Adoration of the Artist

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I was in a car with work friends and colleagues when we heard the news that Prince had died.  Stunned, we sat and shared our favorite songs and memories of hearing them.  We joked about taking the rest of the day off to mourn.  It was so sudden, even though I’d heard of his emergency plane landing and hospitalization in Moline, Illinois last weekend.  Twenty-four hours later, the cable news and my Facebook feed are full of reminiscences and appreciations of his humanitarianism, his daring, and most of all, his artistry.

We have lost too many great artists in 2016.  David Bowie, Glenn Frey, and Merle Haggard are the ones that stand out to me.  The loss of Prince is truly a loss to humanity.  In the United States, we tend to value the pragmatic, the pursuit of wealth.  How many kids love the fine arts in school but are pooh-poohed in terms of considering it for a career?  I certainly never seriously considered it, believing that it would never lead to a stable, comfortable life, despite adoring my flute and singing.  The lucky and talented few ignore that pragmatism and those social pressures.  It seems as if for true artists, they cannot exist without creation and expression and inspiration, and that certainly seems to have been his purpose, or at least one of them.

I believe Prince speaks to a part of all of us that yearns for expression for expression’s sake, the beauty and pain of what it means to be human.  He sang about desire and faith and joy and jealousy.  His music defied categorization.  He had crazy talent.  When Eric Clapton was asked what it was like to be the best guitarist on Earth, he said he didn’t know and to ask Prince.  Bono posted on Facebook that he never met Mozart, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, or Elvis, but he met Prince.  What admiration!

My first exposure to Prince was via a cassette tape of Purple Rain, played over and over again on our home stereo for family living room dance parties.  I knew the words to “Darling Nikki” before I understood what they meant.  I remember having friends over and putting a sign on our front door saying, “If you don’t want to party, don’t bother knocking on the door.”  (How wild could a fifth grade party be?)  I rode the bus to and from school and Prince was heavy in the rotation on the bus radio and I remember singing “Raspberry Beret,” “1999,” and “Pop Life” the countless times they were played.

As an adult, I grew to understand more about why he was as controversial to some.  It never really clicked with me as a kid how he challenged gender norms with his high heels and falsetto vocal range and make-up.  He just seemed impossibly cool, and he was.  Was it the Golden Globe Awards where he showed up walking with a cane?  He made it look effortlessly sexy.  I watched his Superbowl performance live and it was easily the best one I have ever seen.  I just laughed when he defied the NFL’s efforts to present “clean, family fun” at the halftime show, three years post-Nipplegate, with that awesome, phallic use of his guitar behind the sheet.  I love that in a time when our society is transforming, in which we question white privilege and gender norm policing and bigotry disguised as “religious freedom,” he has put forward a fearless willingness to challenge those very things.  Al Sharpton tweeted yesterday that Prince donated privately to Trayvon Martin’s family.  He achieved financial wealth via his artistic genius, but seemed to never forget where he came from and helped others.

As much as I love what he did as a humanitarian, I have even more respect for him as a performer.  I wish I had seen him in concert.  I think one of the things I loved most about him was his recognition of fellow artists and his desire to collaborate with them.  I loved that Stevie Nicks was able to call him when she was inspired by his music to write a song and ask for help, and that in response he spontaneously showed up at the studio to record instrumental tracks with her and finish the song.  I love that he performed with beautiful ballet dancer Misty Copeland.

In the music industry these days, we see meticulously-managed, image-conscious entertainers.  In Prince, we see what my friend Maria said is “living proof you can be yourself in all your purple freakishness and change the world forever.”

I was listening to a Minneapolis radio station yesterday that was playing only Prince songs.  The DJ started talking about Prince’s legendary parties at his home in Paisley Park.  The public was often invited and she said that in the morning (because of course the party lasted into the morning), you could have pancakes there.  The thought of that makes me so, so happy.  A man who has played at the White House still lives in his Midwestern home state and invites guests to his home for pancakes.  I wish I had been to one of those.  I shall have to settle for listening to all of his music all weekend.

