Posts Tagged ‘music’

In a recent interview, Stephen Colbert had this to say:

“I believe that people, more often than not, act with the best possible intentions.”

In the current American upheaval and angst present under the flag of politics, it can be disheartening to see all of the potshots flying out, smacking not only into the candidates, but to the followers of those candidates.  Anonymous critics, drawing into open question the intelligence of others, intellect and personality and experience unknown.

The thing that strikes me is that none of it is real.  Not of it has substance.  It’s ashy and dusty noise, cacophony and scratching blackboards, without heft, without significance without meaning and without value.  Chickens, squawking uselessly at each other, pecking the air and shedding feathers of dearly held dogma and baseless opinion.

Yet, in the midst of all of this caterwauling there’s a core of music, a steady thrum of insistent music, composed of questions more than of answers.  Voices of honest childlike curiosity.  You can spot these jewels of oasis easily: they want to know.  They challenge the noise often; and when they do, the noise tends to die down.

“Why do you think that Presidential candidate is a liar?  Why do you think he intends nothing but evil for the country?”

At the end of the day, any logical answers fall short.  The only conclusion anyone can come to is “well I suppose he means well.”

And that’s when the other shoe drops.

A chorus of “buts…” doesn’t negate from that foundational finding.  “Yes, but if he’s voted in, he’ll…”  “Yes but he’s rich and….”  “Yes but he’s not realistic and so…..”

Whatever the argument from there, the foundation remains.   “He means well.”

And by extension, so do his followers.

All of a sudden, it’s not nearly as simple as we originally thought.  The black and white isn’t quite as black or as white as we thought.  Motivation means so much, yet it seems to be the first thing we often judge  – often wrongly – and dismiss.

I suppose over the years, I’ve had to learn that opinions and motivations are more complex than I originally thought.  Now, I feel like I’m at the same point as Colbert.

“Oh you’re pretty good then” they’ll say.  “You don’t like to judge.”

I say “not at all.  Of course I judge.  All the time.”

They say “yeah, but…what you just said???”

And I’ll say “but I find my need for answers kinds of outweighs my impulse to judge.   I need to know.  It’s a selfish thing.”

I’ll add:  “I’m really worried I’ll miss something important.  It’s why there’s such a need to ask questions.  My assumptions have proven wrong one too many times.”

That guy over there – the one who’s frowning at the unassuming family in the row in front of him.  You can read his body language.  It’s like he hates them.  And they’re just sitting there quietly, occasionally whispering with each other.

I want to know what’s going on.  I want to know what motivates him.  What’s his story?  What’s his history?

I see where he is now, but that’s not enough.  How did he get there?

Why is that woman smiling?  I mean, I’m glad she is – that grin is infectious.  What’s the root of it?

There’s a need for clarity.  In the accumulation of clear thinking, there is a kind of shared harmony that is almost musical.  There is freedom too – to experiment, to listen, to smile and to understand what fellowship is about.

If ever you’re interested in a musical representation of all of this, check out any of the multitude of Bobby McFerrin videos on YouTube.   This one in particular caught my imagination:  it’s an hour – a full hour! – of improvised music.   Unlike other musicians, Bobby’s instrument is his voice.  And he uses it to abandon.  He’s like a kid with his voice – going up and down the register, adding beats and breaths and clicks.   After the first seven minutes of solo, he begins to improvise with others:  singers, musicians, even the audience.

There’s a joy inherent in the whole thing, and you get the sense that there really is no limit.  The man’s spirit has been captured in his music, and I am in awe.

Check it out when you have a while.  it’s the equivalent of a musical meditation.  The ironic thing:  he once considered becoming a monk because he values the quiet.  I don’t think that’s changed:  I think the man is all about pure notes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXhz_7v49DU&feature=relmfu

It certainly is a major shift away from the bragging vehemence of emphatic oppositional political noise isn’t it?

I think the human spirit is kind of beautiful like that.

“Spirituality has always confused me.  I see it as people making up whatever they want to believe and then believing that.  Can anyone who considers themselves spiritual shed some light on this?  Is it that you dream something is happening and therefore it is?”

So wrote a curious woman in the comment section of today’s “The Daily” newspaper app.

