Tuesday, January 1, 2013
When falling asleep it's my habit to say "Thank you, thank you, thank you", and then visualize whatever I have to be thankful for.
As my last post said I nearly lost one of my best friends to a disaster in a surgical procedure. Now, more than two weeks later she is still in the Special Care Unit but mostly for monitoring.
She looks very good but the process of recovery, though seeming certain, is going to be much longer than originally planned for.
So along comes Reality to inform me that another dear friend, my surrogate older sister (I'm the little brother she never had) has deteriorated rapidly due the the results of a stroke she suffered some three years ago.
Native Americans seems to have a different sense of time than other cultures - or more aboriginal cultures see time differently than modern American culture. We see events as existing in the past, present and future at the same time. This helps when editing music.
It also helps when seeing the context of events. "Eternal tense" lets you see everything around you, the good and the bad, see all the connections that influence each other.
So last night, processing all of this information as I began my end-of-day thinking/feeling - the summation of "plus column/minus column" - or just "column" - and began vocalizing my thank you's I was surprised to find myself laughing.
Giggling (which is hard to see myself doing, much less hear it) led to laughter. I have spent so much time feeling scared, angry, sad - "negative" emotions, though I think of them as the necessary price of being alive and involved with the human race - that maybe the Universe was putting me in a place where I could see the balance of life and then let me respond.....
..... and I respond by laughing. Also crying. Also screaming, dancing, writing, and loving.
I respond by being alive. And I am grateful for the chance to feel whatever I am led to feel by the path I'm on.
Posted by Jim Alberty at 8:45 AM
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Powdery snow. Very cold winds. Deserted streets. Eye-level spots of colored light are everywhere: red, green, blue, white, orange.
Two mylar balloons, blue and silver, are tied to a light pole - they thump softly in the wind.
The night seems tired. Expectant. Tensed for travail that may or may not come.
If you've been following my Facebook posts you'll know that one week ago this morning - or a lifetime ago in our hearts - my dear friend Catherine Collins Bernard suffered what seems a one-in-a-million medical injury during a routine laproscopic procedure at Mercy Hospital.
That deeply internal injury led to a complete bleedout and began a massive, heroic fight to save her life.
Catherine led it.
90 minutes of chest compression. Heart failure due to blood loss. Possible brain damage from lack of circulation. Surgery to stop the bleeding. Possible intestinal ischemia. Possible lateral herniation.
And that was day one.
On night one she shocked everyone by squeezing our hands in response to questions. She should have been dead.
Her sheer determination to stay alive, coupled with her physical strength, defeated every possible setback over the next 5 days.
Catherine is perhaps my best friend in the world, one of those people who knows everything about you. Not someone you tell everything to, but someone who knows everything, beyond mere telling - someone with a rock bottom sense of who you really are - not that they love it all, or even like it, but a person who knows what the really important parts are.
Though some of the specifics of your identity may not sit well with them the totality of it is clear and beloved.
And so it is with Catherine.
She is also the "mother" of Chief the Wonderdog (shown above), a huge, rescued brindle Greyhound who celebrated his 11th birthday Monday last, the day before it all broke loose.
I was terrified. Once on site there was the paralyzing sense that I could do nothing, that I would do anything, but could do nothing - to keep her safe, that the idea of losing her was intolerable. It took over my stomach, climbed up my back with talons of ice.
One week later - one lifetime, it seems - I've spent every spare moment, ended every evening with sitting at her side, channeling all the grace and energy - and violet light, at one friend's suggestion - into her hand. It's what you do for a friend you truly love.
So now we're transitioning into the recovery phase, with the occasional setback. This is just how it is.
Tonight, Christmas night, I can only breathe, listen to my feelings and thoughts, acknowledge the friends and loved ones - pretty much the same, actually - who have held me up so I could hold up Catherine's family and all of us hold her up.
Or she held us up, in some strange way.
Something like this puts your life in context - puts everything in the universe into a context. You see how it all relates, connects - all for one terrifying, astounding, eternally unfolding instant. Then it ends and you have to live it to recover it.
