31 January 2013

Knock, Knock

I am looking for work -- for work's sake and also to establish an income stream. My search is focused entirely in Mississippi, specifically northern Mississippi. I am The Outsider looking for a way In.

I have decided to take a break and rant here for a little while in an attempt to calm myself down and stop tearing out what little hair I have left.

Tuesday, the madness played out in Olive Branch at the headquarters for Kelly Educational Services, a branch of the temporary employment agency Kelly Services. Among the challenges that presented during the 4-hour Orientation session for prospective substitute school teachers:
  • Listening to the fractured grammar and inane subject matter abundantly evident in the conversation of the other five applicants (before the program started) and the Presenter (during the program)
  • Receiving handouts rife with typographic errors and misspelled words
  • Filling out poorly designed assessment instruments, e.g., I'm asked my "race" but not asked in which academic areas do I have special training
The day after Orientation, having already received a resume that includes the lines
M.A., Transformative Arts
              John F. Kennedy University, Orinda and Berkeley CA
B.A., Integral Studies
              CA Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco CA
and a completed application wherein I provided the same information (in handwriting), Kelly Services telephoned me; they needed to know the city and state where I earned my degrees...

So now they have the information in typewritten, longhand and spoken formats.

An example of the Frustration encountered on the road that will perhaps lead to an adjunct teaching position at Rust College (shorter commute and possibly higher earnings):  There does not exist, I am told, in digital or hard copy format, a description of a) the job duties or selection criteria for Rust College faculty, or b) course content, objectives, etc. for the course I've been invited to teach.

I learn this morning that the next step in the process is for me to write a letter discussing my qualifications for teaching the course. I am, at the moment, not sure how to do that armed only with the title of the course, "Fundamentals of Speech."

This morning I thought Let's start the day with a less stressful project. I'll work on my application for the MS Arts Commission Teaching Artist Roster. Right.
Please choose your current level of experience...in the following categories...:

in the absence of a list of experience levels to "choose" from

do I place a check mark beside each demographic I've served in the past?  Do I define a set of comparative terms like "novice, advanced practitioner, Master Educator" and enter one of the terms beside each grade level designation? Do I enter the number of hours/sessions/weeks/months I've worked with each group over the last 20/30/40/50 years?


I'm standing before these three gates, trying to get through at least one of them. On a smoke break a couple hours ago, I realized that I view the central task in each of these processes to be proving my competence. Yes, I am prepared to enter and I will carry my weight once I'm inside. Perhaps this is an erroneous framing. Perhaps these gates are not about proving competence for the work at hand beyond them. Perhaps they are tests to prove my ability to follow the rules of the gate-makers and gate-keepers. Or to conform to the template for educators in MS. 

Or maybe it's just the latest version of the same old task associated with all social endeavors:  be in the Now, with what Is. 

27 January 2013

Begging Pardon

Giles Revell's black and white images of common insects 
I learned this week that a reader was offended by something I wrote here. This triggered a series of remembrances, other times in the past when I've learned I offended someone. It also connected with something I'd been thinking about in the recent past; a sense that people are taking offense more frequently. Does it follow that we must also be committing offenses more frequently?

In terms of human evolution, why would this be happening?

When we are offended, we say that our "feelings" are hurt. As though our feelings were an entity, content and intact, until you came along and did or said whatever you did or said and ZING!!! an arrow right into the heart of tender Feeling. Why'd you have to come along and mess things up?

We say that we "feel" we are owed an apology.

Pay up!

Human dramas driven by themes of "offense" and "apology" are fraught with treacherous tangents and barely hidden undercurrents and can also be highly volatile. High emotion frequently has this effect on human interaction. A party to the interaction feels offended and all subsequent interaction is filtered through this perception.The other party may then experience intense "feelings" of guilt or shame, fear or anger, or pity...

The Offended Matrix becomes the grid within which subsequent interaction occurs.


Photo credit: Ciosuconstantin from
Sometimes, someone actually says aloud to another: "I'm really offended by what you just said (or wrote)."

[Note:  Sometimes this is thought but not expressed aloud to the offending party. Sometimes it is felt but does not consciously register as 'offense', just a vague sense of embarrassment or discomfort.]

Sometimes there's unspoken subtext, e.g., an accusation or demand:  "You are a mean (rude or insensitive or selfish) person!" or "You don't love me! (enough)" or "Say you're sorry!"

But when we feel we've been offended, it can be difficult to admit, even to ourselves, to subtext.

This is one of the reasons it's so hard to transform or escape the Offended Matrix. It is Ego in action, doing what Ego does. Standing in the center of the Universe, screaming "There's something wrong!" Resisting resolution. Insisting crisis. Ego will not be consoled.

Which is where the complicated tendrils of the Apology Matrix overlap with the Offended Matrix. The Offended is waiting to hear the Apology and feel the anticipated relief (or vindication or affirmation or ....). The Offender may quickly respond with sincere and effusive expressions in an attempt to deliver what the Offended desires, all the while feeling anxious "Will it be enough? Am I saying it right? Can I make him/her feel better?"

