Subtle Discrimination: Cases in Point

Posted on February 11, 2010. Filed under: Culture, HowTo, Music, Philosophy, Spirituality |

A slight teeny tiny warning: This is one of my rare semi-ranty posts. I’m publishing it because a dear friend told me his awareness and sensitivity changed because of my expounding on the following issue in conversation. Sometimes we’re not aware of our own assumptions until someone else holds a mirror to them. In that spirit, and having looked in many mirrors myself, I offer this:

Life events have conspired to put a topic much in my mind. First occurred a recommendation from *B&T bud Deirdra to read this post on “The Default Human.” Very pertinent and provoking. I’ve spent much of my life pondering the notion of the default person; only it wasn’t until reading this excellent article that I had a specific name for it.

In my country, and many in the western world, the “Default Human” is “white”, i.e. **”Caucasian”, and, often (even though they make up less than 50% of the population), Male. The “default” conception tends to further assume age: mid-twenties to mid-forties (old enough to convey some authority, but not too old to be “past it”), and economic status: middle class to upper middle class, and educated. Also assumed, of course, is his heterosexuality. When one applies all these filters, one is left with, really, a smallish fraction of the population of the United States; nevertheless, the persons contained within that fraction are who many of us think of as a “person”, without other qualifiers.***

This is understandable, to a large extent. After all, our “Founding Fathers” fit this classification. Yet, when I look around, other than at the “suits” on the television, this is not who I see. As a matter of fact, I believe American television, so voraciously consumed by much of the planet, contributes to the myth.

The notion of the “default person” can express subtly. Here are a few examples in my own life.

  • I recently attended a group discussion in which a participant asked if there was a “larger meaning” of the earthquake in Haiti. The discussion leader rambled on for a bit–after all, who can really know?–and at one point made the rather trite observation that “They’re just like us” [First of all, who is “us”?] and, here’s the punchline: “Race doesn’t come into it.” [!] No one had said anything about race! The questions were about a tragic situation happening in a specific location, not to a specific “type” of people. But the “us” in “They’re just like “us” implies, at least to me, that “us” is the default person referred to above. There were people of color in our discussion group. Are they “us” or are they “them”? And how are they supposed to feel about that?
  • I had the honor of participating in a Chinese New Year festival over the weekend. I was part of a group of backup-singers for a huge musical program, with an orchestra and its conductor. The conductor is originally from another country, but is now an American citizen. Generally a very open-minded person, he made a couple of references that disturbed me. My group was singing along with a “Chinese Choir”—and I have that in quotes because I must explain that the Choir was not made up of just Chinese people, although most of them were. The “Chinese” in “Chinese Choir” meant that the group mostly sang traditional Chinese music, used Chinese teaching methods, and sang mostly in the Mandarin language. So, back to the conductor: “American singers, please listen to the Chinese singers for the correct pronunciation.” –not TOO bad, really, but…many in the “Chinese” choir were American citizens, of Chinese descent. Then, the kicker: “Chinese people, please sing this passage for the White people.” …What? Was he LOOKING at us? The implication that we were either “Chinese” or “White” was, I felt, inadvertently insulting. There were several “White” people singing in the “Chinese” choir, but, more obviously, in both groups there were also other people of color. We have African-American people, Indian-American and Hispanic-origin people in the group. We also have two Japanese Americans. What are they supposed to think? Furthermore, the way this was phrased put us into two distinct groups: “Default” and “Other”.
  • This one has been pointed out to me by myself, on numerous occasions. I read many novels, as well as much nonfiction. Most novels I find in my library are written by a “default human” (as defined above). So comfortable are they with their “defaultness”, they assume that we assume that every character is “one of them” unless defined otherwise. The “hero” of the book might be described as “tall and gangly”, but almost never—White. Whereas an African-American neighbor is described as just that, while his Hispanic lawyer also must be delineated. Once most authors add a character out of the “default norm”, qualifiers are used. This includes those pertaining to the female gender, i.e. the “beautiful ambulance driver” where her beauty, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with the story. The relative attractiveness of the male characters is generally not given much ink, except in Romance novels. [But that’s another discussion.] One can’t help feeling (at least this one!) that the token neighbor of color doesn’t address the deeper issues.