Of course the question presumes that spiritual people start off as blank slates, and then decide to build their belief system from the ground up.   I don’t think it’s an accurate premise, as none of our beliefs, or behaviour for that matter ever starts from a void.  We are all of us products of our environment, our upbringing.  Our worldview is further enhanced through education, observation and experience.

To suggest that one person who considers himself spiritual can adequately speak for all such “spiritual but not religious” people is equally inaccurate, as each spiritual man has a different set of experiences and observations.  However, this spiritual man can certainly speak for himself.

I think it’s fair to say that, absent an adequate explanation (solar eclipse, aurora borealis, earthquakes, rainbows and the horizon of an ocean), mankind has always allowed his mind space to invent “facts” which have then morphed into religion and beliefs.  I also think that the idea of religion provides for safe boundaries for those who would otherwise become overwhelmed with the seeming arbitrary randomness of life.  Religion provides structure, rules, authority, community….it even provides artificial enemies which in turn serves to strengthen the bonds of community.

In many cases, religion becomes the arbiter and judge for behaviour, thought, processes and direction – both personal and organizationally.

As time goes on, and mankind discovers more actual facts, the basis for religion begins to fail, and so we see the results today, where more and more people are leaving the religious community.    But why is their faith – why is MY faith – intact?  Why do we still believe in God?

One answer would be that we still haven’t arrived at an explanation for what’s behind the curtain.  We certainly have some educated guesses:  our discovery of theoretical physics, which include quantum physics, string theory and the like speaks to some likely probabilities.  Yet, that’s all they do.  Even the Higgs boson (or God particle) experiments, astounding as they are, do not yet account for the supreme engine.  The “why?” of existence.  The notion that everything is random doesn’t adequately explain the bizarre probability factors.  We still see some semblance of design.

Specifically though – in my own life – there is all kinds of evidence of a loving overseer who for some curious reason seems to prefer that I figure out a lot of this stuff on my own.   I can only see in retrospect some patterns which defy randomness.  Paths which only become clear when looked at historically, never future.

While religion and the Bible formed the basis for much of my younger self’s beliefs, I’ve found reason to put them away.   Religion was there when I needed it – particularly when growing up in a violent household – but now I find it limiting.  Religion, you understand, prefers that I don’t think for myself, or that I reach conclusions only in keeping with its constant drone of acceptable dogma.  It wants me to remain within the beehive of religious consciousness, where everything “not bee” is considered an enemy of the hive.  My belief in deity breaks out of that myopic thinking, preferring instead to encompass a world-wide acceptance and appreciation of humanity.

I still believe in God, therefore, because of personal ad hoc observations – something which can’t be qualified by others, as it is entirely subjective.  My belief however does not suffer from the ridicule of others:  it merely sits, content, with no need to defend.  It has no need to proselytize either.

In fact, my belief appreciates those who don’t think as I do.  More than appreciation, there is an active value of them.

Christopher Hitchens was, in my opinion, one of the greatest logical minds ever.  I felt sorrow at his passing, and I found resentment at not being able to attend a debate between himself and Tony Blair in Toronto during the last year of his life.   Christopher didn’t believe anything like I do – but now I find that it wasn’t necessary that he and I agree.  I approached a love of him mostly because of his honest querying and objections.   That’s the thing:  his honest intellectualism.  How can you fault a man for that?   And his intellect was absolutely amazing.

The God I believe in has liberally distributed His DNA to mankind at large.  The result is that He has created thinkers, architects, singers, scientists, Hindus, religious people, atheists, construction workers, mechanics and doctors, each with unique abilities and outlooks.  They are all, in my opinion, different facets of His mosaic.  Different sides to the diamond.   The studious mathematician, who is socially awkward and insistent upon boring details, performs a function that I could never in a million years emulate (or want to emulate).  His value is beyond measure.  As is the concert violinist with his Stradivarius, playing Mozart with enough passion to bring tears to the eyes.

I think the God I believe in loves it all.  The music, the passion, the intense attention to details, the math.  I think all of that is likely an extension of Him, in some way or another.

Someone said “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.   Just so.   For Christians (or any other religious folk) to try and qualify their beliefs through the application of perceived facts is an exercise in futility.   The moment verifiable facts come into play, faith takes an exit.  It must.  The two are as alike as apples and orgasms.

