Lunch with Kurt Cobain, Bob Ross, Doogie Howser, M.D., and my cousin Amy (aka – my creative process in the learning curve of the blogosphere)

Life is difficult.

In the early days of the “self-help” movement, M. Scott Peck began his classic book, The Road Less Traveled, with those three words.  My mother gave me my own copy around the time I left home for college. I didn’t get past the first page, but point well taken!

I’d like to expound on his point, and say, “No shit! It’s really fucking difficult.  And thrilling. And scary. And horrific. And beautiful. In this way, I’m finding writing a blog to be a good microcosm of life.

My friend, Leila, asked me why I was choosing to write a blog and who I was writing it for? I admit I’ve never read a blog, much less followed one. I wasn’t really clear, especially on the audience piece. I was only clear that I wanted to get somethings out of my head by placing them into the world.

What are the “Why,” “Who,” and “How” of my blog?

My first entry, “Hello Digital World,” created a container for me to write. My initial “why” was written in about 20 minutes the day before leaving for Europe. In it, I claimed this “small piece of digital land” as a room of my own, in order to write about my passions and to share: 1) parts of my past in hopes of releasing them, 2) moments in the present to savor them, 3) my dreams of the future and my place in it.

I thought this would be a great way to share with my family and friends as I traveled, while beginning to process all the ideas accumulating in my head over several years, and to use all of this content as the beginnings of a website hosting my offerings to the world (coaching, consulting, and drumming).  I figured I could explain why I believe what I believe and how it drives the way I live and work on this earth.

As I write and publish for the “world” to see, I realize how profound my birthing scene was in that first post.  I am a total blog rookie. Like a newborn, basically blind and drunk as I learn to use this tool, depending on connection and kindness from others to help me grow (Hell, I couldn’t even find the spell check until I published two entries…you may have noticed!  And in this moment, I still can’t get spell check to work!!!!! In addition, recently I accidentally published a subject line with no content. Awesome work! Sorry to those who follow and got an update saying “Almost the illegitimate ancestor of a British King.” It’s true, and funny, and is in the que to be explained).

I thought about Leila’s questions some more and images of several people popped into my mind in quick succession.  They were my cousin Amy, Kurt Cobain, “the happy painter” Bob Ross, and Doogie Howser, MD.


Great. Thanks Brain.  What the hell do I do with this group of odd fellows (and “fella”) and how does it help me answer those questions?

So it goes with my quirky mind, a rapid fire of randomness with which I get to make meaning and use as sign posts along the “vas deferens” of my soul; leading from the loins of my creativity, out into this world.  It has taken 38 years for me to grow accustomed to it. Now, instead of labeling, pathologizing, or questioning this process, I let it flow and trust that insights will form out of abstraction. Pablo Picasso talked referred to this most essential part of the creativity as “maintaining contact with the medium.” Allowing your mind and body to move you to the point where the work in front of you matches the feeling inside you. He never knew how a painting would look in the end. He had a feeling he was trying to express and he maintained contact with the brush and canvas until he saw it before his own eyes. Watch this clip of him painting to see how he worked and reworked an idea (it begins a few minutes into the clip). Amazing! Fearless! Healthy non-attachment!

So, here is a little insight as to how MY process works, and why each of the people I mentioned above carried a message that helped me get clear on my answer to Leila’s question.

Please, be my guest and enter my world…

I love the icebreaker question, “What three figures from history would you invite to a dinner party?”  I heard this question for the first time when I was 21. My 21 year old self answered that question with: Jesus, Buddha, and Hitler.  I thought that was soooooooo deep.  Worthy of lots of admiration.  17 years later, I decided to revisit this idea, except I changed it to a casual lunch, and invited a new set of people to join me (fortunately, they were all available on short notice). Amy, Bob, Kurt, Doogie, and me: the lunch company of my current, “more mature” fantasy. As we dined on burritos and soda (at my request), and with a note pad on the table, it became clear what insights each of these figures brought to the questions of “who” and “why” and “how.”

(Now imagine me at a Mexican restaurant, at table by myself, staring out the window.  You would never know that I was surrounded by such fantastic company, engaged in thrilling conversation!)

My Cousin Amy: Everyone needs a therapist and an editor

Amy is full of one liners, many of them handed down from her parents. Truly colorful characters, the lot of them. She will commonly use vivid descriptors for people like “strong as goat’s breath” or “rode hard and hung up wet” as she tells stories.  For me her anecdotes are particularly comforting, as many of them evoke the south eastern United States. My favorite of her repertoire is, “Everyone needs a therapist and an editor.” You may have noticed that this is “sure as shittin'” true for me, especially in this new digital world of blogging, where I think of myself as a “technological neanderthal toddler.” If you read my posts early, there is no doubt you will find all sort of gems of grammatical error. “Grammerphile”, I never was.

Seriously, please pardon the spelling people. I am the product of calculators and spell check and was happy to let them do the learning! When I began to operate this software, I wasn’t getting those handy red lines that shout, “Hey!!! You missed something here, holmes!” So please reframe any judgmental leanings and make a game of it. Think of it like an easter egg hunt or a “Where’s Waldo” scene. Feel free to show me what you find. Besides, it is good for me to send out a blog post with a few blemishes and zits, to confront a nasty and stifling internal drive for perfection (though you would never know this from my shaggy, casual, untucked appearance).

The act of pressing “publish” is such a profound experience and a big edge to cross. I consider it a therapeutic victory in and of itself.  I can sit and judge my work until the cows come home ( I neither own a home nor cows), and by then I have convinced myself to scrap whatever I’ve done anyhow.  Therefore, enjoy me in all my misspelled glory. It’s going to be messy for a bit (I’m putting on “Cee Lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections” to help me push through!).

Thank God for this tradition; great medicine for the critics in my head.

