Music, Memories, and My Evolushun

No, I didn’t spell anything incorrectly, but I appreciate your concern.

This podcast brings me great joy with a mild bite of bittersweet harmonic distortion.

It begins with an a cappella group in which I sang with wonderful friends and musicians.  Really, wonderful.

It continues with the friend (…and musician…) with whom I share the most history.  RJ is my brother.  But RJ is also the person who encouraged me to explore my art, my craft, and the endeavors that fill my soul and connect me with the ever-present universe.  I love RJ, and if you don’t already, you will here.  (If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to travel back and listen to the first three podcasts with RJ: Me, You, and RJ Down By the Schoolyard, Lay Off Ringo, Will Ya?!, and Will Somebody Shut That Bird Up?!  Really, awesome stuff.  Then come back to this.)

It ends with Evolushun (…that’s the a cappella group, and thus the spelling situation…), RJ on percussion, Paul on bass, and a jazzy jawn assuredly on fleek.

Thank you.

I love you.

-G

Crippling Self Doubt
I wish it were less true.

Driven to Unplug

Hi.

How are you?

Me?  I’m fine.

I’m leaving Pittsburgh for about a week, heading into the forest.  I’ll have minimal to negligible internet access.

So here’s what I’m going to do.  Tomorrow, I’ll release a lovely podcast recorded with R.J., who you either know or remember from several months back.  I’ll also release a few old tunes recorded with an a cappella group in which I sang.  These recordings were long lost, but now are found.  They bring me warm, wonderful memories…and you’ll get to hear a few.  That’s fun, right?

There will be no D2D post Wednesday, August 3rd and there will be no podcast on Saturday, August 6th.  However, there will be new stories, poems, memoir essays, and anecdotes resuming August 10th.  Additionally, we’ll revisit Jim and Jen on the 13th and they will attempt to convince me that Grease 2 is awesome…and I will get drunker and drunker.

Thank you all for spending time with me.

Take care.

-G

Be Back

Art is Relationship

Art is relationship.

Art is communication.

Art is born of the awareness that we are expressions of the universe attempting to express universal awareness.

Each of us is an artist, touching the collective soul, just as each of us is art, painted upon the canvas of space-time, animated by improbable chaos and set gently upon earth.

I am Shakespeare, Mozart, Coltrane, Dali…

I am prose and I am poetry.

I am jazz, pop, and the sweetest folk ballad played flawlessly upon an anonymous mandolin…

I am abstract, cubist, whimsical, and starkly realistic within.

I am cast upon a green screen, improvising each scene found….

I am a grid, unconventionally bound.

I am a seeker of Truth, a psychic explorer, a servant to all…

I am a festival, a masquerade ball.

And you?

You are all of these things and more.  We are, each of us, that which composes all that we experience superficially.

Make your art, today.

Encourage others to also have their say.

The world is best served this way.

Humanity heals this way.

The Truth is revealed.

I pray.

-G

swirl
Uncredited Swirl

Prinsanity (Llewellynsanity, pt 3)

Here it is, the final installment of Llewellynsanity, and I can now write the name Llewellyn without using Google for the assist.

Practice, my friends, makes perfect.  Well, better.  Practice makes better.

We began in part one by introducing Jim to the D2D world, which is a small but significant world, then moved to Tim Minchin in part two.  Here in part three, Jim blew me away.  At the time of the recording, my brain swimming in many ounces of sugared whiskey, I had no idea what was happening.  However, upon recent review, it hit me that Jim completed the arc of his response to my question, “For you, who is the heir apparent to Prince?” in a manner that would garner high scores even from the finicky French judges.  (I don’t know why I just used an obscure and non sequitur figure skating reference, but now you know, and knowing, as G.I. Joe once quipped, is half the battle.  [But you know what?  Knowing is NOT actually half the battle.  It’s like step 2 of a 10 part battle. <A battle of what?  I don’t know {Yikes, this is getting away from me quickly.  Let’s reel all of these embedded phrases back in.}]>)  There we go.

