Coyotes

I often work outside in the yard at night. We live in a very rural section of central Connecticut, on top of one of the tallest hills in the area. We see and hear many different types of wildlife – from Eagles to Eastern Coyotes.

The Coyotes sing at night – last night I left my little Tascam digital recorder running, set about 12 feet above the back yard on a ladder.

Coyotes – Coyote Chorus
Coyotes vs. Dogs – Coyotes Vs. Dogs

Enjoy

The Christian

There is a famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi in which he states to admire Jesus, but not followers. In one version, he speaking to  E. Stanley Jones, author of “The Christ of the Indian Road”. In response to a question about bringing Christianity to India Mr. Gandhi states,

“I would suggest first of all that all of you Christians, missionaries and all begin to live more like Jesus Christ.”

I grew up going to Sunday school as a child. Our small Congregational Church here in Centerbrook only counted a few families as members. My great aunt  Catherine played the piano. In Sunday school we mostly read the Gospels and bits of the New Testament. There was an emphasis on trying to be like Jesus – in fact it was the name of one of the songs we used to sing: “Lord I Want to Be Like Jesus”.

The Jesus I came to know as a child was a kind, loving, forgiving presence. He was someone who could see the very essence of a person’s heart through all their bullshit, all their wounds, all the “things” they had become in life. The message to me was that I must always love my neighbor, that I must always strive to let go of material things, let go of grudges, that I must never judge and that I must develop a compassion and understanding for those less fortunate than I – whether that meant the poor in “pocketbook”, the poor in spirit, or even those lacking the same knowledge I had of our potential to be so loving and kind as to say we were indeed, “like Jesus”.

It wasn’t until later in life I realized that Christianity seemed to mean something very different to some other people.

As I read through the entire Holy Bible myself, it seemed to me that Gandhi made quite a powerful point.

I was not taught to worship Paul – although his writings reveal much about the early Church. I was not taught to bring judgment against my fellow human beings. I was not taught it was ok to rationalize my political beliefs using the Bible. This is the point where formal Christianity and I parted ways.

What do I think now? I think Jesus overturning the money changer’s tables would pale in comparison to what he might have to say to a few folks using His name today…

I also think Jesus would be a fast friend to a few of us doubting Thomases…. Who simple question what to believe in the face of so much religious zealotry and insanity.

I think if the folks so wrapped up in telling the rest of the country what to do would spend more time trying to be like Jesus, we’d all be better off.

Family and Funerals

LilyJoeyCharley

Joey, Lily, Charley Socci

I lost my mother on January 31, 2013.  A week later my uncle and God-Father Kenny died. My uncle Frankie died  less than two weeks later.
My dad died in 2005 and my only sibling, Joey, died in 1992. “Adult Orphan – When Parents Die” syndrome was a very real and very unexpected feeling for me.

 

 

 

Peter Socci

Charley and Peter Socci

It has been an enormously emotional time for all of us.

I don’t get to see my father’s side of the family that often. Through Facebook my wife and I recently reconnected with many members of the family. Also through our interest in dog rescue  we reconnected with my cousin Jodi who has  established her own 501 (3) (c) foundation Running For Rescues.

 

 

kenny

Kenneth Pinder

It has been deeply comforting and wonderful to be with my many Aunts, Uncles and Cousins during our recent losses.

Even though many years pass by, and in many cases decades, I always pick up exactly where I left off when I see them.

My father kept  them informed over the years, and he would also tell me what was happening in their lives… So – for example – even though I hadn’t seen my Uncle Frank in perhaps 10 or 15 years – all the memories from my childhood – all the conversations with my father – I felt I knew him well. He was a musician too, and so is his son. There is the added “way” musicians understand each other that I think we shared too…

frank

Frank DiCostanzo

I was really blessed to have the opportunity to visit with my Uncle Frankie, his dear mother Filomena “Fanny”, Aunt Marie and Cousins Frank and Jay during his final weeks – and to share some music with him. I can’t put into words how blessed I felt to be able to play for my uncle and his family. When asked to play Amazing Grace at the cemetery service I was absolutely honored. I can communicate so much of what is in my heart through music – and I just felt like I had so much to say. I wanted big Frank to know I looked up to him – if only from a distance. I wanted his family to know I understood and shared the pain of their grief. I can’t express any of these things 1/1000th as well as I can with the horn.

I didn’t get to see Uncle Kenny as much. But he and Aunt Tessie were my God-Parents and present when I was baptized over in the “other” church on the hill in New Canaan. Kenny served his country in the Navy and the New Canaan Fire Department for fifty years. These men are people I’ve looked up to – their sincerity, passion, values – and perhaps most important their ability to take the good with the bad and come out ahead of the game each time.

During the services and receptions I had the opportunity to see much of my family – My parents divorced in 1973, and so of my cousins were still being born. I have first cousins I never met until these funerals – and while its so sad to mourn the passing of a beloved father and uncle – it is also deeply joyful to reconnect.

I’d look across the room and know by the face who all the Soccis were. Its an unmistakable look we have in common. Then their children – and THEIR children. What beauty and sadness at the same time.

