Saturday, January 10, 2009

Love, Obedience, and Choice

One of our (extended-)family traditions is picking an angel card at the beginning of each year. If you aren't familiar with angel cards, each one has a positive quality written on it (e.g. "Happiness," "Freedom," etc.) and you just choose one at random. It's not meant to be predictive or anything, but more of a suggestion. It challenges you to consider how that quality manifests in your life, and to see if you can be more aware of it, or encourage it more for that day, or within whatever context you chose it for. Again, they're all positive, so you can't really get a "wrong" or "bad" one.

That said, there are definitely a few cards that tend to elicit more groans than others. The card I drew on New Year's Day for 2009 was "Obedience." That tends to get more of the "ha ha, now you have to do everything we say" sort of response from the people around you when you draw it. But given that it's my card for the year, I've been doing some thinking to see what else I can make of it.

First, I'll back up a bit. I also like to pick a "personal year" (as opposed to "calendar year") angel card on my birthdays, so at any given time I have two overlapping "themes" to be conscious of. For my current personal year, which I'm right in the middle of, I have "Love."

"Love" has the obvious emotional readings regarding romantic love, familial love, etc. and those are certainly all good. But another aspect to it is that of choice. Where does "following your heart" take you? What people, or activities, or paths -- out of all the world -- do you choose for yourself and your life? Older Tarot decks sometimes depicted the Lovers card with two women and one man, to illustrate this aspect. Sometimes one of the women would also be shown or interpreted as the man's mother, accentuating the difference between families of birth and families of choice.

(There is also the lesson here that truly loving someone is a deliberate choice, which implies a different relationship approach once you've passed the emotion/hormone-driven limerence stage of things. But I'll save the relationship discussions for another time, and stay closer to the general theme of choice for now.)

So let's come back to "Obedience." What I see happening here is that obedience brings choice into a different context. Whereas love is an internal choice (you can have unrequited love, for instance, where the object of your affection perhaps isn't even aware of it), obedience is more external, rooted in the world around you. Someone (a person, God, etc.) or something (a law, a moral principle, a street sign, etc.) requires something of you, and only then can you choose to obey. (If you were going to do it anyway, then it's just coincidence, not obedience.) That's why this angel card is illustrated with a street light, as an example of an external requirement. The angel could, of course, run the red light, but she chooses to stop.

This interpretation of obedience as choice has two important results. First, it puts the power back with you, not with other people or the world around you. Rather than just helplessly doing whatever everyone wants you to, you're consciously thinking, examining, and deciding.

That examination leads to the second point, which is that you can become aware of what you are obeying and why, and start making decisions between these sources and reasons. Do you obey your religious upbringing, or peer pressure? Your boss, or your spouse? Speed limits, or your impatience? Because it will make you happy? Because it will make someone else unhappy? Because it's better for the world at large? If you consider your obedience a currency, what causes will you invest in or support?

Listen to the difference, just in a simple case: "I'm driving the speed limit because that's the law and I have to do it." (Alternatively, "I'm speeding because I'm impatient and I feel like going fast.") VERSUS "I'm driving the speed limit as a way of keeping the streets safer, reducing accidents, and setting a good example for other drivers to do the same." Which would you rather have?

So how will this play out in my own life? I don't know yet. I'm definitely in an extended transition time these days, which means there are lots of choices to be made and I have no clue where it will all lead. This past year of being unemployed has given me some good opportunities to choose to do a number of things that I want and love to do. But this phase has also been less "obedient" to the structure of society at large, primarily in the areas of financial stability and employment. I've been feeling that tension for a while now, and it will have to be reconciled at some point. So I hope I'm able to make the right choices and find the right way to fit my life into the world.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Camp New Harmony

We got back from Camp Harmony yesterday afternoon, and camp was, in a word, fantastic. At the peak day we had twice as many people attending as last year, so there were lots of new friends to make as well as old ones to see again. And since everything is volunteer-run there, having that many more people just meant that much more great stuff to do. Camp has been needing to have a knock-it-out-of-the-park year for a while, I think, and this was it.

