Friday, March 29, 2013

Work Hard



Merce Cunningham and John Cage are best known for their contribution the the modernization of dance as an interpretive and abstract form.  They were exacting artists, interested in investigation, process, and the creation of work.  They were doers and craftsmen, interested in new works, new themes, new ideas, and new ways of doing things.  Surprising then that they reveal themselves to be so staid and conservative in their practice.  Among their rules for dancers and teachers are these:

"The only rule is work."
"Find something that you trust."
"Always take class."
"There are no mistakes."
"Try to be happy."

I love this.  These are simple things that I find myself nudging upon my students, my colleagues, and myself.  There is something in this about the way we participate in things, the approach we take to our practice, and how that informs our behavior in the rest of our lives.

To Watch the Merce Cunningham Dance Company

Cage and Cunninghams Rules for Students and Teachers:

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sit, Stay


There is an impossibility in sitting still.  I know this is not true of many if not most people, but for me, it is an affliction.  Consider this chain of events, hyperactivity and high energy cause one to over-schedule ones time.   This over-scheduling results in an unfortunate and unpredictable overload; the flu arrives to one's domicile, though thankfully not oneself.  Having made it miraculously to the end game a few days of crucial rest, a celebration and cutting loose which results in an absolute shut down of ones body.  I find myself backed into a corner with only one thing to do, rest.  I marvel at my ability to repeat patterns similar to this throughout my life, and at how frequently those around me do as well.  And we talk about it, or rather, we talk about how everyone should take it easy, take some time, get some rest.  It seems that there are always important things to do.

Consider though, if one were to write a short list of the most valuable things in life, perhaps things like, love, happiness, and health would come up, and that many of those things could be enhanced with more rest.  Perhaps rest is not a luxury to be sacrificed for other, more important things, or a commodity to be traded for wages or gain, but an obligation to the self, and something that should rank highly among our priorities.

Do not wait for your body to demand it, just go get some rest.

Photograph Courtesy of:

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The House in Morning


In the morning I wake first; always.  In hazy solitude I rise, stretch, face myself and the new day in the dim light of dawn.  There is no fear of waking you, even the alarm does not rouse you most days.  When you do rise, it is in a mass of silent movement and energy, a launching of sorts up the stairs and into the kitchen for coffee and breakfast. I follow behind you, emerging more slowly into the daylight, following last nights trail of you, socks, glasses, books, keys.  Much to the cats delight the trees begin to fill with birds.  Then you are out the door with a kiss and a wave, a pat on the head as I hand you your lunch.  The house stands still, waiting to be reset.

"The house this morning--with its truths 
scrambled, blankets and feathers, the start of the day
already in flux--drifts like a poor little boat
between its horizons of order and sleep."

Excerpt from XXXII, 100 Love Sonnets, Pablo Neruda

To Read the Full Poem:

To Participate in National Poetry Month:

Photograph of Pablo Neruda's House on Isla Negra Courtesy of:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Wait and Watch


Once a year, usually during the spring migration, my parents would take us to a high cliff edge on the Oregon coast to stand in the wind and rain of late winter and squint into the horizon looking for migrating Gray Whales.  This is a task not unlike to searching for a needle in a haystack.  The ocean is big, the whales comparatively small, and it is hard to picture what exactly it is that you are looking for.  Whale watching from shore generally consists of setting up on a bench with a blanket, a thermos of hot tea, and a pair of binoculars, and waiting.  Like other kinds of fishing, this can go on for some time.  Until someone sees a spout.  Then there is an eruption of activity, a bustling.  Pairs and family groups all gather and point themselves in the direction of the sighter and beginning the difficult task of explaining where something was, just a moment ago, in the ocean. If you are luck they are traveling in a tight pod, breathing often, and swimming fairly close to shore, if you are unlucky, you may always be looking someplace else the moment they rise up, always turning your gaze just a moment too late.

