Going to Work

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

Toni Morrison
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The Water Connects

Metal bowl connects by flowing water
  to its support of rocks,
a fountain of metal and stone.
  Pump drives the connection,
connects to the power grid,
  connects to wind generators out west,
driven by air river off
  the Pacific Ocean.

Stone Buddha, one with the fountain,
  connects to historical Buddha
2500 years ago, half way round
  the world.  It all connects,
the farther you go, the further ago.
  Two million light-years away
Andromeda galaxy shows
  its younger self
in our night sky.

This poem first appeared in WordFest Anthology 2019, part of the Waco Cultural Arts Fest, edited by Sandi Horton.

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October is Poetry Festival Month

As summer starts to wind down in Austin, festivals start up. Austin City Limits was the first two weekends in October. I went the first year. It was in August, high of 103F. Never again in August. Waco hosts its CultureFest the first weekend in October. I was in the Waco WordFest anthology and attended for the second time this year. Joyce and Mike Gullickson of the Georgetown Poetry Festival (3rd Saturday in October) passed out copies of the Blue Hole, their anthology. So in one day, three of my poems were published. I’ll paste them into this blog as time permits.

Both of these poetry festivals are free and contain a lot of good poetry. Waco WordFest featured Loretta Diane Walker from Midland, TX. I’ve been wanting to hear her for two years since I found her in two Web poetry journals where I was published: Illya’s Honey (“There is No Before Cancer“) and Red River Review (“The Grammar of Juggling“, lost in reorganization). We bought two of her poetry collections.

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Rituals

Most creatives have rituals to get them started. Steven Pressfield blogs on the writng process. He writes fiction and creative fiction, but most of his advice applies to any creative endeavor. His latest, “Get Up! Begin Your Day!”, details his and Twyla Tharp’s morning rituals. Both start their day at the gym. A comment of his lets us know what he’s doing in the gym:

I am rehearsing doing something I don’t want to do.
I’m rehearsing doing something I’m afraid of.
I’m rehearsing doing something that hurts.

Steven Pressfield

They are rehearsing for “the moment when she arrives at her dance studio and faces the choreographer’s equivalent of the blank page.” Pressfield’s “War of Art” is a good read on the creative process.

I have my own writing rituals. I start every writing session in my journal with the date, time, and location. This once had a definite purpose: where and when does my good writing happen? The answer? Anytime and the patio outside our apartment. Austin weather makes the patio frequently unworkable. Next best is somewhere with coffee. Perhaps the ritual time and location detailing remains a way to say to myself, “Be Here, Now.”

Examining my rituals I find a more important one is carrying out the promise I made to my wife after chemo. Everyday I’ll tell you that you’re beautiful, I love you, make you coffee, and be silly. The last was the hardest at first. Many days I didn’t make it. Or my attempts were strained. Now, it probably happens most days and it’s not a big deal. Telling her she’s beautiful and I love her is the most important and happens everyday, sometimes several times just to make sure, but not always first thing in the morning.

What does happen every morning we are home is I get up and make coffee. This has been a struggle with: bad water (torrential rains washed 10 times the usual amount of silt into Austin’s water supply), bad coffee (every roaster seems to produce a bag of nasty coffee once in a while, Starbucks and Whole Foods house brand included as well as the local boutique roasters), headaches from something we don’t know about, and changing from drip coffee (Melitta cones then the Clever Coffee Dripper) to espresso (DeLonghi’s nice $140 home espresso machine). Reading coffee blogs suggests we might like a finer grind. Tried it this morning and it does produce more coffee flavor and body without bitterness. We refer to the coffee equipment as our “ritual utensils” and have developed the discipline to ready them every night.

I try to write every weekday. I’m several months behind. Looking at my calendar and what I do accomplish shows me my morning ritual is rehearsal for living, not just writing. My calendar is full of seeing doctors and dealing with aging and the side effects of the cancer treatment. That I must do to write. Or anything else.

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Beauty Every Day

My chiropractor recommended I look at something beautiful every day to get me out of my (rational) head more. I’ve been using the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for several years. A recent post on Brain Pickings, The Stunning Astronomical Beadwork of Native Artist Margaret Nazon reinforced the value.

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The Hard Work – Anxiety

Teachings are helpful, but often times I need a concrete example. The poem “Beg for Love” by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir is a teaching. The accompanying concrete example, along with the artwork, reminds me how to put the teaching to work.

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Misheard and Misread

Mishearing as a creative act lays out the case for misinterpretations of other people’s words/lyrics/statements as potential sparks for new creative works. I’ve several poems in progress like that: I knew my wife said, “You can’t lead where you haven’t gone.” and that I heard, “You can’t leave where you haven’t gone.”