I know I look a lot like my father – and he talked about me quite a bit. As I sat on one side of the room I’d look to the other and catch the gaze of one of my uncles – and we’d just stare and smile. No need for words. Recognition. Love. Family. Straight from the heart.

Aping Jackie McLean

I started getting serious about music when I was 15. When I was 16 I wrote Jackie McLean a letter because I knew he had developed a music program at the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford, which was only a half hour from my house.

He graciously invited me to come and meet him in his office at the school. I was very familiar with his playing at that point and he was probably my very favorite alto saxophonist. I brought some of my favorite recordings which he autographed for me. He invited me to come to his house so he could hear me play, which resulted in my studying with him privately over the next few years until I graduated high school and entered the Hartt School.

By the time I graduated I really sounded like Jackie – or at least a fair rip-off. I always had my own feelings about music – but Jackie became a larger-than-life super hero to me during those years between the time I was 16 and my very early twenties. To me he was much like a parent, and I wanted to do and think about everything the same way he did.

Jackie had such a massive persona – it would take me many years to understand that and put that wonderful gift into perspective and integrate it into a “self” that melded peacefully into Charley.

My very first job out of school was playing in the lounge band on a cruise ship in Los Angeles. The house band was a really tired and disharmonious group – and it was very, very difficult for me – without going into detail, a young twenty-something from the East Coast fresh out of school with a big New York alto sound and ideas and presumptions to match was not exactly well received.

The highlight of the time I spent on that boat gig was a week-long jazz cruise featuring some of the legends who were still alive at the time.

I was practicing in the lounge one day – and in walked Billy Higgins himself, with a huge smile on his face. Jackie and Billy Higgins were very close.

The minute he saw who was playing the saxophone his face dropped. It was one of the type of moments I’ll never, ever forget.

He didn’t say anything to me. He didn’t have to.

I realized at that moment that I had some deep soul searching to do. I switched to tenor for many years.

In school it wasn’t popular to talk about anything outside the 50’s/60’s hard bop legacy. I began listening to all kinds of music and rediscovering my own tastes – and making my playing personal and more about me.

Two musicians who are very close to me – Tony Scherr and Tony Lee – made comments to me that there was something personal in my alto playing that they liked – and I realized I had “thrown the baby out with the bath water”. It wasn’t that I needed to stop playing alto – I just had to finally become Charley and play the alto like that.

There is still a lot of Jackie McLean in my playing – and there is a lot of Jackie McLean in who I am. He was a great mentor and remains one of my heroes. I’m free to express the Jackie McLean inside me – but it is now in the context of Charley.

This is something that took me YEARS to understand.

RIP – my mother, Lily Strange Socci July 30, 1924 – January 31, 2013

We’ll have more to say later. For now, the obituary I composed. Rest in peace ma…

Lily Strange Socci

Lily Socci

Lily Strange Socci of Centerbrook died at Middlesex Hospital, Middletown, CT on January 31, 2013. She was 88 years old.

She was born Lily Louise Strange, the youngest of three children, to Louise (Wright) and Charles H. Strange on July 30, 1924 in Pottsville, PA.

Lily was best known for her one woman show, “The Pink Lady”, which included original comedy, songs, and impressions of Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Mae West. She had appeared on stage or worked on stage productions with such notable celebrities as Art Carney, Joe E. Brown, and The Public Theater of NYC’s Joseph Papp.

She was the mother of two sons, Joseph Peter Socci born 1964, and Charles Strange Socci born 1966 of Centerbrook. She was the former spouse of their Father, Peter Joseph Socci who was remarried and died in 2005 in Danbury, CT

In addition to her theatrical activities she was a tireless advocate for closing the large state institutions and integrating the mentally challenged into the community. She cared for her Downs Syndrome son Joey at home until his death in 1992.

She also briefly taught art in the public school system, and was a lifelong lover of painting, drawing and pastels.

She obtained her undergraduate degree in English at Penn State, her teaching certification at Southern Connecticut State University, and a Masters in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University.

Lily was an active member of many organizations during her life time, including: The Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Association for Retarded Citizens, the Cappella Cantorum, Trinity Lutheran church choir, and the The Middletuners singing group of Middletown, CT.

She was predeceased by her son Joseph Peter Socci,  her Father Charles Hodgetts Strange of Jacksonville, FL, her Mother Louise Wright of Centerbrook, and two brothers; Charles Alfred Strange of Milford, CT and Walter H. Strange of Pelham, NY.

She is survived by her son Charley and daughter-in-law Kristin Lynn Socci (McGarigle) of Centerbrook, two grand-children, Alexander David Charles Socci, and Norma Lucille Louise Socci of Deep River, her beloved dog Champagne “Shammy”, and dear family friend of 50 years Frances Outland of Middletown – as well as her lifelong childhood friend in Pottsville, Evelyn Berger.

Family and friends may visit the Swan Funeral Home, 1224 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook, Thursday, February 7, from 5 to 7.  Funeral Services will be held Friday, February 8, at 1 pm at the Trinity Lutheran Church, 109 Main Street, Centerbrook CT.  Interment will follow at Centerbrook Cemetery.  Please visit www.swanfuneralhomeoldsaybrook.com for tributes and condolences.

