an incubator to help it survive, IF you wanted the fetus, baby, or glob. If a fetus, baby, or glob is 24 weeks old, and you DO NOT want the fetus, baby, or glob, it is OK, with some, to suck it out, limb by limb, and let the fetus, baby, or glob float to the top in a bucket of blood. Bizarre, Alex. Absolutely bizarre!

    It is sheer fantasy to not call this act the murder of a fetus, baby, or glob. We all have different views and opinions. There are other fantasies I could address. At this point, I will abstain.
     The other meltdown also sprang from a thread that seemed to be about American politics but eventually collapsed (or exploded) around religious faith.
    It's curious to me, an ebb and flow I sense sometimes on Facebook:  at times there seems to be much chatter in the town square (Arendt's "public realm"), and other times it feels like a ghost town, just a few tumbleweed posts from FB addicts blowing across my Wall. At various times I have perceived jubilation and dismay and hilarity and anger and vanity and courage on the Wall. 

    There is a pervasive lack of consciousness on FB.  Apparent to me at least. And I notice that it's really no more marked or prevalent in the cyber realm than in the real-life realm; but where I am usually dismayed-but-resigned when I encounter it in real-life, I am irritated or frightened by the FB version.

    And there's been increased evidence of primitive, un-evolved consciousness on display at FB lately. I was thinking about it this way this morning:

    The "race question", never very far away or submerged in the U.S. mindset, has reared its head with a mounting vengeance since Obama's campaign and election to the presidency. A lot of white people are appalled by the things other white people are saying, shocked and sickened by the vile, naked ignorance, brutality and anger being expressed by "their own people." I'm not shocked. I am deeply saddened -- and exhausted -- to find the herd still here, on the same muddy bloody spot we have always stood...still needing to moo and bawl and low in the same old way, nothing new to say.

    And so it goes. 


    There are other reasons I'm also feeling ill-suited to FB these days. But I'd rather sit at a piano than a computer now.  So this will do for today.