Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mountains To Climb

My First iMovie Project

This is another of my very favorite videos, my first using iMovie. I created the movie and then uploaded it to youtube. Once it was there I decided to add a title card using their video editing feature. Youtube created a new version with the title and left the other one too. So I made the new version with the title "public" and kept the older version "private". But I never checked the new version until later when I realized that the sound was all slushy and mushy. I checked the earlier no title version and it sounded great. So I switched them. I lost over 100 views but I don't care. I just want what's up on my channel to sound as good as it can sound.

I've written my wife Samarra over 50 songs and this is one of our favorites. I decided to set it to some of my favorite pictures of her. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Dreams...

Chased Me

I was biking home from teaching and this site literally stopped me in my bike tracks. I know it's just a tarp in the wind but I found it incredibly beautiful. I came home, edited out most of the cars driving by and added this song which I think is a good match.

I love the fact that I can see something beautiful, take a video of it, come home, add music, post it on the worldwide web and in a matter of hours anyone in the world with a computer can see it.

I find this video spellbinding. I could watch this sort of thing all day...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Times Change...

Or Do They?

A martial arts friend posted this quote on facebook.

He said it was written in the 16th Century.

"Nowadays, people are shallow and their resolution is not in earnest. They dislike the strenuous and love the easy from the time they are young. When they see something vaguely clever, they want to learn it right away; but if taught in the manner of the old ways, they think it's not worth learning. Nowadays, the way is revealed by the instructor, the deepest principles are taught even to beginners, the end result is set right out front, and the student is led along by the hand." -- The Demons Sermon on Martial Arts

This was my response:

I think maybe the reason why these kind of statements applied then, as they do now, is that there are always waves of interest in any given art. When the wave is low and there is not much interest, only the most dedicated students find their teachers. When the wave is high, the masses jump in and teachers are everywhere.

This may be hard to believe, but when I first moved to Seattle in 1984, Andrew T. Dale was one of just a handful of people teaching, and the only person teaching, T'ai-Chi during the daytime, at least that I could find and I looked around quite a bit.

All of us who found Andy during that period, when T'ai-Chi was not nearly as widespread as it is now, were dedicated enough to find him and that was not easy. There was no question that we would and did practice and really put energy into learning the art. We had a small but sincerely focused group. Andy didn't need to "lead us by the hand" although he certainly did at times. Mostly he pointed the way and said "work on this". He didn't crack the whip, but he didn't cater to anyone's laziness either.

Now, many years later, there are loads of people teaching T'ai-Chi, it's everywhere, and a large percentage of those people only practice in class and need a lot of "hand leading". On the negative side, most of these people will never learn the subtleties of the art or put its principles deeply to work. On the positive side most of them will get at least some T'ai-Chi and physical self-awareness in their lives and many will get real benefits that they wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

So the people who jump on these things early and are really dedicated will always sigh when they see the masses jump on the bandwagon late and have to be led around by the hand. I think as time goes by this cycle repeats itself again and again, as any art gains and loses favor. Whenever popular interest is low, only the dedicated practice it and the quality is high, whenever popular interest is high, the masses practice it and while the overall quality is not as high, it is "wider" and reaches more people. I've been though one relatively low and now am in the middle of a relatively high interest in T'ai-Chi. I roll with it because I love teaching people wherever they happen to be on the dedication scale, but I can see how someone who was more innovative and highly skilled would be more bummed about the state of affairs during times of popularity when people in general are more casual in their approach to the arts.

There are also booms and busts economically over time. During harder times people are tougher, during fat times people are softer. Again, if you grow up tough, you bemoan the softies. I think everyone's right here. The softies really are softer and weaker, less physically skilled people. And the toughies really are living in the past, complaining about something that can't be changed, and a bunch of grumpy old farts.

Sometimes it's hard to find the right teacher because hardly anyone is teaching what you want to learn. Sometimes it's hard to find the right teacher because too many people are teaching, or claiming to teach what you want to learn. But no matter how muddy or empty the water is, true students will find their teachers and learn their arts. Always have, always will. ;~)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Album...

