Changing Climates

5 05 2016

“The world has been abnormal for so long that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in a peaceful and reasonable climate. If there is to be any peace or reason, we have to create it in our own hearts and homes.” —Madeleine L’Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet

I don’t remember when I first read A Swiftly Tilting Planet. As with so many of the books that have stayed with me, what I can remember is the feeling of my mind expanding as I flew through the pages. So much happens in the story line that I wouldn’t attempt a synopsis of the book here. However, in the story the world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation. In this tense and terrifying moment, Meg (our heroine) learns that everything is connected. Everything is connected. Therefore, it matters what she does – even if it is something so seemingly insignificant as what she allows to live within her own heart.

I copied down the quote, above, and have kept it easily to hand for many years. It is said by Meg’s father to remind his family that, in the fateful hour in which they find themselves, they each have something to contribute to the good. I have used the quote, over the years, to remind myself that creating peace and reason in my own heart is crucial to finding it in the world beyond me.

Peaceful and reasonable. These are qualities I strive for, values (peace and reason) I hold deeply. But we humans don’t start there – we get there through intention and effort. And not by overvaluing our intellectual selves at the expense of our emotional selves. We have emotions; we feel things deeply because if we did not, we would always maintain the status quo. Growth – whether on a personal or global scale – only happens with the emotional impetus to change.

However, if we operate only at the feeling stage, we spend our energies expressing but not creating. Don’t misunderstand me: expression of our emotions is a powerful thing – and when we’re coming to terms with hurtful experiences or attempting to find/use our voices despite repression, suppression, or oppression it is an absolutely necessary thing.

And then what?

I’ve watched the news throughout this political season with interest and horror. All my life, I’ve believed many of the things Bernie Sanders stands for, and found abhorrent most of what Donald Trump espouses. But as I see shouting matches devolving into violence and entrenchment, I am reminded that we are living in an abnormal climate. How am I, one person, supposed to have an effect on that?

And then I remember that I do and I can have an effect on it – because everything is connected. Madeleine L’Engle was the first to introduce me to quantum theory, but she certainly wasn’t the last. In college theology courses, I studied Teilhard de Chardin and first learned about the concept of the noosphere. And in recent decades, science has been proving, with break-through after break-through, that what I think and feel does, indeed, have an impact that reaches far beyond my own self.

With that in mind, you will not see me throwing my hands up in an act of surrender. You will not hear me declaring that I give up – or that if things don’t go the way I want them to I will wash my hands of responsibility and leave it for others to take the blame. But neither will you see me engaging in shouting or shoving matches. My most intense struggles will be internal – attempting to quiet my agitation long enough to experience a peaceful heart and a reasonable mind. Whenever I can reach that place internally, I will do my best to project it outward. Because of all the things I think I know, the one I believe with every fiber of my being is that everything is connected. EveryONE is connected.

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The Music Scene and The Syndrome: Two Gifts

6 02 2014
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At Icehouse, listening to Louis and the Hunt and Fair Oaks

The very first thing Mike sent me when he learned I had decided to come to Minneapolis was a link to The Basillica Block Party’s volunteer sign-up page. He assured me that the annual Block Party was not-to-be-missed, but tickets were spendy – volunteer and you may get to hear some of the bands for free. Without knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we agreed to sell raffle tickets the first weekend I was officially a Minneapolitan. What an awesome decision that was – we had free-reign of the event, got to hear all the bands, and while selling raffle tickets met and talked to hundreds of people (mostly) in a festive mood.

And so it began.

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I met Mike’s dad, Rex Beck, when I was in college. We hit it off right away, which made me feel special – right up until I discovered that Rex hits it off with everyone. His family even has a name for it, “Rex Beck Syndrome”: the capacity to strike up a conversation (and likely a friendship) with literally anyone, anywhere – and the propensity to do so.

I didn’t notice it so much back then, but the Rex Beck Syndrome has a genetic component. At least two of Mike’s siblings show telltale signs of having inherited it. But of the five of them, Mike is the one who most readily shows markers of the full-blown syndrome. He makes friends with tourists in the downtown Target parking-garage elevator. He never leaves a party or reception without new Facebook friends. Once, we noticed a woman putting up an autumn display in her yard. Two hours later, as we drove by again and she was still working, Mike stopped the car in the middle of the street and rolled down his window to tell her, “Nice job! It looks fantastic!” When he caught me staring at him with a surprised grin, he said, “What? She spent all afternoon working on it – the least I could do was make her feel like it was worth it!”

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On a cold Sunday night we drove around the block a couple of times before finding a parking space in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. I was tired, having already been on my feet for an eight hour shift that began at 5:30 a.m. that day. We walked quickly past several establishments with an international flavor on our way to what appeared, from the outside, to be a generic dive bar. Once past the bouncer, wristbands and handstamps in place, we entered an electrified atmosphere. The opening set by the band MisterWives was already in progress and blowing the crowd at The Triple Rock Social Club away. Standing room only. I looked sideways at Mike, completely engrossed in the music and barely able to contain his excitement to see the headlining band for the night (American Authors). With an internal shrug of the shoulders, I steeled myself and approached the rather intimidating bouncer – who just happened to have an extra chair beside him. I explained why my feet hurt, and he nodded knowingly and let me take the chair, telling me to enjoy the show as I walked away.

