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Archive for the ‘social issues’ Category

His music still plays, and his spirit still shines

Elliott Smith, singer songwriter extraordinaire by many people’s standards, would have been 44 today, had he not died a much too early death in October of 2003. After his passing, a good share of his notoriety came not due to the amazing music he created, but by the manner of his death, and the sometimes dysfunctional life he led as he dealt with drug addiction, alcoholism and depression.

But those who were close to him knew the fullness of his generosity, his great sense of humor, his compassion, and the other endearing qualities that inspired his family and friends to honor him with a series of four benefit shows in four different cities. They run from August 4th to August 10th and are the brainchild of Ashley Welch, Elliott’s younger sister, who decided to pay tribute to all the great things about her brother that made him her “hero”, as she describes Elliott in Autumn deWilde’s book, Elliott Smith.

One of those great things about Elliott Smith was his generous nature. Elliott was known as one to never turn down a chance to play a benefit show for someone, and before his death he had begun the process to start his own non-profit to help abused children. In this light of his giving so much to others, every show in each city – Portland, OR; Los Angeles; Austin, TX; and New York City – will be donating all the proceeds to a non-profit in that particular city. All the musicians are playing for free, as Elliott inspires so many to share and reach out to others as he did in his lifetime.

Another great thing about Elliott Smith was of course the music, the amazing legacy he left behind, the songbook of an extremely gifted and talented singer and songwriter and troubadour. He is revered by his musical peers, as is evidenced by all who agreed to come out and play these benefit shows for free. Some are more well known than others, but all shared the music with Elliott and shared the joy of music with him.

I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the first show, in my city of Portland, a place Elliott called home for a time. He is well loved here, and the energy that night was just one big lovefest of Elliott, of music, of joy. Sweet and touching stories were told about Elliott from his friends, revealing a much more positive side of his life that was often overlooked. The crowd made much of the event a singalong, as the well loved and familiar words and melodies sang out in a loving cacophony.

Many famous musical artists are often memorialized in tribute shows, and that speaks to the success and inspiration of their music. But these shows touting Elliott Smith touched my heart in a different way. It wasn’t just the music we celebrated, but the fact that he used his fame for the greater good, to give back to others less fortunate. And really, Elliott shows us that we can all do this, in our own way; we don’t have to be famous to be angels of generosity. Here’s to you, dear Elliott – thank you for inspiring all of us through your music but most of all through your shining soul.

Concert posters for the Elliott Smith benefit line the stairs to the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR

Concert posters for the Elliott Smith benefit line the stairs to the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR

 

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You’ve come a long way baby! Well, maybe not..

The words to a poem started coming to me this morning as I had my morning cup of coffee. I wanted to use the word “wellspring” in my poem, but I wanted to make sure that I was using it in the right context. I didn’t have my computer on yet, so I grabbed my paperback copy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary I had bought a few years back, before I realized that the online version was much more useful.

As I turned to the W’s toward wellspring, I happened to notice a definition listed for the word “well-endowed”; a word that I thought would never merit an entry in a dictionary. But there it was, and just for fun I read the definition, which soon turned my smile to a frown. I read the two definitions listed – 1: having plenty of money or property  and 2: having large breasts. Seriously? Really? Someone actually had the male chauvinistic, misogynistic gall to write and then allow the second definition to be published? It was almost as if someone had channeled the spirit of Noah Webster himself, from the early 19th century he lived in, and asked his definition of the word. Because this could not possibly be the work of any respectable 21st century writer; hadn’t we come so much farther than that?

So my question to Merriam-Webster would be, in the light of modern day equal rights for both men and women, where was entry 3, which would most certainly be:  having a large penis. That might help to take away the sting from the slap in the face that definition number 2 seems to be, and let’s give the guys their time in the spotlight too, right?

Acknowledging the good things in life

I’ll never understand why it seems to be human nature to find it easier to complain than to praise. Maybe that’s a bit of a poor generalization, maybe it’s just the crabby old person starting to come out in me. But you’ll have to agree that most of us are quick to jump all over a person or place that has dissatisfied us, yet we keep to ourselves any positive experiences we have. This best shows itself in the increasing multitude of lawsuits being  filed over any little thing, and the fact that malpractice insurance costs for physicians are starting to scare prospective medical students away.

So I try to retrain myself, to get out of the Pavlovian response of only letting my dissatisfaction show. Now I try to think of instances where I could share a kind word or two about something or someone who has made my day. After my trip to Chicago in 2009, I came home, remembering how enjoyable the whole experience was; from the person at the hotel who helped me when I needed a cab, to the friendly and informative people manning the Hop On, Hop Off trolley that took me all around town. So I sent words of thanks to these places and others, telling them what a great job they did. It felt good to share some joy, and I could almost feel the happiness in the recipients of my messages. Positive energy all around; much healthier than the other side of the coin.

And I must have rubbed this off on my daughter in some way, as she related to me a story about going on a frustrating search for just the right pair of jeans. Now granted, my daughter has literally a multitude of jeans in her closet, and her husband must have been shaking his head (lovingly, of course) as she set out to find a new pair or two for their upcoming honeymoon. She told me how she wandered through the mall, going to store after store, looking for flared leg jeans and not the skinny leg jeans that are so prevalent. Finally, at the last store she checked, there they were – tables and racks full of jeans with the perfect flared leg – she told me was a madwoman as she filled the fitting room with a mountain of jeans. Out of all this craziness she managed to find two pair that met her stringent guidelines. She went home a happy fashionista.

She told me that after she came home, full of the joy of a very successful shopping expedition, she was moved to write an e-mail to the company that saved her from a fashion meltdown. In doing this she hoped that the company will know how satisfying it was to have just what she was looking for, and how helpful the employees were.

