Friday, February 26, 2010

Breath is Everything

Two things today, campers:

First off, I’m well. My medical test reports aren’t all in, but the direst conjecture has been ruled out: I'm not malignant, at least not physically. The jury is still out on my emotional/spiritual malignancy (joking…)

Second, I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing Todd Barton, a composer and musical director at OSF. He said a couple of things that completely blew my mind. The interview is too long to reprint here (plus, there may be copyright issues), but I had to share the three things he has learned in his years at OSF:

“#1, Breath is everything. All of your intention is in your inhale and if you're not clicked into your inhale…As audiences, we know when an actor goes up and loses a line. But there are also times when we go, ‘he didn't go up, but something's wrong.’ They got off breath. I think that's the force. #2 Listening. Deep listening. It's listening with - the third thing - curiosity. If you're paying attention to the breath and you're curious, you can usually listen deeply. There's a difference between hearing and listening. There's just taking in information, just hearing, because we hear whether we want to or not. Then there is listening that is connecting, being connected.”

He spoke extempore for over an hour and these were the kinds of things he said. Genius.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Word of the Day.... disambiguation. I had occasion to type the word "death" into Google (which is a story in itself) and the second hit returned was a wikipedia entry titled "Death: (disambiguation)."

Apparently wikipedia labels an entry as "disambiguation" when there are two entries for two distinct definitions of the same term. It is, as they put it, "the process of identifying which sense of a word (i.e. meaning) is used in any given sentence, when the word has a number of distinct senses." It's a tool used in something called computational linguistics, which is well beyond my puny powers. My daughter would understand.

If ambiguate is a verb meaning to make something ambigous, then disambiguate means to remove ambiguity. Here's what I know: there's nothing less ambiguous than death.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


It's my first full day home in the Colestin without Jake. The house feels vastly empty without him. He was a very quiet dog, especially in his last years, but he had presence. Those eyes -

I spent the day on the post-death clean up. I've been through enough deaths now to know the drill. Even our pets leave behind items that need to be discarded or donated, messes to clean up. We gave away his dry and canned food, washed his blanket and bowls, mopped his spot on the floor. There's always a sad finality to these chores and no joy in their completion.

He walked the earth softly did Jake. His presence was like a light. Even in his last years when deafness and illness slowed him down, he was always calm, attentive, present and willing. He was well loved by everyone who ever met him. I already miss him more than I can say.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jake, My Blue-eyed Son

It was 1997, probably late June. We were building the house on bare land in the Colestin and living in a teepee by the creek during construction. Our friend Michael Kyelberg (affectionately known to one and all as “the Spaceman”) was coming down from Wallowa to do some fine carpentry for us. He called before he arrived to say he had found this dog at a yard sale and thought we might want him. I was dubious, to say the least. I remember saying to him, “I don’t know Michael. We already have a dog, we’re living in a teepee, it may not be the right time to add another animal to the mix.” But “no” was not part of the Spaceman’s vocabulary and he showed up a couple of days later with Jake.

Jake. What an extraordinary dog. He arrived completely trained. He could sit, stay, lay down, roll over. Whoever had him before us invested a lot of time and energy into him, they must have been heartbroken to give him up. Any energy invested in that dog was returned infinitely multiplied. He was smart as a whip, probably had a vocabulary of at least 20 words. He was a good, obedient dog, but he knew his own mind. He loved people and wanted to be with people, but he knew he was not a person, he knew he was a dog. Does that make sense? He didn’t want to sit on the furniture or sleep in the bed or eat from the table, he never invaded anyone’s personal space. He was happiest and most comfortable when he was about 3 feet away from the person in charge, usually Sequoia but often me. Walking, sitting, laying around the meadow, there was Jake, always about 3-4 feet away. He paid attention but never demanded attention. He would greet you when you arrived, sniff your hand, accept a caress and then go about his business. He never jumped up, never barked, never made any fuss. My cousin Deb nailed it when she said that Jake was a gentleman.

Jake was a bodhisatva, a true teacher, and his subject was grace. He showed me what it looks like to be completely comfortable in your own skin. I suspect he skipped reincarnation entirely and went straight to Nirvana.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Post Mortems

It was one of the driest, warmest Januaries in memory campers, and that never bodes well for the summer. I blame myself. I rented a place in town, which pretty much guaranteed a mild winter. One of the more obscure corollaries of Murphy’s Law is, whatever I prepare for doesn’t happen, but the things I don’t prepare for are guaranteed to occur.

I took my after-dinner constitutional through Lithia Park tonight, staying on the lit streets. There were a series of attacks in Ashland recently, a rare occurrence in this little town. It was enough to get my attention. As I walked by the upper duck pond, something large dropped out of a tree onto the lawn below. Scared me half to death. I looked into the gloom and saw the white face of a large barn owl. I turned towards him and took a breath. He cocked his head and locked eyes with me. We stood in silence for several seconds then, pulling hard with his wings, he leapt off the ground and ascended into the trees. Don’t see that every night.

Which really has no bearing on the matter at hand, does it campers? Admit it: you want to know how the show at Alex’s went. As Jesse says, we rawked. I totally got my rock star on. There was a good size crowd and they danced like crazy. People went nuts. It was a satisfying night.

I took a second before we started playing to take it all in and really feel it. From my protected perspective behind the microphones I looked out at the crowd gathered to hear us play, heard the buzz of excitement in the room, the sound of laughter and shouted greetings, I could feel the anticipation, the energy. It was like that final pause before jumping off the diving board, like that hesitation before a kiss. In that moment I knew that there was nowhere else I'd rather be, nothing else I'd rather be doing. In that moment, I was happy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Another evening in Paradise

Hamfist is playing at Alex's tonight, a bar above the Ashland Plaza. I'm not nervous but am full of...anticipation. It's a real boozy bar crowd that wants to drink, dance, hoot and holler. That's usually right up our alley, but it has been many months since we played for that kind of crowd. Gotta be loud, fast, and out of control. We're bringing Punk Rock Girl, White Wedding, Blues My Naughty Sweetie, all our raucous tunes. We haven't been playing this material recently, so lord only knows how well we pull it off tonight.

Plus, what am I going to WEAR? At my age, there isn't much that looks good on me AND looks good onstage. Sigh... if I had one wish, I'd wish for the body that I had at age 17 paired with the brain I have now.

Then again, maybe not. That would be downright dangerous.