Archive for March 2009

A Taste of My Old Life

March 26, 2009
From random blog photos

Let your voice ring back my memories

Sing my songs to me

– Jackson Browne

It’s a strange thing to suddenly be a student. My life is filled with writing papers and reading articles and books, other people’s schedules and agendas.

That’s very, very different from the last eighteen years of living very much on my own schedule. And though there were no shortage of deadlines in the old days, they were of a different nature.

The funny thing is that it all seems quite natural, and that I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The classes are tough and head-stretching, but that’s good news, not bad. I’m enjoying the reading and the writing and even enjoying the public transportation most of the time, though it takes much more time to get from place to place.

Still, I miss singing songs for people. I miss long road trips, believe it or not. I’ve never minded long drives. It’s a good opportunity for solitude, to muse and ponder and be still in motion; it’s a good balance to the intensely interactive and open time around and during concerts. Of course I’m happy to have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than I used to, but I can’t pretend I don’t miss long hours on the highway.

On a deeper level, I miss connecting with others’ hearts in that particular way and sometimes seeing a tear in someone’s eye; I miss the conversations after the show when I hear the stories that people need to tell that were stirred up by certain songs. And I especially miss staying up to ridiculous hours of the night (or morning) after shows are done, passing guitars around with other musicians (since musicians tend to hang out at places where music is played) and letting others’ songs flow through my own heart, as so often happens after a show. Sharing music isn’t just entertainment to me; it’s catharsis and healing, whether I’m on stage or in the audience. It’s how I sweep out my heart.

So when I got an invitation last weekend to come downtown to hear a folk show that a woman I know, Maree, had helped organize, I was excited to accept. It was being held at a Catholic church here in Brisbane that’s been in the news given their troubles with the Church over their ecumenicism and progressive politics, and I was interested to check it out.

Maree and her beau David picked us up, and we all got there quite early. As it turned out, the church service was still going on, so I got to join them, and it was nourishing to be there. Deanna, meanwhile, took Mason for a stroll, as he was tired and a little too fussy for church.
Then the service broke up and the concert began. Mason was having a hard time, and we reluctantly decided that Deanna would take him on home, but I stayed to hear the rest of the show, and one song in particular.

From random blog photos

Tommy Leonard singing at the concert

The concert was a fundraiser for mental health projects, and Maree had explained that she had been putting on similar shows for about five years, some in Melbourne and some in Brisbane, and that at each one she had performed my song Hold On. As she explained it, she had encountered the song years before at a time when she really needed it, and she claims that it literally saved her life.

So at the end of the night, as the first encore, four other musicians joined her on stage and they played a lovely version of my song while I sat in the audience and listened with a homeless African man named Immanuel who had wandered in and joined me. The song had just the right feel as well as the right notes, and all the more depth for his company. What an extraordinary thing to hear it in this foreign country, and to know that it had been sung here for years, on nights like this one, while I was far away and unaware.

And then the concert was over, Immanuel left and pockets of conversation formed briefly before people went their separate ways. One of the guys who had performed that night, Tommy Leonard, mentioned that a few of the musicians and their friends were going down the street to an art gallery a few blocks away. There was another musician who is also a painter and had an opening at the gallery, and they were going to go see if he was still there and up for a song.

So suddenly I found myself in a circle of songslingers with a couple of guitars being passed around, and bottle of wine on the table, a keyboard over to one side and laughter and music flowing freely. The lights on the paintings made things too bright, so they were exchanged for the ambient light of streetlights and stoplights through the requisite large gallery windows, open to the night air.

I played four or five songs over the course of the night, and listened to many more than that. Two Irishmen, two Brits several Aussies and me, the token Yank (I know, it sounds like I’m setting up a joke…), spoke poems and sang to each other and with each other until we made our way into the hours with just one digit instead of two.

It was good to be home among my tribe.

I’ve been writing a little, and playing some around the house, and I’m trading guitar lessons for babysitting with a doctoral student at the university, and I’m sure I’m not done playing music for people. Still, I think it’s good for me to take a break and give my full attention to the study. It certainly demands my full attention.

But it sure was good to have a long night of real music and all the nourishing time that surrounds it.

Now back to that paper on the moral significance of boundaries in the Realist and Cosmopolitan traditions of Political Science…

From random blog photos

A fascinating article

March 9, 2009

Joseph Hongo, my fellow Fellow from Kenya, handed this article to me a couple of days ago. It’s an interesting read, and outlines some of the great ideological and practical challenges faced by those who would work for peace.

So what do you think?

First week of classes

March 7, 2009
From random blog photos

It’s Saturday morning here in Fig Tree Pocket, our little corner of Brisbane. Deanna was up with a restless Mason through much of the night, so she’s getting some sleep while he is, and I’m watching the morning in a quiet house. I’ve finished my first week of classes at the University of Queensland, and this morning I’m taking stock of where I am and where I’m going.

In case anyone reading this missed the chapters leading up to now, you can go here to read a short post on the Rotary World Peace Fellowship and why I’ve suspended my music career for a while. This is an incredible opportunity, and a rich time for me.

The classes are fascinating, though they’re not even the most exciting part of this for me. This semester will consist of three courses and a weekly small group session to take one of the classes a little further in discussion and exercises. A quick note on each:

Advanced International Relations – This class is going to kick my academic butt all over town, I’m afraid, and I’m strangely happy about that. The first article of four we need to read for Monday’s class is only twenty-eight pages long, but took me over four hours of focused time to plow through. I got excited when I saw that it was written by Colin Hay. I mean how dense could an article by the lead singer of Men At Work be?