A month ago, a friend had challenged me to sit for an hour, just to concentrate – and maybe pray – about where I want to be, what I wanted to.   It was a goal that was fairly open-ended.   

I did.  I sat on the floor, on my yoga mat (shaddap) with a pillow behind my back.   I did this for an hour, at first in mediation, and then thinking/praying.   Just going over stuff.  

I came to a few realizations.

I’m an angry person.  Have been, ever since I was a teenager.   People generally didn’t know this, because it’s not obvious.   I am.  I’m angry.   So….this introspection….this navel-gazing, if you will…. sought to figure that out.  Why was I angry?

Years ago, my therapist suggested that anger is not a bad thing or a good thing.  It just is.  (What do you think?  Do you agree?  I’m really interested in your thoughts on that) .   Anyway – that’s the approach I took today.   I guess that anger, like pain, might be there for a reason.  It’s a messenger, a warning, that all is not right.   There’s an imbalance.  Something that needs correction.

So…..why was I angry?

I couldn’t approach it head-on as there were no answers there.  I just know that sometimes something will trigger me, and I’ll go off on a passionate rant.   Last night I ranted on a friend’s blog.   When I woke up this morning, I found myself ashamed and regretful.   I had told him the truth, but maybe it was overkill.  Maybe I didn’t need to show quite so much passion.   Truth-telling is enhanced by alcohol, in that booze relaxes your inhibitions.  The bad news is that it also inhibits your judgement – and I’m not sure my judgement was where it needed to be last night.   Anyway… spilt milk….water under the bridge.   Regrets are only good as lessons for the future.  They have zero effect on their origins.  You can’t take anything back or undo what you did.

So… Anger.   Anger happens when you find yourself limited from your potential.  Anger happens when you find yourself subject to fear – and once again, inhibited from doing what you know you should do.  

And I have been so very angry.  Sometimes it comes out as a reaction to whatever excuse will serve at the time.  I recognize its deceptiveness by virtue of its overkill – all out of proportion to its catalyst.  

I have dreams that I’ve let slide.   The time of reflection and meditation made that clear.  There’s a need to create.  To indulge some creativity.   To act.  To play music.  To write.   To – and this is kind of the crux of it all – help people.   

It’s tough, being so acutely aware of people who failingly struggle with expectations.   I see people who are bound – hogtied – to rules and restrictions that they thought were imposed on them, by their friends, their church, their friends or their workplace.  The brutal truth is that they’ve chosen to bind themselves.   Whatever the case, the end result is that they’re bound.  And they think they’re alone.  And I *need* to shine some light.

At the same time, I’ve become acutely aware of the fact that I have so many blind spots too.  So I can’t brag about any of this.  I can’t pretend I’m not deceived on occasion too.   Self-deception is the worst, isn’t’ it?  Mostly because you have no idea you’ve done it.   No clue that you’ve lied to yourself.   It doesn’t even cross your mind. 

I find that someone will say something and I’ll realize (hopefully immediately, if I’m lucky) that what they said just bumped me.   Like the universe pinched me hard on the bum.   And I realize, once again, that I’ve been fooling myself.   Damn it – I wish I could be more specific here, so that you had some idea of what I’m talking about.

That hour-long meditation is key:  especially in a world where stuff is happening all of the time, and you have no room to think.   It’s a time that you schedule, just like anything else, where you sit by yourself, quietly.   And listen.  And talk out loud too.

I don’t know how it would work for you but here’s how it worked for me:  I sat on the yoga mat and closed my eyes.   The first thing I did was concentrate on my breathing.  I slowed it down and took deep breaths, which I held for a few seconds before letting out.   As I did this, I noted the rest of my body:  where my limbs were, what they were touching, whether there was any pain or twitches or anything at all.   I didn’t judge any of it or try to make anything better.  I just accepted it.  I also noted the noises from outside of my apartment:  not in an irritated way, but just acknowledging that they were there, and accepting them.   

After a few minutes of that, once there was a rhythm going, I started deliberately thinking about all of the above.  Digging down deep into my motivations.  Figuring out what it was that caused me anger.  I don’t know why anger was the focus, but once again – I didn’t judge.  I accepted it.  It might be different for you though:  you’ll know if you try this.