In recent years I have taken this pilgrimage upon myself, finding secluded perches where I can watch and wait in solitude.  That I would see the whales was something I took for granted, sure that enough waiting and the right intentions would always produce them.  This year, I brought a friend that had never been out to see the whales.  I had not seen her in some time, she has been struggling with sadness.  On the drive I was animated, describing how they travel along shore, in groups, sending up long streams of water, their backs and tails rising up out of the water.  I told her stories about whale watching as a kid, as an adult, folding it into a personal lore, wanting her to be excited, as though seeing the whales would be some kind of hope, a symbols of something good and powerful to come.

And then, nothing.  For hours, all we watched was the glassy blue of the ocean on a calm and sunny day.  Eventually, we turned and headed home, deflated.  Life does not always give us what we want and sometimes we have to look inside ourselves for our totems, our signs of hope.  Maybe next year.

National Geographic Website on Gray Whales

Photo Courtesy of:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Expression of Care


It has taken me many years to come to realize that I am just as worthy of care, attention and affection as anyone else.  That those around me may neglect to willingly or graciously give those things to me is not a reflection on me or an indication that I am a lesser person.  People give what they have to offer, which often times is not a lot.  Often they either lack the time, skills, or compassion to reach out to others.  Ultimately, their behaviors are theirs to own, not anything that I can influence.

Consider our own ability to express gratitude and love.  Consider the impact that a daily expression of care to those you value may have on your life. Try harder to show the people that you love that they are important, that their presence in your world has import and weight.  Try not to let them slip away. 

Photo Courtesy of:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Neap Tide


The rain drives.  The wind howls.  Inside fevers rage against a final flu, the last of the season arriving in the early days of spring.  Outside, an ambulance arrives to take away an elderly neighbor.  The mail stands in tall stacks, sorted and ignored.  There are probably bills in there, important, time dependent things that should be addressed.  A good friend calls to say her life is on fire, there is no help to offer her, only an ear, a nod, a gentle cooing.  

Life has a way of pressing itself upon us, flattening us down, stretching our time, patience, and good humor.  It is important in these times to remember that like the rain, they come in bands, great stretches of gray.  This is not the new state of things, there is no permanence in this malaise.  Like the rain, this too shall pass.


Photo Courtesy of:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Step In Time


Studying dance is a repetitive and unruly thing.  Most of what is taught in class is technique and form, the rules of the movement.  Good dancers, dancers with drive, dancers that want to dance, spend hours in repetition, sometimes excruciatingly slowly, sometimes at near impossible tempos.  Dance is learned in repetition; is it the primary tool for teaching the body.  Repeat, critique, repeat again.  Repeat, measure progress, repeat again.  Ability is not stored, a dancer has to always practice, always fight to maintain or push forward.  For every piece we master there is a new movement to begin to study.  Repetition makes it easy to be a technician.  True artistry though, comes from finding release from those things and dancing from the inside out.  Using technique and form to support the movement rather than dictate it.  Some artists work from the ground up, building the dance from assembled bits and pieces. Others work in retrograde, deconstructing phrases, and movements into their most basic elements.  Some are motivated by imagery, or the need to communicate something.  Others are driven by the music.  Ultimately, like most things in life, it is all an improvisation, the following of one impulse, and then another, and another until with repetition, we come to know it as a dance.  

What dances are in your life today?  What kind of improvisation will you do?  What are you using to support it?

Photo Courtesy of:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Two Million and Counting


The United States incarcerates more people than any other country.  In fact, we send so many people to prison that a new term has been coined for it; mass incarceration.  Mass incarceration.  More than two million of our citizens at any given time. We are increasingly criminalizing behaviors related to mental illness, drug addiction and poverty.  And we are punitive in our sentencing.  We send people to prison for a long time.  We incarcerate more people per capita than China.  Once inside the system, there is little to no opportunity for rehabilitation, education, or treatment.  Some of our prisons are tent cities in the desert.  Reincarceration rates are high.  And, contrary to our own stereotypes, increasing numbers of those incarcerated are white and female, a phenomenon most certainly related to the meth epidemic, but more importantly, prevents the mainstream from using racist generalizations to explain incarceration rates.  Across the board, Americans spend a lot of time in jail.

