Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Open Mikes

And Why I Like Them

I think Open Mikes get a bad rap. They're often the butt of jokes on TV and in movies where they are usually seen as merely the lowest rung on the entertainment ladder, the top rungs being the only ones that "matter".

For ambitious people who are climbing that ladder, or wish they were, this attitude is understandable. The whole point of climbing it to distinguish yourself, to be better than other performers, and that involves climbing over them to the next level. And playing at Open Mikes is a level that most ambitious performers want to climb over as fast as possible.

When you play at Open Mikes, you may very well have to share the stage with beginners, some with talent, some without. There is no test you have to pass in order to play at an Open Mike, anyone can play and anyone does. The crowd is not there to see you. The crowd, if there is one, is there to see what's happening, support their friends, or maybe they're just stopping by to have a drink.

As an image enhancer or career opportunity, Open Mikes don't rate very high. Many performers will even publicly state,"I don't play Open Mikes" or "I only play Open Mikes to break in new material." I've seen many performers show up at an Open Mike looking almost embarrassed to be there. They often don't listen much to the other performers, are only focused on their own performance, expect the crowd to fall at their feet when it's their turn, and if that doesn't happen, they never come back. They are much more interested in what they can get than what they can give.

But there are other ways to approach playing at an Open Mike. It doesn't have to be a platform for your ego. It doesn't have to be an opportunity for career advancement. It doesn't have to be a proving ground, or a challenge, or an indicator of your value as a person.

It can be a way to participate in a musical community. It can be a chance to experience what you have in common with other performers rather that what distinguishes you from them. It can be a chance to just enjoy making music or poetry or whatever it is you like to do. It can be a chance to watch people, ordinary people, not celebrities with polished "acts", sing songs about their lives. It can be a chance to compare your attitude towards success or towards "the business", with that of other performers. It can be a chance to listen to how other people are meeting their creative challenges. It can be a chance to be polite, suspend your judgments, and let someone who you don't enjoy have their 15 minutes on stage. It can be a chance to set aside your standards and jam with other musicians who are not at your level. It can also be a chance to discover someone who might really touch and move you, even if you've never heard of them before and they don't have an album or even a career in music. It can be a chance to participate in a community of people who do their art because they love the art itself, not just the response they can get from an audience. It can be a chance to move ordinary people with your music, people who can't help your career or offer you anything more than a smile and a round of applause.

I actually feel sorry for performers who think they are too good for Open Mikes, who are more concerned with image building than just the simple joy of playing music. When I hear about "artists" who won't appear anywhere unless they can get a quarter of a million dollars up front, I just shake my head in wonder.

I've been writing songs and performing professionally since 1975 or so, and I never get tired of playing and hosting Open Mikes. I've had amazing experiences and made some life long friends at Open Mikes. The Sunday Night Open Mike at The Spot in Evanston, The Victory Music Open Mike at The Antique Sandwich in Tacoma, The Monday Night Open Mike at Folk City in New York, The University Bistro Open Mike in Seattle, and, here in Ashland, The Sunday Night Open Mike at The Wild Goose, as well as Tease Unplugged and the Tuesday Night Open Mike and Jam at Tabu, have been some of my favorites.

I don't consider myself better or worse than anyone else. I write and sing songs that "do it" for me, songs that release a charge for me and make me feel better for having written or sung them. If other people get that same release, it's wonderful, but that's not why I'm doing it. I'm doing it for myself first, then I see if anyone else is moved by what moves me. And Open Mikes are a great place to find that out.

I also like the feeling that we're all in this together, that no one's special or above anyone else, that we're just people making music for each other. I do my best to cultivate this attitude in myself and at any Open Mike I play or host. Because in the end, that's all that matters to me. In the long run, there will be no trace that we even existed, let alone had a hit record. We're just people making music and that's a good thing. Open Mikes help me remember that.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Interfaith Ceremony

Flow More~Force Less~Find Home

This year was the third year in a row I was invited to represent Taoism at our local Thanksgiving Interfaith Ceremony. It happens in a large Church Hall and is very well attended. I'd say there were close to 200 people there. I usually talk for a minute on the chosen theme of the event, this year it was "Home", and then I play one of my songs.

