Sunday, June 15, 2008

Religion and U.S. Politics --

In a recent post I wrote "the truth will speak for itself" and now I add, "I hope it will have more than a few who will listen".

As a person who leans away from corporate and conglomerate power, dogma, and narrow-mindedness...and toward tolerance, compassion, the freedoms of the individual, and diversity, I take strong exception to the (predictable) slurs currently being perpetrated about Senator Obama and his family of origin – and intended to put him on the defensive about religion. To begin with, he says he’s Christian and there is every reason to believe that he is. It is very disheartening that a candidate could be harassed on the basis of religion, by persons who are opportunists with an agenda.

But I’m just getting started. Has a sizable portion of the critical mass of our country drifted away from or allowed itself to be hoodwinked away from the freedoms cited in our Constitution? I hope not. The authors of that fair-minded document carefully worded it so we would understand that a person of any religion ... Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Unitarian-Universalist, Baha~i, Mormon, Wiccan, even Atheist, and any I may have left out ... can be elected president of our country if he/she is deemed to have the good judgement, ethics, intelligence, fair-mindedness, conscience, compassion, reasoning skills, courage, and statesmanship to effectively lead our country and be our talking head to the rest of the world. That a candidate now could be expected, indeed required, to produce acceptable religious credentials (acceptable to right-wing zealots and media) denotes danger to the freedoms of the entire U.S. population, not just non-Christians.

Currently, the struggle for religious supremacy between extreme Christians and extreme Muslims is mucking up the whole of life for everybody and, in unvarnished truth, is driven by the lust for power. In its extreme, dogma is dangerous. Our Constitution calls for separation of church and state for very sound reasons!

Success And Its Meaning --

So very often, bits of past conversations between me and my precious friend and kindred spirit, the late Philip Knight, come back to me. Sometimes they boldly march across my mind, almost with fanfare; at other times, they gently float into my consciousness. How wise he was about so many things. How I miss him. He was a songwriter, musician, architect, and, in his own way, a philosopher. During the months preceding his death, his perception and ability to articulate important thoughts and put them into the framework of what I call the "bottom line" of an issue or concept ... had been honed to perfection. Or, as close to perfection as any human’s thought processes can get.

Philip was a steadfast and strongly vocal supporter of my music. As songwriters and musicians who, except for our devoted local and geographically remote friends and fans, remained largely unable to tap into the local music industry machinations, we were often frustrated and we often consoled one another.

In the midst of one such conversation, he remarked that people pursue success, thinking that they will chase it, track it down and catch it, or it will arrive (in some glorious, triumphant moment and grand fashion). The thought could follow, I suppose, "and then what"? But, not if one goes farther along with Philip’s definition of success: What if a person’s measure of success is really based on his feelings of happiness with the works he has created? What if, rather than by being in the public’s limelight or accumulating vast wealth, success really is defined by the ability to feel complete as a person and to be at peace with oneself? To be in love with one’s own handiwork and sense of beauty ... to know that you have done what you were destined to do!

It’s so easy to subscribe to the more superficial "success" orientation. I have done so, at many times in my life. But not today. Today I am grateful for the truth of Philip’s words and, I’m especially grateful that he had the courage to say them to me. They make all the difference in the world.

My At-Home Music Performance --

This concept flew into my head about five or six weeks ago. Precipitated by the emotional and practical adjustments one needs to make when a working musical relationship ends, combined with a rather long-standing question in my mind as to how long is long enough for me to be soliciting gigs via the rounds of venues (which, in Knoxville, can be a tough row to hoe due to cliques and gatekeepers). Well, I had/have so many conflicting thoughts and feelings about it all. I love to play and sing music; I particularly love to do my own songs; additionally, I have been unable to turn off the creative processes that cause me to write new songs. I’ve tried. When is a person too "old" to remain an "active" songwriter and musical performer? Maybe more to the point, when is a woman too far past the blossom of youth to sing about romance, passion, love, and all the mundane and ethereal offshoots of those things? Well, since I still feel those things, I still write and sing about them!

The at-home performance idea evolved through several spasms as it morphed, finally, into a simple invitation to a few friends and students to come over to my home studio to catch my performance with my own beloved grand piano, Buddy, here in my own "digs" ! Also on the scene, of course, would be my fine keyboard friend, Yamaha, and my old, dependable Shure mic and Roland amps. The mic and amps have made a gazillion trips along bumpy roads and in and out of venues and have never once complained. But that is an aside ... and I’m often guilty of asides.

The days went on and I had a few flashbacks to my childhood and our household that was as busy as a train station, full of visitors – visitors who would always ask or insist that I play the piano and sing for them (and I would always be required to comply); I remember it was partly annoying and partly titillating and sometimes I would hide in my closet. No matter, though – someone would march into my room, retrieve me and escort me to the piano in the living room.