And as Jim attempts to complete his thought, I continue to interrupt and drop bits of irrelevant knowledge like this: My flaccid penis is about the size of Lenny Kravitz’s flaccid penis.

Yeah.  So…umm…speaking of…musicians with penises…who make music…that brings us to…

Music!  At the beginning, you’ll hear me playing around with multi-track recording, beat boxing, a steel pan, and editing functions in Audacity.  At the end, how better to end this insanity with Jamiroquai, “Virtual Insanity.”  None better.  That’s the answer.  None better.

This one goes to 11.

We present to you, “Prinsanity (Llewellynsanity, pt 3).”

 

Lenny's dick
Don’t worry, you can find the unedited image.

Tales of an Inclusion Therapist: Kevin’s World

As you likely know, I’m a speech/language pathologist…but really I’m an inclusion therapist who focuses on communication, community, and relationships.  I try, when possible, to meet children and adults where they are, in self-chosen real-life contexts which require nuance, awareness, and improvisation.  That’s life, really.  Improvisation.  As much as anyone tries to plan and make the world predictable, the ability to improvise and maintain some semblance of sanity and happiness in a chaotic, unpredictable, ever-unfolding lifespace is the best that any of us can do.  That endeavor is challenging for most of us, much of the time.  For certain populations, however, it’s nearly impossible, nearly always.  I try to build social bridges between and among the individuals who I serve to maximize each person’s joy and satisfaction…including my own.

But enough of the philosophy lesson.  You’re here for a story, and I’m here to deliver it.

Setting: A university-based Summer arts camp for children

Scene: American Sign Language class

Protagonist: Kevin

Antagonist: Also Kevin

Narrator: Gregory (that’s me)

The students, aged 8 – 10, have been practicing the John Mayer song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” for an upcoming performance.  Additionally, they’re learning weather and seasonal signs.  Because…I don’t know, the weather also changes?  And, as is inevitable in such a class, the children ask a slew of, “How do you say/sign…?” questions.  Isn’t that what we all do while learning a new language?  Ask about very specific things that motivate each of us most.

Waiting on the World to Change?  Fine, I guess.  Tornado?  Meh.  Tsunami?  Whatevs.  But hey, how do you say Pokemon in sign language?  How about grand slam homerun? Rainbow Dash?  Who’s John Mayer anyway?

And so, in the midst of this activity, Kevin’s hand goes up.

Kevin has an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.  Kevin also, I suspect, might be dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder with a healthy dollop of hyperactivity.  Sensory processing differences?  Yep.  I don’t know if I’ve ever observed Kevin not moving. (Like, a lot.)  And ultimately, his brain-to-mouth filter is as flimsy as a wet single ply dollar store paper towel.

Kevin has a TSS.  That’s a therapeutic staff support person.  Kevin’s TSS, Kara, sits 5 seats away from him.  She does her job exceptionally well.  When Kevin needs her, she’s there.  When he doesn’t, she’s background.  Today, there’s a teacher in front of the class.  Also, two camp counselors, another TSS, and me.  So, she’s made the professional and prescriptive choice, and a valid one at that, to be background.

Kevin is sitting right up front.  While signing the weather words, he makes every instance of rain into a violent storm, every Springtime flower emergence into a 8x fast-forward time-lapse forestation, every tsunami into a…really quite dramatically big tsunami.  With sound effects.  Kev is the sole writer, director, producer, actor, and foley artist of his world.

So the questions are flying.  “How do you say meteor shower?”  “How do you say maelstrom?”  “How do you say meteorologist?”  These are smart kids.

Kevin’s hand is up.

“Kevin?”  the teacher initiates.

Here Kevin’s voice drops to just above the noise level of the window air conditioning unit.  He’s up to something.  Fortunately, I’m sitting very near him, and I hear, “How do you say asshole?”

The teacher steps from behind her podium.  “I’m sorry Kevin, I missed that.  Can you say it louder?”

Oh.  He can.

“How…do you say…ASSHOLE?”

