17 September 2015

Blessed Birthday, Nancy! 2015

Part One
Now perhaps I’ve reached the point
Of fuller comprehension;
That in birthday gifts your preference is
No more than two dimensions.
This one is fashioned hastily
As in the car I climb.
Should I perchance to find a stamp
It may reach you in time!
Part Two
Alas! No stamps were to be found.
My old printer it did balk,
“Why can’t these young laptops slow down
And speak plain AppleTalk?”
So the first you will see of this card
Is as a lone attachment;
In color, should you have the means
To render with detachment.
Until one day at your door
Comes this daguerreotype.
May the love we hold for you
Transcend all the hype.

08 August 2015

Lee's 90th/Family Reunion

Leann, Lee, Arnie
With each stab at birthday verse
The best that I can do
Is share those streams of consciousness
That may apply to you.
Unlike my father's precedent,
My rhythm varies little.
In a world chaotic and unglued,
It's easier to whittle
From that wood already milled
To uniform dimension.
May the wood-shop of my mind
Carve it with invention.

What does a birthday mark?
What length the shadow cast?
Is it just that less time lies ahead
With more lodged in the past?
The cooking we have savored,
The flowers we have sniffed,
That they were long ago partook
Makes them no less a gift.
Better we accept with grace
The odometer's reading.
There is no hack can sneak it back
To aid us in misleading.
Terry S.
Look at all the people!
How did their paths get chosen?
Have their lives turned out as hoped
Or did their dreams get frozen?
The 'Y' pool stocked with children,
Low mileage on their dashes,
Who dominate the water
With their squealing and their splashes.
How will they find a living wage?
Where will they park their cars?
Where will they build houses?
Will they end up taking ours?
Our journey of perfecting
The nuances of living,
Will they be left to navigate
A world that's less forgiving?

Bricks of time stored in the vault
Absconded by a thief.
Though it would not feel like theft
Had I the ego of a leaf.
To let go of my perch,
No thought of asking more
Than to take my humble place
Upon the forest floor.
For is it not the final gift,
Of our precious time on earth,
To feel and know a peace within
Transcending death and birth?

And so to you my mother,
Who gave my soul its entry,
Your deeds surpassing mortal thanks
For serving as my sentry,
Patiently encouraging
My gifts all be explored,
Passing on the tools to build
A life of vast reward.
The most important lesson,
You taught despite distraction:
I am enough just as I am,
No need for further action.

In parental mentoring
We were truly blessed
By your offering of thought and skills;
Our friends were so impressed!
You encouraged us to not conform,
To give questioning looks.
Which left us, sadly, ill-prepared
To rid ourselves of books.

Your legacy runs tandem with
That of your brother's wife;
Who through two daughters and two sons
Dwells in the afterlife.
You both taught us to value
Refined human expression
And service to community
Regardless of profession.

What of the further offspring
Of Samuel and Jeanette?
From one New Jersey pharmacy
Predating internet.
How much of what's transpired
Was in the family plan?
What questions would they ask us now
From their celestial caravan?
"We worked hard for what we had,
Confronting imperfections.
Pray tell, how did the Hamiltons
Surpass Steeles in conceptions?
And why is it both firstborn sons
Married single mothers?
Is it true that blended families bring
New sisters and new brothers?"

Jean, Tom, Terry H.
We gather here to celebrate
The last of a generation,
And for our collective willingness
To stay in good relation.
May that willingness stay strong
Wherever we may roam,
Such that within the other's heart
Each one may count a home.

Jeffry, 8/8/2015

18 July 2015

For Tony and Aimee

Staring from the piano lid
In our vacated home,
A card in brown ink letters
Leans on the metronome.
"With their loving families,"
How hopeful a prediction,
That everyone who bears you love
Can overcome restriction
To be there at your side
At Coonamessett Farm—
Assuming they don't lose their way,
Should that name alarm
Their female GPSs
With consonants so doubled,
In spite of their best guesses,
Geographically troubled.

I wish this were the reason
I never did arrive
Why I'm coming through this speaker
And not appearing live.
Alas this is a testing
When loyalties are split
Between the call of family
And what work will permit.
The guilt from which I carry
Matched only by the schmuck
Who wished your father "break a leg"
When he could have said "good luck."

