Passing It Over

It’s Passover time. Approximately. I just celebrated the holiday by creating my own seder plate from what I had around the house that could easily be interpreted as seder items. I got the salt water part perfect.

Every Passover, the youngest person present has four questions to ask, each with its given answer. Here they are:

  1. Q: On all nights we need not dip [our food] even once, on this night we do so twice.
    A: The salt water reminds us of tears shed during the years of slavery in Egypt. The act of dipping also signifies freedom, as the dipping of food represents luxury.
  2. Q: On all nights we eat chametz (“regular” bread) or matzah, and on this night only matzah.
    A: Matzah, being devoid of leavening, is the bread of the slaves and the poor. It also represents that the Hebrews had no time, due to their impending freedom, to allow their bread to rise.
  3. Q: On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, tonight only bitter herbs.
    A: The bitterness of the vegetables serves to remind us of the bitterness of slavery.
  4. Q: On all nights we eat either sitting or reclining, and on this night we all recline.
    A: Reclining while eating is a symbol of the luxury of royalty.

I like the idea of remembering the bad times in order to better understand the good. Personally, I was not a literal slave. Genetically, my heritage has not been one of literal slavery. It’s taken me some time to figure out what these questions mean to me, what I can learn. I looked for, and found, the lesson.

  1. I’ve spent my adult life as a poor person. Financially, I’ve been a slave to circumstances I couldn’t change while continuing to contribute to the world in the best way I know how. I have cried countless tears in worry over my state in life, personal and financial. I cannot forget that. No matter how good my life is at moments, nor how it may improve in the future, I am only here, I am only me because of those tears. They have forced me to accept my present and work towards a better future. The good times have only been good precisely because of those tears. Otherwise, I doubt I would appreciate my life nearly as much.
  2.  Again, to remember. To observe what poverty is, was, will be. Not merely to me, but to others with whom I share my life, and the others who share similar experiences. Also a good reminder that no matter how busy you are, no matter what you have going on, it’s important to eat. I may not have the food I want, I may not have the best options, but I still have food to eat. Many others do not, and I do what I can to alleviate their hunger in my own ways.
    Hunger comes in many forms, though. We can also hunger for companionship, time, meaning, and purpose. We can hunger for the things we really want to do, not merely the things we must. Hunger is simply our desperation for something better. And sometimes we run out of time while we’re chasing our satiation.
  3. Too many of use carry our bitterness around with us like armor. We can be so focused on the negatives, on the things that enslave us, that we forget to notice all the wonderful. But maybe we can restrict our bitterness. Not to forget; never in order to forget. Instead, rather than dwell on the negative, maybe we should set aside time to remember. When it’s pertinent, remember. When there is potential danger in letting the negative recur, remember. When life is so good that you start to feel invincible, remember. It’s not always smooth sailing, it’s rarely easy. Remember the bad times in order to avoid the same mistakes, remember them in order to appreciate the good times.
  4. Remember to take some time to chill. It’s all well and good to be focused and intentional, to keep your goals and ideals high. And it’s also important, whenever possible, to treat yourself to something nice. A good pair of pants, a night out, a vacation, a good book. No one should feel pressure, from within or without, to be constantly working. Luxury, relaxing, spending time with friends and family. These things are important. There’s no amount of stressing over an issue that cannot be at least somewhat alleviated by taking a moment just for yourself. It’s important.

This is what this holiday means to me, at least for now. As with all holidays and religious practices that involve interpretation, it will evolve. But the questions will remain the same. Not merely to Judaism, not merely to me, but to people everywhere. Remember the bad stuff and appreciate the good things in comparison.

Never forget. Never stop striving. Always find your best way. Don’t pass over life, but let the things you don’t need pass over you.

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Back to the Band Room

When I started junior college a million years ago, I was a vocal music major. I had been homeschooled my whole life and was enjoying my first choir experiences. I was making music with other people and that was just plain cool.

I didn’t make any close friends in the choir at first. Rather, I hung out with the accompanist. Pianos and piano players are my favorite types of people. Yes, I think of pianos as people; I’m a bit odd that way.

The accompanist also played piano in the jazz bands. It wasn’t long until I was tagging along with him to band practice. I would find a spot on the floor against a wall (I’m not a huge fan of chairs) and listened. I soon made friends there and was even invited by the director to sing with the band.

