back on the guitar train

My guitar teacher Diane Sanabria and I have both been unwell. Yesterday after nearly two months we had our reunion lesson. We both felt rusty. I for one know that I was nervous. After many weeks not teaching, I watched as she re-inhabited her body and her incredible gifted self as an educator and music guide.

I was thrilled to see her, but worried my weeks of not practicing (full disclosure: did not even take my guitar out of her case even once in the last couple of months) would set me back completely. However, in the course of our time together I found my hands remembered more than my brain did. The body remembers in horrific ways, but the body also remembers the healing arts we teach it. I was rusty, but the music, the finger picking, the lyrics…they were still in me. I just had to turn my brain off and let the music flow.

My worries continued (full disclosure: I’m a worrier.) The lesson was amazing, but I dreaded the crippling fear of returning home and having to do the un-doable: take my guitar out of her case. All alone. Without Diane. Music is powerful. Diane tells me how healing it is, but also how emotional and painful it can be. It taps into places we aren’t always prepared to go.

I couldn’t do it last night. But this afternoon I took a walk in the frigid air as the sun was setting over the pond, and when I returned home I was determined. I unzipped the case. I tuned her. I opened my music binder.

I do not care if it sounded terrible. I do not care if it sounded wonderful. It is the pride of feeling back on the train after missing the last several trains that have gone by. I hopped onto the train. It still might be bumpy. But I’m going somewhere. All aboard!



inspired by the art garden

Last night I was able to attend a glorious event called Paradise [not yet] Lost at The Art Garden, a community arts space in Shelburne Falls, MA. The invitation to the event read: “You are invited to participate in Paradise [not yet] Lost, a community exhibit about environmental issues, climate change, and the places we love and want to take care of.”

The exhibit included stunning works of visual work including paintings, collages, ceramic work, and mixed-media pieces. At 7pm performances began, and these included storytelling, recitations of poetry, musical sing-a-long, and an incredible interactive piece involved levitating ping-pong balls (with the use of hair-driers and many helping hands) that each said positive qualities such as “balance”, “intention,” and “love.”

I was inspired beyond belief, and the feeling still lingers twenty-four hours later. All the visual and performance work touched on the beauty of the natural world, the activism people are doing to care for the world, the love and belonging people feel to the places they live, and the investment in building community around these issues.

Everyone was invited to write an intention for engaging with nature and in a creative, social, and preserving way. We wrote our intentions on leaves and taped the leaves onto a card-board tree that was built in a corner of the room.


Especially amidst the isolation, loneliness, and quiet of winter, I could not have asked for a more wonderful way to spend an evening with humans, feeling grateful for humans and for the beautiful world we live in, despite the challenges we face. So much gratitude to Jane Beatrice Wegscheider, artist director of The Art Garden, the many staff there, and all the artists who participated last night. My creative juices are flowing. My appreciation for nature has been rekindled. Thank you!

ode to pete seeger

Pete Seeger died last week

and the year is 2014 and

i am home with a nasty condition of healing-needed

and can’t seem to do much but list

the songs i would like to learn on the banjo

to keep him alive

not the man but

the time when there was juice pouring out

of a person who had so much to say and

insufficient years to say it all. i feel i have the time

and the years

and the loads to express

but i don’t have the clarity to say it just right

and so i list

and wonder if what i have to say about

violence and healing

could ever mean something to people the way

Pete meant something to so many

did Pete wonder

if people would give a crap what he wrote?

or did he just have to chase it out of his mind

before it chased him into the sea?

i am chasing something that will devour me

if i don’t win

but what is it

and where is it going

and will anyone care?

and how I wish I had a friend like Pete

to read my poems and tell me if they are just plain horseshit

or if maybe I should keep going

guitar lessons, jazz, rumi, and the power of history

Back in August, after playing acoustic guitar for over five years and not improving all that much, I began taking lessons with Diane Sanabria, a dear wise woman musician warrior who teaches not only songs but music theory, sense of humor, and life lessons. This afternoon at our lesson she didn’t just show me Travis picking patterns. She took me on a trip to New Orleans, elaborated on the history of African poly-rhythms that started stirring things up to create ragtime and eventually jazz. She honored the African origins that led to Merle Travis’ famous picking style.