At least now you are aware of what is possible and you must change. You must.
I must change so that I can be there to hold a hand and give.
Posted by Jim Alberty at 11:01 PM
Sunday, December 16, 2012
|Lee Elementary - my first alma mater|
Tonight, rather ill with flu and tolerating an enforced home stay to recover my energy I find it useful to follow events online and write about them in the same place.
The first wave of reactions:
The country reels from the shootings in Newtown CT - horrified, terrified, emotions settling like a flight of birds, momentarily calm and organized then whirring off again. Fight or flight. The horror of contemplating frantic parents rushing to the fire station near Sandy Creek Elementary, slowly seeing others reunite with their children, the sense of despair building as they see all the survivors reconnect.
I can imagine it. I've lost people suddenly, without preparation, even students, but never a child.
I've always served in loco parentis. Your sense of protection is fierce. The loss experienced by these parents must be paralyzing.
You do not know what to do. We watched developments online at the Orchard that Friday and were horrified. I saw in my mind all my ex-students - some of whom work right there in the store - and found fear and love I never knew was there before.
The second wave of reactions are starting to come in now:
Calls to action. Those who were further away, whose loss is not personal but also profound, they reach out. Vigils are held, political positions taken.
In "Blink - the Power of Thinking Without Thinking" Malcolm Gladwell shares that the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo took all of 3 seconds - 41 shots. All them based on a horrible series of false impressions. And, that dramatic depictions of violence never look like that.
We tell ourselves that guns are used to settle arguments. They're not. They're used to throw tantrums that kill. Guns do not kill people. People kill people using guns. I've had it.
Tonight I believe in the scary things.
The senseless things that caper and kill and rip the bonds of life asunder. I believe in shadows and the light that causes them.
In people who stand in light and cast shadows and turn from one to the other and back again - and who can see both the light and dark of those who share the world.
Knowing that we all can reflect great light and cast great shadows and that though we cannot choose to be all light or all dark we can choose which one we reach out to.
And that in reaching out to each other we reach out to ourselves.
Perhaps that irrational hope will balance the irrational horror visited on us all.
We shall see.
Posted by Jim Alberty at 11:36 PM
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Sorry to have taken so long to write again. The reason why is in the video posted above. Hope you can come join us.
I've been up to my neck in both the heavy weight of retail life and the intense demand of creative focus.
For those of you not following me on Facebook - and the five of you know who you are - I just last night finished the score for Acorn Theatre's production of "The Legend of The Golem". I watched the final runthrough yesterday evening and though the timing of the scene changes needs to tighten up the show flows well and will be a great evening's entertainment.
Today I took a long walk up "my mountain" - Bradbury Mountain, in Pownal. The mountain is different, the last time I saw it was at the peak of Fall color.
Now it is bare bones - ice underfoot, puckering the mud, hiding under the leaves. You can see the structure of the hills and trees, the air is stark and cold. The light in the late morning was bright and sere.
Since today was a rare Thursday off and I'd seen the end of my active work on The Golem I'd planned on taking the walk after sleeping in....
..... and sleeping in had led to a rich dream - as are many I remember on waking.
There was a mountain, it was Fall and my path led up to a town with engaging people; their homes rustic and sophisticated in how they blended the rocks and trees of the hill into their structure.
The sun was bright and the weather cool.
They heard me singing and rapping on the trees to keep time so, naturally, I was asked to stay to teach the children to create music and movement, to learn to tell stories in more ways than just words.
Strangely the idea of starting a marching band never entered my thoughts.
The classroom was an enclosure easily opened to the outside and we sang and worked. They were very sophisticated children in terms on knowledge and having electronics and toys. But the idea of opening themselves up to movement and singing - to trusting themselves to create - seemed oddly new to them....
....except for one boy, about 7, blond, tousle-haired, glasses, blue eyes in a round, curious, serious face.
Consider Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" and you might come near to what I dreamt.
As we moved to an open amphitheater to be observed by parents and family members I challenged the children to one of the simplest theater games - "mirrors".
