Cherokee Kid

Jim Alberty is a member of the Bird Clan of the Cherokee Tribe of Oklahoma. Born in Claremore, OK he now lives in Maine, working as a composer, writer and Creative for Apple. He is active in the Casco Bay area arts and education communities as a composer, musician, social dancer and actor.

Many Steps, One Dance

Wells Harbor Park, Wells, Maine. Sunday 21 July, 2013

Not enough fluffy clouds high in the sky. Brilliant, brilliant sun, ninety degrees of temperature or more.

The ground underfoot is gravel, white and crunchy, a mirror throwing the sunlight back up in your face.

Some men are bare-chested, some wear ribbon shirts. One wears a bear head and skin over his skull and down his shoulders. Many wear silver bells tied in bands around their ankles.

Most of the women carry shawls of varying degrees of thickness and decoration either wrapped around their shoulders or wafted like iridescent wings marking their movements. Many wear jingles sewn onto their dresses, catching the overwhelming beat of the drum, keeping the beat like the ringing feet of the men.

Some people wear no regalia at all, dancing in whatever summer-wear they bring to the event. No swimsuits. No short shorts. This is not a ceremonial circle but a certain decorum and respect to the traditions of all the represented tribes is to be expected.

Everyone is dripping with sweat. The MC reminds the dancers to stay hydrated, there is a jug of iced water with a pile of cups next to the entrance to the circle. A small shade tent is on the other side of the entrance, reserved for the lead dancers, who, since they are almost certainly paid, are expected to dance at least a third of the time.

The drum begins and the dancers move.

The underlying beat is simple but explosive, the singers weaving inside the pulse, around and around, before and after the beat, emphasizing the pulse by stepping on either side of it.

The dancers do much the same. Some are more traditional "straight" dancers (I count myself amongst these) keeping the beat, stopping, waving their arms at the "honor beats', generally three in number, that mark each phrase in the music.

Others are more unrestrained, imitating the steps of a hunting bird, a prancing horse, a butterfly.

A few are "fancy dancers", bouncing in regalias festooned with threads that wave like grass in the wind. Besides the "grass dancers" you see women in jingle dresses, swinging like racks of bells, shaking out the beat so clearly, making it easier for fancier dancers to bounce around them.

Those wearing regalia - of whatever complexity or authenticity - are dressed in a style thousands of years old, at home being themselves

Here we are being who we are - savages in many ways, certainly non-partakers in many of the ceremonies of restriction that dominate so much of American culture.

We are savages. For myself I am at my happiest when that part of my life is unrestrained and free - when it "leaves the reservation" so the speak.

Dancing around a fire, screaming the high-pitched cries of my people, keeping my part of the vision of this people who have lived so long under the influence of the dominant culture. We are still here and our sense of reality is very different from those around us.

But a beat is a beat, a dance is a dance and a soul set free to live in both is free indeed.

Mirrors In Stone

 The dream started after a night of fitful sleep - tossed, turned, the comforter shed, pillows crammed against the wall, air conditioner turned off, turned on, turned back off.

Grey light hiding behind the blinds at least a full hour before the alarm called me up to go to work.

Suddenly it was cool again and dark, stone walls arched overhead into far space. The enclosed area was so large you could hear something most people never ever sensed - the sheer sound of a great room, the pressure of a great span of air against your ears.

The Bishop - elderly, taller than I, sharp-nosed, silver glasses more perched on his nose than aiding his eyes - asked me if I was ready, if everything was ready.

Beside him the Verger rocked back and forth from her heels to her toes, a slow ecclesiastical dance in the tempo of a great hymn, "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" perhaps.

"This has to  be right" she interjected, "I'm trusting you to be ready," Her job was organizing pageantry in the Cathedral. She knew all the requirements of the sincere if mystical theatre of religious ceremony.

The job would be simple: conduct one of my own a capella anthems during a great celebration in the Cathedral, the kind of feast day that regularly occurs in a great spiritual space, a feast that had continued in regular order, sustaining the spirits of a thousand people for seemingly a thousand years.

I nodded, bowed my retreat and headed out into the bright sunshine to the small cell that doubled as my study. I was a guest of the Cathedral living in the "Stranger's" Quarters, writing and helping carry the spiritual traditions of the great space forward.

I knew I should be practicing, preparing to start my music, a simple anthem that needed only a four note chord to start - but the touch on the keyboard had to be sure, there could be no time to repeat it, no second chances to recover the flow of the service.

Somehow I couldn't bring myself to practice. It wasn't trusting to luck, it was the certain feeling that I was unprepared but that somehow it would be OK just to try.

And so as sunset approached .... as moonrise began ..... I took my place at the back of the choir stalls, next to the great pipe organ, a small but very talented group of singers ready to perform my notes, a dark space pushing against my ears, thousands of people wrapped together in the deep sense of common feeling and purpose.

The keyboard and the stops around them - small white knobs that controlled the passages of air into a forest of tuned pipes - became a forest of thorns, a frightening tangle of choices, a wall locking me away from all contact with the people around me. I was alone, bereft, lost in the middle of a thousand people.

And so I froze. Below I saw the Verger's glare, saw her robes billow out as she rushed up from the ambulatory floor to catch my attention.

I walked out. I chose to leave rather than face them all.

I knew I was alone. Totally alone, locked away from the people I wanted to love and be loved by most. They were all so accomplished, people who had read and studied and thought and written and corrected and spent their days learning their way through the challenges of life and work.

Running through the vaults of the Cathedral I raced past the skulls and bones of scholars and spiritual leaders who had spent their lives improving their ability to be themselves. I had nothing to give because I had done nothing.

Suddenly I was stopped by the Bishop, still in his robes from the Celebration. Beside him the Verger, dark, black-eyed behind thick glasses, glaring at me, her black ebony rod firmly gripped but resting lightly against her robes.

I fell to my knees, sobbing, hot tears of shame coating my face, begging the Bishop to kill me then as punishment for the crime of being me.

The Verger, I knew, was raising her rod, preparing to strike.

Yet the Bishop looked me dead in the eye - I though he was smiling but I couldn't really tell - he looked me in the eye and held up a golden mirror ....

..... and then I woke.

Tears were still soaking my face. An instant later the alarm went off. I was dizzy, sick, unsure of where I was for a moment, unsure even what day it was.

The mirror. The view of myself. Knowing it was my hand that held me back. That I was so afraid, so afraid of being alone that I'd do anything to separate myself from people in order not to fail to connect - to lose myself in order to save myself.

This fugue built quickly - voice adding the theme to voice, each adding to the texture and carrying the music forward.

It was more important to be me, to lead and if others were willing to follow - or not - then that's what happened. I had no control of it.

There was too much music to write, dances to do, things to see - too much inside of me that had to get out.

I will never be like others and the drive to be so, to make myself safe from others by being like them was doomed to failure. And that was killing me.

So many things I should have done, choices to not work, practice, connect, love - all it trying to keep me safe not from others but from myself.

The song, discordant but effective, is over. A new song begins.

You take what the world gives you and you make art.

And life.

(Photos of St. John the Divine c. 2011 Jim Alberty)

One Garden, Many Fruits

 Link to FaceBook album is here.

I should know better now. I've done more than 56 orbits of the Sun by now and you'd think I'd know better.

Life gives you what it gives you and it has to be accepted then used.

And thanks for whatever comes along is required as well. Sooner or later we'll have to give thanks for it, no matter how it feels at the moment.

That said I'm still surprised at how surprised I am that less than a week after the tragic passing of Erin Cummings I can see how life continues to amaze.

