Category Archives: encouragement

Sir Terry Pratchett: Knight of the Light-Hearted

Julia and I rode around this weekend maintaining the balance between being inspiring and insipid, optimistic and pollyannaesque, we were assisted in our quest by listening to Stephen Briggs read Terry Pratchett’s novel Snuff.

Sir “Terry” Pratchett was a prolific humorist, who wrote mainly fantasy novels, especially about a Disc-world, which is a flat world held up by four elephants who are riding on a giant turtle’s back that is swimming through space. Although he also wrote for children, Sir Terry’s work offers adults ethics, wisdom, deep appreciation, and a poetic and philosophical perspective with a masterful comic wit. His book Snuff uses Goblins to personify the petty evils of racism and slavery. He champions women’s dignity and rights in Monstrous Regiment. He upholds the best of what it is to be human without the use of a soapbox, but with witches, blue tiny men with kilts and an array of more memorable characters than Dickens.

He published his first story at the age of 13, left school at 17 and became a journalist until his Disc-world fame allowed him to write full time. In his Who’s Who entry, he credited his education to Beaconsfield Public Library, where he read H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle and the like.

Towards the end of his life he developed Alzheimer’s disease, which he characterized as an “embuggerance”. He advised folks to “keep things cheerful”.  Of himself he said, “We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism.”   When he thought the condition was going to get much worse, he spoke out for assisted suicide, although he didn’t like the term; he was for going out with dignity.

Going out with dignity rather than suffering slowly is certainly something I support. And yet, he wanted to pull the curtain in 2009 and the book we just finished reading was published in 2011. Sir Terry, knighted in 2009, passed naturally last month on March 12. His last novel will be out in September and what it holds for us I feel was certainly worth him holding on for. His readers and I are grateful for his dedication, which brings a laughing light into the complexity of living.

May your week be something worth reading aloud when you come back to it in your mind.


“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.”

Terry Pratchett

“He will be much missed, but what a legacy of wit and good cheer he leaves us!”

Ursula Le Guin

“He wasn’t imagining an alternative universe; he was reimagining ours. His fantasies sit alongside – and are the equals of – those of Rabelais, Voltaire, Swift, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. He’s surely our most quotable writer after Shakespeare and Wilde. Granny Weatherwax’s definition of sin – “When you treat people as things” – is all you need to know about ethics.

Whereas all my beloved P G Wodehouses and Philip Pullmans are neatly arranged on the bookshelves, my Pratchetts are strewn under the beds, in the bathrooms, the glove compartments. They have shopping lists, takeaway orders and Scrabble scores scribbled on the fly leaves. They were part of life.”

Frank Cottrell Boyce

“Of all the writers I’ve read, Pratchett felt the most human. There was more truth in a single one of his humble satires than in a hundred volumes of poignant drama. Unlike most comedians—who use their humor like a weapon, always out for blood—Terry didn’t cut or bludgeon. He was far too clever for that. Instead, he’d slide down onto the bar stool beside us, drape his arm around us, and say something ridiculous, brilliant, and hilarious. Suddenly, the world would be a brighter place.

It wasn’t that he held back, or wasn’t—at times—biting. It’s just that he seemed to elevate every topic he touched, even when attacking it. He’d knock the pride and selfishness right out from underneath us, then—remarkably—we’d find ourselves able to stand without such things.

And we stood all the taller for it.

Sir Terry, you have my sincere thanks. I don’t think that, despite your many accolades, the world knows what it had in you.”

Brandon Sanderson

“The world has lost its bravest of knights.”

Terry Brooks

“Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. “

“The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.” –Terry Pratchett

Happy MLK Day! Wedging ourselves into the doorway of love

This weekend Julia and I had the pleasure of playing at a Folk Festival.  We were part of a songwriting competition.  We were grateful to be asked and got to play under a huge banyan tree, a living backdrop that made this the most amazing stage we have played on. We really allowed the songs we sang to not be about us exclusively and had a wondeful time. It was a pleasure to connect with so many beautiful songwriters and the people for whom music appreciation is not only a lifestyle but is life manifest.
The three judges announced their favorite three songwriters and we were happy for our friend who was among them.
Now, while I personally went though a sadness of not “winning” and noticed the thoughts that go with that dissappointment, I was keenly aware when one of the winners said to me, “You two (Julia and I) get to play together. Many of us have tried to make that work and weren’t able to. You are the real winners.”
The next day what stuck me was that it is great to win and to be recognized in a certain light, to be able to put things on your resume, but what is most vital is the ability to come back in with your love and delight, to honestly connect to the people around you, to see them, to build them up.  We all seemed to play from a relaxed place the next day and we got to hear some amazing songs from the heart.
All of this seems relavant today as I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of the men and women and children who persevered through doubt, sadness, humiliation and death to uphold their love and the belief that we can all be together, free to share the songs of our hearts.
Surely our troubles are very small compared to many who have plunged into the frey for freedom. Still, our struggles can seem insurmountable in the moment.  Here is to the bonds of friendship, family and even strangers who see our light and help us get back to a place of joyful strength.
My friend, the poet Ashby Lankford shared this MLK quote:
“I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
While this is more pertinent today, it holds up and holds us up.
We may see ourselves as winners or loosers but beyond all labels or external acknowledgement, it is about wedging ourselves into the doorway of love, to let the light come through as long as we can.

