Day 23. What’s Your Reality?

I’ve spent several days at Burning Man, which I think we can all agree is a world unto itself. Now that I’m back in what burners call the default world, I seem to be hyper aware of the fact that none of us live in quite the same reality as each other.

We choose different forms of entertainment, and of news. We spend time with different sorts of people. We treat our bodies differently with our food, our rest and our recreation. Our surroundings, which we have some ability to choose, vary radically. It may be amazing that any of us agree as much as we do.

The point is really brought home today when I go visit my husband’s brother and his wife at their ranch. I admire these two a great deal. Years ago they made a choice to live off of the grid, growing or raising most of their own food, hauling in their own water, generating their own solar power. Their food is pure, their bodies work hard.

The vision has morphed somewhat, allowing more modernization and convenience, but they still live a harsh and solitary life in a stunning location. Today’s big news is that they have found a way to have hot running water. They’ve both just taken their first shower at home at the turn of a knob since they began this life about a decade ago. They are quite pleased.

For all that I find their place beautiful, and their choices admirable, I realize that I’m glad I don’t live their life. I enjoy hot showers and baths, among many other creature comforts.

Then I realize, I don’t have to be them, any more than they have to be me. I choose my reality, more or less, just as they’ve chosen theirs.

Isn’t that nice?

But as we visit with each other, it’s helpful to remember that we communicate across a membrane; they in their world and me in mine. While it may be less obvious once I’m back in the town where I live, I vow to remember this insight. Rule 23. It’s a good one for the road and off.

As to the odds of each of us getting to end up in the reality that truly suits us? I think Jimmy Cliff had it all figured out years ago …

 

Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …

It’s Wednesday and the temple is finally completed and open. As soon as the day begins to cool down, I head out for a little private ceremony I’ve been contemplating for weeks. I have two fine ladies to pay tribute to. One is the mother of a friend who died a few months ago, leaving these last words.

I had such a great time, y’all.

I’ve been wearing her bright orange shawl, trying to carry her spirit of joy with me here at Burning Man.

The other is my own mother, who died ten years ago. I some ways I feel like I never fully mourned her and this seems like the right time and place. I settle into a soft spot in the dust, armed with a sharpie, prepared to leave my tributes on one of the many two by fours that form this beautiful open air construction.

I leave Judy’s last words, and have moved onto crafting something for my mom, when I notice raucous music getting louder. What? This is supposed to be the one quiet place for reflection. How rude are these people?

I keep writing and let the tears flow, tears I never could summon before. It feels good but the music is getting louder and harder to ignore. I listen.

It’s jazz. New Orleans jazz to be precise, and I realize this is a funeral procession for someone else, being mourned in a way that is fitting to them. Of course it is appropriate here. My irritation dissipates, and I return to my own ceremony.

Then I notice just how big the procession is. It’s got to be hundreds of people, maybe more. They are getting closer to the temple, lead with a banner featuring a likeness I recognize. It’s of Larry Harvey, one of founders of Burning Man and friend to so many who are here.

I’m happy to let my private tears coexist with this noisy tribute. Then I realize the trajectory of this procession will take it into the temple via one of the many curved entrances, and it happens to be the one in which I’m sitting in the dust crying. I’m about to be in the way of the largest single act of mourning ever held at Burning Man.

I take a quick photo of what I’ve written so far, and crawl through a gap in the wood just in time. The music is deafening as the parade passes me and skydivers jump out of airplanes above.

Sorry about that, mom. Bad timing.

I hear her laughter in my head. She had a way of seeing the humor in the bizarre and it occurs to me she might have found this rather funny. I let myself laugh as well. What were the odds?

Her laughter mingles with mine and I think maybe it is a better tribute to her than all the tears I could shed.

I leave the friends of Larry Harvey to their celebration of his life, and head out to the deep playa to enjoy the dusk. I’ve been wanting to ride all the way out to the perimeter since I got here and this seems to be the perfect time.

I’m back to searching the day’s events to find my rules of the road. Today offers multiple options.

It’s good to go out to the edge.

Or if you find yourself in the path of a parade, either join in or get out of the way.

Both good advice, but I’m choosing if you get interrupted by a parade, laugh.