Then, I decided that since anger was a signal, I needed to pay attention and figure out what it was telling me.   I found a few things:  I wasn’t creating.  I wasn’t playing piano.  I wasn’t writing as much as I needed to do.   I was resentful of my job, which takes up so much of my time.  I need money to live – and my job was the surest way to do that.  I wasn’t physically fit.

There’s an awareness of a need to reach out to people too.  That’s the main thing.  I thought of how many times I’ve been lifted up by music.  Pretty much catapulted out of a threatened depression and dropped into joy – because of music.  I’ve done the same thing when I’ve created and played music too.   The clearest example was at the death of my father:  a man that I truthfully hated for much of my life.  Yet, my emotions were ambivalent.  He wasn’t a total asshole.  He did some things right.  He likely did (as we all do) the best he could with what he had.   He was limited (as we all are) by so many things, some of which were obvious, and others of which were hidden.  At his funeral, some of these truths made themselves apparent.  It wasn’t completely conscious though.   On the eve of his funeral – for some strange reason – I decided to compose a musical eulogy to him.   There were no words – just music.   I remember setting up the electric piano at the Catholic altar of the church, and playing the piece.   It was a bittersweet number:  grounded in pain but interspersed with streaks of joy.   I couldn’t articulate it in words at all.   

The best thing:  it fit, and not just with me.

It was the first time I was conscious of the powerful effects of music.  

I need to do that again.  There’s a need to meet the mark of the joy, the potential, of music.  And of writing.  And of being in the best health possible. And of so much more.

Do you dream?  Are there things you wish you’d done?  Do you find yourself irritated for no apparent reason?  Or apathetic?   

Are you where you want to be?  Are you satisfied?   If so – how did you get there?   Did it come easy, or did you need to do a lot of introspection?  Did you have to make some deliberate choices?  How so?  How did you do it?

If not – have you accepted your “station in life” as inevitable?   If so, why?  Is there fear?  Of what?   

Or are you truly happy with your choices?

If you could write a letter to yourself when you were sixteen, what would you say?

Joseph Galliano, an editor, has compiled a list of letters from people many of us know, and has created a book from that collection, entitled “Dear Me.  A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self”.

So…..

What would I say?

It would go something like this:

—————————–

Hi there.  There’s some stuff you should know.

First off:  trust your instincts.  Remember how troubled you felt when that guy came to pick up your sister for a date?  Remember how normal he seemed, and yet you couldn’t shake off a feeling of danger?  Well, sadly, you were right.  Your sis was OK and everything, but it got pretty dicey for a while there.  The man was dangerous and you were right to be afraid for her.   You have an instinct that borders on ESP.  Don’t worry that it sounds all airy-fairy – just go with it.  Trust yourself.  It doesn’t mean you should quickly judge everyone.  You’ll get older and wiser and soon you’ll be able to differentiate between prejudice and empathy.   You have the empathic spark though – don’t forget it.

Oh, and to help you along:  here’s one indicator of the difference.  Empathic awareness is insistent and relentless and often has no bearing on perceived logic at the time.   Prejudice on the other hand, isn’t nearly as urgent, and it tends to rationalize – usually based upon someone else’s opinion, presented as fact.  It’s almost a form of laziness.  You’ll understand.  It’s just a matter of time and unending curiosity.

Which brings me to another point.  Remember how your dad criticized you for thinking all the time?  Remember how weird that seemed?  Well he was wrong.  This is actually one of your best qualities, and it will serve you well.  Though you’re not great at school (and by the way, forget about trying to memorize names and dates – I’ll tell you why in a minute), your curiosity will take you through life in an amazing way.  You’ll learn so much, just because you thought to question.  And you know what else?   This is a side benefit of your curiosity:  people love to talk.  Especially about themselves.  So ask them, and just enjoy their experience.  It’s sort of what makes you tick.

Which brings me to another point.   If you’re curious enough, and ask the right people, you can probably avoid a lot of years of spinning your wheels in frustration.  Start slowly, but work on it constantly.  Ask questions from people who don’t share your religious beliefs.  Get to know what life is like for people who don’t go to your church. It’s important.  Read some of the great philosophers (if you can – I know how hard it is to get into intricately detailed books.  There’s a reason for that.  More later.).

