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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Where Are You At?

An excerpt I was reading from Scott Peck's book "The Different Drum" yesterday was describing four levels of spiritual development or growth. If you'd like to read it yourself, it's here: Stages of Spiritual Growth I will do my best to give a brief summary of the levels myself, but of course, the writer does a much better job :-)

The first and lowest level is described as chaotic and out of control, and includes people who are repeat offenders and/or those who have trouble with addictions and money, etc. These people might even have the outward appearance of being "good" or "friendly" but their intentions would almost always be insincere, self-serving and heartless. They would normally not be spiritual in any active way or have much use for it.

The second level, as Scott Peck described it, includes people who are strictly religious, who see and use religion as a set of rules rather than a way of understanding themselves and the world. God is not so much about love to them, but more about having a "cop in the sky" who rewards and punishes accordingly. They are intolerant of any other religion, or those who have no religious leaning at all, such as the third level, because it is a threat to their beliefs and ideals. They are often caught up with trying to convert people at level one, the lowest level.

The third level includes atheists, agnostics, those with a scientific leaning who see religion as either a crutch or a deluded fantasy. They are the skeptics, the nay sayers and feel no threat at all except that they are often intimidated by those on the fourth level, which I'll describe in a minute. These third level people have no use for those on the first two levels, although they might occasionally try to confront the second level people about their "delusions". They are very knowlegeable and intelligent and usually well educated either by their own studies or more formally. 

The fourth level, Scott concludes, include Buddhists and Christians and other religious practitioners who have transcended the extremist, narrow-minded spiritual attitudes of Level 2, but who are equally as intelligent and developed as the third level, non-religious people. The main difference between Level 4 and Level 3 people is that those at Level 4 find no contradicition between science and the supreme...rather they compliment and support each other. These people are what he calls "communal"...that doesn't necessarily mean that they are out in the community always helping, although they often are. But they see the world and humanity as one community, rather than a bunch of separate countries, religious practices and cultures. They are inclusive, open-minded, patient and forgiving.

The reason that Level 3 people are intimidated by those on the fourth level is because they recognize that somehow, Level 4 people have the same intelligence and scientific mind, but have somehow managed to merge that with their faith, whatever it is, where as those on Level 3 don't know how to.

At the end of the descriptions, Scott says that we are all capable of being in more than one of those levels at different times in our lives. In fact, he says all of us as small children start at level one. Over time we are influenced by our environment (i.e. parents, etc.) and then eventually we come into our own where we have to make a choice to either stay with what we were brought up with, or move on to something else.

He also says that there are times, even if we have advanced spiritually, that we might revert to the other levels. In other words, I might occasionally feel the chaotic, out-of-control, level one part of me come to surface, or become intolerant and narrow-minded as a level two person. Scott Peck was a psychologist (he died in 2005), and he said that throughout the years of his practise he saw and worked with people at all of these levels, and watched them sometimes "convert" from one to the other, or backslide from time to time.

I thought his evaluations and descriptions were very interesting, and I certainly recognize where many people I know (or THINK I know!) might be. So where are you? :-)

IJ

If I Had It All To Do Again


I was 12 when I wrote my first song, and songwriting has been a big part of my life ever since then. It helped me to cope with a lot of life's events, and gave me a way to express my desires, my opinions, and my sense of humour in some cases. As it turns out, many songwriters start writing at about that time in their lives, and for the same reason. The angst-filled adolescent and teenage years are truly a creative (or destructive, in some cases) hotbed for all kinds of things.

I've written dozens and dozens of articles on all aspects of songwriting since I first put up a website in 1995. I've met a lot of other songwriters over the years because of that website, and participated in other online sites, some of which are still very active. They include the Muses Muse, a huge songwriting community created by a fellow Canadian Jodi Krangle, and SongU, a kind of songwriting university designed by Danny Arena and his wife Sara Light from Nashville, both of who are very involved in teaching and who have also written songs for a Broadway musical. It was really exciting to watch when they were nominated for a Tony!

I've performed hundreds of times for the smallest of events to big ones, for all kinds of people. My smallest audience was an audience of one :-). It was at a coffee shop in Burnaby a few years back in the middle of winter. The evening started out as a poetry reading, and I was supposed to be the second act. Well, once the poetry reading was over, the audience all left too! All except for one. She sat on a couch and patiently listened through a whole set of my songs. We laughed in between at this odd, private concert she was getting. Outside it was dark and raining pretty hard...no wonder there were no stragglers off the street, it was a terrible night! It would be hard to say what my largest audience was...but I've performed for audiences at festivals where there were literally hundreds and probably thousands of people within earshot.

