Archive for the ‘Experiences’ Category

When I was a baby, my mom had to put my watermelon into her Osterizer blender and turn it into watermelon juice because my esophagus was so constricted that I could not even swallow mushed-up watermelon. I’m now pushing 57 years old and if you want an indication of just how much I own my mom, you need look no further than that I made it past 1, let alone 56.

She was the most caring soul I knew for much of my life and that was true well into adulthood.

For example, it was the late 1990’s and my job had me traveling around the Pacific Rim pretty regularly. I had been sitting on a conference panel in Singapore; I had the flu and with over a 100 degree fever; and I was in a place that was 100 degrees and raining. I felt like crap. I was flying back to Portland, through Los Angeles, and I planned to stay with mom and dad for a few days. I got off the plane, walked out of LAX, and sitting on a little bench in baggage claim was my mother. I had never wanted to see that wonderful smile so much. Both of my parents were amazing that day. But, I’m not embarrassed to say that, even at nearly 40, I really needed my mum!

She showed me the same tenderness and love when I lived at home throughout my time at CalArts. When I’d come home from school and walk in at 2AM she’d pretend that she had just “accidentally” awoken. Then she’d feed me like the good Jewish mother she was.

In fact, while I was in college, mom and I had a very special relationship. Once a week, on my way to school, we would go together to IHOP. Rich and Sandra were both in the San Diego area, dad was off to work, and I sort of had her to myself. Just seeing, in my mind’s eye, her face as we hung out and shared our coffee and pancakes kind of makes me tear up.

As I grew older we shared some more interesting beverages than coffee. After I turned 21, mom loved to have me join her in her occasional Scotch. Many people know her as the tiny lady who allegedly could nurse a single Glenlivet all night. She SAID she just let the ice melt but, strangely, she got more opinionated and a lot funnier as those cubes melted. I could save a lot of money if I could have the ice cubes that she had! Regardless of quantity, I’m proud to say that this Glenlivit thing was not always true. You see, she and her brother Bud used to drink only Chevas Regal.  It was I who introduced her to her to single malts! Maybe that’s the only thing I did for her that was anywhere near as good as the things she did for me.

So far I’ve been focusing on memories but now I want to move forward and to speak about blessings and regret.

For the past 28 years I’ve been in Oregon, doing lots of volunteer work, and having insanely busy jobs. Because of that, I owe an awful lot to my brother Rich and my sister Sandra. I was once the cherished first son with the penchant for single malt scotch. But, I do know that Sandra and Rich did an enormous amount for mom when I wasn’t around. I love them for their deep devotion to mom in the last years of her life.

One last thing.

The night before she died Rich called and told me she was ill. Perhaps naively, we thought she would recover. After all, she bounced back from everything else. On her last day he called again. “You’d better get down here”, he said.  I left a meeting, booked a flight, headed for the airport and even changed my booking while on the road to try and get to LA in time to see her. Sandra did similarly but she drove in. In both cases we owe our spouses a lot. In my case, my wife stopped what she was doing to get me to the airport. In Sandra’s case, her husband packed for her and even remembered to toss in her favorite Ugg boots. That is the kind of relationship that we must cherish because that is the kind of devotion you can step back from, say “what would Sally do”, and know it would be the best of all possible choices. She was a role model of right action.

I got to the Burbank airport and Rich picked me up. I missed seeing my mother by less than 2 hours. This I deeply regret.  But I want to tell you something. When I walked into the room and saw my mother’s soft and peaceful face, her spirit now gone, only two things saved me from a much deeper regret.

  • First, that in her final hours my brother held his cell phone up to her so I could say goodbye. He says she knew it was me and smiled. I’ll choose to believe that and to thank him.
  • Second, that my sister was there in time to see her. I feel blessed beyond measure that Sandra made it to be with mom as she passed. She was with mother as she left us and she was there to hug me and to cry with me. For that, too, I’m grateful.

