Basket of Strange, or, Busking at BART

I understand why there are always buskers at Civic Center BART. Great tips, but a very gritty place. I think the best thing about it is that we’re all equals there. Literally every class of transit rider goes through there, from the sharp suits to the homeless. You have to be able to hold your own, because you’re on your own there, but people will talk to you, and they’ll even stand and listen. It is the only BART station where I’ve been able to hold any sort of audience.

Timing matters. Rush hour is rush hour wherever you stand. When the majority of the people are in commuterspace, everyone will catch the vibe and keep moving. Since I have a long corridor to catch their ears, they’ll tip anyway, and it’s a rare person who will stop. Midday, there are long pauses between the flow of people. Since there’s a public telephone and an electrical connection there, it’s a community resource as well and when the flow of people is low, people will use those things.

Yesterday it was like a community room. When I got there a guy was sitting there painting a design on his messenger bag. When I started playing, he gave me a dirty look and packed up. Then two kids came by to charge their phones and talk. They gave me a glimpse of community, as people they knew kept passing by. It didn’t hurt that they liked what they were hearing and told me so. It was valuable experience for me, learning how to make space to play while keeping up an intermittent conversation. Another guy set up panhandling down the corridor from me, and he also wanted to talk. In the end, I played him to sleep, which was a good feeling. He’d given me a catalog of who played down here and what he thought of them in the meantime, which was also an interesting window on the world. I also had another busker come up and tell me what was what. He was trying to intimidate me out of the space, and was a bit put out when it didn’t work. But this isn’t the first time that’s happened, and there is space enough for all.

Really, there is space enough for all of us, no matter who we are or how unusual we are. That’s a hard truth to hold on to in a world where life is getting harder and the pressure to conform has real teeth in it. You pay a price for nonconformity in any age, but lately it’s been getting steeper. There are more of us out on the streets, and the lines we are supposed to stay inside are brighter and clearer every day.

I think the price of staying inside them is higher, personally. The rewards of knowing who you are are much greater. The older I get, the more I see this. My closet may be full of strange clothes–but I like them. My house may not have a fashionable address, but when I step inside I’m home. My books surround me right now, the most interesting wallpaper I can imagine. And my head is full of music. All the time. The more I stand in those BART stations, the more the songs come back to me, like a flock of birds, coming home to roost, flying out into the world and perhaps resting in someone else’s head for a moment, or for longer. The older faces that tip me often have a secret smile on their faces when I sing something like “Bread and Roses,” or “Matty Groves,” and I know they remember too.

Where have you crossed the lines? What magic have you discovered outside them? How can you bring it back into the world?

We Are The Groundbreakers

We all stand on the shoulders of others. We can see farther because we have their revelations to build on. If we listen, and learn, we might just be lucky enough to carry the whole species forward. Today, what I’ve heard and read has made me feel that we can carry the whole planet forward, that we’re going to make the right choices and do the tasks that are set before us.

I heard an amazing broadcast this morning: Re-creating the world with Michael Meade and then I read an amazing post: We Are Still in the Pagan Playground so Let’s Play!

These led me back even farther, to college and some of the ideas I was exposed to there. Years ago, my favorite archaeology teacher gave me a real touchstone. She spoke of the excessive weight given to what she called origin myths. The farther back you can push a bit of knowledge, the truer it is seen to be and the greater its importance. She thought that that obscured, rather than revealed the truth, and that lecture taught me to peel back the layers till I get to the kernel of the matter ever since.

So paradoxically, we need the past to build on, but we can never get too comfortable with what appears to be the truth. The one sure thing about the truth is that it’s ever-shifting. To pin it down and write it in a book and assume that that’s the end of it is to kill it. That leads me to yet another thing I learned in school. At San Francisco State I was lucky enough to have a number of very good instructors, who knew their business and gave me not truths, but ideas. My Celtic literature instructor told us the Druidic idea that the knowledge travels on the breath, that to write it down is to kill it. But she also told us how the Druids had learned from literate cultures the value of writing down knowledge, lest it be lost completely if all the holders were killed. So we have the great books of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where Tales we would likely not know otherwise were written down in the shape they held in the time they were recorded. She was also wise enough to let me write a song rather than a paper for my final project, which allowed me to experience this truth firsthand, and helped me create the musical path I walk today.

A Tale, after all, is always the same, unchanged. Good fortune accrues to the listener and the teller when it is told truly and completely. As my Irish dance teacher told us, the steps are always the same. Then she’d show us how the step was done in the north, in her youth, and how it was done in the south–though it was of course the same step. In the same way, the Cattle Raid of Cooley is the same whether it comes from the Book of Leinster or Morgan Llywelyn’s _Red Branch_. The wonder of our age is that we can see these versions side by side and hold the paradox in our hands. We can see the relationship of truth and idea, and how they are shaped as they pass through time. Is this what the Druids who understood the value and the necessity of recording their knowledge knew, and was this the fruit of their labors that they never saw in the way we can with all the examples we now have but which they were prescient enough to envision?  

Knowledge is carried on the breath, the world is a never ending story. Anyone who’s ever meditated realizes how pervasive that voice in our minds is, how difficult it can be to even become fully aware of it and taste the silence between its stories. Once again, paradox. Thoughts are sources of wisdom, but they should never be allowed to be our masters. In his broadcast, Michael Meade told a wonderful story of an old woman in a cave who wove a beautiful garment. When it was unraveled completely, she took the end of the thread and began to remake it, the wisdom she had gained the last time she wove it only adding to its beauty. He illuminated the great crossroads we stand at for me, as well as the process we are going through in order to create the new world that is in the process of being born. Can any of us doubt that the world is falling apart even as we speak? Things we were once so sure of are threatened, and in some cases literally swept away. We are left to pick up the pieces and build again. Destruction and creation are one and the same and that is a good thing. Life is a journey, a story, a process.

The image of the birch, the first tree in the ogham, the colonizer of new ground came to me as I read the words of Damh the Bard. All the beautiful ideas of the modern Pagan movement are seeds falling on fertile soil. We draw from our past the mythology and wisdom that is there, but at our best we are growing community that is solidly rooted in this time and place. We’re still in the beginning, we are tending the first trees growing in this new time. This is a powerful, wonderful time, and I feel very lucky to be alive now as this next cycle is shaped. This new knowledge is every bit as authentic and valid as the long-established roots of the yew, and only time will test it fully. But the beginning is now. After all, when we reach the last tree of the ogham, it’s time to go back to the beginning and take up the birch again, bringing the learning to the next level.

I follow a Pagan path, by and large, but it is only a shell within the Unitarianism I was raised in. Try as I might, I can’t find the edges of that idea. I can’t really call it a belief system because I can’t think of anything we believe in, except perhaps coffee hour and the exchange of ideas. The sanctuary of the church I was raised in has always been big enough for any idea I care to bring into it, and though I see the inside of it rarely, the idea of it, and its reality are always solidly at my back. I know I will always have a home there. As my father told me once, we don’t have to go to church every Sunday because God trusts us.

If I have any faith at all, it is in humanity, and the web of life. I believe that together we are smart enough to handle anything. If we just take a deep breath and look honestly at ourselves and our world, we can not only live through the great changes that are upon us, we can be the calm awareness shining out of the eyes of Gaia that we were evolved to be. Part of a greater whole, not rulers standing apart from creation. Not all of who we appear to be now serves this whole, but if we accept who we are, we can change. We will change anyway. The only question is, will we do it consciously, or will we let the consequences of our actions do it to us?