For anyone unfamiliar with how a lot of jazz band practice goes down in college (or did at a junior college in the late 1990’s), it’s generally about 50% making music. The rest of the time is spent trading stories, telling crude jokes, and idolizing Miles. It was a relaxed, fun, and creative environment. Even though I eventually joined the bands as a singer and sometimes piano player, my favorite times I the band room were when I was listening. To the music, to the conversations. I just wanted to be around.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been regularly attending the gigs of a friend of mine. Piano player again. At first I mostly listened and sometimes carried on small talk with other patrons. Gradually, though, I’ve started to make friends of a sort there. Other musicians and artists mostly. The vibe is familiar. It’s a world I missed. A me I had forgotten.

I feel like I get to go back to the band room again. It’s still blunt and crude. It’s still comfortable. It’s still magical.

Except now I use a chair and there’s wine.

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Finding My Voice

I was about 12 years old when I knew what I wanted to do with my life: I was going to be a piano teacher. I spent the next few years working out what that meant I needed to do. I put thought and work into ironing out what kind of teacher I wanted to be; I apprenticed myself for two years and taught free lessons with the idea being that if I completely sucked at it, they weren’t out any money.

But I didn’t suck at it! I have always done my best to be a better teacher than I was the day before, and I have students who love me. I had a dream and I did it.

I did it. And I realized that I’m heading towards being done. Not because I don’t like it any more; I do. But it doesn’t drive me any more. It’s not my passion any more.

It wasn’t long, really, before I figured out my second act. I’ve been learning and thinking and working towards finding my voice there. I think I’m on the right track; it makes sense, it fits with my current skills, and most importantly it fills me with passion. Hardly a moment goes by when I’m not trying to figure out a problem or do something a little different. I want to make recordings, and I know what I want them to achieve. It’s exciting.

But it all keeps leading me to a burning question I’ve had for years: why do I still not know my voice when it comes to making my own music? I know my teaching voice, my writing voice, my lyric voice, and even my new audio voice. Why do I not know what to say or how to say it when I’m using the thing on which I’ve spent most of my time?

I keep feeling like I should have at least some hazy clue drifting around my imagination. Some elusive “sound” that I want to find and then share. I’ve been making up songs (many of them terrible) since I was a child. Surely by now I should have some kind of a clue. I know it takes time to achieve what you want, but I don’t even know what it is.

Today, though, I figured out part of the why. During the time in my life when most of my peers were spending their time listening to and thinking about all the musical things they wanted to say, my life was in a low-level turmoil. For a kid who grew up with virtually none, that was a lot. I didn’t put any thought into the idea of finding my own musical voice. Every song I wrote during those years was about the lyrics, about literally saying what I needed to say. Yes, I cared about the notes, but it mostly ended there.

I never entertained the idea of putting together a group of musicians to record and potentially perform my music. I didn’t even know what I wanted that to sound like. I put no thought into it. I only ever have shared my songs with close friends and family, and then only if they happened to be around when I finished a song.

So I guess I need to keep thinking on this. My practicing is helping me to grow in ways I hadn’t considered possible even a year ago. I guess after a certain point the thinking and learning and practicing all converge into something I don’t quite hate, right?

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A Condition of Constant Change

It’s election day in my state today. I voted, got my sticker, took my obligatory selfie, and was reminded of why I love my country. I don’t love it because of how it is now, how it ever used to be, how it began. I love it because of all the ways it got to be how it is today.

And man, is it fucked up. Senseless murders, the wealthy elite using propaganda to try and convince us that our neighbors, our economical peers, are our enemies. They created a tool and named it “race” and artfully used it. They managed to redirect the anger of the lower classes away from themselves, inciting violence among former allies.

But they forgot one thing. The one thing that sets our culture apart. They forgot our history and how we got here. They forgot that eons ago there were oppressed people who escaped war to come here to this land of hope where everyone could get a chance to live their lives as they pleased. It isn’t our biological history that matters. It is our spiritual history.

It’s never worked. It’s never been perfect. Inequality and oppression have always worked their ways into our society. But our spiritual history hasn’t let it continue for long. We have taken steps forward and back, but if we are honest with ourselves we can see more progress than regress. It’s been slow, but it’s been moving.