Or Ego may manifest in the Offender as "You're wrong! I did not offend you. My motives are pure. I will not apologize." It's as though the Offender is now offended by the accusation of having committed offense...  Psychic mise en abyme.

ArtistSalvador Dalí
Typeoil on canvas
Dimensions100 cm × 79 cm (25.2 in × 31.1 in)
LocationMuseum Boymans-van Beuningen,Rotterdam

Sometimes the news is delivered by a third party. Or a fourth party:  "I ran into Jeanette at the market and she told me her sister was really offended the other day when you said ___________." Now the Offended and Apology Matrices are overlaid with a Voyeur Matrix. What is the third or fourth party's emotional orientation? What are you feeling when you tell someone that someone else was offended by something they did?


Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.
mevlana jelaluddin rumi - 13th century

23 January 2013

Art is God

I am only one chapter in to Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose and "it" is happening again:  the overwhelming feeling of being redeemed, restored, revived....  Falling in love. Energized so thoroughly that I am consumed with a desire to create; to write and dance and make music and bread.

Simultaneously, awash with deep sadness and regret about the roads not taken in my life. My heart breaking for the girl I was, the dreams and bright burning passions I was persuaded to abandon...without being trapped by the sadness and plummeting into despair. Just an experience of being fully awake to that pain and seeing it not as my private pain but rather one expression of the collective human struggle.

And gratitude, like all of everything I am or have ever been opening wide in thankful praise to the power and beauty of heart-rending, eloquent Art.

Not that grumpy, unsettled "What's the big deal? I could have written/performed/said/etc. that..." kind of feeling. And not the "Wow! Amazing! There's no need for me to attempt anything -- this is so good, the rest of us can go home now" feeling.

It's like....like God, really. (The thought occurs this insight will prove useful in the sure-to-come next episode of being asked if I believe in God.) An encouraging sense of the boundless creative potential alive within humans and full conviction of the power of this creativity to redeem us.

It is "one thing" to read and understand and deeply appreciate the words of Toni Morrison or Picasso or Einstein about the power and importance of creativity within and among us. And I have experienced that "one thing" many times. A light goes on in my head and my heart strings are tugged.

But sometimes, as is the case with Angle of Repose, I feel my entire life illuminated, past and present. Veils of mystery fall away. Oh, such tender mercy extended to everyone, including myself, as, with complete humility, I admit the complexity and fragility of every exchange between we imperfect mortals.

Producing this caliber of art requires a devotion and discipline absent from my lifestyle at present. Reading writing this good moves me toward modifying my lifestyle toward more diligence, focus, commitment...

There's nothing else I know of that gives me this kind of energy and adjusts my attitude away from the disappointment and frustration of the last few weeks,

that makes me feel like I'm falling into Love

that allows the clearest view of what it is to be human

that restores my will to press on


like the intimate grandeur of making and consuming Art.

16 January 2013

Sad Situation for Holly Springs Students

Ice everywhere this morning. Beautiful and dangerous. The gardenia bush is flattened. Throughout the night, the deep stillness was intermittently pierced by the sounds of branches breaking beneath the weight of the ice and falling onto the roof.

I was scheduled to present before the school principals and superintendent yesterday afternoon. The town was so quiet all morning, I suspected the schools were closed. I checked the school district's website but found no information there -- not even a telephone number for the superintendent. I called their offices and no one answered...but I've called on days of fair weather and no one answered the phone. This was not a clear answer.

I drove out to the office at 2:  no cars in the parking lot and the door was locked...but there was no sign on the door so I still wasn't sure the 4:00 meeting was cancelled.

Returning home, I composed a short email to the superintendent:  is the meeting still on? If so, please send a text message confirming.  If not, I am still eager to present and will wait to hear regarding rescheduling. Then I drove over to Christ Church to spend some time at piano.

It is almost 24 hours later. No response to the email. No text message. No new information at the website.

There's a "Christian academy" in Holly Springs. It's a private school and I'm told the student population is almost entirely white. Admission policy, as outlined on their website states:

Marshall Academy does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, disability, or sex.  Qualified applicants of all races and creeds are welcome.

Pictures on the website suggest it is a mostly, but not entirely, white enterprise.

Front and center on the home page is an announcement about school closing, yesterday and today.

If I were the parent of a school age child, despite my aversion to religious schools, I would likely place my child at Marshall Academy. Based on all easily accessible indicators, it appears to be a better school. I learned from a Marshall Academy student that there is no music program -- a definite flaw in the curriculum -- still, setting Holly Springs School district schools beside the Academy, the choice is clear for a parent seeking quality educational preparation for life for their child.

It's a sad situation. I imagine many parents, "black" and "white", here and elsewhere, believe public schools are inferior because they are mostly "black." This is an over-simplification. While it is true that the public schools are mostly "black" and also true that they are inferior to private schools in many respects, the two truths do not correlate in a clear-cut way. I've also heard the differences between public and private education attributed to amount of money available to each. I don't believe this explains the differences entirely either.