There was a time when I didn't even perform my own material, I basically just played cover songs at bars in order to make some money. I'd slip the odd original song in, but I had little confidence in my own songs then. I didn't like that kind of performing much...driving alone up to Duncan, about an hour's drive from my home, over a pretty tricky part of the highway called the Malahat, playing three hours, and then driving back again after midnight, was not my idea of a good time. I just about gave up performing for good after that!

In the early 90's I discovered recording and that was the beginning of a whole new aspect of music for me. I began by recording my own songs, of course, but I also got to record others, and had an opportunity to record some music for a television series called "Home Check with Shell Busey". When I listen now to those first recording attempts, I cringe :-). I didn't take any training, all of my learning came hands on. And I made a lot of mistakes! Eventually, I got better...the highlight came when I was asked to write the theme music along with many other music beds for CHEK News here in Victoria.

Another aspect of music that blossomed for me was teaching guitar. I made a proposal to a local community organization to teach adults guitar in an eight week program and I did that for a couple of years beginning in 1989. Then I was approached by a woman, Becky Bernson, who was also a guitar teacher, to become a part of an organization called the Whistling Gypsy. It was meant to be a kind of teaching umbrella, but part of the mandate was to put on folk music concerts featuring better known artists and groups travelling through our area. Becky and I would each teach guitar classes and private students out of our homes, and she gathered up other teachers in voice, bass, mandolin, and banjo among others.

At its peak, the Whistling Gypsy did very well, but it was a non-profit organization and it was hard to keep enough volunteers involved to manage the events and keep it going. Still as the Whistling Gypsy came to an end, I continued teaching. These days I average anywhere from 30 to 50 students, some private, some in classes, and teaching continues to be one of my main functions. I can't tell you how much fun it is for me to watch someone learn to play their first chord on a guitar :-). I do have times when I get a little burned out, but find me a class of adults who have never been near a guitar before and I'm happy as a pig in mud! When I get them playing their first song, the smiles on their faces are priceless.

My Dad didn't know what to think when I talked about playing guitar and performing when I was a kid. He didn't see that as anything more than a hobby. And it took many years for me to find the confidence to pursue the many avenues of music that I did. But if I had it all to do again, I wouldn't change any of it. The song in the video above, however, tells a different story. There is a poem out there called When I Am An Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple, by Jenny Joseph. If you've never come across it, you might find it a treat to read. What it meant to me when I first read it, was the idea of believing that old age would bring with it a kind of liberation from having to do what we have to do now. At the end of the poem, the writer considers that perhaps she should start doing those crazy things in the present so that people won't get too shocked when she begins to wear purple in her old age.

The underlying message I think is the idea that we really want to live our lives fully and completely NOW. When I was writing this song, I was imaging getting to the end of one's life and having regrets. I sure hope I don't. Quick! Get me the purple clothes and the red hat!

IJ

Photo Madness

Originally written in 2008, never published:

My guess is that the three of us came back with anywhere between 1200-1500 photos from our recent trip to New York. On our bus trip around Manhattan, almost every person on board had a digital camera...you were constantly getting out of the way of somebody trying to take a picture somewhere. In fact, you kept your eyes open for them (and they for us I guess!) as the middle of a street or a familiar landmark suddenly became a back drop for a family photo album. I spent the whole day yesterday trying to find a website to upload my photos, but most of them restrict you in numbers or make it so complicated that you spend hours just trying to rotate a shot or add a caption. Finally, I created one through the Google program called Picasa. And here it is:
New York June 2008
 (Sadly, the link no longer works...)If you click on the photo, you can see the album either shot by shot or as a slide show. I uploaded about 141 shots, but had plenty more. Many either didn't work out or became irrelevant, or just seemed stupid once I looked at them later! I think I took a photo or two of my lap or the ground below me. Half of the time, the sun was shining in the little screen viewer and I couldn't see what I was shooting. Or I didn't have my glasses on. That happens a lot :-) These days, digital cameras can come with nice big LCD displays that you have to be blind not to be able to see. I need one of those. Sometimes I miss not being able to look through the little viewfinder of an old film camera that has the rubber around it so the light doesn't get in your eyes.

But I digress. I wonder how much we'll really look back at all of these photos after a few years have passed. I can imagine that if you look at them often enough, they'll just imprint on your brain somewhere and you won't need to see them anymore. Maybe one day, we'll get little chips implanted in our brains that will play back slide shows of digital photos of our entire lives. But isn't that what memories are for? In fact, I remember on a couple of occasions during the trip where I just put the camera down and decided to simply look around for awhile, or when I told someone taking a photo of me to stop for a minute and just soak up the atmosphere.

