misc-joy

Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

December, 2018

Remixes, Pop, and Electronica Create my Top Five Albums of 2018

By on December 24, 2018

As we reach the end of 2018, it’s time to reflect upon the music released this year. With the advent of streaming services, it feels a bit like being in the 1980s when I could buy a release at Tower Records and then exchange it if I didn’t like the album. This year, 106 new releases made it to the end of the year. And still being an “album” kind of guy, I am focusing on full-length releases or EPs. No singles. My purchases are a mix a vinyl and digital download. When buying vinyl, I am happy to support bleep.com from the UK.
Starting with over a hundred albums created some challenges for picking the top five, so I started with a shortlist of twenty.
  1. Abul Mogard, Above All Dreams
  2. Alt-J, Reduxer
  3. Anna von Hausswolff, Dead Magic
  4. Bob Moses, Battle Lines
  5. Cat Power, Wanderer
  6. Chris Carter, Chemistry Lessons Volume 1
  7. Claptone, Fantast
  8. The Field, Infinite Moment
  9. How To Dress Well, The Anteroom
  10. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
  11. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
  12. Laurel Halo, Raw Silk Uncut Wood
  13. Loma, Loma
  14. Low, Double Negative
  15. Marie Davidson, Working Class Woman
  16. Rhye, Blood
  17. Ryuichi Sakamoto, Async Remodels
  18. Tirzah, Devotion
  19. Tune-Yards, I can feel you creep into my private life
  20. Young Fathers, Cocoa Sugar

Clearly this list crosses several different genres of music from country to pop to electronica to alternative so my top five will draw from across the spectrum.

The FieldThe unbroken sound of Infinite Moment by The Field is perfect for headphones and needing to get work completed. Turn it up and focus on writing or a project and the hypnotic and ambient sounds will carry you through. The electronica starts slow and quiet and builds into repetitive sounds of drums and keyboards. This is the sixth release by the Swedish producer Axel Willner. It is melodic and hypnotic. Popmatters writes, “The Field’s Formula for Musical Escapism Has Yet to Fail.” You can grab it on Bandcamp.

 

 

 

Chris CarterSticking with the electronic theme, the next nod goes to Chris Carter Chemistry Lessons Volume 1. Bleep writes, “Drawing great influence from 60’s radiophonic wonderment as well as the darker strains of traditional English folk music and wrapped up in an entire history textbook of industrial and electronic diaspora, Chris Carter’s first solo album in two decades Chemistry Lessons Volume 1 was a testament to his thirst and endless quest to craft innovative, mind-blowing electronic music.” I hadn’t heard of Chris Carter until this year and from the moment I heard “Blissters,” I knew it was my kind of music. Even though the tracks are short, especially compared with The Field mentioned above, they easily carry me and lift me up into the beauty and comfort of music. Carter is certainly someone I will revisit since I didn’t really listen to electronic music back in the 90s (except for the annoying DJ who lived next door to me at the time).

 

Async RemodelsThe number three and four spot are going to remix albums. I loved both the originals and these remixes make it even better. Ryuichi Sakamoto is a genius and Async Remodels revisits his 2017 Async release through the ears of Oneohtrix Point Never, Fennesz, ARCA and others. The gentle piano brings tears of joy and appreciation. Allow yourself to sink in and be moved. And when you are done listening, go watch the documentary CODA. The other remix is completely different by bringing a hip-hop and soul sound to Alt-J’s 2017 Relaxer. Reduxer’s hip-hop artists from around the world include Australian Tuka, France’s Lomepal and Kontra K from Germany. The blending of the sound of Alt-J is clearly present Alt-J-Reduxerbringing a harder edge to the softer Relaxer. To be honest, I am not a huge hip-hop fan (though I like the new Vince Staples) so walking into the familiar sounds of Alt-J made it easy to appreciate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janelle MonaeBy this point, you are probably wondering where the traditional lyric album is on my list. Picking from Anna von Hausswolff, Cat Power, Janelle Monáe, Kacey Musgraves, Rhye, and Trizah is a tough call but I am thrilled this list includes only women! What have I enjoyed listening to and singing along with the most? The number five spot goes to Janelle Monáe. Certainly she has made many lists this year. Pop and soul at its finest along with the vulnerability and politics of being a queer woman of color in America. And the track “Make Me Feel” clearly points to her Prince influences. Guest artists include Grimes, Zoë Kravitz, Brian Wilson, and Pharrell Williams.

