In The Trees

I heard what sounded like a crazy ruckus being made outside my window. I stepped outside my apartment to explore further and the following is what I found.


Thanks Brett

Utah Phillips made me cry today. Not just a little but a lot.

I don’t know this man. Before this morning I had never even heard of him. But as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now replayed the interview she’d recorded back in 2004 I wished I had known him. As he spoke into that microphone I was humbled and filled with despair that we had lost someone as amazing as he was. He died this last Friday.

Take the time to listen to at least a portion of the interview here: Utah Phillips.

[Keep in mind that the interview doesn’t start until about nine minutes into the program.]

In his gravely voice he spoke of America and the good people in it. He talked of his mentors and elders that had helped to shape him into the man he would eventually become.

He was someone who knew where he had come from and where he stood in this world, in this country. He knew his privilege and struggled with it for his entire life.

Utah said many things that will stay with me for a long time to come but it was the following paragraphs that really floored me. I mean, upon hearing this I sat down on the wooden steps of the abbey and wept:

“The long memory is the most radical idea in America. Listen you young people I'm talking to you. That long memory’s been taken away from you. You haven’t gotten it in your schools, you’re not getting it on your television, you’re not getting it anywhere. You’re being leap-frogged from one crisis to the next. You can’t remember what happened last week because you’re locked into this week’s crisis.


Turn that off. Walk away from that. Walk out your front door. Go find your Elders. Go find your people who lived that life and who know that life and know that history.”

The validation for what I have been feeling, what I have known deep in my spirit for many, many years was spoken into life as Phillips spoke these words. I not only agree with Utah that what he calls “the long memory” has been taken away from us but I know it to be true.

The term resonance suits this feeling perfectly. His words resonated into the deepest parts of me. He spoke into a place that has not been spoken into in years.

Look you read these blog entries from me from time to time, right? The ones where I go off about the government and say “crazy” things about America. Things that you disagree with, things that you think are ridiculous. The blog posts where usually no one responds, where no one knows how the hell to reply to this impassioned over the top brain washed hippie freak, right?

But I am trying to know who I am. Trying to know where I come from. Trying to keep myself sane in an utterly insane culture. Trying to know about those who have gone before me.

If we as a people allow “the long memory” of all those who have gone before us to be cut off then what do we have left?

Gore Vidal puts it like this, “We live in the United States of Amnesia. No one remembers anything before Monday morning. Everything is a blank, we have no history.”

You want to know why I am so obsessed with the stories of everyday people? Because these people keep me sane, they keep me grounded. They remind me that the world I see on television and in the news is not the true reality of the world around me.

It’s a simple as this; either we begin remembering and spending time with who we are and where we have come from or we vanish as a culture. It will only take a soft breeze to blow away the hollow people we will have become.



So you may wander into life as if it’s a foreign country where everything is written in a language you’ve never read much less heard spoken.

A sign hangs precariously suspended above you’re bruised head. It reads, “Welcome To Life”. You stare at the sign and let a strange numbness wash over you, like the tide going out and coming in. So this is it. This is life.


I’d always wondered what it would look like. What it would taste like.

I figured it would come in a rush of color all at once. Like the scene in the middle of Tim Burtons take on Sweeney Todd where the main characters make an imaginary journey to the seashore. The movie instantly switches from drab blacks, whites and greys to vivid blues, greens and all colors in between. It is all the more beautiful because of the darkness that came before it.

But that doesn’t seem to be “it”.
Or perhaps that scene seems to be precisely “it”. That immediate change from grey to color can only happen in our imaginations, in the world we create for ourselves that no one else can see.

And so you’re torn, between the life that hangs above your head just waiting to crush you and the one inside your mind that can never be quite explained.


3 by 5

I sit shirtless at the wooden table, the one with the fold out wing my housemate and I found at the goodwill one rainy, Seattle afternoon in late February. I'm munching on a chocolate hazelnut biscotti recently rescued from the bread dumpster. All of my bread comes from the dumpster.

The biscotti biscuit was a surprise, a perfectly pre-packaged jewel of sugary goodness just waiting for me to take home. And home I took it.

The goal was to try and summarize the last 6 months of a life, my life, on to the back of this 3x5 piece of scrap paper. Being a consummate revisionist I picked up a pencil. That’s sort of cheating, I know.