She spoke about how much deeper the experience of learning a musical instrument can become when we also study the history and origins of musical styles. I was practically jumping out of my seat. And of course I was reminded of my all-time favorite On Being podcast, “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi,” when professor Fatemeh Keshavarz says, “I don’t think you can free people from the context in which they live. And I don’t think even if you try to do that, that that serves a useful purpose. I don’t see Rumi as detached from the Islamic context at all. In fact, I see his work as utterly and completely immersed in the Islamic tradition. I tell you, it would be hard to read a single ghazal, not even the Masnavi, which is expressly a work with theological and mystical intentions. But even a ghazal, it would be hard to read a ghazal and not find quite a few allusions to Qur’anic verses, to sayings of the prophet, to practices in the Muslim world, so I don’t think we need to separate him from his Islamic context.The way first I visualize this myself is that he goes through the religion, he lives it, absorbs it, and uses it in his way. So in the process, he subverts a lot of things. He changes a lot of things, reinterprets a lot of things, but he does not step outside of it. He lives in it.”

Just as we can’t extract Rumi from his Islamic context, and we can’t pull jazz out of it’s African American and African origins and suggest that because these productions of art are so transformative they must be somehow universal and therefore “neutral” (i.e. often meaning white-washed), my dear guitar teacher believes in the power of historical knowledge to bring added meaning to creative learning in real-time. And I agree with her. Finding a new way to do things comes from studying how it has been done and transcending that to create something new.

I think I will go practice my guitar now.

activism from a reservoir of inner beauty

I have been listening to Krista Tippett’s radio podcast On Being (formerly called Speaking of Faith) since 2011. Through years of not having a spiritual home base and often feeling lost within myself, listening to the huge variety of people she interviews, from radical activists to spiritual leaders to scientists, has been incredibly grounding. Majority of the interviews speak to me on a level deeper than the daily chatter of to-do lists and small-talk and compounding anxieties.

Yesterday I listened to a podcast from Nov 13, 2014 titled Discovering the Cosmology of Bach in which Ms. Tippett interviews Professor of Computer Science Bernard Chazelle. Connections between science/mathematics, spirituality, and music are a fascination of Ms. Tippett’s that has continued to surface in her interviews, and it is a passion I share with her. This quote of Mr. Chazelle’s particularly speaks to me:

“There’s something extremely optimistic and really almost dizzying when you hear something, and it moves you so intensely inside. And you realize, but this is you who is being moved. Nobody’s forcing this inside you. So in your brain, there must be this reservoir of beauty which most often is untapped, goes untapped. But if you can find it with the right spotlight, then you discover this amazing consonances, or dissonances, or this amazing narrative, story, inside you.”

Since hearing that (and rewinding several times to re-listen to the words and really let them settle in) I have been meditating on the idea of an inner reservoir of beauty. What does that mean? If we live with the assumption that everyone has that, we must also acknowledge that each individual requires something different to tap that reservoir. What if we focused more of our energy on finding want gets that reservoir dam to break, and let THAT guide our approach to our educations, careers, and social justice activism tactics and approaches?

Specifically with that last one, I feel that the urgency of such disastrous injustices pushes us, as radical activists, to rush to action. Sometimes this is absolutely necessary. Sometimes this comes from fear. I am interested in exploring what it would mean to start from a place of a flowing reservoir of inner beauty, and let THAT guide the decisions we make about system-debunking tactics.

Meanwhile, I am on my own journey of trying to find the things that tap into my own reservoir. I know some of them. But knowing what they are isn’t enough. I have to commit to really acting on them, practicing them, and keeping the inner channels open. It’s a work in progress. Like most things.