You can't really take a photo of the feel of a place, you need to use your physical body to do that. And if we spend our whole time just taking digital photos, we're really missing something. After all that work yesterday, I have been hesitating over the idea of emailing my friends and family a link to the photos. I mean, maybe a couple of them will truly want to see them...but do they really? Remember how it used to be a joke, the idea of watching somebody else's family vacation slides? Maybe this is really the same thing. Who cares? There might be a good shot or two in there, but the experience really belongs to me, and I can't translate that experience to somebody else. Not really. I remember the evening we were on top of the Empire State Building and I commented to someone that you really can't take a bad picture from up there. Well, I figured out later that if you're me, you can :-). But for any of you who don't mind flipping through 141 shots of a vacation you never took, you're most welcome to check the album out. And I promise that if you send me a link to your family vacation photos, I'll check them out. Either that or I won't and say I did :-).

IJ

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Bronx Is Up And The Battery's Down

For some reason this article that I wrote in June 2008, never got published on my blog...so here it is:

All last week, I was in a place I’m not sure I ever believed I’d visit; New York City. The first walk from the depths of the hot, dank, underground train station up the stairs into the smells and the crowds and the noise of the street was something I’ll never forget. People, people, people...pushing, cars honking, sirens wailing, heat, smoke from the street vendors selling all kinds of greasy food. Immediately, you feel like you have to hurry...the sweat is pouring from you, you can’t hear each other speak, you keep smashing your suitcase into things, trying to negotiate it around a swarm of human bodies, all rushing off somewhere else. Nobody really gets out of your way...you get out of theirs. You don’t know where the heck you are, you’re trying to get perspective, trying to keep yourself from having an anxiety attack. Then there is the great relief of finding a cab, finally seeing a way out of the madness...you sputter the address of the hotel and, sighing, you sit back in the cool leather seats of the cab and watch a whole different world whiz by you. Cabs have TV's in them. And GPS video image maps so you can watch yourself getting to where you're going. How strange is that?

From that moment on, it was a whirlwind of activity...we were overwhelmed. New York is almost a world unto itself. You know it's big because you can't see a way out of it! Every street you look down is just a cascade of tall buildings, one after the next. You don’t really get any geographic perspective; all of the buildings are so tall that you can’t identify your landmarks even if you’re only a block away from them! It wasn't until the last day that I figured out which way to go when I walked out the front door of the hotel.

Now I’ve lived in a city, the city of Vancouver in the West End in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and I remember the feel of it, the pace, the constant rush of white noise. So I’m not exactly a country bumpkin. But it’s been awhile, and even though I anticipated what it was going to feel like, I was still thrown for a loop. We all were.

Yellow cabs. There are over 12,000 yellow cabs in Manhattan alone. And they are always honking...honest to Pete I don’t know how there aren’t ten times more accidents than there are. The cabs are always chasing each other, twisting and turning, squeezing in between and then squeezing some more. And honking some more. They honk at each other and at everybody else if they can’t get their way. Fists come flying out windows, obscenities belch through the air, out into the streets where a person like me stands on the corner trying to figure out where the heck I am. Too late...the crowds push behind me and I have to cross the street. Damn.

Pedestrians. They don’t wait for walk signs here. They wait for the last yellow cab to peel through and then casually cross behind them, cellphones glued to their ears, oblivious of that little red hand flashing across from them. Usually by the time the walk sign comes on, there are three or four trucks jammed in the intersection. But the locals brazenly swarm off the corner in groups, either rushing between vehicles or their heads peering back and forth looking for the first hole. Then bam! A car couldn’t make it through the horde of human bodies if it barreled them all down. The sheer volume of pedestrians, especially near places like Times Square, is unbelievable.

Times Square. That's the picture you see above. It was the first recognizable landmark we came across the first night we ventured out. We were fish out of water, just meandering aimlessly looking for food, when suddenly the whole world lit up and started buzzing and flashing. There's a law in the city that in Times Square a majority of the percentage of the buildings' face must have advertising. One building owner doesn't even have tenants anymore. He makes $300,000.00 a month just from the advertisements on his building! There are giant M&M characters climbing the Empire State building on a 30 foot high screen. I saw a 20 foot high bottle of Corona, my favourite beer! Nike, Pepsi, DKNY, Broadway theatre advertisements, movies, television stars. Macy’s Department Store, Rockerfeller Centre.

