New web site, blog moved…

Posted April 16, 2011 by lowerdryad
Categories: Uncategorized

Hi friends,

Just a heads-up to let you know that this blog is now residing at There are some more current entries there. This blog will be taken down at some point, but I want to give folks a chance to figure out where it went. Thanks for keeping in touch!


Hair Changing 101

Posted November 23, 2009 by lowerdryad
Categories: General Update, Music News, Pictures

Tags: , , , ,

It’s been some time since I’ve checked in, and much has happened in the meantime.  I’ve finished the second semester of my Masters program, Mason turned one, I’ve made trips to Newcastle and Canberra for Rotary, friends have visited from the U.S. and New Zealand, and yesterday Deanna had her thirty-fifth birthday, just to name a few. Crowding all of that our of our minds at the moment, though, is our upcoming adventure in India. We leave tomorrow, and I have much to say about that, but first, a bit of silliness that we need to cover in order to move on (in order to avoid quite a few “huh?!?!” comments later).

After over twenty years with long hair (my entire adult life) I took radical steps last weekend: I shaved my head.

I had been chewing on the idea for at least a couple of years. Partly because I was losing the battle anyway and comb-overs just never did it for me.  I like the idea of embracing change when it comes (though I do better with it at some times than others), so it seemed like the right course of action.

The particular timing, though, was due to the fact that I am leaving for India tomorrow to spend some time working with a Gandhian aid organization there, and though it is winter in India, the forecast low for tonight in the town we’ll be living in is 79 degrees.

More compellingly, we learned some interesting things about our lodging in recent email correspondences. We had been told that we will have a private room to share between myself, Deanna and Mason, and that we will have a private bathroom. Thinking about bathing our one-year-old, Deanna asked in a follow-up email whether the bathroom has a bath or a shower, and we learned that actually it has neither. It has a bucket and a mug. That is the normal way of bathing in India, apparently, and bathtubs are generally only seen in hotels. That’s fine with us, but it did provide a good reason to finally take the proverbial plunge.

My friend David Stuart makes documentaries, and he brought his camera and gear to my other friend Dave’s house where we did the deed. He shot this brief documentary (thanks David!).

Dave James, whose house we were at, is a semi-pro photographer, so things were well documented in stills as well (thanks Dave!).

We invited everyone at the party to have a go with the clippers, including 4-year-old Hani (with some spotting from Aunt Maree).

Several friends who heard I was going to do this expressed concern for how our one-year-old Mason would react, so we made sure that he saw what was going on and felt OK. The sound of the clippers seemed to scare him at first, but I stopped to hold him and laugh with him and let him know everything was OK throughout the process and he did just fine. He especially enjoyed patting my head when it was over. The next morning when he saw me he didn’t even look surprised. He reacted more or less like I had changed my shirt.

And on the whole, Mason’s reaction seems indicative of most of our friends’ and family’s, and my own for that matter:  I look a lot more like me than I expected to.  In short, it hasn’t been nearly as drastic as I thought it would be.

The whole thing happened rather spontaneously, so I didn’t have much time to organize a big fundraiser, but we did put the word out on Facebook that people could bid for my hair on Facebook. The money went to the non-profit that Deanna and I founded to support school and library projects in Guatemala, PEG Partners, and the hair went to an organization called “Wigs for Kids,” which provides free wigs to children who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy or other illness. We raised about $900, which in Guatemala pays for about three-quarters of an annual school teacher’s salary. Not bad for a few hours’ fun on line.

I’ve been really enjoying the new style, not to mention the very short showers. In the end, I guess the change is really representative of so many other good changes in my life lately. Much to celebrate.

As I write these words we have 21.5 hours to go until we leave, turning the page to another chapter which promises to be exciting, challenging and powerful. Being finished with my second semester of the masters program, I’m in the groove for writing, so I look forward to keeping this spot up to date as things unfold in India. Thanks for staying in touch.


The answer, my friend…

Posted August 24, 2009 by lowerdryad
Categories: Observations, politics

Tags: , , ,

A few weeks ago I heard a man speaking about aid work. At one point, in the middle of a litany of problems in the world, he spoke of “countries where the winds of political change are blowing.”