Published in The Middletown Press  on February 5, 2013

 

I’ve composed a photo album for my mother, which may be viewed by clicking the following link. If you have any photos or video to share, please let us know! Our number is +1 860 581 8361 Lily Strange Socci Photo Album

 

Africa, What Have You In Store For Me?

Something I wrote down a while back.

Lake Kivu, Bukavu DRCOh, Africa, what have you in store for me?

I come from the west with a seed in my heart, what have you in store for me?

Things i can’t imagine, what does it mean to be human? Africa what have you in store for me?

Batuuli was raped by the rebels yet showers her love without limit on all she meets, Africa what have you in store for  me?

Haji’s hand was taken by the rebels yet today he plays the guitar, Africa what have you in store for me?

People with nothing yet rich beyond any measure in the things of the heart, Africa what have you in store for me?

Beautiful dawns, lush green days and tropical rains – nights filled with the smell of wood fires, Africa what have you in store for me?

$250 Chinese Made Soprano Saxophone Review, Opus USA

Purchased from KTone in Queens, NY – arrived in two days. Nice case, mouthpiece, reed, cork grease, cleaning rags, swab. Horn plays surprisingly well. Wouldn’t think twice about bringing it on a gig. http://stores.ebay.com/Ktone-Music-Store

The Law: God and Gravity

My wife and I got into a discussion the other day. She had gotten into a heated Facebook argument about gay marriage. We believe the legal, societal aspect of marriage is a legal one – a contract. Others believe it is a religious institution. I personally believe it is *both* –  and my marriage means more to me than a legal contract. But this is not the crux of our problem.

We are bothered by those who seek to impose “God’s Law” on everyone. We are annoyed and frightened by those who can’t separate science or governance from “faith”: defined in Hebrews 11:1 – “… faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

The clues here are “things hoped for” and “things not seen”.

This is the problem – not all of us have equal measure, or the same “impression” or “feelings” about those things that can’t be seen. Not everyone has the same “hope”.

Let’s talk about the Law of Gravity. A Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Hindu and an Athiest all go to Wal*Mart and buy a scale.

They weigh each other. The atheist weights 173 pounds. He weighs 173 pounds when he weighs himself, and he weighs 173 pounds when each of the other people weigh him.

Just for kicks, the group asks one of the clerks to weigh him. He weighs 173 pounds.

It doesn’t matter what science book we read. It doesn’t matter whether we believe in holy communion or offering sliced fruit on a shrine. It doesn’t matter whether we believe in worship of dead ancestors or no worship at all.

173 pounds is 173 pounds – Measurable and verifiable. There is no interpretation. No feelings. No impressions.

Now let’s talk about God’s Law. What is it? Answer: it depends on whom you ask – even if someone says “The Bible” or “The Koran” – it still depends on whom you ask. Of course there are those who claim to be the one “true” religion – to them I ask, according to whom? Can your statement be *independently verified* like the 173 pound athiest?

So having a religion is well and good if it makes you happy. Perhaps there is a beneficent God, and a Holy Spirit. Maybe the Catholics are right. Maybe the Jews are right. Maybe the Protestants are right. Maybe the Methodists got it right and the Episcopalians screwed it up. Who am I to say? (I don’t have any measure to verify they are or are not true,  just my feelings – which do not compare to the unarguable result produced when we all tested Gravity by weighing and comparing our result).

Until you have a test, that gives an answer like “173 pounds” – your religion is no more right than anyone else’s – and you certainly have no businesses trying  to create real laws that affect real people who believe differently than you do.

And by the way – your religion doesn’t belong in the classroom either. But we don’t mind if you want the teach the proper use of a scale.

Cheers.

Squirrels

When I got home this evening, two huge squirrels were sitting at my back door gorging themselves on a bag of birdseed that an unnamed resident of this household left out.

I approached and the two squirrels looked up.

     “Who the fuck are you?”, said they.

     “I live here, and I can’t believe my dogs haven’t eaten YOU”, said I.

     To which the fat squirrels replied, “YOUR dogs?”.

Then they ran ran off up a tree and I entered a quiet house – which was somewhat odd since if someone so much as farts at 3AM our dogs raise all hell…

Group Survival

Holidays often bring us together with people who share vastly different opinion and philosophy from us.

One can argue, or find common ground.

One thing I know is the survival of groups – be it from a scientific and evolutionary perspective, social or religious perspective; Groups only survive when their members learn how to take care of and look out for each other.

Who’s got your back today?

Time Travel

I’ve heard men say time travel isn’t possible. This past weekend I discovered it is real.

I went to an outdoor music festival with my son. I saw myself at 18, standing there among the crowds. I heard myself at 18 singing along to the music. I felt my awkwardness at 18 trying to meet a pretty girl dancing beside me.

Like one of Dickens’ ghosts I watched it all before me, my life at 18.

I think I might have even caught my own eye, looking and wondering what that grey haired man was doing there.