For by the time I get there
You'll be in the southwest;
And all the best cuisine
Consumed by wedding guests.
You'll be moving on
To be more of who you are,
Combine your separate lessons
Into a single burning star.
How far it is you've come
Since last day of high school
When your aunt brought me down
To meet you, Bea, Jeff and Jules.

But the ultimate achievement,
Reflecting your success,
Is the partner you have chosen,
Who looks to you with "yes."
May all happiness be yours
(There's plenty to go around)
Such as your humbled uncle
With his ordained wife has found.

[Note: Tony's father, Jeff, was recovering from a broken leg at the time this was written]

03 June 2015

Communication Style

(An assignment for the Conjoint Therapy course in my Masters in Counseling program)
Obviously, I am completely incompetent and completely inadequate to face the challenges that life places before me. However, fortunately or unfortunately, I happen to be the best person for the job.
— Harvey Jackins, the Commitment Against Pretense

I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.
—Georgia O’Keeffe

I have, through most of my life, struggled with inner expectations of competence. Having an outspoken inner critic has, at times, made it difficult to think on my feet. To contradict this disabling tendency, in many of us, Harvey Jackins (http://rc.org) offered the above commitment to be repeated in co-counseling sessions until sufficiently humbled, usually via peals of laughter. It is far easier to tell others they do not have to be an expert at anything to be lovable than it is to know it within. Not surprisingly, my parents had a similar issue. It is not that whatever I did, as a child, was not good enough for them, but I observed that whatever they did was frequently not good enough for them. Like them, the criticism I received from myself could drown out voices of appreciation; criticism I have received from others often served to validate my negative self-talk. Just reading over my first draft of this paper I hear that voice saying, “You sound persnickety and full of yourself.”

A signal that I have been moving in the right direction of late, from educator toward therapist, has been a softening of this inner critic. Removing the (dare I say) impossible expectations of a K-8 music teacher from my vocational landscape gave me a new lease at feeling successful. I had previously assumed that I had little choice other than work an impossible job—putting in overtime in a desperate attempt to render it less impossible.

I would expect, therefore, that my communication style at its worst has be seen in situations where I felt pressured to pretend I know what to do. Men have this problem frequently due the conditioned belief that rugged individualism is preferable to dependence, certainty preferable to ambivalence. The man is supposed to know already and not have to ask, to collaborate. A client pleading, “You’re not helping me!” can challenge me at this core level. Inside I am nodding in agreement, “You couldn’t be more right. I should know just what to do and have no business holding your fate in my incompetent hands.” I am visited by guilty thoughts that my position of relative privilege—be it white, middle class, or male—leaves me clueless to the client’s reality. Not knowing “the answer” has left me questioning my very goodness. In Re-evaluation Counseling I learned that when a privileged person acts out feelings of not being good enough, the person of lesser privilege with whom the former is presently interacting experiences the former’s unnatural behavior as having to do with that oppressed person’s constituency—in other words, as racism, sexism or the like. Under the spell of this type of shame I will feel disconnected from the client—and from myself. I have known this to manifest in my communication being unclear, vague, evasive, and academic—like some of those banking moguls having to answer to Elizabeth Warren in a Senate hearing. Owning-class people may be accustomed to this sort of talk; raised-working-class people do not buy it. Transitioning into Human Services has brought me further down the path of greater authenticity—walking my talk, talking my walk—in communication style.

There is a paradox I have been pondering since entering the helping profession. If I communicate most authentically from a place of being true to myself, it means using the “educated” words and concepts I have picked up along my way. It would appear, therefore, unnatural for me to adopt the communication style of the person I am speaking with—dropping all the -Gs from my -ING words, for example. People are more comfortable with people who are comfortable being themselves, rather than those who strive to be like someone else. However, in Couples Counseling, Marina Williams advocates a chameleon-like approach, adopting clients’ communication styles such that they experience the counselor as “being like them.” But I am not like them. Neither am I like the highly cultured or academic types I have know at various points, around whom I now find myself sounding like a veritable AA old-timer. Still, helping people feel safe is my priority, and I realize I create that safety through valuing whatever affirming concepts they themselves value, which requires adaptation, flexibility, and good-hearted wit on my part.