To my father I want to say thank you for being there for some very difficult years. I love you too. I also want to say this:

“Don’t give away that bottle of Glenlivet that’s in the cupboard over the stove”. I hope that you will keep it with you so that with each visit I can remember her amazing smile with a sip. It represents one of 2 drinks by which I’ll always remember my mom and it’s one hell of a lot better that watermelon juice!!

 

I first met Pauline Oliveros over 35 years ago in the Main Gallery at CalArts in Valencia, California. The occasion was a performance of her piece “El Relecario de los Animals”. I was in undergraduate composition students in the school of music; she was an iconic, accordion playing, deep listening, female icon of new music.

I never became a huge fan of Pauline’s music. But, with respect to Pauline as a human being, I am a great admirer. 

First of all, as to her musicianship, Pauline was a consummate musician of the highest order. She was simply a fantastic accordionist. The thing, though, is not so much about her playing but about her listening. Pauline’s deep reverence for the simple act of listening was breathtaking. Her “Deep Listening” workshops change the lives of men and women around the world. Her tiny little book on that subject is full of exercises and practices that have tremendously enhanced my ability, not only to hear music but, to hear the world around me. I am profoundly grateful to Pauline for teaching me to listen. Although my wife, some of my friends, and my boss may well not understand that because I have a tendency to speak before listening, when it comes to hearing subtly I am extremly adept and I owe it all to Pauline. To the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I want to express my gratitude and thanks.

Pauline’s will to help others did not stop with listening. Her project to use computer technology for the betterment of human beings led to the creation of the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI). AUMI uses sound generation tools and a webcam to allowing users with very limited mobility to create music both alone and in groups. This project was not about ego, not about listening, and not about Financial gain. It was purely a selfless project to make better the lives of disabled people. It was, quite simply, a beautiful deeply moving humanitarian gesture. So, to the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I also want to express my admiration for your selfless love of people.

Pauline was born in 1932. She was a performer and composer as well as an accomplished philosopher. In the ‘60s, Pauline was among many of the most innovative musicians, like my mentor Mort Subotnick, at  San Francisco Tape Music Center. In the  ‘80s, she began her “Deep Listening” practice to which I am so indebted. 

Pauline was a constant collaborator with Stuart Dempster and many other amazing musicians. We sometimes think of Brian Eno as the guy who created ambient music.  But Pauline and Stuart are really the ones to create the first landmark recordings. 

Pauline has most recently been a Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was the Milhaud Artist-in-Residence at Mills College. In my time, her work at UCSD and her visits to CalArts gave me a remarkable exposure to a remarkable woman. So, to the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I finally want to express my thanks for your willingness to share your aesthetic with all of us whose lives you touched.

It’s funny, you know, that I never really got to know Pauline well when I was actively involved in the  new music composition community. My real “friendship” with her came later in my life, believe it or not, through Facebook. Pauline took time from her busy schedule to actually interact with me about my listening practice, to discuss AUMI, and to teach me much, probably, without even knowing it. 

That’s the way Pauline was. She gave so much to other people, even me. She will always have my gratitude and she will always be in my heart. I will miss her joy, her selfless devotion to humanity, and, her generosity in teaching us all the art of listening to the subtle beauty of our world.

Rest In Peace o’deepest of listeners.

I’m disappointed that the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland have so fragmented the Black Lives Matter message. These protests are about everything from police brutality, to gun violence, to anti-war, anti-colonialism, and even anti-capitalism issues. I’m particularly disappointed in the latter. I’m a strong believer in the fight against stereotyping, profiling, and out-and-out killing of people of color by some or our countries police forces. But, sorry guys, I am a proud capitalist and see no relationship between trigger-happy cops and a free market economy. When you took all these other positions, you lost my support. I’ll fight for black lives forever but that fight has nothing to do with capitalism.

I also want to say is that you can’t be effective if you let people use your fight as justification for vandalism. Please speak out against those among you who would use the first amendment as license to destroy other people’s property. That does no one any good.

Lastly, I really don’t understand the purpose of having a protest to save black lives that involves keeping others from safely shopping at small businesses on the one day of the year that can make or break an entire year’s profitability. Keeping people away from Pearl District businesses on Black Friday does not help the cause of black people. It just makes life more difficult for middle class, hard working, merchants.