There is such a great value and such pleasure available to you when you learn to open your mind up a bit.

Oh, and something else:  remember how you sought out the advice of a school counsellor during those times when your father was creating a living hell on earth at home?  Remember how you sat in her office and told her about how he would get so drunk and so angry, and everyone was afraid – and about how you called the cops on him?

Well that was a good starting point for you, but it wasn’t the end.   In between all of that crap you sort of got lost.  You thought your identity was with the church, because people there were really nice, and they welcomed you so gladly.  Their hearts were real, and they really did like you, but you made a tiny little mistake:  you thought you had to be like them.  I mean, exactly like them.  You mimicked them so closely that you really had no idea who you were.  Oh, I know you think you did, but trust me, you didn’t.  You tried so hard to be the social chameleon out of habit:  you knew that in order to survive in that hellish house, you had to figure out what The Beast wanted at any given time, and manoeuvre yourself accordingly.  You learned how to placate and accommodate, as this is what your eight year old self figured out, to survive.  You knew if you did this, maybe The Beast wouldn’t hurt anyone.  You had no idea back then, that what you did didn’t really matter.   He was looking for an excuse to lash out.

I think you should take the time to see a doctor and get yourself sorted out.   You lack one major thing right now – self awareness.  Once you have that, you’ll be on your way.

When you’re talking with the doc, also share with him about how much you hate school projects, and why.  Tell him too about all of your clumsiness and accidents.  It’s important.  Tell him about how you daydream all the time, and forget so many things.  Tell  him about those comments in your report cards, where the teacher says “could do better if he applied himself”.  About how you’re always late, and always always ALWAYS have to run to school every morning to get to band class, because you’re just not able to ever leave on time.   What you’re going through is not normal – and hopefully the doc will pick up on that.

Pay attention to what you like in school, and what you don’t like.  Indulge your love of music and dramatic arts.   It’s part of who you are.  Find ways to get more involved.  Forget about what others tell you that you *should* do, relative to class courses.  Take up the drama class, and join the drama club too.  There’s a brilliant teacher there – get to know him, even though he’s a little frightening, because he’s abrupt and cold, and because he’s really big, like your dad.

Even though your history teacher is amazing – because he brings history to life so well, – you’re going to find yourself hating it in Grade 13.   The new teacher will want the class to memorize names and dates for everything – and you’d rather get into a fight with a school bully than do that.  The daydreaming at this point will be your downfall and you’ll want to give up.  And maybe you should.  But not for long.   Being a kid, you think that you should be able to do everything, or nothing.  You’re kind of black and white like that.  It won’t occur to you (which is why I’m telling you now) that everyone has strengths in certain things, while they suck at others.  You’re never going to be an academic – you’re intelligent enough, but it’s just not who you are.   You won’t work in the trades either.  You don’t know it, but your strength is in people, and in entertainment, and in the arts.  This is not a bad thing.  These are the things that excite you, and get your heart racing.

There are other things to tell you but they should be a surprise.  You’re going to go through some heavy stuff, but if you follow all of the above advice, you’ll at least establish a firm and trustworthy foundation for dealing with them.  Some of the harsh stuff will bring some interesting surprises that you’ll love.

One last thought: some of the best plans never work out.  What is true for you today might not be true tomorrow.    Trust yourself, and trust your instincts.  The one seed for your tree of life never changes:  you must live.  Not just survive, and not just tolerate.  You probably have no idea what I mean by this, so search out a book, called “Jitterbug Perfume”.  Read it one time so that you satisfy your curiosity about the plot.  And when it’s done, read it again.

—————————–

So.  What would you write to yourself?  Better yet – if you feel like it, write a blog, and provide a link to it in the comments here.

I’ve tried to write about this before, and have never felt that I’ve been able to do it justice.  Now that it’s 3:00 a.m. and there’s a virus keeping me awake, maybe I can form the right thoughts a little better.  You can be the judge.