Telling anyone about anything has been almost impossible for me. Its like I'm a victim of some great shock or war, but I’ve yet to figure out what war it is. This whole business of forming words into sentences and sentences into stories has all but escaped me.

But then I remember that these stories are my life, are what keep me alive. And that if I don’t at least try to tell my tale or anyone else’s I as might as well be dead.

I'm not dead yet.


America 101

"Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all others. The inhabitants of the other spots reason in a like manner, of course."

~Emma Goldman

George nails it on the head (you may want to skip this clip if you are afraid of being nuked by the f-bomb).

And Noam Chomsky sums it all up for us.


Matt came running up the stairs (like he always does), burst through the front door and quickly made his way to my curtained bedroom door. He knocked then slide aside a part of the curtain to ask me if I had seen the vehicle parked in front of the apartment.

I told him I had not and he suggested I check it out, because it was pretty amazing. I rose, walked the length of the apartment and into the front room he and Pete share. Parked on the road just in front of our building was this beautifully restored black Cadillac from the 40's or 50's (I don't know cars all that well but it definitely is from that era what with its rounded fenders and ample usage of steel).

Matt said that if we took a picture of the car in front of the apartment with someone dressed the part that you probably wouldn't be able to tell whether it was shot today or 60 years ago. I grabbed my camera, he grabbed his hat and out we went to create our scene.

And it turned out beautifully. Thanks for the great idea, Matt.



Yesterday I realized why I enjoy Ballard so much. It’s not simply the human sized houses and neighborhoods full of families. It’s that community “works” in Ballard. It doesn’t feel forced, contrived or reactionary. Families don’t eat meals together or stop to talk with their neighbors because they read in a book somewhere that this is how you “build” healthy community, they do these things because it is what comes natural.

I am tired, exhausted of hearing and reading how to “construct” spaces to somehow “cultivate” community. If we need to read a book to learn about community then perhaps we should be reading something else, like a book on how to work through the dysfunction that is our life. If we don’t know how to naturally do what humans have been doing since the dawn of time, namely be in community with others, then the problems that need to be addressed are on a much deeper level then a book or seminar on building community can provide.

We need to seek real, professional help. Fast.

Or maybe there is an alternative. Maybe we can stop looking to the culture of the quick fix (or the quick anything for that matter) and begin living amongst those who already know and are doing what we simply cannot do on your own (and never were designed to do alone).

Start listening to a different story and we will in turn begin to live a different way. Stories that are rooted in the past with a firm grip on the present.

It makes no sense to look for cues on how to live a functional, healthy and holistic life from a culture that is itself severely dysfunctional and disconnected.

Ballard is beautiful precisely because it knows where it has come from and celebrates it. Ballards community will quickly be eroded when the ties to its past have been severed. It will be a sad day when the elderly have passed away and the families priced out because they are not “economically viable” enough to survive in the new Ballard.

The condos going up all around these families have a different story to tell. One that is rooted in greed, fear and isolation. I believe you can judge a culture by the way it builds its homes. What then does it say about us as a society when we allow for structures to be built that will last no more than 20 years?

We don’t build homes where life can thrive; we build glorified storage spaces to hold all of the materials possessions we collect.

Yesterday was “grunnlovsdag”; the day Norway celebrates the signing of its constitution. Outside of Norway, Ballard has the one of the largest communities of Norwegians in the world. Hear are the sounds of a community in celebration. Put on headphones and listen closely. You’ll hear the laughter of friends seeing old friends. You might hear the low talking of two older women leaning in close to each other to hear what the other is saying.
On the same track I’ve added the sounds of traditional Scandinavian music being played live in the town square.

This is the sound of a people who know where they have come from. This is the sound of community.


Down The Street

You are listening to the sounds of Fremont on a sunny afternoon in mid May. At the time of this recording the neighborhood is in a state of massive transition (as all popular cities in America seem to be), shifting from a blue collar, family oriented neighborhood to one composed of white collar, condo dwelling singles.

In the beginning you hear me walking down the creaky stairs from my hundred-year-old apartment. The heavy wooden door swings open and I walk onto the sidewalk and across the busy street towards a locally owned coffee shop.

The recorder catches snatches of conversation and laughter amidst the cawing of crows that wait on nearby tree branches for crumbs to fall from excited hands.

A nail gun piercing the warm air punctuates the scene, serving as a persistent reminder that change is in the air.