I Am the Captain of My Soul

My Mother used to quote this poem to me when I was a child. I hadn’t heard it since, until recently, spoken by actor Morgan Freeman in the trailer to the film Invictus, while I’ve yet to see.

Invictus
by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

In the fell clutch of circumstances
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of change
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the year
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

My Piano

I’m not a professional pianist. While the saxophone is my main axe, and the one I used to earn a living with, lately I’m more at home on the piano. When I return to the saxophone, the things I’ve worked out on the piano are there for me. My chops get a little rusty – but conceptually the things I’m learning and hearing seem to get worked out far more efficiently at the keyboard. I also feel a frreedom at the keyboard because I don’t hold my self to any particular standard, past or present.

I bought a full size Yamaha upright piano a few summers ago and I’ve been wanting to record it – just for fun, and also to analyze what I’m playing so I can get better. My wife Kristin bought me a pair of CAD GXL-1200 mics for my birthday.

Its a great sounding piano, at least I think so. I have it tuned every season, but its really tough this time of year. Even with the humidifier, the temp and humidity are all over the place and it doesn’t stay in tune for long. But it isn’t bad.

The mics were about $100 for the pair! Including cables!

If I were mic-ing the piano for real, I’d take the case apart and expose the strings. But I can’t leave my piano like that with two dogs and a cat… and I wanted to mic inside the case so I could just sit down and record it when I feel like it.

So I ended up mounting the mics inside the kick panel on two pieces of styrofoam about a foot in from each edge and halfway up from the the bottom, with the mics pointed in toward the strings and soundboard at about a 45 degree angle. It actually sounds ok – the levels were a few db’s too hot – so there is a bit of distortion on some of the peaks. listen to my new CAD gxl1200 Mics and Yamaha 52\" upright piano… Kind of unbelievable what $100 can buy in terms of audio quality today…

Haiti

First of all – you can help right NOW by text message the word HAITI on your mobile phone to 25383 to make a $5 donation via the International Rescue Committee.

Second of all, I feel so helpless. I want to be there digging, or passing out bottles of water, or cleaning porta-potties or SOMETHING… anything to help.

I suppose this is a terribly ignorant point of view, but I’m following the world’s response – in particular the United State’s.

I’m thinking if EVER there were a *GOOD* reason to invade a country, this is it.

I mean we can walk all over Afghanistan and Pakistan. We tore Iraq apart at the seams.  But the 82nd Airborne has to circle the island for five hours? Aid workers are backed up at the airport? What the hell? You know?

We’re the USA for Christ’s sake. With all our wealth, and all our patriotism and flag waving THIS is best we can do???

Send in the Marines. Take this shit over man. Provide security. Get water, food, shelter, sanatation, and security where it is needed, NOW, before it is too late.

Dig them out. Secure the perimeter. Protect the weak and the innocent. Get it together and then get the hell out.

When The Silence Is Too Loud

I made a trip to Africa recently. I work in technology an engineer and network manager for a humanitarian organization with a large, well funded program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was sent to spend a week in Bukavu helping to set-up some IT equipment and do some troubleshooting.

I’ve been on the African continent a few times – in the 1990’s working as a touring musician I visited Egypt, Morocco, and Kenya – which was as far south as I had ever been. The most powerful impact of this trip, with the exception of the friendships I made in Bukavu, was my layover in Rwanda.

The trip from Bukavu back to Rwanda involved a 45 minuite “puddle-jumper” flight from Cyangugu Kamembe airport on the DRC border to Kigali. It was a short flight, but over the most intensely beautiful country I have ever seen. My seat mate was also employed by an NGO and we decided that we’d spend our afternoon Kigali layover visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial. My seat-mate Laeticia was the one who told me about the history of the genocide and pointed out Romeo Dallaire’s book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
which I purchased from the gift shop after the tour.

Many people don’t know about the genocide in Rwanda.  As the world watched a different tragedy unfold in the former Yugoslavia; and questioned whether or not O.J. Simpson’s hands fit the bloody glove – A million people were brutally slaughtered in an organized wave of death based on nothing more than their identity as a Tutsi or Hutu moderate.  The world didn’t pay much attention.

It is hard to explain what happened in the scope of a sentence or two, but basically humanity went nuts. Rwanda had a division along ethnic lines – something that was encouraged and enforced during Rwanda’s colonial occupation by Belgium. Great hatred developed between the Tutsi (the favored, the ones given high positions and status) and the Hutus (the common masses, farmers, and workers). In the late 50’s and into the early 60’s, just five years or so before Rwanda gained full independence, the Tutsi monarchy was eventually driven from power and exiled themselves in the neighboring countries of Zaire (DR Congo), Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. Rwanda’s history into the 1990’s was one of various factions – Hutu moderate government forces, Exiled Rwandan Tutsi Forces that had mobilized outside the country, and internal Hutu extremists who held high contempt and hatred for all Tutsis and Hutu moderates. As the tensions and political power began to mobilize and strengthen between these groups, a United Nations force was installed to keep the peace. The figurehead of the force was Canadian Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, who has written a book (now a movie ) about his experiences. Essentially Dallaire failed in his mission. While signs of an impending tragedy echoed across the desks of the most powerful nations in the world, they were ignored. Dallaire did the best he could do with what he had – and I believe that for that he is a hero. Unfortunately he was not given enough resources to prevent the slaughter of nearly one million Tutsi and Hutu moderates by rogue government forces and the extremist Interhamwe over the next few weeks.