Today though really stunningly hot - Oklahoma hot, I'd say - I took up a friend's general internet invitation to attend the opening of the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion at Colby College.

With this addition (so I was told by a seatmate at the hamburger feast afterwards) Colby now has the largest exhibition space in the state. I'll have to check on that but it certainly seemed that way today. Designed by Fredrick Fisher and Partners of Los Angeles it seemed graceful and bright, a well-implemented minimalist design.

 Trapezoidal shape and of a generous height, I know it was brightly lit but I have no memory of how the lighting system was actually implemented, no visual memory of fixtures or lighting sources.

On the terrace, a wonderful, evocative illustration of what life can be like - a tree with 40 fruit branches grafted onto it. You can see it in closeup in the FB gallery linked above.

I'd very much like to be there in Autumn when the pie is baked.

There was a lot of similar use of unobtrusive tech to display and even create the art. I spoke with Marc Nabarowsky, who set up the video system to overlay images over a brushstroked canvas - everything was considered.

Below the new pavilion were smaller theme-based galleries - some based on "modernism" or "water" or "poetry" or "exotica seen by Americans" ....

..... and one gallery I was "warned" about containing the "Taos Society of Artists" (Wikipedia link is here) dating from 1915 - labeled "Art Of the West", when it might better have been described at "Art ABOUT the West".

So here were classically - i.e. European - trained artists painting Native American ..... you know, it's not helping my mood that Barber's "Adagio for Strings" just came up in my playlist as I'm writing .... where was I? Oh yes, what were these guys thinking as they worked? Was it out of pity, nostalgia, avarice, loss? I'm going to have to spend time with this room and figure it out, because the questions still ring today.

And the irony is not lost. I had to leave after a couple of really fascinating hours, promising myself to come back and try to see all the parts and figure out why I found it so evocative - and what was being evoked.

So back down 95 I went - down and over to the right, to Lisbon, the third day of the Moxie Festival, to the Spirit of the Wolf Pow Wow.

The Festival was pretty much over - the streets of Lisbon looked as they always do - but behind the High School I could feel the unmistakeable pounding of pow wow drums, even from two blocks away - with the help of open windows.

I've not been to a pow wow in a year or more - I usually work at least one weekend day and often have no time to spare. I'd intended to blend both events together - it turned out to be a fortunate idea.

I was too hot - and my schedule was too tight - to allow me to dance. Also by this time I'd switched into a Cherokee tribal t-shirt, and not being dressed in regalia is frowned upon in formal dances. It's not "illegal" but it is considered a faux-pas.

A visit to a dealer's stand replenished my supply of white sage - I might offer to smudge the Museum if they'd like - though judging from their crowd Colby's luck is holding just fine.

It was refreshing to see the swirl of colors, hear the thunder and hidden form of the singing.

These - thankfully no one was wearing buckskins, though you will seem them in Autumn - are called "regalia" rather than costumes.

A "costume" is something you wear to dress up as something you're not - these are people dressing as they truly are and it's not taken lightly.

And so I had to consider how all of this fit together - well, really I didn't, I was also singing ideas for a new piece into my phone so at least I got some creation of my own in there as well.

Does contemplation of both Colby's collection - and others around me - and the fire and grace of regular people dancing in clothing tracing itself back thousands - thousands - of years - will these help me see the relationships in life - and my own compositions - better, more holistically?

I think art is what your personal truth is - whether you're acting, singing ,dancing, writing, composing, sculpting or whatever.  Life can be art if what you're living is what you truly are.

Or who you truly are.

The trick, as always, is to have some kind of idea what that actually is.

Threnody on a Tanda Ended Too Soon

In Argentine Tango you can end a set of dances, a tanda, by looking your partner in the eye and saying, perhaps kindly, “Thank you”.

Politely said or not it is a dismissal. For good or ill the set of dances is ended before its time and for good reason or no reason the possibility of continued connection is gone.

Perhaps the partner wasn’t good enough - or was too good.

Perhaps the stares and expectations of onlookers were too much to bear.

Perhaps an uncontrollable outside event pushed things so far in the wrong direction that the only gracious thing to do was say “thank you” and leave the floor.

Those of us - and I am one - who have been so dismissed usually try to guess the reasons it ended. Sometimes they are clear, obvious whether fair or not.

Sometimes they are unassailably random - patternless stardust blowing across the dance floor, never to be collected, never to be sifted, never to be understood.

So we who are left are left to ponder and consider if we could have been better partners, more sensitive, more perceptive, more - or less - powerful.

Comes the bigger question, the original question, the question that brought us out with our vanished partner in the first place.....

.... Shall I dance? Shall I heed again the music’s patterned urging and seek another partner?

We live and we dance. We can occasionally  be the ones choosing to say “Thank you”. We shall all be forced to say it someday, perhaps kindly or not. But say it we will.

The totally certain possibility of connection. The certain possibility of loss.

And the music still calls.

In Memory of Erin Cummings

Holy Laughter, Batman .....!

Happy 2013!

When falling asleep it's my habit to say "Thank you, thank you, thank you", and then visualize whatever I have to be thankful for.

As my last post said I nearly lost one of my best friends to a disaster in a surgical procedure. Now, more than two weeks later she is still in the Special Care Unit but mostly for monitoring.

She looks very good but the process of recovery, though seeming certain, is going to be much longer than originally planned for.

So along comes Reality to inform me that another dear friend, my surrogate older sister (I'm the little brother she never had) has deteriorated rapidly due the the results of a stroke she suffered some three years ago.

Native Americans seems to have a different sense of time than other cultures - or more aboriginal cultures see time differently than modern American culture. We see events as existing in the past, present and future at the same time. This helps when editing music.

It also helps when seeing the context of events. "Eternal tense" lets you see everything around you, the good and the bad, see all the connections that influence each other.

So last night, processing all of this information as I began my end-of-day thinking/feeling - the summation of "plus column/minus column" - or just "column" - and began vocalizing my thank you's I was surprised to find myself laughing.

Giggling (which is hard to see myself doing, much less hear it) led to laughter. I have spent so much time feeling scared, angry, sad - "negative" emotions, though I think of them as the necessary price of being alive and involved with the human race - that maybe the Universe was putting me in a place where I could see the balance of life and then let me respond.....

..... and I respond by laughing. Also crying. Also screaming, dancing, writing, and loving.

I respond by being alive. And I am grateful for the chance to feel whatever I am led to feel by the path I'm on.

Portland, Maine

Seven Days in the Life .... Death ..... Life

Christmas night.

Powdery snow. Very cold winds. Deserted streets.  Eye-level spots of colored light are everywhere: red, green, blue, white, orange.

Two mylar balloons, blue and silver, are tied to a light pole - they thump softly in the wind.

The night seems tired. Expectant. Tensed for travail that may or may not come.

If you've been following my Facebook posts you'll know that one week ago this morning - or a lifetime ago in our hearts - my dear friend Catherine Collins Bernard suffered what seems a one-in-a-million medical injury during a routine laproscopic procedure at Mercy Hospital.

That deeply internal injury led to a complete bleedout and began a massive, heroic fight to save her life.

Catherine led it.

90 minutes of chest compression. Heart failure due to blood loss. Possible brain damage from lack of circulation. Surgery to stop the bleeding. Possible intestinal ischemia. Possible lateral herniation.

And that was day one.

On night one she shocked everyone by squeezing our hands in response to questions. She should have been dead.

Her sheer determination to stay alive, coupled with her physical strength, defeated every possible setback over the next 5 days.