The challenge with all this (actually one of many) is that the “Default” group, as intimated above, is only a portion of the actual population in my country, yet we have taught the world to default to that image. I have been attending a discussion group on “Racialism” of late, and it has put some new thoughts into my head. For instance, I’m told that the concept of “Race” is common in the US, but not as much elsewhere, even in Europe. It seems other countries don’t tend to label people by supposed racial characteristics as much as by country of origin. A group member wondered why we divide people into races by skin color first, asking questions later. Why not consider all “Tall” people another race, or “Green-eyed” people, or something? It seems obvious that a person’s color is the most obvious thing about them, but, as I’ve learned from the discussions, we are often mistaken in that. I am considered “White” by most in my society; I appear that way, but I have little tidbits of other things in my ethnic makeup. Even though those are a fraction of who I am, ethnically, I no more wish to deny them than I do the German or Scottish larger pieces of my ethnicity. I’ve begun to think of myself as a “European-American”. It’s more in line with “African-American”; as there are many countries in Africa which have shared their populations with the US (willingly, or not), and even the non-Caucasian ancestors of mine were immigrants to Europe, so, that’s fair, I suppose.

Going back to the Chinese New Year festival, I found it meaningful and enriching to participate. I’d missed the large celebrations we had in San Francisco, where I grew up, as I’ve posted elsewhere. When a cultural background is used to facilitate both cultural identity—which gives one a sense of comfort and belonging—and education for those of different backgrounds—which brings diversity into the mainstream—then, perhaps we can incorporate diversity rather than “default” to the norm.

The year of the Tiger begins most auspiciously on western Valentine’s Day this year. I follow the path of the heart as I combine celebrations in my personal practice. ♥ Peace to all who read here.

*Blog and Twitter

**Caucasian: Of or being a human racial classification distinguished especially by very light to brown skin pigmentation and straight to wavy or curly hair, and including peoples indigenous to Europe. —The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

*** Image from Origin68. You can get this on a T-shirt!

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Contentment within Beauty

Posted on December 31, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Health, Music, Philosophy, Spirituality |

The last one of the year! And the penultimate one in the series! I’ve been spending the “Twelve Days of Solstice” (since December 21) in contemplating various aspects of my reality. Only one more daily meditation to go, the one on New Year’s Day.

Day ELEVEN: The Quality of Beauty, the essence of contentment;
the Gift of Harmony.

I never really thought of “Beauty” as the “essence” of contentment. When one contemplates Beauty, it can be incredibly emotionally moving, exciting, or calming. The Navajo tribe of Arizona and New Mexico have a chant:

Beauty before me
Beauty behind me
Above and below me hovers the beautiful.

♦ ♦ ♦
We are surrounded by it
We are immersed in it.

♦ ♦ ♦
In your youth you are aware of it
And in your old age you shall walk quietly
The beautiful trail.

Their way is called “The Beauty Way”. There is much to contemplate here. When I consider the chant; when I softly repeat it to myself, I am in harmony with all that is. I am content. ♥

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Just Joy

Posted on December 28, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Music, Musings, Spirituality |

♫  ♫  ♫  “On the eighth day of Solstice my Spirit gave to me: Gladness, Bliss and Joy!” ♫  ♫  ♫

Today, my eighth day posting daily about qualities and gifts of the season, something happened for the first time: The Quality and the Gift were the same—almost. (See previous December posts for the other qualities and gifts.)

Day EIGHT: The Quality of Joy; the Gift of Joyousness.

At first, my thought was that I needed other gifts today besides something ambiguous like “joy”. I’ve been having a challenging work situation, and the previous days’ gifts of balance, or wisdom, or a coming one, forgiveness, seemed better suited. “I’ll get around to ‘JOY’ after a while, when things settle down.”

Here’s the thing, though, and you’ll see this coming: Things DON’T settle down. Not ever. Alright, maybe temporarily, but what they mostly do is change. However if we take the time, in the middle of a “situation” to meditate a bit on what gives us JOY in life, then…(you’ll anticipate this one, too!) the things that were giving us challenges somehow, magically, become lighter. Perhaps unforseen solutions arise. Even if they don’t, I find myself facing “what is” with renewed strength and optimism. The miserable becomes tolerable; the tolerable, acceptable, and finally, pleasurable. [Disclaimer: This may take more than ten minutes. Then again…it may not!]