This can also happened with things misread or mis-seen. A T-shirt that said “Prefect Circle” with a fold in the middle mis-read as “Perfect Circe”. I’m not sure what a Perfect Circe is, but I’m working on it.

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Reading Poetry

I go to a fair number of poetry readings by visiting poets, Open Mics, and poetry festivals (AIPF, Waco WordFest, Georgetown Poetry). Austin gets a modest number of famous poets reading (e.g., Naomi Shihab Nye several times this year). Most just read their poetry (not Naomi). The Spoken Word people are an obvious exception. “The Word That is a Prayer” by Ellery Akers appears in “Healing the Divide” (review coming when I finish it). My wife says it “caught her heart.” Ellery isn’t a poet that’s known to us. I looked her up. On her Website is the poem and Ellery reading it. When a man on a street corner says, “Please”, I can hear his voice. Nice.

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Mid-Course Corrections

Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
– Rumi

There are several models of spiritual/social/emotional development, e.g Fowler’s Stage of Faith, Ken Wilbur’s Integral Psychology, and Deepak Chopra’s How to Know God. The number of stages, names, and focus may vary, but by and large they agree. Fowler’s Stages of Faith is one of the earliest descriptions and the canonical text later writers worked to improve on. Ken Wilbur talks in terms of earlier and later stages, avoiding the implied value judgement in higher and lower stages. Chopra’s How to Know God gives the most approachable descriptions of the later stages.

Comparing their stages and my own experience, I find stages in adults earlier than my own appear naive and simplistic. Stages later than my own appear radical, even crazy, and naive in a different way, usually prefaced by, “in the real world.” Jesus’ Beatitudes is this way. It’s so out radical that the institutional church’s interpretation rarely does it justice.

Wilbur is an academic and writes for a very educated, literate audience. Chopra writes for a broader audience, a more “low church” audience.

The usual path through stages in childhood result in the bulk of the population in one of two stages. The earlier stage is focused on fear, safety, security, the past, tradition. The later stage is more focused on hope, improvement, and the future. Generally, people have a home stage. Stress and hard times can move them temporarily into an earlier stage. Good times can push them into a later stage.

Most people stop developing as adults. Some continue on their own. Others are pushed by circumstances to resume development. Transitions between stages are painful. The “old” rules no longer apply.

Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.

Tony Robbins

The earlier of the two stages most adults end up in is usually rule or “law” based. To these people, the Rumi quote is nonsense, criminal, anarchy, and chaos. Right and Wrong they understand, live by, and rebel against. Thousands of years ago, the Rule of Law was a great advance over Might Makes Right. Too often the Law is taken too literally and too legalisticaly. It has become an idol to worship and an obstacle to seeing your suffering neighbor. This is what the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures rail against. They hold the powerful and privileged accountable for not living the teachings on charity and restorative justice.

The Good Samaritan parable is an example of this in Jesus’ teachings. Samaritans were the Jews left behind in the Babylonian Exile. They were the least and the last, not even worth taking as slaves. When the Jews returned 60 years later with new ideas and rituals adopted and adapted from and in Babylon, the new orthodoxy declared apostates, worse than even non-believers (pagans). A Samaritan is the hero of Jesus’ parable, someone beyond legalistic notions of right and wrong.

In moving to the later stages, right and wrong (binary or dualistic thought) becomes less helpful. A more nuanced approach is like steering a car or ship. Where am I? Where do I want to be? What course corrections are needed? A ship at sea doesn’t have landmarks to go by, so direction replaces location. While steering corrections are frequent (changes in direction caused by waves and wind, needed for curves, debris, and other cars in the road), all require course corrections. Right and wrong aren’t helpful.

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Community vs. Clubhouse

José Luis Vilson writes a blog on education, specifically middle school math education. He emphasizes how much of education is supporting past and present injustice. A recent post, Where We Belong, captures a key aspect of current society and education in the United States. He contrasts clubhouses with secrets handshakes and communities that are welcoming to all interested. Clubhouses often focus in who is excluded (e.g. Calvin and Hobbs’ “No Girls” treehouse).

The clubhouse is so easy to do. Welcoming communities requires care, attention, and stewardship from a big heart.

There is a second important point in his post, including the people doing the work, asking their opinions and experience, and giving them the power to help manage the system. The Toyota Production System gave the factory floor workers the power to stop production when something wasn’t working and get it corrected. José Luis Vilson was the first working math educator to give the keynote address. To put a point on it, all previous addresses were largely untested hypotheses presented by academic as if they were proven laws. People have been suggesting including the workers (factories) and users (buildings) for years. Progress is being made and it’s slow.

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