It has been amusing to see long-standing members of a group I lead explain my communication style to in-coming members. “He talks weird; but he gets us. . . He’s kind of like a hip Mr. Rogers,” one addict quipped. I am reminded of what John Lennon once said of Bob Dylan—“It’s not what he says, but how he says it”—when recalling the comment: “When I get done with treatment, my main goal is to become a peaceful person, like Jeffry.” We all remember process over content; and this man had tuned in not so much to my specific words as to the nature of my responses, over a period of weeks, to an assortment of often-distressed individuals in group.

The myth of getting it perfect is a difficult one for a musician to let go of. I observe that I am not alone in having to be dragged kicking and screaming towards humility. I recall some milestones along my imperfect path away from perfection. The father of my first wife found me hopelessly idealistic, yet he was drawn to debate me—I believe in an effort to reclaim his creative self long abandoned to material gain. We had a written correspondence (I in Massachusetts, he in New York) in which he would try to convince me—bearing in mind I had been traveling to Nicaragua in support of the Sandinistas—that leftist regimes were just as bad as reactionary ones. At one point I tired of researching and quoting sources to back my point of view and simply wrote something like, “I have nothing further to offer in support of my position other than the passion I feel that this is something I am called to do.” My then-father-in-law wrote back, “That’s beautiful,” and our debate was over. Perhaps he remembered feeling passionate about something too. I put down the weapon of factual expertise and he responded in kind. We stood a better chance of connecting if neither of us had to be right.

I entered the helping profession without the pretensions of prior expertise that I had once brought to school music teaching. Making mistakes as a CDPT felt less loaded because I did not expect myself to have it all learned. My coworkers tended to be more humble than I was used to. Humility lives in the core of recovery, while humility and music performance are not readily associated. My communication style becomes more authentic when my values line up with my vocational mandate. I have discovered that attaining greater humility, and taking responsibility for others attaining it, turns out to be a more fulfilling ambition in the long run than attaining standing ovations.

06 January 2015

New Year Newsletter/Reflection

Who ever imagined being alive in 2015? Some of us remember when Orwell’s 1984 seemed far into the future, or Kubrick’s 2001. My life, as perhaps yours, has been a series of quests for whatever looked best on the horizon. Yet, each time I get there, I find myself saying, “There has to be more than this.” Given limits on time, this year I write a relatively brief update and then, to fill out the picture, refer you to other recent writings. These will be found posted for December, alongside this, at my blog. Clicking below will open a page with these four pieces together:

Monica and I had a sublime New Year’s day at Mt. Rainier. I, for one, was longing to be in snow. We didn’t see any on our Thanksgiving trip to MA and NY, and we may well go the Winter without any snowfall in Tacoma. But in an hour and a half, one can drive above the snow line from here. As we sold our 4-wheel-drive Subaru years back, we were required to put chains on the drive wheels, a new experience for me. It was perhaps another hour to “Paradise” at 5400’. Along the route was Narada Falls, where Monica videoed me throwing a snowball. (A higher quality version of this video at: http://youtu.be/tkIlXszRInM). From wherever you view it, the peak of Rainier always looks closer than it is. From Paradise, you feel like you could walk right up in a relatively short time when, in fact, it is still five miles north of you and nearly two miles up. Ninety men have died trying to climb the summit since 1897. The parallels are yours to draw.