And across the campus pins drop with the power of a Kevin-created tornado, crickets chirp like echolalic thunder, and I stifle an outburst of laughter.

The TSS is red-faced, incapable of doing anything.  Even if she were sitting on top of him, he was going to give this question a shot.  What self-respecting class-clown/smartass wouldn’t?!

The teacher responds swiftly, sternly, and moves immediately forward, averting any additional comments or chaos…and the world turns.  The pins, now silently strewn about the floor, are collected.  The crickets return to their quiet place, waiting in the wings.

Kevin smiles, the king of his world.

And on the inside, I continue to laugh.

Like an asshole.

-G

JOhn Mayer
Meowin’ on the Meow to Meow

Tim Minchinsanity (Llewellynsanity, pt 2)

The title.  Again.  I know.

I gave up the “search engine optimization” game long, long ago.

If you know me, and if you read these essays and listen to these podcasts, thank you.

If you found me through a friend, or a friend of a friend, or some similar path, thank you.

If I found you with the several dollars spent on Facebook advertising, thank me.  (But seriously, thank you.)

Or…if you happened to be bobbing up and down in the vast ocean we call the internet, or interweb, or interwebs, or whatever the fuck you call it, a tiny little piece of sand in an ever expanding informational black hole, and if you searched for something using Google, or Bing, or whatever search engine you’ve decided upon whilst flying in the face of Googlebiquity and Bingsanity, thus bringing you to my little digital cubby, and if you stuck around, I’m fucking amazed.  Perhaps a little sorry for you.  But ultimately, thank you.

And what about this podcast?

Well, Jim introduced us to Tim Minchin.

And Tim Minchin absolutely floored us.

As did Jim, because Jim is also a thoughtful, bright, talented, funny man…albeit without the recognition of Minchin, who really isn’t all that recognizable unless you’re looking for him.  But if you’re here, and if you’re reading this you must be, let us introduce you. To Tim.  And let us reacquaint you.  With Jim.  And let them entertain you.  Him, and him.

We listen to, “Come Home,” then, “Three Minute Song,” then, “Ten Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins.”  And under my introduction to the podcast, you’ll here the aforementioned Minchin singing, “Heaven on Their Minds,” as Judas Iscariot from Jesus Christ: Superstar.

And here.  Now.  We present to you…that fucking preposterous title up there.  Thank you.

T.Hanks
Not Tim Minchin

Freedom

My knowledge, perspective, beliefs, values, personality, and my very self-definition all developed as a result of a lifetime of explicit training, relationships, and experiences. “Gregory” was, and still is, a complex accumulation of inputs and sensory experiences across a lifetime.  As recently as several months ago, however, I believed “Gregory” to be a permanent, unchanging, unchangeable, fully autonomous, independent being.  Actually, I didn’t think much about it, but my behaviors revealed an unconscious belief that I knew every damn thing.  Specifically, that I was a thing separate and unique, fully formed, conceived, and unlike anything else.  Walking the earth, but entirely separate from the earth.  Born from my parents and unto the earth, but not of them.  A being, disconnected from every other being around me.

Gregory…was wrong.

I knew what I knew…but I didn’t really know.

That which I believed to be true and permanent about me, you, and everything has been fairly abruptly shattered by recent experiences along with heavy doses of deep, soulful, meditative self-reflection.

I’m likely still (mostly) wrong, but I’m certain that I’ve at least inched toward Truth.

As I reflect upon my experiences, interactions, observations, and reflections, the following statements seem, now, undeniable:

  1. If one interacts with a child as if she is broken, she will absorb that belief and grow into some version of it.
  2. If one approaches a person as if he were insignificant, he will fade and move forward as if it were his own failure.
  3. If one responds to people as if they are inferior, they will wear that attitude like a truism.

None of this acknowledges another, equally debilitating impact.

  1. When one leverages any manner of abuse on another, one imposes the very same damage on oneself.

Really.

