Autumnal blossoming

April 16, 2014

Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t continue to blossom.

I take this advice from the hakea tree just outside my kitchen window.

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Here it is, mid April — autumn in the southern hemisphere. A time when dormancy should be the norm. A time when approaching winter cold usually signals the stoppage of flowers coming into bloom.

Not with the hakea. It seems to thrive on the challenge of pushing out white, musky fragrant white flowers on the edge of winter’s doorstep.

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The autumn of one’s life doesn’t have to mean conserving what little one has of a diminishing body and mind, but actually bursting forth into something/someone wholly fresh and tasting of the deliciousness of youthful spring flowers.

I’m not just talking about surviving into old age, I’m talking about blossoming into old age.

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Sitting around my dining table last week was a group of MONA art tour people whose average age was 65. The oldest (top left corner) was Australian landscape artist John Olsen. At 85 — and despite really bad knees — he exuded, along with charm and wisdom benefiting his age, a childlike curiosity synonymous with eternal spring.

DSC_3330 A phrase I constantly hear more frequently now is: “Best to kick back and conserve what’s left of your energy” — “Be careful” — “Only expend energy on things that are appropriate for an elder”.

Fuck this advice. Why should I become just a leafless, flowerless stick hobbling along?

If I have to hobble — a scenario more true than not — may the fragrance of budding delight continue to emanate from my eyes. If I have to crawl, may I look at the ground with the youthful exuberance of a teenager’s first taste of love.

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Changing perspective

April 8, 2014

Take more time, cover less ground.
Thomas Merton

One thing about growing older is that a consolation prize for a weakening body is that I’m — whether I like it or not — forced to move along at a slower gait.

Instead of trudging up the hill behind the house, head down, non-stop, in a hurry to get to the top as I would have done ten years ago, my lungs now cause me to pause, catch my breath a third of the way up, then half way up, then again and again. I never make it.

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Not because I “couldn’t” make it, but the view “sort of” near the 2/3 mark (who’s counting?) is so breathtaking I have to stop.

The distant horizon hints at the vast curvature of the beautiful round ball we call Earth.

Standing there at the cliff edge looking down at the forest below — a forest never logged or disturbed by humans — brings home to me the exquisite nature that is my home.

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Glancing up, Wedge Island is aptly wedged between a she-oak, the horizon and the cliff face.

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Growing older into mindfulness is not a bad thing. One’s perspective on life certainly changes.

And it is not only a perspective of the “larger view”.

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Looking down at my feet, I see the miniature beauty in the thrusting red, lacy tipped native cranberry bush.

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Over this past weekend I hosted and, participated in, a five day residential workshop on the Sacred Feminine that was facilitated by two very wise and knowing and capable women, Jill Nolan and Astrid Miller; co-founders of EcoEvolutionaries.

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During the course of this workshop there was period of 36 hours that were in silent meditation. Within this period of silence, we participants went out of the inner sanctuary of my home before first light, walked until we found a section of land that called to us and then stayed there until after the sun had set before returning home; a total of around 13 hours.

The purpose of the exercise was to feel — without the language of thought — our physical, emotional and soulful connection to the earth mother, Pachamamma. A knowing without words.

To help me in my personal search to understand what the sacred feminine might actually mean, I spent the day beneath the oldest tree on my property: a 300 year old she-oak that a hundred or years ago had split in two and toppled over.

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The Fool is the spirit in search of experience. In Tarot, he represents the mystical cleverness bereft of reason within us, the childlike ability to tune into the inner workings of the world.

Knowing that this blog posting would fall on April Fool’s Day, I photographed myself under the tree with the intention of honouring the Fool while searching for the divine feminine.

Did I feel ridiculous? Certainly. But any decent fool knows that only by being vulnerable and open to ridicule will wisdom come.

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Home music

March 26, 2014

Roll 151 - 4Besides teaching music full time for over 30 years at an inner Detroit school with predominantly black students and directing the Serbian Orthodox Ravanica choir of 100 singers for nearly 20 years, my mother also held musical gatherings in our home when The Mother Singers — a local community group of women — would come mid-week for an evening of sharing sacred songs.

Whenever the Mother Singers jammed into our tiny living room, us kids were sent upstairs to our bedrooms. Needless to say, my sister, younger brother and I would sit at the top of the stairs and listen. Sort of like we were in some choir loft or up in the belfry peering down.

I am certain that by my mother inviting strangers — strangers, at least, to me — into our home, the groundwork for my inclination to view my present home as open to anyone, including the uninvited guest, was laid down.

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The profound affect this had on me as a child, reverberates still. I do not view my home as sacrosanct in the sense that only close friends and other family members can frequent it. As a kid, witnessing the camaraderie of people singing together in my home — even if I couldn’t directly participate — instilled in my little brain the developing social consciousness of the okayness of strangers coming together to sing sacred songs — under the leadership of a director/teacher — within the “privacy” of a home, not necessarily the more open walled community hall, church, school or back-room in a hotel pub.