As to the song of the day, that one is easy. What else could it be?

 

 

 

More

The logic of time travel is so problematic. Go backwards and you mess up the present. Go forwards, and you’ve negated free will. It’s a message from the universe, a flashing neon sign saying “Forget it. This doesn’t work!”

Yet we do it everyday.

I live nearly half my life in the future, imaging the fascinating ways I prove myself to be smarter, kinder and stronger than anyone thinks I am, including me. The world revolves around me in these imagined scenes, which is probably why none of them has ever come true.

I also live nearly half my life in the past. I don’t mean to, but music hurls me there with a force I can’t resist. A few bars of a song from a certain 1962 Italian documentary no one has ever heard of throws me onto a piano bench where I am 13 years old, at my 8th grade graduation, scared to death.

For some bizarre reason I’ve been coerced into performing a duet for the ceremony, along with my best friend who actually plays the piano well. I’ve been given the easy part, but I am still praying to all the gods I’ve ever heard of for the strength to not screw this up. Absolutely everyone in my young life looks on as I strike that first note. I focus. I breath. I begin to play.

Dates remembered have much the same effect as music. I’m at a qigong retreat right now, and smack in the middle of it is the 10 year anniversary of my mother’s death. This was not an easy, gentle exit, and if I ever do go see a therapist it will be the first thing I’ll tackle. But there are no therapists here, only other practitioners lost in their own worlds, on their own paths. They murmur sympathy when I mention the day’s significance to me, but none ask for details.

It’s not my way to burst into tears or otherwise demand attention, so I muddle through the day, lost in the past, reliving the ten year old question of whether I could have or should have done anything different. I know I need to let go of the memories, and be here now, but then More, the song More, sneaks back into my head as a single note melody. Oops.

It’s my wedding day and I’m stumbling around to this tune in a long white dress while everyone I know watches. My husband of a few hours hands me off to my father; dad and I stumble together. I inherited his lack of rhythm, so we laugh at the silliness of our efforts and I’m glad I don’t know that he’ll be dead of cancer fourteen years later.

Stop it, I tell myself. Stop it. You and your father danced fine. There was nothing better you could have done for your mother. You can’t change anything that has come tumbling down on you since that day you sat at a piano and played More. Which, by the way, you did do and it went fine.

So focus. Breath. Do it in the now.

I force the past from my mind, and at least for a moment, time stands still.

 

Does Marvin Gaye know what’s going on?

I’ve enjoyed blogging about each of the forty-five songs I refer to in my five books, and today I am writing the last of these posts. For no particular reason, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has that distinction. It occurs near the end of z2, when much of the group comes together for New Year’s Eve, and the words to the song provide impetus for solving part of the puzzle of the mysterious Maya artifact.

cmkqowgweaeubypIn fact, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a song about hope. Written in 1966 by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it became a hit in 1967 when it was recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It basically says I’ll be there to help you , because no force is big enough to stop me. It’s the last part of the that message that gets my attention; the idea that nothing can be so big and so bad that it can’t be overcome by someone who wants to make things better. I’m not feeling terribly hopeful these days; I guess I really need to hear this sort of thing. I must not be the only one, as I and over a hundred thousand other people have enjoyed this simple and classy early video posted a few years ago.

Looking up more information on Marvin Gaye (who is usually associated with the song) I found a wonderful fan page for him and learned that in the tumultuous year of 1969 he became frustrated with the type of music he was writing, wanting to turn towards topics that were more socially relevant.

The timing makes sense. In 1968, twelve elections ago, two fairly unpopular presidential candidates ran against each other while their policies sharply contrasted with a controversial war and a good deal of racial and political unrest. I would guess that Marvin Gaye didn’t want to only sing happy, hopeful songs for lovers. He wanted to weigh in on the social issues of the day.

According to the fan page

… in 1971 What’s Going On was released; the first song Marvin Gaye produced himself. The album explored topics such as poverty, discrimination, politics, drug abuse and the environment. Barry Gordy was reluctant to release the album because he doubted its potential commercial success. Despite the reservations, What’s Going On was an instant hit and groundbreaking work in the soul music genre.