Stream of Light 1/13/15

We begin our journey beholden to those who care for us.
Our bond with to the earth originates with what we understand as an opening, a welcoming. 
Life pulses through our connection to nurturing love. 
Pardon the frailty, encourage the strength.
We are all colored within the onslaught of life’s stains but none of us can be so stained that, taken up by our true source, we would not cry away our hatred and ignorance.  
Our grasping at success, power, fame, is an attempt to reclaim our favored spot within the maternal embrace. Male or female is only assigned form.  The maternal welcomes, opens, initiates life. Over identification with the paternal has decreased our ability to perceive everything as everything.  Reinstating balance, we can reclaim our vastness.

Stream of Light 12-22-14

Where love imposes new ideas we cringe but in a more malleable state, concur.  
What is the essence of fear and dread?
Becoming inconsequential, as if we never were, insignificant.
Being separated, isolated, alone; 
Losing Love.
Bring what you have to the table.
Increase what is given to you by implementing the grace into something that is transferrable.
Listen to what comes through without needing to bully it into submission.
Contemplate what makes us recognizable to one another.
This voice, this smile.
Why are they different?
Who does the distinguishing?
Where our roots lie our potential for connection is deep but we vibrate at various frequencies. 
What catches us in fullness and allows for our greatest outpouring maybe outside of our heritage.  
(There is no outside within.)


Take up your post and beam out hope!

Sometimes it seems that we are placed within various mediums and appointed posts throughout the spectrum of humanities’ belief system to remind us that the stream flows through everything.
Cat Stevens seemed to disappear into Islam only to remerge as Yusef.  The Peace Train is still in motion with a voice that helps us understand the sweet breadth and depth of Muslims in our midst, while laying down tracks to the universal depot.
My good friend Jordan Anderson seemed to disappear into Hip-Hop only to reemerge as Zwill. His latest video “Don’t Trip” is a call out to those struggling with sadness and isolation; a rope of hope on the waters of despair.
“Hold on just when your loosing your grip.”
“I can hear your voice I can hear your distant yell and I’m sending love to your every little cell.”
“Whatever shit your facing, never get to hating. There’s no such thing as problems, only situations. So face them, embrace them, even when your aching. Stay moving. Be patient. Keep waiting.  Whose advice have you been taking? ‘Cause first it fits great and then it starts chaffing. So take it off. Let your mind get naked.  Skinny dip, the water’s amazing.
Don’t you think our little blue dot is worth saving? That’s what I’m saying.
Whatever continent you stay in, I’m praying that we can join up on occasion and purify the water when the clouds start raining.
Life is heavy but as much as it’s weighing, there’s strength you haven’t even touched yet, I see it there. And when it hurts, at least your still breathing air.
I send you love, may you always be aware.” – Zwill
” Self-scrutiny, relentless observance of one’s thoughts, is a stark and shattering experience.  It pulverizes the stoutest ego. But true self-analysis mathematically operates to produce seers. … Man can understand no eternal verity until he has freed himself from pretensions. The human mind, bared to a centered slime, is teeming with the repulsive life of countless world-delusions. Struggles of the battlefield pale into insignificance here, when man first contends with inner enemies! … The one who practices a scalpel self-dissection will know an expansion of universal pity. Release is given him from the deafening demands of his ego.”
– Tall wandering sadhu talking to the young Yogananda from
Autobiography of a Yogi
Those that have wrestled with their angels and seen the intertwined suffering of the chain we have unwittingly wrapped around one another, can believe that it is merely depression they struggle with. As artists in our various mediums, from carpenters to teachers, therapists, musicians, actors, illustrators, instructors, mothers, fathers… we are vulnerable to what we perceive and what we hope to see for those we love and want to share our love with.
Here are
We can see within their ranks those who have provided us with strong tools to mine some laughing sanity in the shuffling madness*.
Douglas Adams- Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy…
Woody Allen- Midnight in Paris…
Agatha Christie- Poirot and Miss Marple…
Charles Dickens-  The Pickwick Papers…
T.S. Elliot- Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
Vincent Van Gough- Starry Night…
Michalangelo- David…
Abraham Lincoln-  Emancipation Proclamation…
(*- reference to Locomotive Breath/ Jethro Tull)
Let’s take up our posts and beam out a message of hope for those who think they are in the void alone.


