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Back, But Not To Normal

Besides the passing of time, there has been a passing of moments. Moments, more than minutes, are the markers of our lives. The last couple of years have passed slowly in some ways, and yet have been full of heavily significant moments for so many of us. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to elaborate for any of you.

In that time, I worked full time for a year as a high school teacher, teaching a number of subjects for the first time – despite my decade-plus of teaching experience. Then, we moved to a small town. I’ve begun taking medication for adult ADHD. I’ve written more songs, practiced more guitar. I’ve done some background work on a number of film sets. The kids are growing up and starting to move on. I’ve been substitute teaching here in our current home town.

This transition feels like a gateway. We lived in the same place for so many years, did the same things. I don’t know if we’re going to settle for a while where we are now – but having had to move has caused us to open our minds, to rethink where we’re at and where we want to get to. So I’ve started a new degree – a Master of Distance, Digital, and Open Education.

At a deep level, I acknowledge that movement is not the same as change or personal growth. I believe that there does come a time, though, when a person has to move in some way in order to grow.

My hope is that I’ll be recording more songs, and that this blog will be rejuvenated as well. There’s a lot going on. I look forward to sharing some more of it with you.

Art

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Happy Matariki

I am not Maori, and I apologize for any sense of cultural appropriation.

It’s just that this time of year, for me, very much feels like a new beginning, and the Maori calendar acknowledges this time in that way, so I would love to join in a spirit of celebration.

I’ve spent so many years in the school system in the northern hemisphere, on the traditional calendar, both as a student and as an educator. The school year is ending, and as is so often the case, with this ending comes new beginnings.

There’s a new album project that I’m starting as a singer-songwriter, and recording sessions are scheduled for about 3 weeks from now. I’ve begun a Masters degree in Distance, Digital, and Open Education, and now I’ll have time for course work.

Maybe this is an opportunity for a new beginning for you as well. The many Covid 19 related measures that have become a ubiquitous (though useful) iniquity for us these past few years are finally dissipating. Though there is turmoil, political upset, and lingering unrest in the world, maybe this is a time for you to declare your own Matariki. We don’t need a calendar to tell us that we can start something new and fresh- we don’t even need the dawning of a new day. The stimulus and centrifuge for our new genesis is latent within us, inherent to each of us. We have the seeds, and we are the seeds.

So Happy Matariki!

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Nothing New Comes From Normal

I’m not crazy about being uncomfortable. But my doctor told me that, if I don’t exercise to the point of being rather uncomfortable, I get weaker and risk a shorter lifespan. Some level of discomfort is needed to build up muscle, especially as we get older (and the natural discomfort of physiological development is not really a thing).

If I’m not intellectually or socially uncomfortable, I’m barricading out different ideas. Maybe I’m not dealing with the reality that there are folks who don’t see things as I do, and that their perception does affect my life and I will need to decide how to respond. Maybe I become dismissive of all their opinions, and avoid ideas that I should actually think about in order to have a more complete understanding of given situations myself.

In the early days of social media, there was a great hope that it would be a place where people with different perspectives would actually have discussions with each other, and that it would be the starting point of a new and invigorating democratic discourse.

Since then, we’ve discovered that we have a tendency to gravitate toward people who already agree with us, and that the tightest and most rigid clusters of people are those who tend to feel most insecure and most judgmental, usually at the same time.

So sometimes I may have to disrupt my routine or consider what it might be like to live in and with different circumstances. Because if I don’t, I learn less, my relationships become increasingly vulnerable as my understanding of reality becomes increasingly inflexible and deluded, and I fade away into a weak sort of fantasy life rather than a robust engagement with life in all its dimensions.

The word ‘spiritual’ has become something of a euphemism for impractical, deluded, and disconnected. It should be about a wholeness of perspective and an internal capacity to deal with reality with an empathetic outlook and a clear sense of personal identity at the same time, established in a confidence in authentic love and a belief in freedom. If we build walls to keep others out, the ultimate result is a kind of rot that diminishes our own capacities to be fully human.

Here are the lyrics to my song “Nothing New Comes From Normal” (not yet released).

Every day
starts the same way.
Become something of a ritual.
Take a hot drink to a screen,
check news and messages for me,
and on and on as usual.

Our routines provide us with a feeling of security.
They define our normal.
But does the comfort that we feel
make our experience unreal?

Nothing new comes from normal.
Things get strange before they change.
Nothing new comes from normal.
There’s a discomfort that’s essential.

I don’t hear the voice that calls
when I have my headphones on.
Is my soul soothed or controlled
by the siren of the song?

Almost everything is good in its own time.
But am I mesmerized by chime
of pentameter and rhyme?

Nothing new comes from normal.
Things get strange before they change.
Nothing new comes from normal.
There’s a discomfort that’s essential.
Nothing new comes from normal.
Nothing new comes from normal.

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Dead Sentinels; Inspired By A Family Hike To Stanley Glacier

The summer of 2018 had been hot, dry, and smoky in British Columbia and Alberta. There had been many forest fires. Recent previous summers had also known significant forest fire damage.

As a family, we had chosen to do the Stanley Glacier hike. The area had been affected by fire in a recent year. Rain had fallen earlier in the week of our hike, so the air was clearer than usual, and so we took the opportunity to get out to the mountains.