Here is more or less what I said at this year's Ceremony:

I'm always love being a part of this event because it's a chance to sing for a bunch of quiet, intelligent, sober people. ;~)

It's only five minutes a year, but I'll take it!

I'm Gene Burnett and I'm representing Taoism, even thought the Tao that can be represented is not the true Tao. ;~)

The Orthodox Taoist
cannon is over 12,000 volumes. I like to simplify things so my less orthodox Freestyle Taoist cannon is 4 words: Flow more~Force less.

I take this seriously. It's not a facile little bumper sticker motto. It's actually really difficult to do, especially over time. I've been studying how to "flow more force less" when I write and sing for over 35 years; when I move and breathe with T'ai-Chi practice for over 25 years; and in my heart since I can remember, most recently with my best and toughest teacher, my 15 year marriage with my wife Samarra.

To me, with regard to finding Home, "flow more force less" involves both an inner and an outer search, which are, of course related to each other. The outer search is about finding the right literal physical home. And the inner search is about how to feel at home wherever I happen to be.

The outer search is about listening to what feels most deeply right as you look around and following that feeling until it leads you to Ashland. ;~) The inner search is about embracing the whole of everything, as it is unfolding now.

I'm going to sing a song I wrote that involves the outer search for the right place to call home, as well as the inner search to feel at home wherever we find ourselves.

The song is called "For Now".

For Now by Gene Burnett (©2010)

Let us find the right dynamic—Let’s go transatlantic
Sink our own Titanic—Let’s be real—Not romantic
Let’s be kind but let’s be honest—When we do or do not want it
Fate is blind but let’s not taunt it—It’s the blues not a sonnet
Let’s embrace the spreading night—Let’s not be afraid to fight
When the darkness meets the light—What is left is what is right
For now—For now

We are space junk—We are stardust—We’re afraid that God will card us
Disrespect or disregard us—Make a movie that won’t star us
We’re as big as we are small—Take your pick—Walk or crawl
Either way—We will fall—Through the cracks in the wall
Water skis—Lake of fire—Leaking boat—Pair of pliers
All the help has retired—Need a job? You are hired
For now—For now

Let’s put roots in the sky—Hang our dreams out to dry
See the beauty in the eye—Of every truth—Every lie
Let’s let love lead the way—To the best resume´
While we work—Let us play—When the bill comes—Let us pay
Life is life—Do not fear it—We will never get too near it
If we try to over-steer it—We have cursed it—Now let’s hear it
For now—For now

Not a thing will survive—Let’s be heard while we’re alive
Let our prices take a dive—If you’re broke—Gimme five!
Are we nice—Are we mean?—What’s our motive in this scene?
Are we dirty—Are we clean?—Aren’t we always in between?
Nothing old—Nothing new—What’s the point of your view?
It’s a jungle—It’s a zoo—But it will have to do
For now—For now

Repeat First Verse

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

To Be A Well Treated Prisoner...

Or Not To Be At All?

Thanksgiving Day is approaching and with it the usual conflicting views about raising Turkeys (and other animals) in order to kill and eat them.

There is so much hostility and judgment around the issue of domesticated animals, eating meat, factory farms, free-range chickens, etc. I think it drives people into harder and harder camps, as much to spite the other side as to reflect their actual views.

I do understand the feelings of those who love animals too much to ever kill and eat them, and I do share those feelings.

I also consider that if these domesticated fowl hadn't been domesticated, they wouldn't exist at all. We give them some life, (and I've seen some pretty damn happy domesticated chickens and turkeys around here), and then we take that life. In between, I'm all in favor of giving them the best life our resources permit, and I'm really against factory farming.

Putting aside factory farms which are cruel and a fairly recent phenomenon, our relationship with domesticated animals is perhaps the kindest predator/prey relationship on Earth. Most animals that eat meat just kill it and eat it, some don't even wait until the prey is dead to start eating. We're the ones who raise our prey animals, care for them, protect them, nourish them, and then argue about the most humane way to kill them.