What is JOY, by the way? To me, it’s best summed up in a phrase from The Peaceable Kingdom by Randall Thompson: Gladness of Heart. I repeat those words to myself, and my heart opens, (I posted previously about an open heart) and well-being sets in. Here is a link to a YouTube video from a choir festival, with the mixed choirs singing this movement from Thompson’s great work. There are other recordings with better audio, but this one just has so much spirit. If I could, I would give you the gift today of JOY. It is yours, if you want it! 😀

Joy to the World. Seriously!

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Here and there…life and not.

Posted on June 28, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Music, Philosophy |

It’s been a strange and surreal couple of weeks. I’ve had some personal issues, and whatnot (all fine!) so haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like. I have been aware of the world around me though, and have had my own, sometimes quite emotional reactions to events.

I don’t have political or moral commentary here; it’s not my prerogative. I’ll just share a few videos I’ve found inspiring or evocative which tie to recent events. First, I acknowledge the passing into a different dimension of four public personalities. I feel I grew up with these people; they kept me company or helped shape philosophy in “interesting times”.

There are many funny and touching moments; this one just seems sort of real:

The next is how I like to remember this person:

This next one moved me strangely; you may have followed the story of the “dancing inmates”, a YouTube sensation. They’re an interesting story. They put this together in 10 hours. The ending, especially got to me:

Finally, amid all the celebrity passings, the drama of the Iranian elections continues to unfold. This is Stand By Me, in Persian and English, by two huge pop stars of their respective countries (Thank you, Deirdra, for tweeting this):

PEACE in all things, all ye who read here.

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Musey Psilon’s Blogalot

Posted on June 7, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Games, Health, HowTo, Music, Musings, Philosophy, Science |

***WARNING***This post is very nearly completely silly. {You have been warned}

Gosh, I love this title! I needn’t write another thing, need I? I shall, though. I feel compelled to explain it.

I like science, and I’m fond of the absurd. This post blends them. I must wonder why? Why are our minds attracted to certain things, and combinations of things—even Things on top of Other Things? Why would I just, splendidly, enjoy theoretical physics AND Monty Python’s Flying Circus? Both these things are acquired tastes. While the former is seen as a “legitimate” interest, with a “place” in society (it’s a Branch of Science, after all!), I’d argue that the field of “comedy” has just as legitimate a place in society as does science. What comedy does is shake us up; it tears a hole in our everyday reality and makes us look at life in a new way. And that’s what science does, too! I used to think that “science” was about “discovering” the “facts”. Then, one manipulates, exploits, and recombines them—to what end? Well, primarily because it’s fun for the scientists. (If you are a scientist and not having fun, get out of the field! Now! I mean it!) 😮 But, secondarily, I believe, to “benefit” humankind. Comedy does not appear to have as direct a benefit. I propose that, although a more “lowbrow” form of entertainment than, say, the Ballet, it has its place. We would not survive as a species without comedy!

The title of the post came to me when I discovered that the great Tony Award® winning musical play Monty Python’s Spamalot is coming here to Tucson! I am of course looking forward to seeing it. Did I say this play has won awards? From the legitimate theater award organizations? You know, the mainstream, “serious theater”, well-respected organizations?

I just wanted to be clear on that, because, amazingly, I’m not sure with whom, amongst the many Tucson theater-goers I know, I shall attend. I am a Python-Geek(1), defined as “someone who has memorized all the skits”, and most of my peeps are not. 😦 When I think of one or two or three people I’d love to share this magnificent, culturally significant event with, I only come up with people who roll their eyes when I mention Monty Python. 🙄 I fully realize that Python is not to everyone’s taste. 😕 However, even though one or two of my friends might attend this play with me if I ask them, I refuse to go with an eye-roller! I’d rather go alone! Which I may do. (There is no shame in that!)

I’m also a Star Trek geek. (I told you I was going to talk about science, too!) Therefore, with this overly verbose bit of background out of the way, I’ll explain my post title:

(“I feel Musey! Oh, so Musey! I feel Musey, and Newsy and Glib!”)

So, “Musey“. This is an affectionate, diminutive, nickname for my blog name, “Muse”, which had already been contracted early on by some of my incredibly affectionate and diminutive readers.