What an assault on the senses!

And would you believe it, it so happened that the Tony’s were being broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall, just as we were mosying on by. Whoopi Goldberg was in there, and the limos and black Cadillacs were lined up and down every street, parked and waiting for their consorts.

Okay. That was just the first night. There is so much to tell that I'm going to have to do this in bits and pieces. But I will certainly have more to say.
"New York, New York, it's a wonderful town
The Bronx is up and the Battery's down"
Now I finally know what that means!
IJ

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Surprised Me About Boston (and what didn't...)

I was sitting in the cafeteria at my parent's assisted living facility last Monday when I became aware of the images of the bombing in Boston on the big screen TV.  It took me a moment to realize what had happened, but my first instincts were "Oh, no, not again."  And last night when I saw the images of the 19-year-old suspect, lying on the ground bleeding with dozens of armed police surrounding him, my only thoughts were how small and pathetic he appeared.  How could this  baby-faced, young man and his brother have been the masterminds behind such a horrible event?

That was the first surprise.  In all of the photos and video I've seen, they would appear quite ordinary and innocent.

Another surprise was how many internet vigilantes there are;  people were posting faces of those attending the Boston Marathon on Reddit, claiming them to be possible suspects.  Never mind how ignorant and stupid that is, but what about the poor fellow who ended up with media vans all over his lawn (I won't even say his name because I would be victimizing him again), because a local media organization gave his name as a suspect the police were investigating.  He was innocent, of course.  But people didn't wait to find that out.  I'm sure it would be no exaggeration to say he was frightened for his life.

Which was another surprise.  Or maybe not.  Should media organizations be allowed to release the names of ANYONE until they are officially a suspect and their names released by the police?  Honest to pete, the media is in such a RUSH to be first that they rarely take the time any more to thoroughly check their information.

I heard people calling in to a local radio station on the day it happened, complaining at how the station was constantly changing the info regarding how many had been killed or hurt.  The announcer was asking "should we not report it at all?" and callers were saying "get your facts straight first!"  Would it be a surprise for the media to learn that a lot of people out here would rather know the truth than deal with their constant speculation?

The next surprise is not a surprise really at all.  How many times can a video be looped in an hour on CNN?  A gazillion, as it turns out.  I turned it on at one point when I had heard that the video of the brothers at the marathon had been released, then turned it off, and hours later CNN was still looping the same video over and over and over and over again.  They would find different ways of repeating it, another reporter would take over and start analysing it, then it would run in the background as they threw to yet another reporter or anchor.  CNN is too blatantly gleeful when big tragedies occur, I suppose because it gives them a reason for being.  They know that people (like myself) will tune in to get the latest and so they keep reporting and reporting even when there is nothing to report.  Every show host hops the train or plane to the latest "ground zero" and does the whole show live from there.  Every show is renamed "Special Edition" as they continue to regurgitate the same information.

Lucky for them, the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas came only a couple of days later.  Another ratings booster.  Not so lucky for those who were killed or injured in that tragic event.

That they found this pathetic kid injured and hiding in someone's backyard was no surprise.  With the arsenal of assault weapons and sheer number of authorities looking for him, the guy was never going to get away for long.  I'm sure he had no idea what to do next.

But what did surprise me was the bizarre display of jubilation from locals, some of them holding out their beer cans and ripping off their shirts, when the kid was caught.  "We got him!" they tweeted.  And the gleeful grins and waves of acknowledgement from the authorities as they drove off into the night;  I'm sorry, but you were chasing one kid.  Granted, he and his brother apparently had a lot of ammunition at their disposal, but the show of force to me was, for lack of a better word, overkill.  Tanks and robots, automatic weapons, helicopters with heat-seeking equipment.  There was an "America Wins Again" attitude coming from everyone whooping and hollering in the streets.  But it wasn't a game, and nobody won.  The partying in the streets was in poor taste.

Once he recovers adequately, they're going to interrogate this kid without reading him his Miranda rights, evoking a rare public safety exception.  Even the American Civil Liberties Association is concerned about that.  They say the exception applies only when there is a continued threat to public safety and is "not an open-ended exception'' to the Miranda rule.  He is obviously in no shape to be a threat to anyone.  But in a sad way, this preferred method of interrogation is no surprise.  It's because of his ethnicity.

I know, I know, I KNOW that what Dzhokar Tsarnaev and his brother did was horrendous.  But I'd like to know if the authorities read James Holmes, the Colorado movie theatre shooter, his rights when he was captured?  And if they did, what's the difference?  Is it because he was American born, and therefore couldn't possibly be a "terrorist"?  For pete's sake, he killed four times as many people.