If you've not played it it has one goal - to make two people move as one solely by observation and a willingness to let go and trust someone else to lead. Stand about arm's length apart with one person designated as "control" and the other as "follower". Start with one hand, then an arm, adding more of the body as the partners observe and imitate - just like looking in a mirror.
The point of the game is not to "win". The point is to play the game well. You shouldn't tell who is in control and you can switch as you go along.
I love it.
And this young boy was the only one to volunteer to play. He was good. He followed me through basic moves and then through moving the whole body, on one leg, then the other, down on all fours, crawling, waving. Then I gave control over to him and we moved in delightful, unusual, funny patterns and the amphitheater fell away.
We moved close to each other and I could feel his back against mine as we lay on our sides in the warm sun. I suddenly realized that we had backed into a corner, putting ourselves in a position where we couldn't see each other to initiate the next move.
"Extend your free arm upward and I'll move you out" I whispered.
My arm rose as I felt him against my back ....
..... and I realized that I was reaching for the ceiling of my apartment, my back against a pillow where I'd felt him the moment before.
My walk up the mountain lasted until the music in my head wasn't coming from The Golem. There was a tango, a milonga, thoughts about a possible film score, a waltz ...... and the sound of the mountain, the quiet rumble that I can hear even more clearly as the rest of Nature sleeps.
I played the game of Mirrors as long as I could until it had to break to continue - if that makes any sense.
For better or ill you have to stop a game sometimes to reset and begin again. I don't think there is any "good' or "bad" or "win" or "lose" - there is just "doing it well" and then moving on to the next thing.
Very curious to hear what happens next.
Posted by Jim Alberty at 11:03 PM
Thursday, November 22, 2012
There are times I hate Thanksgiving.
Now that I work retail - let's face it, I'm not a professional, not an academic, not self-employed, I work in a mall for dollars per hour - I sometimes begrudge any moment that takes me away from my piano, anything that keeps me from writing, arranging, orchestrating, organizing or thinking about music.
Like today. I've already been to one friend's house for a charming, simple dinner with parents and Chief the Wonderdog in attendance. But I had to leave off orchestrating a tango in order to do it - and this piece is going really well.
So now I'm taking a few minutes to write this before plunging back into my headphones and the complexities of digitally sample bandoneon notes - all this three precious hours before heading out again for a dinner - then straight to another house for dessert and "chatting".
And tomorrow is Black Friday. My call is 5:30 a.m., we open at 6:00 a.m. and I can't stay up late to write and frankly I also can't wait because when I'm not writing music or dancing I'm immersed in a sea of fascinating humanity in the company of engaging, intelligent colleagues and it's fun.
The whole thing strikes me as a bit of a waste.
You see, Native Americans tend to be thankful for everything around them, all the time, every waking moment.
I grew up aware of the connections that are present amongst everything in reality - people, animals, plants, rocks, computers, bar stools - everything is connected and has some purpose and relationship to me and everything else.
When you are aware like this - and it drives me crazy sometimes (almost catatonic as some of my tango friends can attest) - then everything that happens makes some kind of impression. The parts that make up observed, experienced reality have an almost conscious presence and you acknowledge how they make your life better - or that they're just there so their very presence confirms your sense that you're alive.
I am grateful for the sun in the window, the cool of the breeze, the sound of the waves, the touch of my computer keyboard, the food in my belly, the spots on my screen and the screen wipes I use to clean them off.
There is an almost constant low-level hum of gratitude and awareness that I ignore only at my greatest peril.
The idea that you would take a whole day off just to acknowledge what you have now - not necessarily what you've always had - and follow it with a day dedicated to standing in line to seek and buy things you don't have - well, it seems a little silly to me.
So I will eat pumpkin pie (actually have most of one in my 'fridge now) and turkey with folks I know and care about - and fret about wanting to write while I have the time and energy.
The YouTube link above is to the Fort Duchesne, UT Thanksgiving pow wow - the type of dance is a men's straight dance (a traditional type of form as opposed to a "fancy dance" form where it's more improvised) called a "sneak up" - the movements are taken from a hunter tracking prey.
If I seem cranky today - cranky in general - know that I am very grateful for all the moments I'm given and the people and things that fill them.