We saw three bands that night, each on the cusp of big career happenings. (Just this week, American Authors announced their headlining tour. MisterWives’ EP, which came out a couple of weeks after the show, was at the top of the iTunes chart within days.) Happily seated, surrounded by people completely absorbed in the musical performances, I forgot my tiredness and chair-danced my way through the evening.

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I am, most naturally and deeply, an introvert. There was a time in my life when the very idea of speaking first to a stranger was overwhelming. When Mike and I reconnected a few years ago, I noticed his ease in speaking to strangers,  and marveled at it. Since moving here, I’ve had many opportunities to observe it. And, as in many things, being with an expert has allowed me to try it out myself – the expert (in this case Mike) acting as a set of social training wheels. If I got myself in too deep or too awkwardly, he could step in and smooth away the uncomfortable. In this way, I soon found myself striking up conversations with wait staff, with other pedestrians at a red light, with the people at the next table. As my comfort level grew, I began talking to strangers when Mike wasn’t around. It was a matter of great pride when an old friend told me Mike was rubbing off on me. She said, “You talk to people you don’t have to now.”

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The Cactus Blossoms at First Avenue

My “Minneapolis Music Scene” education, initiated at the Block Party, has not only continued but accelerated during this winter season. It has taken me to Roy Wilkins Auditorium to see Envy Corps, The Neighbourhood, and Imagine Dragons. But it has also seen me at Old Chicago in Eagan for the Friday night set (in bad lighting with horrible acoustics) of a young musician just starting his solo career. One Saturday evening began with a flamenco guitarist over dinner and ended with a CD release party for Fair Oaks, a band whose leader lives just up the street (though we didn’t know it until Mike introduced himself to the band). My education has included tickets to a Studio C live recording session with Walk Off the Earth. Most recently, it led to a two-night music binge at the granddaddy of all Minneapolis music venues: First Avenue, Prince’s main stage as well as performance venue for many musical legends over the years.

The thing is, I am neither a musician nor that much of a fan-girl. But I have always loved live music, and I’ve been loving the “educational” experience. Mike is both a musician and a self-described indie band junkie, so his excitement about the music scene and his enthusiasm for supporting young talent is contagious – it is fun to be around people who are jazzed and fully enlisted. More than that, I love being in a space where smart, talented, creative people are putting themselves and their work out there for public consumption and response. While I definitely appreciate and enjoy the more savvy performers we see (Caroline Smith, Grace Potter, Matchbox Twenty), some of my favorite moments occur when listening to or interacting with the less well-known, less polished, but no less passionate performers at the beginning of their careers (Jamison Murphy, He Who Never, Fair Oaks). Music performance offers such immediate consumer feedback – either the crowd is feeling you or it isn’t! When it works, the exchange of energy between musicians and their audience is powerful and heady. As someone aspiring to put myself out there, whether creatively, in a job search, or as the newbie in a new city, I get the courage that takes.

On our second night at First Avenue (it was a two-night birthday party for local radio station The Current), I found myself jostling for a better standing position when I noticed that the extremely tall man who had just pushed in front of me, partially blocking my view, was scribbling in a notebook. As you might expect from a Beck protege, I leaned forward with an opening salvo of, “You’re taking notes at a rock concert?”

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Mike, outside First Avenue, next to the stars of musicians/bands who’ve played there (the stars cover the outside of the building)

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Yesterday, I sat in The Boiler Room, sipping a piping hot Americano.  I had just initiated conversations with Michael, the owner, and with Linwood Hart, the artist whose work is on display there. I had sent a message online to someone I’ve admired from a distance, just to tell her that. I felt expansive, open to the world around me in a way that once would have felt frightening.

My thoughts, and the rightness of this feeling, suggested a confluence of sorts between my fledgling Rex Beck Syndrome and my Minneapolis music education. Mike thinks he’s been introducing me to the music scene, helping me to understand his love for it and spreading the contagion. And he has been – my enthusiasm is my own, not just a reflection of his. At the same time, it has been an education in how to feel a sense of agency – to be a swimmer in the ocean of people that is this city rather than a bit of flotsam carried about by random ebbs and flows. I’m still an introvert, but I am no longer confusing that with my irrational fear of putting myself forward. It turns out that people like – actually prefer – to connect. It turns out that I prefer to do so.

I’m thrilled that I have acquired at least a mild case of Rex Beck Syndrome – and I hope to pass it on! Speak up, my friends, don’t hold back so much of your enthusiasm and curiosity. There are a lot of people out there, aching to connect in ways big and small. Be the agent of that connection – be a swimmer not a floater!

As for my music scene education, I intend to continue that as well – Friday we’re checking out two new bands, then its two Jeremy Messersmith shows in two very different venues. Below is a list of bands/musicians I’ve seen whom I believe are definitely worth checking out and supporting. You can find most of them online – and if you like them, send them some love by way of purchase and/or social media!

Envy Corps. MisterWives. The Royal Concept. Jamison Murphy. He Who Never. Fair Oaks. Walk Off the Earth. Actual Wolf. Lizzo. Cactus Blossoms. Heiruspecs. Caroline Smith.