Thank God for this tradition, “kintsukuroi,” filling cracks and broken places with gold; great medicine for the critics in my head.

Kurt Cobain : If you read, you’ll judge

Sometime after Kurt Cobain’s death, his journal was published. It was a simple, red, spiral bound Mead notebook. Ever the voyeur, I bought it, eager to see inside the mind of a generational game changer. I did give pause before opening the book, as I read the cover, where he fortuitously wrote a simple phrase. “If you read, you’ll judge.” Who knows what he was thinking as he scribbled that disclaimer, but it did send a haunting feeling through me. He was right. This was years before his art and voice gained a worldwide audience. He was not used to the process of releasing something from deep within, out into the world where judgment and criticism circle like sharks. Also, he probably didn’t intend for this particular work to be shown publicly. Who knows?


But what I appreciate and have taken from this disclaimer is the need to truly consider the difference between public and private spaces and the reality of an audience. More specifically, the diversity of reactions that come when releasing a part of your essence into the world, forming a relationship with the public. I took a closer look at the process of witnessing (and the all too frequent judgment in tow) that is central to the relationship between the subject/artist and the witness/audience. What does the work say about the subject and what does the reaction say about the audience? What does my blog say about me and what does your reaction say about you? Both good questions to consider and for which I have no answers. I do know it is a space to take seriously, being prepared for anything possible in return (I’m thinking Aikido could be good for me at this point). Look at what it did to Kurt and countless other public persona.

Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, cuts to the heart of what I feel about this. The title is from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, from his speech “Citizenship in a Republic.”  It separates people into two camps, actors on stage, and the critics in the stands. He is less interested in the claims of the critics shouting from their seats, and wants to be in relationship with the actors in the middle of the arena, who are attempting to express their essence in some form. So, I hope that you as my audience can do some of your own great work while you read my words, looking inside, as well as at me, bringing some of your own daring quality to this space.

I can hear a critic saying, “I’m fine here in my seat at home. It isn’t courage that makes you want to be seen publicly, it is your extraversion, vanity, and insecurity that compels you to go out into the public seeking validation. You want people to like you and say good job.” To which I’d say, that is partially true, indeed. And I can relate to wanting to stay in safe quarters. I’ve done that most of my life.

At this point, I AM writing this blog primarily for myself and would love to hear how great you think I am. Even deeper, I know that I can only do so much on my own, in my journal, or in private behind closed doors (safe quarters). My journey of healing over the last five years has been a wonderful laboratory for many moments of public and private healing alike. In moving on from the story of my past, I have been most successful in moving grief and negative energy (shame and guilt) when I was able to be my most vulnerable, authentic, and honest self in front of other people. I am convinced the real secret ingredient was the role of “the witness.”

I don’t think we can be our own witness nearly as powerfully and completely as we can be for each other.

A Slight aside:

Not to veer too far into pop-physics, but physicists are finding that the role of the observer is apparent at microscopic and quantum levels, as well as, the interpersonal level. Tiny particles begin to behave differently as soon as they are observed. Check out this link! The “double slit experiment” first brought this phenomenon to light (pun intended) in the realm of science.

I think of the same phenomenon happening to me and in any setting where someone is being observed. Whether it be on stage, in therapy, at the wailing wall, or in any public space, there is a powerful opportunity for change to occur merely by being seen and heard (I understand that change isn’t always smooth or positive, and that being seen can induce criticism, shame, and hiding. Therefore creating safe spaces, where critical judgment is miraculously trumped by positive regard, for people to choose to be seen, is essential).

Naturally, a mind trained heavily in science will balk at the mention of a connection between the observer at a microscopic, quantum level and the witness at an interpersonal level. I also know science has a long history of whoop’s and mea culpa’s, literally damning people for wild ideas that were proven accurate in time (Galileo and Copernicus to name a few).  The arts and sciences are all continuously replacing paradigms with “truths” that were at one point considered far-fetched or outright denied as insane (like a round earth) or “of the devil” (the heliocentric solar system). I wonder how and where this is happening presently?

So, why is it ridiculous to think this pattern won’t continue to play out, and at the end of time, we see that the age of science and reason took us on a huge detour to return to truths contained at the heart of ancient folklore and spiritual wisdom?

I digress…

Unlike Kurt Cobain’s journal, I understand I am volunteering this work to be seen. I do so because I believe in the power fo community healing and “witnessing” as central to this process. I understand there is no magic forcefield of golden light that will keep judgment away. I welcome feedback in all forms. I just hope it is honest, brave, constructive, and grounded in your own experience. When it isn’t, that speaks for itself.

I believe that the heaviest emotional, traumatic loads should not be held by one person or even two, but by a larger community as a whole. Indigenous people have held this as common practice for ages. In a community healing space, the individual(s) is doing work for the whole and the whole is holding the individual(s). Everyone has points where their story intersects the story of the ‘actor,” or person in the middle of the circle. They are able to process their own life at that point. Everyone wins. Everyone heals.

I hope there are points in my story, where you have a strong reaction, that takes you into your own life and that you are able to process and release some of the load you carry. Please feel free to share if you feel moved. I would love it if you come join me in this arena. To be in relationship with my audience is something that I want. I hope that a blog can be relational, where I can speak my truth AND receive and incorporate feedback. I dream of this new balance in all my relations.

The Happy Painter, Bob Ross: A Nice Broad, Brush-Stroked, Background Layer

Growing up, one of the staples of our public television station was a lovely man named Bob Ross. He hosted a show called the “Joy of Painting,” which on the surface, was simply him painting a generic landscape for about 30 minutes. But once I began watching, I couldn’t stop. It was hypnotic and made me feel the same sort of relaxation and safety that I get from a holiday’s nap. His voice. His cadence. His patience. His warmth. His unique spirit is solely responsible for turning what is otherwise a boring television program, into a seductive, blissful experience. I can’t think of one other person who hosted a painting show (because I find them horribly boring), but he was and is a cult legend for good reason. (He is also a facilitating human, whose artistic life was heavily inspired during his time in the military.).  Watch him do his ‘thang!