Well, fast-forward to June 2008. As the performance date grew nearer, I began to wonder if the whole idea was hokey and if people could enjoy it. With the price of gasoline over the $4 mark, we need to get choosy about what event is worth the drive. So was it fair to expect people to come? I couldn’t decide. Then the date rolled around. When several of my friends and students showed up, I was very happy and got the performance into gear. They enjoyed it, as did I! In addition to many of the blues songs people are accustomed to hearing me do, I took the opportunity to play and sing some of my most intricate torch ballads and jazz renderings, and ended the evening with one of my very seldom performed classical originals.

Now the question is sort of whether I will perform anywhere again. Yes, if I’m asked to (but no more calls to venues). But there is probably no question that I will continue to color outside the lines (I think that’s more extreme than thinking outside the box). And next, who knows?

Road Work --

Here in Knoxville, there are currently some major highway and interstate rebuilding and enlargement projects in-process. The idea is to accommodate more cars. Meanwhile, the secondary roads become worse each day with inadequately filled potholes, ditches that have been dug up for utilities and then roughly patched with tar ... in ridge, ditch, and divot fashion. At the same time, gasoline prices are soaring heavenward, though it feels far from being heavenly. Also, we’re painfully aware that the overpopulation of people and cars is wreaking havoc on our environment. Our lifestyles definitely seem poised for a big change. Has anyone besides me been wondering: Perhaps, should we be preparing many additional bike lanes instead?

My old road bike will be in the shop as of tomorrow to be made road-ready (see earlier post about antique bicycle). Between that and my soon-to-be tilled garden spot (see earlier post about "from the ground up"), it may be back to some exciting basics for me!

Animals Need Help --

Wolves and Horses

They are very much in need of letters to legislators. To help the U.S. wolves who are now being exterminated due to Bush’s unconscionable removal of them from the Endangered Species List, please visit the websites of Defenders Of Wildlife at and Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund at for complete information on where to write, how to help.

To help U.S. horses who are are bought up at auctions and shipped under inhumane, crowded conditions without food and water, across the borders into Mexico and Canada, where they are grossly mis-handled and barbarically slaughtered for an Asian and European market, please write to your U.S. congressman and senator asking them to support S.311 and H.R. 503 the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Get names and addresses at and . Visit for more information. It's important for us to get involved on behalf of the animals, for their sake and for our own; they are a vital part of the natural ecological tapestry and heritage of our country.

On the Home Scene –

The economy isn’t doing any good for the dog and cat overpopulation problem, but there are low-cost spay/neuter clinics in almost every locale, including here in Knoxville. The only humane way to reduce the huge number of shelter euthanasias is to have your cat and dog spayed or neutered. Additionally, he or she will be a better, more home-loving pet, often cleaner, too. It’s the right thing to do. Every dog and cat deserves a loving home, so we need to put the brakes on letting pets produce litters and patronizing back yard breeders and pet shops (every litter born takes away potential homes for animals who are waiting out their "time" in shelters, hoping to be adopted ... hoping not to be taken to that room in the back). I worked for three years as a hands-on volunteer at a local shelter. It was gut-wrenching, yet rewarding, too, to be able to offer whatever help I could to the shelter animals -- walking them, cleaning their cages, refilling their water bowls, talking to prospective adopters.

Please spay and neuter so that shelter personnel can stop killing abandoned and surrendered healthy dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens. It’s the biggest and best way we can show our love for our pets.

Fireflies, Lightning Bugs --

The following is reprinted from the August, 1998 edition of Janna Publications, a humanitarian and environmental newsletter that I wrote, illustrated, and published twice each year from 1995 to 2001.

During the month of June, the annual ritual is begun by those innocuous little creatures – the lightning bugs, or fireflies, as they are called in some parts of the country. At dusk, their blinking lights emerge from grass and garden. As the evening wears on, they rise in a great twinkling wave, higher and higher from the ground. Then, just before midnight, they are among the treetops, where they signal to each other in a spectacular, quietly-frenzied display!

Would you want them to disappear? Would you wish them harmed? No, neither would I. Nor do I want to know the mechanical intricacies of their lighting apparatus. But, this summer, a more elaborate version of last year’s newspaper ad appeared in print, urging people to catch these insects, freeze them, and cash them in for payment by the ounce; the ad also said to "avoid thawing or they will become worthless". Worthless? This strikes me as crass, crude, cruel, and ridiculous. I think that their aesthetic worth is singularly phenomenal.

One of the verses of a children’s song I wrote several years ago goes like this: "Firefly, lightning bug, shine your light. On and off in the summer night". Should we now add "May your magic somehow manage to stay with us and may you avoid the laboratory’s collection jar? You’re safe in my yard.

Shine on!

Enjoy their night-show.