I don’t know whether anyone else noticed what was happening through the plate glass windows behind him as he spoke, though: just as he dropped the tempest-as-politics metaphor a man walked into view in the background carrying a leaf blower, cleaning up outside while we sat inside listening. And there they were: the winds of change.

The contrast couldn’t have been much more stark: an older white man in an air-conditioned room talking about how we respond when the winds of change blow, discussing our reaction to the uncontrollable and unpredictable forces of political nature; and outside, a sweaty, dark-skinned man in his thirties making the wind blow, harnessing it to get the job done.

Maybe I should go on record here and say that I don’t actually think very highly of leaf blowers. Good old fashioned raking is good for me, doesn’t pollute the air and can actually get wet leaves as well as dry ones. And while I’m qualifying, I don’t want to pick on older white men or play into tired stereotypes. Actually, I’m seeing some particular older white men do amazing and visionary work these days. My point has more to do with the winds of political change. I think it’s important to realize that they don’t just blow, people make them blow.

The consequences of the distinction are notable, and significant in at least two ways. First, if we perceive the world as something that happens to us, then the best we can hope for is to react well. If we perceive the world as a space in which we move, however, our choices are much broader, and our sense of possibility much richer. We don’t just react, we act.

Perhaps more importantly, if we put the agency back into politics, i.e. we remember that movements and events don’t ‘just happen,’ but are chosen by individuals, then we are more likely to perceive not only the possibility of different choices, but also the humanity of the people involved in making them. That last part is particularly important, I think, and in a social context that so often tries to force complex reality into dichotomies— Democrat/Republican, Israeli/Palestinian, rich/poor, Christian/Muslim, us/them— it takes conscious intention to maintain a nuanced and human perspective.

When that ironic moment presented itself I almost chuckled out loud, but I caught myself, and I spent the rest of the day thinking about what it meant.

And what does it mean? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

Eunice Shriver

Posted August 11, 2009 by lowerdryad
Categories: Observations

Tags: , , , ,

Eunice Kennedy Shriver died yesterday.

To call the Kennedy family influential is kind of like calling Coca-Cola a pretty big company, and Ms. Shriver was born into that. She didn’t have choices in whether she had that power or not, she simply did. What she was free to choose was where to point that power, and most agree that she chose well in founding Special Olympics. The New York Times quoted a 1993 Newsweek article in their obituary linked above:

When the full judgment of the Kennedy legacy is made — including J.F.K.’s Peace Corps and Alliance for Progress, Robert Kennedy’s passion for civil rights and Ted Kennedy’s efforts on health care, workplace reform and refugees — the changes wrought by Eunice Shriver may well be seen as the most consequential.

This is a video of a song I wrote for the Special Olympics a few years back, with a respectful nod to Mrs. Shriver.

Are we allowed to call this crawling?

Posted August 9, 2009 by lowerdryad
Categories: Baby!

Tags: , ,

Seeing and Being Seen

Posted July 29, 2009 by lowerdryad
Categories: Observations

Tags: , ,

“He made us realize that dance is a way of seeing as well as a thing to be seen.”
– choreographer Margaret Jenkins, reflecting on the life of Merce Cunningham, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle

I came home from campus this evening and, after rolling around on the floor with Mason a bit, checked my email. There, along with a fair amount of junk and a few notes from friends, I found an article that Deanna had sent, informing me that the modernist choreographer Merce Cunningham had died.

Cunningham was, as the New York Times put it, a ‘revolutionary American choreographer.’ One could be forgiven for looking at that phrase and wondering how a man who was designing dance in 1776 could have lived so long, but clearly that was not their intent. Merce was undeniably modern, and a modernist, no less. His art was constantly surprising, and sometimes even shocking.

I don’t suppose that anyone who has heard my music or read things I’ve written would call me a modernist. Only a few who have sat up late at night talking politics and/or theology with me would brand me as a revolutionary. And, with the dubious exception of an occasional waltz, I’m a pretty bad dancer. It may be surprising, then, that I’m dusting off the neglected keyboard to write about Merce.