It’s easy to see why. In a unique sweet and sour style, the title song contrasts a cocktail party sound with harsh words about the times. The song opens with … (From Metrolyrics)

Mother, mother there’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying

Let’s face it, these are apt lyrics for today, and they got me thinking about how much 1969 and 2017 have in common. They had an unpopular war, we have unpopular wars complicated by global terrorism. Racial tensions then had grown out of the fight to eliminate legal segregation, today many of us of all colors are reeling from a plethora of incidents with the police that make us question how far we have really come towards racial equality. Two high profile assassinations, police brutality during the 1968 democratic convention and the sight of 250,000 war protesters marching in Washington left the people of 1969 angry and confused. Today, we face the inauguration of a president whose election was aided by a longstanding enemy nation and fueled by groups chanting about building walls and talk of registering members of a minority religion. Times change, but sometimes they seem to circle back around, and revisit the feel of a bygone era.

I sought out a video of “What’s Going On” and found this one which has been enjoyed by almost NINE MILLION people recently. I guess I’m not the only one who thinks that Marvin Gaye understood something about the problems of 2017.

Father, father we don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer for only love can conquer hate

Of course, he went on to write and perform many more songs before his tragic death at age forty-five, and he left a wide and varied legacy in R&B, soul, funk, jazz and pop genres. As I enjoyed researching and learning more about him, I realized that I like all of his music, although the hopeful song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the wisely prescient “What’s Going on” are my two favorites.

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

As the background characters say in the video, “right on.”

Positive Waves for a Happy 4th

Nothing exists, at least not as solid matter. Push a theoretical physicist to describe what is and you are going to hear a lot about waves and particles.  If you push her further, she’s going to concede that at some very basic level the particles are really waves too. Yep, it looks like it’s all waves, man. Nothing but waves.

The character Oddball, Donald Sutherland’s goofy hero in Kelly’s heroes, might have had it right with his preoccupation with negative waves. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out these short fun excerpts from the classic movie. Better yet, check them out if you do know what I am talking about.

Which brings me to music. Music is made of waves, big fat waves of oscillating matter, which, as we just discussed, is nothing more than teeny-tiny waves. So we have waves making waves, and its a very good thing, because music helps us deal with all that theoretical physics. It turns out that any wave can be described by three attributes: frequency, phase and amplitude.

So, what makes someone an excellent singer? Three of us got into this recently, and one came down firmly on the side of range. Can he hit the high notes? Another advocated for pitch. Does she hit that perfect A at exactly 220 hertz? I pushed for vastness, a voice that fills the void.

axlroseprivateRange person, who it turns out really cares about frequency, used the example of Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon as one of the all time greats. You can see for yourself which popular singers had the most range at a fascinating post called “The Vocal Ranges of the Worlds Greatest Singers.” Mariah Carey wins for high notes, while Prince takes the male honors. Low note ability goes to Axl Rose with Nina Simone winning for the females. Sheer range honors go to Axl with Mariah in close second. Kevin Cronin isn’t mentioned.

Pitch person holds that perfectly hitting the notes exactly right makes for the most pleasing vocals, but when pressed for who actually could do that, the most recent example he could think of was Bing Crosby. There is reason he had trouble finding more examples, as true perfect pitch is extremely rare. Other singers besides Bing who may have it (or have had it) include Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Yanni and, once again Mariah Carey. At least that is the claim made on this Mental Floss post called 10 people with Perfect Pitch.  This is, by the way, an attribute that involves a combination of phase and exact frequency.

mariah-careyMy examples of great singers included the young Gracie Slick of Jefferson Airplane, and Adele. Both of these ladies make me feel less alone in the universe thanks to the sound waves  they create, even though I know that I am mostly just talking about their amplitude. I found this list of top 20 singers with the most powerful voices and Adele came in at 18 and Gracie didn’t even get mentioned.  Josh Groban and Whitney Houston made the top ten, as did, once again Mariah Carey. Guess I’m going to have to start listening to more Mariah Carey.