Have A Wonderful Miserable Life.

I've just completed another album of songs. Only my second this year...I'm slowing down a bit. It's called "Have A Wonderful Miserable Life" and features 13 new songs and 2 older ones re-recorded. As usual, it's available for downloading free or with a donation at my site:

Donations are strictly optional. I'm always happy to get a tip in my digital tip jar but it's by no means necessary. Feel free to share anything you download with anyone you think might like my music. All I ask is that you let them know about my site and that they can make a donation if they feel like doing so. (All of my songs are also available on iTunes and CD Baby where they might be easier and faster to download, but they'll cost you a buck.)

Once again, I'm proud and happy with my work on this latest project. Here are the song titles, along with a lyric sample from each song. I'm also linking each song title to that individual song, in case you want to listen to just that song. Please find the "Musical Recordings" page on my site to listen to or download the entire album.

This song is another one about the mixed blessing that is life...

God says to Adam--Stay away from this tree
Unless you'd care to fathom--What it's like to be like me
Adam broke the rules--God gave us all the blues
And as he closed the garden gates--He told us what to to

Have a wonderful miserable life--Have a wonderful miserable life
Tell your stories--Sing your songs--Before long you'll be gone
Have a wonderful miserable life

A song about surrender and love...

You have broken my will to change you
Along with my need to be free
With your beautiful curves
And your delicate nerves
You have taken the fight out of me
You have taken the fight out of me

A song about the mixed blessing that is human nature...

I'm passionately rational--Determined to relax
Formally casual--Rigidly lax
I'm a garden I'm a jungle--I'm a beauty I'm a beast
I'm a touchdown I'm a fumble--A warrior for peace

I'm a free slave--I'm a free slave--I'm a free slave
I am free
I'm a free slave--I'm a free slave--I'm a free slave
I am free

A song with multiple meanings...mostly about being in a happily touring band.

If you come in--We'll get you high
If you can spin--You can fly
We've been on tour since the birth of time
We're taking this world--One joint at a time

A song about holding people responsible for their actions.

I told you before
One more chance and no more
And now you're back
Crying at my door
You say you didn't mean
The things you said
It was just a case
Of the wine going to your head

But it wasn't the wine talkin'
It wasn't the wine walkin'
It wasn't the wine rockin'
And sleeping with my so called friends
It wasn't the wine lyin'
It wasn't the wine tryin'
To break every rule
That you couldn't bend
It wasn't the wine

This is a song I wrote back in 1996 or so...A country-ish plea for reconciliation. I wrote it in a weird tuning that's too much trouble to attempt during most of my shows, so I decided to work out and record a version in standard tuning that would be easier to play.

Every word you say is crystal clear
All these things you want that you can not find here
You have closed your heart and made up your mind
All you came to say really is goodbye

And I shake my head and ask you not to go
Have you heard a word I've said
You ask I answer I don't know
'Cause I may not be a fool
But I'm doing what a fool does
You keep telling it like it is
I keep hearing it like it was

A song about some of the people I want to be...

I wanna be Mick Jagger in 1972
Strut around like a rooster--Fuck anything that moves
I want to rock--I want to roll--I want to sing the blues
I wanna be Mick Jagger in 1972

I wanna be Keith Richards and play whatever I wanna
Even if I have to look like a honey-glazed iguana
He's the master of the riff--He ain't no prima donna
I wanna be Keith Richards and play whatever I wanna

I live in a town with literally hundreds of deer who roam around fearlessly with impunity. Some people hate them, some people tolerate them, and some people love them. When I play this song in public, I ask people to sing along with the bridge. If they're "pro-deer" they hold their hands up to their heads like antlers while they sing. If they're "anti-deer" they pantomime shooting the deer while they sing along. All in fun though. Everyone's usually laughing...

