Spiritual Gizmos

In late summer of 1984, my mother, members of my extended family, and I took a much needed beach vacation to Ocean City, MD. It was a typical group vacation for us in those days: we were all crammed into one or two rooms in a semi-moldy motel a block or two from the beach; we spent most of our time roaming the beach or boardwalk; and we ended each day with a group meal, usually a place like Phillip’s Crab House or something like it. Nothing fancy, or complicated, or overly expensive. Just us, a beach, bikes, skee-ball, and some crabs. Those were simpler times.

In 1984, the movie Gremlins was “all the rage” and my mother thought that little, cuddly, Gizmo was the cutest thing she had ever seen. We had seen the movie together and she, having a penchant for sci-fi/horror ate it up. I loved my mother and determined to get her a little stuffed Gizmo that she could cuddle up to at night. A shop along Ocean Boulevard (?) – whatever the name is of the major artery running through OC, I honestly don’t remember – was selling them cheaply. So one morning I stole away from the motel on my bicycle while the rest of the family was getting ready for beach and breakfast to acquire for her the little token of affection. The trip across the eight-lane fast-paced strip of traffic went fine, as did the purchasing of the toy. It was on the return trip where I ran into trouble, and a situation I have never been able to explain.

I crossed the first four lanes of northbound traffic and made it to the island median dividing the highway without incident. I was so excited to get the toy to her and see her face. There was a lull in the oncoming southbound traffic and I decided to “go for it.” I was thirteen, strong, under my own pedal power; I could make it across the four remaining lanes before the distant traffic was upon me. What could possibly go wrong?

Gizmo

Gizmo from the movie Gremlins

Suddenly, with two lanes left to go on the rapidly moving highway my handlebars fell forward and collapsed into the front wheel. Some screw had given way, or some bolt had come undone, and I had no control over the bike. I instinctively hit the brakes and stopped abruptly straddling the second and third southbound lane of traffic. I was perpendicular to the oncoming traffic and I was an unavoidable target. The impending cars were just feet from me. I could feel the wind and heat rushing at me and hear the horns blaring. I was going to die.

Without explanation my stationary bike wrenched from its position and shifted parallel to the speeding cars. My body was bent over the front of the bike, and my hands were still on the broken handlebars that offered me no steering capability. It was as if someone or something ripped the bike off the macadam at the last possible moment and placed it back in the only way that cars could swerve to miss me. In an instant about six cars whizzed past me (without slowing) and were dust on the horizon. I looked behind me to see where other cars had been stopped at a red light, so nothing was coming for a moment. I put my feet on the road, coasted to the safety of the sidewalk, got off the bike, sat down by the road, and wept.

I don’t know what happened that summer day in 1984. By all rights of logic I should’ve been killed. I did nothing to save myself, the whole thing happened too quickly, and I had absolutely no control over the motion of the bike after the handlebars broke. I had to awkwardly walk it back to the motel for my brother to fix. Did God’s hand reach down and turn the bike to save me? Maybe, but why? Was He trying to tell me that He exists? Was He trying to keep me alive to do something for Him later? Did He break the handlebars in the first place to create a scenario where I would need saving? Or was my intentional desire to live so great that somehow I used the power of my thoughts and/or connection to Source to alter both reality and the laws of physics. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I was “given” a second chance that day. I should’ve died, but I didn’t. I should’ve been a tragic statistic; instead I was a miraculous survivor. I’ve spent much of my life trying to work through that series of events and I still have no answers. All I know is that I am grateful that I’m still here when I shouldn’t be. And honestly, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, except perhaps I just needed the reminder myself that things could be much, much worse. But by the power of grace, or God, or intention, they’re not, and I’m still here, and trying and often failing to make the world a better place one day at a time. And if this story helps you to find something to be grateful for today then perhaps I’ve done my job for now. I’m grateful you took the time to read this. Be alive and well.

Namaste,

Jason

Oh, and by the way, Mom loved the little Gizmo toy, and never really understood what happened to me that day. I guess that’s just another way those pesky, elusive gremlins operate on our lives.

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Mom, my nephew Todd, and me at the beach circa 1974

 

See: A Viking Funeral???

fluttering
on the strand of web
a white moth wing

                                     – Soji (aka Gary B.)