Great singing, of course involves being able to do all three well. A lucky crowd at the Lincoln Memorial was treated to this beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner a few days ago by Star Swain, an assistant principal from Florida. She has range, she has pitch, she has power, and all her waves are positive. Oddball would have loved it, as did those who had the good fortune to hear her. Enjoy, and happy Independence Day to all!

 

 

 

 

Stand By Me: loyalty versus all kinds of other things

Does anyone doubt that a real friend is someone who will stand by you, no matter what?

Does anyone doubt that there are times to walk away from a friend?

maybe 1We hold both statements as self-evident truths and seldom trouble our souls with the contradiction that is implied. Yet in personal and public life we see this interplay at work, and never more than in an a messy election year.

Publicly, word has it that the Bush family places a high value on loyalty, and an insult to one is an insult to all. Witness the family banning together to shun the current GOP nominee, and almost unthinkable act for a blood line that has produced two presidents for that party. I’m no  great fan of any of them, but I remain oddly moved by their loyalty to each other.

The coin falls on the other side with the Trump family’s former butler and current unpaid historian, who was quickly described by Trump’s campaign as some crazy old guy the family barely knew after the “crazy old guy” was discovered to be posting really crazy stuff on Facebook. Hard to find an admirable approach in that mess, but walking away from the friendship was probably better than standing by it.

And in our personal lives? Yes, there are friends we no longer click with or enjoy. There are people we thought of as friends who it turns out we didn’t really know. There are friends who would take too much of our time or money, or at least more than we care to give, which makes us wonder how the strong the friendship was to begin with. Would they even ask that much of us if they were really our friends? And then there are those who do bad things, sometimes even awful things, to us or others and no matter how sorry they are we can’t let it go.

Plenty of people in the news these days that leave me wondering what are their friends thinking right now?

True voice 3And yet — in spite of growing apart, and selfishness on either side, and ethics and screw-ups — there is something so simple and compelling about the idea of “I will always be there for you.” The very concept takes us back to our childhoods. Does it have a place in adult life?

To me it is the essential kernel of a romantic relationship. It is the baseline of parenthood, except in the most extreme of circumstances, and of other close family relationships as well. It is what separates true friendships from social relationships, and it makes it apparent how unusual true friends are. Having someone, anyone, who will stand by you is rare and precious.

Maybe that’s why we all enjoy the simple lyrics and hypnotic base of the 1961 Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me”. I referred to the song in z2, and just finished updating the music page on this blog to include the following. It’s still running through my head. Enjoy the video at the end.

ben-e-kingMy character Alex is a nice man, and he loves his wife, but he isn’t particularly romantic, at least not in the classical sense. When he thinks of their relationship, in many ways he is more impressed by their enduring friendship than he is by their romance. And when in Chapter 18 he needs to reach Lola with a song, and enlist her cooperation with a plan he has, he turns to this classic, as shown in the excerpt below.

Alex had learned to tolerate Lola’s telepathic abilities, but as the group gathered up their work to head back to the tiny hotel in Punta Gorda, he realized that he could do better. Why not actively use her talents at times to make both of their lives easier? According to what she had told him, all humans project emotions and to some extent also project the thoughts that drive those emotions. In other words, everybody talks. But hardly anyone listens. Some one percent of the population had vague, undeveloped receptive abilities, Lola had said, and some tiny fraction of that, through desire, practice and circumstance, crossed over into being fully adept receivers.

A little over a year ago, Lola had made just such a crossing. Which meant that now he could send information to her, but not get an answer. Think about it, Alex laughed to himself. In some ways isn’t that every husband’s dream? He can tell his wife things and not have to listen to a word back?

Alex supposed that was a less than admirable thought… but hey, a man thinks what he thinks, and fortunately Lola’s ethics were such that she generally stayed out of his head and let him think in peace. But knowing how much his people-avoiding wife was going to hate the idea of having three unexpected houseguests, and how much better she would deal with it if she had all the warning possible, Alex tried for the first time to actually get Lola’s attention. She said images worked well, so he imagined a picture of himself jumping up and down waving a large bright yellow flag. Look. Look over here. I need to tell you something. This is important. I’m going to totally mess up the rest of your holidays with the kids there and everything by bringing three strangers and two ancient artifacts home with me and I really need you to flow with this.