Perhaps you might pay close attention to how you feel, both emotionally and physiologically, the next time you behave from a foundation of anger, or anxiety, or judgment.  Attend to the muscles around your eyes, your spine, your jaw; attend to your heart rate, your breathing pattern; attend to the motor errors you make (e.g. banging your knee, dropping your phone, getting into a fender bender).

All of that?

That’s damage.  Real damage that is shaving minutes off of your eventual life and causing actual pain and disease right now.

The trick, and it’s sometimes impossible at best, is to bring oneself into the present moment by returning to the breath (…or whatever method comes easiest…) and treating each of those moments as the only moment.  Each previous moment has passed.  Each upcoming moment is unborn and unknown.  Here and now.

Each of us has the opportunity for rebirth, for monumental change, for joy, for realization, and enlightenment.  Because it is…now.

A child-like discovery with every breath.

What is the purpose of stereotyping, generalizing, and basing human interactions upon fickle beliefs and feelings, past challenges or the prospect of future discomfort?

To avoid pain?

To avoid sorrow?

To avoid the potential of a truth incompatible with one’s current worldview?

To avoid death?

Yes, all of these things.

Avoiding.

But what use is avoidance? What are the actual ends that seemingly justify these means?

You will still, no matter how diligently you attempt to avoid them, experience pain, sorrow, change, and death.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

But not really.  Not at all.

The key is to stop avoiding.  Stop hiding in the darkness of some emotional bunker carved out by years of justifiable but nonetheless counterproductive fear, worry, and anger.

Try instead, it seems, to encounter.

Encounter pain…and healing.

Encounter joy…and sorrow.

Encounter lies…and truth.

Encounter life…and death.

If you might, grant unconditional permission to be whatever the universe intended when it expressed itself as me, as you, as him, her, it, that, and everything.

If one interacts with a child as if she were perfectly as the universe expressed…

If one approaches a person as if he were as significant as all things, which is perfectly significant…

…only then will we find freedom aligning with ultimate Truth.

At least, it seems that way to me.

-G

freedom-8-8-12-1
(Freedom Sculpture, Zenos Frudakis)

Llewellynsanity, pt 1

I know, that title, right?!

It’s actually kind of clever, proven all the more by the fact that I’m going to explain it to you.

The upcoming podcasts will involve my wife (…finally back on the podcast…) and my old friend, Jim Llewellyn. That’s a fantastic Welsh name. Makes me want to eat bangers and mash, or whatever the fuck the Welsh eat. Phonetically, you’d say, “Loo-Wellin,” and the word “insanity” begins with the very syllable that ends Jim’s very Welsh name. There’s also the whole Jeremy Lin thing, which you’d know if you were really into basketball, pop culture phenomena, and/or the exploits of very tall Chinese-American Christians. “Linsanity” was a thing.

And now? Llewellynsanity.

What is Llewellynsanity all about?

I’m glad you asked.

First, the fact that Jim is a mental health professional brings an immediate layer of profundity to the endeavor, doesn’t it?

(No, I know…it’s just a cheap Dad-joke punchline.)

Also, there’s the topical smorgasbord of friendship origin stories; unusual affectations involving pacifiers, Amish beards, and other non sequitur paraphernalia; a cappella animosities; encounters with cannabis, and a Jerry Garcia doppelganger. (Those final two things really make sense together, no? Also, there are no animosities, I just liked the alliteration of the phrase.)

So hey, why not give this a listen.

We begin with a story, “Where In the World Is Carmen San Diego,” by Rockapella, and we conclude with a bar bell and, “Spread Love” by Take 6.

Truly, good stuff.

We present to you, “Llewellynsanity, pt 1.”

where-in-the-world-is-carmen-sandiego_2

Moses Chege

I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya between 2000 and 2002.

Twenty-seven total months in country.

Three months at the training center in the stunningly beautiful town of Naivasha.  That training center, by the way, was named Malaika, which means “angel” in Kiswahili.

Then, twenty-four months as a Deaf education volunteer at a school constructed atop a lush mountain, one hour’s hike from the nearest paved road and a five-minute stroll from one of the most powerful waterfalls I’d ever experienced, near the town of Murang’a.