He always began his shows with the same ritual. He chose the shades of paint he wanted to use, mixed them as needed, and began the painting by using broad brush stokes to create a base, background layer of paint. This served as something to hold the rest of the scene, and allowed him to move towards more and more detail. That is a good visual for my own creative process. I make large, sweeping strokes as I brainstorm and constantly refine them as I make pass after pass. Similar to a two dimensional spiral, approaching a more focused point with each revolution through space and time.

I was so happy to see this shape in Assisi, Italy. I had just written this part the day before.

This may as well be inside my head. I was so happy to see this shape in Assisi, Italy. I had just written this part the day before.

I see this happening within each post I write, but also with the blog as a whole. I am still working on introducing major themes and the background story, before moving into the minutia of small moments. (Perhaps in the future, I will reverse the direction, and begin with small moments to see what larger image is revealed in time.)

Doogie Houser, M.D.: Small Nuggets of Moral Fiber or “Colonblow?”

Remember this guy? I’m thinking he may be the original blogger.

Clearly, I am not the first person to make this connection. Thanks and props to the folks at Axiom Amnesia for creating this picture.

Clearly, I am not the first person to make this connection. Thanks and props to the folks at Axiom Amnesia for creating this picture.

Before there was “How I Met Your Mother” and hosting award shows, there was “Doogie Houser, M.D,” which gave us Neil Patrick Harris (God Bless that man).  What a landmark for my generation, right along side other teen-centric shows like Punky Bruster, Blossom, The Wonder Years, and Saved by the Bell.

Hanna Montana who?

What I remember more than anything, was the journaling at the conclusion of each episode on his primitive desktop computer.  Somehow, in a sentence or two, he managed to wrap up half hour of drama with a perfectly wholesome nugget of morality.

As I continue to ponder, “WTF is a blog anyway, and what is the “best” way to do this?,” I keep holding myself to the “Doogie standard,” since it is my archetype for the blogosphere. Thus far, short daily entries have not been my modus operandi.

In fairness to myself, Doogie’s entries managed to be so on point because it was fabricated and produced by a huge team!!! He had more than an editor and a therapist. He had producers, directors, make up artists, gaffers, grips, and cameramen setting it up for him!!! I do not have such a team (though I am open to any of the previously mentioned), nor am I a boy genius. Therefore, I rely even more on the gifts of feedback and support from those around me.

As for the format of the blog, I alternate between wanting to offer short observations and longer stories. On one hand, I want to craft “daily nuggets of moral fiber” that are short and simple, easily digestible, and keep you regular.

On the other hand, I want to drop big bombs of printed “Colonblow.” Something a little harder to swallow, with lots of interwoven themes, that clears out the system for a while. A real good purge. In time, I will try and do both, using broad brush strokes to provide a background context for small details to have meaning.

Getting started is the hardest part and I am finally under way!!! Until I perfect my own brand of short, wholesome, morality nuggets, I’ll leave you with one from the original blogger (OB) himself, Doogie Houser, M.D.  Enjoy 1992 all over again. Relive the feelings of joy and dread as your beloved T.V. show ends and you face the reality of unfinished homework and school the following day.

Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and to what extent???

I still don’t know the complete answer to Leila’s questions. But, here’s what I do know.

The purpose of this space will morph over time. And then it will change again. Above all, I want it to be a creative process, anchored in intention, unafraid to change, with an unknown final destination. I also know, thanks to Amy, Kurt, Bob, and Doogie (Pablo and Brene, as well), that editors, witnesses, creativity, and courage will be essential ingredients for this bambino blog to blossom. Paradoxically, baby steps of broad brush strokes.

This blog is for my clarity and hopefully connection with you. I’m writing to share my thoughts about my life, and to offload old ideas and to upload new ones. I’m writing to build an interactive, creative space of passion and wonder for anyone who is attracted this way. I hope to create meaning and meaningful relationships, as I release the past, take in the present, and dream of a future where I live and work at the intersection of my passions:

Rhythm/Music, Culture, Power, Embodiment, and Stewardship

As I leave southern Italy for Greece, tracing the Mediterranean east, (three months into the journey) I can assure you these themes are all over this trip and I am slowly figuring out how to tell the story. They will remain at the heart of this blog. Behind the scenes, my notes are taking form and the next steps are becoming clear as I need them.

So yes, Life is difficult.

M. Scott Peck, completes his thought by saying that life ceases to be difficult, paradoxically, once it is accepted as such. This has certainly been true in my experience, and that has made all the difference.





This life is difficult, scary, thrilling, and wonder-full, at least.

Blogging too.

I’m tired of sleeping.

Waking slowly, dreaming.

Maintaining contact with my breath, drum, pen, and Earth.

I’m grateful to be here, together.

(Good News) Here Comes the Sun!!!  A Season’s Greetings 

Warm, holiday greetings to everyone from the southern Italian province of Puglia! I have been hopping between Otranto, Lecce, Altamura, and Matera, visiting friends and percussion teachers.

Today, I have many reasons to be thankful. My family, my body, and this journey on which I find myself, just to name a few. Appropriately, the sun is shining!

This is good news!

Good news is also appropriate today, as it is Christmas 2015. In the Christian tradition, today marks the birth of Jesus, often called “the Son of God” and “the Light of the World.”