It just looks really odd on me.
So now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work on this milonga so I can then get back to work on the score for "The Golem".
Happy Thanksgiving, blah, blah, blah.......
Posted by Jim Alberty at 3:30 PM
Thursday, November 8, 2012
I’d worked for all my life
And I had to start again
with just my children and my wife ...
Tuesday evening was the end of a seemingly long day - though I'd gotten off work at 5 p.m. an hour stole away disguised as a nap in front of my computer.
The evening was cold, clear - pocked with stars. I have enough curiosity about people to want to see how the elections came out - the last time I'd waited at the door of my polling place three hours before they opened, chair, comforter, table, coffee and laptop all to hand - comfy but alone except for people I met. This time I'd voted a week before. The seeming crushing possibility of President Obama's defeat made me want to find other people of a like mind to share it with.
I’d thank my lucky stars to be livin here today ...
My aimless ramble took me by the Holiday Inn By the Bay. Outside was my friend K - a wonderfully imaginative colleague. She was out smoking a cigarette (her one vice) and I offered her a hit from my hip flask, full of good single-malt whiskey (a Mac Clellan Islay - one of my many vices).
Knowing her orientation confirmed that this was the headquarters of the Yes On 1 watch party (K was helping watch doorways - she's a black belt in karate - you 'effin' DON'T mess with her). Perfect place and company with whom to wait for the apocalypse.
The crowd in the room was surprisingly sparse but it was barely past 8 p.m. I kept looking for a place to sit but no chairs were available except for sofas in the hallways.
‘ Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away ...
I ran into a lot of gay/lesbian/transgendered friends, a catalog of people going all the way back to the first years of my life here in Maine.
Teachers, Ex-students, Cathedral people, Orchard people, theatre/dance people - all there in solidarity - and comfort - for this most basic of political affirmations - that gay people could be considered people, enough so that they could do really simple things like love, marry, build families, exist.
As the evening progressed my flask was confiscated and its contents emptied into a trash barrel - I love that flask - and I gladly switched to fruit juice. The room was filled with a nervous energy, bravado, a bit of fear, a sense of rightness that bordered more on certainty than arrogance.
No one thought it was in the bag. There was a lot of business at the cash bars - less so at the cheese/fruit/chip buffets in the middle of the room.
And I’m proud to be an American,where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died, who gave that right to me
Returns came in. Democratic - I prefer to use the proper noun as originally intended rather than the right wing's phrasing as Democrat - Democratic candidates and causes seemed to be slowly pulling ahead in pretty much all the races.
I was most heartened by Elizabeth Warren having trounced Scott Brown. Facebook posts and tweets were coming from friends in Massachusetts, all of them equally heartened.
There are few things in the world that will make me physically angry. The pudgy frat-boy exclusionist racism displayed by Brown's campaign staffers earlier in the Fall had crossed that line. I really wanted to see Brown suffer - and least morally - and it was very satisfying to see it happen.
I suppose I'll return to my usual, inclusive self - but not today.
And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today ....
At 11:00 a flight of staffers fanned out through the crowd, telling us that we needed to in the ballroom to hear an announcement. I'd been on a sofa trying to find results online, gave up and went in.
The director of communications for Yes on One, surrounded by campaign staff, started thanking his people - the further he went the bigger the spoiler became, especially when he started crying.
Finally he said what people were dying to hear - the Question had passed. Gays would now be able to marry in the great State of Maine.
The room erupted into a solid wall of ecstatic sound, individual voices lost in a sea of excitement.
It was genuine pandemonium - well, that might be the wrong word because that word means "many demons" and there was no evil the the room. Quite the opposite - a lot of healing and closure was going on, real-time crossing over from fear and anger into acceptance and peace.
And really loud shouting, accompanied by rather enthusiastic behavior. I almost had my first-ever gay kiss but someone intercepted the guy while he was grabbing my arm. I assume they were friends.
Oh well. Probably better if he kissed a gay guy rather than me. Besides being the only Native American in the room - that I could see - I might be the only straight guy.