So, “Psilon“. I thought I had made up this word. I wanted it to rhyme with “Cylon” (see below) but also have it relate to “psi” phenomena because the title sounded cool that way. Behold! a Wikipedia entry on the very term! “A Psilon is a unit of length that is equal to 44 manly strides or, less precisely, 0.025 miles (a quarter of a tenth of a mile).” However: “This article’s factual accuracy is disputed.Nevertheless, I had to practice my “manly strides” in my living room to see how far 40 of them would really take me. Unfortunately, my room is only four “manly strides” long (if I’m doing the “manly” part of the stride, right. Wait a minute; isn’t “Stride Rite” a brand of baby shoes? How did they get into a post about striding Manfully?) So, in order to perform 44 “manly strides” I had to go ’round and ’round my living room four times (the circumference being ten “manly strides”, or would be if I walked right over the sofa as well as the television cabinet). After thus going ’round and ’round, and beginning to feel considerably less “manly” at each turn, I gave up on the “psilon” as a useful measure of anything; agreeing completely with the Wikicritic.

Still, there is the aurally identical “Cylon” to consider.  “Cylon stands for Cybernetic Lifeform Node” and is a term to describe cybernetic workers and soldiers in the television series Battlestar Galactica. For months; nay, years, I tormented my friends (both sci-fi fans, and not such) with the query “How do you know I’m NOT a Cylon? (You see, [if you haven’t watched Galactica, and if not, why not?] the latest evolution of Cylons [and yes, I used the term “evolution” deliberately] look identical to humanoids!)

And finally, the last word, “Blogalot“, I believe, is fairly self-explanatory(2)

Thank you for reading this far, if, in fact, you did. You have an incredible amount of fortitude and spamina stamina. 😀

1 The thing is, when I recite the sketches for some of these unenlightened friends, they do laugh. I can be a one-person show with this, using different silly voices for each role. I have mastered Silly Walkery (yes, I really did practice it) and I have a pet ant called ‘Eric’. (Alright, I made that last bit up.)
2 Camelot” (musical play) >Spamalot” (very silly musical play) > “Blogalot” (unforgivably silly blogger).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

***Broken news (from 2008) “Michael Palin to replace Sarah Palin on McCain/Palin ticket!” (This seems to have been just a rumor, but DO scroll down and watch the video.)

***In a related story “Michael Palin’s reaction to his ‘niece’ Sarah Palin’s nomination”. (I didn’t know she was his ‘niece’! Did you?)

***In a somewhat related story, John Cleese tells how he’d thought Michael was the funniest Palin; his place has been usurped. With Cleese’s commentary on the American politcal system. Candid; estute; inflammatory—quite Cleese.

***My aplolgies for excessive linkism in this post. I imagine I’ll get back to normal one of these times.

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The song inside you

Posted on May 29, 2009. Filed under: Health, HowTo, Music, Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality, Travel |

Don’t go with your song still inside you“, advises the theme song of a film I saw Sunday, called either The Shift or Ambition to Meaning, depending on who you ask or where you look!

Here is the video (not embedable, so please click!)

The song runs during the closing credits, and was filmed on location at a place I’ve spent many happy days. Asilomar Conference Center on the Monterey coast in California is exactly as beautiful, stark and exotic as it appears in the video. I love that, towards the end, they filmed all the other guests at the facility singing along, and then the staff, too. How great! There’s another video at the same link which contains a wonderful meditative piano piece, with even more stunning photos of the place.

After watching the film, I felt as if I’d spent a day at Asilomar, not just the two hours it took to watch. This was the highlight for me, revisiting a place where I was very happy and experienced remarkable openings. I have a coffee mug I bought there which says “A place where lives are changed“. Indeed. I’ll say that our lives are perfect in every moment, and don’t “need” to change, but there are times and places when the desire comes bubbling forth, and a profound shift takes place.

Although I had no idea who Dr. Wayne Dyer was when I attended conferences and trainings at Asilomar some years ago, I have since heard him speak in person and on television, and have read several of his books. The film centers around a documentary being made about him, sort of a “film within a film”. I find I’m generally in agreement with about 70% of his philosophy; it rose to about 80% in this particular presentation. I don’t resonate with some of his notions about “ego” or about “service”. I know there are those who feel that a little Dyer goes a long way. Still, if I allow myself to hear the message, and suspend judgment, I can appreciate his sincerity. Since he chose Asilomar as the place to put his life philosophy on film, he must be doing something right! 😉

The song is presented by the very laid-back jazz quartet Ethan Lipton and his Orchestra. There is a tongue-in-cheek, whimsical quality to it, as in much of Lipton’s music, but it contains a very profound message, and really sums up the entire movie. The place, the music, and the message began to merge for me as I revisited old feelings and realized how far I’ve come in so many ways; yet have become more essentially “me” each year.