For those not steeped in Christianity or English, let me briefly explain some of the fun I am having with words right now. The Bible is separated into two parts, the Old and the New Testaments.  The New Testament is the portion of the Bible that talks about the life of Jesus.  It is divided into four chapters, called books, written by some of Jesus’s earliest followers.  It is also referred to as “the Gospel.”  The word “Gospel” has been handed down from Greek, to Latin, to Old English, and finally to its current form.  It’s original translation is “good news.”

I can’t speak for “the Son” of God’s return, but I can speak for “the Sun’s” return.  It has begun, and for the next six months, the days will get longer. No doubt. If there is doubt, something is seriously off with the rhythm of the solar system and we should all…well…pray. — But, the anticipated return of the Sun is worthy of the euphemism “Gospel Truth,” in my opinion.  For today, I am putting down my biblical fact checking lens, and am content to bask in the reality of the warmth and hope of the returning light.

This holiday season has been unlike any other for me.  Since September 30th, I have been traveling. My travels have been deep and wide and will take me some time to integrate.  Rest assured they will do so, and I’ll share them in turn.  I have loads of random maps, notes, and a trail of digital bread crumbs (aka photos) to remind me of the path thus far.

In the meantime, here is a quick overview in the form of one massive, free flow, run-on sentence (take that!!! grammar teachers!):

Deep breath…

…Landed in Barcelona for the Deep Democracy Institute’s Annual Intensive, big focus on power (personal and systemic) and abuse (individual and collective/cultural) and the dynamic relationship between abuser and victim, Karpman Triangle, what’s the point at which a victim becomes an abuser? I’ve been seeing this dynamic play out throughout my trip and throughout European history (and certainly into the US), immigrants, Franco, independence and sovereignty, Catalonia, La Sagrada Familia!!!  Gaudi!!! churches everywhere; traveled to Bilbao with my friend Inigo, learned about the Basque culture and folk traditions, ate pinchos, played the Txalaparta, and explored caves where the Basque Goddess Mari was said to live; flew to Limerick where my cousin Madeline is studying ethnomusicology!!!, heard laments and lullabies and traditional pub sessions, played the Bodhran, drove on the “wrong” side of the road in the “wrong” side of the car, explored ancient kerns and megalithic rock art (older than the Great Pyramid), who are these Gaelic people???, “Guinness is good for you” so they say, rainbows in droves, went to Dublin, hung with my friend Michelle, the Easter Rising of 1916, amazing leadership of Daniel O’Connell and Jim Larkin, churches everywhere, no U2 😦  ; flew to Inverness, visited the Findhorn Foundation, stayed in an Eco-village and spiritual community founded by three remarkable humans (guided by voices…literally), got kidnapped by my friend, Ilana, for a surprise journey to Orkney Island, saw the most incredible stone circles, massive ocean swells, almost puked on the boat ride home, down through the highlands to Edinburgh, churches everywhere, ancestry work at the Stewart Society (yep, it exists), thought a lot about karma and ancestry, gifted Man’s Search for Meaning; flew to Warsaw via Paris on day of attacks:( to journey with my friend Leila, saw Irish comedian Dylan Moran talk about life inside the “family” of the European Union…necessary laughter for what was to come, start to get clear how young US culture really is, learned that an “international driver’s license” exists, first time in a former communist space, history of constant occupation and oppression, Jewish experience, “the H-word,” Auschwitz, Kraków, into Berlin saw great English band, Alt-J, and incredible underground tour of city featuring street art and subcultures, THE WALL, Poznan, Gdansk, Torun, the Teutonic Order and Middle Ages, watch out when religion and miliatries mix!!! Chopin and Copernicus, courage abounds often underground, more uprisings than I can fathom, stone circles, where is the music? where are the drums? churches everywhere; fly to Venice, thickest fog I’ve ever seen while landing, the original “Gheto,” burial site of Mark (author of a portion of the Gospel) picked up by friends, Giovanni and Mariateresa, Padua, scientific method, anatomy and astronomy, Verona, the balcony at the Capulet house, didn’t go to Juliet’s grave (not real anyhow) theater and clowns, money lending, private property, and ethical banking, Shakespeare, Galileo, constant discussion of power and abuse and oppression and art and freedom, ancient burial sites and sacred sites are harder to find around here, covered by lots of churches, train to Assisi via Florence, St. Francis and St. Clare, mysterious and magical, poverty as a choice amongst riches, stigmata, civil disobedience and effective leadership (in and out of the church), spiritual and personal power as bedrock of leadership in changing systems, train along Adriatic Sea to Lecce and Otranto, met friends Giuseppe and Beatrice, tambourine tradition of Tarantella, dance and drums return in a big way, beautiful Mediterranean, tones of Spain, Albania, Romania, and Greece in the air, olives too, found two tambourine and frame drum teachers, Roberto in Lecce, and Pino in Altamura, amazing bread, near Matera (one of many, many UNESCO sites I’ve visited), had a rupestrian (cave) church to myself while thousands shopped and drank less than a mile away. Wow. Awoke to church bells this morning, setting sites on Greece in a few days…

— End scene  —

I am grateful for every moment and blessing, leading up to, and on this journey.  I’m greatful for my intentions, which have held me close, kept me safe and surrounded by great people that share my passions. I am grateful for all the family and friends who have inspired and walked with me along this path.  I hope you know who you are, but if you are feeling modest, I will tell you about it in private next time we connect.

I hope you enjoy the collage above!  I hope you can feel my excitement!

In the spirit of the mystery of this season and of the wonder of this “Great Wander” on which I am currently, I’d like to share two things that helped to start my day.  I hope they enhance yours!