It’s never going to work. It’s never going to be perfect. Inequality and oppression will find their ways. But we don’t have to sit back. The people are starting to rise. Awareness is amplified via this wonderful tool, the Internet. Every day, more people are starting to realize two things: our enemies have been pretending to be our friends for too long; we need to take care of one another and stop isolating ourselves.

We’re not cowboys. None of us is completely self-sufficient. Every day we each encounter things that not only do we not do, we have no clue HOW to do. Too many people don’t know how to cook or clean or balance their bank accounts. Even more people don’t know how to change a tire or an oil filter. I’m writing this on a computer that I can neither build nor repair, and tomorrow I will drive my car using fuel that I do not transport, process, or drill. I will eat food that I did not grow, hunt, or gather.

We all need each other. If we want to survive, we have to stop thinking only about ourselves. We need to get out of our comfort zones and vote for unlikely candidates, sign unlikely petitions, give help to those who need it (even if they don’t ask), and be always grateful that we can enjoy the parts of life that we’re making work for now.

We need to stand up in whichever ways we can and say it’s enough. Not to sound like another, and super famous these days, Jew, but we can do it together. I’m not enough on my own. I do what I can, but it’s not enough. Even if every person did what he or she could, it wouldn’t be enough. It’s never enough.

Because it will never work. It will never be perfect. But each time we find an imperfection we can stand up and claim our spiritual heritage: if it’s not working, change things and try again.

Our culture isn’t based on isolation or even independence. It’s based in freedom. Not the freedom to be separate from our neighbors. The freedom to join our hands with our human family members and make whatever changes we need to make in ourselves, in our communities, in our country, and in our world.

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Following the Beam

Last night I read a vaguebook post of mine via Facebook’s “on this day” feature. I had been extremely upset at the time, yet when I read I had difficulty trying to remember the reference. When I did…I felt like I was remembering an episode of a trite ABC Family show. “This thing bothers me! Oh no! I must post about while simultaneously NOT posting about it, pretending I’m venting my feelings, but really asking for attention.” That was one year ago. Holy crap, I’ve changed completely over the past year. It’s sometimes hard to fathom.

It brings extreme comfort to know that something from merely a year ago that bothered me so much at the time, didn’t make one bit of difference in my life. It had no lasting affect. The same will likely be said about most of the things over which I agonize on a daily basis. Awkward things I’ve done, accidental expressions of ignorance, people I’ve potentially, accidentally, extremely hurt or bothered or annoyed someone (MAYBE), will not matter to me in a year.
Last night I read a vaguebook post of mine from a year ago. I had been extremely upset, yet when I read it it took me a while to remember the reference.

Either things will work out in the best possible ways, or in the worst (the planet explodes, after being wrought with a worldwide plague then beset upon by hostile extraterrestrials who ban cheese?). Or some combination of both. Probably not the cheese ban. Either way, no matter what happens, I’ll figure it out.

I always do.

Kudos

Either things will work out how I hope, or they won’t, or some combination of both. Either way, I’ll figure it out.

I always do.

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Not Just Another Princess (*spoilers*)

I have loved Star Wars for as long as I can remember. My generation grew up on it. Well, my generation of boys, anyway. I haven’t had the privilege of knowing many women my age who are as enamored by it as I have been. But since most of my closest friends have been male, I’ve still shared the love with many friends.

But why? I know why many of my male friends like it: it’s exciting, it feels real, lightsabers are fucking cool, Luke used the Force like a boss, Han was cool as shit. They all have different heroes from the franchise; there are so many from whom to chose. They could each find a character, identify with him, and aspire to be as awesome as him. They also had this in every other work of fiction around at the time.

Growing up, I had many book heroines. Anne and Emily and Jo and Lucy and countless others. I gravitated towards the girls like me, or like I wanted to be: opinionated, brave, independent, strong, artistic, funny, empathetic, and pretty. But there were no characters in film or television with whom I identified…except for Princess Leia.