Visiting the memorial is tough. Rooms filled with cases of bones, shoes, clothing, identification, photographs and personal effects stand to remind of what happened here in 1994. 1994. Another area serves the memory of other genocides such as those in Cambodia, Bosnia and Nazi Germany in World War II. Clearly we never learned our lesson. Viewing the small remains of a child whose skull was fractured from the blow of the back of a machete is not something one can soon forget. While I’m no Romeo Dallaire, sometimes the silence is too loud even for me.

Why am I blathering on about all this? I guess it is because I know that this ethnic genocide continues in parts of central Africa. I know that armed militias control and wage war over various mineral resources in the DRC of gold and coltan. Many people starve. There is widespread lawlessness and gang rape by armed militias is a daily occurrence both women and men experience on a regular basis. Large masses of people are constantly uprooted and must move due to the conflicts. This stuff keeps me up at night.

I watched a documentary of General Dallaire – and he spoke of his post traumatic stress and suicidality after returning home. He said the silence became so loud. He spoke of the persistence of horrific visions of corpses and the stench of death and the feelings of helplessness and failure.

Dallaire has spoken of his faith. It remains difficult for me to believe in a god who would sit by and let all these things happen – in the same way it is difficult for me to believe in a government or even a planet that could sit by and let these things happen. They say 26,000 children die of starvation every day. Why would a god who could fix that and feed them, not? Why would he let a young child or infant watch his parent be shot or machete’d to death – before being raped and murdered herself? How does the god of little children I was taught to believe in stand by and watch that happen?

Human beings are capable of some awful things. It doesn’t seem to require any mental illness to me. Perhaps Manson and Bundy were mentally ill – antisocial, sociopathic, incapable of remorse or empathy. But surely not every genocidaire involved in the muder of a million Rwandese fit the DSM category for antisocial sociopathy – (any more than those German people who were complicit in the extermination of 6 times as many Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust). I think people who “know” they are right, and are just that sure of themselves are dangerous. This is what happens when we go so fully into the us and them mentality. This is what happens when we so strongly identify as right or left. When we identify as groups and stop identifying as individuals – we start to lose our humanity. When our humanity is gone, the most horrible shit happens.

A Letter From Rudyard Kipling

(I’d like to add, this advice to his 12 year old son could just as well apply to a daughter on becoming a woman)

“Letter to the son” by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired from waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor loose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run:
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

The Song of a Life

I’ve posted this before. I keep returning to it – and it never fails to remind me how deep and complex we are. It is so easy to trivialize, to label, to stereotype… and we forget that each of us was once somebody’s child. We’re not cartoons. We’re not liberals and conservatives. Inside each of us lives a child who longs to be understood.

Years ago when I first met my wife, she gave me a copy of a beautiful story.

I was anxious to share everything there was to share about myself – and I wanted her to know everything about me – both the good and the bad.

We spoke about things like regret and we also spoke about forgiveness. We spoke about what it means to lose yourself and lose your way.

I long for a community like the one in this story. I long for love and support of those who remind me when I’ve lost my way and help me find the real me whom I forgot.

How many of us could benefit from hearing our song sung to us when we’ve lost our way? How many of us sometimes need to be reminded who we truly are?

    The Song of A Life

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she
goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray
and meditate until they hear the song of the child.

They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses
its unique flavor and purpose.

When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they
return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.

When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s
song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village
gathers and chants the child’s song.

When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the
people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person
hears his or her song.

Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family
and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth,
and they sing the person to the next life.

In the African tribe, there is one other occasion upon which the
villagers sing to the child.

If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or
aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the
village and the people in the community form a circle around them.
Then they sing their song to them.

The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not
punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you
recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that
would hurt another.

A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when
you have forgotten it.

Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or
dark images you hold about yourself.

They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness
when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your
purpose when you are confused.

You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song
to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when
you are in tune with yourself and when you are not.

When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and
when you feel awful, it doesn’t.

– Author Unknown

Nine Eleven 9/11

Me and friends. WTC 2001

Me and friends. WTC 2001

I’ve almost never spoken about it. I certainly never spoke about it publicly.

Personally, that day was a mile-marker. It marked the beginning of a massive spiral downward. My life hit it’s lowest point ever nearly a year and many substantial events later. I gave up – on myself and everybody else too… and I really fucked my life up. I don’t know if I can blame that day alone – but it is an irrevocable part of the whole story to be sure.

I was here, in Manhattan, and watched it from the window of my apartment. My wife watched too, saw them fall, from her rooftop, though back in 2001 – though she and I had yet to meet.

I slept in that morning, on the pull-out bed Jennifer Convertibles leather sofa that filled most of my studio apartment, 49B.