One conference stands out as particularly poignant. I’d been at Asilomar for three days of the week-long program. When I arrived, I very much still had “my song inside” me. “No one wants to hear MY song”, I thought. “It’s not particularly unique, or relevant, or tuneful.” I won’t go into all the specifics, but by the end of that particular day, I had discovered that the voice saying those things covered up the authentic me—the one with the amazing “voice”. Any time we put ourselves down, or say we’re less than or not enough, is actually a blunted form of (and here’s Dr. Dyer’s word!) “ego”. A façade had formed to protect our authentic selves from harm for one reason or another (or five, or 622) over the years. When we were born, I was told, the universe was delighted with us, and we with ourselves. We had to “learn” to hold a different opinion, and that “learning” could be “unlearned”.

By the end of my week there, I had actual “fans” for my “song”! I haven’t kept silent since. 😀

Obviously the phrase “the song inside you” is a metaphor; it can refer to any kind of gift you want to share and develop from who you really are. In my case, it did involve music. Little bits of music had “leaked out” during my childhood and teen years; I was never completely without it. As I grew in confidence, I stepped into my music, rather than just letting it seep through my façade.

Now, as much of my work is in Arts Administration, I feel I am allowing out more and more of “the song inside”. I get to actually perform music—that’s almost a physical need at this point—as well as use my natural leadership ability (which I didn’t know I had!) to facilitate Arts experiences for others, both as performers and audiences.

The song in the film gives us a gentle warning: “Don’t GO with your song still inside you”; it says. I see the word “go”, in this context, in many ways—from going out the door, today, to the final “going”, the one where we leave this earthly flesh behind.

However you wish to interpret it, I wish for you, and for me, that we continue to discover the ongoing song, and allow it to come forth, strongly, beautifully; with passion and purpose.


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They got to me.

Posted on May 25, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Music, Philosophy, Spirituality |

I’m not, generally, what one would call a “patriot”. I don’t “love” my country (I don’t dislike it, either), as an entity. I love many things about it. I don’t “honor” those fighting in wars; I commend them upon doing what they feel called upon to do. Serving with honor, to me, means being in alignment with ones personal values.

Today, my country, along with many throughout the world, commemorated Memorial Day. It’s a day, we’re told, to remember those who sacrificed in wars to “keep us safe”. I’ve never really paid a lot of attention to this holiday, either in its patriotic or its picnic garb. I was looking forward to having a nice, quiet day at home, and a nice walk; both of which I did have. There is a curious dearth of new television programming in these parts during the last week of May and the first week of June; the spring season has wrapped up their series, and the new summer programming hasn’t started yet. I usually like to watch an hour or so of telly of an evening, and there’s only so much Home and Garden Television I can take! (I watch HGTV a lot more than I can justify, given that I’m not very domestically inclined.) I saw, in my local TV listings, that “The National Memorial Day Concert” would be broadcast on public television tonight.

I’ve enjoyed these types of concerts in the past. They generally include some of many kinds of music. Tonight’s offering had Broadway show tunes, Country Western, classical, opera, and pop. They generally also include a few pious and patriotic speeches, and tonight’s was no exception. We heard from patriotic actors Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinese. We heard from patriotic retired General Colin Powell. We honored veterans of the US Civil war (on account of its being the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln this year), posthumously. We trotted out a few remaining WWII vets, and some from the Korean, Viet Namese, and current conflicts. This is the sort of over-the-top, flag-waving fervor I generally dislike.

“These war thingys; they’re in the past”, I would say. “Let ’em go; get on with things.” OK, yes, there are those who served, and continue to serve, but, currently, that is by their own choice, as my country is not currently drafting people. I’ve had relatives who served in various wars, with various feelings about them. I’ve had some who have sought deferment, conscientious objector status, and even one who ran from the draft. I’ve accepted all these decisions and respected the people who made them.