They (and I mean non-factory farmed domesticated animals) wouldn't have existed in the first place if not for "higher powers" i.e. the human race, they get a pretty interesting time and a decent shot at some of the pleasures of being what they are, and then they are no more. This seems to me not that far from our own lot in life, and perhaps all of life's creatures, many, many of whom have their "end" determined by another species, or by other factors out of their control.

Maybe we are all actually "God's Chickens"! We get to run around for a while, squawking and clucking, and then we are killed and "eaten" by Nature, reabsorbed into the soup.

In short, if life is a choice between a decent life as a prisoner, with a few ecstatic moments now and then, and no life at all, I'll take the decent prisoner's life. And, while it's not ideal, for us or for the chickens, I think it beats not existing at all.

So with my heart and feelings about animals in my left hand and the above thoughts in my right hand, I find myself leaning right these days, but not that far.

And if you do eat turkey this Thanksgiving, I heartily recommend a free-range and/or organically grown bird. Not only is it a more humane way to treat these animals, but they taste much better and they're better for you.

And here's a link to a great little video of my song "Free-Range Chicken" that a company called www.automaticchickencoopdoor.com made for me free!

Monday, November 22, 2010

To Blog...

Or Not To Blog...

A friend asked me recently on facebook whether or not I thought she should start a blog. Here is what I told her:

As far as I'm concerned there are only two good reasons I do anything. One is that I want to do it and the other is that I have to do it. I don't believe in doing something I don't want to do or don't have to do because I think I should do it. "Good deeds" turn out better when I'm feeling it than when I'm doing them because I "should". So as much as possible, I wait for that feeling.

So if you want to have a blog or feel that you have to have a blog, I would say, Do it, and then see after awhile if you still feel the same way.

Personally, I love my blog and I love "blogging". I love organizing my thoughts and putting words together that best express what I'm thinking or feeling. And I love offering those thoughts to the world. I don't really care if anyone reads the thing or not. In fact hardly anyone does. I think I have 4 or 5 "followers". Who the Hell has time to read blogs? Most of the ones that have a lot of followers have subject matter, usually politics or sex or some specialized help knowledge, that people are charged and passionate about.

Mine is called "The Unforced Life" and is about all kinds of things related to my life, T'ai-Chi and music. It's not the "diary" kind of blog. It's more like a series of articles. Many of the posts I've put up started as fb comments, rants or discussions.

Even if no one reads the thing, I really love putting the posts together and then offering them to the world. I love the state of mind I get in when I'm working on finding the right words. I'm in that state right now, writing this.

I also, really like having these articles that I write available to forward to people or to mention and/or link in fb posts. Someone will post something on fb that reminds me of one of my posts. Instead of re-hashing all my ideas on the subject, I can add a shorter comment and then add a link to the blog post.

For instance, if I had a post called "To Blog...Or Not To Blog", I would have written a shorter comment here and then linked to that post. In fact I think I will turn what I've written here this morning into a post with that title, should anyone else ever ask me if they should have a blog... Be well and I hope this has been at least a little helpful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Hear This A Lot:

"You're So Organized!"

It's almost always said with a certain amount of openly expressed envy, and often with a palpable sense of sadness, as though some people are just born organized, or blonde, or attractive, and if you're not one of lucky ones...too bad.

I understand this attitude and I used to share it. Being organized used to seem like something one either was or was not, not something one either developed or did not. I have noticed that some people seem naturally more anxious than others and some of these people have taken refuge in organizing things because it helps them allay anxiety. I've also noticed that some people have a natural ability to keep track of several things at once. But I don't think anyone is born organized.

I used to be a terrible procrastinator when I was a kid and my room was always pretty disorganized and messy. I'd periodically give it a thorough going over and enjoy the results, but it would never last. Being organized seemed "uptight", cleaning up was a drag, and staying cleaned up was even worse.

Then in 1981, I moved to New York City, ostensibly to pursue a career in music, but instead I got involved with a small therapy cult group called Direct Centering (DC). We put on a weekend course and the whole organization was dedicated to registering people for this course, putting on the course, and then getting people who graduated from the course to become assistants and help us register more people.

