Archive for the ‘Australia’ category

Mason at and approaching eight months

July 11, 2009

By popular demand, here are thirty recent Mason pictures. Click here for a slideshow, or on the photo below to peruse the album at your own pace.

Mason @ 8 months

Deanna and I celebrated our fifth anniversary yesterday— best move I ever made. It’s such a joy to see this little guy who is a result of it.


My First Paper

April 8, 2009
From random blog photos

I turned in my first paper of my post-grad career today. I’ve been deeply immersed in it for the last couple of weeks, and have learned a great deal. The education has come not only from wrestling with the content, though, but also from wrestling with writing an academic paper, which is a very different kind of writing for me. It’s funny, though, that whatever I know about writing I really have learned from writing songs. My undergrad studies were fine in an undergrad sort of way, but I wouldn’t call it serious academics, looking back now.

The assignment was challenging in two unexpected ways. The first is that it was quite general, and the professor explicitly left it to us to narrow down. The second reason, ironically, was that it was short. We were asked to keep the word count to 2000, with a 10% margin of error. That’s actually not a lot of space to take on a meaningful subject, and it was challenging to trim away enough of what I wanted to say to fit that parameter, while still getting a coherent point across.

The delightful thing about Dr. Bleiker is that he is a fine writer and is passionate about writing. If you’ve had much to do with academia, you may agree with me (and Dr. Bleiker) that it is populated by very bright people who write terribly. It’s a real treat to have a professor who encourages us not only to write clearly and with well-organized structure, but also to consider the question of voice, and to write humanly.

I considered posting it here, but in the end decided that it might be best not to before it has even received a grade. Besides that, it’s hard to imagine that there are many people who are so hard up for procrastination aids that they need to read an academic paper. I titled it “Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Ethical Quandaries in the Application of Cultural Boycotts,” referring to the 1985 Aretha Franklin song.

The assignment was:

It can be argued that the moral significance of boundaries is the key problem in articulating an ethics of international politics. Examine the role of these boundaries, and the respective political consequences, by comparing and contrasting at least two different ethical traditions we have discussed in class.

Anyway, glad to be done with it. Now for the next four papers that I need to be working on simultaneously… (!)

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

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. 😉

Class VII Fellows

February 19, 2009

I’m going to meet up with a few of the Fellows with whom I’ll be studying at the University of Queensland. Some have yet to arrive and some are here and looking for places to live (we’re lucky to have figured that out already).

It’s a fascinating looking group of people. Rotary has posted our pictures, nationalities, languages spoken, etc. here. This is all getting quite exciting!

Fig Tree Pocket

February 4, 2009

It’s 82 degrees (28 C) and sunny in Brisbane today.

From first week

I thought I’d better just get that out of the way. If you haven’t just turned off the computer in disgust and you’re still reading then you must love us a lot, so I’ll feel free to wax on about our Brisbane adventure and not worry too much about being boring. Everyone I can think of who reads this from time to time is either in snow today or in Melbourne, where it hasn’t been below 100 degrees for… how long now? All I can say to mitigate the injury is “come visit!”

We are settling in here, after a trip down that was so much better than we expected. After my last entry here, from Fiji, we were actually bumped up to first class for our last flight. Then another first class passenger switched seats with us so that we could have a bassinet. He turned out to be the Papua New Guinean ambassador to Fiji.

From Mason's first week in Australia

We were picked up at the airport by our Rotary Host Counselors, Jeff and Milena Stephens. They also brought along Peter from Rotary, who transported all of our bags in his truck. It was a little embarrassing to be traveling with so much stuff (six big bags and six little ones), but we were certainly glad that Mason got a full baggage allowance.

We spent several lovely days at their house getting oriented (or orientated, as the Aussies say) to the city and trying to work our way around the clock face so that we were eating, sleeping and waking at reasonable hours. We’re pretty well adjusted now, though I still wake up early in the morning, which has never been my m.o. Jeff and Milena were so good to us and we’re continuing to enjoy their help figuring things out and their good company.

From Mason's first week in Australia

After a few days with them we moved to the new apartment, and we’ve now been here a little over a week. That’s long enough to hang the pots and pans in the kitchen and stock up the spice rack, unpack all the suitcases, figure out how to use the washing machine and how to catch a bus into town.

That bus has taken us to the local mall more times in the last week than we went to the mall in the last three years in Asheville, I think, but this mall is also where the library, the grocery store and the doctor are found, so that statistic isn’t quite as scary as it would be otherwise.

Yesterday we had a free visit with a nurse there, who checked Mason out and answered some questions for us. She also weighed him, and after converting from the metric we found that our little Gordito now weighs 14 pounds and 3 ounces.