I know that there are probably a thousand little good things that came of this tragedy...as there often are during trying times.  People come together in ways they hadn't before, support for those who lost loved ones and for those who were injured has probably been overwhelming.  I know that there is more determination than ever from marathoners in other cities to show up and not allow fear to ruin their events.

But I wish I had been surprised in a more positive way.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Greed Comes In All Sizes

greed (gr d) n. An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.

I recently had a phone call from a parent of a guitar student, who was disputing the amount he had paid me compared to the number of lessons I had given his daughter.  She had decided to quit her lessons so this call came a couple of weeks after our last one.  It was late in the evening after a full day of teaching when the call came in, and I had just shut my computer down.  As we spoke I tried to reboot my computer and look at my records, but I was flustered and finally I said I would send him a cheque for the one lesson he believed I owed her.  

The following day, I went through my records and determined that I had, in fact, taught her for the exact number of lessons he had paid for.  So I carefully constructed a letter, complete with all of the dates of her lessons and the total he had paid me, so that he would see that I had not ripped him off.  We were only disputing one lesson, so in good faith, I sent the cheque along with the letter because I had promised I would and said so in the letter.  A month went by and he didn't cash the cheque, so I more or less forgot about it.  And then the other day when I checked my bank account, I saw that he had cashed it.  I would like to say that I was surprised, but in fact, I wasn't.  I should point out that this family was far from poor, and I was paid to teach the girl in her home, so I could see they were well off.

Why wasn't I surprised at his act?  I can count on one hand the number of times I've had issues with payments over my twenty-six years of teaching.  Most people are honest, as am I, and we always manage to work things out.  I have made mistakes in calculations, as others have, but in the end we find a way to agree.  But sometimes you meet people in various situations and immediately sense their disrespect, their sense of entitlement and/or self-importance.  Who knows where it comes from or why, but that is what I sensed in this man.  Over the months that I came to teach his daughter, when he paid me, he did so without looking me in the eye and with an air of contempt.

One big story in Canadian news this week was about the Royal Bank of Canada replacing their Canadian employees with foreign workers at a lower wage.  Apparently, their $7.5 billion in profits in 2012 wasn't enough and they needed to cut costs.

It's not only RBC, the other banks do this as well as many larger corporations.  And perhaps we should remind ourselves of the crash in the U.S. of 2008 because of corporate greed, for lack of a better phrase.  Five years later, the Occupy Movement has seemingly died out, but the greed continues unabated.  People on the right side of the political spectrum love to throw around the "less government, fewer regulations" argument, but look what happens when some companies and corporations are left unchecked.  It's disgusting.

So what makes that corporate executive at a highly profitable company decide that it's better to replace employees with others at lower wages?  What makes another relatively well-to-do person cash a cheque that they know is not really their money to have?

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed” - Mahatma Ghandi

In seven separate recent studies conducted on the UC Berkeley campus "researchers consistently found that upper-class participants were more likely to lie and cheat when gambling or negotiating; cut people off when driving, and endorse unethical behaviour in the workplace. The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favourable attitudes toward greed,” said Paul Piff.

Other studies I've read in past show that often, those with less money tend to be more generous. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2009 survey of "consumer expenditure found that the poorest fifth of America's households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their incomes to charitable organizations in 2007. The richest fifth gave at less than half that rate, 2.1 percent."


It seems that the more money you have, the more likely you are to be unabashedly greedy.  Of course, this isn't true in every case, as was shown by Warren Buffet's declaration in an op-ed in the New York Times “I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people,  Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.” I think that in many cases, this is true.  There are wealthy people out there who are also generous and philanthropic.

So the heads of the Royal Bank of Canada first tried to explain and then ultimately apologized for their actions, which was more about damage control than any real remorse, of course.  They were only sorry that they had been caught.  And had I decided to confront the fellow who cashed that cheque, he might also have felt embarrassed, or maybe even given me back the money.  My deepest feeling, however, was that I had done the right thing and that it was his decision whether or not to show his true colours, which he surely did.

I am happy, however, that the employees who were ditched by the RBC in favour of cheaper labour came out to the media.  Previously fired employees at other companies are now coming forward too, as are the replacement employees who are also being cheated and even threatened by their future employers.  

One little cheque didn't deplete my bank account;  hundreds of people losing their livelihood due to corporate greed is another story.   But both stories highlight something in our human nature that won't go away any time soon.  Greed is not good.