Now let me share a few images from today’s event.

  1. If you want to teach your kids that Black Lives Matter is an important message, I’m with you all the way. I’m proud of this photo and I’m proud of this kid and his parents.

blm_pearldistrict_portland-blackfriday2016-2

2. I’m not sure what it means to “Resist and Protect”. I hope it doesn’t mean resist arrest because that’s a quick way to incite exactly what you are trying to stop. Nice colors though.blm_pearldistrict_portland-blackfriday2016-1

3.Here is what i call an effective sign. It actually says something understandable and important.The pumpkin hair is a nice touch too.

blm_pearldistrict_portland-blackfriday2016-3

4. Standing still like a statue is not very effective in my book.Stop-motion Tai Chi doesn’t save lives when all you are doing is displaying random words about how bad profit is.

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5. I will admit that I find the mean girl pouty look kind of attractive but that’s just because I’ve never shed my male biases.blm_pearldistrict_portland-blackfriday2016-5

6. Getting shitty with the cops probably is not the best way to protest. Gandhi had a better approach. But conflict does make for good news photos. So here’s one I like.blm_pearldistrict_portland-blackfriday2016-6

So, look, y’all. Protest all you want. I wish you kept your message focused on Black Lives; then I could support you. Fragmentation dilutes the message. Plus, you lose people like me who agree with the main message but don’t buy into all you have added to it. Please consider not taking your anger out on small businesses. That doesn’t help. And, please, please, please don’t use your gatherings to condone property damage. That’s all I ask.

Not only do I not despair but I’m a very blessed guy. Here are a few examples of why:

  • Cindy and Tom and Laura and Adam let me be wing-man to the true chick magnet, Cooper.
  • My sister’s daughter Jessica has just moved to Oregon and I now have a next-gen family member to hang with.
  • My cousin Cheryl’s kid Rachel and her wife share their awesome sons with me.
  • My friend Traci has allowed me to be part of her son’s lives ever since I’ve known her and, in the wake of the tragic early passing of her husband has opened their lives to me daily.
  • My niece, Denise, allowed me to help her when she was young until now when she has a clan of her own. From the days when I could buy her her high school class ring through her wedding day, and into married life, she is among the brightest lights ever.
  • In fact, Denise’s brothers and parents have been among the coolest family of all time.
  • As president of my Synagogue I was given the great privilege of being allows to feel as a parent to dozens of kids.

These are just a few wonderful things I think of every day. These are people who open their lives to me and give me the joy of participating with their children. These are some of the reasons that I feel no despair. I feel shared love.

So… wanna hear my philosophy of life as a dude without kids? It’s this:

  1. You don’t always get what you want. You get dealt cards and you play the hand you are dealt with as much joy, skill, and competence as you can.
  2. You get chances every day to make decisions. You can like or dislike them in retrospect but you must take responsibility for them without looking back.
  3. People have intrinsic value. Children are people. Therefore, children have value.
  4. Being the best human you can be has the highest value. Children are in a process of emerging as fully developed humans. Therefore, raising great children has the highest value.
  5. Sometimes the universe intends for you do do something you did not expect. I don’t have kids but, had I, I might not have been their for Denise when she wanted her class ring, I might not have been able to drop everything to help Traci with the boys when she was dealing with a loss, I might not have been able to serve the kids of my synagogue. Etc. Etc. Etc. So, perhaps my path in life was to help other kids. How could that be anything but a blessing!
  6. Live in the moment. Take the kindness and generosity of others and embrace it with love.
  7. Don’t feel bad about one thing when you can feel good about the million others that surround you.
  8. Ignore any religious doctrine that makes you feel lesser for not being “fruitful and multiplying”. It’s silliness and it just screws with your mind. Remember how shallow the gene pool would be if everyone followed the ancients.
  9. If you want kid-joy then take responsibility for finding kids who need the joy you want to share. Help other’s children grow and take ever second you have to do that as a sacred gift.
  10. Live not for what isn’t; just live for what is.