A few weeks ago we buried a good man. Well, not so much buried as burned. Well, not so much burned as burned again. Gary was a member of the Unitarian Universalist church where both my wife and I work. He was kind, and fun, and beloved by his spiritual community. When he died it was his desire to have the closest thing to a Viking funeral: to be put in a ship on the water and set ablaze. His wife, and his UU community would have nothing less for him.

On Sunday evening, April 10, the day after a memorial service for Gary that included multiple moving eulogies, a tribute video presentation complete with nose-flute duet, and the singing of Gary’s favorite songs, “Blue Boat Home” and “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” many of his friends and family gathered again at the Little River boat ramp to watch Gary sail across the Rainbow Bridge into Valhalla. To the thunder of numerous percussion instruments (and guitars) Gary’s ashes – loaded into a beautiful scale model of a Viking ship – were guided via kayak out to a preselected spot on the water and set ablaze. At the moment of the ship’s final descent the instrumentalists organically fell silent, paying their final silent respects to their fallen friend. It was beautiful, unusual, sublime; and I’m glad my son was there to see it.

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The miniature Viking ship  ablaze (photo credit:Nancy Krause)

After the sinking we casually walked back to the parking lot where wishing lanterns – tissue paper balloons that one sets a fire under – were being lighted. Nancy, John Adams, and I each lit one and watched it carry its light across the evening dusk as a final silently ascendant prayer to our friend.

moonviewing —
from across the sea,
neighbor’s voices

                                    – Soji (aka Gary B.)

I write this now, not just in memory of Gary, but also as an invitation to new people to get to know the man’s work of passion. For Gary was a haiku poet of significant talent. Writing under the name Soji, Gary’s website, Haiku Poet’s Hut, http://www.haikupoetshut.com/ is a treasure trove of his poetic legacy. I strongly encourage those of you who are interested in haiku (and I know many of you are) to check out the beauty, simplicity, and elegance that Gary has left behind for us.

Namaste, Gary. May we all live a better life through your example.

Jason

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Gary aka Soji (photo credit: Nancy Krause)

What Means This 45?

On Monday, I celebrated my 45th birthday. Many wonderful people via Facebook, texts, phone, and in person honored me with messages of love, well wishing, memes, little videos, and the like. It was all quite wonderful, and I was and am filled with gratitude that so many people chose to remember my special day and milestone. Most of the day was spent taking care of my son, John Adams: he played at the YMCA while I worked out, we went swimming, we went on the slides and, later that night with Nancy, we all went for seafood and had a cake that Nancy and the little guy made just for me. It was a lovely, if exhausting day, taking care of a 2-year old, and held little time for reflection.

Now a few days later, as I’m settling in to my new age, I’m wondering what it all means. I feel different. I feel restless. I feel, frankly, cantankerous. My life has been in many ways in a holding pattern since John Adams’s birth and my graduation from VCU in May 2014. I’m ready for new challenges, new accomplishments, new journeys. I’m ready for a bigger house. I’m ready for an expanded family…that includes a dog. I want to walk the Appalachian Trail and the Camino de Santiago. I want to see the Great Pyramid and Machu Picchu with my own eyes. I want to wash in the Ganges, filthy or not. I want to float down the Colorado surrounded by the Grand Canyon. I want lots of things.

Turning 45 has stirred something in me. I’m restless and less afraid, and ready for “the road not taken”. But two days later, that said, I have no idea what turning 45 really means. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. And I’ll let you know.

Namaste,

Jason

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Steal my birthday corn, will you?!

Haiku – Off and Running

It’s February already, and the New Year is bringing its share of joys and challenges, not the least of which is all the snow that’s been dumped all over Virginia. I’m chipping away at my goal of 5,000 haiku before the year is out. Below is a sampling of what’s coming through so far. Judging by the almost ubiquitous theme of motivation in achievement of one’s dreams, I’d say it’s a pretty good bet that’s what’s on my mind for now. I think I need a vacation! Anyway, you judge for yourself and thanks for reading.