Different Colin Hay, as it turns out. The learning curve will be steep here, as we’re starting out looking at the major philosophical and academic schools of thought in the history of the field of political science, and a lot of familiarity with the subject matter is assumed. Sure, I understand that Calvin and Hobbes are more than just cartoon characters, but when we get into the “challenge posed to the political science and international relations mainstream by the distinctly post-positivist agendas of constructivism, critical realism, post-structuralism and and postmodernism,” without defining any of those terms, simply discussing their ontological and epistemological implications — for twenty-eight pages — I confess I’ve got to work pretty hard to keep up.

Fortunately, the professor, Martin Weber, is an animated and engaging lecturer, and has encouraged us to interrupt him constantly with questions and/or objections. I imagine I’ll take him up on that.

Principles of Conflict Resolution in Deep-Seated Conflicts will probably be the most accessible of the three classes for me, since that’s an area where I’ve had at least some training and study in my undergrad degree. There will be a good bit of role-playing involved in that one, which I look forward to.

Ethics and Human Rights is taught by Roland Bleiker, who is one of the reasons I made U.Q. my first choice for this Fellowship. Bleiker’s academic interests include the interplay between aesthetics and peace work, which is right up my proverbial alley. We’ll spend the last chunk of the semester in that class role-playing a war crimes tribunal in the International Court of Justice. Even the first class meeting was promising, though. At one point we went around the room and introduced ourselves briefly by name, nation and reason for choosing this class. Among about fifty students there were twenty-eight nationalities represented.

And that’s my deepest joy and excitement in this experience so far. Deanna, Mason and I are going over to a party being thrown by one of the Fellows in a little while, and I’m pretty confident that all six of the inhabited continents will be represented there, hanging out by the pool and chatting on a warm afternoon. The depth of experience that these people bring when they arrive is rich and enticing. While here, we’ll deepen and broaden that experience with intense academic interaction and with our three-month field assignments around the world. And we’ll take these relationships as well as this knowledge with us when we move on from here.

The caliber of the other Fellows is extremely high. Joseph Hongo, for instance, who has been involved with negotiations between rebels and African governments in several African countries, and Zuska Petovska, who has been working for the UN High Commission on Refugees advising on policy questions around refugee issues in eastern Europe. Pamela Padilla worked for the Philippine government in their peace negotiations with Communist rebels there, and Teddy Foday-Musa, who was involved in founding a third political party in Sierra Leone only a few years ago. There are stories like that for each of them, and having their input on these conversations is invaluable. I promise I’ll tell more of their stories later on.

For now, though, I have some reading to do. Then off to the pool. 😉

From random blog photos

How the World Changes

March 1, 2009
From random blog photos

Deanna and Mason on the bus

It’s Sunday in Brisbane, and yet another warm, clear day. The quick update is this: Mason turned four-months-old yesterday, we’ve been here for a month, all of the campus orientation events are through and classes start tomorrow.

I’ve met all of the fellows, and they live up to their billing. It’s an extraordinary group of people and I can’t wait to dig into these classes together. The Class VI fellows had a little welcoming party for the Class VII fellows Friday night and I re-connected with some of them that I had met before when I visited Brisbane about a year ago.

One of the pre-requisites for the Rotary World Peace Fellowship is that we are required to have at least three years of field work before we apply, so the people I’ll be studying with have rich field experience in peace and development work before they even show up. I’m eager to know more about their histories, and I woke up this morning musing about a random conversation I had yesterday, and determined to record these stories in a more organized way.

Yesterday Deanna and I were waiting for a bus into town and we started talking with a woman who was also waiting. We were going to a museum and she was headed to a lapidary show. I naturally asked if she works with precious stones and she said that she used to, that she did much more of it when she lived in Canada. Conversation about Canada led to the talk about the gorgeous forests there, which led to her telling us about the time she spent in a maximum-security prison.


Yep. Marcel, as her name turned out to be, was imprisoned by the Canadian government in the early nineties for taking part in the largest civil disobedience in Canadian history, where, over the course of several months, about three thousand people sat on the road in front of bulldozers to protect some of the last remaining old-growth forests there. I wasn’t surprised that she did jail time, but maximum security for a non-violent protest? It seems that the judge that tried her case was a former employee of the logging company they were resisting, and she was in the first group of fifty to be arrested (with 700+ to follow), so they wanted to make an example of them.

She wasn’t bitter about it, and our conversation was pleasant and encouraging on the whole. She had some powerful stories to tell about the corruption of the court system and the governmental agencies charged with regulating logging, but she also told us about various ways in which the demonstration had been successful – exposing some of that corruption and in the end, changing some of the rules for the better. I got the impression that while the price she payed was high, it was worthwhile.

And this was a conversation at a bus stop, not related to my studies in any way.

Early in the conversation, though, Marcel said something that really struck me. She said (paraphrasing from memory), “There are so many people doing good work in the world, but there aren’t enough people telling those stories, so people tend to think they’re alone and get discouraged.”

She said those words without knowing the first thing about me or my passion for re-telling those stories, but her casual comment served to crystallize an idea I’ve been stewing on for a while. My plan is to interview people who have been out there doing the work and study the common threads among them in terms of their world views and philosophies, as well as what nourishes and sustains them. I’m embarking on a masters degree program tomorrow, of course, so I won’t make any promises about the frequency of these posts, but my hope is to share them with you fairly regularly here on this blog.

So, though I didn’t really get to interview Marcel in the way I hope to interview some others in the future, she pointed me in a new direction, or at least gave me a new sense of focus, with a casual comment at a bus stop.

And that’s how the world changes. One more bit of evidence for my contention that it’s not foolish to think you can change the world. It’s foolish to think you can be in the world and not change it.

Wish me luck and hold me in the Light as I jump in to classes tomorrow. I’m a little daunted, and joyful too.

Oh, and on a lighter topic, I’ll put up some video of Mason soon. 😉