Also known as “Dave Gets Deep,” this section includes reflections on art, life, and the human condition.

12829043_10154764219683747_1422757073247409189_oMy good friend Jeremy Patterson has a new YouTube interview show called the Capital Area Theatre Show.  Guess who he invited to be his second-ever interviewee?

Tune in below or on the show’s YouTube channel to hear our milkshake-fueled conversation about art and life and idols and dreams and fears and insecurities, and why we do all that we do.  (And he eventually was able to steer me back around to Pippin, which was supposed to be the point of the show to begin with….)

CAUTION: DO NOT ENTERI say a lot of things I have no right to say.  I’ve been known to comment on race (from a white perspective), nationalism (from a US-native perspective), physical disability (from an able-bodied perspective), gender identity (from a cis male perspective), religion (from a mainline-Christian-turned-Unitarian-Universalist perspective), and socioeconomics (from an upper-middle-class perspective).  And, occasionally, I do it right here in the (ahem) “privacy” of my own website, where anyone in the world can read it, even if they’ve never met me before and have no idea what a delightfully quirky and fabulously nuanced human being I am.[1]

Why?

Because, while I believe conversations about “isms” are crucial in the world right now, the white, US-native, able-bodied, cis male, mainline-Christian-turned-Unitarian-Universalist, upper-middle-class perspective is the only perspective I have.  I simply can’t speak from the perspective of a black person, or of a woman, or of an immigrant, no matter how many (trigger warning) “friends” I have in any of those groups.  And that makes me both profoundly sad, and profoundly grateful.

It’s upsetting to recognize the pain, frustration, and anger in those who write lists of “8 Things Transgender People Do Not Owe You.”  Or “10 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone Who Uses a Wheelchair.”  Or “29 Stupid Things White People Do.”  I confess to being snared by the “gotcha” in the title of Charles Davis’s Vice column, “‘Microaggression’ Is a Stupid Word You Should Take Seriously.”   And this wonderful Everyday Feminism article—in which Jennifer Loubriel (a Woman of Color) gently, firmly, and very effectively supports a “no white tears” rule for cross-cultural conversations—was a difficult, difficult read.  The very act of seeking to empathize with a fellow human being, when done from a place of privilege, can be hurtful.  There’s no one for whom that doesn’t suck.

So with all that pain, with all those seemingly insurmountable obstacles between souls, where can I find cause for “profound gratitude”?

I’m profoundly grateful because the narrowness of my own perspective reminds me that only through connectedness can we approach perfection.  And I’m grateful too that we can only approach perfection: omniscience does not exist in the human animal, so we simply have to rely on one another to share wisdom, experience, and insight.  Our limitedness makes it essential that we nurture community, for the sake of our very survival.

Two videos showed up providentially on my personal Facebook feed within hours this past week.  The first was Julie Bindel’s opinion piece in The Guardian, reminding us that censorship, while it can be a tempting response to opinions we find upsetting, is generally counterproductive.  (“Political movements such as civil rights and feminism,” she reminds us, “have made such progress because we were able to hold people to account.”)  I know that some of my most cherished growth moments have come after my demonstrated ignorance, thoughtlessness, or naïveté were named and corrected, rather than simply being silenced.

The second video was this delightful out-coming by 24-year-old Australian train driver (and transman) Henry Tadebois, who requests that his friends and family begin to use his new name and appropriate pronouns, but assures them that “Don’t worry, I won’t get offended” if they slip up, before inviting them to “ask me any questions you might have.”  (And while this is indeed wonderfully generous of Henry, I will reiterate here the caveat I shared when I first re-posted the video on Facebook: Coming out definitely ≠ inviting your questions about stuff that doesn’t affect you. The revelation and the invitation are two different things.)

These two videos—the one, a warning against censorship; the other, an invitation to awkward curiosity—are opposite sides of the same coin, I think.  They both point to a truth that’s as fundamental to humanity as it is terrifying: No genuine community can exist unless we express and demonstrate a willingness to be offended.

