Friday, September 23, 2011

Ten Years

I remember being ten years old in 1968 when Stanley Kubrick released 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sitting on the curb in front of my house on another long summer afternoon I wondered what my life would be like in 2001. It sounded so impossibly far away. I did the math. I would be 43. That’s practically dead. Would I be married? Would I have kids? Would my wife look like Cammie Ramelli from fifth grade home room, because that would be awesome. Would we have flying cars?

Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was still a brand new album. Jimi Hendrix and The Doors and were the hot young things on the radio. David Gilmore had just replaced Syd Barret in Pink Floyd. Johnny Cash had just left his wife for June Carter and they wrote a little song about it called “Ring of Fire.” Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated. A lot of my big brother’s classmates were dying in a place none of us had ever heard of called Vietnam. That’s a lot for a ten year old to absorb. I sat on that curb in front of my house a lot.

Ten years later I was a twenty year old pulling out of my parent’s driveway in my overloaded Datsun 510 wagon on the way to UC Santa Barbara. It was 1978 and The Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever soundtrack dominated the airwaves. An unknown band out of Pasadena called Van Halen and an obscure singer-songwriter named Elvis Costello both released their debut albums changing the way the rest of played guitar and wrote songs forever. Getting the most spins on my turntable that year was Bruce Springsteen’s new album Darkness on the Edge of Town.

By the time 2001 finally rolled around the world had changed so many times I’d lost count. The vinyl albums and turntables we’d used to play the soundtracks of our lives had given way to cassettes, CDs and mp3s. Although her name was not Cammie, my wife was gorgeous, we didn’t have any kids and we most certainly did not have a flying car.

2001 turned out to be a pretty big year. In May, after ten years of part-time teaching at various community colleges in San Diego, I finally landed a full-time tenure-track position as a philosophy professor at Southwestern College. In June, a few weeks later, I turned 43 years old in the Vista jail on my first and last DUI. That September brought the horror of 9/11. And in October the San Diego Troubadour was officially launched.

The Troubadour was hatched on the kitchen table of Lyle and Ellen Duplessie. They recruited their good friend Liz Abbott, an experienced artist, editor and graphic designer to captain the ship and Liz’s husband Kent Johnson to handle the crucial tasks of advertising and distribution. The four of them started calling everyone they knew lining up stories and writers.

Why bother? Why go through all the agonizingly hard work? Why launch another free weekly paper in an already crowded market? Clearly there was no real money to be made – this was a break-even project at best. But something had to be done, and somebody had to do it. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

Frustration is the womb of creation. The idea for the Troubadour was born out the frustration at the lack of media coverage for the music that mattered most to the Duplessies. San Diego had just come through an incredible decade of unprecedented musical output, the nineties, and the major papers in town had too many other things to write about to adequately cover it. San Diego had always had a vibrant music scene going all the way back to the dawn of rock and roll, but the nineties saw the rise of the coffeehouse circuit where venues like Java Joe’s and Mikey’s spawned a long list of acoustic singer-songwriters that went on to garner Grammy’s, White House command performances and gold records. Genres like alt-country, Americana, folk, jazz, gospel and roots music of all stripes were routinely overlooked in the mainstream media. Something had to be done.

So the San Diego Troubadour was born.

Ten years later, the Troubadour is a well-established musical mainstay in the San Diego region with a raft of contributing photographers, top-tier journalists and a reputation for humility, integrity and passion, three qualities not always found in the smarmy, oh-so-ironic hipster world of music journalism. Its DIY vibe and down-home feel stand out in an industry dominated by corporate media and revolving-door writers on their way to better and bigger things. One outstanding exception to the rule is San Diego Union-Tribune’s long-time music writer George Varga whose encyclopedic knowledge, nuanced insight and genuine love of music shines through every word he writes. Like many local luminaries, his professional excellence earned him a spot on the cover of the Troubadour in 2004.

By playing against type and reaching out to a vast clientele and readership grossly underserved by its competitors, the Troubadour has secured its place in San Diego journalism history. And the story’s just beginning. Having proven itself as a legitimate player in a crowded field, the Troubadour continues to expand its coverage and influence through digital, audio and visual media. Who knows what the next ten years will bring.

Ten years is a long time. Ten years is the blink of an eye. But what’s most striking to me is how a vision, born out of love – love for music and a keen desire to share that music with a much wider audience – spanned the chasm between the possible and the actual. Never letting the how interfere with the what, Lyle, Ellen, Liz and Kent and the great team of people they surrounded themselves with kept putting one foot before the other, never completely sure that any of this was going to work, but trusting in the knowledge that if you do good things, people will find you and support you.

It wasn’t always easy. In fact, in never was. In February, 2004 Lyle lost his beautiful and loving wife Ellen to a long battle with cancer. Four months later Lyle died of a heart attack while surfing with his family in Mission Beach. They both left us way too young. But they also left us with a vision and a passion and a willingness to keep doing the hard work of putting out a fresh edition every four weeks without fail, knowing that there are always more stories to tell, more music to share and more community-building to actualize.