What purpose is this really serving us?  We are burdening ourselves with the cost of housing and feeding these citizens that with help, could be contributing to society.  We are entrenching a large percentage of our population in a criminal justice system that is characterized by recidivism, relapse, and heredity.  That this kind of system does nothing to change or eliminate criminal behavior is clear, even with mass incarceration we seem to have no shortage of criminals. That prevention, in the form of education, drug treatment, and affordable healthcare is needed is clear.  So is a change in attitude.  We need to end the era of mandatory minimum sentencing and allow our elected judges to do their job, judge what is best for each offender, for each offense.  We also need to pay close attention to what we criminalize and how those standards are enforced.  Perhaps we have lost some piece of our humanity to the our zealous pursuit of a crime-free society, perhaps we need to learn to see each others value.

Photo Courtesy of:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Food Rules


Food activism was alive and well even a century ago, but it was considered common sense, not radical eating.  The most interesting thing about these US Food Administration recommendations from 1917 is the nod to buying locally.  The local food movement is largely touted as a 21st Century phenomenon, but the value of local food sources has long been understood.  Generations that lived through contagion, wars, or the great depression all understand  the value and necessity of having food at hand, and being able to grow more of it yourself.  There are few communities that grow enough food locally to be able to sustain themselves through crises, and crises are becoming more common as food sourcing and distribution is consolidated.  Interruptions in transportation or computing systems, extreme weather events, and economic instability all threaten the current food structure, maybe it's time to start listening.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Walk On By


The baby boomer generation is growing old; all of them; all at the same time.  The unanticipated consequences of the boom, which for the first few decades of their lives were a boon to the economy, have shifted.  Instead of a country over flowing with young, healthy workers, we are a country of elders.  And they are in bad shape.  The boomers have high rates of cancer and obesity, they lost much of their wealth in the recent recession, and are increasingly dependent on social programs that are dwindling and under sequester.

They are also increasingly homeless.  According to a report by NPR, the average age of a homeless person in the United States is 47.  Life on the streets is hard, unsafe, physically demanding, and exposed to the elements.  Life expectancy is short.  

Homelessness is growing.  These are our elderly, our veterans, our mentally ill, and our most unfortunate.  Try to remember that the true face of homelessness is not standing, drug-ridden at the corner with a sign asking for money to help them score, but hidden in the edges of our view, doorways, libraries, clinics, taking up what small space they can.  

Try not to look away.  Let's try to start seeing homelessness before we look around and find that we have neglected an entire generation, left them on the ice.  Let's keep good care of our elders.

To Locate a Homeless Shelter Near You:

NPR's recent story on homelessness and aging in America:

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

White Smoke


This week the conclave ended and the new South American Pope was declared.  He chose to call himself Francis I.  This is an encouraging sign, if any credence is given to the idea that that a popes chosen name reflects something of their faith and whom they choose to emulate.  

St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment is universally revered for his liberalism, acceptance, and protection of the innocent.  Never ordained, St Francis was born into wealth, but chose a life of simple poverty.  He was humble, kind, and compassionate.   

The world, and its more than one billion Catholics are ready for a new kind of pope; one with compassion, humanity, and a sense of modern times.  Regardless of your religious affiliations, the pope and what he thinks and says are important to you, because all  those Catholics are listening to him. Worried about population growth? Then you had better care what the pope has to say about birth control and abortion.  Concerned about the environment? Then hope the pope is too, he has a lot of people listening.

The prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


Pope Francis I is living up to the hopes of liberal and progressive Catholics; and terrifying and scandalizing the institutional powers that be as well as his handlers.  Two cases in point: after a recent hotel stay, Pope Francis I went down to the front desk and did what we all do, paid the bill, himself, like a real human being.  And this; he has taken to going out to into the streets to greet the public, and shaking their hands.

I find this so refreshing.  A humanized Pope is long overdue in the church and perhaps the only thing that will salvage the Catholic religion from the trappings of its own institutions and politics.  Moreover, it stands as a good reminder for everyone, that all of us, especially in the face of success, money, and power, can use a little humility.  We can all be more human to one another.

Photo Courtesy of:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Musical Interlude


Some days wear.  Sometimes we are rough around the edges and dusty-booted.  I think we feel this mostly acutely at the beginning and ends of cycles.  Time changes, seasonal shifts, new holidays; sometimes we look for something new and inspiring; sometimes we just need a break.  But often, every day just seems ordinary. I try to embrace these times, and find sweetness in the ordinary, the small daily things we do that in the end make up the real stuff of life.  We are all a long time traveling.