There is nothing I can say to properly memorialize Prince.  There are more knowledgable, dedicated fans.  But I felt the need to salute a true artist, someone whose music formed part of the soundtrack of my childhood and young adult life, and whose music will stand the test of time.  My favorites include “When Doves Cry,” “Darling Nikki,” and “The Cross.”  What are yours?  Comment if you will.

 

 

 

 

Seasoning

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We are in the midst of spring here in Kansas City.  The up and down temperatures have somewhat dampened the new flowers and buds on our big, beautiful trees, but as I look outside, the sun is shining and the wind is no doubt carrying kites and seeds and birds to new destinations.  We celebrated the start of the baseball season with our world champion Kansas City Royals.  The Kansas City Symphony is performing Gershwin’s lively “An American in Paris” this weekend.  Conversations around town range from morel mushroom hunting and school field trips to patio weather and outdoor festivals.

I love the rhythms of this season.  I love the awakening of the earth, the smell of green.  I do not have my mother’s green thumb, but my favorite smell is of the earth after a spring shower.  I breathe in the musty, grassy, watery, elemental nature of it all.  I spent the afternoon yesterday at a local park that overlooks the mighty Missouri River, the “Big Muddy” water that flows through Missouri, near all the places I have lived in this state.  I watched the wind ripple the river’s surface.  I followed the whirlpools my grandfather warned me about as a kid as they roiled and boiled and raced downstream.  I saw the light of the sun break through the clouds only to hide again for a smattering of rain drops to fall.  I celebrated the renewal of life on the planet and gave thanks for the season to come.

The seasons are important in this part of the world.  At my family’s farm equipment business in rural Missouri, conversations at “the tractor store” often revolved around the conditions for planting, the winter snow and spring rains needed to carry the crops through the furnace of July and August, the hectic nature of harvest.  The external world determines, to a large degree, the fortunes of an agricultural community, and Kansas City by extension, as a city with a significant focus on agribusiness.

The seasons are important to me.  And yet, I live a lot of my days inside my head.  I think and ask questions and reason and write for a living.  I apply rules to facts and make conclusions and suggest remedies.  I am more connected to a computer than the earth most days.  Many of us are, in this knowledge economy.  Our jobs do not change with the seasons.  Humanity has not evolved to handle this well.  Part of us yearns for a return to that seasonal rhythm of life despite our love for consistent home temperatures and our favorite fruit no matter the time of year.

I am in the middle season of my life.  I find I am gaining an appreciation for all of the rhythms of the earth:  growth, decay, death, renewal.  I embrace Ecclesiastes 3:1-8’s promise of a season for everything under Heaven.  I am more concerned with preserving and restoring the Earth’s beauty and health and that of the people who live in it.  I am more aware of my own smallness.  I am grateful for my awareness of the beauty around me.  I am mindful of making sure my children notice it and rejoice.  I am drinking it in.

Happy Spring!!!  I am celebrating this weekend with my son’s soccer and some kite-flying.  You?  I hope you connect with nature in some way and share with me.

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Star Wars-Inspired Parenting

Star Wars Figures

We are a Star Wars family.  We own the original trilogy and the prequels.  My son’s room is filled with the Lego versions of an Imperial Star Destroyer, AT-AT Walker, Jabba’s Sail Barge, Rey’s Speeder, B-Wing Fighter, Poe’s X-Wing Fighter, and my personal favorite, the Millennium Falcon.  I own action figures from my childhood and of new characters from The Force Awakens.  My daughter has her own action figures and light saber.  My husband owns the Sphero BB-8 droid that he controls remotely from his phone, and the remote control Millennium Falcon that really flies.  We binge watch The Clone Wars and await each new episode of Star Wars Rebels.  We are dedicated fans, and Disney has made a lot of money off of us.  Of course, we have pre-ordered the digital and Blu-Ray copies of the movie (out today, April 1, and April 5, respectively).

We enjoy these movies as fun entertainment, but the movies and shows also offer Doug and I the opportunity to teach our kids valuable lessons about the world and how to live in it.

