Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Outside the rotation: Seeking communities

I have spent all of my adult life, since the age of around 14 when I first encountered the folk musicians who congregated around the old Me & Thee Coffeehouse--a holdover from the early '70s than which few venues except Passim/Club 47 were older, in seeking and learning and eventually building community. Most typically, music has been the glue that we used for this purpose--as I've blogged in the past, before I ever seriously entertained the idea that I could make a living as a musician, I wanted to be part of the social communities I saw the musicians manifesting. I think I knew, even at that young age, when I would volunteer to wash tea-cups and pastry-plates in the church kitchen as they came back from the music room, where Rory Block or Paul Geremia or the Gloucester Hornpipe & Clog Society was holding forth, that the quality of life, companionship and mutual respect I saw in the roots musicians was not only more enjoyable but just flat healthier, in the long term, than the values, priorities, and behaviors I saw being manifested in my upper-middle-class high school.

I found it in the Music Houses, about which I blogged in my very first couple of posts, and I found it again in the remarkable cast of characters who gathered at the old Guitar Workshop. Had I known--had I been healthier and better-equipped by my childhood/family experience--I might have seen it right in front of my face, in the musicians I almost met at CBGB and in the South Bronx, and almost met during my first work experience in the West Texas blues bars.

But by the time I got back to Boston, at the age of 20, I was primed to try to find something like what I'd experienced amongst the folkies five and six years before in the coffeeshops, and which I'd seen amongst the remarkable scholars and pedagogues at the New School. So when my brother-in-music Larry and I walked in the door of the Guitar Workshop of Boston around Midwinter 1979, I was ready to discover what I found there: the cast of characters who gave me a vision of artistic imagination and improvisational creativity.

The ending of that situation was hard, and it taught both Dharmonia and myself a lot about what you can and cannot depend upon in the small-business world. And it was hard times, for a couple of years. But that ending also sent me back to school, at U Mass Boston at the other end of the Red Line, and eventually it sent us both on to graduate school, where we became part of a third, or maybe fourth, fantastic community of creative musicians.

And that one ended too, because--as is inevitable in an academic community--people moved on, or graduated, or took other jobs, and such like. One of life's hugely crucial and unavoidable (but still sometimes, for some people, unlearnable) lessons is that positive situations end just as inevitably as do negative ones. The worst thing thing you can do with a magical situation is to try to clutch onto it, to freeze it, because you don't want it to end. And the best thing you can do with such a situation is to recognize its uniqueness, to engage with its magic as it is occurring. Only by learning to recognize the magic in situations, as they are occurring, do we begin to understand what makes them happen: to recognize the factors--chronological, biological, sociological, climatological, intellectual--that can combine to make a magical situation occur.

It happened again, late, in Bloomington, in the last couple of years before we departed; though, after 12 years, we (or I, anyway) had squeezed out of the situation most of what there was to learn before it too ended. My karma has been more directed toward new places, awkward places, places whose potential was nascent or non-existent--never already fully realized. We had begun to have an awareness of the ways in which situations are always inchoate--always coming into being and passing away.

That awareness in turn helps us use begin to use skillful means--a Buddhist premise which believes that positive, intelligent action toward the good is always possible--to shift pieces, or factors, or premises, in such a fashion that the odds of healthy, loving, connected community occurring are enhanced, and that access to such a community by the widest possible range of individuals is likewise enhanced, and that the chance of those persons carrying away this vision of a way to be is likewise enhanced.

By the time we moved here, to the Big Flat Place, we had begun to recognize, and to know, and to be able to work with, the factors that make human community happen. And so, when we set to work to create it, it happened a lot quicker, and a lot more openly, and with a lot healthier intention.

And the time passed so fast. 10 years in Lubbock feels like nothing so long as the 12 years in Bloomington. And that's not just because we are relatively happy here, and treated remarkably well, and no longer in that absolute cesspool of dysfunction which a place like Bloomington can be (and was).

It's also a result of just flat better understanding what's important in life, what creates human value and quality of life, of the things that have shaped us in the past and that we can use to shape our present and the present of the community around us.

And it means that sometimes, less often than we would pray but far more often than never, and in some of the ways that it was offered to us over and over and over again down through the decades, we can in turn offer community to those who need it.

"And when you get it right, you pass it on."

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