What all of that means to me is this:

Some people don’t want kids. I did. Things are different than I’d planned. That’s no reason to go crazy. It’s totally cool to have periods of melancholy; I am, after all, human. But, there is no value in looking backward when, living in the moment, I can find someone whose children need exactly what I can share at every turn.

So, to sum it all up…

Yup. I sometimes feel sad when I see other people who have the kids and grandchildren I’d once envisioned. But, that is a normal thing and there are millions of moments when things are just fine. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a few down moments compared to millions of up ones. Every day I look forward and, if my path in life is to help other people’s kids then fine by me, the most important thing is to use the blessings that surround you to keep repairing the sorely damaged world.

Whoever’s kids inhabit that world in the future, if I can make it better for them and make a few of them better for it then I’m a happy guy!

 

We’ve established that the word “despair” blows me away and that you don’t need to feel sorry for me. So, why should you give a shit about me and my lack of grandkids, at all?

The first answer is easy:

Love is not binary. Feelings are not binary. Emotions are not binary. In fact, love, feelings, and emotions are not even discreet. These elements of our life are continuous functions. So, just because I’m not suicidal does not mean you shouldn’t care. I want your love and support.

The second answer is more complex:

To me, a part of examining one’s life in an open forum is to help others learn by sharing experiences. I share many things here and on Facebook and Twitter that are really no one’s business but my own. I choose to share my shit, not so you will feel sorry for me, but so that we can learn from each other.

  • I guarantee you hate some of my posts.
  • I guarantee you smile at at least a few.
  • I guarantee you don’t know why the hell I share some things I do.
  • I guarantee I piss you off.
  • I guarantee that, at least on occasion, you think about the value of compassion, the need for personal responsibility, and the value of integrity. Those are the 3 pillars that support me and…
  • I guarantee it helps ME to get shit out of my system and to embrace your feedback.

As Socrates reminds us, “The unexamined life is not worth living“. I embrace that in a public way both for me and for anyone who cares. So, it’s good for us all if you care.

The fact is that caring about other people, while holding myself accountable for my own actions, is the foundation of my life.

I used to think I was an Objectivist. Then I found how much joy I got from helping other people succeed. I gave up the Objectivist path because if lacked a notion of benevolence. Then my friend Nathaniel Branden (of blessed memory) started speaking of benevolence at Objectivism conferences. I’ll still never be an Objectivist because it conflicts with some of my Reform Jewish values. But, from it, I learned to take responsibility for myself and to recognize that making one’s self the best one can be DOES help others succeed! it does so because one may stand as a role model and because there is nothing wrong with bringing others along for the ride. So, when I paired that with my Jewish notion of benevolence I came up with a value system that works for me.

That is why you should care about me and my desire for children. Because my hope is that taking you along for the ride will make us all better people. Helping all of us to become better people is why I see those of you who share your children with me as an extraordinary blessing. It provides both the giver and the receiver the opportunity to help others through responsible action.

More on that is coming soon…

Okay y’all, I said on Facebook that I’d write a post like this and here it is.

A few days ago my very good friend Cindy met me and Patt for coffee. She brought with her, her grandson Cooper. I totally dig the kid, his mom, and yes grandma. I posted on Facebook that I wish I had kids and grandkids. Among my main points was how blessed I am that my friends and family allow me to be part of their families. A few people got that. Some did not.

Let’s start with the folks who feel sorry for poor, melancholy, Steve. I need to clarify something: You don’t make me feel any better by telling me I can adopt kids or be a foster parent.

I’m fucking 56 years old. There is a very important woman in my life (in fact the most important thing in my life) with whom I’d like to spend time before one of us keels over. I can barely stop myself from continually working now. I doubt that putting kids through college at 70 or 80 is a good retirement strategy. One can not change past bad decisions by making present bad decisions. Thanks for the thoughts, though. I know that they come from your heart.

Second, please don’t go overboard in trying to psychologically deconstruct me. I may need a therapist to do that but I’ll forgo the amateur (though clearly, lovingly, well-intentioned) deconstruction. I received an email from someone telling me this:

I waited so long for my children that I was in despair, despair of much the same kind as yours is.