Today’s lineup of speeches and film clips were different than those I was used to. They showed film of people actually getting killed, and injured, and maimed on the battle field. They showed caskets containing bodies of those who returned without their current manifestation of life. They showed many scenes of disabled soldiers receiving rehabilitation in hospitals and veteran’s centers. I began to feel that those who were profoundly disabled had made what’s called “the ultimate sacrifice”—usually thought of as death. “The people who died, just died”, I thought. They don’t have to live with the consequences of their government’s actions. Those living for 40 or 50 or 60 more years without limbs, or mobility, or all their mental faculties have sacrificed more. They have every chance of living a wonderful and meaningful life, and I believe this is possible and often the case. But their lives are forever changed. “And for what?” I ask. Some government doesn’t like the way some other government is running things. That’s it. Bottom line. Simplistic, I realize, but true nonetheless.

The Memorial Day commemoration I watched included an in-depth story of one family. One mother, daughter, and son. One soldier whose helmet encountered a grenade as he and his driver (who was killed) were on their way to report a suicide bombing. This soldier lost a good part of his brain. I believe, based on what was reported, that this young man would not be alive today if his mother had not insisted. Their story was dramatized in great detail. The mother and the sister (only 21 at the time) gave up everything: their lives; their jobs; their friends; their home, to care for this young man, whom the doctors gave “no quality of life”. Three years after he came home, the man uttered the word “Mom”.

I admit it; I was in tears. The television continued to cause me to weep as it featured musical numbers which reinforced the deep sadness, and hope, and love such situations bring forth in us. flaglobe

I was going about my business, thinking I’d just tune into a nice holiday concert, as there was “nothing else new” on TV. I’d managed to ignore this patriotic holiday—pretty much. It took television—that box in my living room; that window on the world—to bring me back to the raw emotion; the beauty; the tragedy; the glory; that is the human condition. I’m profoundly grateful.

Whoever you are, as you read this, I thank you for your service to humanity.

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My brain is getting fuzzy!

Posted on May 2, 2009. Filed under: Games, Health, Music, Musings, Philosophy |

energybrain …or something. I like to watch YouTube videos of classical choral performances. Or, more to the point, I like to listen to them, and it’s easier for me to find pieces I want to hear on YouTube than on ITunes. I don’t know why. I’ll watch the chorus and the orchestra and the conductor, and unless I know some of those people, it gets kind of boring after a while. Most choruses are not very animated, in spite of conductors admonishing them to be so…So, at some point, I’ll usually open up another tab and start playing a game, like Free Cell or Spider Solitaire.

I like those, because I don’t have to think too much and can still listen to the good music. But, those games, especially the Spider one, come with their own sets of noises. I’m the kind of person who leaves their speakers off most of the time, unless I’m watching a video or the news or something. So, when I play these games, on their own, my computer is usually mercifully silent. And that’s another thing. For someone who is a musician, I like silence a lot more than you’d think!

So, it’s kind of weird to be listening to a very serious sacred piece and have my game make a strange carnival type noise. It does this when it’s not pleased with me or my move, so it makes it that much more disconcerting. Usually, the game noises conflict horribly with the nice music I’m listening to, but, tonight, I played Spider Solitaire while listening to Haydn’s “Little Organ Mass”. {Go ahead; snicker, but that’s really the nickname of this work.} I found myself clicking on “Show an available move” in the game menus, because the “Ta-da” sound it made was a chord in the same key as the Haydn! They were perfectly in tune. So I asked the game for help even when I didn’t need it.

Anyway, here’s the fuzzy brain part (or was that already it?) I’ve played Spider Solitaire a lot, lately, letting it act as one diversion or another. And I play the “easy” version, with only one suit (spades) because that way I win most of the time. I get grumbly if I don’t win most of the time. I’d played so much Free Cell, that I just needed a break. At first, it was strange putting a black card on a black card, as in most other Solitaire games I’ve played one must alternate the colors. I got used to it, though.

Tonight, after playing the Haydn-Spider combo long enough for the novelty to cease to amuse me, I went back—after probably ten days—to Free Cell. I felt disoriented! Just seeing all those red cards mixed up with the black ones felt as if I’d slipped into another dimension. As perhaps I had.

You know how if you look at something like a black and white spiral design for several minutes, and then look at a white wall you’ll see an “after image” of the colors opposite to what they originally were? It was like looking at something like that, but also like I was playing a brand new game. I could hardly remember where to put the cards. I forgot how many I could move at a time! My brain felt fuzzy!