Catherine is perhaps my best friend in the world, one of those people who knows everything about you. Not someone you tell everything to, but someone who knows everything, beyond mere telling - someone with a rock bottom sense of who you really are - not that they love it all, or even like it, but a person who knows what the really important parts are.

Though some of the specifics of your identity may not sit well with them the totality of it is clear and beloved.

And so it is with Catherine.

She is also the "mother" of Chief the Wonderdog (shown above), a huge, rescued brindle Greyhound who celebrated his 11th birthday Monday last, the day before it all broke loose.

I was terrified. Once on site there was the paralyzing sense that I could do nothing, that I would do anything, but could do nothing - to keep her safe, that the idea of losing her was intolerable. It took over my stomach, climbed up my back with talons of ice.

One week later - one lifetime, it seems - I've spent every spare moment, ended every evening with sitting at her side, channeling all the grace and energy - and violet light, at one friend's suggestion - into her hand. It's what you do for a friend you truly love.

So now we're transitioning into the recovery phase, with the occasional setback. This is just how it is.

Tonight, Christmas night, I can only breathe, listen to my feelings and thoughts, acknowledge the friends and loved ones - pretty much the same, actually - who have held me up so I could hold up Catherine's family and all of us hold her up.

Or she held us up, in some strange way.

Something like this puts your life in context - puts everything in the universe into a context. You see how it all relates, connects - all for one terrifying, astounding, eternally unfolding instant. Then it ends and you have to live it to recover it.

At least now you are aware of what is possible and you must change. You must.

I must change so that I can be there to hold a hand and give.

Portland, Maine

The Balance

Lee Elementary - my first alma mater
Tonight, rather ill with flu and tolerating an enforced home stay to recover my energy I find it useful to follow events online and write about them in the same place.

The first wave of reactions:

The country reels from the shootings in Newtown CT - horrified, terrified, emotions settling like a flight of birds, momentarily calm and organized then whirring off again. Fight or flight. The horror of contemplating frantic parents rushing to the fire station near Sandy Creek Elementary, slowly seeing others reunite with their children, the sense of despair building as they see all the survivors reconnect.

I can imagine it. I've lost people suddenly, without preparation, even students, but never a child.

I've always served in loco parentis. Your sense of protection is fierce. The loss experienced by these parents must be paralyzing.

You do not know what to do. We watched developments online at the Orchard that Friday and were horrified. I saw in my mind all my ex-students - some of whom work right there in the store - and found fear and love I never knew was there before.

The second wave of reactions are starting to come in now:

Calls to action. Those who were further away, whose loss is not personal but also profound, they reach out. Vigils are held, political positions taken.

Perhaps there will be change. I hope so. I find myself willing to help.

In "Blink - the Power of Thinking Without Thinking" Malcolm Gladwell shares that the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo took all of 3 seconds - 41 shots. All them based on a horrible series of false impressions. And, that dramatic depictions of violence never look like that. 

We tell ourselves that guns are used to settle arguments. They're not. They're used to throw tantrums that kill. Guns do not kill people. People kill people using guns. I've had it.

Tonight I believe in the scary things. 

The senseless things that caper and kill and rip the bonds of life asunder. I believe in shadows and the light that causes them. 

In people who stand in light and cast shadows and turn from one to the other and back again - and who can see both the light and dark of those who share the world. 

Knowing that we all can reflect great light and cast great shadows and that though we cannot choose to be all light or all dark we can choose which one we reach out to. 

And that in reaching out to each other we reach out to ourselves.

Perhaps that irrational hope will balance the irrational horror visited on us all.

We shall see.

Portland, Maine

A Child Of My Own Invention

Sorry to have taken so long to write again. The reason why is in the video posted above. Hope you can come join us.

I've been up to my neck in both the heavy weight of retail life and the intense demand of creative focus.

For those of you not following me on Facebook - and the five of you know who you are - I just last night finished the score for Acorn Theatre's production of "The Legend of The Golem".  I watched the final runthrough yesterday evening and though the timing of the scene changes needs to tighten up the show flows well and will be a great evening's entertainment.

Today I took a long walk up "my mountain" - Bradbury Mountain, in Pownal. The mountain is different, the last time I saw it was at the peak of Fall color.

Now it is bare bones - ice underfoot, puckering the mud, hiding under the leaves. You can see the structure of the hills and trees, the air is stark and cold. The light in the late morning was bright and sere.

Since today was a rare Thursday off and I'd seen the end of my active work on The Golem I'd planned on taking the walk after sleeping in....

..... and sleeping in had led to a rich dream - as are many I remember on waking.

There was a mountain, it was Fall and my path led up to a town with engaging people; their homes rustic and sophisticated in how they blended the rocks and trees of the hill into their structure.

The sun was bright and the weather cool.

They heard me singing and rapping on the trees to keep time so, naturally, I was asked to stay to teach the children to create music and movement, to learn to tell stories in more ways than just words.

Strangely the idea of starting a marching band never entered my thoughts.

The classroom was an enclosure easily opened to the outside and we sang and worked. They were very sophisticated children in terms on knowledge and having electronics and toys. But the idea of opening themselves up to movement and singing - to trusting themselves to create - seemed oddly new to them....

....except for one boy, about 7, blond, tousle-haired, glasses, blue eyes in a round, curious, serious face.

Consider Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" and you might come near to what I dreamt.

As we moved to an open amphitheater to be observed by parents and family members I challenged the children to one of the simplest theater games - "mirrors".

If you've not played it it has one goal - to make two people move as one solely by observation and a willingness to let go and trust someone else to lead. Stand about arm's length apart with one person designated as "control" and the other as "follower". Start with one hand, then an arm, adding more of the body as the partners observe and imitate - just like looking in a mirror.

The point of the game is not to "win". The point is to play the game well. You shouldn't tell who is in control and you can switch as you go along.

I love it.

And this young boy was the only one to volunteer to play.  He was good. He followed me through basic moves and then through moving the whole body, on one leg, then the other, down on all fours, crawling, waving. Then I gave control over to him and we moved in delightful, unusual, funny patterns and the amphitheater fell away.

We moved close to each other and I could feel his back against mine as we lay on our sides in the warm sun. I suddenly realized that we had backed into a corner, putting ourselves in a position where we couldn't see each other to initiate the next move.

"Extend your free arm upward and I'll move you out" I whispered.

My arm rose as I felt him against my back ....

..... and I realized that I was reaching for the ceiling of my apartment, my back against a pillow where I'd felt him the moment before.

My walk up the mountain lasted until the music in my head wasn't coming from The Golem. There was a tango, a milonga, thoughts about a possible film score, a waltz ...... and the sound of the mountain, the quiet rumble that I can hear even more clearly as the rest of Nature sleeps.

I played the game of Mirrors as long as I could until it had to break to continue - if that makes any sense.

For better or ill you have to stop a game sometimes to reset and begin again. I don't think there is any "good' or "bad" or "win" or "lose" - there is just "doing it well" and then moving on to the next thing.

Very curious to hear what happens next.

Portland, Maine

Born Under a Thankful Star

There are times I hate Thanksgiving.

Now that I work retail - let's face it, I'm not a professional, not an academic, not self-employed, I work in a mall for dollars per hour - I sometimes begrudge any moment that takes me away from my piano, anything that keeps me from writing, arranging, orchestrating, organizing or thinking about music.

Like today. I've already been to one friend's house for a charming, simple dinner with parents and Chief the Wonderdog in attendance. But I had to leave off orchestrating a tango in order to do it - and this piece is going really well.

So now I'm taking a few minutes to write this before plunging back into my headphones and the complexities of digitally sample bandoneon notes - all this three precious hours before heading out again for a dinner - then straight to another house for dessert and "chatting".