Good journalism tells the truth. Great journalism reconnects us with the things that matter most. As we read these stories and see these pictures we are looking into a world very much like our own – filled with everyday heroes who plug away at their dreams, willing to risk it all on the off chance that passion really is worth living for, no matter how depleted our checking account becomes. Always a passion-first and a business-second endeavor, the San Diego Troubadour stands as an inspiration to anyone willing to take a chance on something they believe in, no matter how many consultants tell you it’ll never work. As you gather around your kitchen table with friends to consider your next move, ask yourself a few important questions. What’s frustrating you these days? What does the world need? Is there something trying to emerge, trying to be born? Are you the one to help midwife the next stage of our collective evolution? What if we let go of our fear and lived our lives instead from wonder and joy? Maybe tonight around a kitchen table somewhere a new project is beginning to take shape. And ten years from now we’ll all wonder how we ever lived without it. Where will you be, who will you be and what will come through you in these next ten years?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remembering 9/11

This article was originally published in the September/October 2011 issue of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.

We knew it would come. We knew that one day the hurt, the anger, and the confusion would recede like tide sliding back into the sea. We knew that pain so explosive and so blinding couldn’t last. One day, we would have to start breathing again.

Ten years ago, in the moment before the attack, America was a profoundly different place. But everything shifted at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. When the second plane hit the south tower at 9:03, our hearts turned to ice and our heads struggled in vain to comprehend the inconceivable reality of large-scale warfare in lower Manhattan. When the Twin Towers collapsed to the ground our innocence collapsed with them.

Nothing we had ever experienced could have prepared us for the horror of that morning. News from the Pentagon and from the Pennsylvania crash made it clear that this was a concerted attack and that America was in fact at war. And it was not just an attack on America. Among the 3,000 dead that day were citizens of fifty six countries and members of all faiths, including many Muslims. On the seventeenth floor of the south tower there was an Islamic prayer room where devout Muslims from all walks of life met for daily worship. The murderous brutality of the attack staggers the imagination and defies logic. Across the country and around the world a crushing grief descended on us like a plague.

The stages of grief and healing unfold on their own schedule. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance each take their turn at the wheel. In our spiritual practice we focus on the last stage, acceptance, and for good reason. The consciousness of acceptance is both the end and the means of our deliverance unto wisdom. When we let go and surrender to what is, we move out of confusion and into clarity. But it takes time. It takes time for silt to settle back to the bottom leaving the water clear. It takes time for waves to soften into stillness. It takes time before the moon can once again be seen reflected on the surface of the water.

But it doesn’t just take time. It takes effort. After we let the body’s knowledge lead us through the necessary seasons of our grief, feeling fully every wrenching seismic shift, we gradually find the courage to take our lives back. Our prayer and meditation practice opens windows to the light. No longer satisfied to be a leaf in the wind we find our inner compass, that part of us that longs to thrive and be well, that yearns to heal and be a part of the healing of others, and we step boldly forward not knowing where the road will take us, but knowing that up ahead lies something beautiful and true.

We know that all forms arise and all forms fade. We know that to everything there is a season. We know that death and birth are two names for one circle. And we know that Life, in all its myriad forms, will go on forever and ever. We even know that this body we call our own is made of dust and will return to dust. But knowing all these things doesn’t stop the heart from longing. We long for that crisp taste of apple, that first kiss, the feel of sun on our skin. Life is just too beautiful to let go easily. But the beauty itself holds the key. Behind the veil of the world’s fleeting forms lies a Divine Ground, a changeless source known as God, Brahman, Tao or the Nameless. It is out of this formless Source that the world of forms arises. The beauty of the world is the beauty of the Eternal shining through the surface of things. It’s the apple we love, but it is the orchard, rooted deep in the ground, that expresses itself as the apple. When with sickening finality the Twin Towers collapsed we saw with our own eyes the undeniable truth of the impermanence of all things. And yet in precisely that moment, we knew in our hearts that the love and truth that gives rise to all things can never be broken, no matter how many apples fall to the ground in the storms of autumn.

When we come together to pray and sing and breathe in the silence, we stand on the shore of a sea of knowing that goes down and down and down to the place where we are all one. It is from this knowing that forgiveness and acceptance arise. Together, in our families, in our spiritual communities, in the boundlessness of nature, we feel beyond thoughts and know beyond words that despite the horror of the foreground, in the depths of the Source there is a peace that surpasses all understanding and we have only to allow it to carry us. When we stop struggling we feel ourselves begin to lift like a wing on a wind not of our own making. Let these hands hold us. Let this love lift us. Let this wisdom lead us. We cannot stop the arising and fading of forms any more than we can seize the setting sun. But we can feel in our bones the peace of acceptance.

Tragedy and loss are universal. When a terrible fire swept through 17th century poet Mizuta Masahide’s property, with characteristic Japanese minimalism he wrote his most famous two-line poem: “Barn’s burned down, now I can see the moon.”

With every loss we have an opportunity to see things anew – wonders that were right in front of us but for one reason or another we overlooked.

This is how we heal. By opening our eyes and our hearts to what is, knowing that none of this is ours, that everything we own and everything we love is only on loan to us, and that we must give it all back, every bit of it – often without warning. Wisdom means living in the consciousness of gratitude that we ever even got to touch any of it. Be patient and forgiving. Let your life be a proud testament, not a sad apology. You belong here, but only for a while. Stand up and be amazing. Release your mistakes. Rise out of the ruins.

We remember the dead and we will always love them. But memorials aren’t for the dead. The real purpose of memorializing is to affirm and celebrate the infinite value of this baffling mystery called life.

We have lost so much. But now we can see the moon.