Of course there are times when we need to go down the other road, to voice our complaints or to make known our unhappiness so that others may be spared. But let’s not forget how easy it is to go down the path of saying “wow, thanks for doing such a great job and making me happy”. It takes the same amount of energy to write words of praise as it does words of complaint, and I’d rather see more of that positive energy floating around in our world.

Accepting my body, with grace

I knew this day was approaching, the day when I finally had to face the truth. The truth being that I am so very uncomfortable trying to pour my 53 year old body into my cute little denim shorts. Oh, there was a time when it was acceptable to “jump out of an airplane” to fit into my jeans, and then do a series of squats to be able to breathe – but I was young and single and did not possess such a high percentage of body fat. No, it was time – time to fold them up, find a plastic bag to carry them in, and head to Goodwill where hopefully some cute young girl in her 20’s will love them like I did. And look much better in them to boot.

But how could this have happened? And it is such a slow, insidious process, this accumulation of fat in such imaginative places – knees, back, arms (lovingly called “Grandma arms”, even when one is not a Grandma) and of course the ever popular midsection bulges that we so preciously call “love handles”. I thought I had it all under control! Since moving to Portland I have started eating much healthier. I cut out soft drinks and only drink water, and I haven’t eaten ground beef for what must be years now, sticking to mostly fish or chicken. And with the great farmers markets here, my intake of fresh fruits and vegetables has increased considerably. And talk about exercise – I sold my car, for crying out loud! That means I walk just about everywhere, only taking public transportation if absolutely necessary. So what gives?

The answer is due to three important factors – I am a woman, in my 50’s, and in the throes of menopause. That is the exact combination needed to slow one’s metabolism to a grinding halt. Yes, maybe I could become a vegan, like so many Portlanders are. But I will not give up my dairy products, in lieu of some kind of fake milk or cheese – my Midwestern roots will not hear of it! As it is I feel like my caloric intake some days is only in the triple digits, low enough to keep the weight off, one would think. And I refuse to become a prisoner to some overly exhausting exercise routine, all in the name of fashion.

No, I am happy and healthy and damn it, I think I look pretty good! So what if I have some extra rolls of fat in places that it wasn’t 30 years ago? I want to be able to dress fun and feel good about my appearance, but I am in a new era in my life, one where I don’t want to be one of those women that can’t glide gracefully into the aging process. We place too much emphasis in our society on appearance, especially for women. I have decided to place my emphasis now on how I feel; glowing with health and radiating joy.

I Am – a movie we all need to see

I watched an amazing movie last night, entitled simply I Am. It is a film made by a director named Tom Shadyac, who is famous in his own right, having directed such films as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Bruce Almighty and other successful comedies. It tells the story of his journey after suffering head injuries following a biking accident, causing him to reevaluate his life and lifestyle, as well as asking the questions: What’s wrong with our world? and What can we do about it? He talked to and interviewed a string of great minds, from scientists to poets to religious leaders. And the underlying theme that I got out of this film is that we are all connected, all life here on this earth is connected, in a way that cannot be scientifically measured or proved in that way. And that connecting energy is love! This film also brought forth the knowing that our innate nature is that of compassion, but we have buried that under the guise of competition in our modern day societies. Yet the final message that came out of all this is one of hope; that as humans we have the power within us to change our world to one of cooperation and sharing, making sure that all are taken care of. As Tom Shadyac worked on this film and started to question his own lifestyle of excess, he eventually began to heal. He then took steps to simplify his life; selling his huge mansion of a home to live in a mobile home park, selling his private jet, and becoming an instructor at a nearby university, teaching screenwriting. Another message I garnered from this is that we are not meant to give up all our comforts of life and live in near poverty. But so many of us have so much more than we truly need to be happy and comfortable in our lives, at the expense of those who are living lives where their most basic needs are not met.  And as I reflect on the main thing that I got out of this wonderful film, it all comes back to this: Love is the most important thing.

Connectedness

I live in the city now, where the plight of the homeless is so evident to me as I walk the city streets. At times they reach out in desperation, asking anyone who passes by for food or money or a bus transfer; pride pushed aside to give way to survival. But even a response of “sorry, I can’t help” is met with “thank you”. We can learn from all souls here on this earth; these poor souls in dire straits still have the manners that so many of us with so much fail to use in our overly busy lives. I have been awakened to how horrifically difficult the life of a homeless person is, and I have come to find much more appreciation for all that I have, the riches and blessings that we all deserve. I started a list one day of all that I have; things that the homeless often don’t have – food, and a place to cook and store food, a bathroom and water and a place to clean up or just brush your teeth, a comfortable bed with a warm blanket, furniture to sit in, a lamp to read books by, clothes and a place to wash them and then store them, and the list goes on and on. Don’t you see how wealthy most of us are? And it’s not just the material things, it also encompasses the security of having a home to go to, a place to stay warm and dry and protected. It’s not having to live in fear and doubt and wondering how in the world you will get out of the hole you fell into. But despite their circumstances, these are people just like you and me who have come into hard times that could certainly happen to any of us. They are not any less vibrant or intelligent or beneath us in any way. There is a small newspaper published here called Street Roots, and it is a testament to just how much we are all connected, all wanting the same basic things out of life. There are articles about life on the streets, with interviews of people telling their stories. There are also poems and art work that show the creative depth of these souls, who struggle with pain but are making their way out of the cavern of desperation towards the light of hope. And the best part of this whole project is that the vendors who sell the papers are given a chance to work, to earn money to get back on their feet, to feel pride in a job well done. This is all any of us really want out of life, isn’t it? To earn a living and have a decent place to live, with food and clothing and those things that help us live comfortable lives. In this way, we truly all are connected, and we can reach out to each other to help when some of us fall – with gifts of time, with gifts of money, with gifts of things but always with gifts of prayers for one another.

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