And tomorrow is Black Friday. My call is 5:30 a.m., we open at 6:00 a.m. and I can't stay up late to write and frankly I also can't wait because when I'm not writing music or dancing I'm immersed in a sea of fascinating humanity in the company of engaging, intelligent colleagues and it's fun.

The whole thing strikes me as a bit of a waste.

You see, Native Americans tend to be thankful for everything around them, all the time, every waking moment.

I grew up aware of the connections that are present amongst everything in reality - people, animals, plants, rocks, computers, bar stools - everything is connected and has some purpose and relationship to me and everything else.

When you are aware like this - and it drives me crazy sometimes (almost catatonic as some of my tango friends can attest) - then everything that happens makes some kind of impression. The parts that make up observed, experienced reality have an almost conscious presence and you acknowledge how they make your life better - or that they're just there so their very presence confirms your sense that you're alive.

I am grateful for the sun in the window, the cool of the breeze, the sound of the waves, the touch of my computer keyboard, the food in my belly, the spots on my screen and the screen wipes I use to clean them off.

There is an almost constant low-level hum of gratitude and awareness that I ignore only at my greatest peril.

The idea that you would take a whole day off just to acknowledge what you have now - not necessarily what you've always had - and follow it with a day dedicated to standing in line to seek and buy things you don't have - well, it seems a little silly to me.

So I will eat pumpkin pie (actually have most of one in my 'fridge now) and turkey with folks I know and care about - and fret about wanting to write while I have the time and energy.

The YouTube link above is to the Fort Duchesne, UT Thanksgiving pow wow - the type of dance is a men's straight dance (a traditional type of form as opposed to a "fancy dance" form where it's more improvised) called a "sneak up" - the movements are taken from a hunter tracking prey.

If I seem cranky today - cranky in general - know that I am very grateful for all the moments I'm given and the people and things that fill them.

It just looks really odd on me.

So now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work on this milonga so I can then get back to work on the score for "The Golem".

Happy Thanksgiving, blah, blah, blah.......

The Point of Aphelion

If tomorrow all the things were gone
I’d worked for all my life
And I had to start again
with just my children and my wife ...

Tuesday evening was the end of a seemingly long day - though I'd gotten off work at 5 p.m. an hour stole away disguised as a nap in front of my computer.

The evening was cold, clear - pocked with stars.  I have enough curiosity about people to want to see how the elections came out - the last time I'd waited at the door of my polling place three hours before they opened, chair, comforter, table, coffee and laptop all to hand - comfy but alone except for people I met. This time I'd voted a week before. The seeming crushing possibility of President Obama's defeat made me want to find other people of a like mind to share it with.

I’d thank my lucky stars to be livin here today ...

My aimless ramble took me by the Holiday Inn By the Bay. Outside was my friend K - a wonderfully imaginative colleague. She was out smoking a cigarette (her one vice) and I offered her a hit from my hip flask, full of good single-malt whiskey (a Mac Clellan Islay - one of my many vices).

Knowing her orientation confirmed that this was the headquarters of the Yes On 1 watch party (K was helping watch doorways - she's a black belt in karate - you 'effin' DON'T mess with her). Perfect place and company with whom to wait for the apocalypse. 

The crowd in the room was surprisingly sparse but it was barely past 8 p.m. I kept looking for a place to sit but no chairs were available except for sofas in the hallways.

‘ Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away ...

I ran into a lot of gay/lesbian/transgendered friends, a catalog of people going all the way back to the first years of my life here in Maine.

Teachers, Ex-students, Cathedral people, Orchard people, theatre/dance people - all there in solidarity - and comfort - for this most basic of political affirmations - that gay people could be considered people, enough so that they could do really simple things like love, marry, build families, exist.

As the evening progressed my flask was confiscated and its contents emptied into a trash barrel - I love that flask - and I gladly switched to fruit juice. The room was filled with a nervous energy, bravado, a bit of fear, a sense of rightness that bordered more on certainty than arrogance.

No one thought it was in the bag. There was a lot of business at the cash bars - less so at the  cheese/fruit/chip buffets in the middle of the room.

And I’m proud to be an American,where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died, who gave that right to me

Returns came in. Democratic - I prefer to use the proper noun as originally intended rather than the right wing's phrasing as Democrat - Democratic candidates and causes seemed to be slowly pulling ahead in pretty much all the races.

I was most heartened by Elizabeth Warren having trounced Scott Brown. Facebook posts and tweets were coming from friends in Massachusetts, all of them equally heartened.

There are few things in the world that will make me physically angry. The pudgy frat-boy exclusionist racism displayed by Brown's campaign staffers earlier in the Fall had crossed that line. I really wanted to see Brown suffer - and least morally - and it was very satisfying to see it happen.

I suppose I'll return to my usual, inclusive self - but not today.

And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today ....

At 11:00 a flight of staffers fanned out through the crowd, telling us that we needed to in the ballroom to hear an announcement. I'd been on a sofa trying to find results online, gave up and went in.

The director of communications for Yes on One, surrounded by campaign staff, started thanking his people - the further he went the bigger the spoiler became, especially when he started crying.

Finally he said what people were dying to hear - the Question had passed. Gays would now be able to marry in the great State of Maine.

The room erupted into a solid wall of ecstatic sound, individual voices lost in a sea of excitement.

It was genuine pandemonium - well, that might be the wrong word because that word means "many demons" and there was no evil the the room. Quite the opposite - a lot of healing and closure was going on, real-time crossing over from fear and anger into acceptance and peace.

And really loud shouting, accompanied by rather enthusiastic behavior.  I almost had my first-ever gay kiss but someone intercepted the guy while he was grabbing my arm. I assume they were friends.

Oh well. Probably better if he kissed a gay guy rather than me. Besides being the only Native American in the room - that I could see - I might be the only straight guy.

I'm used to being the only one in the room.

But only in terms of getting kissed. We were all, finally, equal in actuality of the law and affirmation of society - as well as morally.

Thank you, my gay friends, for giving the rest of Maine a chance to catch up with where you already are.

A knot of us stood in a corner, trading stories, chatting as intimate strangers will, when from the far corner a roar began. It pulled people over like water suddenly freed through an opened drain.

Ohio had been declared for President Obama - it was over.

And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today

Now we all exploded. Dance music, present all evening, suddenly doubled in volume and people jumped and screamed. Hugs. Dancing. I'm sure people were kissed but I was too busy standing and smiling.

Then, suddenly, the music switched to a solid country-western beat. Lee Greenwood's redneck anthem rang out - "I'm Proud to Be An American". Of all the choices Chris O'Donnell - the DJ and former drum corps person - could make, why this one?

Then an amazing thing happened. The shouting died down and people began singing along with Lee Greenwood ....

...... and suddenly it all made sense.

The mindless - literally, it seems - irrational conservative agenda had appropriated the idea that they were the "real" America and only they could be "patriotic" - that if you wave the flag you were in favor of George Bush and his disastrous wars, you acknowledged that "white" culture was the best, you were against a woman's right to choose, of committed couples of any gender to marry, that there were "kinds" of rape, that some cultures were better just "because" .....

..... and all of it - every last bit - had been rejected

‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA

We were given back our country. Given back our flag.

All of us - gays, straights, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, Caucasians, men, women, kids - oh, and one Native American standing alone and smiling - all of us were Americans.

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

After midnight. The air was cold, the sky pocked with brilliant stars. The three block walk back to my apartment was slow, thoughtful.

It was now a new day.

I went to bed, eager to get up to meet it.