Early on, our hike went past many short young coniferous trees growing close together. Some of the cones of evergreen trees actually require the heat of a fire to crack them open and make the seed available for germination. The fire that had burned away many taller trees and left charred stump also had eliminated the canopy that prevented sunlight from reaching younger trees, and now the new growth was plentiful.
There were, however, the blackened and barren remnants of the tall trees that had once dominated that landscape. They stood out like sentinels watching over the newer life below them – the new trees, the fireweed. A poem began to form in my mind, nearly spontaneously. It’s a rare occurrence for me, but it does happen- perhaps the result of a lifetime’s fascination with words and ideas, how words sound, and how ideas are shaped. So here it is.

Dead Sentinels – by Art Koop (September 1, 2018, during a hike toward Stanley Glacier, through terrain scorched by a huge forest fire just a few years previous)

Dead sentinels still standing guard
Over nurseries of toddler trees and fireweed
Determined in their youth
Asserting life within
Their rockstrewn charred domain
Certain in some grander scheme, they win.

We, wending our way over, through, and past
Begin to feel our circulating breath and blood,
The warmth of working muscle pushing us ahead.
And start to feel we too are more alive than dead.

The intrepid potentilla, bursting into bloom
While holding fast its roots in molecules of dirt
Between the rocks, bears witness to our wandering
And seems to cheer us on, while we,
Amazed at its endurance, hear its positive prodding
And proceed.

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No Place To Go But Rising

My music and song writing stayed on the back burner for many years.

‘No Place To Go But Rising’ is about beginning to work on my music more seriously after a long period of neglecting that aspect of who I am. It’s about trying to be authentic, while recognizing my family responsibilities and financial obligations.

Just making money isn’t enough to nurture a person’s spirit. Making a living, on its own, isn’t enough to give meaning to life. For me, life is about nurturing significant relationships and about authentically living out who you are while in the process of contributing to community.

It’s okay to feel like you’re beginning something fresh and from out of nowhere. Like the song says, “…(at) least I(‘ve) got my direction”.

Ironically, when I did this one in the studio, I didn’t really have any ‘direction’ for the ending. So I kind of just went with what I felt, and in the end I’m pretty pleased with the energy that emerged.

Here are the lyrics.

No Place To Go But Rising

No place to go but rising
Least I got my direction
From here any more surprising
Come from dregs of perspiration

Need to figure out what’s to get ’em
To part with they money
Right now my upper crust
Is a long way from milk and honey

Make my way with dignity
Nobody buying desperation
Maybe someone gonna sing with me
Maybe get my compensation

Gotta do what I was made for
Even getting what I need
Gotta have some joy here
Though there’s someone here to feed

Nowhere to go but up
Up is where I’m looking
And right now I’m getting up
For going up

Up for going up
Up for going up
Up for going up

Up for going up
Up for going up
Up for going up

No place to go but rising
No place to go but rising
No place to go but rising
No place to go but up

No place to go but rising
Least I got my direction
From here any more surprising
Come from dregs of perspiration

Nowhere to go
nowhere to go
nowhere to go but up

Nowhere to go
nowhere to go
nowhere to go but up

Up for going up
Up for going up
Up for going up

Up for going up
Up for going up
Up for going up

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Finding The Pieces; Being Supportive of Family

Cost of living increases have outstripped the rise in the average wage in the last couple of decades, in my city as well as in many others. This trend of rising costs in the context of lower average income makes it more difficult for young people to get established. Also, getting into college or university is more challenging than it was when I was a kid, as more students compete for fewer spaces.

An appropriate response to these challenges, where possible, is to offer young adult children more support in getting started, if they need it. It should usually be possible… our average family size is smaller, and our average house size is bigger. However, I’ve come across a couple of situations where parents have chosen to kick their kids out of the house as soon as legally possible – even on their child’s birthday. Possibly some parents stubbornly hold to the belief that kids should be forced to move out and make it on their own early, as a kind of ‘sink or swim’ challenge. I don’t share that belief.

To whatever extent possible, without infringing on the independence of our offspring, we hope to appropriately support our children as older teens and young adults – to nurture their independence, but not to create unnecessary additional obstacles to their success. Life is tough enough already.

Our kids have already shown their resourcefulness, even in the toy building block structures and creative digital designs they’ve made. Once in a while they are open to help or suggestions, and with just a bit of a nudge here or there they are good to go on their own.

My song ‘Finding the Pieces’ is about continuing to be there for the next generation, supporting them in their goals and as persons.

Finding the Pieces

Your interlocking building blocks
would be spread out on the floor.
You were making another masterpiece
you’d work at for an hour.

Some small but essential pieces
seemed impossible to find.
You’d call for us to help you,
and in a way I didn’t mind…

Finding the pieces,
searching most unlikely places…
spending time down on our knees, hoping to find them,
knowing you would be so pleased….

And sometimes once of your brothers,
with a keen and practiced eye,
would see one camouflaged in carpet
and would kindly bring it by.

Or sometimes it was your mother,
on a break, taking the time…
or we would find another way
to make the build sublime…

Finding the pieces,
searching most unlikely places…
spending time down on our knees, hoping to find them,
knowing you would be so pleased….

Now you have gotten bigger,
and your projects bigger too…
You work so hard on all the problems
life presents to you.

Some small but essential pieces
may seem difficult to find.
You can call on us to help you,
‘cuz you know we wouldn’t mind…

Finding the pieces,
searching most unlikely places…
spending time down on our knees, hoping to find them,
knowing you would be so pleased….

Finding the pieces,
searching most unlikely places…
spending time down on our knees, hoping to find them,
knowing you would be so pleased….

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