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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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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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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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Gonna Spend My Cash

“Why do you buy organic bananas?” asked an older visitor. “They have a peel, so pesticides won’t transfer into what you eat.”

I told him that I had seen a documentary that showed pesticides being sprayed on a banana plantation while workers were picking the bananas, because the corporation that owned the plantation didn’t want to stop the harvest long enough to spray pesticides and interrupt the work. So for me, it wasn’t about the bananas, but about the workers.

“I hear that,” commented our visitor. He then went on to relate that when he was young, picking hops in the Fraser Valley, the company also sprayed pesticides while the hops were being picked.

We try to keep ethical and sustainability issues in mind when we make our purchases. Fair Trade coffee and chocolate are frequent purchases of ours. If you search “Child Labour and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry”, you will come across an article by the ‘Food Empowerment Project’ that gives some details about how the chocolate industry is involved in the worst possible labour conditions in the world in our time.

Yet, we are inconsistent in our efforts, even as far as buying chocolate. Some fair trade and organic goods are only sold in stores that are some distance away from our home, and thus we would have to spend more time, money, and fuel, to go and purchase those goods – which creates an opportunity cost and additional environmental sustainability issues in itself.

Every purchasing decision is on some level a compromise, and there are so many such decisions that have to be made. The individual consumer in our society should not have to bear this burden alone – but our society is insufficiently committed to ethical purchases, production, and environmental sustainability, and mostly just sees it all as a bother, so it seems unlikely that governments will be elected in the near future which will encourage and support change on a broader level. There are powerful corporate and political forces that benefit from the status quo, combined with a societal inertia and malaise, so this is likely to be an ongoing issue.

While I want to continue moving toward an ethical and sustainable lifestyle, I also really do enjoy getting paid. Getting a paycheque provides a bit of a sense of recognition for work accomplished, and I feel that it’s natural to want to celebrate that. There’s a cloud of guilt that lingers over progressives, because of the level of ethical compromise involved in almost every act of every day. Even sitting at this keyboard to type has environmental consequences.

So my song “Gonna Spend My Cash” relates to that internal conflict of feeling joy and wanting to celebrate my remuneration, while at the same time wanting to be a more ethical and sustainable consumer. I haven’t ever heard a song like it, so it needed to be written, in my opinion. Here are the lyrics.

Gonna Spend My Cash

Gonna spend my cash, ‘cuz I got my pay
There’s value in a dollar and that’s okay
Gonna spend my cash, but watch where it goes
Cuz I want it to be love and not blood that flows

I’d be lying if I’d say gonna give it all away
Got a family with dreams and bills to pay
I earn, so I’ll share, but I won’t throw it away
There’s a balance in the balance, and a price to pay

It would be great to get around the degradation
It would be great to get rid of financial oppression
It’s tough to fight a system that I live in
To avoid a depression, but reduce my possession

Gonna spend my cash, ‘cuz I got my pay
There’s value in a dollar and that’s okay
Gonna spend my cash, but watch where it goes
Cuz I want it to be love and not blood that flows
Cuz I want it to be love and not blood that flows

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I Do What I Do (And I Don’t Pay No Mind)

It was an understandable mistake. The first time the recording studio producer typed in the name of the song, it came out “I do what I want”. That one word difference, though, was too much – I had to change it back to the original “I do what I do…”.

The song is not so much about doing what I want, as about continuing to press forward – without being distracted by unproductive criticism, or past mistakes, or regret. It’s about finding meaning in work – although getting paid for what you do is lovely and provides resources to meet goals, meaning is what helps a person to endure and persist. It’s about being prepared for opportunity by putting in the necessary groundwork so as to be ready to go when the right time comes. It’s about being authentically oneself.

It’s not a complicated song, and the words in it aren’t particularly difficult or unusual. The grammar is definitely not proper. But all that stuff in the paragraph I just wrote, was stuff I wanted to express in a straightforward way and with a tone of dogged persistence and a sense that there is a wealth of experience beneath the words.

Here are the lyrics;

I do what I do, and I don’t pay no mind
to what naysayers say, or what muckrakers find.
I do what I do, and I don’t pay no mind.

Like everyone else, I’ve left stories behind.
Some I think of fondly, some I’d like to rewind.
I’d like to retouch some of my history,
but I’m not looking back, ‘cuz that’s no place to be.