And I gladly stand up
next to you and defend her still today

‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA

Portland, Maine

Hanging With the October People

I love this time of year.

Many of my friends know that I pretty much love every time of year, same as I love every time of day. But, as I lean toward sunset and early morning as the first amongst my favorite times of the day I hold late Autumn, particularly Hallowe'en as the first amongst my favorite seasons of the year.

I've spent the last week on a farm in South Paris, the site of my vacation last year. This time I spent a good deal of effort taking long hikes on the many trails in the area, culminating in a walk in the White Mountain National Park - or, Grafton's Notch State Park, up Route 302 in New Hampshire.

The magic of this seasons, its changing leaves, cooling evenings, dramatic sunsets and sweet melancholy - all of it, speaks to something deep in my soul.

I like pumpkins and apples and cider as well. The final, hardier fruits of the harvests are taking over the tables of the Farmer's Market - tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes - thing that go well into crock pots and wait for you to get home from a good day's work.

I go through so much beef stock I should just boil a cow and have done with it each Columbus Day.

 Wednesday saw me come back into town for young Master Theo's birthday party. The son of my late, best friend Eckart Horn, whose widow, Molly, kindly turned the South Paris farmhouse over to my vacation, was turning 7.

What I thought would be a cake-and-ice-cream sing along turned out to be a joyous mass of 14 children in the backyard, lit by candles, my iPhone and a construction-style stand light, all opening, cleaning, marking and carefully carving what seemed an ocean of pumpkins into jack 'o lanterns of the most amazing designs.

Inside sat about 10 parents and other adults, chatting away over spaghetti and meatballs, waiting for the mayhem to produce workable lanterns, waiting for the birthday boy to preview videos he'd gotten earlier in the day.

There is a great, whirling, giddy excitement to be had in helping a child turn a pumpkin into a personality.  Your hands have a special scent to them, part candle wax, part sweet, squishy pumpkin innards.

I had to make sure I gave them a good scrub before I went to my tango practica.

Eventually we did sing for Theo, a cake was presented - which I had to decline because the spaghetti was sugar load enough. Besides which I had to go to practica and then drive back at under the glowing moon, back up into the hills to South Paris, under clear skies pocked with crystalline stars.

So I was very fortunate to partake of a sacrament of Autumn, hard by the Western Cemetery. A flight of pumpkins guard the house, a family I've placed under the protection of the sprits of my family.

There are rituals that keep us aware of the joy and magic that surrounds us, binds us as friends, as elders and as children - and we are all those things together at once. Perhaps later we will sort them out and learn the lessons each teaches but for now, the winds blows, the leaves turn and fall and swish under our feet and we all hold hands - to keep ourselves safe and to share the certainty of the love we feel.

Portland, Maine

Old Friends on Nob Hill

FaceBook Gallery is here.

1977 was my first visit to Grace Cathedral at the top of Nob Hill in San Francisco. My then very significant other, Nancy, an even greater devoteé of Madeline L'Engle (and her book "A Wrinkle in Time") than I, knew that Madeline's son-in-law was the dean of the Cathedral and I just had to go by to see it and its Einstein window.

I fell in love with the place and still regret that I was such a heel to poor innocent Nancy that she wasn't there to see it with me all the times I've managed to do so.

Such are the echoes of all first loves, I suppose.

Still, my week of training at Apple gave me a chance to visit on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

The first was a single run to the Cathedral Close to walk the labyrinth on the plaza to the facing right of the Great Doors.

A maze is a multicursal path, designed to get you lost. A labyrinth has a unicursal path, and is meant to help you find yourself.

The Cathedral website tells me that walking a labyrinth has three parts:

Purgation - walking in - where you release thoughts, cleansing the mind, opening the heart. Follow the path.

Illumination - at the center - where you stop, stay as long as needed, to receive peace and purpose.

Union - returning along the path that got you there - connecting with the Universe, the world around you - God, if you will.

Oddly I'd had this walk in my mind for a while, since it became clear I'd earned this week of training - it was very sudden and a lot of plans didn't come to fruition but I'm very glad this one did. I'd made a promise to the spirit of my late friend Eckart Horn, that I would do so with his contemplative spirit beside me.

And it was.

The Cathedral labyrinth is a copy of the one in Chartres cathedral - if you can trace the path you'll see it leads you almost directly to the center after only three turns - and then you have to navigate almost the whole thing before you finally arrive. It gives you a taste of success and then you have to trust that if you just continue on the way you will arrive safely.

It's a good lesson, one driven home by my week's work at Apple. I can't talk about process but it confirmed that I made the right choice in switching careers and that there is more that I can do, much more.

The next visit was Thursday, again a quick run in because we needed to get packed to check out early the next day - we were leaving to the airport later on Friday.

My carmate, Steve, from the Rockaway store, had never been to SFO before and we both knew we had to pack to check out. So I copped out and took him back to Nob Hill, parking at the Masonic Temple (another place I'd like to get in to explore) and took him down California Street and over down Pine to Grant and Chinatown.

I was right in later thinking we might have gone to Fisherman's Wharf or ridden the cable car - but time was tight and I didn't know those areas enough to get us in and out in a single commando-style strike.

Needless to say the Dragon Gate and bizarre little shops on Grant Street did not disappoint. The night was comfortable and warm - in fact the whole October week would have qualified as a great August weather spell back in Maine.

Being both photographers - well, I point a camera, he's a photographer - we got a lot of fairly tidy shots of nighttime sights. No vampires (that I could see) but still an atmospheric bit of scenery.

I had first really discovered Chinatown after watching John Carpenter's movie "Big Trouble in Little China". I strongly commend this film to you as it's full of Jackie Chan-style martial arts mayhem and has a strange, meandering, stylish script by W.D Richter (author of "Buckaroo Banzai and his Adventures Across the Eight Dimension" - which also has the coolest end credit sequence ever made).

A friend had joined me to see the movie, in SFO, just outside Chinatown - we had settled in when two hones-to-Confucius tongs showed up to watch too. We hunkered down in our chairs while about 60 really butch looking Chinese guys yelled and cheered at the screen in Mandarin.

Then they started yelling and screaming at each other. That's when we sneaked out the side exit.

Still, it made for an adventurous evening - both then and now. And that seems to be the theme of the entire trip - adventures, discoveries, conclusions and confirmations both interior and exterior. I'm grateful to have had the experience. Now I'm headed off to South Paris for a week of vacation and rest - and thinking about who I am now. Somewhere inside me I think there is something that already knows - I just need to listen to its voice and get organized.

Portland, Maine

Cupertino Tango

Before you ask, no, I don't know if a new iPad is coming out, if the iPhone6 even exists or whether Steve Jobs is cryogenically frozen in the basement of Infinite Loop 1.

I'm only posting photos that can be taken by the public - or starstruck Creatives - nor can I discuss the content of our training in anyway except to say that my sense of how right this job is for me has been joyously confirmed.

I can also say that the food at Caffé Macs is beyond amazing, though I'm sitting here at a patio table at our training site, eating a Subway sandwich and writing this post during lunch.

Sunday night I was taken under the wing of the amazing Joanne Gaskell - DOCTOR Joanne Gaskell - newly minted PHD from Stanford. We went to an amazing place called Alberto's in nearby Mountain View.

It's  a place rather like that my imagination conjures when I think of Buenos Aires - a large, wonderful floor, red-lit bar, well-stocked, a band stand and comfortable chairs surrounding the whole.

Arriving at the advertised time of 7 p.m. found us looking a floor with no-one on it. We had it completely to ourselves for almost 30 minutes and shared some wonderful dances to classic Argentine Tango music, beautifully sounded on the speaker system.