Accomplishments/goals-met/confessions in 2014
  • In my (paid) internship at Recovery Centers of King County, developed confidence leading treatment groups and speaking the language and concepts of recovery. You best master material you have to teach, particularly when the lives of your students are at stake. Though I learned a lot of related human service protocol, it is the group work I find most gratifying.
  • Earned acceptance in a previously unfamiliar profession. Acceptance as a music educator was harder to come by, in spite knowing far more about music than human services.
  • Established meaningful connections with a diversity of people who grew up with less material privilege than I. At time same time, I’ve had to develop a clearer sense of when to trust and when not to, to not take personally when they do well or do not do well, and to not seek assurance from them that I’m a OK for a middle-class white guy.
  • Completed first semester in the Masters in Counseling program at St. Martin’s University. I can’t help but wonder how things would have been different if I had done so at age 23, the age of most of my classmates. But then I wouldn’t have been me if I’d enrolled at age 23, would I?
  • Composed 10 pieces for guitar with electronics (Suite Serenity, see below), and a setting of the Lord’s Prayer that has since been sung every Sunday at First Christian Church.
  • Began teaching guitar at the Music and Arts Institute (University Place Presbyterian Church) on Saturday mornings.
  • Further compromised my non-conformity by getting a smart phone. I wish I could report I had joined my brother in severing all connection to Apple products, but I have grown more dependent on them than ever. Can I just stand by and let this happen? I spent the first 43 years of my life without an internet connection. Who can go even 43 minutes offline these days? I dread to think on what rooted traditions I may find myself abandoning in future. I look around me and see others’ access to music entirely dependent on internet access [Spotify, YouTube]. My music library is now on a hard-drive—the realization of a life-long dream of having all my vinyl and cassettes organized and searchable. Will I ever shed my desert-island collector mentality?
  • Turned 60 and accepted the possibility of physical aging. Some things are just going to hurt.
Suite Serenity
Having a day job that. . .
  • is not in music
  • addresses core issues of suffering in the culture yet, at the same time,
  • I don’t take home with me
  • fosters a mindset of whatever-you-can-get-done-in-the-allotted-time-will-have-to-do 
. . . has freed me to return to composition. I'm not bent on addressing social injustice in my music because I am doing that someplace else. Additional factors are . . .
  • eleven years having elapsed since being under the scrutiny of cohorts and professors at New England Conservatory
  • the appreciation I receive each Sunday for playing at First Christian Church (where Monica became music director last year). 
In what little time I can give it then, I have been exploring live performance possibilities of classical guitar through a laptop computer. I imagine Bach, always apprised of the latest in organ technology, would have done similarly if alive today. At first I endeavored to program digital audio workstation software (Apple Logic, in my case), but got stifled by the steps involved in controlling signal-processing plug-ins with foot-switches. Then I learned online about Apple’s MainStage, software dedicated to live performance. What you get for $30 would have blown the minds (some of my 60’s rhetoric shining through) of anyone involved in audio recording a couple of decades ago. Most of us finally own computers fast enough to not delay a processed signal (latency) noticeably. Many of these plug-ins have inspired me to write new pieces exploiting their potential. I was able to incorporate the midi controller that had been gathering dust the past six years (BCR2000), but needed more foot control than the two switches it supported. So I invested in a KMI 12-Step (a one-octave foot keyboard) and an expression pedal that plugs into it. Thus far, I’ve only written one piece where I actually play notes with my feet. It is somewhat limited what you can do with your feet while seated playing classical guitar anyway, and the 12-Step, with its small “keys,” is more awkward to play than organ-style foot pedals (costing many times more). But the keys can be programed to do a variety of tasks, including triggering chords or recorded accompaniments. The aesthetic I’m after, however, has the audience witnessing the notes played, and hearing them processed into intriguing textures. I premiered three movements last Summer at Immanuel Presbyterian (which is also one of two churches I played at on Christmas Eve). I performed, at a local cafe, a first draft of Suite Serenity in November. My plan is to create youtube videos of each movement and then shop the performance around, with an eye on Seattle’s Frye Museum concert series. 

I imagine the 12-step is so named for the 12 steps of the chromatic scale. But here I am steeped in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which includes not only 12 Steps, but 12 Concepts, 12 Traditions, and 12 Promises. The number 12, once made sacred by the 12 disciples, is sacred in another way in the local sports scene—“the 12th man” of the Seahawks football team being the fans. Businesses feel obliged to display that particular numeral on their marquees, lest a Seahawks fan take his business elsewhere. Many festoon their motor vehicles with flags bearing either a “12” or the Seahawks logo, the latter apparently derived from a Native American fierce hawk mask. But I digress. All this is to say that the gravity of twelve has me endeavoring to link my new pieces to the 12 Promises of AA, which means I need to write two more movements to consider it complete.

But enough about me. Noah and Nat still live with us, basically—Noah working at Metropolitan Market and Nat going to Evergreen State (Christmas selfie to left). Monica became Reverend Monica last Summer. Below are sister Nancy, mother Lee, brother Jonathan and his partner LeAnn (Thanksgiving in Brooklyn). I think I can speak for all of them in wishing you the best year ever (with a joy no congressional majority can take away)!