When you grow up in a fairly strict Roman Catholic household, you learn early on that every new minute is a new opportunity to sin.  As a child you learn to scramble and remember those multiple sins committed during the week so that you can vomit them all out to the priest at confession time on Saturday night.  As an adult, you wonder how the priest ever kept a straight face, as he listened to the tortured guilt of six, seven and eight year olds, as they detailed their nefarious deeds.  Those whispered confessions of stealing that cookie, or of sticking their tongues out at the teacher when her back was turned.

We learned guilt, and we learned it well.  I was of the opinion that, from the moment I left the confessional on Saturday night, absolved of all of my sins, I had only a short time before they began to accumulate again.  I did the math.  I knew that the most I could hope for, if I wanted to go directly to heaven at my death, was to be killed within ten minutes of my confession.  After that, there would be residual sin on my soul, and so, being baptized and confirmed, I could maybe expect to sit around, burning just a little bit in the cleansing fires of purgatory.  I hoped there would be loved ones who would continue to pray on my behalf so that I didn’t get too roasted for too long.   A few centuries maybe.

Death therefore had a more ominous meaning to me than merely the cessation of life.

Of course, the priest had a much harsher opinion of my destination, I think, when I became a Protestant.  He was angry and red-faced when I quoted scripture at him, refuting the idea that we need to go to confession at all.  “There is one mediator between man and God – Jesus Christ” I told him.  “It doesn’t say that we need to talk to a priest”.    Confident in my belief, I stared at him, daring him to contradict me.

“Who the hell are you to read the Bible?” he roared.  “You’re not qualified.  It takes years of seminary and study to understand it.”

The priest was not a nice man, often given over to rage, especially at the pulpit.  And now, at me.

I left his place that night, more confident than when I walked in, that I was right and he was a false teacher.

I learned, from that experience, and from many sermons from the Baptist pulpit of the church I attended, that there is only black and white.  Either you’re for truth, or you’re listening and believing lies.  There was no in-between.

It was comfortable.  Safe.

The Catholic Church taught me guilt.  The Baptist Church taught me intolerance.  To be fair, maybe neither of them intended it, but that’s what I learned.

Now that I knew I could confess my sins directly to God, I no longer had to wait for a week to get free of sins.  I just had to remember to confess right away.   It seemed to me that God barely tolerated me, sometimes.

And then……

I don’t know how it happened, but someone invited me to a night time youth gathering in a large Anglican cathedral in Toronto.   The architecture of this place was immense, almost overwhelming.   You could get lost, trying to see the ceiling.

The first thing I noticed, I think, were the dancers.  Girls who flitted up and down the aisle dancing with wide open smiles of joy.  The next thing I noticed was the music and singing.  There were stringed instruments: guitars, violins, and a bass.  There were trumpets, and a saxophone, and a few others.  There were drums.  There was a pipe organ with a thousand pipes.   And there were some singers, and an amazing pianist. Not all of the instrumentalists were up at the front dais;  many of them were scattered among the congregations in the dark stained oak pews.

From my first visit, I was intrigued.  Maybe “intrigued” isn’t the right word.  “Hooked” might be closer.  Better yet:  it was like I had been eating only peas and carrots and lettuce all my life, and all of a sudden someone introduced me to steak and chocolate and wine.

The music, the singing, the dancing was rich.

And then there was the preaching.

Once the music stopped, I expected the normal session of discussion from the pulpit, where I’d probably learn a few more rules for living.  There were so many, it seemed.  I wondered what this guy – his name was Jim McCallister – would have to say.  In a way, I almost resented the fact that there was a sermon at all.  The music – by the way, almost of all of it was created by the singers and musicians there – was so welcoming and so different.  There was hardly anything particularly religious about any of it.  The styles were all over the map, and included even jazz.  I frankly could not believe it – and to this day, I have yet to find a gathering that has such freedom.

Still, when Jim spoke, everyone quieted down to listen to him.  His voice was mellow and rich, and it resonated.  His message was nothing I’d heard before.  He spoke of acceptance, of not just tolerance from God, but joyful enthusiastic involvement.  His sermons planted a seed in me that took years to nurture before anything obvious became evident.

I learned that mankind was not an aberration; that I was not a mistake.  That, if we are created in His image, then that must mean that our basic nature comes from him.  The desire to love our families and each other is our natural birthright.  That our needs: to eat, to read, to have sex, to laugh, to party, to be irreverent sometimes – comes from Him.