Friends The new location (Camp Newman, in Santa Rosa) is quite lovely. It's still nice and woodsy, which I like, and it's decorated all over. There are murals on all the buildings, tile mosaics lining the pathways, etc. It's quite hilly, though, which is rough on people with bad knees, and dangerous when frosted over and slippery, so you have to be careful. There were a lot of good workshop and jamming spaces. I was worried about having to rent a portable dance floor, but that ended up working out quite well. There were a wide range of accommodations. At the top end they have a few buildings of what are basically two-bedroom, furnished apartments, complete with a small kitchen, living room, couches, and everything. At the other end they have the "youth dorm" that we stayed in: rickety metal bunks, saggy crinkly mattresses, cold tile floors, and a miniature space heater working day and night to try to keep the place warm. The cabins in between were probably the best places to stay, in terms of being more comfortable but still with lots of your friends.

New Year's Eve Dancing I taught three dance classes. The first two were beginning East Coast Swing and beginning Lindy Hop, getting people ready for the swing dance evening. I was super lucky to have Sylvia Herold and a bunch of other great musicians playing music for the classes. It's hard to get used to interrupting fantastic live music just so you can teach another basic swing move, but it was really a privilege to have them there. And the lessons went really well, I think. I also taught a Cross-Step Waltz class, again with live music. Lacey and Rowyn very graciously helped out by being my lovely assistants.

Sylvia was also teaching a swing guitar class all week, so I went to all of those. Swing guitar has always seemed frightfully complicated compared to the folky stuff I'm used to, but she did a really good job of breaking it down and making it accessible. I'm going to have to see if I can keep that up and get better at it.

Dancing It was a very swingy camp for me all around, actually. The swing night was my favorite evening dance. There were a number of new campers this year who were good swing dancers that I got to dance with. And a lot of the younger kids are also starting to pick things up. I danced with several of the girls who don't have much in the way of basic steps or technique but who could still more or less follow all sorts of stuff, which is wonderful. In fact, I'm just getting more and more pleased with that next-younger generation overall, because more of them are getting to the point where they're really participating in the music and dance activities at camp. I was thrilled one evening when I saw Adam and Mary dancing an excellent cross-step waltz that they had just learned in my class that afternoon. They told me later that they were on a mission to become "superdancers" like me and Lacey. Talk about melting a Graham's heart.... I caught them practicing a few other times throughout camp and piled more moves on for them to learn.

Shapenote Singing I played tunes for the Irish dancing again, as usual, and also got in a couple nice late-night sessions. The new location had drawn in some more of the Lark in the Morning contingent, so there were some Irishing folks I haven't gotten to play with before. I also played some Quebecois tunes, though I only know a handful and they're hard to pick up on the fly. I mostly did fiddle the whole time. Never even took my mandolin out of its case, since I didn't figure my wimpy calluses could handle that after the guitar classes every day.

New Year's Eve Masks New Year's Eve was good, though strangely it felt smaller than usual. Probably because the dining hall there was bigger and because people were off in other places around camp as well, and not all congregating at the same place. The real heart of camp for me, though, wasn't so much the New Year celebration as Bob Reid's annual kids concert. He had an even bigger crowd with an even wider age range than usual this year, and it's amazing what an intense emotional experience gets created between everyone. We laugh like crazy, and some of us bigger kids go down the crying end of things, too. When it was all over we had a giant hug pile on Bob, and then just stayed there for a while, milling around the room, hugging people and playing with some of the littler kids. That's the time you really remember that everyone there is really just one huge family, and it's beautiful.

Calling a Contra Dance Other fun stuff:
  • Shapenote singing. (Missed one session but scheduled a second to make up for it.)
  • Calling my first contra dance. (On minimal preparation, but it went well enough.)
  • Mask-making for New Year's Eve outfits. (And "leading" the workshop for Quena who was on a quest to retrieve her missing dance shoes from Davis.)
  • Katie's surprise birthday party. (With 12 silly people crammed into a small, dark, stifling room for 20 minutes because she was late.)
Anyway, all around it was a very successful camp. I was glad to sleep in my own comfy bed last night, though. Now it's sort of sad, post-Harmony time, but there are also a lot of music and dance things that I'm inspired and excited about, so that's good. Happy New Year!