Alberto's is managed by an amiable Geordie lady by the name of Dorcas, possessed of a lilting Northern accent. The front door signs advertised lessons but, she informed me, those were only for bachada and salsa - not my cup of tea. She put me onto a couple teaching beginning tango and salon style tango at a local dance studio.

"Tell them Dorcas sent you". How often can you pass something like that up?

The time difference began to catch up with me and I sat most of the evening out, admiring the atmosphere and the floor craft of the locals. It was great to see the music dictate the end of a phrase of motion, all across the floor - HOW the phrase was danced was deliciously unique - but the consistency of the start/stop was great.

 We then sat at the bar, catching up, her explaining the paper she's presenting at a conference in Canada (her home country) and me explaining what my writing and work were becoming.

The actual real work of my trip began the next day and it went very well.

Last night after a quick tuna-fish sandwich at a local deli I headed back to Mountain View to the Cheryl  Burke Dance studio and a couple of lessons with people who didn't know me from Adam and who would take my dancing totally at face value, for good or ill.

When they advertised "basic tango" they weren't kidding. They showed us some very basic exercises for building the proper control of weight needed for salon-style. The second class was a bit more advanced, using the basics to teach a simple combination of front ocho, parada and cross.

It was pretty clear I had a good grasp of basics - so I found myself the focus of a great deal of arm and foot technique - much beyond simple steps.

Most all of my followers were Russian - Ludmilla, Irina, Katerina - and considered again the mystery of why Russian women, Russians in general, seem to be so facile at Argentine Tango.

Maybe it's the sadness of the music.

So now we're starting to gather back to continue the day's work. Part of me wants to go into San Francisco, part wants to stay at the hotel tonight and just rest. There's a bit of congestion in my chest and I need to relax a bit and rest. Perhaps go for a walk.

But a sense of excitement and verve are under the surface of all that I do here. There is a lot of work to be done and this journey is far from over.

I am glad - and a little surprised - that I took time out to dance and take classes.

I'll keep you posted as to what happens next.

Cupertino, CA


As my friend C. observed, I am a genuine Cirque Geek.

The Cirque du Soleil has been a template for a lot of my teaching.  There's a reason it resonates with my life.

I've mentioned my DCI Championship performance, winning a gold ring in 1977.

The biggest memory was the view of 34,000 people standing to cheer the end of our performance. I'd not been really focussing on them and they suddenly appeared as we stopped to breathe at the end of "Rocky".

That feeling of accomplishment, of reaching into the hearts of an audience and igniting passion and joy has never left me. The feeling - if not the experience - is what drove my teaching in public school.

So I was thrilled when the Cirque show "Saltimbanco" was scheduled at the Civic Center.

Usually I try to go with C. but budgets and schedules didn't match until too late.

Still I managed to see it last night, again today with my friend A. and her 8 year-old daughter. I love watching children experience the Cirque for the first time.

In the second act, there is a number called "hand to hand" or Vis Versa. I've seen it performed with a mixed couple as well as with two men, as here. Either way it is a dramatic expression of what I get from the Cirque more than anything else.

I started crying during the performance. It suddenly hit me very hard.

While watching it this afternoon I was stunned to see them miss the last skill, an amazing front to back transfer that ends this YouTube video. Friday night they nailed it - Saturday they choked it.

Like every mistake that happens in a Cirque performance they tried it again (last night the juggler had three tries before he got the 10-ball shower - a Russian swing jump onto a suspended Russian board had to be repeated).

But the calf muscles of the porter (the one on the ground - the mover is called the flyer, even in an act like this) just gave out and he couldn't do the final lift. They took a bow and the crowd gave them a huge ovation for being willing to try.

My tears came from a sudden voice in my head. "You decide what you want, you plan it out and then you move". Very simple but suddenly it seemed those words were meant for me - that they were something that I could do.

Sounds absurd - a man in his mid-50's suddenly realizing he had control of how his life could go, but there it was.

The thing about watching the Cirque is the quick realization that those are people up there - dedicated, trained, consumed, disciplined people - who are that good because they are doing something they love - and love bears all trials and questions.

Tomorrow I'm flying out to Cupertino CA for a week of Creative training at Apple headquarters. I have plane flights, rented car, hotel room, expense account, the works. I wanted this to happen since I joined this company four years ago and now it's going to happen. I had to pass tests, work my way from the sales floor (red zone) to Small Device support (Family Room Specialist), set up the Summer camp and Field trip programs - and saw them become strong enough to turn over to others.

This company is as much concerned with excellence as the Cirque - and our success proves the rightness of this approach.

My job may not seem like much compared to my friends who are doctors, lawyers or full-time professional artists. Frankly I don't have time to care.

I look at the detail of my journey to this point, to those tears joyously confirming my small claim to stand on the stage of those who have accomplished what they meant to do by hard work, sacrifice and a belief that not only could they do it but they wanted and deserved to try.

So now, in a few hours, I'm going to see what I can do to start my next move.

I'll keep you posted.

Portland, Maine

Jim's Eternal Dilemma

"I'm sorry. Are you alright? I didn't mean to hit you and I shouldn't have been riding on the sidewalk.

"Oh no, your phone is broken! Dude that was my fault! Can I help pay for a new one for you?

"You look shaken up, your lip is bleeding.

"No, I'm alright, dude I hit you.

"I'm totally sorry and it was totally my fault".

Actually, that's not how it happened. I had walked C. to her car after First Friday and was checking messages on the corner of Congress and Dow, by the 7/11 when I suddenly felt a crash and an arm reach in front of me, forcing my brand new, week-old iPhone out of my hand.

I think it was a grab for the device.

Then a rapidly retreating voice saying, "Asshole, you were standing there."

I picked up the phone, saw its shattered front, turned and shouted at his retreating back .... "Dude I'm not the one riding on the sidewalk!!"

The flashing red tail-light - at least that was street legal - disappeared down the sidewalk, across Congress and down Mellon Street.

So let's recap what we've learned:

- if you can take something from someone by force or trickery, then do it. Opportunity imputes justification.

- causing loss or pain to another person is fine because you will not feel it.

- there are no such things as victims. Victims are people who don't deserve what happens to them. Anyone not actively trying to gain or use an advantage of any kind is a fool and is therefore unimportant.

- Never, ever admit that you have done wrong, caused pain to another, or broken the social contract we all share. If you do not admit it, it did not happen.

- always, always, always blame the person you hurt. Put them in the hole first so you can kick them as they climb out to confront you.

All my life - all of it, from the very first moments I remember encountering other people - I have never, ever understood the games of power and personality that other people participate in. I've never understood lying, bullying, cheating, stealing, belittling, vandalizing - all of it - even when I was doing it myself.

And the vulnerability I feel is truly frightening. I'll have to buy a new phone - one week after buying one - my lip is split inside, the bleeding has stopped - and my left side is very sore and I'm a little dizzy and flushed.

But I think at the core of my being is joy and curiosity, shadow and light. The hatred and anger I feel right now is very, very hot and bright on the surface - but has no real deep source to fuel it and it will therefore burn out eventually. So I will go on and see what I have to work with tomorrow.

Keep close the peace I have always wished for you, even when my own is far, far away.

The Groom of Frankenstein

Related FaceBook gallery is here.

The road is very straightforward, though it winds through some of the most challenging curves in New England. I start at 9 in the morning on Thursday, heading out after dropping in to wave at C. and give her greyhound, Chief the Wonder Dog, a quick scratch.

I have three days off. They'll be spent at Butternut Farms, with my friends Chuck and Nancy.