I heard sirens pass by outside – not an unfamiliar sound. They didn’t stop and kept going, and going until I abandoned my cozy bed and got up to look out the window and take a leak.

I didn’t see anything right away, but checked my email and saw an ABC Breaking News Alert in my inbox. “Small plane may have flown into World Trade Center…”

I stood on my tub and looked out the bathroom window where I could get a good sight line downtown. I could see plumes of smoke rising.

I flipped on the TV, and by then the second one had hit.

I alternately paced back and forth from the TV to my bathroom window.

I saw the first one fall on live TV.

The next day, Wednesday, I walked down as far as they’d let me and stood with crowds and we applauded the crews exiting the site.

We smelled that smell together. I won’t even try to describe it. It lingered for weeks maybe months. Sometimes I still smell it.

– Photo: Charley and friends at Christmas Party. Windows on the World, World Trade Center Tower One, Top Floor.

Singer in the Subway

Musicians in the subway are pretty common. I see them every day. Some are impressive, some not.

Last night I was leaving the gym after an especially tiring workout. My legs felt like rubber and I just didn’t feel like going down into the hot subway right away – so I caught an uptown M104 and rode it cross town and up to Columbus Circle where I caught the A train.

As I descended down to the platform, I heard singing. I thought it was a woman singing tunes by The Temptations. Often singers and performers will sing or play to backing tracks blasting from boom boxes or battery powered amps. They nearly always sing through a microphone of some sort. I usually listen for a minute and go through my usually critiques: Are they in tune and singing in the right key? Do they know the song? Is there anything different or unusual about their style?

There was something that captured my interest last night. As I looked across the platform to the other side I scanned the Friday night crowd to catch a glimpse. I couldn’t seem to find her – although I did seem to locate the direction of the sound in the large underground echo chamber that is the station at Columbus Circle.

As I looked closer I saw an old man sitting on the wooden benches, mouth moving in time to the music and I realized he was the source of the music. He completely blended in with the crowd. He sat in the bench spread legged with his hands on his knees and sang the tunes with the the background tracks.

He sang the tunes spot on and then riffed around the melody. When the tracks stopped he kept singing. He’d go right into the next song when it started. He had no microphone – so the vocal was all him. Just that old man sitting on the bench completely filling that huge underground space with the the power of his voice and his love of the music.

My train came and I left. My parting thought was how utterly natural he was. Genuine. No hype. No glitter. No effects.

Just an old man sitting on a bench doing what he was born to do.

Come Forth Into the Light of Things (Let Nature Be Your Teacher)

The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless–
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

— William Wordsworth

Awesome. Simply awesome. Reenchanting the World Through Art.

Kid's Chalk Art Project Alameda Naval Air Station

Kid's Chalk Art Project Alameda Naval Air Station

This is a 90,000 square foot chalk drawing visible from space. It achieved a world record. The drawing was created by school children in concert with artist Mark Wagner.

Mark Wagner is a California artist and parent who’s life mission has become crusading the message that art education is a vital part of childhood education. You can read more about him and his projects to promote the art education of children here.

Michael

Wow… Michael Jackson is gone. We are a bit beside ourselves in this household. Its hard to imagine that the death of someone you never knew could stir such emotion.

I guess in a way I feel like I did know him. At least I knew him through his music and his videos. I always respected and admired his prodigious talent to the highest degree.

As a little kid, just seven years younger than Michael, I grew up seeing him perform on television with the Jackson 5. Ben was one of the first songs I learned to play on the piano. I always loved that song.

His songs and singing alone were magic, coupled with unparalleled showmanship he became a one of a kind performer.

I know he brightened many a dreary day for me through his music. What he gave his audiences and his fans is amazing, wonderful, and as close to anything divine I can possibly think of.

I spent many moments of my day today choked up. I listened to him on the train on my in to work. I watched the news during my workout at the gym. I thought about him all day. I just can’t get over it.

I don’t know whether to follow that ever present impulse to move and groove when they play his clips on CNN, or hang my head and cry knowing the show is over.

Stephen Colbert’s Iraq Haircut from Gen. Ray Odierno By Order of Pres. Obama

Kristin sent me this and I had to post it. I have to say I really admire the General and the President for being such good sports to play along. The troops must have had a good and well earned laugh…

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Obama Orders Stephen’s Haircut – Ray Odierno
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Stephen Colbert in Iraq

Susie Explains Evolution

This is Susie Neunmalklug – also known as Susie Smartypants. In German, her name means “Nine Times Clever”. Susie is the character in a children’s book on Evolution by Michael Schmidt-Salomon and Helge Nyncke. See the link for more information.

Here, Susie gives us an explanation of her experience challenging her teacher Mr. Hemplemann’s explanation of literal Biblical Creationism. Go Susie, go!

On Dying And Everlasting Life

I’ve given a fair amount of thought to death.

It isn’t something I talk to other people about very often, death, so I can’t say I really know very much about what other people think. It does seem to me that there is a lot of denial. Religion attempts to soothe our worried minds with a promise of everlasting life. Thoughts of things like euthanasia or assisted suicide are beyond rational consideration. Doctor shows and drug company ads seem based on the premise that death is the ultimate failure. Life must be preserved and maintained at all costs lest we give in to a simple fact: everybody dies.