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

One of the books I am traveling with (thanks Zach!) is The Wayfinders, by Wade Davis.  Below, is a link to one of his Ted talks.  The fist time I saw it, I never wanted it to end.  So I just watch it a lot instead (you have to, because he says so much in so little time). I plan to nominate and vote for him in the next US presidential elections.  I am in awe of the invitations into sacred spaces he has received across cultural lines. I admire how he is handling these privileges. He is a major role model for me and I feel a deep kinship to his dream of the future. I think his work is crucial for our time and for bringing the true potential of the light of Christmas into the world. Enjoy this clip called, The Worldwide Web of Belief and Ritual.

“Here Comes the Sun, and I say, ‘It’s all right!'”

Perhaps my favorite song for the Christmas/solstice season (a nice live, acoustic version):  “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison.

Wishing everyone a warm, holiday season.  From my heart to yours, may the days ahead burn bright, inspired by the promise of the returning light.

Growing Up in Black and White

Above photos: That’s me on the left, during one of the formal photograph sessions I talk about not liking below. I remember touching that leaf with my left hand. It’s one of my only memories from my life before arthritis appeared.  On the right is Jean-Michel Basquait. I saw this on the wall outside an exhibit on him at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The lettering on the lower left popped out to me.  Racism is a large theme in his work and this exhibit.  Mississippi’s shadows seem to follow me no matter where I go, but so does its light.


Outside: Seeking a Savior for Liberation from the Bondage of an External Oppressor.

All of my life I could give two shits about Europe.  So why did I travel here?  I retained very little of my European history or literature classes.  In fact, it was good fodder for sleep.  Whatever I did remember, I labeled it as rubbish and intentionally forgot.  Until recently, I existed in a very polarized world.  Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi will do that to a person.  Socially, things were often framed in the context of black and white.  I mean this both in terms of black and white people, but also in terms of morality. Things were often right or wrong.  The Church was omnipresent and potent in the air that raised me.  My world was divided into good and evil based on subtle and not so subtle messaging.  These polarities created a nice x&y axis for my early development.  Black and White, Good and Evil.

However, I did a funny thing when filing things into these categories.  I put “white,” “power” (and certainly all things “white power”), and white culture into the evil category and “black,” “soul,” and black culture into the good category.  Sure it might sound preposterous and obviously flawed, but that was not my experience.  Inside, this sorting process was subtle and subversive, occurring in the quietest of voices easily missed in the noise of modern life.  It took me almost four decades to understand.  Early on, I felt a great deal of shame for being white, because the people I saw in certain roles of history that looked like my parents and grandparents acted like the evil people in the fairy tales that I read.  They also reminded me of the angry mob of Romans in the passion play of Jesus, which I heard every year when the liturgical calendar made its approach towards Easter (or 24/7 on the local access T.V. channels).  I saw a clear similarity in the spirit of those yelling “Crucify him!” from the ancient Bible story and those spitting hatred at the Little Rock 9 or James Meredith, as they broke the barriers of public school segregation.

06 Sep 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA --- Elizabeth Eckford ignores the hostile screams and stares of fellow students on her first day of school. She was one of the nine negro students whose integration into Little Rock's Central High School was ordered by a Federal Court following legal action by NAACP. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

06 Sep 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA — Elizabeth Eckford ignores the hostile screams and stares of fellow students on her first day of school. She was one of the nine negro students whose integration into Little Rock’s Central High School was ordered by a Federal Court following legal action by NAACP. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Closer to home, I saw the ripples of history in my daily life.  Most directly and consistently, my family had a black maid named Marie.  Maids were historically know as the “help,” and the economic structure is a direct descendant of the Jim Crow era and, ultimately, the plantation system.  This complex and confusing dynamic was “Hollywoodized” in the popular novel and screenplay “The Help,” which takes place in Jackson about 15 years before I was born.  I saw it at our country club, where the rich, white patrons were waited on by an almost exclusively poor, black staff in a setting that was uncomfortably plantation like.  I saw it at church where the only black faces in the vicinity were custodians and homeless people on the sidewalk.  I saw it in 1997, when as a summer camp counselor, I took a group of 10 black middle school students to see Jackson’s first black mayor get inaugurated, where we passed a white man holding a picket sign that read, “Nothing good ever happened when the monkeys took over the plantation house.”  The list goes on…

I felt the tight and repressive social norms of the richest class every where.  I saw it at church, at school, various country clubs other than the one we belonged to, at the Oil and Gas Club (private club on the top floor of a building in downtown Jackson for select members of the energy sector), at the Junior League of Jackson, and even at clothing stores buying nice clothes for church and family portraits.  I have vivid memories of sitting at the Episcopal Cathedral on Sundays, silent and mostly still, dreaming of being across town in one of the gospel churches where it seemed ok to dance and shout out loud, shake a tambourine, and pass out as a result of being so moved by the Holy Spirit.

Historically, like the greater Deep South region, Mississippi was predominantly a mixture of western Europe and western Africa. The gulf between the extremes was and is stark.  But, I was clear that I sided with the slaves, with those who sang the blues and who inspired Elvis Presley to sing and dance, with those who cleaned houses and served food, talked jive, and walked with a swagger-laden strut.  I championed the ones I felt were, ironically, free and whose humanity matched the way I felt deep inside.

Now, it seems logical that I would go on the create a world where Europe was the source of evil, of oppression, of prophet killers, and an inhumane way of being that trickled down into the cultures and the people there within.  This cultural plague had made its way to North America and to Jackson and into my house.  In my own subtle and often silent way, I rejected it.  I protested going to church and argued for the division of church and Jesus.  I wore sweat pants in formal family portraits, argued with friends that Marie was not our maid, but our housekeeper and family member, and openly dissed the Confederate flag, debutante balls, hunting, and country music.