In my estimation, too many "black" Holly Springs residents have rationalized too many subpar features of this town and, specifically, the "black" institutions in the town, with "We don't have the money 'they' have." Does it take money to contact an artist scheduled to present at your meeting to let her know the meeting has been cancelled or to respond to her email of inquiry?  How much money does it take to post a "Schools are closed today" notice on your website or to tape an "Office Closed due to inclement weather" note on the front door of school headquarters as you lock up for the day earlier than usual (similar notices appeared in several locations around town yesterday)?

How much money is needed to adjust an attitude?

15 January 2013

We Can Always Dream

In a few days, I will have lived in Holly Springs for five months. It's a relatively short amount of time but some things are becoming clear.

I arrived gung-ho about establishing an artist retreat/education/conference center. My daydreams, en route on the train, were filled with the sights and sounds of an international crowd sipping wine while collaborating in my kitchen to create a Kenyan guest's favorite dish....or lounging around a late night fire in the backyard, listening to a new song, written by a visiting songwriter from Montana and talking about Life.

I imagined local painters and dancers and textile artists dropping by, interacting with whatever artist happened to be visiting; the rich exchange of ideas and new art forms birthed and sprouting -- and all of it playing out in the space that I would call Home.

I imagined Holly Springs becoming a come-to place in the minds of artists and creative, progressive free thinkers from around the globe. I imagined strands of connection unfurling between Holly Springs and other locales around the southern U.S., creating a web of art-and-spirit based enterprise that would transform this part of the country.

And some or all of this may come to pass some day. Who knows?

But it's not likely any of that will happen soon. Not in Holly Springs.

I heard a theory the other day suggesting there's a kind of historical momentum here, as in other small towns that thrived on the backs of African slaves in the antebellum South. In their heyday, the dance steps of these communities involved Whites waiting for Blacks to serve the next round of drinks and Blacks waiting for the tinkling bell that cued them to serve.

In these late days, in towns like Holly Springs all over the South, post-bellum, post Reconstruction, post Civil Rights struggle, the tinkling bell is long gone. The gloved hand that rang it is clenched in self-consciousness or fear or bigotry. The Black feet that shuffled in response are steadfastly planted in obstinate refusal to serve anyone and shackled by regret and old grudges. Neither group knows what to do in the 21st century.

I've learned of a handful of creative initiatives in Holly Springs, each being shepherded by a single individual or a small group; but there does not appear to be any coordination of these efforts. Each operates independently and it's yet to be seen whether any of them will succeed. I have my doubts. One local entrepreneur hopes to open a coffeehouse on the square, intending it to become a community hub where students from Rust College, artistic types, intellectuals and others will hang out and interact. Given the seemingly deep-rooted racial segregation that I observe, I have a hard time imagining his dream coming true.

I hold a fragile commitment to be an agent of change in Holly Springs. Fragile because I know next to nothing about how one does that; and because my doubts are substantial about the possibility of a newcomer reversing century-old trends in community.

I am assured by friends who live elsewhere and even guests I've hosted here through CouchSurfing.org, that I have "the right stuff" to help transform this place but I do not see clearly what they see and I am often burdened by a sense of myself as a perennial outsider.

Still, the song "Morning in Holly Springs" chose to come into being through me and my premier performance of it at our holiday Open House was well received. This could be the harbinger of power and purpose to come. I can only keep going, continuing in my usual way to show up and ask questions and offer to serve. Who knows? We can always dream....

13 January 2013

There's No Place Like Hell

Early in November, I hosted Alan Bounville who is walking across the U.S. for gender equality.  (Read more about him and the journey here at the Into the Light website.) He was battling a cold and I was happy to provide two nights of lodging.

Tonight I learned that he is still walking. He won't reach DC until 23 February. It's been two months since I dropped him at the on ramp to 78W on his way to Memphis. Based on nothing, I assumed he'd have completed the journey by now.

Browsing his journal entries, I have a heightened awareness of the importance and impact of his walk, for himself and the thousands of people involved with this project -- the hosts and donors, other artist activists, the audiences who attended the performances and workshops he gave along the way.

As I read, I moved closer into his experience and, fully cognizant of the pointlessness of comparison, I began to compare his life to mine. Of course, my life came up short. What have I ever done, in my whole life, that mattered this much?

As a token of encouragement, in lieu of a monetary contribution, I gave him my copy of Tolle's "Practicing the Power of Now." He emailed me a couple of weeks later expressing profound gratitude for the book. I felt from our conversations that it would be a timely gift.

I could use the book myself tonight. To read Tolle's clear language on Ego's relentless mission to maintain a stressed problem-laden perspective. I am looking at Alan's life and seeing it as better than mine. I am feeling hopeless about possibilities in Holly Springs. I am dreading seeing uncommunicative New Orleans friends later this week. I am anticipating not fitting in with the crowd of performers at the MicroFest conference...

I want to be "about" something and don't feel that I am. I want to feel connected to people and ideas and projects that matter -- and I don't. I want to be in love -- and I am not.

I am disappointed in myself and my friends and the world. I am afraid of growing old. I regret...so much.

This is how it is sometimes. I know it will pass.

The assignment tonight is the same as the assignment in every moment. To be where I am (tonight it's Hell) without trying to fix something or escape to somewhere. To be in this Now, to look at it and feel it without comment or judgment. Like looking at the sky...