As years went by, I took that a few steps further.  Our penchant for seeing God as a brutal dictator who holds very little tolerance for us seems to me to be a construct of mankind’s need to codify our behaviours.   It’s not real, and it’s not true.

I remember seeing a few people around that amazing youth gathering, who I was pretty sure were gay.  And I remember being confused at how welcoming everyone was to everyone – including the gay folk.  It bothered me, on the legalist level, because it conflicted with much of what I’d been taught thus far.  It’s only in hindsight that I see that it was merely behaviour that was consistent with how they truly felt about God and about mankind’s relationship to Him in general.

In particular, it became evident to me that there was no “us” versus “them” at all.  There was no need to pick sides, because we – meaning all people, not just church goers – were in this together.  It was a revolutionary thought for me, and at the time, it was too much to process.

In looking back, I’m still kind of amazed at how forward thinking this group was.

Decision Night

Posted: April 11, 2010 in Life
Tags: , , ,

Technophiles have a difficult time prioritizing properly. If I’m any kind of indication anyway.

I’m always on the hunt for new gadgets.  Like the iPhone, and now the iPad.

Last week I lost my $500 Shure earphones – probably on the subway system.  Although that same evening I was at a bank annual general meeting and may have lost them there.  It truly was a heartbreaker, and so I opted to purchase a replacement set next week.  In the meantime I would use some backup “Plan B” earphones.

That was the decision, until tonight.

I had finally prioritized my Saturday evening and had intended to visit a kind of unique place in Toronto called The Drake Hotel.  It really is a hotel but it’s also an entertainment venue, often featuring up and coming musical artists in its underground auditorium.  I’ve seen some truly great bands there, and some mediocre ones too.  So tonight I went, only to discover that it was closed to the public – they had a private event going on.

Talk about feeling ripped off.

I went upstairs and grabbed a glass of wine and watched the mating dance of the desperate.  That got too depressing so I left.

Next stop: my favourite bar at the corner of Bay and Bloor in the centre of downtown Toronto.  There, I ordered up a bunch of glasses of Chardonnay wine (really should have ordered up a bottle and did it right) while I read my ebook.  Funny thing:  the more you drink the more you have to go back and re-read the same passages over and over again.

Once again I got to watch a few examples of people with low expectations hooking up with other people of low expectations.  What a drag.

There was a guy feigning intense interest in whatever it was a woman was telling him.  It was so patently obvious, and I’m sure she wasn’t stupid and could see it too.  However it was getting late, and I have to think she didn’t want to go home alone anymore than he did.  They eventually left together, just as I was re-reading that same chapter for the fourth time.

I gave up reading, got my bill and staggered walked sedately to the subway.

It wasn’t until I got home with the strains of The Tragically Hip pounding in my ears that I realized it was WAY too early to call it quits for the night.  I wanted desperately to party.  To be around other people and just have a wild time.

It hit me:  that only happens when I’m with the gang from my comedy improv group.   I had previously made a half-hearted commitment to look the improv school up and take a few more courses.

Tonight I realized it was time to put it at the top of the priority list.  The new earphones can wait.  This can’t.

Besides – improv experiences provides all *kinds* of blogging material.  Trust me on this.

The best is yet to come.

Passion

Posted: March 21, 2010 in Life
Tags: , ,

Someone asked me tonight what my passion was.

I had to think what my answer would be.

And then I had to think about the question itself.

When I think about how many years I let slip by, just coasting and getting along with folk in this western world of almost unlimited freedom, I’m a little ashamed.   We can do what we want, within the means given to us (and let’s face it – we have a lot going for us, no matter how poor we may be), and yet we squander it away.  *I* squander it away – watching TV and relaxing at the end of the day.

(Protests that there’s nothing wrong with relaxing after a busy day are going to be ignored.  We all know that’s true but it’s beside the point.  You know what I mean.)

Day after day, TV program after TV program can slowly swallow your days.  You can be the frog in the cold water, just sitting there – *relaxing* – while The Man turns up the burner on the stove.

Fuck that.

I tried to remember what it was that made my blood boil; what it was that got my wandering attention; what…thing….hammered a nail in my hand.

“Life.  I’m passionate about living.”

“Total cop-out.  Everyone can say that.  What gets you passionate?”