Namaste,

Jason

4502
At the heart of all
Personal development
Is motivation.

4506
Can you honestly
Tell me you’re not worth your dreams?
No, of course you can’t.

4507
Offer gratitude
For all that the past year was,
And all that will be.

4509
Let go of control.
Life will be what it will be.
Plan it but detach.

4510
Welcome challenges.
They’re the only way we grow:
Overcoming them

4512
Define for yourself
What you want, what you will do,
Who you want to be.

4514
Ev’rytime I think
About societal norms
I get a headache.

4518
Sometimes your purpose
Can sit inactive for years
While you deny it.

4520
Being grateful for
Things when they don’t go your way
Is awfully hard.

4525
Live your best life now.
Decide what you want from life;
Resolve to get it.

Warp Speed. Engage

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A very cool and exciting thing has been ongoing for me for a little over a month now. A work colleague and friend of mine, Christopher Noffke, approached me about doing some music doctoring on a project that he was directing entitled, Warp Speed: a Sci Fi Parody Musical. Christopher remembered my work on a show at the Blatt’s Dinner Theatre (now defunct but reformed as the Pines Dinner Theater) and asked me if I would write some new music for the show. What started out as a two-song deal turned into four, and has not only given me a New York credit as a composer, but has sparked a kind of creative renewal in my composition work. Since finishing the Warp Speed commission I have steadily set about revising many of my old choral compositions, some of which were premiered, but never were typeset well, and some of which have never had a premiere. I haven’t really composed in many years, so this has proven very exciting.

In addition, I just learned from Oliver Blatt that he has been retained to provide tracks for many of the songs in the show, including mine. Ollie and I haven’t spoken much for several years now. Suddenly, due to a song I wrote perhaps twelve years ago, I have a NY credit, I’m writing again, and Ollie and I are both communicating and collaborating. Life is funny and certainly interconnected. Thanks, Christopher. Thanks, Warp Speed.

Now go see the show. It premieres in NY as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival on August 1. Information can be found at http://www.warpspeedthemusical.com

Oh, and by the way, another old friend, Peter Lam, is in it. Set phasers to crazy!

Thanks for the Memories…

I wanted to take a moment to say goodbye to an organization that did so much for me. American Family Theater/American Theater Arts for Youth announced its closure this week in a Facebook post written by their Artistic Director, David Leidholdt. AFT/ATAFY was established in either 1970 or 1971, depending on which website you believe, and lasted for more than forty years as a powerful force for children’s theatre across the country, introducing tens of thousands of children to the magic that is live theatre, and giving over a thousand actors, techs, designers and other staffers the opportunity to go on the road with a national tour, see the country, gain valuable experience, and learn the real ups and downs of the theatre game.

AFT/ATAFY was one of my first professional credits, and my first tour with them, Sleeping Beauty, was one of the greatest experiences of my life. As “Wotan the Wizard” and “Mannequin the Evil Knight” I toured the country from Boston to Texas playing our little show in as many configurations as possible. I saw the Gulf of Mexico for the only time in my life (to date), went to New Orleans right after Mardi Gras, rode out a hurricane in Wilmington, NC, and visited Jefferson Davis’s home, Beauvoir, in Biloxi, Mississippi. I made several lifelong friendships, especially with Chrissie Corbin and David Bickle, and met tons and tons of wonderful children, at least two of which kicked me in the groin. This all thanks to one man, Don Kersey, AFT’s then artistic mover and shaker, taking a chance on me, and the wonderfully batty and saccharine experience that was American Family Theater.

In the mid 2000s when money and opportunity were scarce I called AFT up and offered my services and they were only too happy to put me back to work. I went out on the road three more times with a different show, Babes in Toyland, made several new friends, and then did two Philadelphia-based patriotic shows at the National Liberty Museum, a museum owned by Laurie Wagman’s, (the owner of AFT/ATAFY), husband. I served them for a time as a hotel booker and in and around that managed to music direct seven of the tours that went out over a three year period. Their new Artistic Director, David became a dear friend to me and was a guest at my wedding. Also, in the mid-2000s AFT/ATAFY put my now sister-in-law, Mary Anne Furey, on the road for two tours and, though her experiences were not mine, I know that she gained valuable experience as well and had her eyes opened to parts of America she would never have seen without the opportunity to work for AFT.

So I wanted to say a proper goodbye and thank you to the wonderful, jumbled, frustrating, innocent, and truly magnificent world that was American Family Theater/American Theater Arts for Youth. You changed my life in many ways, opened me up to many new experiences, and ultimately did more for me than can ever be repaid. Thank you for everything. I sincerely hope that something new and wonderful arises to fill the void that children across the county, to say nothing of all the theatre artists, will feel now that you have ceased reminding us of the “magic all around you.”

Annnnd….scene. Blackout.