From first week

Australia is such a mix of the completely familiar and the surprising, with a bit of absolutely incomprehensible thrown in from time to time. For instance, Jeff and Milena were very helpful in lining up some gear for Mason before we arrived. Mason, by the way, is a ‘bub’ (baby). They asked their Rotary Club if anyone had stuff they could contribute, and— wonderfully— came up with these things for us:

– a bassinet
– a pram
– a capsule
– a bouncinet

Bassinet – so far, so good. Pram we know – we’ve each been to England and we read all the Harry Potter books. Bouncinet we could kind of guess, and were right – it’s a little bouncy seat with a vibrating function that helps bubs drift off to sleep. Capsule…? We were totally lost. Turns out it’s a car seat for infants.

From first week

We have taken the aforementioned pram (or pusher) twice to the park a block away, and enjoyed walks there. The grass is green and the trees are tall and except for the lovely addition of gum trees and wonderfully magical fig trees (for which our part of town, Fig Tree Pocket, is named) everything seems reasonably normal.

From first week

Until a flock of parakeets flies by. Or cockatoos. No kidding, there are cockatoos everywhere in the trees. They’re just lovely, but it’s quite strange— and refreshing— to see all of them living outside of cages.

And no squirrels. I remember when my Kiwi friend Jared came to visit the states for the first time and he asked if we had squirrels. I said “Jared, don’t you have squirrels in New Zealand?” and he replied “Well sure, I’ve seen them… I mean, at the zoo.” I’m going to miss those little guys. The fact that there’s a koala sanctuary nearby might soften my sadness, though.

I’ve been to campus a couple of times, have registered for classes and yesterday I got my student ID. The courses are incredibly appealing to me and I’m looking forward to getting to work. Semester one will include Advanced International Relations, Human Rights and Ethics, and Principles of Conflict Resolution in Deep-Seated Conflicts. How’s that for fascinating stuff?

Classes won’t start until the end of the month, so we have the luxury of several weeks to settle in and get our bearings here, which is a real gift. There is a huge housing crunch in Brisbane at the moment and we were advised to get here as early as possible in order to have time to look for a place. As it turned out, though, the Rotary folks found us this lovely place in Fig Tree Pocket before we even arrived (but after we had booked the plane tickets), so here we are with time to spare.

We’re living in a ‘granny flat’ (which we would call a ‘Mother-In-Law apartment’ back home— isn’t ‘granny flat’ much better?) downstairs from the Regional Director of Rotary. The region includes Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, so it goes without saying that they’re not home much. Actually, we haven’t met them yet, and are looking forward to doing so on the ninth.

From first week

We’ve been enjoying the pool in the backyard quite a lot, though, while they’re gone. I know, I know…

Here I am, suffering for world peace.

These really are good days and we’re deeply grateful, though missing our old life as well. We have such fine friends at home, and of course our family. They really came through for us as we tried to pack up all of the physical manifestations of our lives and careers, while doing the two-month-old-baby-parenting thing. I’m particularly thinking of my buddy Cecil Bothwell, who came and fixed up all the stuff on the house that I had been hoping to get to before I left, and still worked on it after we left, and Barbara Gaw who came to hold the baby while we packed, and my sister Kathy who did little else on her visit to NC, and Ron who also helped bang the house into shape, and MJ who hauled boxes between phone calls and emails, shutting down the business and sweeping the floor at the same time, Marni and Lee who held Mason and lent us a car so we could sell ours and still be mobile for the last few days, and Nance and David who jumped in on all of the above, and Mom and Dad who did too and were always available when we needed them, and our Quaker Meeting, who were so supportive in so many ways, Barbie for the boxes and packing materials, Stephanie, Paul and Katherine, Tom and Lynn, and lots of other friends and family who helped and who offered repeatedly, but we were spinning too fast to actually call… so good, and so deeply missed. Sheez… it sounds like I’m accepting a Grammy. You get the idea, though… we’re deeply grateful, and we’re missing folks.

I trust that those friendships and family ties remain strong, but far away is still far away. Still, I need to make myself look forward and not back, and treasure these days right here in the present. So many parents have written to remind us to savor them because they go so quickly. When we celebrated Mason’s three-month birthday this weekend I was stopped cold by the fact that I only get to have a three-month-old for a month. What an amazing, and ephemeral, treat.

From first week

Having chosen to make some real sacrifices in order to answer this call, though, and then finding things to be so good here, the words of Rev. Howard Thurman keep coming to me: “Don’t just ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”

Here’s to being alive.

From first week