I am NOT in despair. To me the word “despair” is huge. It means something like “I don’t have kids, how horrible! I’ll kill myself if I don’t have kids”. Dudes! That is NOT me!

I have no sense of despair. Sometimes I have a little melancholy but that’s not a bad thing. It certainly is not despair. There are lots of things I wish I had; mostly money related. But I despair over none of it. As long as I have Patt, there will be no proper use of the word “despair” in my life. So, get over that one. I promise to let you know if I’m ever in despair.

Now, though I love them all very deeply, you know what I think about people who feel sorry for me. The more important thing, though, is how I feel about ME.

Stay tuned.

 

I read a post on Facebook the other day that I found nearly too poignant to bear. It was the final post before leaving this world, by someone who I do not know.

It is a post by a woman whose way of communicating with her family and friends, before succumbing to a cancer that lay in remission for nearly 2 decades before metastasizing with a vengeance, demonstrates strength, bravery, and a commitment to loved  ones that I deeply admire.

I will not tell you who the writer is. She passed away this week and it is not for me to say whether she would allow it. Her sister, who is a friend of mine, said it was fine to post the message here. So I’ll share it with minor redaction to preserve privacy. I hope, if I am ever in the position of the woman who posted this, that I will handle my last hours with 1/100 of the dignity with which she did.

What follows are not my words. I share them in the hope that you will find their grace inspiring.


“I don’t know where to start. Normally, these updates would start out with some light humor, as I always try to look on the bright side of a situation. At least, the view from the 14th floor of <…> is fabulous. I get to look out over the city every day, as the fog lifts, and see the breeze swaying through the eucalyptus trees.

As you know, this cancer was under control for so long (18 years), but started to mutate and get out of control in just a matter of a few months. The treatments that I’ve tried since January have all failed. I have decided to go into hospice care now. I’ve received hundreds of well wishes, light, love and energy and that is invaluable to me. I will never be able to thank you all personally, but know that from the bottom of my heart, I do love each and every one of you dearly. There is no predicting when this will happen, and as I require more pain and comfort meds, it will be harder for me to communicate with you all.

The year 2016 has been an utter shit show, and the worst in my memory. Friends’ parents dying, my husband’s father dying, pets dying, violence in the world we know (the violence that is acknowledged and the violence that no one talks about). It saddens me.

I will be sad to miss <…> and bowling (although it is the company more than the activity itself I will miss). I will miss sitting in repose in my beautiful house that <…> and I worked so hard for, or on the back deck taking in the beauty of the backyard, which we transformed into an oasis. I will miss the beautiful evolution that has been happening since <…> and I moved to Vallejo and for which we’ve been a huge part of since moving there.

I feel I have lived my life as fully as possible, with as much joy, and filled with many places visited, and much scenery enjoyed. It is fitting that I am looking out over the city that I love, the city that drew <…> and I to the West Coast.

I am an unabashed feminist, and I must admit that there have been many women in my life who have given me inspiration and courage. I won’t be able to acknowledge them all, but I wanted to give a special acknowledgement to three of them:

<…>

The idea of community has always been an integral part of who I am. Communities that have formed me, as much as I hoped I have had an influence on them:
<…>

I hope that I have been able to support them as much as they have supported me through good times and bad.

If you want to do something nice for me, please honor me by doing something nice for someone else, or a cause that is important to me. Here are two that I have thought a lot about and are causes I care about: Planned Parenthood and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

If I had any final wishes, or thoughts, it would be this. Seeing the sameness in each other. We need to be easier on ourselves and easier on this world we live in. I feel like we are all just atoms, passing through space and time and we are trading them with each other all the time. So when I leave this body behind, we already share these things, so you will never be without me.”


To you guys, who know who you are, and who are experiencing this time of grief: thanks for letting me share these words. Please know that I do so with love for you and gratitude for our continuing friendship.

“Seeing the sameness in each other. We need to be easier on ourselves and easier on this world we live in.” Damn, I wish I’d said that.