Merce Cunningham intersected my life in three ways, though, and I’m grateful for all three. The first was simply that he had lived for a time just a few miles up the road from my house in Black Mountain, North Carolina. It was there, in fact, that the Merce Cunningham Company first performed. Merce was part of the Black Mountain College, a wildly innovative gathering of artists and thinkers who, in the fifties, made their home in the same little town in the Appalachian Mountains that I consider home now. Other bright lights of that experiment included Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Willem de Kooning, and on and on. I’m told that Einstein came to visit. I’d like to think that the same creative spirit that they tapped into and fostered is still swirling around in that valley like wine in a glass.

The second connection through my friend Polly Parker, who I used to go out with for an occasional lunch a few years ago. I enjoyed hanging out with Polly for lots of reasons, but one was that she had some great stories to tell. Polly, at the time I new her, was in her early nineties, and though she had been an abstract artist of some renown, had traveled all over the world, was a close friend of Zelda Fitzgerald’s, etc., she was also a ‘local.’ She had grown up right there in Black Mountain, and being somewhat of a rebel in her own youth, used to go hang out at Black Mountain College. She knew these legendary figures personally, and I enjoy imagining the conversations and adventures they must have had. So I’m grateful to Merce for being one of the people who inspired Polly, an artist who inspired me.

So with the legacy of Black Mountain College looming large in the local lore of my little town, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to see the Merce Cunningham Company perform in Washington, DC a couple of years ago when Deanna and I took a weekend mini-vacation in the capitol. We bought cheap balcony tickets and thoroughly enjoyed a strange and wonderful performance. I remember the dancers’ bodies jerking and twisting in strangely mechanical ways, interacting with evocative and intended awkwardness, but with exquisite control and intention as well.

The night we went to see him we were provided with iPods upon entering. They each had the same music on them, but they were all set on ‘random,’ so that the songs might play in any order. In one section of the performance, we were all instructed to start them at the same time, but as the dancers moved through the piece, each person in the audience was listening to their own individual soundtrack.

Much of the performance was thought-provoking more than beautiful. It didn’t just make me think, though, it also took me somewhere else, and I think that’s as good a test of art as any.

If we find something engaging, I think it usually engages us in one of those two ways – through the head or through the heart; either we are fascinated or we are moved. My favorite art does both, but given the choice, I’d take the latter. In fact, I would argue that art that doesn’t move us from one psychological space to another may not be art at all. Art may be poignant. It may be inspirational. It may be infuriating, insulting or baffling, but if there’s no reaction beyond intellect, I don’t think it can really be called art. Merce’s work, for me, was more fascinating than moving, but it was both.

Implicit in that idea, of course, is the subjectivity of art. It may move one person and not another. That interplay between audience and artist was one of the things that seemed to fascinate Merce Cunningham. He tried to involve the audience in the performance, and to introduce some element of randomness as well.

I confess, though, that the moment in the night that brought tears to my eyes was not during the performance at all. It was after the first curtain call. The moment that got me was when the principal dancer left the stage while the audience applauded and returned pushing a wheelchair with Merce in it, graceful and confident even in his infirmity.

What moved me was the communal celebration of a lifetime of art — of pushing the boundaries, seeking to connect and to challenge, asking, as the New York Times put it, “what if?”

There isn’t much sadness for me in the end of a long and authentic life. I celebrate Merce tonight, and I’m grateful to him for a fourth time. This time for the reminder of what a well-lived artful life looks like.

New Rotary Peace Fellowship video

Posted July 11, 2009 by lowerdryad
Categories: Peace Work

Tags: , ,

Rotary International recently released a new video about the Rotary World Peace Fellowship, of which I am a recipient. I got to see the video in Birmingham, England a couple of weeks ago, and I’m happy to be able to share it with you now. If you’d like to know more about what I’m doing here, why, and with whom, this is a good place to start:

One of our speakers at the conference was Desmond Tutu. It was good to hear him again, and fun to have a photo op with one of my heroes, even if you can’t see too much of me.

From Tutu