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Poetry Book Announcement

Dear Readers of Reflections of Shangri-La,

I have some personally exciting news: In just a few days I will be self-publishing my first book of poetry on Amazon.com. Titled True Haiku for You the book is comprised of 366 inspirational, motivational, and spiritual haiku from some of my earlier years of writing haiku. The book will come out first in softcover format but will be available for Kindle a few days later. This book, my first ever, is really a labor of love and is intended as a daily inspirational reader for anyone who both likes haiku and needs a little lift. Here’s an excerpt from the Preface:

“True Haiku for You, or The Haiku Project which is the complete unpublished collection of poetry from which True Haiku is drawn, was begun back in 2001 as therapy writing in response to the death of my father, James F. Michael, the year prior. Sitting in study hall (I was a school teacher from 2001 to 2004) the day after watching Dr. Wayne Dyer’s PBS special, There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, I felt compelled to begin writing haiku as an expression of my feelings. I thought that if I wrote myself a little daily inspirational note that perhaps it would both pull me out of the doldrums of depression resulting from my father’s loss, and also fulfill my need to create, a need that had been largely stifled after his death. The process was slow at first, but haiku have a way of racking up over the long haul and before long I had amassed several hundred haiku on a variety of topics.”

Whether you decide to invest in my little book or not is a matter of choice of course, but for myself, whether the book sells one copy or a hundred it is a major milestone in my personal and creative life. Thank you to everyone who reads my blog from time to time, and thank you for considering buying and/or reviewing my little labor of love when it comes available very shortly.

Namaste,

Jason

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A New Beginning

Over the last year I haven’t been able to blog with any regularity. My new son, John Adams, completing my MFA, being a newlywed, and basic job instability have all taken precedence over regular updates of Reflections from Shangri-La. Also, I fear a problem, was falling into the trap of posting a handful of haiku that I was proud of and calling it done. I love my poetry, my haiku, sonnets, and other work, but R from S was never intended in my mind to be just a poetry blog. Posting my poems is very important. In fact, a very dear friend of mine and I are working on self-publishing my first book of haiku to be out later this year. But that was never intended to be the sole focus of my blog. But then neither was writing something every six months or so.

Over the next several weeks I am going to recommit myself to the maintenance of this blog. I will continue to publish haiku from time to time, but I plan on reclaiming it for its original purpose which was to muse on all things spiritual, healthy, positive and beneficial both to myself and (hopefully) to others. I would like to see it be a vital forum for the exploration of ideas, for spinning out societal concerns, for dreaming big, living large, and (though the T.R. phrase is overused right now it is apt) “daring greatly.”

If you are a reader of my haiku I hope you will give me a chance to be more. I know I can be and I know Reflections from Shangri-La needs to be more to feed my own spirit. Thanks for listening.

Yours along the journey,
Jason

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Some Long Overdue Haiku

Here are some haiku from the last few months. Life has been so crazy of late. Its just a joy to be able to post after such a long absence. Enjoy!

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Manage the small things

And the big things will show up

In their own due time.

 

I am not the hare.

I’ve always been the turtle.

But I still get there.

 

Extraordinary;

That’s how you must live your life.

Give it all you’ve got.

 

There’s no going back.

Life’s an endless “do-over,”

Just not from the start.

 

Birds and bees call me,

“Into the forest follow.

We shall nourish thee.”

 

The dream is alive.

It is simply malnourished

And weary of war.

 

No words can express

The beauty of a sunset

Or a newborn child.

 

It’s not good enough.

Whatever it is you’ve done,

You must do better.

 

Fly with the eagles.

Let your imagination

Soar above the clouds.

 

You can get through this.

Your were bred for endurance

And resilience.

On Work Ethics

There always seems to be drama in the Theatre. I just found out that a former student of mine who I advocated for to be in Dreamgirls with me was very disrespectful to our employer regarding an unscheduled absence. I don’t know why it is so difficult for people to take theatrical employment, especially acting jobs, seriously. Acting is a job like any other with its fair share of positives and negatives. And despite what many “civilians” think it is not all fun and games, and there are many, many days when I don’t feel like doing it! That said, if you accept employment in the Theatre, and are being paid for your efforts, it is your responsibility to treat it with the same seriousness as any other vocation. If you can’t do that then you do not belong in the business!. And if you are sick and need time off get a note. Botton line: treat the job with respect, get a note in the event of an illness, and just in general cover your ass. Anything less is a disservice to all parties involved.