That’s why wedding vows don’t specify that two people are joined “until one of them really crosses a line.”  It’s why my home congregation’s Covenant of Right Relations names very explicitly the fact that we expect to disagree with one another, but that we commit to “staying at the table” in spite of those disagreements.  And it’s why, whenever I come out to a new person or group of people, I always invite the audience to ask whatever questions come to mind.

I’m a white, US-native, able-bodied, mainline-Christian-turned-Unitarian-Universalist, upper-middle-class cis male.  The “gay card” is really the only strike against me in the Privilege lottery, so I’m all but immune to oppression and bigotry.  Not everyone can stand in this place of safety and speak as boldly as I do.  But if there’s something you wonder, or something you’re curious about, or something you feel a need to say, please say it.  If it’s none of your business, I may tell you so.  But more likely, I’ll answer you as forthrightly as I’m able.  That’s the best way for both of us to grow.


[1]And modest. I’m also very modest. Be sure you mention to people how modest I am when you tell them about this blog.

 

woodbowlYou’d think, for all the times I’d shouted “STRONG AND WRONG!!!” at my students with clenched fists in the air and mock rage on my face, that I’d be better at it.

But every time I get ready to upload a new recording to my Demo Recordings page, the script starts again: “Is this really ready to share?  Shouldn’t I listen through again to be sure it’s okay?  Couldn’t I hit that note a little more in-tune?  Shape that phrase a little more precisely?  Bring out that nuance with a little more agility?”

“Someone to Fall Back On,” from Jason Robert Brown’s first solo album, Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes, is one of those songs that just reaches into my chest and makes me feel.  “I am no prince,” he says; “I am no saint.  And if that’s what you believe you need, you’re wrong….”

I have loved singing this song since I first discovered it.  I’ve used it at workshops, in worship, and in concerts.  And I’ve never once sung it perfectly.

There’s that out-of-nowhere high A in the last line of the bridge.  The high G at the end that I want to hold two beats longer than my lungs want me to.  And of course the fact that I can’t actually make it through the whole song without choking back tears.

But every time I’ve sung it, I’ve heard that sound in the audience after the last note fades away: the silence of held breath, of self-recognition, of mute gratitude for the blissful agony of shared pain.  Something in us needs to remember—and to be reminded, often—that to be human is to be flawed, and that therefore to be flawed, in some perplexing but profoundly important way, is to be perfect.

This recording is flawed.  The song doesn’t sound as good here as it does in my mind when I daydream.  But when I listened through just now, before uploading it, I thought of all the people in my life who I’ve been able to “fall back on,” and all the people in my life I hope trust they can fall back on me, and I had the kind of cry that feels really, really good.

Be well, y’all.

frederic-chopin-1838
Frédéric Chopin, 1838. Oil on canvas, by Eugene Delacroix.

One of the things I love most about my career is that I get to experience a never-ending stream of new repertory—between my work at UUCV, at Open Stage, at CASA, and elsewhere, I never have time to get bored with the material I’m working on!  The downside to this excitement is that I seldom have time to really dig in and master a piece of music in a way that feels “complete.”  Or rather, I seldom take time to really dig in….

So today I spent a few hours procrastinating all of the work I’m “supposed” to have gotten done today, and instead put some time into brushing up on one of my all-time favorite piano solos, Chopin’s E Minor Nocturne.  I first performed this piece at senior piano recital in high school, so it seemed appropriate to use this as my first experiment with digital recording.  I played the piece on my Yamaha P-140 digital keyboard into GarageBand on my Mac using Garritan’s amazing Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand Virtual Piano, and produced a recording that sounds almost disconcertingly like the way the music sounds in my head when I think about playing it.  (Did that make any sense at all?)

Anyway.  Take a listen, and let me know in the comments what you think.  There will, I hope, be many more of these “demo tracks” to come!  But for now, I’m going to take this Nocturne as my cue to head off to bed.  In six minutes it’ll be New Year’s Eve!