The gig required that I become as fluent as possible with Kenya Sign Language as well as spoken Kiswahili.  Additionally, I needed to learn basic greetings and simple small talk in Kikuyu, the mother tongue of the same-named tribe among whom I’d be living.  In addition to teaching whatever subjects were required, I would also engage in HIV/AIDS education as well as girl empowerment endeavors.  What I never could have anticipated is the fact that I would be unwittingly ushered into the world of Autism as well.

Kenya is one of several British post-colonial remnants of Europeans chopping up the continent of Africa as if it were a disputed garden plot.  Kenyan society as I found it in 2000 was a complex interplay of various tribal histories, British rule and ravage, and a monotheistic, predominantly Christian battle for the souls of previously unassuming, culturally rich, animistic people.

One vestige of British rule included an authoritarian, punitive, hierarchical, almost caste-driven school system.  Things were done a certain way, and any aberration from the norm was met with vitriol and violence, public reprimand and shaming.

So in steps Gregory Del Duca.  A progressive white guy from the United States.  An idealist.  I wanted these children to learn, to communicate, to achieve their unique dreams, to stand up and speak up, to challenge unfair and inappropriate authority…in other words, to be precisely NOT Kenyan in so many ways.  (On a side note, perhaps the greatest lesson of spending 2+ years in such an unfamiliar and different culture was the nuance, sensitivity, and patience required of serving people while not falling into the cross-cultural comparison trap.  That is, a foundational attitude that my way is better than your way.)

The children came to like me.  Some of them loved me…and I them.  But they often laughed at me, the message clearly, “Ah Gregory.  Mwalimu. (Teacher) Mzee. (Elder)  You are asking us to be that which we are not, and that is impossible.  Please just give us all of you and allow us to be what we will, what we must.”

But there was Moses Chege.

Moses Chege would never, under any circumstances, look an adult in the eyes…or even the facial region.  He flinched.  A lot.  I saw Moses whipped daily with a switch, which was the most popular form of punishment for insubordination.  Seemingly indiscriminantly.  If there were no switch immediately available, a belt.  If neither a switch nor a belt, an open hand.  I never knew what he’d done wrong, and I didn’t know the other children well enough, nor did I have fluency enough with their particular Kenya Sign Language vernacular to communicate with them.  I wasn’t yet familiar, wasn’t yet trusted.  So when I approached him…he flinched.  Or he ran and hid.  Or all three.  Moses didn’t really hang out with his male peers, but several of the girls took care of him, soothed him, provided maternal support, and friendship.  These were the only humans permitted to touch Moses, the only faces at which Moses would look, and communicate directly.

I had Moses in my class.  Grade 4.

When we had art class, all of the students would compose scenes as they’d been taught by previous teachers.  There was no individual creativity…only factual, soulless scenes from daily life.  These children literally didn’t know how to express themselves through art.  No, that’s not quite right.  Rather, they were so completely discouraged from doing so that they seemed to have forgotten.  Except Moses.  (And yes, he was beaten for this as well.)  On a wall, among various renderings of shambani (farms), traditional families, agricultural animals, and streams, there would be stark, mesmerizing pieces of emotional abstractism.  Deep, dramatic, moody tones separated by thick black outlines…as if Moses were focusing his inner vision on various emotionally-tinted stained glass windows and then zooming in and out.  Moses’ art captured me, and it gave me an insight into his mind that I wasn’t able to recognize in any of his other behavior.

I asked Mercy, one of the most maternal, confident, and expressive girls in the class, and thus prophetically named, to help me talk with Moses about his art.  I communicated how much I adored his vision.  Eventually, he peaked up at me, a brief smile flittered across his face and his eyes cleared for a second…then a flinch and a retreat.

We continued forward in this fashion, Moses trusting me a little more day by day, week by week, month by month.  I, for my part, honoring and cherishing the relationship and meeting Moses wherever Moses needed me to be along the way.

Eventually, I accepted the responsibility of organizing the school’s yearly play.