 

Naturally, I don’t only listen to new releases. A few that I particularly enjoyed this year were Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney BarnettLet it Die by FiestEulogy For Evolution by Ólafur ArnaldsExile in the Outer Ring by EMA, Singularity by Jon Hopkins, and probably my favorite being Apocalipstick by Cherry Glazerr (can’t wait to see them in March!).
And for the complete list of 106 releases from 2018 …

(more…)

Rin, Holden, and Nassun: Top Three Books of 2018 (Fiction)

By on December 18, 2018

I’m a genre fiction reader, primarily in the science fiction and fantasy categories. And thanks to Sword & Laser I read at least one book each month. This year I read 22 books in these categories (and zero “literary” fiction). These are my favorite three titles of the year.

 

Obelisk GateThe Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2)
By N.K. Jemisin
Book two in a series and winner of the Hugo Award. Her writing is creative, engaging, and visual. As a middle-book in a trilogy, it carries the story forward very well and sets the stage for a culmination in the final book. The balance of realism, science, and magic pulls the reader into this amazing world. Great writing, world-building, and storytelling. The presence of inequities, racism, class, violence, and leadership are essential components for Obelisk Gate. If you haven’t picked up this series yet, maybe now is the time since all three books are published.

From Goodreads: “The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever. It continues with a lost daughter, found by the enemy. It continues with the obelisks, and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last.”

 

 

Persepolis RisingPersepolis Rising (The Expanse #7)
By James S.A. Corey
I’m completely hooked on this book and television series. With the TV version, I do need to read carefully to not get confused with the different story arcs and how the characters look in my mind versus the actors. This is book 7 in a series and I loved it! It’s hard to believe, but even at book 7 the series is still rocking the story. The next and final book should bring it all together, right? Metaphysical space opera at its finest.

From Goodreads: “In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace. In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.”

 

 

The Poppy WarThe Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)
By R.F. Kuang
Unique. Familiar. Graphically horrible. Drugs. Hatred. Revenge. And yet she has built an amazing world. Young girl protagonist who struggles with everything and which this reader questions whether I even like her as a character. Themes of poverty, classism, and gender in this world of magic and power. It’s a debut novel from Kuang and the stage is set to continue exploring the story of Rin, an orphan girl from the Rooster Province.

From Goodreads, “When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.”

 

 

Picked from the following list:

  1. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
  2. And Then There Were [N-One] by Sarah Pinsker
  3. Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
  4. Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  6. Circe by Madeline Miller
  7. Hawkeye, Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction
  8. Jade City by Fonda Lee
  9. Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley
  10. Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
  11. Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
  12. Night’s Master by Tanith Lee
  13. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
  14. Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
  15. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
  16. Saga, Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughan
  17. Sister of the Circuit by Amanda Orneck
  18. Slan by A.E. van Vogt
  19. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
  20. We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor
  21. A Wrinkle in Time by Madelieine L’Engle
  22. Zeros by Chuck Wendig

Exploring a Direction

By on December 17, 2018

It is just a seed in me right now, but it is a conscious direction I am moving. A movement toward reparations, atonement, and racial healing.

In a racial conflict, particularly involving Black Americans or Indigenous people, I feel as a white man that I should follow their lead. If I need to speak, and I better be certain speaking will help, then I will do so with the language of love and empathy and not force or dominate an outcome. Doing otherwise seems unwise and continues the white supremacy that has dominated American society. I will recognize the times when this makes me feel uncomfortable.

This is my intention.

Silent – Silence – Silenced

By on December 13, 2018

White Silence = Violence
Silence takes many forms, both positive and negative. The silence of the early morning, before others awaken. The silence of a monastery, where we go for meditation. The silence of government, when it doesn’t respond to a disaster. And the silence of community leaders, when members of the community are in crisis. I think most people value silence at some point in their lives. Silence has a role and a place. But I want to explore moving from silence to an action, a declaration, a response. Through silence I work to cultivate insight and compassion. It is also through silence that people remain unheard in our society and in our communities.

Last month I received a text message from a Black colleague. My colleague wrote, “White silence is real.” This was an invitation and a wake-up call. The text was sent in disappointment and in kindness. Disappointment because he had to say it. Kindness because he said it. For me, the exchange was about being unafraid of difficult conversations. And my role was to say thank you, be silent, and then take action.

White privilege and racism are hard for white people to see. It challenges us as individuals and as well-meaning people who often see racism through the lens of Racist = Bad / Not Racist=Good binary. This really sets us up to be defensive and unable to see a different reality. In writing about what makes racism so hard for whites, Robin DiAngelo identifies individualism as a key characteristic. She writes, “Individualism prevents us from seeing ourselves as responsible for or accountable to other whites as members of a shared racial group that collectively benefits from racial inequality.” This in turn leads to our silence and to our denial of the advantages of being white, allowing us to think through a colorblind lens, assuming that we treat everyone equally. From this place it is difficult, if not impossible, to build cross-racial understanding and discover how race and racism are at play in our lives.