“I think prejudice is the stupidest thing on the planet,” said comedian Lewis Black many years ago.  “There are so many perfectly valid reasons to hate people on an individual basis.”*  And I’ll be the first to admit that there are some self-absorbed, attention-craving, energy-sapping, validation-seeking, conversation-sabotaging, advantage-taking, smelly-food-eating individuals on the planet** whose inherent worth and dignity I find it difficult to recall over the course of routine interactions.  But cataloguing the individual shortcomings of others (not to discount the puerile delight it brings me) is a pretty inefficient way to wreak discord among humanity, especially when compared to the crystalline phenomenon known to grammarians as the “substantive adjective.”

We use them every day—and no, they’re not all bad.  It really is convenient to refer to “greens” rather than rambling on about “plant-based foods high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, whose chloroplasts tend to give them a green color when fresh.”  But recently (yeah, I’m slow) I’ve started to notice how easy it is to pretend the adjective we’ve “substantivized” is the only important characteristic of whatever it is we’re describing.  (It’s this tendency that’s gently lampooned by dining-room comedians who order mint ice cream so they can say they’re “eating their greens.”)

I noticed it first, I think, when a colleague I’d enjoyed working with for a long time made an offhand remark indicating that she felt differently than I did about some hot-button issue or another.  Intellectually, I knew that this new factoid was simply something “else” I knew about her—a drop in the bucket of her identity—but I spent a surprising amount of mental energy trying not to let all that I knew (and liked) about her plummet into a bottomless pit of otherness: “Oh, she’s one of those?  Horror!”

So not too long ago I did something that, frankly, I was a little ashamed of.  I took the politician magnets off my car.

The shame, I think, came from the same part of me that had been afraid to put the magnets on the car to begin with.  My personal political leanings aren’t necessarily the most popular ones in the neighborhoods I spend most of my time in, so it felt like a real act of courage to make a public statement in support of, let’s say, Pat Spinner, the frontrunning candidate for the Pianistarian Party.  “There are bound to be other Pianistarians out there,” I reasoned, “and they need to know they’re not alone.

“And furthermore,” continued the voice in my head, “I’m such an intelligent, compassionate, well-respected individual that when people see my ‘Spinner For Leader’ bumper sticker, they’ll know that Candidate Spinner is worth voting for, and they’ll rethink whatever other, less enlightened vote they had intended on casting.”

In other words, I had created a narrative in which anyone whose gaze fell upon the rear panel of my vehicle would be compelled to embrace the ideals of progressive theology, eradicate income inequality, eschew racism….  You know, before the light turned.

But that’s not how these things work.

During the last presidential election I volunteered for a particular candidate, visiting voters who had sympathetic voting histories and encouraging them to make it to the polls.  I signed up so I could feel like I was doing my part for democracy.  But instead, I felt kinda slimy: why were we only encouraging some residents to vote?

In the previous presidential election, I had volunteered for a nonpartisan organization who worked to make sure that all citizens knew their rights and had an opportunity to vote.  True, the organization sent us volunteers to neighborhoods where voter suppression was statistically higher—and true, higher voter turnout does tend to favor a particular demographic at the expense of another.  But there was a universality, a welcoming, to my work with Election Protection that gave me a sense of integrity, of justice, and (don’t let this get out) deep patriotism—and I missed all of that when I campaigned for Candidate X.

Now, I’ve done a little bit of research on the candidates, and I do have my favorites, of course.  And in conversations with people I know (and yes, this includes friends of my personal Facebook page) I’m not terribly hesitant to express very specific political views.  But campaign bumper stickers, yard signs, and the like are a bit like political “drive-bys”: we throw out our own beliefs in a way that prevents feedback, insisting that others agree or disagree, subscribe or reject, identify or repudiate.  There’s no room for nuance, no opportunity for conversation, no chance of reconciliation; we’re forced to label each other substantively as “Republican” or “Democrat,” “Conservative” or “Liberal,” “Friend” or “Foe.”  (Remember that “green” mint ice cream?)

There’s too much hate in this world.  And hurling epithets at one another is worse than useless at solving that.  What would the world start to look like if, instead of seeing nothing but red and blue (and whatever) T-shirts and bumper stickers, we took the time to see the frightened, lovable human beings hiding behind them?

*Or words to this effect. It’s been a while.
**Not you, dear.  You’re perfect.