In Kenya, the annual drama was wrought with the same post-colonial structure which dictated the students’ art and expression within the confines of the curriculum and larger school culture.  The stock drama was much like a Tyler Perry play, except without any of the humor or music.  It was really just a tragedy that ended with someone dying of AIDS and everyone accepting Jesus.  But not really Jesus.  This was pseudo Christianity that the proselytizing, missionary Wazungu (white people) had managed to miscommunicate and misappropriate through violence, coercion, non-native languages and a complete ignorance of cultural or historical sensibilities.  (This is to say neither that Kenyan Christians are not Christians nor that their beliefs are invalid, but rather that the tactics of early colonialists and missionaries were far from Christian and often inhumane and degrading.)

At the school, we had one communal television and a VHS player.  There was a small library of movies and an antenna that would inconsistently pick up signals from the capital city of Nairobi.  These wonderful, expressive, beautiful Deaf children had come to adore Mr. Bean, Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, the Three Stooges, and all manner of physical humor and storytelling.

I introduced them to the picture book, “Caps for Sale.”  I performed it, and they loved it.  We reimagined it as an ensemble play, and we performed our interpretation in front of an adoring, attentive, and enthused student body while the hearing educators and administration stood around the edges confused at best, offended at worse.

I didn’t care…because my students didn’t care.

And there, on a table which stood in front of a poorly constructed but passionately created set involving just a large, misshapen tree and several other pieces which implied an isolated grassy spot, stood Moses Chege.  The lead monkey.

He stomped his feet in cheeky mockery of the peddler, played brilliantly by a mustachioed Mercy.  (God, that name was so fitting.)  He gnashed his teeth, pointed, howled, mimicked Mercy…and he tossed his red cap to the floor after she, the peddlar, exasperated by the situation, tossed her checkered cap to the ground.

Moses…proud, creative, accepted, loved; no longer flinching, no avoidance of visual regard, no more hiding; in front of a paper and cardboard tree that included his bold colors, outlined dramatically in black…his inner vision now public spectacle…a mosaic of many months as he embraced himself and his community.  And they him.

And me…unable to comprehend the depth and profundity of those years spent in Murang’a.

Now I know.  Now I embrace all manner of diversity, oddity, unusualness, creativity, and atypicality.

Now I am ready for the lessons of Moses Chege.

-G

Kenya_flag_map

I Drink 2 4get…(Chirdonathon, pt 7)

This is it.  Here we complete the 26th mile of the Chirdonathon, cross the finish line, and receive the oxygen and hydration we so desperately require.

(I know, the analogy doesn’t really work, but I’m going with it.  Except not anymore.  You’re welcome.)

Jeff recently moved to Ohio.

Greg apparently has opinions of Ohio drivers.

And Jeff, in a whirlwind of quotable genius, utters a series of bumper sticker phrases pointing a harsh finger at the state whose motto should be, “Even With God, All Things Are Assuredly NOT Possible.”

  1.  Ohio: Barely Not Juggalo.
  2. My fiancé: Ohio is killing her.
  3. Ohio: Count the cars that don’t have a bumper.  At all.
  4. Ohio: If your seat belt clicks and your car hasn’t exploded, you can drive that death trap.

Pennyslvania, and Pittsburgh in particular, wasn’t left unscathed. Heather here coins the phrase:

  1. The Pittsburgh Left: You Must Hate Your Passenger.

(Greg agrees.)

And to complete the topical smorgasbord of non sequitur cultural taboo, we discuss Prince, Bill Cosby, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, white rappers, and, yet again, Frankenhooker.

Fun.

Times.

We present to you, “I Drink 2 4get…(Chirdonathon, pt 7).”

And the music…still Prince.  We’ll begin with “Pope,” and end with a killer live version of, “Alphabet Street.”  And in the episode you’ll hear, “Gett Off,” “CREAM,” and “Sexy Mother Fucker.”  Shaking that ass, shaking that ass, shaking that ass.

It’s still hard to imagine he’s gone.

-G

elephant drink