I'm used to being the only one in the room.
But only in terms of getting kissed. We were all, finally, equal in actuality of the law and affirmation of society - as well as morally.
Thank you, my gay friends, for giving the rest of Maine a chance to catch up with where you already are.
A knot of us stood in a corner, trading stories, chatting as intimate strangers will, when from the far corner a roar began. It pulled people over like water suddenly freed through an opened drain.
Ohio had been declared for President Obama - it was over.
And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today
Now we all exploded. Dance music, present all evening, suddenly doubled in volume and people jumped and screamed. Hugs. Dancing. I'm sure people were kissed but I was too busy standing and smiling.
Then, suddenly, the music switched to a solid country-western beat. Lee Greenwood's redneck anthem rang out - "I'm Proud to Be An American". Of all the choices Chris O'Donnell - the DJ and former drum corps person - could make, why this one?
Then an amazing thing happened. The shouting died down and people began singing along with Lee Greenwood ....
...... and suddenly it all made sense.
The mindless - literally, it seems - irrational conservative agenda had appropriated the idea that they were the "real" America and only they could be "patriotic" - that if you wave the flag you were in favor of George Bush and his disastrous wars, you acknowledged that "white" culture was the best, you were against a woman's right to choose, of committed couples of any gender to marry, that there were "kinds" of rape, that some cultures were better just "because" .....
..... and all of it - every last bit - had been rejected
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA
We were given back our country. Given back our flag.
All of us - gays, straights, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, Caucasians, men, women, kids - oh, and one Native American standing alone and smiling - all of us were Americans.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After midnight. The air was cold, the sky pocked with brilliant stars. The three block walk back to my apartment was slow, thoughtful.
It was now a new day.
I went to bed, eager to get up to meet it.
And I gladly stand up
next to you and defend her still today
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA
Posted by Jim Alberty at 3:27 PM
Saturday, October 27, 2012
I love this time of year.
Many of my friends know that I pretty much love every time of year, same as I love every time of day. But, as I lean toward sunset and early morning as the first amongst my favorite times of the day I hold late Autumn, particularly Hallowe'en as the first amongst my favorite seasons of the year.
I've spent the last week on a farm in South Paris, the site of my vacation last year. This time I spent a good deal of effort taking long hikes on the many trails in the area, culminating in a walk in the White Mountain National Park - or, Grafton's Notch State Park, up Route 302 in New Hampshire.
The magic of this seasons, its changing leaves, cooling evenings, dramatic sunsets and sweet melancholy - all of it, speaks to something deep in my soul.
I like pumpkins and apples and cider as well. The final, hardier fruits of the harvests are taking over the tables of the Farmer's Market - tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes - thing that go well into crock pots and wait for you to get home from a good day's work.
I go through so much beef stock I should just boil a cow and have done with it each Columbus Day.
What I thought would be a cake-and-ice-cream sing along turned out to be a joyous mass of 14 children in the backyard, lit by candles, my iPhone and a construction-style stand light, all opening, cleaning, marking and carefully carving what seemed an ocean of pumpkins into jack 'o lanterns of the most amazing designs.
Inside sat about 10 parents and other adults, chatting away over spaghetti and meatballs, waiting for the mayhem to produce workable lanterns, waiting for the birthday boy to preview videos he'd gotten earlier in the day.
There is a great, whirling, giddy excitement to be had in helping a child turn a pumpkin into a personality. Your hands have a special scent to them, part candle wax, part sweet, squishy pumpkin innards.
I had to make sure I gave them a good scrub before I went to my tango practica.
So I was very fortunate to partake of a sacrament of Autumn, hard by the Western Cemetery. A flight of pumpkins guard the house, a family I've placed under the protection of the sprits of my family.
There are rituals that keep us aware of the joy and magic that surrounds us, binds us as friends, as elders and as children - and we are all those things together at once. Perhaps later we will sort them out and learn the lessons each teaches but for now, the winds blows, the leaves turn and fall and swish under our feet and we all hold hands - to keep ourselves safe and to share the certainty of the love we feel.
Posted by Jim Alberty at 11:29 PM