The day is warm enough so that I can't describe it with the cliché of "crisp. It is pleasantly cool and I drive with Ianto's windows open just a bit, enough for a breeze but not enough to drown out "RadioLab" issuing from the speakers.

I pass a lot of road work - the sudden clarity of Fall and the rapid onset of changing color serving to encourage road crews to get things done just a bit faster - there are only so many days left until more time is spent plowing and sanding than paving and grading.

Moose Lake is passed, electric blue besides Shawnee Peak. The colors are just starting to overtake Summer's green. I make a mental note to try to climb up there before much longer. I'm not a skier but hills and trees have taken over my imagination lately.

Shortly I arrive at North Conway, stopping at a scenic turnout just beyond to get a view of the White Mountains up the valley. Their tops are wrapped by a sheaf of clouds far away and above me.

"I'm going to be up there in a little bit. I'm going to be amongst those clouds".

Eventually I arrive at the parking lot which served at the base camp for my climb of the Arethusa Falls some weeks ago. Today I am taking the other path from the parking lot - a base trail that fronts the massive Frankenstein Cliffs that beetle far over my head.  Eventually, in a mile or less, it will climb under the Crawford Notch Scenic Railway and lead right up to the base of the cliffs themselves, far above me.

The trail will then wind along the front and then ascend above the escarpment to merge with the Arethusa trail far overhead and return by the trail I took earlier, returning me to the park.

I am aware that I promised I'd be at Butternut Farm in East Burke, VT, in time for tea so I feel a bit rushed.

The base trail is challenging and my thick soled shoes, perfect for hiking and the moderate trails on Bradbury Mountain don't have the grip to aggressively negotiate the 45º left-to-right angle of the trail. The surface, when not piled with ottoman-sized rocks is made of a stony gravel in a dirt matrix.

Footing is risky. You have to think ahead on every step, planning sequences of 3-4 steps ahead so you don't get tangled. A slip will plunge you down the slope and the rocks are very large and would very unforgiving in the state of a fall.

Still, the light is beautiful, fungii, mushrooms and real fairy circles can be seen almost every 10 feet. Nature runs riot against the mountain.

The Crawford Notch Scenic Railway train passes just above my head - if I crash straight up I can almost touch the cars - if I do so to get a good picture I might well pop out of the woods with my head under the wheels - I'm that close.

But I cross under the Frankenstein Trestle and arrive at the final push that takes me up the steep, rocky and root tangled trail up to the base of the cliffs. The trail blazes, yellow paint patches on trees, are hard to see and I have to trust to my observations of where the trail is worn down before I see the next blaze.

My treasured walking sticks confirm their identity - they are walking sticks, not climbing sticks and they become sudden nuisances. I'm carrying only a fanny pack for the camera and realize I have the wrong shoes, the wrong tools and the wrong storage system. No first aid kit and the cell signal was gone before I left the parking lot.

I take a few seconds to decide on how I'll take a fall: posture, arm position.  A mistake now could be genuinely dangerous.

But now I'm at the cliff face, a powerful wall of stone rises above me for almost 150 feet. I'm acutely aware of the power of the mountain, the slow roar of it's energy, the water rushing down from inside the stones, carving out the stones littering the trail, washing down the gravel making my footing so treacherous.

And now, pictures taken, apple eaten, water drunk, I lean back against the 45º incline and begin to work my way down. Legs are sore, balance is risky and for the first time I realize how ill-prepared I am, technically and physically.

Then it happens. I try to shift my poles to balance my next step through a set of rocks leading back to gravel path and I find myself pitching. My core muscles are too tired to hold my weight back and I'm falling forward to crash into the face of a stone and then slam into the gravel between two heavy rocks.

The pain is explosive in both my forearms, stars burst into my vision. I can only lie there, slowly moving fingers, toes, then wrists and ankles, arms and legs, then carefully lever myself up a bit.

I'm facing down hill at an angle and I decide to move my legs down rather than try standing up against the hill. Everything seems to be working and though my arms are bleeding from substantial scrapes nothing is broken or paralyzed.

So the journey continues down the trail. One of the poles is bent, I try to fix it and shorten both to give me a more centered leverage. Should have done that at first - better still, should have brought a climbing axe.

Eventually I reach the train track and risk getting hit by the train so I can make my way back to the car.

The beauty and danger of this raw, unprocessed look at nature are real. I keep wanting to shoot pictures of everything - and I do, but not continuously.

I prefer, now, to keep these images locked inside me, to share the lessons I've learned and visions I've seen by being the kind of person who has experienced them rather than just passively recording them.

How this will turn out I do not know. I could have been seriously injured, easily killed. I only know I have something inside me to bring back and share and in the coming days I'll give it a name and local habitation.

I hope the Autumn is as lovely for you. The Fall definitely has been for me.

Portland, Maine

Warrior's Rage

This is me and Gary.

Gary is a Vietnam vet, a tough, no-nonsense kind of guy.

To see him dance is like watching a hawk soar above the ground in search of game: smooth, graceful, effortless, constantly aware. He dances with a singleness of purpose expressed in every movement, no show, no exhibitionism.

Pure grace and power, Danger and beauty. The perfect dance of a warrior. I can only move smoothly and, awestruck, try to keep out of his way.

But if you'll notice, he's very blonde; up close he has electric blue eyes.

And when I first met him, a decade or more ago, I was stupid enough to think he was a Caucasian (or "white guy", as we Natives say), a member of what I've dubbed the "Kakkapoopoo Tribe", wannabes aspiring to connect to Native wisdom, as if seeking wisdom from any source wasn't a legit way to become wise.

Shows you how stupid I was. I've since apologized to him.

Because his parents are from Tahlequah, the tribal headquarters in Oklahoma, to which place my father has just recently moved.  He has 50% Cherokee blood in the Bird clan, which makes him distantly related to me.

It also makes me an even bigger fool.

Earlier this week a CBS affiliate in Boston released footage shot at an Elizabeth Warren rally, footage of major staffers from her opponent's campaign making tomahawk chops and fake war whoops at one of her rallies. Video feed follows ...

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The argument from the pasty-faced, over-priced doughboys being that Dr. Warren should not be taken seriously because she's Native, that because even the small degree of blood she possesses disqualifies her candidacy.

No. I believe they think it entirely removes her right to aspire to a position of responsibility.

Scott Brown said, right off the bat in their first debate, that looking at Dr. Warren would tell you she wasn't Native. Then he waved the flag of "Affirmative action", guaranteed to get white men off the couch to vote her down.

"Because you are, you cannot".

One of the great lies in human experience.

I heard that lie buried behind so much of what I was taught during my formative years. I learned it between the shining lessons and discipline of my amazing schooling - on the playground, from "playmates", teachers on duty, my parents - eventually myself.

Learning from that voice - not drowning it out or silencing it, but turning it on itself as a bass line for really joyous music-of-life - this has been the greatest achievement of my recent years and it's only just beginning.

And now comes the mayor of Lewiston, Maine,  Robert Macdonald, telling the Somali immigrants that make up %10 of the town's population that they need to "leave their culture at the door".

"When anybody comes here from any country, they have to embrace our culture." Right. 

I'll drop by and visit him in his tipi anytime. What a dumb bastard.

"Because you are, you cannot".

Because you are gay, you cannot marry. Because you are Native you cannot lead. Because you are Jim you cannot be happy. Because you are fat you cannot dance. Because you are black you cannot vote. Because you are a woman you cannot have the same pay. Because you are a man you cannot cry. Because you are old you cannot learn.

