Tonight I am consciously grateful for so many things -- my family's sweetness and health, Gramps's helpful visit and bonding with Nathaniel, my honey loving me as much as ever, the skills that enable me to get pretty good work in my chosen field, but in particular, I've been absorbing the wisdom I received from my friend Ulrich Ellison regarding the success of my Kickstarter campaign. Uli reminded me that the people who have pledged support to my record aren't doing it for the rewards, though those things help. They're doing it because they believe in the value of the music, and they believe in me. I am so grateful for people believing in music, believing in the value of what I do. In a world where many people's actions justify joy-crushing cynicism and distrust, I am uplifted by the realization that people still believe in each other, that we root for each other, and help each other the best we can. Many people go above and beyond. I pray to God in my heart that I may contribute to others in meaningful ways, every day of my life. Peace be with you, friends!
Dr. King's words are honest, intelligent, and full of integrity...perhaps someday a public figure will emerge to lead our country to the next level of liberty and justice for all. The issues are complex, and the specifics of solutions to our problems are different for different people. King's leadership challenges us all to do what we can to contribute to justice for the people in our circles of influence.
I lie awake in bed next to my son tonight, with King's words burning in my brain, in my conscience, in my heart. I remember when outrage at injustice took hold in my heart near the end of High School. I read A Call to Conscience, a collection of King's speeches, and listened incessantly to recordings of his speeches. I shed many tears in my car listening to MLK.
Now, I think about how my sons will grow up seeing the world. Surely if we stay in Chicago, they will grow up in fantastic diversity. Everywhere I go in this city, people of myriad backgrounds share the same space on public transportation, in restaurants, in clubs; people of myriad backgrounds work the same jobs, from cab drivers to coffee shop servers to jazz musicians to teachers.
But this is also a time when economic injustice has been normalized. And while the Occupy movement has brought the issue into the realm of public scrutiny, the surrounding discourse is full of fallacies. The most insidious of these is the belief that everyone gets what they deserve. There are three concepts that can justify such a belief: 1) that a hierarchy of human evolution determines the rankings of prosperity (either in a survival-of-the-fittest or eugenicist sense), or 2) that God, or some governing force, metes out justice in a way that cannot be questioned, and 3) that each person comes to earth with some measure of predestination ("karma" or fate), and there's nothing that can be done to alter it. I admit that any or all of these concepts may actually contain nuggets of truth. And yet, a person like MLK, and a movement like the Civil Rights Movement, or the Women's Rights Movement, or any of the transformative movements on the planet, prove that no circumstances are unchangeable. The power of social transformation has again and again proven real. The injustices that seem so entrenched can be dug out by the roots to make way for a better world.
How am I a part of transforming the world? This question burns in my conscience throughout my day-to-day life. I am making over $50,000 in a year, yet still needing financial help from family, and going into debt, while living a lifestyle that is comfortable but far less than extravagant. How can any family living at poverty level make it? And so many people, whether they get $7/hour or $200,000/year, work SO much. We all have such limited time to enjoy being together with family, to take up constructive or creative pursuits, to volunteer our energy in ways that could help others.
Why all the work?
Part of the answer must be because we live with the anxiety of not being certain that our basic needs are met -- housing, food, healthcare, transportation, providing for children, etc. So we work and work and work to provide...and we can take pride when we are able to provide. But is this really our goal as human beings? These are just our basic needs. What about connecting with others in meaningful and fulfilling ways? What about seeing the world, experiencing different cultures, languages, geographies? What about building things with our hands, growing things, mending things? What about going deep into our own spiritual journeys? Until we make enough money to have enough time and enough energy, so many important elements of human life compete for tiny cracks of time in our days, little spurts of extra energy we can muster after another long day of bringing home the bacon. And if we don't bring home the bacon, we could lose everything -- our housing, good food, good healthcare, good transportation, and the ability to provide for our children. This is the reality we live in in the USA right now. Many, many, millions of people, teeter on the edge. I know I feel the pressure...