Even though what I just said was true, I thought some more.

“Art”.

“Not specific enough.  Try again.”

It’s true, as far as it goes.  When I left the assembly line to the computer keyboard, I was amazed at technology and what it could do.  Still am.  It excites me, gets my ADD thoughts twirling around in colliding bits of wonder.

Eventually though the coloured lights diminish, like mental snow globe flakes settling to the bottom.   Sooner or later you come to the limits of what’s possible and available now in technology and boredom pokes its head in the door, sniffing at your discontent.  The distracted prey might not be aware when it makes its way fully in, depositing a big steaming pile of anguished disgruntlement.   One remedy for boredom:  TV.   Books.    Those have always worked for me.

Abe (see blogroll – Word of Abe) painted a picture of one of his motorcycle trips, and a moment that put everything in crystal clarity for him.   I’ve had moments like those.  They’re usually so rare and they go by so fast that it’s hard to hang on to them.

I remembered attending an Anglican cathedral night gathering, with the glow of warm lights only appearing at the altar end of the massive pillared place.  The outer edges and walls were lost in darkness.   The uniquely beautiful and decidedly untraditional music notes produced by a variety of wind, brass and electrical instruments, combined with harmonious voices wafted throughout that place, curling around pillars and up into the darkness of the invisible stone ceiling, making the heart swell with joy.  You couldn’t escape it.  I didn’t recognize any of the music or knew the words, but I remember just standing there, bathing in it, hoping it would never end.   None of the songs ever ended abruptly.  The instruments would cease, and the voices would slowly collapse into a fading harmonious hum.

In school, I joined the band and played various percussive instruments:  drums, timpani, bells and the xylophone.   Collectively our band never achieved the same joy of that Anglican church gathering, but – we created our own joy, just different.  Not every song was dynamic, and some were downright hideous really.   Occasionally our band leader would pick a song and I knew – just *knew* – it was right.  It would make the heart thump hard, and you could almost visibly see a change in the musicians as we did our level best to perfect the song.

The piano lessons I had taken since I was small kid had culminated in the achievement of the passing of the Grade Nine Royal Conservatory exam.   I was proud but it didn’t move me that much.  I figured piano wasn’t my deal.  I stopped playing, I thought, for good.

Until I took it up again when I played at the front of our church with an absolutely awesome and gifted guitarist.   His exhibited an intent and energy to move out of the shallow waters and into the deep dark waters of creativity.   This drove me until I finally found a pure joy in a creativity of my own.   We sparked off of each other, there at the front of that little church.  There were other singers there and a drummer as well but on so many Sundays it was him and me, going off into riffs of music that were never in the original scores of the music we played.  John created some of his own songs, and we worked them out with abandon and delight.   We would extend a three-minute song into fifteen minutes, just improvising and playing back and forth.  First, he would take the lead and I would provide a backdrop of musical harmonious noise; then, he would drop back and provide rhythm while I walked up and down those keys, trying different things and riffing as if no one else was in the room.

I remember smiling.  I remember looking at the congregation and seeing them with their eyes closed.

Passion.

There’s a scene in a movie called Rock Star, where Mark Wahlberg (who plays the rock star “Izzy”) is standing next to Jennifer Aniston with a group of people, and he throws his head back and bursts out in the raunchiest of singing notes.   I remember sitting in the theater and feeling shivers go up and down my spine in focused empathy.

Passion.

I revised my answer:  “Music”

“Listening or playing?”

I considered the question.  Then, “both”.

“There you go.”

I really want to play again.  I don’t have a piano.

That can and will be remedied.

The seduction of the couch continues to beckon me, as it does so many other people.   The impulse to relax and do nothing, except complain on occasion, needs to be fought with rushing blood, from the depth of bone.

I have fallen into the trap of minute concerns, the constant frustration of attempting to sweep up inconsequential marbles:   what will I do on Friday night, time to pay some bills, get my dry cleaning, should I hire a housekeeper, hope there’s time to read the newspaper before heading to work, will I gain weight if I put some cheese on my salad.

The noise of minutiae drowns out the howling wolf who just needs to *run*.

Passion.

I wonder:  if we’re not pursuing passion, are we just putting in time?

What passion have you let slide?