It seems to me, from this unintentional experiment upon myself, that intense focus on a specific over time can begin to make one lose ones broader perceptual abilities. I’ve always played my share of computer card games, but on this occasion, I felt a little seasick. It felt as if someone had plucked me out of the Sonoran Desert and plunked me on a beach in Hawaii (hmm, not a bad idea) but without any warning or travel time. Have you ever felt this way? And if so, what caused it? I’d really like to know!

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Posted on November 15, 2008. Filed under: Health, Music, Musings, Philosophy |

As I continue to recover from surgery this week, I’m quite taken by a comment on my last post: “Enjoy the downtime”. (Thanks, Eric!) In thinking of what “Downtime” means to me, a lot of phrases have been floating through my (almost drug-free now) brain. The term connotes both relaxation and restriction; a helpful rest, but a loss of productivity.

I turned to my old friend Wikipedia for further insight:

Downtime or outage refers to a period of time or a percentage of a timespan that a system is unavailable or offline. This is usually a result of the system failing to function because of an unplanned event, or because of routine maintenance.

The term is commonly applied to networks and servers. The common reasons for unplanned outages are system failures (such as a crash) or communications failures (commonly known as network outage).

The first paragraph applies, I think; a body is certainly a system, and my system was “offline” while under anesthesia. Following that, I’ve been somewhat “unavailable”. Although my entire system didn’t “fail to function” the gall-bladder portion of the system was heading for a crash! And it could have infected other system components also had it been allowed to continue as it was. The phrase “unplanned event” applies here, but I don’t know how one is supposed to “routinely maintain” a gall bladder other than generally looking after ones health.

How about paragraph two? Am I a network or a server? Again, the system known as my body contains a vast network of bones, muscles, veins, and electrical impulses which, ideally, function together so that I can type this post. I didn’t have an entire system failure, but what about a communication failure? Definitely. I’d been having symptoms for a couple of years, and while I did many things to address them, I realized I didn’t use any of several techniques I know to directly access the body’s wisdom. “Why not”, you ask? (I hear you!)

I have a one-word answer: FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real). I never wanted to delve too deeply into what may be causing these things. I do believe that virtually any condition can be healed, and that healing doesn’t have to come from “outside” i.e. a surgery. I also believe in the body’s innate wisdom; that it, as a system, knows more about, well, just about anything, than our conscious mind does. So, when I wouldn’t deal with the symptoms directly because I had, ahem, “other priorities”, my system delivered an alarm; a wake up call. (They do that, you know.) I hear and heed the call.

Am I a server? (as well as a network?) That’s an interesting question. I generally don’t find the idea of “service” very appealing, in spite of times when I’ve surrendered all to help others, and felt very good doing it. The trouble with serving others from a philosophical point of view (in my opinion) is it carries an assumption that others are “needy”. This further translates to seeing them as “lesser” or myself as “superior”. Yet, this idea of service calls to me. I think I would much rather be “of use” than “of service”. This may seem a small semantic difference, but it changes the way I feel about it nevertheless. I must see others, and myself, as complete, wonderful beings (even if they’re missing an organ!) before I’m willing to extend myself to be of use.

For some reason I can’t read the last two words in the Wikipedia definition of “downtime” as they are: “network outage“. Every time I look, I see “network outrage“. It seems the network that is my body feels pretty “outraged” by this assault upon it. It’s up to my higher, better self to remain calm, and “source for purposefulness” as one teacher says.

On another note, whenever I hear the word “downtime” I think of the song Downtown, as the word sounds almost the same. The song reflects my current state of mind, and my seeking a higher mental state. Sure enough, YouTube has a great video of Petula Clark performing this (from 44 years ago, yikes!) It made me feel better to watch and hear it. If you can get past the extremely dorky choreography, perhaps you’ll also “forget all your troubles; forget all your cares!”

I did warn you I might get a bit odd contemplative during my Downtime!

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“Education” as a commodity

Posted on October 8, 2008. Filed under: Culture, HowTo, Music, Philosophy |

Is it just me feeling weird about all the references to the ability to “send your kids to college” I’ve been hearing vis-à-vis discussions about the economy, US Presidential debates, etc.?

As is the case with many children of immigrants or people of modest backgrounds in my country, I was the first in my family to graduate from college. My parents did not. My only sibling did not. However, I chose this myself, because I enjoy the process of education, not just the product. I didn’t expect my parents to pay for it, either. In all fairness to them, they would have done; they would have been proud to contribute to what they perceived as the advancement of their child towards “the American dream”.