I was a tad too old for the Disney princess generation, but I still wouldn’t have wanted to be like those vapid, self-centered girls. They care about the wrong things, in my opinion: hair, status, princes, hair, princes, forks. Princess Leia cared about her people. She cared about getting the job done. She had kickass Cinnabon hair. She got the perfect guy (more on Han some other time). She sometimes wore dresses, sometimes camo, she shot a gun and wore a bikini and flew a speeder and escaped a trash compacter. The only time she was sexualized was when it was an obvious insult, and that shit ended when she killed the fucker who did it to her. Yeah.

And NOT ONE BIT of Leia was sold as “Girl Power”. Somewhat because GP was about 20 years later. But mostly because not one person said that her gender had anything to do with anything. Not even Darth was like, “Oooh, the poor little girlie just watched her planet get blowed up. Gonna cry now?” Nope. Not even the evil dick father of hers cared about her femininity.

So, I knew Leia was gonna be in the new movie. I wanted to see who she became. I didn’t watch trailers or read any leaks or IMDB. I wanted to wait. And I was so not disappointed. She didn’t merely marry Han and stop life in order to be a wife and mother. Bitch is General Organa now. She got the guy, it didn’t work out, but she never gave up trying to save the galaxy. She saved it from her dad, she’s gonna save it from her son, and she’s gonna team up with her niece (Rey is SO Luke’s daughter, right?) and BITCHES GONNA SAVE THE GALAXY.

Not because they’re women. Not in spite of being women. Because they’re…wait for it…people. People who care. People who will work their asses off to thwart whichever Dark Side person is causing trouble today. Their genitals make no difference. Their hairstyles don’t either. Nor their outfits. The story will play out, and it will not matter to the galaxy that they’re women.

But it matters to me. It matters to the girls of my generation who got it. It’s gonna matter to the girls who watch Rey and decide they need more and watch the Original Trilogy and realize they want to be Leia. It matters because the bestest princess of them all is a Disney Princess now, so she’ll get noticed by more girls who need to know. The girls who don’t care about space ships as much as I did; the girls who don’t want to spend their time doing hair and singing trite songs and letting the princes almost always save the day; the girls who, like me, didn’t see any difference between boys and girls except for their private areas; the girls who want more, who might aspire to be more than celebrities, but maybe world-changers and world leaders; the girls who don’t yet know that they want to grow up to be Princess Leia and then General Organa.

And maybe Rey. Hopefully Rey. Probably Rey. Time shall tell.

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The Path

For the past year I’ve been kinda coasting it up in limbo. I know what I want to do with my life, but I haven’t done it. Nope. None of it. I’ve daydreamed about what it’ll be like when things finally get rolling, but I’ve done nothing to actually make it happen. And I’m fine with that. My life has had its share of mountains to climb, deserts to traverse, storms to outlast. But this year of learning to live in the moment has been relatively peaceful. I haven’t had to deal with a single actual problem. It’s all been in my head, and it’s been pretty dreamy. Like a path through a forest on a randomly cool day in the summer in the early afternoon. Probably the easiest year of my adult life. I’ve worked hard, and fairly constantly, but I haven’t worried. And without the work, I’d have been terribly bored.

A feeling came over me earlier this evening, though. The path has forked, and I haven’t chosen. I know where they both lead, and each ends with its own version of happiness. I didn’t see the path before today because the monster attacked upon my arrival. Now the monster is gone and I have to choose.

To the right, the path leads to a pleasant valley where nothing ever goes really wrong, besides the death-and-cancer parts of every life. I know how to make that life work. The high possibility of having minimal worries makes it attractive. But it’s boring, it’s the same, it’s familiar. Most of all, it eliminates a certain possibility that only exists on the mountain to my left.

I know what’s at the top of that mountain. I know the likely type of life I could have if I went left. But it consists of hard work, focus, discipline. I’m not even sure that if I chose the left path whether or not I’d reach the summit. The terrain is rocky and full of unknown caverns. There are other travelers on the path, and I don’t have any clue what kind of people they might be…besides the fact that they are travelers.

I’ve loved my path this past year. Knowing how content I’ve been on the path gives me hope that the path to the right would work out just fine. And it’s these things, this confident knowledge, that makes me really, really want to go left.

Away from the barren desert. Away from the peaceful forest. Towards the unknown mountain. Despite the fear, because of the contentment, the mountain excites me. It’s getting to be time to make my choice.

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