Someday I will die. You will too.

I realized that there are a few simple questions that when I faced honestly were very enlightening.

A dear friend once said to me that when she died she hoped to go to a wonderful place and be reunited with her lost friends and relatives. Its a very lovely thought, but it’s veracity is neither here nor there for me. What really made me think was the statement that followed, where she explained that if she were to find out there was no after-life, no heaven, and no friends waiting on the other side she would get a gun and blow her brains out.

I tried to imagine the millions of people living in misery, enduring pain with the hope that something better will await them when they die. Being the person I am, I of course had to pose the question – what if there isn’t anything?

I realized at that moment that regardless of a heaven, regardless of religion, living this life in misery only to hope for better luck or a happy reunion in the next is madness.

Immediately I asked myself a very important question: if I were to die tonight – if I knew I had an hour or two left – how would it feel? Would I feel frightened? Sad? Angry? Relieved? Guilty? Happy? It might be a little bit of all those things. But that question put my life into immediate perspective.

I realized that when my physical body is gone, the things that will be left of me are the impressions and effects I had on others. There is my wife, my children, my job. There are the students I have had. There are the people I was unfair or unjust to. There are the people who read my blog. There  are people who love and who hate me.

So if I were to die tonight, what could I say of these relationships? Did I make my wife happy? Did I give my children enough information, enough of myself? Did I teach them? Did they know how much I cared about them and that the *only* thing I ever wanted from them was to see them happy and perhaps share in that joy? Was I an honest worker and did I serve my disciplines well? Was I a good teacher, and did I give my students anything good that they carried forward in their lives? Did I leave even a single reader with a kernel of something that sparked some positive change in their life? Did I try to take responsibility for my mistakes and make up for them if possible? Will even those who hate me, have enough respect to say I tried?

And what if I were given ten more years? Would I use them to be sure I left a rich legacy to those that follow me?

This is *my* concept of ever lasting life.

Some Buddhists meditate on the image of a corpse decomposing. I once read of Buddhist monks who would go to burial grounds of another religion (Zoroastrians?) who left their dead to decay in the open. There they would meditate on death and their own mortality.

A little creepy maybe, but doesn’t it make you value life just thinking about it? Does it shift your focus? I hope I can learn to better make the most of mine.

– link: my visit to an outdoor crematorium and grave yard in Mumbai (Bombay) India

When My Brother Died

JoeyMy only brother was Joey. He was born in December 1964, which made him fourteen months older than me.

He was a Downs Syndrome baby. He was severely retarded and spent his entire life at a mental age of between two and four years.

He was primarily a happy child. Much of my early childhood experience revolves around doing what was best for Joey. I was raised with the belief that his care would be my primary responsibility when we grew up. The phrase, “…my brother’s keeper…” was one I learned early and thought about often.

As a young adolescent I moved away from my brother emotionally. As I continued to try and pursue my own life as a young adult, the distance became greater.

Toward the end of his life, my brother’s personality changed drastically. He went from being outgoing to withdrawn, happy and complacent to angry and violent.

My mother didn’t know what to do for him. She had taken him to a string of psychiatrists, neurologists and others. Nothing helped him. It was suspected by some at that time that there is an Alzheimer’s-like syndrome that occurs in Down’s patients in some cases. This remains the only physical explanation for his outbursts. Whatever perception he had of himself – perhaps an understanding that he would never grow out of his limitations – was never discussed. There was little anyone could do. He was becoming physically dangerous and decisions had to be made.

My Mother committed him to a very prestigious psychiatric hospital. This was utter desperation on her part since the main propulsion through her own adult life had been “keeping Joey at home…”. Indeed she had participated in many efforts to close the state institutions and integrate the mentally challenged into public life.

After a few weeks she brought him home. She installed a wire barrier and removed the door handles in her car so he could ride in back without incident. She hired various and sundry people to come to the house and help out.

He was sick when he left the hospital. She thought it was a cold. It got worse, and he appeared to be very ill. She took him to the ER.

This was the same day in 1992 that I had decided to try making my move to New York City permanent. I had been living with my mother in-between traveling gigs and trying to build a career. She called me in New York and told me that he had been admitted, tubed, and was on a respirator.

I returned home. My brother had a very severe case of pneumonia. His chest x-rays, to quote one physician, looked as though someone had painted them with White Out. I later went to school at that same hospital and studied to be an x-ray tech. For one of my assignments I checked out his films. The school didn’t work out, but we’ll save that for another story.

His oxygen saturation plummeted lower and lower. The doctors explained that his organs were all still working well, but that they would eventually fail. One nurse pointed to his catheter bag and showed me the urine which meant his kidneys were still functioning.

It was explained to me that the respirator was set as high as it could go. The oxygen concentration being delivered to him was high. The oxygen saturation was below the level necessary to sustain him and going lower. The pulmonologist assured us that he was not going to get better. The medical staff assured us that there was no brain activity and we needed to make a decision.