Do not trudge through the day.  Fill the morning with music.  Step out into the afternoon sun.  Dance.

Listen to the Wailing Jenny's Sing:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dalai Lama


The Dalai Lama is coming to speak this spring.  There are many people here who feel very strongly about being able to go and see him and sit in his presence and with good reason.  Regardless of your religious affiliation the essential goodness of the Dalai Lama is evident.  This is a man who began his monastic education at the age of eight and received over 60 honors in recognition of his work towards peace, including the Nobel Peace Prize.  He has published over 70 books, most of which emphasize the need for love, compassion, and peace.  He was also, as far back as the early 1980's the first Nobel Prize winner to be recognized for their work towards a healthy and sustainable relationship with the environment.

I think that people who feel inspired to see this man are craving a message of peace and compassion.  I also though that it was remarkable that in this relatively small city stadium seating for such an event could sell out so quickly.  But it didn't.  Not really.  Ten minutes after the sell out tickets started to appear on Craigslist.  With scalpers prices.


Photo Courtesy of:

Monday, March 11, 2013

Agate Beach


One of my favorite places to go as a child was Agate Beach.  Decades ago it was a blink or you'll miss it wayside, though now it is a thriving vacation community.  It is still a secluded and lovely stretch of Oregon's all-public shoreline.  I remember long walks with my sister and Mom along the beach, wading in the tidal lagoon, and beach combing for hours.  Agate Beach was named for the spectacular abundance of agates, colorful pieces of quartz washed and polished by the ocean until they shine and transmit light.  A single walk could garner handfuls of agates, to be taken home and used in planters or as make-shift jacks.  It was common to find beachcombers hauling buckets of agates up to their cars.  Something about the shape of the beach, the nature of the source rock, and the particulars of the ocean currents has always funneled shells and stones to this tiny Oregon beach.

Yesterday we walked the length of the entire beach, and found not one.  Now the only thing that washes up on Agate Beach is remnants from the Japanese Tsunami covered with exotic and invasive species, and shards of plastic.  People still walk the beach with buckets in hand, but they are largely picking up trash.  And the public notices sign in the parking lot discourages swimming or water contact of any kind due to high bacteria count.

This makes me sad.  It serves as proof, in my own lifetime, of the damage we have done to the environment, and the consequences of our greed.  Agate Beach is gone forever.

Take nothing but pictures.  Leave nothing but footprints.  

To Volunteer or Contribute to SOLV, Oregon"s Beach Cleanup Non-Profit:

The Oregon Coast Management Program:

Photograph of Tsunami Debris on Agate Beach Courtesy of:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Do You Know Her?


When my mother, an avid reader, wants to know if I have read a particular author, she will ask me if I know her.

"Do you know Annie Dillard?"

Annie Dillard is a prolific essayist and poet, she is often compared to Thoreau, though I believe that that is more due to their shared love of nature than anything else.  Annie Dillard's voice is singular.  She is an author recognizable from her cadence and clarity alone.  Since the early 1970's she has quietly become one of the great American naturalist voices.  

I remember where I was when I first read Teaching a Stone to Talk; sixteen, a dreary day of homework and rain; and then this:

“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.” 

And this:

“I would like to learn, or remember, how to live.” 

She is also beautiful and humble.  Her website is unabashed in it's protest of self promotion, she does not tell us her life story or show us pictures of her family.  She says, quite clearly  that if you want to know about an author, read their work or works. 

Yes, I know her.


Annie Dillards Website:


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Sea Shepherd

Earlier this week the 9th circuit court in Portland Oregon declared the Sea Shepherd, a direct-action anti-whaling ship and its crew, pirates.  They were ordered to cease and desist their efforts to stop a Japanese whaling vessel from fishing in the Antarctic Sea.  What the Sea Shepherd does is get in the way.  They sail between whales and whaling ships, or between and in front of vessels.  It is not a safe practice.  Nor is it a form of protest the media finds new, interesting, or particularly worth reporting.