I learned a lot of lessons at DC, many of them negative and many of them expensive. But one thing that was clear to me from the start of my involvement there was that this was an organization that was serious about getting results. Everyone wanted people to do this course and become assistants. Everyone wanted to give the world the Direct Centering experience. Everything in the office was set up to get that result as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Everyone was on the lookout for "stop-flows", that is, things that would waste time and energy that would be better spent on more important matters. Everything was clean and "conscious", our jargon for "purposeful and organized".

For instance it was policy for everyone's desk to be set up so that the things used most often were the closest at hand. If your desk was disorganized, you were disorganized, and your commitment to the organization was therefore in question. The logic was: If you are committed to giving the world this course, why does your desk not reflect this? What are you hiding? What is your secret "Fuck You" to the organization that you are expressing in this obvious disregard for getting the best results you can get?

Now this was a very authoritarian group, there were many, many crazy and unhealthy things about it. I'm very glad that I came to my senses after a couple of years and got the Hell out. But one of the most valuable lessons I took out of my time there was seeing the relationship between what I say I want to do with my life, and the way my life is actually set up.

Early on in my time at DC, I went home and completely re-organized my living quarters so that the way I lived matched what I was after in my life. And I've more or less lived that way ever since. Being disorganized simply gets in the way of the kinds of results that I want in my life. And since I actually want these results, as opposed to just thinking that I want them, I've become an organized person.

To me the key to becoming, staying, and enjoying being organized is to be committed to getting the kind of results that being organized helps me to get.

For example, I have a lot of movies on DVD. I have them separated into different categories and filed in several disc wallets. I have a directory in my computer where I keep track of which movies I have and where they are filed. I do this because I don't like hunting around for DVD's. It's a waste of time and I hate hunting around for things. When I want a particular movie, I look up the title in my directory which tells me where to find it. It took a little while to set up, but since then it's been really easy to maintain. When I get a new movie, I just type it into the directory.

Here's an even better example, I write a lot of songs and I like to record the songs I write and post them on my site for downloading, free or with a donation. It feels deeply right to me to do this. It's part of my mission in life. I want to make it as easy as possible for the world to find my music, I want to make it as easy as possible for the world to "tip" me, and I want to see what comes back when I do this. My goal is not to be rich or famous, I just want to express myself and see if what I come up with is of value to other people. I am trying to make a living in this world and whatever comes back financially, I'm very grateful for, but I'm not in it for the money and I don't make a lot of money at music.

I have over 20 CD's of music so far. I can't afford to have large runs of each album printed up and I wouldn't likely sell them anyway. So I burn and assemble the CD's myself as I sell them. I have a friend who helps me design and print the paper inserts that go in the CD cases. I have to keep track of how many sets of each album I have on hand so that I can order more from my friend when I'm running low. This means keeping a separate folder for each album with sets of inserts for that album, as well as keeping track of how many sets for each album I have on hand. It also means having a supply of blank CD's ready to burn, a supply of empty jewel cases ready to be filled, a supply of empty plastic bags to put each assembled CD in, and a supply of price stickers ready for each CD. I also need a case ready with at least one copy of each album in it to take to gigs. And I need a safe place for the master discs that I burn copies from.

And this is in addition to actually writing the songs, and recording, mixing and mastering them into album form. I work with a sound engineer who is a good friend and we have a nice system down. Once I get an album completed, the inserts designed and printed, and copies burned, bagged, priced and ready to sell, I still have to send a copy to my web man so he can post them on my site. Once they're posted I still have to "meta-tag" the songs so that when people download them they get the song information along with the song. I still have to send a copy to CD Baby so they can post them on their site as well as make them available to a bunch of on-line retailers, including iTunes. And I still have to send a couple of copies to the Register of Copyrights in Washington, D.C. and to the handful of close friends and family who always want one of whatever I record.