You chased off all the wolves and the mountain lions
Thanks! But if you shoot at us--You'll have to pay a fine
We walk right down the sidewalk--We have lost our feer
Get out of our way--We're pretty little city deer

We're pretty city deer--You know who we are
Your gardens and your parks--Are our salad bars
We're pretty city deer--We don't have to hide
You cannot harm a hair--On our pretty city deer backsides


This is a song about something that happens to everybody sooner or later. You open your fridge looking for something to eat and something don't smell right in there...

Maybe it's some broccoli that went bad
Maybe it's that fish that we never had
It smells like something underneath a bridge
There's something funky--In the fridge

There's something funky--In the fridge
Something funky--In the fridge
We can smell it--We can't see it
As soon as we I.D. it
It's out of here--Whatever it is
There's something funky--In the fridge

This is a song not everyone will agree with me about. I don't think any drugs should be illegal. I think people should be able to decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives, as long as they don't interfere with the ability of others to do the same thing. We already have laws against driving while intoxicated, child abuse, burglary, robbery, etc... I say legalize possession and prosecute the real crimes, the kind that violate the rights of others. I also expand my definition of "drugs" quite a bit in this song. Again, this song my not be for everyone, but I wanted to get it off my chest.

I'm soft on drugs--'Cause life is hard enough
I'm soft on drugs--'Cause there are some that I love
I'm soft on drugs--'Cause everyone's on something that they can't get off
I'm soft on drugs

Alcohol cigarettes and TV
Politics and sugar and caffeine
Weed and meth and heroine too
Psychedelics and singing the blues
I'm soft on drugs

Pain killers time filler and guns
Pharmaceutical mind chillers getting work done
Romance novels porn and sports
God and coke and foreign ports
I'm soft on drugs

Don't mess with my high--I won't mess with yours
Don't mess with my high
Don't mess with my high--I won't mess with yours
Don't mess with my high

This song is from the point of view of someone who sees failure in relationship as inevitable...

I looked at you--And fell in love
You felt it too--Open and shut
I told myself--This will be rough
And I'm gonna be sad--When I fuck this up

I know why it's called a crush
You hit me like a pickup truck
I am good--But not enough
And I'm gonna be sad--When I fuck this up

This song is another one about personal responsibility and knowing when enough is enough...

If you get to hammered
You will lose your glamour
Get thrown in the slammer
Do don't get too hammered
Just get hammered enough

If you get too baked
You will turn into a flake
Make some dumb mistakes
So don't get too baked
Just get baked enough

You know
When enough is enough
You know
If you don't brush it off
You know
When enough is enough

Another love song for my wife Samarra. This makes over 50 or so...

Come to my senses--Let me adore you
Before something happens that takes you away
Come to my senses--Let me absorb you
So I can say I took you in all the way

Life is so fragile--Even more so than we think
Death is so agile and patient and it never blinks

This is another older song that I decided to re-record because the original version was in a weird tuning that was too awkward to get into in the middle of a show. It's about PTSD, the high rate of suicide among vets, particularly Vietnam vets, and the true cost of war. It was inspired by my friendship with local poet T-Poe Varnado.

He finally lost his war--Turned his back and closed the door
Built a wall around his core--'Til he couldn't find it anymore
He tried to medicate--But the memories just stayed
Vietnam never went away--Back in the world living everyday
He got out his old gun--He said, "My fighting days are done."
"I had hope, now I have none. I don't want to see another sun."

Too many good young men--Died trying to save that land
But so many more than them--Died at their own hands
If there was a wall--With the names of them all
It would be longer than the wall in Washington D.C.
If there was a wall--With the names of them all
That would be a wall--We all should see
If there was a wall...

This song is about the impermanence of everything and the power of creativity...

Well the monks sit around in a circle
And pour colored sand on the ground
They make a beautiful picture
Than they scatter that sand all around
And the point of this demonstration
As far as I can see
Is that everything comes to nothing
So be here while you can be

And make something beautiful
And then let it go
Make something beautiful
Even if no one ever knows

Thanks for your support!


Vintage Baritone Ukulele

I Just Got One...