Breezy Thoughts

So here is my somewhat random, unscripted and at times cheesy endeavour into the world of sound. I just started speaking the first thing that came to mind into the crappy little mike on my mac.

Feel free to laugh at the inflections I use. This is only a half serious recording.

I coupled my speaking with a Sigur Ros (BaBa) song to make it all sound a bit more dramatic.

Here goes:



the waters are sleeping.



Curtis, the Buckaroo guru himself, dropped knowledge and wisdom as I took his picture.

"I used to be a really negative person. I just saw all that negativity going no where. Now I love life, love it for what it is. Thats why I ride a motorcycle."

What do you do for a living?

"I restore old furniture. Today I worked on a clothing chest from the late 1880's, the Victorian period. It was beautiful."

In the few minutes I stood talking with him and taking his picture two cars went by containing folks he knew. To one he gave a wave in the form of a piece sign and the other yelled his name enthusiastically from the drivers seat as it cruised by.

Curtis was exactly who I needed to meet today. I don't listen to and tell stories simply for entertainment value; I need them to stay sane, stay alive and stay grounded. My mind is a powerful place and most days it seems that it's out to destroy me.

Meeting people and listening to their stories pulls me out of myself long enough to see what a wonder life really is.

Thanks Curtis.



0:31 seconds into the recording and the story begins to take shape.

It’s July 1935 and Miss Holiday is belting out one of her first recordings, Miss Brown To You. Benny Goodman opens the song with the unmistakable sound of his clarinet. Then follows a ragtime piano riff by Teddy Wilson.

But this doesn’t begin to tell the real story behind this song. The place, the period in which it is happening. No, that story is told by a completely coincidental sound that comes floating in through the thin walls of the recording studio.

A passing train whistle tells it all. The general populace of America is slowly crawling out from beneath the weight of a crippling economic depression. My grandmother tells the story of my grandfathers’ family which had been relatively wealthy before the Depression hit. And like thousands of Americans, their wealth disappeared in the night with the crashing of the stock market in 1929.

The train outside these walls is used to transport people and goods (legally and illegally) across the desolate landscape of the continent from one shantytown to the next in search of work. Labor unions are formed and the nations banking system is reformed. Franklin Roosevelt is president and his New Deal program sets up the Social Security System amongst many other programs meant to economically stabilize the country. For a time, some of these programs work.

But this story isn’t about F.D.R. and his now crumbling institutions. It’s about a lone train whistle filling up the silence between clarinet and piano. You can almost hear the hum of wheels on steel tracks as the engine rolls by pulling boxcar after boxcar filled with everything and nothing all at once.

0:31 seconds into the song and our story has just begun.


Belly Of The Beast

You keep telling yourself over and over that it can’t be true. You don’t want to believe it because if you did then you would have to change the way you perceive the society you live in. But then the evidence stacks itself so high that you come to a place where you must decide to do one of two things:

A) Accept the facts and begin living into the truth of what you’ve learned or
B) Reject the evidence and live with blinders over your eyes and fingers in your ears.

Some years ago I chose the first option and now I'm paying for it. It’s amazing how quickly one can be spun out to the edges of this society simply by speaking up about things like freedom (of speech and ideas) and against things like patriotism, nationalism, capitalism, corporations and a corrupt government system.

Being ostracized is an interesting tool that societies have used for centuries to punish those who threaten the societal norms. For example, if within a given society it is normal to kill your children once they reach a certain age then you are automatically ostracized (or worse) if you allow your child to live past the socially accepted age.

So I step outside the norm and decide to listen to a different story. A story of an on going struggle against abused and misused power. Lord Acton said it like this, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I fully agree.

I am begging to accept that America is not the country I grew up believing it was. I choose to believe that America is nearly (if not fully) a fascist nation, not the democracy you and I were taught to believe it was.

And with this realization I begin asking myself a new set of questions and seeking out stories that are relevant to my personal beliefs: How does one live in a fascist nation? What can I learn from those who have lived beneath fascist rule in the past? Can I fight fascism or will I simply be thrown in prison as a reward for my efforts (think Nazi concentration camps)?

Oh, I know, I'm insane. I'm over the top, right? Just keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better. By all means don’t read the constitution, don’t know your rights as a citizen and don’t be informed about what is going on in our government.

Fascism thrives on denial, silence and fear.