I also have to have all of the lyrics for all of my songs typed into my computer, so I can print hard copies to make recording faster and easier, and so I can send pdf's of the lyrics for each album to my web man so he can post them along with the album on my site. I also like to have the lyrics available to send to anyone who might want to cover one of the songs, or to post on facebook if I think someone will enjoy them. I also have to send out emails and facebook posts announcing that I've "released" another album. I also like to keep jpg.'s of all my album covers on hand in case I need or want to post them somewhere. And I'm sure I'm leaving out a few other things I need to do or keep track of as well.

Now, do you think I could do all of this, at least 2 or 3 times a year, if I wasn't organized? Of course I couldn't. I have to type those lyrics up as I write the songs. I can't wait 'til later. I have to see the needs of the future coming and attend to setting up supplies now to meet those needs when they come up. I have to keep track of everything involved in order to free up the time and space I need to actually write the songs themselves. I also have two non-fiction books, one about Songwriting and one about T'ai-Chi, that I've self-published and a couple of poetry books that I put together myself at our local copy place. I need to have copies of all of them on hand as well as mailing envelopes should anyone order one.

The more "stop-flows" in my life, the more time I spend looking for things, fixing emergencies, or being caught without vital supplies, the less time I have to write, sing, practice and enjoy my life, my wife, and my friends.

I'm organized because I learned the price of not being organized. I have a few natural abilities that make being organized a little easier, but the real reason I can do it is that I want what I say I want, and being organized helps me bring it into being. I think that when someone says they want something, but they are not organized about making it happen, that they actually want something else more.

So if you are one of those people who think you are just not organized by nature, if the way you live works against what you say you want, I would advise you to ask yourself if perhaps there is something else you want more than what you say you want. Get to the truth of what you most deeply want and I think you'll see that you are already doing what you can to make it happen. Your disorganization might be the perfect way to make this other thing happen, this thing that perhaps you haven't admitted to yourself that you want. If you can manage to want what you want, and want nothing else more, and if being organized helps this come to pass, you will become organized. Or, if you've sorted out what you want most, and are committed to moving towards it, but still feel somehow organically handicapped in the organization department, you will hire someone else to do it. If you can't afford it, you'll work out a trade of some kind, or you'll do the best you can with your own abilities. But you will not be saying helplessly, "I can't get what I want. I'm just not organized!"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why I'm Happy

In My Work

I think I'm happy in my work (T'ai-Chi, Writing, and Music) because I get to creatively solve the kind of problems I like solving, the kind I feel I'm good at solving, and I get to enjoy the solutions I come up with. Also the balance of solving problems and enjoying the solutions is about right. Nothing but problem solving eventually becomes too stressful.

I wonder if this is true for other people who are happy with their work lives?

I really love coming up with ways to reach and teach each of my students. I love finding the right words to express myself, whether it's right here on this blog, in a facebook post,
in a song, or even an email. I love working with whatever voice I have each day and seeing if I can get it to express whatever each song I sing has to express. I love trying to find the right guitar sound for each moment of playing. I even love figuring out the logistics of my life: lesson scheduling, recording sessions, assembling CD's, household chores, paying the bills, doing all the stuff around gigs, all the communication tasks...When I don't like all these little tasks, it's not because that I don't like the tasks themselves. It's almost always because I just have too many of them.

Sometimes I can't come up with a good solution to one of my problems, or I can, but don't execute it correctly, or things that are out of my control interfere with me being able to execute it. Sometimes I just miss the mark and that's no fun.


As long as they're aren't too many problems to solve, as long as we're still above water financially, and as long as I have some time to breathe a little between the solutions I am able to come up with, I'm pretty happy. I would hate a job where I had to solve the kind of problems I don't like solving, or the kind I don't feel good at solving, or where I had no time between problems to enjoy the solutions I came up with. That would suck.

I guess my advice to young people who want to be happy in their work, though not necessarily rich, would be: Figure out the kind of problems you most like solving and the kind you solve best, and then try to find work that lets you do that as much as possible.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Musings About The Nature Of Good And Evil...

Culled From Various Posts Of Mine On Facebook

Sometimes I agree with a lot of what you say but I don't think it's True. I just agree with it. What you and I might call "horrible", other people may call "wonderful", and what we might call "wonderful", other people might call "sinful". I'm just saying that "good" and "bad" lie in the beholder, not the thing beheld.