I want to break my racial solidarity with my fellow whites and speak to you. This is not about feeling guilty, feeling indignant, or a need to prove ourselves. This is an invitation to begin to see our racial filters and to recognize their impact on people of color. This is an invitation to look deeply into the life experiences of the Black men and women in this country. Looking deeply means reading Black literature and history, following people of color on social media, seeking out media aligned with racial justice (such as Colorlines), attending race-focused conferences, cultivating friendships with people of color, and engaging in small-group workshops with other white people to talk about what it means to be white. It is a constant learning process, and we will make many mistakes along the way. Like the text thread above demonstrated.

For most of my life I have remained silent, either consciously or unconsciously, when racism is present in conversations and in my community. Honestly, it has been easy to remain silent because as white people we have been trained to ignore racism and act as if racism is either something taking place elsewhere, or that racism is already solved. We’ve got our blinders on. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that people of color have also been silent, but in a completely different way. While as a white man, I don’t always see the racism, people of color have learned to accommodate, code switch, and/or withdraw. The person of color feels racism acutely. They are constantly reminded through media, wealth, employment, housing, law enforcement, education, etc. that things are unjust. In the workplace and in the community, people of color may not feel safe to speak up and remind others of racism. I imagine it is exhausting to remind white people of their blindness.

What I have observed is when people of color speak up, particularly Black Americans, they are judged and shut down. White people see them as being angry or unreasonable. That what they ask and argue for is too much. Then we may beg them to hear our apology and we ask them to be forgiving of us! Ultimately, we may even say that we feel silenced because talking about race makes us feel unsafe and judged. Suggesting that we don’t want to offend anyone. I am not being silenced because a person of color has finally been able to speak up and share living truth. We may think our action are about being politically correct and sensitive. I have been this white person making these judgments and requests.

My action, my declaration, my response is to engage in this difficult conversation. To hear the stories told by people of color, to offer the benefit of truth, to speak up when I see injustice, and to stand in solidarity in the hope of building and creating a more equitable world. Step forward with honesty, humility, and a willingness to make mistakes. Know when to be silent, and when not to be silent.

Belonging and Co-Liberation

By on December 9, 2018

It has been a little over three weeks since a vice-president said the n-word during the Gender Equity meeting at Santa Barbara City College. During this time, the suffering and trauma experienced by our employees of color has come forth. And it is not only the trauma being experienced at my place of work, but a much deeper societal and generational trauma. An unhealed trauma for which we all have a role in addressing and healing. I am also watching some members of the white community quickly fall into the racist=bad and non-racist=good dichotomy (source) and that prevents us from being able to move forward and truly address the systemic and structural racism within our work environment.

These three weeks have been a personal struggle as I make an effort to speak the truth of racism, honor and support those who are traumatized and have experienced oppression, and to also honor my deep-seated beliefs of nonviolence, reconciliation, restorative justice, and social equity. My Buddhist vows guide me by saying, “As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body.”

I am striving to change the situation and also working very hard to not take sides. But I have a side, and it is the side of justice! And this is my pain and my struggle. Seeing through this to the middle way is my path.

Be Still and Beloved
Artwork by Samuel Paden – samuelpaden.com

During the recent Facing Race conference, I picked up a journal called Othering & Belonging from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. The essay I read this weekend, An Evolutionary Roadmap for Belonging and Co-Liberation, speaks straight to the heart of the matter for me. Written by Sonali Sangeeta Balajee who has worked in the field of racial equity, primarily in government, to more fully integrate and prioritize healing. Her essay shares a framework in the following key areas: beloved; be still; behold; believe; becoming; and belonging, co-liberation, and well-being. I loved how she writes, “spirit-based practice is inseparable from social justice, and when realized, is the highest form of political consciousness.” She honors “being still” while at the same time acknowledging “anger and frustration as necessary emotions and movement builders.” Encouraging the reader to “bear witness to hope, as well as grief and anger.” Ultimately, the reader is reminded that “merely learning about belief systems that breed supremacy and superiority are not enough. Knowledge alone doesn’t interrupt or disrupt.

Those are just a few highlights. Read the entire essay because it is important and has clear and practical ideas. I will continue with my struggle for the middle way where truth is honored, people can heal, and society is transformed. Therein lies my hope.

Dead Bodies in Public

By on December 4, 2018

It was 1994 as I traveled home on the 21 Hayes street bus in San Francisco. I was a block from home when we stopped at the corner of Hayes and Webster. As I peered out the window toward the ubiquitous liquor store on the corner, I observed a dead body in the doorway from a botched robbery or a drive-by shooting. As the minutes and hours passed, I was struck by my lack of emotional response. It felt like I should be more impacted by seeing a dead body a block from my house. It was disturbing to think I was so desensitized and that I wouldn’t be moved by the loss of life. I didn’t even reflect deeply upon the family and friends this young man had; there was nothing inside me.