Then he remembered. Music was one of the easiest items to transmit and receive. What was a song that Lola liked? That he liked? His subconscious mind found it for him, and he hummed and whistled Ben E. King’s anthem of loyalty “Stand by Me” over and over as he helped to load up the car. Of course, he’d follow up with an honest-to-god phone call once he got to the better reception at the hotel, but with any luck by then Lola would already know and be in a frame of mind to help him.

I’ll bet you can’t sit still, or keep from smiling, as you watch this video that celebrates both Ben E. King’s original song and the movie of the same name.

 

Picking a President: “Holding Out for a Hero”

So I am adding to the music page on this blog, and come to “Holding out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler and suddenly current events sort of click for me. I confess that watching this presidential primary process has left me disturbed like never before. What does an 80’s song have to do this? Walk with me here, because I think I’m on to something.

superheroWhy is the protagonist in a novel, or movie, or TV series usually called the hero of the story? We love our heroes (male and female) because we not only love to cheer them on, we also live through them vicariously. In fact, we are so used to being entertained by heroes that I think we’ve evolved into a society where many of us don’t want our politicians to be leaders.  We certainly don’t want them to be politicians. We want them to be our heroes, and that’s a different thing.

Some politicians thought to have a good shot at the presidency are having a hard time fitting the hero image. Hilary Clinton, Mark Rubio and John Kasich are all struggling with it, and Jeb Bush failed at it along with eleven other GOP hopefuls.

On the other hand, Bernie Sanders has risen as a hero to the left. It’s fair to tell you that I like a lot of Bernie Sanders ideas and if he wins the primary I will vote for him, even though I do not think he would be particularly good at the business of governing these United States. My point here is that I don’t think his followers are focusing on his abilities as a statesman. He is a hero to them for speaking out against the injustice in our nation.

fractal 6On the other side of the aisle are an array of heroes to chose from. Does your hatred of the federal government run so strong that you cheer on a man willing to shut the entire government down if he doesn’t get his way? Have we got a candidate for you. Fancy a quiet neurosurgeon whose medical feats don’t qualify him for politics but sure are impressive? Step this way. Or is your idea of a hero someone who is wildly rich, terribly confident and never backs down? Ohhhh boy, you are going to love what we have for you.

I’m afraid that as a nation were not looking for the most capable leader we can find. We’re each looking for our own particular kind of hero out there. We want someone we can rally behind and yell “hell yes”, the country be damned. It makes sense in a very visceral way, even though I don’t think this is what the founding fathers had in mind for democracy. However, as our society has become ever more entertainment-saturated, this might have been inevitable.

I think it would be a good idea to be more aware of what we are doing, and to ask whether heroes have historically made good leaders. What do you think?

While you ponder that question, enjoy this 1984 video of a young Bonnie Tyler and her 80’s hair as she sings “Holding out for a Hero.”

(Learn more at bonnietyler.com/. You can buy this song at Amazon.)

z2 is a story about becoming a hero when necessary. Enjoy this short excerpt about one of the moments when my protagonist has to act like a hero. And no, I do not think that being able to handle a situation like this qualifies one to be president.

“It’s probably just the cat,” he muttered, mostly asleep.

“It’s NOT the cat!” she said. “It’s coming from the front lawn.” Lola stepped into the hallway and could see a bright glow coming in through the front windows. “Oh my god, Alex.”

Alex could recognize genuine panic when he heard it and he went from barely awake to completely awake in about two seconds. This was his job. He protected this house. He strode into the front hall and saw through the glass panels on either side of his front door an angry and probably drunk mob of white hooded people on his front lawn, most waving burning torches and chanting something about his house, shelter and Satan.

“Call 911,” he barked to Lola, heading back to the bedroom to grab some pants. “Then see if you can make it out the back door and get to a neighbor. Bring back some help if you can. I’m going out there to see what they want.”

It was an indication of how serious the situation was that Lola didn’t even pause to discuss his plan with him.

He opened the door, and saw that a cross about the size of a grown man had been erected on his front lawn and was being doused in liquid from a metal can. As he opened his mouth to speak, the crowd noticed him, and the chanting was replaced by a plethora of epitaphs.