But instead of really fighting it at every turn, I repressed it, lived with large amounts of cognitive dissonance, and went with the flow of privilege.  But I also identified myself with black folks and the parts of Mississippi that seemed to originate in west Africa, becoming biased towards them.  I was never extreme in my approach. I never tried to overtly “act black” or openly “chant down Babylon,” but I did start to develop a belief that people like me and my community were the problem with the world.  To sit with that belief and feeling was too much.  I couldn’t reconcile that I had these oppressive energies in me and that I was a part of several western European lineages.  It didn’t fit in my polarized framework.  So I shelved it in the furthest recess of my mind where it could seep and fester for a few decades.

I slowly began making my way out of the south.  First to college in Richmond, Virginia (yes, it was the capital of the confederacy, but very close to the Mason-Dixon Line:), where much of the campus community came from outside of the south.  It was while I was in college that I was able to go to Africa as an exchange student.  People often asked me why I chose to study there, while most of my peers chose European destinations.  For me, it was my opportunity to learn about the other half of what I consider my native culture; the half that I was proud of and identified with in my soul.  I felt it was important to experience being a racial minority, to flip the scenario and be the outlier.  Even though there were several fallacies in my plan to “be a minority”, namely, the power dynamics I enjoyed in Ghana because of my skin color, my aim was true.  The last reason I went, was to be more like my first hero (outside of my brother), Neil Peart.  The legendary drummer took a trip to Africa to absorb the culture and the rhythms, penning a book called The Masked Rider.  I think I was 9 when I learned about this, and I was in awe.

The experience was incredible.  I’ve always said, “There was my life before Ghana and then there will be the rest of it.”  I grouped my classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so I was free to travel for most of the week.  I took a full course load of mostly afro-centric classes and I had three drum teachers one from each of the major ethnic groups within Ghana.  I felt very wild and very free from most of the rules, and pressures, and conveniences I knew.  I also felt very close to the Earth.  I remember thinking, “Is this what it feels like to be indigenous?”  While those are comical statements in hindsight, I was taping into some essential qualities about what it means for me to be in right relationship to myself.

Outside of these romantic memories, I also came into contact with harsh realities left in the wake of colonization.  Although rare, I felt hatred from black students the Pan-African student group, Africans and African-Americans alike.  I visited Elmina Castle, where the slaves were put onto ships headed to the middle passage.  Near the castle, I was asked for money by a young girl, who referred to me as “sire,” a staggering relic from the days of active trading. I received another sick artifact of the past from a Ghanaian evangelical, who warned to repent soon, or suffer the same fate as the poor African nations for not accepting Christ earlier in history.  My blood boiled, hearing this, and I wanted to destroy whichever sect of missionaries I felt sure introduced such a logic driven by blame and shame.

It was also the first time I could clearly see the division and separation between West Africans and African-Americans.  I remember being at the airport to pick up my parents.  At the same time, dozens of African-American businessmen were arriving for a conference designed to spawn better business ties between Ghanaian and African-American owned businesses. I was stunned by the difference in skin tone and bone structure as a result of over 250 years in the US, mixing with a larger gene pool.  All of these experiences gave me a completely new dose of colorful information to add to the polarized, biased, and bigoted experiences of growing up white in Mississippi in the 1980’s and 90’s.  Ultimately, I became more overwhelmed by the power and gravity of history and my place in it.

Inside: Seeking a Savior for Liberation from the Bondage of an Internal Oppressor.

While much of my time in Ghana was spent exploring and learning about my outer world, my inner world was undergoing an equal amount of change.  The theme of oppression and freedom from bondage carried over into my body.  I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis during the summer between 1st and 2nd grade.  It happened over night.  I literally woke up one morning, went down stairs as usual and the first thing out of my mother’s mouth was, “What’s wrong with your knee?”   The next thing I remember was being in the emergency room, feeling a bit like ET when he and Elliot were quarantined in the house, overrun by scientists in scary sanitation suits.  And so began my life living with chronic illness and pain.  Between the ages of 8-15, the “dis-ease” was severe and I was noticeably hobbled.  In hindsight, I was tethered to pain.  Concurrently, I began to experience a spike in my already high levels of anxiety.   I was a positive and upbeat kid, who didn’t want others to worry.  But inside, I was internalizing some pretty severe messages, namely that I was broken, I was alone in my pain, and no God would or could save me.

It is no wonder that the first time I got high in Ghana, I got hooked.  It was such a beautiful scene:  I was on the roof of my dorm building with a group of international and local students watching the sun set.  I remember starting to feel the THC set in and a rush of anxiety followed.  This was not the first time I tried smoking pot.  I gave it a whirl a few times in highschool and had a terrible time.  It was similar to the classic scene from the stoner flick, Friday.  No angel dust needed, I had my own giant sized, amped up anxiety.  I ran up and down the street trying to sweat it out, as onlookers laughed hysterically.  So almost five years later, when I tried it again in Ghana, and managed to push through the anxiety, I thought I was cured.  I found myself in a paradise free from the background noise of pain and anxiety.  I felt a new level of relief and serenity.  In that moment, I felt free from the bondage of an oppressive inner world, both physical and emotional.   Marijuana became my Messiah, Lord, Savior, and Higher Power; something outside of myself that set me free.

Maybe that’s why I always felt drawn to the West African elements in Jackson?  I felt deeply connected to what I saw as a community of people in pain, shackled and bound by oppressive forces larger than themselves, struggling to be free.  I also perceived a certain quality of aliveness in their day-to-day expression (walk and talk) and in their art spanning generations.

So I returned home from Ghana an altered young man.  I had touched a part of myself that felt wild and free, more in touch with a way of life that was closer to nature’s rhythms, and free of the pressures of “civilized” society.  I also had a new tool in the form of marijuana, that could alter my perception and clear my pain and worries for a little while.  In that spirit, I returned to Virginia to finish college and join a rock band of brothers.  We headed west for Portland, Oregon to join the migration of indy rockers chasing their destiny in the city of rain, roses, weed, and white people.  Statistically, Portland is the whitest major city in the US.  I’m not sure how the numbers stack up in terms of rain, roses, and weed…but I know they are “high” on all accounts.