During those days, I did have a nascent spiritual practice but it wasn’t that deep yet. At that time, I was also watching a lot of violence in the movies (i.e., Pulp Fiction) and reading about violence in the media daily (newspapers and magazines). Because of my lack of emotional response from the body, I vowed to stop going to movies that contained violence. I wanted to be more sensitive…not de-sensitized. I placed a high bar for this and maintained that commitment for many years to come. People questioned my commitment and didn’t see how that could help my compassion and empathy to grow. But it did. In the ensuing years, my spiritual practice grew and deepened. I became a practitioner and teacher in the Plum Village tradition (a Zen Buddhist path) and today I have more empathy and compassion.

Police Line - Do Not Cross
SOURCE: aclu-ms.org

Twenty-four years later, as I traveled home in my car, I witnessed my second dead body in public. This body lay in the entrance to my place of work – Santa Barbara City College. In the middle of the street. About 100-feet from my office. An intersection I travel through daily. I was not prepared, and I was deeply disturbed. My immediate response was, “FUCK!” — I had to pull over. Call for help. And spend the next 45-minutes sobbing and in tears. Tears of sorrow, anger, frustration, and of memory. The person died as a result of a motorcycle accident. This was very personal for me because I rode a motorcycle daily for 25-years. I stopped riding when my children were young and because friends and acquaintances kept ending up in the hospital or ended up being dead. This death feels so pointless and preventable. Yes, I know people die everyday. Yes, I know that riding a motorcycle doesn’t always mean death. And yet, I know that by not-riding anymore I reduce the probability of being killed in that manner.

My tears today are for the person who died, for the family and friends of that person, for each person who had to witness the accident or the body, and for myself. This year has been very difficult for me and death has often been present in my consciousness. As the late fall and early winter begins, my difficulties have eased but the incident today leaves me raw and sensitive. And so I write to share, to explore and to heal.

In America we are so distant from death and dead bodies. Most of us don’t live in a war zone like those in Yemen or Gaza. I also recall the police violence in Ferguson when Michael Brown’s body lay in the street for four hours. Or when my mother-in-law’s Amtrak train was five hours late because a person jumped in front of the train on Thanksgiving weekend. Death and violence are ever present. And at the same time, it is obscured and hidden except in cases of public violence on American streets.

On an intellectual level, I understand police work. The need to investigate and not touch a crime scene. But on an emotional and human level, it feels so wrong to leave a dead body laying in the street. So inhumane. I certainly don’t have the answers and this writing exercise serves to help me process and explore the emotional landscape that came jarringly into my consciousness 12-hours ago. I do know that we should be disrupted and disturbed when we see a dead body. We should be reminded that a life has ended. We should draw our attention to the family and friends. To send love, compassion, and empathy. And when something could have been prevented, work toward finding solutions that prevent it from occurring again.

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

A Welcome for Sangha Gatherings

By on December 2, 2018

In recent years, I have been reflecting with other friends on the path on methods to make our practice communities more inclusive. Also, to recognize and honor those who have gone before us including those who were instrumental in building Buddhism in America. In particular, as a result of the war in Vietnam we have the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh living in exile for fifty years. And with that exile, along with thousands of Vietnamese, we have the practice centers at Deer Park Monastery, Magnolia Grove Monastery, and Blue Cliff Monastery that serve and support mindfulness practice in the Plum Village tradition.

Making our practice communities more inclusive is no easy task. It will require everyone to transform themselves and be willing to do things differently. As the Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams wrote on Lions Roar, this is the “back of the bus” moment of our time.

For the last two or three practice events I’ve offered, both in-person and online, I have begun the session with a short statement. It is offered as a guided reflection followed by a guided meditation. The reflection is drawn from several sources. Please use, adapt, and share with your groups.


Sunrise in Santa Barbara

For over 4 billion years the earth has been here, holding and feeding single-celled organisms, dinosaurs, plants and flowers, and humans. We acknowledge and embrace the many generations of Vietnamese who carried Buddhism to us through our Teacher, Thay, and helped build the sangha in new lands. Their history and practice are present with us today. We are also grateful to hear that our Teacher has been able to return home to his root temple, where he was ordained at the age of sixteen, to spend the rest of his days in the care of the community.

We see and hold too the native and First Nation peoples who lived on the lands before us, who cared for it as we do, and lived their lives in community. Here in the Ojai Valley these are the Chumash people. And today we also honor our diversity, whether that be gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or political affiliation. We hold a special place today for the communities who are recovering from the wildfires in California and earthquakes in Alaska (insert something timely and appropriate).

All this is present here today as the Sangha is invited to come back to our breathing so that the collective energy of mindfulness will bring us together as an organism, going as a river with no more separation.