If enough of us agree, we start to believe that the things we like are somehow written into the structure of reality. Why can't we just say, "Wow, I guess millions and millions of us believe this thing. There might be something to it...", rather than, "This is right and good.".

For me there is a crack in any solid pronouncement. As soon as I make one, I can hear something working its way through that crack and it will not be denied.

The line in Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem" that I most love and that I would trade 50 of my songs to have written is this:

"Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack. A crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

There's even a crack in those words! The Tao Te Tching begins: "The way that you can talk about is not the true way." I agree, but I still love to talk. We might not nail "it", but we might get close now and then, and I enjoy doing it.

I'm not dismissing ethics as such, only ethics that seeks to find absolute truth. I find ethics and logic useful at times. Given a certain premise, or point of view, or value orientation, what follows from that? How should one behave in order to fulfill one's ideals? That kind of thing interests me. But how should one behave in order to be good? or right with God? That doesn't interest me at all.

One thing I've observed is that when another person's behavior makes no sense to me, seems wrong or stupid, pointless or self-destructive, it's often because we do not share the same goals. Given their goals, their actions make perfect sense. Life is, after all, the product of millions and millions of years of trial and error, and we have become, in a relatively short period of time, the most successful species on Earth. We are at the very top of the food chain, we can eat any damn thing we want, and do. We've explored or are exploring, everything we can think of. We may have some big problems and the show isn't over yet by a long shot, but we are sure as Hell not dying out.

Am I to believe that only the "geniuses", only the smart people are responsible for the success of our species? That the rest of us are idiots? I think all of us are incredibly intelligent and resourceful. It's just that for a lot of us, that intelligence is serving what might call "different" goals, goals that might not manifest clearly as "progress".

Take a goal like "proving to my parents and the world what a fucked up job they did when I was growing up by wrecking my health and prospects". You and I might consider this a pretty unrealistic and irrational goal. But man, look at the intelligence and resources people can apply to a goal like this. It's not nearly as easy as it sounds. It's painful and requires a deep holding and commitment. Many people with nobler goals don't follow through nearly as well as those with what we might call "odd" ones. But who knows what side benefits there are for the people who are around someone this self-destructive? We're individuals, but we're also social animals who can't survive alone. What serves the group might not serve the individual, but we might do it anyway.

I think we are all little scientists, trying to get our goals, constructing world views that help us do that, or at least trying to. Somehow with all these crazy contradictory goals, standards, values, beliefs, and ethics, we're at the top of the heap. So I think that we're doing something right with all of our disagreeing. Somehow it seems like "part of the plan" that we don't get along all the time. Maybe life is best served when almost every path is being chosen by someone. That way whichever path is suddenly favored by conditions, someone will he on it. Who knows what the survival needs of the future will be? Maybe, as a species, it's best to have someone from your "company" trying just about everything there is to try. I bet we've always been like that. Trying to get everyone on what one considers the "right" path might actually be detrimental to the survival of our species.

This is the kind of thing I say and the kind of thing that interests me:

This is what I don't say:

"Balance is our true nature. The source and connecting energy of the Universe. It is who we are and everything else is illusion. Let me show you how to let go of your false self and walk into the light of who your really are and blah, blah, blah..."

This is how I express my personal sense of rightness without making an ideology out of it. Like balance, it's a dance that's never over...

Personally, I don't believe in "good" and "evil" as having any kind of independent existence. If there are no people, there is no good and evil. We made these things up. I always ask, Good for whom, for what? Evil for whom, for what? To me, context is everything.

If anything, I think that "It's all good", in the sense that the Universe is a beautiful, impersonal balancing machine and everything that is happening needs to happen or it wouldn't be happening. It's all an expression of this perfect balance. It may hurt like Hell for a given individual (or me), and I feel for that person (or me), and want to do my best to alleviate his or her (or my), suffering, but from a larger perspective, it's all part of a huge mysterious balancing act that I cannot even begin to "know" about, certainly not with any certainty.