If you put in the work, your heart will be satisfied –
it’s not seeking reward, it’s not stroking your pride.
If the world needs what you bring,
you know you won’t be denied –
but the far greater thing is the warm glow inside.

I’ll sit back and wait –
I’ll know the time when I see it.
I won’t rush to be great –
don’t wanna fake it, but be it.
I’ll sit back and wait –
I’ll know the time when I see it.

Well, I do what I do, and I don’t pay no mind
to what naysayers say, or what muckrakers find.
I do what I do, and I don’t pay no mind.

**The other unusual thing about this song, for me, is that it’s in 6/8 time. Generally my songs are in 4/4 time, but this is the first of two of my most recent recordings that is in 6/8.

You can find my music on any streaming service, and it can be downloaded as well from Apple Music and from Amazon, to name two.

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(I Want to be) Like Democracy

Sir Winston Churchill is supposed to have said “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others”.

What he meant by that, of course, is that while no political system is perfect – each has its advantages and disadvantages – he on balance actually preferred democracy. Chances are that he was responding to criticism of the British Parliamentary system of democracy, and his reply was somewhat sarcastic or sardonic.

I wanted to write a song that would discuss the relative benefits of democracy, but would not be limited to a kind of memorization tool for school. I did write the song so that it could possibly be used in class, maybe introducing some political systems ideas to the class in a different way than through note-taking or the more traditional forms of educational introductions to ideas. The song would ideally also be able to stand on its own. So I thought maybe I could use democracy itself as a kind of metaphor.

Like political systems, people also are not perfect. Sir Winston Churchill wasn’t, and I’m not either. But as it happens, the ideals behind modern liberal democracy are also ideals that I hold dear – openness, accountability, human rights, sharing power, freedom…. And, of course, ideals require some sacrifices. Sharing power means giving up one’s own notions of power; it means not always being able to have your own way. These sacrifices are worthwhile, though, because of the greater importance and priority of the ideals.

I have released my song ‘Like Democracy’ in several versions, and in various ways. There is the latest, commercially available version, which can be heard on Spotify or Napster or Tidal or Deezer or YouTube or various other streaming services, and which is also available for purchase via Amazon or iTunes and other digital music distribution services. There is another version of Like Democracy available for upload right on this site (under the ‘Educational’ tab, choose ‘Curriculum Songs’ from the drop-down menu), and another one on my YouTube channel. The lyrics are available on this website too, just below the website recording of the song.

On this website, also on the ‘Educational Tab’, there’s a Question Sheets Related segment in the dropdown menu that also uses the song Like Democracy for exploring ideas related to human rights, specifically the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For me, the main significant lines in Like Democracy are

“I wanna be like democracy,
Give my friends a chance to reach the top.
Sometimes things might go wrong,
Sometimes people let you down,
So then I also wanna have a way to stop.”
This brings out the political idea of power being in the hands of the people, rather than in the hands of a leader. Also, on a personal level, it is about both trust and a willingness to change.

2. “I wanna bring out the best in people,
I wanna know about the worst.
I wanna blend love, mercy, and justice,
And the right kinds of hunger and thirst.”
This is about how the idea of sharing power politically, along with providing freedom, gives people the opportunity to come up with new ideas and contribute to society and each other.
On the other hand, it is about how an open society with a free press and political opposition parties provides accountability. True democracy is only viable when people know what their choices are.
On a personal level, it’s about honest relationship and caring. “The right kinds of hunger and thirst” is a spiritual reference to a “hunger and thirst after righteousness” – in other words, for right and equitable living in authentic community.

And finally,
3. “And I would take love over fear,
Even at the risk I might get hurt.
No true affection in the voice
Of one who hasn’t got a choice,
So I’ll give up control or even lose my shirt.”

One of the ways in which dictators maintain control of their societies is through the use of fear and force. The idea of choice is frightening to dictators, because they perceive any action which represents ideas different from their own as a threat to their power. Real democracy encourages choice. It allows for different ideas to emerge, in the hope that a full discussion of possibilities can result in ultimately better decisions being made, even if there are some difficult moments in the meantime.
On a personal level, I too want to be willing to take risks in relationship. Coercion and love are different things, and it’s the real thing that I’m interested in. So since there’s “no true affection in the voice of one who hasn’t got a choice,” I have to be willing to take loss if what I really want is love. It can’t be coerced.

I first wrote ‘Like Democracy’ around 10 years ago. It’s still one of my favourite songs of all those that I have written.

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