Over the next 14 years, I made a lot of music and was able to live into a side of myself that was a bit wilder than anything before, but hardly free.  I became dependant on getting high to feel normal or relaxed.  I relied more and more on marijuana to access a source of freedom, relief, and even salvation. At the time I thought it helped me access my true identity.  In reality, it was making me more and more isolated, depressed, and distant.  It affected how I showed up in all aspects of my life.  Worst of all was the level of shame that it added to my internal world.  That was the last place I needed more of anything.  And thus was my uniquely, uncommon ride into the cycle of addiction.

As I mentioned in my last post, the life I was creating eventually exploded (see previous post “Donde Diablos Estoy y Como He llegado Aqui?“).   I am beyond grateful to be at this pont in the healing process.   I have worked hard and swam out past many breakers and break downs to get to the place I am currently.  This place is much more calm and quiet and free, and I’m clearer about who I am and what fills me with passion.  (I will absolutely fill in the details about the healing journey over the last several years and how it delivered so many mentors to me through graduate school, a longterm men’s group, multiple spiritual paths, Process Work, and the renewed love of music and drumming.)

Two final elements remain to fully answer the question of, “Why am I in Europe?”  Last winter, I met two specific individuals during my time in the winter intensive training at the Process Work Institute.  The first was an Italian man, named Giovanni Fusetti.  He is an internationally renown trainer in the art of clowning.  I kid you not.  He is also an absolutely phenomenal man who has loads of knowledge and energy.  We talked a lot about myth, power, men and masculinity, and European history.  He talked about a time when Western European cultures still lived off of the land, akin to the indigenous people of the world.  Also, he was able to uniquely frame much of the back story about the centuries of war and abuse within Europe that gave rise to the colonies in the US, largely by monarchies and the Church.  I could see that before the US colonists were abusers, many were abused and indentured themselves.  For the first time, I was able to view Europe and Europeans (and their descendants, like me) with a little empathy and compassion and I wanted to learn more about the “preface” to our story in the U.S first hand.

The second was an African-American woman I met briefly during a weekend workshop on “Race, Gender, and Economics.”  During the workshop, she emphasised the difference between genotype and phenotype, as a reminder that one needs to look way beyond skin color, to understand someone’s genetic complexity, much less identity.  This alone, completely begins to dismantle the institution of racism.

We didn’t talk until the end of the workshop.  Our meeting was brief, but her impact still lingers and drives me eight months later.  She heard my last name and asked if I had Scottish ancestry.  I cautiously replied, “Yes” and beaming with pride, she said, “Me too!”  She proceeded to tell me all about the tartan and the crest of the clan she comes from, and how she is a regular at local Scottish heritage festivals, dressing in full Scottish regalia.  I was dumb founded, struggling for words as this black woman was owning her European ancestry with total pride.  My mind was blow, and my heart was melting.  Something in that moment allowed me to be proud of that part of myself long covered in shame.  Right or wrong, the “something in that moment” is that she was black. Just like the time it took a black person to open me up to country music or the Kappa Alpha Order.  Now it was my Scottish ancestry.  What an incredible world…anything but black and white.

And so, for these reasons I am in Europe at this moment in my life. With beginner’s eyes, a mind blown away, and a heart broken open by this world, I bought a one way ticket, held my intentions clear, and boarded a plane.

Boarding my flight in Porlant, after a night of no sleep, in an attempt to hack jetlag.

Boarding my flight from Portland to JFK, after a night of no sleep in an attempt to hack jet lag.  It actually worked!  I slept 7 of the next 17 hours and was ready to go as I landed in Barcelona at 9am.  I don’t recommend this unless you can sleep on a plane.

Donde Diablos Estoy y Como He llegado Aqui?

Where the hell am I, and how did I get here?

It’s been three weeks since I’ve touched this site.  In that time, I’ve uprooted my life in the US and headed to Europe for a meandering adventure with a pack on my back, a loose itinerary in one hand, and a few clear intentions in the other.  The itinerary includes Spain, Ireland, Scotland, Poland, Italy, maybe Greece, and maybe Turkey.   I am also reserving the right to change my plans on a whim.  The intentions are as follows:

1) To learn about the music (especially the rhythms) that embody each culture with which I come into contact.  I hope to trace the roots as far back as possible.

2) To learn about the spiritual rituals and methods of connecting to the mysteries of life on Earth and a sense of the divine.  I hope to trace these roots as far back as possible, as well.  Especially to a time before the churches and cathedrals (synagogues and mosques) got so damn big and powerful. 

3) To make amends with Europe, connect to my ancestry, and to appreciate the diversity of cultures and people. — For a long time, I have held a bias against Europe (particularly white, anglo-saxons, Catholic and Protestant alike…like me), and cast it as the source of most of the world’s evils. Harsh and broad, yes, I know.

However, I feel it’s important to say that this trip is tucked inside a larger story of healing and renewal for me.  To talk about this trip, without sharing the wounds of the past that have formed my passions and dreams, would feel incomplete.  So let me start with a bit of that backstory:

About five years ago, life as I knew it came crashing down.  I was part of a scenario that was the sum of most of my personal fears, but in hindsight, is also a sadly generic ending for many people who live out their Rock ‘n Roll fantasy.  Think VH-1 Behind the Music without the fame and fortune, but with substance abuse, betrayal, crash landing, and seemingly total loss.  My best friend and music partner for over a decade and my girlfriend/fiance of five years, ended up doing the unthinkable and had an affair.  Completely unsuspected, yet somehow completely in front of me and our community for the better part of two years (as far as I can tell).  Overload, frizzle-frazzle, short-circuit, numb, collapse…oh, and then they got pregnant, after we superficially ended our relationship because she told me she didn’t want kids.  Death rattle.