I just bought a vintage mahogany Harmony baritone ukulele on eBay for less than $100, including shipping. It looks to be the same model as the one in this picture but I can’t say for sure. I’m taking a chance of course, since I don't know what it sounds like. But the price was too good to pass up. I think one reason I got it so cheap is that the owner spelled it "ukelele" in the eBay listing and a lot of people who were searching for this kind of thing and spelled it correctly never saw it. I can't wait to get it and see what I can do with it.

What got me started was I was hanging out with some friends at the Occupy Chase protest in Ashland and a passing friend taught me how to play Jump You Fuckers on a concert uke and then we videoed it and put it up on youtube and it's got like 1600 views in a few weeks. It was fun, I liked the way it sounded and it was a nice introduction to the instrument. I'm not really much of a musician so I'm not planning on working any wonders on the uke beyond some nice grooves or moments. And I'm not interested in the ukulele "craze" really. I just liked the sound and portability of my first encounter with one and wanted to explore further.

I started putting the word out that I was interested in finding a decent ukulele and within a day or so two of my friends offered to lend me their vintage mahogany ukes, but I declined. I don’t like to borrow instruments I have no chance of buying. I don’t want to get attached to something I have to give back. But one friend did have a vintage Martin mahogany uke that she was willing to sell me, but it was a soprano which is very small, tiny really. I’m borrowing it right now, but I’ll probably pass on it.

I am still going to get a decent concert size uke (one step bigger than a soprano) and maybe a tenor as well. The baritone I just bought is the largest size, from what I understand. I think the usual tuning is just like the highest four strings on a guitar, but they can also be tuned like a tenor uke or like a tenor guitar, which is what I’m leaning toward. I’ll have to see what it sounds like first.

I’m looking forward to getting to know my way around the basic chords of whatever size uke I happen to be playing and then letting my ear lead me to the kind of sounds I feel like making. I have no clear idea what direction I want to go with this instrument, I’m just drawn to it and I’m going with it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hard And Soft

Finding The Balance

As I see it, the key to having real and deep firmness in your being is to have real and deep softness as well; and the key to having real and deep softness in your being is to have real and deep firmness. One without the other isn't very real and isn't very deep.

Firmness and softness are inter-related in that one without the other tends to be superficial and not very substantial. For example bullies tend to be superficially tough, but not nearly as tough as people who also can be soft. And hippies tend to be superficially soft, but not nearly as soft as people who can also be firm.

It's another way of talking about Yin and Yang, which according to traditional Chinese thought, don't really exist in any healthy way without each other. The Tao Te Tching says: Know the Yang but keep to the Yin. That first part is what so many hippies and New Agers would rather avoid...

Another example: “Beating swords into plowshares” is powerful, because you know the sword but decide not to use it. Never knowing swords in the first place and then beating them into plowshares is weaker, because you are being "peaceful" but you have no choice.

This interrelatedness of opposites can be applied to many of the seeming contradictions in human nature.

I think trying to deny, banish, or "transcend" one half of the many splits in ourselves is a recipe for trouble. Firm/Soft, Civilized/Animal, Violent/Peaceful, Competitive/Cooperative, Loving/Lustful, Greedy/Generous, Self-Interested/Altruistic, One/Separate...these are all hard-wired and valuable aspects of human nature. For me, balance is the key to life, not purification. And the key to balance is to first accept these dual aspects of our nature.

But that won’t do away with being out of balance. I don't think we can banish being out of balance from our lives. Balance can't be clung to or it ceases to be. You have to accept imbalance in order to have balance, which is actually a verb not a noun. It is always in motion, always a vibration between lost and found and lost and found and lost and found.

And so, sometimes I have the key and sometimes I am keyless. Sometimes I feel balanced and sometimes I don’t. I do my best to accept that and try not to cling to either state. Sometimes a little purification is not a bad thing. The need to attempt purification is human too.

But what seems so wasteful, selfish, and pointless to me is people's life long strivings to overcome, eliminate, deny, or "transcend" things that are built into our natures as human beings. This seems futile to me and the cause of so much violence and suffering in the world, turning people against their own bodies and selves, fueling murderous insecurity, and countless "holy" wars.