I think the concepts of Good & Evil are used to justify all kinds of violent and hurtful things. That said, we all have some kind of inner compass, some kind of sense of what is "good" and we try our best to steer in that direction. A "Satanist" just believes that "bad" is "good". He's still trying to be good, just doing it by being bad.

In the every day conventional world of life and love and problems, our sense of what is good or bad is real and has real consequences. But in any kind of absolute sense, Good & Evil fall apart, they shift and change and ultimately disappear, along with people. So sure, be nice to your kids, be firm, be gentle, teach them about the life they will be encountering. In the short term, in this world, that's "good". In the long run though, especially the really long run, it doesn't matter what you do with your kids. Existence will run right over every form that is, crush it to dust and start all over in some new form. I do "good" because it feels good, not because it is good.

What I aim to do is to live everyday in a more or less Newtonian world (Do unto others etc..), include an intuition of the Einsteinian world (but really it all depends on your point of view) and acknowledge the ultimate underlying Quantum world (uh, actually, we don't know shit, it's all a mystery). I try to include it all.

In my everyday life I do what feels most deeply right and leave the ultimate consequences of my actions and it's ultimate rightness or wrongness for the Universe or other people to decide. What feels right, feels right, so I do it. And by "feeling right", I don't mean just acting on the emotions of the moment, although sometimes I do that. I mean that I do what feels most deeply right in my whole body, brain, mind, heart, guts, feet, spine, etc..

Here's a paradox: All wisdom does not agree. To me existence is just happening, it just is. What we project onto it is real, but still a projection.

"What you see is not Nature, but Nature exposed to your line of questioning" Werner Heisenberg. I have a song about this called "You Are Wrong".

I think too that there is a world of difference between saying "You should do this. It is good." and saying, "This is what I do and here's why." or even, "I think you should do this." The former is a pronouncement that leaves no room for dialogue. "I know what is right, it's this, and you should do it." The other two statements leave room for not only dialogue but for the other person to have some autonomy, some volition in whether or not they feel like doing what you want them to do. The later statements also include a sense that the speaker might be wrong, that there might be missing pieces in their conclusions. As in, "I might be wrong, but this is what I would do". There's also an implied, "And what do you think?" in this kind of statement.

When someone approaches me with the former type statement, I hardly feel in contact with them at all. Whereas the other two statements invite a discussion, not just to see "who's right" but to get to know each other, to find out what we think and feel.

Just as names are not the thing named, our personal sense of right and wrong is not what is actually right and wrong. I know that the word "book" is not what a book is, it's just what I call a book. But it's so easy in everyday life to get them mixed up. We don't want to say, "Could you hand me that unknowable mystery", but that, to me, is what a book is. So, I try to remember this as I go through life.

It's the same with right and wrong. I have a sense of basic right and wrong that most people would agree with. Even though I know it's not ultimately right or wrong, it's easy to get them mixed up too. So I try to keep the balance. This is why I'm always saying "I don't believe in Good and Evil." I mean that in the absolute intrinsic sense. In everyday life, yeah, sure there's good and evil. But man, start throwing the "E" word around and murder surely follows. The word "evil" is usually followed by killing. I'm not saying killing is evil though. It's just violent, hurtful, and not very nice.

It's hard to avoid value judgements, perhaps it's impossible, but I think it's worth the effort. Otherwise, people confuse their value judgements with value "facts" and start doing things that like start and fight wars.

There's a line from "You Are Wrong" that goes
: "The world is like a lover--Or like a lover's fight. You can try to be close--Or you can try to be right."

I like holding contradictions and benefiting from the resulting tension and stretching. Even it there's no such thing as absolute truth, I don't think it's a waste of time to look for it..if that's what feels right. If World War II resulted in improved air travel, the quest for an illusive capital "T" truth must surely yield other unexpected benefits.

In Science, "Truth" is always provisional and all it takes is one piece of data, or one new experiment to knock today's "Truth" off its pedestal and into the dirt. Maybe all we have is an evolving partial truth and that will have to do. Maybe all we have are fantasies of truth that are nonetheless valuable and useful, maybe even indispensable. I dabble in Truth, but what I'm really after is developing a knack for readiness, balance, music, love, kindness and friendship.