NOTE: Since these two people will be reoccurring characters around here, and to provide a bit of confidentiality, I will refer to them as “Mutt” and “Langely” in honor of Mutt Lange.  Click on his name to learn more.

It felt like I was cut and pasted out of my own life, and that my two best friends had robbed my “vault of dreams” in the middle of the night, merged my assets, and high tailed it across the state line.  I used to imagine them high-fiving each other as they crossed over into Idaho, some sort of bizarro Bonnie and Clyde.  Criminal at the core, and on the loose.  Needless to say, shit got real dark for me.  I spent about 18 months blaming myself, another 18 months on a diet of weed and revenge fantasies, escorting these two individuals to the edge of their life, and the last two years getting clean and sorting through the pieces of a shattered self.  Crying, screaming, resenting, hurting, meditating, searching, writing, expressing, even praying.  Slowly over time, my mind grew quieter.  The oppressive, shame based echo-chamber that had become the only channel in my head, began to fade.  In its place, a new sound and energy and voice began to emerge.  You know the stereotypical “calm inner voice” that so many people talk about in new  age, self-help books (or blogs:), sharing their story of transformation born of tragedy?  Well, that shit started to happen to me.

For years, I saw my life as a hand of cards and all I could see was a loosing hand comprised of grief, loss, resentment, and victimhood.  More than anything, I thought I wanted to be a father (which is way Mutt and Langely getting pregnant was such a death blow).  But sometime in the spring, something shifted.  I was able to clearly see a strength in the hand I was holding.  FREEDOM!  I had more freedom than 99.99999% of people on this planet.  All of my life, I had been terrified of being single, unemployed, and using my savings before retirement.  I resisted any scenario where any of these would happen.  Far from the dream of fatherhood and family (which I still maintain is one of the highest privileges in this life), I found myself single, unemployed, and living off savings.  But unexpectedly, I felt relief to be in the unique position of having no significant responsibility to anyone but myself.  Shocked and elated to feel so good, I thought, “I am going to play the hell out of this hand!  In fact, taking care of myself and using my freedom and privileges consciously and wisely IS my responsibility!” It might sound trivial, but this was a revolutionary shift for me.

Around that time, I started to get opportunities to travel to amazing places within the US.  I got to explore central and eastern Oregon with my good friend Gabe (I highly recommend the “journey through time” in the John Day National Monument and the Steen Mountains, which is the most remote part of the lower 48 states)!  I was invited to a yoga retreat in Joshua Tree National Park and a peyote ceremony through the Native American Church (thank you for the rare, special gift of the invitation, Lara and Brent!!!).  I got to see Alaska with my Mom, my step-dad, Frank, and step-bro, Jonathan.  I spent time in the Ochoco Mountains, with a spiritual community in the lineage of the Lakota (Sioux) Native People, participating in a Hamblache ceremony, more commonly known as “Vision Quest.”  Each of these opportunities came to me through an invitation, and with each of them, I felt a sense of clam, clarity, excitement, and gratitude.

Between those trips, a few music tours, and some other events that took me on the road, I didn’t spend a full weekend at home in Portland, OR for almost three months.  And I loved it!  Somewhere in all of it, I started to get ideas and images of heading back overseas.  It had been 15 years since I traveled internationally, when I spent 6 months at the University of Ghana.  Two important things happened during that time, which became key factors in how the next 14 years unfolded and eventually exploded.  First, I started to get high. Secondly, I decided to return home to join an aspiring rock band and to embark on a musical odyssey.  Like Jake and Elwood, I was sure both had been anointed from above.  And so, to head out into the world again, on my own, is a conscious act of closing this chapter of my life and turning the page into a new one.

It’s late October 2015, I am in Bilbao, Spain, soon to board a plane for Ireland.  I am reflecting on a very intense two and half week training that took place in Barcelona and Sitges, and a magical week in the Basque country with my friend and local, Inigo.  The intensive was called “Power, Love, War, and Miracles.”  It was offered by the Deep Democracy Institute (DDI), which is part of the larger world of Process Work.  I will talk more about Process Work, when I delve into my dreams of the future, but suffice it to say, this work is not for the faint of heart.  These trainings unearth very deep anddifficult topics and require a lot of energy to move through them.   DDI intensive + 110 new people to meet + first time in Barcelona = no sleep or blog activity.  One of my friends summed it up well, by saying he felt like he had his chest ripped open and his insides strewn about.  Yep, that sounds right.  — But my time in Spain has been wonderful and I will share my thoughts and more pictures soon (enjoy the collage for now).  But first, I need to tell a little more backstory…

Hello Digital World!!!

After years of resistance to leave the comfy confines of my analogue world womb, I have succumbed to the pressure to finally be born into this modern digital age.  As I unravel the cords and cables, and mop up the electronic afterbirth (sorry to be graphic, but there is more of that coming), I hope to become familiar with this place as I share my experiences.

To start, I am putting my stake in this small plot of land to begin blogging.  My intentions are three: to share

1) my past in hopes of releasing it

2) to connect to the present

3) to dream about the future and my place in it.

To over simplify, 5 years ago, life as I knew it fell apart.  A nightmare scenario happened and I have spent my time since trying to wake up.  Nothing makes me feel more awake than following passion.  I’ve decided that mine can be grouped into five categories (for now).  They will bring focus to what I write. They are (drum roll, please…): rhythm, culture, power, embodiment, and stewardship.  You can find me hanging out where these intersect!

I hope you enjoy the journey and can follow the scenes as they emerge, a menagerie of ghosts, thoughts, and dreams.  My highest dream for myself and for you is that our worlds connect, however it may happen.  Happy trails…