And it's because so many things are backwards! Terrible catch-22's at every turn. You can't make money off of interest until you have lots of money. Where are the 10% return savings accounts for people with $100 dollars to save, or $1000? You can't get a good job until you get experience, but you can't get experience until you get a good job. Where are the mentoring programs? 12 years of public school, and we never get taught how to grow our own food, build our own house, mend our own clothes, let alone create a budget and balance a checkbook. When will the endless jumping through intellectual hoops be replaced by meaningful, experiential learning?
I know there are millions of people doing great things every day for the people in their lives. And people who are struggling pull themselves up by the bootstraps, receive help and support from family and friends, or receive generous charity, and persevere through tough times. I take heart.
But I also own my outrage at the injustice of economic disparity. Money is paper, but needs are daily reality. And when basic needs go unmet for so many people, something is wrong.
May we all find ways to confront injustice in our lives, and the lives of those around us.
Crazy week of music! Thursday, my great friend Wayne Salzmann came through Chicago with guitar god Eric Johnson. He texted me around noon: "EJ wants to know if you want to sit in on Mr PC and a another tune with a chart." Ummm, you can't say no to that. 4 hours later I was trudging through 6 inches of snow and taking the L down to the House of Blues to rock the Hammond B3.
In between, I made lasagna for my family to eat this weekend and vacuumed the apartment with Nathaniel (my 4 year old). Nathaniel can be SO cool about helping with household stuff...sometimes. : ) All the parents out there know. He got the dustbuster, and got all the corners as we went around the apartment. When we were done, he dropped the dustbuster on the floor and walked away. Me: "Hey dude, that's not where this gets put away." N: "I don't know where it goes." Me: "Sure you do, you got it out...in the pantry." N: "I can't put it back on the thing." Me: "I'll help you...come pick it up and bring it over there with me. Let's put our stuff away now. This is the last thing we have to do." And you know, he picked it up and brought it with me to the pantry, and sure enough he couldn't fit it on the wall charger (it's tricky). He'll get it...with some deep breaths. Just like I got us to put away our stuff together...deep breaths.
Nathaniel and I went outside a few times that day in the snow. He was born in Austin, so he hasn't seen more than a dusting of snow until now. When it was really coming down and everything was covered in 4-6 inches, he said, "Daddy, it's Christmas!" : ) We made a snowman and named him Frosty. Friday morning, Nathaniel wanted to go outside and check on him. N: "Frosty! You're alive! I knew you would make it. I love you, Frosty." We tried to put olive eyes, carrot nose, and an apple slice mouth, but Frosty had turned to ice and the overnight snow was too dry. Lesson learned: put your snowman accessories on when the snow is wet and fluffy.
Playing with Eric Johnson was fun...reading a chart was risky, but I pulled it off. The crowd was awesome. I remember this life...rocking out with hundreds of people having a great time in the audience. Kudu, Bomb Squad, Samadhi...in my mind, I can go back to Wally's funk nights with Charles Haynes, Adam Deitch, Sam Kinninger, and all the monstrous cats who mentored me in the ways of groove. I went to my own personal mountaintop in that life -- opened for the Black Eyed Peas with Kudu for thousands of people with fancy lighting, etc., played with the Bomb Squad at the Montreal Jazz Fest mainstage Saturday night, a sea of people, and the roar of the crowd actually created a wind that I could feel onstage. It is an incredible rush. But with that life also comes endless travel, hours of hurry-up-and-wait-around, and the financial anxiety of irregular paychecks. For those and other reasons (e.g., being home with my family, staying out of unhealthy lifestyles, etc.) I chose the path I'm on. New England Conservatory called it "Artist-Teacher-Scholar," which is an impossibly ambitious reality to maintain. For me, it's about balancing -- really it is juggling, which is tricky. Sometimes balls get dropped. But this is my life...husband, father, performer, university professor, dissertation researcher, faculty director, making recordings, composing/arranging, etc., etc. Thank God for my wife Eleanor Gray, who hangs in there with me through it all, and sustains our family and household when I'm not home.
Today I'm in New York to play with Mika Yoshida, Eddie Gomez, Marcus Gilmore, and my Dad at a club called Drom. We're playing jazzy arrangements of Bach, an original composition of mine, Berstein, Monk...it's a mash-up...it won't be perfect...I will experience some anxiety...but it will be pretty darn good...there will be honest communication...and I will do it with enthusiasm, love, and the intention of offering something of value.