And...I'm looking forward to my next swan dive into a guitar.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

If There Was A Wall

New Video

I just posted a new youtube video that my friend and videographer Doug Cochrane and I put together for Veteran's Day this year.

Back in 2006, as a result of my conversations and friendship with Tom Varnado, aka T-Poe, I wrote a song called "If There Was A Wall". The song is about the many, many Vietnam vets who've died at their own hands since the war ended

As soon as I wrote it, it felt different from my other songs. I felt like it didn't belong to me, but to something larger. My hope still is that someone will put together some kind of "Vet Aid" concert or album to help raise money for PTSD related work and help for returning vets. If such a thing happened, I would be happy to donate this song to the project. (Anyone out there know Willie Nelson? If so, pitch the idea to him!)

When I first met Doug and we started to post youtube videos of my songs, one of the very first ones we posted was of me sitting in my living room singing "If There Was A Wall". Although I've gotten some nice feedback regarding the video, I always wanted to make a better one, one with more compelling images to help carry what is after all a pretty long song. Finally, Doug and I have done that, with the help of T-Poe, who generously allowed us to use pictures and poems from his Vietnam collection, as well as acting in some new video footage.

Given our budget ($00.00), I'm very pleased with how it came out.

Here's the link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o89vYwDoMyE

Please feel free to forward it to anyone you feel will be touched by it.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Turning Right? Push Left.

Counter-Steering, And The Hidden Truth

Want to have your mind blown a little? When you're riding a bicycle or a motorcycle and you want to turn right, you turn or push the handlebar to the right, right? Wrong. You actually turn or push the handlebar to the
left. No way! you say? Way. It's called counter-steering and you've been doing it since you were a little kid.

You think you're turning (or pushing) the handlebar to the right but you are not. If you did turn the handlebar to the right, you'd go left. A simple experiment will show you that this is true. Do this on a bicycle, not on a motorcycle. First find a very safe place to ride as this can be dangerous and your natural responses might be messed up for a little while. SERIOUSLY. DO NOT TRY THIS IN TRAFFIC. Ride your bike straight down a bike path or open parking lot, and then once you are moving steadily forward, firm your right arm and push against the right handle, slowly straightening your right arm and gently pushing the handlebar to the left. Your bike will begin turning to the right, not the left.

In fact, have you ever noticed that when you look over your left shoulder to check traffic behind you that your bike tends to drift left a bit (or a lot)? This is because you're pushing the left handlebar while you're doing this, either unconsciously or because you think that you have to "turn" the handlebar to the right to keep from going left. Next time you look over your left shoulder, just gently firm and push against the handlebars with your right arm and you will compensate for your left drift and stay centered in your lane.

There are some complicated physics explanations out there and even some controversy about what causes or affects turning, but the feeling I have is that the reason for this counter-steering phenomenon is that the front wheel is connected to this very loose mobile joint that allows your wheel to turn practically 360 degrees. When you press your right handlebar you are anchoring or restricting the ability of the wheel to turn left, so the whole bike actually swings to the left, around this point of stability that you have created. As it does this you have the illusion that your handlebars are turning to the right. Actually the bike is swinging around and "turning" right, not the handlebars. At least that's what I've come up with myself. I'm probably wrong about this, but that's what it feels like to me.

This is only true, by the way, for two wheeled vehicles. When you drive a car, what you think you are doing is what you are actually doing. You turn the wheel right to turn the car right. And just so you know, the term "counter-steering" is a phenomenon but it's also a specific technique used by motorcycle enthusiasts. I'm speaking of the phenomenon here, not the technique, which I know absolutely nothing about.

I know this just seems crazy and it sure did to me when a friend told me about it. But I went out immediately and tested it and was totally amazed to find that it was true. Once I "got it", I just went back to biking as I've always done, intuitively doing the right thing, but feeling like I'm doing something else. Every now and then I test this counter-steering thing and over and over I'm impressed that it's true.

Now I wonder....how many other self evident "truths" right under my nose are just as wrong...