Juggling The Matzo Ball Soup Theory

My friend Aldene Burton had what he called the Matzo ball Soup theory, which was if you are traveling along and desire matzo ball soup then you will start to see deli’s that you may have passed a thousand times before without noticing.  Albert Einstein said that “mass and energy are both but different manifestations of the same thing,” and Marianne Willamson said, “You can live your life out of a circumstance or your life out of a vision.”
Now juggling these three concepts it occurs to me that we can begin to trust the process of focusing on what we only hope to see in our day to day reality without having to give in to the ItWillNeverWork! doubts and old tapes that vy for our attention.  Awakening to a desire for peace or a success that includes bringing happiness to others, for example,  will open our eyes to ways to succeed despite any roadblocks we have previously and routinely put in our way such as age, time restrictions, insecurity, painful history, and the thousand excuses that keep us mired in the laundry reality.  In our society, there is a strong undertow that suggests we are not enough, that we need to be constantly knocking on other people’s doors in the hopes that they will open up and recognize our worth. Even when this happens, it doesn’t mean that we will acknowledge it ourselves.
Walt Whitman in his Leaves of Grass, reminds us of what we are inherent to and what  grandeur we embody:
“Any man or woman shall stand cool and supercilious before a million universes…
I hear and behold God in every object, yet I understand God not in the least, Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.  Why should I wish to see God better than this day? I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then, In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass;  I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God’s name, And I leave them where they are, for I know that others will punctually come forever and ever.”
-Walt Whitman
Old Walt, singing the body electric, increased his desire to see God’s letters and finds them in the street, he sees the matzo ball soup within himself and knows that he is the hub of the wheeled universe!  or as my good friend Marc Rosenberg once said:
“I am the pizza I ordered!”


Drake-ness and broad wholeness of being

I have been thinking of my friend Drake like picking up on a strong radio signal recently so when he called last night I wasn’t surprised but delighted.  Drake has been a living bridge between my wildest bohemian stance and my potential spiritual actualization.  We have always bonded in the present and regardless of time, what we hold is the assurance of each other’s wholeness.
He had just been on a tour into the South with his mother and had seen his family and heritage, including slave shacks.  He was struck by how little time had passed since these things had taken place.  He also reflected that the poverty and despair that linger are a way of looking at the world.  It becomes a mind set to break out of.  When he thought of his own struggle, working too hard, barely getting by, he set himself on his entirety.  “I have matured to the point of being in my full Drake-ness,” he said.  I love this.  This persona is an opportunity in motion! He encouraged me to become so broad that I can embrace the wholeness of my being.  “Let’s really be who we are this year,” he said.
Today, we are going to see our friend Daniel Cainer  who is here from London with an extended run of his Jewish Chronicles at the Soho Playhouse in NYC.  Daniel is a poignant and poetic singing storyteller who relates his history in a way that upholds all of humanity through a Jewish lens.  He has a song about how he played in Germany where there were no Jews.  He was asked to be part of an world arts festival.  He was well received but was struck by how the people he met actively denied and distanced themselves from their grandparents and what they did while he actively embraced who his grandparents were.
There is much to be gleaned from history and if we can stave off the negative mind set, we can liberate ourselves and those around us by upholding our light.
“Let’s really be who we are this year.”
– Drake Powe

Empowerment on the road and in the ‘field’.

Julia and I went down to Baltimore for a couple of shows and had a showcase Monday night. Annalise Emerick was also featured.  She is a full time musician from Nashville and with the first word she sang, I knew she was great but felt comforted.  It made me feel we could open with something that had more depth rather than feeling we had to come out just ‘entertaining.’  Afterwards, we all had a great discussion with Jim Patton and Sherry Brokus who performed after us.  Annalise said (essentially) that she was tired of the paradigm where everyone elbowed each other out of the way to get closer to the top. She has decided that helping each other is healthier and provides more sanity and a richer experience on the road.  We agreed, we are out here making music as a way to uplift those around us and encourage more connection.  This lesson was accentuated by Jim and Sherry who offered us a showcase in the convention we are going to in February.  This may have been the reason why we went down to Baltimore and without this positive bonding interaction, we would have missed it.
The next morning over breakfast, one of our gracious hosts, Eric Reisman, talked about his desire to encourage empowerment over cynicism and overcome our social instinct to show we are strong by cutting each other down.  I told him our housemate George experienced this as a stand-up comedian going from an open mic where everyone was performing and no one was supporting anyone else to being in an improve troupe where there was empowerment and validation for succeeding.  This helped him go back to the open mic with a new open confidence that had the others coming up to him to validate that he had been successful that night and was improving. He in turn supported them and the isolation was dissipated.
On the way home yesterday, we listened to Daniel Ingram, who talked about enlightenment and how that entailed opening your mind beyond the thought that there is a central observer; that we are the point of causality but in fact are a part of a field of awareness that can become aware of itself. In Buddhism they call the first stage of enlightenment, “Stream entry” which I didn’t know before my friend Jenny Jennings Foerst turned me onto it a few days ago.  Daniel said once you have entered it is like you are a freshman in college;  yes, you are in college but you still have more to learn and see.  What I found fascinating was there are fetters to escape like greed and hate but there are goals that have no end point such as “How much kindness can you bestow?” “How much can you help to heal the world?” There is always room for improvement and refinement.
Overall, the weekend lifted us out of ourselves enough to cheer us on to the next chapter together.
May your week be enhanced by empowering those around you!
Love you, Ira