As I see it, true balance means true acceptance of who we are and living in the dynamic tension between our opposite qualities. I see this as an endless work in progress. I may never reach any kind of permanent state of balance but orienting in that direction seems like the best route to peace, joy, kindness, and the life I'm interested in living. Hard and soft, not hard or soft.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Editing Process

"Peace Of Mind" Becomes "My Unforced Life"

My Friend and T’ai-Chi student John Soares has a great blog called “” where he recently posted an article called “Should You Edit As You Write?” In the piece he discussed the pros and cons of editing as you go, versus editing later and many other writers commented sharing how they handle this issue.

My comment was:

“For me it depends on what kind of writing I’m doing. If I’m feeling inspired and on a roll, I don’t even bother with paragraph breaks, misspellings or even quotation marks. I just shoot from the hip until the wave has passed. If I’m working something out and developing an idea or line of thought, I’ll be more thoughtful and edit some as I go. But generally, I write first from a creative, free-spirited, uncensored place and then go over it afterwards to clean it up.

This is true of everything I write, whether it be songs, blog posts, emails or website comments. I often go through several drafts before I consider it “done”.

For instance, I might want to turn several facebook posts on a given subject into a blog post. I will have saved these posts in a folder in my computer. One night I’ll open them all up and put them in a rough working order in a Word document. Later I’ll go over it and clean up redundancies, people’s names I might have mentioned and language more suited to facebook than my blog. I might still go over the entire piece once or twice more, looking to see how it works and flows as a whole before I decide it’s ready to post.

Other times, I’ll get an idea, do a quick rough draft, go over it once or twice to smooth it out and then go ahead and post it. So the process can take weeks or it can take minutes. But then I’m not a professional. I can see that if I was, I’d have to decide not only which style pleased me most, but which style got the job done best with the amount of energy I could give it.”

Recently, I submitted an article to our local paper for a column about all aspects of “Inner Peace”. I also posted it here with the title “Peace Of Mind”. I got an email back from the editor of this column saying my submission was 750 words long and if I could edit it down to 700 words or less she would publish it.

So I set about “editing” it but I ended up doing a pretty substantial re-write that took about 4 hours! I guess it was just one of those cases where I wanted to get it as close to exactly right as I could get it. I just kept going over it and over it until nothing bugged me. That 700 word limit was exasperating at times but ultimately I think the re-write is better. Here it is with a new title:

My Unforced Life

Peace of mind does not exist in my world. In my experience, minds are not peaceful. I have experienced that it's possible to become more peaceful of mind, I am relatively sure of that. But I've never experienced, nor have I felt that anyone else was experiencing pure peace of mind.

Only two things have actually brought some measure of peace to my life. One has been accepting that parts of me are not peaceful, never have been, and probably never will be. The other has been doing what feels most deeply right to me.

By admitting to myself that in addition to their opposites, I am also competitive, aggressive, lustful, angry, scared, selfish, greedy, violent, and warlike, I invite these parts of myself to be full-fledged members of my internal family or parliament. They don't have to become outlaws and demons to be fought with. When I accept and allow them to have some expression, these so-called “darker” parts of myself begin to relax. I don't fight them, I just temper them. They don't fight me, they just make themselves known. Rather than fighting to be “good”, I focus on unforced balance and accepting myself as I am. And less fighting in my mind means more peace in my mind.

I find this to be true again and again. I have more peace in my mind when I accept the war in my mind. Certainly more than I do when I try to be peaceful. Trying to be peaceful seems like a contradiction in terms to me, like being determined to relax, or trying to lift a chair I’m sitting in.

I call myself a “freestyle” Taoist because rather than the 1200+ volumes that comprise the orthodox Taoist canon, I focus instead on 4 words: Flow more—Force less. This is the heart of my life, both as T'ai-Chi teacher and singer/songwriter. I've spent over 25 years studying how to "flow more—force less" in countless training exercises within the T'ai-Chi system. I've spent even longer working on reducing excess effort as a singer, writer, and performer. And yet I still force things all the time.