I chose to leave home at an early age—barely 18—for a variety of reasons, and in order to do that, I took the first job I found that I was qualified for. I didn’t even know how to look for a job; I’d seen in the newspapers something called “Employment Agencies”, and there was one whose ad seemed friendly and helpful, so I went there. This probably sounds naive, but, in fact, they were friendly and helpful: they helped me evaluate my few “skills” (running a calculator by touch, and indifferent typing) and craft them into a package that would look good to an office manager. I think if I hadn’t been so shy at the time, I might have worked in food service or as a shop assistant as many my age had done; but I was reluctant to telephone or apply for jobs in person, so the Agency seemed like a place where they’d do all that for me. And they did. And therefore, I became an office worker in the financial district of San Francisco.

I could go on about what I liked and didn’t like about that, but the point I’m making is that, at the time, I had no college degree, and while the pay wasn’t spectacular, it did allow me to rent my own apartment, and live my own life, without being beholden to my parents. Had I demonstrated an aptitude and interest for the insurance business in which I worked, I could have gone on to learn from in-house courses and trainings to become a successful executive in that industry, without ever taking a “college” course. The most valuable things I did learn there were (most importantly) that I could support myself and be self-sufficient, and that computers were interesting and cool. 🙂

Eventually, I did put myself through college—very slowly—and launched myself into an advanced degree program, too. It took years, because I was working at least part-time all the way through, but I gained so much self confidence and ability by approaching college as a working adult rather than a “college kid”.

I take issue with “ability to send your kids to college” as a huge economic issue for many reasons. One is that it denies and diminishes trades, crafts, and skilled work that does not require college. Where would we be without carpenters, plumbers, and highway maintainers, to mention just a few? Many skilled professions do require some kind of training or apprenticeship, but those professionals don’t have to set foot into Harvard or Oxford to accomplish it. Please know that I think a college or university education is a wonderful thing (or I wouldn’t have pursued it myself) and that parents who wish to assist their offspring in this way are to be commended. I just don’t think it’s required (on the part of said offspring) or obligatory (for parents to provide).

A question parents might ask themselves—or better, ask their child!—is “What would give my child joy?” If we could only learn to start from there, rather than from perceived status or pay rate, I believe both the workers and economy would be much better served.

Even in those professions for which a college education is available, it’s not always the best, happiest, or most successful route. We all know that Bill Gates, for instance, dropped out of college, but that of course doesn’t guarantee success. What did, with this gentleman and many others, is that he had an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for his dreams. In artistic pursuits, opinion seems to be split on how much a “proper” education helps or hinders. Many fine painters are self-taught, while many others have attended specialized art schools or major universities to hone their technique. It’s the same way with musicians. I used to be quite a music snob; I felt that if one were interested in music, one ought to learn the western system of notation and music theory, as I have done. While one could not get a job in a fine orchestra as a player or conductor without this grounding, I’ve noticed that music is so much more than that. I got an inkling during my second music theory course where I learned things like “spelling” and “proper voicing” (This refers to how to write chords; not necessarily having anything to do with singing.) It was actually physically painful for me to be confined to western musical “rules” which, when examined, are no more than cultural conventions. Much, much, much World, Indigenous, and independent music doesn’t follow these conventions at all. I believe a great deal of creatively might be lost in imposing rules upon music which, after all, lives more in the soul than in the head.

That said, having the ability to notate music does come in handy. I have a friend who occasionally calls and tells me “I just wrote a song!” I tell him to hang on while I get my music notation paper, and he sings it to me, and I write it down. He could just sing it into a recording device to be transcribed later, but he doesn’t do this; for some reason that makes him feel self-conscious, but singing it to me doesn’t! So, I am of use to him. He loves to sing, but will not sing in the chorus with me as he doesn’t enjoy the discipline of rehearsals and the music-reading skills needed. Does this make him any less a musician, though?

The prejudice against “skilled trades” as being somehow less worthy or less “intellectual” than other pursuits is belied by this very medium in which I communicate to you. Writing, like music, is another endeavor where too much “education” may be a hindrance, or may be the making of the writer. Either way, when I look at the blogs I read here on WordPress and elsewhere written by truck drivers, mechanics, and brick layers, it’s apparent that there is poetry in many souls.

So, should “sending the kids to college” be a primary focus of economic planning? I’d be very interested in what you think!

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