One of the great lies. Buy into it and they have ropes tied to your very soul.

Belied by one of the great truths: because you are alive, you can.

Simple. How simple.


High and Congress Street - Portland, Maine.

Congress Square.

My daily constitutional.

After the Children's Museum and Theatre's Golf Tournament. After a nap on the Eastern Prom, a quick visit to wave at a friend and her daughter.

After an episode of "Top Gear" (the British one).

After seeing the bricks of the building across the street had lost their fireglow because the Sun had set.

Meine Spazierengang.

After the cemetery, the Exclusive Private Schoolyard, the Former Apartment Now A Condo, the House with the Tango Room in the Basement, the Dear Friend's condo, the B&B With the Strange Sculpture, the Old Church with the Bagpiper, the Scene of the Great Whorehouse Riot and after a stop for sobetto and a break.

After the Old Port Bar Row, the Shapely Women/Girls in the Twisty Skirts, the Tall Lady in the Classy Black Tights, the Cute Boys with Lattes, the Young Family with the Bouncy Little Girl and the Park with Large Stones Decorated with Tattooed Guitar Players.

After the Statue of the Unknown Lobster, after the Movie Theatre, after the Civic Center, after Portland's Oldest Pub, after the Children's Museum and the PMofA.

After I cross Congress to arrive at the last light before crossing High Street for my final stretch home.

After I follow my usual procedure and tap the "cross" button with my foot nothing happens.

The traffic light turns green but the "walk" light stays red. The traffic light turns red but the "walk" light  does not change to green.

The traffic crosses in front of me, continues down High Street.

The traffic passes  but with the "walk" light still  red a few pedestrians use the empty street to cross - but the "walk" light is red - the button has had no effect.

I tap it with my foot again and wait for the entire sequence. Still no "walk"light and still people cross over in both directions.  A cab driver turns right, in front of me, hesitating as if I'm going to cross but there's still no "walk" light so the cab driver continues, with the cab.

I walk to the other light on my corner and smoothly tap it with my foot, then wait for the sequence a third time. Still no "walk" light. The second button has had no effect.

Finally I give up. I run across High Street to the other side. It's only a simple, practiced motion to tap the button with my foot and then run back across High Street to the my corner to wait.

Sure enough, the traffic from High Street stops, the Congress Street traffic goes, the oncoming Congress street left turn comes toward me and then turns across and onto High Street, crossing in front and then on down and away. The button across the street seems to work.

And finally the "Walk" light comes on.  I jump, stomp. wiggle-hop, ocho and slide my way across the busiest street in the busiest corner of the busiest town in Maine.

And continue my walk home.

How do you celebrate your triumphs and joys?

Portland, Maine

Sunset and the Bridge

Related Facebook album is here.

Hard to believe the contrast time can cause.

This morning I'm at the Nonesuch Golf Course in Scarbourough. As a Board member of the Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine I need to support as many activities as I can, especially as I don't tread in the exalted financial levels that other people do.

So on this bright Monday morning I'm taking photographs, haring around in a golf cart documenting people having fun for a very good cause.

Saturday night I was on foot, wandering around the Western Promenade of Portland. I'd gotten off work late in the afternoon, stunned that I had to take yet another test to qualify for training at the Mothership in Cupertino, CA. I was pretty sure I'd already passed it two years earlier but we couldn't find the scores so taking it again was my plan B. (I went ahead and took it Sunday - passed, 90% - whew)

Melancholy feelings and the beauty of a sunset on a bright clear day both resonate at the same low note. This prompted me to get out of my chair and head out with my camera.

Both of Portland's Promenades - West and East - are vestiges of the old sea captain days of the city - much like my old neighborhood in Tulsa was on the edge of the "old oil money" section. The houses are old and evocative of long past ages, different economies and sociologies.

The Sun sets behind the White Mountains, on this particular day you could see Mt. Washington, some 60 miles away. Somewhere in all of that was the Arethutstra Falls, which I'd hiked a few weeks ago.

The light was golden but fleeting. The Fore River estuary spread out below me, the Jetport on the other side, rail tracks, the new Mercy-On-The-Fore hospital complex, the county jail.

Far below, to the right, was the new Veteran's Bridge, the back door to Portland. The old bridge was being disassembled, its green-steel skeleton stripped of concrete roadway, was a ghostly sight as day ended.

It was a quick drive down the Prom, a parking space in the old Stephens Point traffic stop and then I was out in the dwindling light, a tripod and camera back both in tow.

Photographing the new bridge has been in my mind's eye for a while. It's a very simple, modern span. A pedestrian/bike path, well lit with overhead cantilevered lights, runs along the side; the rails are low, you have a great view of the water as you drive over.

The late Summer - well, early Autumn, to be honest - air was becoming brisk. I'd brought a long-sleeved t-shirt to layer on but still wound up wishing I'd brought a jacket. Cars drove by, no one honked. Even with so much traffic I felt oddly, comfortably alone.

Intricacies of mastering a new camera - in this case a Nikon D-70, a gracious gift from my dear friend C - can take your mind off physical discomforts - at least for a while.  Lying down on the concrete to get the angle of a jet flying over can put your mind back on it.

Autumn is definitely arriving, Summer is leaving. The signs are around us, the celebration changes from a picnic to a dinner party, a symposium on living, on transitions.

I love this time of year. Of course, if you've known me for a while you know that I love every time of year.  I love it like I love a good Malbec, it has a rich, complex flavor that I really don't have time to think about as I experience it.

So complexity, introspection, harvest and transition - deepening and darkening. Good verbs, good adjectives.

Shall we see how the leaves dance?

Scarbourough, Maine

A Place to Start, A Place to End

This photo, I might have mentioned before, is taken from live PBS broadcast of the 1977 Drum Corps International Championships, held in Denver, CO at the old Mile High Stadium.

PBS did a closeup of me on the very last note of the show. Not shown is the shot that followed afterward, a medium shot of my part of the baritone section, arms raised diagonally in a "V", horn in one hand, index finger of the other pointing "one" skyward - as my silver cummerbund almost slid down from my waist due to the weight I'd lost in an entire Summer of marching and working.

Well, dignity and victory may not always go together.

Today, I'm please to report - they did.

click to see full size

The software is called Logic Pro and I use it almost every day to create and produce music.

My goal for today was to be able to demonstrate my knowledge of every menu, slider, button, dial and colored box on this screen shot. Not only what they were but what they did and most importantly - why one might want to use them.

And wonder of wonders, I did it.

This was my fourth try. Had I not made it there would have been "professional consequences" - namely I would have had to have taken another test, this one on professional photography software, which I sometimes use but don't know in detail.

I will take that test but for right now I'll settle for letting my soul unwind to enjoy what I've accomplished.

I'm not used to feeling success. That might sound odd but I'm not used to it. I am used to being successful - had I not been so almost none of my career would have happened.

What is odd is that I don't feel successful.  Oftentimes I feel arrogant or misanthropic or plain scared - but it's hard to let the particular feeling of joy in oneself come to the surface.

Many of my Facebook friends have been graciously tolerant of my reclusive behaviour - I've said before i'm barely human at the best of times, I know I've been unbearable these last few weeks - well, more unbearable than usual.

So with this test done, and in good measure (89.71 over 80 possible) I can focus on writing again, focus on teaching, dancing, building relationships - as much as I can manage it.

Most import, again, is that I can focus on writing. I have a lot to say.

So thank you for keeping me in your thoughts - I will try to be more communicative in future, as much as I can.

Just for fun the YouTube video for the music you see in the Logic Pro screenshot is just above.....

Portland, Maine