  • Heroes are ordinary people who rise to the challenges of their time.  This may seem to be a surprising lesson given that Luke Skywalker and other Star Wars heroes are blessed with a special power, e.g., to feel and harness a mystical energy called The Force.  However, the Rebellion is composed of numerous people from all across the galaxy who contribute in some way to the cause:  pilots, intelligence, military strategy, communications support, supply requisition.  Han and Chewbacca were smugglers who initially had no interest in helping the Rebellion, yet were drawn in by the commitment and willingness to sacrifice demonstrated by Leia, Luke, and the others.  In fact, the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, coming out in December 2016, is focused on the rebels who stole the design plans for the original Death Star that enabled the Rebels’ successful destruction of it at the Battle of Yavin.  According to what we know thus far about the movie, none of the characters in Rogue One are Jedi or are Force-sensitive, yet their contribution was critical to the Rebel cause.  (They’re also led by a women, played by Felicity Jones.)
  • Giving in to anger, fear, and aggression leads to misery.  We have our fair share of temper tantrums and  meltdowns around here.  Yoda’s warning to Luke that “anger, fear, and aggression” lead to the Dark Side of the Force is repeated in our household as a way to lighten the moment.  We also talk in calmer times about how it’s okay to have these feelings and to express them, but that it is not healthy to dwell or wallow in them, but try to channel the feelings into something constructive.  Otherwise, you inevitably worsen your situation.  Conversely, Yoda’s praise of self-control and patience is repeated by us as a way to help our kids make good choices.  If they find ways to take a breath, a break, or ask for a hug, they can avoid the spiral into a meltdown or tantrum that leads to additional bad choices.
  • The galaxy is full of various sentient life forms, all of which are worthy of respect.  In the Star Wars galaxy, Jedis and members of the Rebellion are members of not only different races, but different species.  In contrast, while not explicitly stated in the movies, Star Wars literature frequently references Emperor Palpatine’s prejudice against anyone serving in the Imperial Fleet other than humans.  The Force Awakens takes some additional steps in this area, with the three main heroes being a white female, black male, and Latino male.  We use these themes from the Star Wars universe to discuss prejudice and discrimination in our own world with our children, and emphasize the need to love and respect the people and living things of our planet.
  • Safeguarding our freedom is difficult in times of intense fear and instability.  It is no coincidence that Revenge of the Sith, the 2005 movie released in the aftermath of September 11, highlights this truth.  The Old Republic’s Senate, faced with a growing military threat from the Separatists, enthusiastically approves granting supreme executive authority to Chancellor Palpatine, who declares the beginning of the Galactic Empire.  Senator Padme Amidala’s stunned response: “So this is how liberty dies…to thunderous applause.”  Of course, Palpatine and the Empire proceed to enslave entire worlds and use a super-weapon to destroy Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan.  As our own nation and others face fears of terrorism from within and abroad, we see the rise of candidates (ahem, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz) who promise stability and project authority in a calculated play on these fears.  We speak with our children about the dangers of trusting too much in any leader to make any country great and repeat the lesson above about giving into our worst fears.  We firmly believe that our country will rot from within if we allow our misunderstandings and fears to isolate and punish innocent people who can be our allies.

Finally, I will share how Star Wars has inspired me personally, dating myself in the process.  My very first memory is of three-year-old me going to my hometown’s drive-in theater to watch the first release of Star Wars in 1977.  My brother and I were in the backseat of my parents’ car and I remember waking up from a nap as Princess Leia drew her weapon to defend against Stormtroopers at the start of the movie.  She has been my hero ever since.  In a play world dominated by Barbies and baby dolls, she was a female role model for someone who used her gifts to fight for freedom for others and against evil, with bravery, diplomacy, political negotiation, and if necessary, military force.  She was a confident leader who stood up for what she believed in.  Her example stayed with me throughout my childhood and inspires me to this day.  With the arrival of Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, I am thrilled that my daughter and son will have the opportunity to see a woman who is both powerful and loving, who has survived horrible circumstances yet is full of hope.  And I can say that the most emotional part of watching The Force Awakens for me was not (spoiler alert) Han’s death at the hands of his son, but the moment when Rey successfully calls Anakin’s lightsaber to her and raises it to battle Kylo Ren.  Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched Rey’s face, full of fear but resolute in her determination to defeat him and save herself and her injured friend, Finn.  A she, not a he, is the center of the hero’s journey in this new trilogy, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what happens in Episode VIII, due in theaters December 2018.

Star Wars Legos