What’s important to me in life is not so much what I hit as what I aim for. My target is what I call "the unforced life”, the life that I don't have to force myself to live, where each action is done with just the right amount of energy needed to achieve its ends. I've studied this on a daily basis for decades and still, what progress I've made has been slow, with many small steps.

Living in the dynamic tension between my various opposites has not been easy, but I vastly prefer it to trying to banish or eliminate parts of myself that seem hard-wired into me by Nature. When I accept myself as I am, my shoulders relax and sink, martial techniques become more effective, my hands find the right sound on my guitar, my voice opens a bit, I find the words I’m looking for, I connect better with my friends, I breathe easier, and once again, a small measure of peace emerges.

My unforced life comes gradually, by accepting whatever is happening inside of me. Not liking it necessarily, but accepting it, accepting that it's happening. Things are always changing and conflict seems inevitable, but when I accept what's going on in me, I’m less conflicted.

With less preoccupying conflict in my life, it’s easier to identify what feels most deeply right to me and easier to act on it. I've learned to trust this "most deeply right" feeling completely. I trust that it will lead me, directly or indirectly, to the right life, the unforced life that includes both the “light” and “dark” aspects of my nature. As I get better at identifying and acting on this inner "right" feeling, my lessons are not as painful, I flow more and force less, I have more satisfying and enjoyable experiences of myself and the world around me, and yes, even a bit more peace of mind.

Gene Burnett is a T’ai-Chi teacher and singer/songwriter living and working in Ashland.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I Put Nothing Beyond It

I don't want to resolve doubt. I like doubt. It keeps my mind open. I even like doubting things I don't actually doubt. What I don't want is paralyzing doubt. Doubt is like a spice to me. You don't want to make a meal of it, but a meal without it is kind of dull...

But unreasonable doubt is, well, unreasonable. When it comes to whether or not I am writing in English right now, I would say that I have no doubt that English is being written. None at all really, which, while it makes me suspicious, doesn't change my mind.

What I would doubt a little, and really just a little, is that the "I" in "I am writing in English." is who's really doing the writing. Or whether that "I" is real or not. Or whether "you" the reader are real or not. Or whether the physical reality in which I write and you read is real. About all of these things I have some doubt. Not enough to change my behavior significantly, but enough to keep me alert to the possibility that things might not be what they seem.

Since there's an "I" in anything I perceive, I have to include some doubt about that "I" in almost everything. Just some though. I exaggerate that doubt a bit to make a point.

I feel like the essential "me" is naked and at best a bit uncomfortable with that, so part of me is always putting on the "clothes" of certainty to make me feel better, but another part of me would rather just get used to being naked and is constantly undressing. One part keeps solving the mystery and the other part keeps reviving it. In between is where the action is for me, living in the tension stripping and dressing.

If pressed to be absolutely as accurate as possible I would say I'm not certain of anything, not even that last statement. But in everyday life, I accept the necessary compromise and say, Yes, I'm sure, when what I really mean is that I'm virtually sure. And virtually means almost but not.

I have to say things that aren't strictly true, but are virtually true. Keeping this in mind keeps me from being too certain. It keeps doubt alive. And I like doubt. Doubt to me is a wonderful thing that keeps life from getting stale and keeps me from mistaking words for the things they describe.

I think there’s always something "wrong" with any statement. Not in the logical sense, but in the sense that there is always room for doubt or an alternative point of view. Every truth starts with some assumptions. Examine those and you will find room for "error" or inaccuracy. As I say in my song “You Are Wrong”, even "1 + 1 = 2" assumes that there is such thing as "one" or "two" of anything, that separate things exist, that boundaries exist, that adding things together exists, and that two things can be "equal". You may very well make all these assumptions, I do all the time in everyday life, but you don't have to. You could also assume that "1 + 1 =2" is an error ridden convenience that makes lots of things work better.