This past weekend in the sanctity of my home, 21 of us were treated to a workshop of sacred song led by three women: Maggy Agrey with chants derived from Sanskrit, Helen Thompson with Gregorian chants and Ali Hart with her own folk songs.

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Finally, after more than 60 years, I was able to sit with the adults and gaze up into their song.

Today, four days after the event, the walls are still humming.

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The sting in the tail in this story is that when I goggled the Serbian Ravanica choir’s archives, there was zero mention of my mother’s tenure as director from 1931 till 1950. Just an innocent mistake? I would hope so. But she did live in a very patriarchal, tribal world where women were invisible.

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When dreams re-surface

March 17, 2014

We all need a dream to grasp.

Over thirty years ago while doing an artist residency on the Caribbean island of Barbados, I met a retired German couple who would spend three months of each year on this idyllic isle solely to play a gentle game of non-competitive tennis — with friends — in the morning and another in the late afternoon before gin & tonics were served up at the resort’s beachfront pavilion (where I hung out). I never played tennis with them, but the intrigue of doing so during my “own” future retirement bored itself deep into the back of my mind. And, was forgotten.

Despite kidney stones, severe chronic back injury, prostrate surgery, an arthroscopy on one knee plus worsening osteoarthritis in both knees, the physical shortcomings of my life never diminished the power of this dream to someday re-emerge.

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When I turned 65 two years ago, I looked at a small patch of open landscape and felt this crazy urge to mow down the bracken and stake out a tentative beginning to a tennis court. Crazy because it made no “rational” sense on any number of factors; especially, my inability to play given the condition of my knees.

But I had lived long enough with my inner muse to know when she was calling me to action. So I began.

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This, despite the fact that I had not played tennis in 20 years. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I had listened to the medical “experts” who had told me not to play unless I wanted to end up in a wheelchair.

What kept me going through some fairly tough times during the construction phase was the constant belief that this facility could be a Roaring Beach “community” tennis court, not just “my” court. Here, I could serve up a few coffees of enjoyment for my neighbours even if playing the fool.

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Why did the dream resurface into my consciousness after being buried for twenty years?

No easy answer. But what I can say is this: Whether large or small, it is The Dream we create for ourselves that opens the door to the intensified magic of this world’s reality.

Dreams are the “dark matter” that hold us in a universal moist cocoon of “joie de vivre” whilst all around the banal and viciousness of greed try to drain us dry.

Most of our well-meaning friends will see our dreams as fanciful deceptions not worthy of pursuit. Don Quixote flailing at windmills as we are chase our dream; a dream viewed as slightly batty, a simple wasting time, energy and money.

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After two years of determined physical and mental effort — of over 1,200 hours of my own labour and over 700 hours worked by friends — this past weekend I had my first game of tennis in 22 years on the newly finished Windgrove tennis court.

I’m of the opinion that dreams, no matter how seemingly unattainable or dormant, are necessary for the development of and the sanity of our souls.

Our hearts need the vulnerabilities and mistakes and healthy humiliations associated with chasing vapor.

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As I journey into my sunset years, I can’t wait for the gatherings of friends either in the Coffee-Pourium club house or on the court. With whites or without.

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Where does beauty reside?

March 11, 2014

Is it the little boy in me that sees “fun” while looking at piles of dirt, sand and gravel? Is it the ‘“older” inner adventurer that conjures up mountains to climb? Or, is it the mature artist that simply sees a simple elegance of form.

Regardless of whomever was in control, when the truck and trailer finally departed after depositing over 90 tonnes of rock, I stood astounded and saw — above all else — beauty created in the awkward heaviness of the construction process.

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During the past month, various grades of base were delivered to the tennis court. After the 40mm crushed road base was spread out, levelled and rolled, the resultant surface was — not only a level playing field — but a wonderful grey canvas for the depositing of the remaining two grades: 20mm and 5mm.

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There was a moment when I felt like pulling the tail on academic art critics and thought of publishing an article in some prestigious art journal stating how these were not just randomly placed piles on a tennis court, but deliberately placed, pre-mediated, mathematically determined mounds of graded aggregate on a horizontal plane where their separate textures, slopes, folds, and vertical protrusions through a horizontal plane registering 7.5 on the Howel grey scale, represented, in an abstract, stylised format, how the human animal mind can differentiate spatial relationships within the confines of the enclosed parameters of a volumetric expanse juxtaposed with, and in contextual partnership with a foreground, middle ground and distant viewpoint as seen by, first, the static observer and, secondly, the moving observer as she/he moves around and in-between each pile, all the while drawing unconscious and intentional comparisons between one’s ancestral mythos of landscape and one’s current social-economic-spiritual-cultural indoctrination and their separate, yet perhaps, joint influence on one’s acceptance or not of climate change.

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Yet, in the end, like all inquisitive children everywhere, I clapped my hands when the tractor driver smashed into each pile and destroyed whatever it was that needed destroying.

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And in the process creating a new beauty.

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