My mother decided that they should turn off the machine. My dad and his wife came. The doctor and a nurse came in the room and the doctor turned down the dial on the machine. He explained that he was turning down the supplemental oxygen and left the machine on. The machine would continue to fill my brother’s lungs with air from the room.

I sat next to him and held his hand. He was very swollen and a fungus had started attacking his eyes – likely a side-effect from the massive antibiotics they had given him to fight the pneumonia.

The monitor beeped with every beat of his heart, and I watched the line trace across the screen.

The doctor turned down the dial. My brother’s face turned immediately bright purple. The beeps began to slow down and the predictable line began to zig-zag across the monitor unpredictably.

His body arched up from the bed. The doctor explained that the muscles were in spasm from the lack of oxygen.

My father left the room.

Soon the spasm settled. The line went flat. The beeps were silenced and we made plans for his funeral.

My brother was gone.

Today on the Subway

I had to run one of those really shitty errands today. You might know the kind – where you have to deal with bored, under-paid, municipal employees and call on every last bit of patience you have left, just to avoid going ballistic on everyone in ear shot.

I held it together.

After my errand I took the A train home, which is about an hour long trip.

As the bell ding-donged and the closing doors closed, a small, bearded African-American man began to go into his sales spiel,

“The DVD man is back… Ladies and Gentlemen, today I have only the finest feature films to offer you for the extremely low price of $5…”

He began to read off a list of at least ten movies…

“These aren’t screen shots ladies and gentlemen… No bobbing heads or background voices… My films are from screeners and downloads only…”

I was a bit annoyed at the idea of someone re-selling Bit-Torrented movies… and the thought occurred to me that I’d do my own pirating, thank you for very much… But as he continued I began to admire his near *perfect* diction and delivery. Its always refreshing to hear people speak when they know how to speak… Imagine P.T. Barnum… in an African-American body on the A-Train at 6PM on a weeknight in NYC.

Just when I was admiring his grammar and delivery, he did it again in Spanish – perfectly articulated – and then in French!

I wanted to ask him if he could do it in Chinese or Korean – I think I would have bought his whole bag out of sheer amazement and fascination…

When he left I turned to my medium-difficulty Sudoku puzzles and finished one in twenty minutes flat… Just in time for my stop.

Stay tuned for more tales from the NYC Subway…

Mardi Gras

I visited New Orleans one year – long before Katrina ever thought of unleashing her fury against the aged and inferior levees of Lake Pontchartrain.

I was part of a touring musical theater production and by coincidence, it was Mardi Gras. Not being the crowd loving type, I would likely not have attended the celebration otherwise. It isn’t that Mardi Gras isn’t a significant and wonderful cultural event – just simply that the drunks and tourists partying with their associated mayhem and antics aren’t my idea of a good time.

So anyway… it was Mardi Gras and I found myself in the Quarter, on Bourbon Street taking in the festivities. I was in the middle of a crowd that completely packed the street. Like a school of fish the crowd moved forward, left, then right… once absorbed by the mass of the crowd there was no escape. You went with the flow.

There was a very attractive young woman in front of me. She was in her mid to late twenties with a lovely shape and long brown hair. Immediately behind me were a group of rowdy youths. As we were flowing down the street, one of the youths reached forward around my right side and grabbed the young womans shapely bottom and gave it a squeeze. Having never seen anything quite like that my jaw dropped in shock and then I smiled as if to say, “Holy shit! Did you see that!”.

The young woman turned around and saw my expression and thought I had done that deed! Without missing a beat she struck me, POW! – right across the face.

I often think of that. I wonder if any of them even remember.

Like Money In The Bank, Or Sowing And Reaping

Comparing life to a mortgage….

We are born with nothing. We have no clothes. We rely on our parents or guardians to provide for us. When we become adults, many of us will purchase a home. We start careers or businesses. Most will need to rely on a mortgage – and know that if we live long enough we’ll see our investment grow. Then, one day, we’ll be able to cash in on that investment for a different life somewhere else – or leave behind a nice inheritance to whom we please. We work, we invest, we end up with a profit and – we hope – time to enjoy it before we are too old or too sick.

I’m thinking that the real payments in life aren’t the ones we make to the bank. Every time we are devastated by some illness, pick ourselves after some disaster, or even suffer at the hands of our own mistakes we make a payment to ourselves. Our internal bank of wisdom and compassion grows ever larger. The more we keep going, the more we endure, the more adversity we overcome the richer we become.

The catch is that, quite unlike the home equity we can cash out and spend, by the time we have enough wisdom to really do something with it we are too old and have burned so many bridges we can never return to reap the rewards for ourselves.

The only sense I can make of my comparison is that the only consumption, or spending, of this amassed wealth is through helping others. We live our lives, we learn our “lessons”, and maybe we get a chance to tell some younger person, or some person more poor in wisdom and experience, or someone who simply wants to listen to the lessons we learned.

The only illness or infirmity that can keep us from spending this type of wealth is our own bitterness and reluctance to accept the events of our lives as the lessons they are – or perhaps the short sightedness of those who need to hear it.