To be honest, my first response was that I could not believe the Sea Shepherd was still around.  I first heard about the Sea Shepherd close to twenty years ago when I first began working for Greenpeace.  Sea Shepherd was started by one of the original founders of Greenpeace during the early days of direct activism when Greenpeace was still known for taking to the seas.  Part of me regarded this kind of activism as a thing of the past; a tactic so clearly riddled with high stakes and gray areas that no one could possibly believe in its effectiveness.  But here they are, on video, being pressed between two ships, interviewing one another about their dedication to the movement and the environment, in court, being called pirates.  And while I want to be in support of them, the reality is that it is just so much danger, to themselves, and the other crews, and such little press coverage, that it hardly seems worth it.

This kind of activism radicalizes the environmental movement, allowing the conservative right to cast everyone concerned about climate change, resource conservation or air and water quality as first fanatics, then terrorists, and now pirates.  As much as I want to applaud their idealism, image matters.  Significant social change can only come with participation from the mainstream.  I think the time has come for the Sea Shepherd to change its tactics. 

For a history of the Sea Shepherds:


Oregonian Article on the Ninth Circuit Court Decision:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Gray Days


The rain has finally come.  The clouds lay across us like a thick winter blanket; the tree limbs sag, heavy with water.  I close my eyes and listen to the rain.  I hear it pouring off the roof, over-flowing clogged gutters.  It rains so hard the water runs down the windows forming deep pools at the base of the house.  Even here, in the hills, among the pines, frogs surround us.  I step outside, turn my face to the gray skies, and breath.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It Ain't Over

I am in love with this Dutch artist's work.  Minimal and stark, Petra Vanderput's images speak to the present moment.  The image above, to me, says everything about dance and aging.  They say there is a sweet spot in dance a time in which you are young enough to have the virtuosity and mature enough to have artistry.  There is something ironic or even cruel to realize that just as one has the range of life experiences and strength of character to express true emotion in movement, you body begins to fail you.

But you still have now.  You have your body, today, just as it is.  And your dance, whatever it is, you should keep doing for as long as you can.  Because it feeds you.  Because it is your voice.  Because you love it.

To view more of Petra's images:

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pseudo Science


A Washington State representative was quoted this week in an email to a local bike shop owner describing how bicycling was bad for the environment.  The gist of his argument was that increased respiration from the cyclists would increase their carbon dioxide output, contributing to global warming.  That the amount of carbon dioxide generated by a human body is orders of magnitude less than that generated by an automobile does not appear to have occurred to him.  Science literacy is important.  More than that, understanding the scientific concept of scale is hugely important to understanding anything about the causes or consequences of things that impact us.

There are a lot of inter-related systems.  There are a lot of forces at work.  Some things happen on timescales much longer than the human experience, and some involve amounts of things either too big or too small for us to adequately vision.  Read.  Pay attention to the numbers.  Compare things.  Ask questions.


Picture of Beijing air pollution at noon:

Friday, March 1, 2013

By the Numbers


If you have not looked at population numbers for the countries of the world lately, or ever, it is time. A simple glance at the numbers illuminates all sorts of things about US foreign policy, why we go to war and where, and why we hear about some countries more than others.  It also shatters a lot of our preconceived notions about social, political, and economic dominance, our own self-import, and the idea that land mass has anything to do with population.  The top 15:

1. China
2. India
3. United States
4. Indonesia
5. Brazil
6. Pakistan
7. Bangladesh
8.  Nigeria
9. Russia
10. Japan
11. Mexico
12. Phillipines
14. Germany
15. Ethiopia

These are not predominantly Western or Christian countries.  Many of them have incredibly high population densities and incredibly low standards of living.  They have histories riddled with militarism, questionable human rights ethics, and war.  Ourselves included.  Two of them are African nations, which I only mention because of the American tendency to justify part of our ignorance of the African continent with the false belief that few people live there.  

Sometimes numbers speak for themselves.  Think about this list the next time you listen to or watch the news.  Think about it when looking at the kinds of stories that get covered, and especially those that get ignored or obscured.  Decide for yourself what you should be paying attention to.  

Start with the numbers.

Real Time Counters:

World Populations by Country:

Image courtesy of: