Newsletter

On the Trail Again

Posted by on Jun 28, 2022 in newsletter | 0 comments

Here we are in this liminal space
What can be let go of
What can be embraced
Nothing is lost that can be faced
With compassion and love and healing grace

Dear Friends,

It has been a full year since I have written and a lot has happened in my life personally and professionally. If you want all the details please read on. If you are just looking for performance dates and highlights, no worries at all, please scroll down or skip ahead here!

I just returned from a 5-day backpacking trip on the North Country Trail in northern Michigan with my longtime friend Janet Ray and my newly adopted dog Caillou. The days of hiking along the trail were beautiful, peaceful, and challenging, and allowed me to reflect on the many big changes I have experienced during this past year. I know it has been a challenging time for most of us, living through the lingering effects of the pandemic and the many resulting traumas, not to mention the war in Ukraine, continued gun violence and racially motivated attacks in our country, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. So many layers of grief, fear, and anger to work through individually and collectively!

The biggest change for me has been the end of my marriage to Allison and the loss of our relationship, which had been an anchor in my life for the past 12 years. I really loved Allison with my whole heart and being. Our connection was musical and spiritual and I experienced it as a gift from the ancestors and the Great Spirit. I was devastated when she began questioning whether or not she wanted to stay married. We worked together with a marriage counselor for a year but she eventually decided to move out and, after a couple months of separation, to divorce.

I have cried like a baby. I have cycled through stages of grief again and again, moving from denial to shock to anger to acceptance and back to denial. I have sought and continue to receive support and guidance from so many dear friends and family members, from my therapist, my 12-step recovery groups, and from my spiritual communities.

I have been disoriented and traumatized, finding it hard sometimes to schedule or plan ahead, tasks that normally come easily for me. I have prayed and meditated, walked and hiked and rested. I have listened. I have fostered and eventually adopted the amazing Spirit dog Caillou, who has brought me much joyful companionship. And I have sang. Once again music is helping me find my way through a dark and difficult time.

As this separation and divorce were occurring, I also experienced the death of my beloved mentor and guitar teacher Gilbert “Farmer Jack” Potter, and my spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Layers of sadness have inspired me to look deeply and to see that nothing has truly been lost, just changed form. And yet I continue to grieve those changes.

I see how both Thich Nhat Hanh and Farmer Jack continue through my music and how their love is alive in my work with children and youth. I have been given many wonderful opportunities to share my music and passion for songwriting with incredible folks this spring, including at the Boggs School in Detroit, Wylie Elementary School in Dexter, and Detroit Youth Volume; an amazing organization that teaches music to young people in the city using the Suzuki violin method. I had an incredible gig at the East Lansing Art Fair with the Community Gardeners and the All Nations Dancers, and several spring gatherings in Ann Arbor with percussionist Lori Fithian, including the Ann Arbor Earth Day celebration and Huron River Day. In the midst of death, life has continued to bloom and sing.

Hiking on the trail this past week has given my heart and mind some space to really feel my feelings; the sadness, pain, heartbreak, and longing. The anger and resentment. The acceptance and forgiveness. The beauty and joy of the present moment. The limitless unconditional love of the Spirit that flows through so many channels. The true presence of life in each breath.

I have been reminded again and again of the love that is alive in my life as it has shown up in so many meaningful and concrete ways.

During our hike we took a rest day at the Sand Lake Campground in the Manistee National Forest. After three days of hiking we were exhausted and sore. We were immediately welcomed by a young family that had just set up camp. They asked us if we needed anything and lent us soap so we could take our first showers of the trip. The campground host visited us and welcomed us too, bringing us firewood left behind by other campers. Another family who camped across from us fed us from morning until night and again the following morning with amazing homemade food that would challenge any restaurant, let alone campsite! These simple acts of generosity were tangible experiences of the love of the Great Spirit that connects all things. We were not alone. We were not forsaken. We were well cared for and loved. We were fed.

And so my question now for my life is how do I continue to give myself the space and time I need to grieve even as I participate in simple acts of generosity for those around me? How do I welcome and feed the strange traveler while also keeping my heart and mind well balanced? This is not anything I can do alone, I know this much. I need the support and reflections of trusted friends, family, wise counselors, spiritual community, and the Great Spirit. I need to stay engaged in my life even when it feels painful or difficult. To embrace and move through the unpleasant feelings while remaining present to the beauty and wonders of life.

Just before we came to the campground we thought we were lost. The road appeared to be a dead end. We were disappointed and disillusioned. We decided to ask for help. When we did, we were directed to walk just beyond what we thought was a dead end and we found the campground where we would be cared for beyond any expectations. We were right where we needed to be.

Oh Great Spirit, help me to listen to your direction by having the humility and willingness to ask for help when I feel like I may be lost. Help me know that I am always deeply connected to you through the love of all my relations. And help me trust you in each step, each breath, and every song along the way.

In gratitude for our shared resilience,
Joe

Still Evolving

Posted by on Jul 9, 2021 in newsletter | 0 comments

Dear Friends,
As we move into the summer season during this unprecedented time in human history, let us remember that we are still evolving as a species. We are indeed among the younger siblings in the ancient story of life in the universe. We still have so much to learn about how to live in balance with our Mother Earth and with all of our relatives, human and non-human.

Allison and I continue to learn and practice this balance together, navigating the joys and challenges of partnership as we both grow and evolve. We were recently blessed with a beautiful 107 year-old house in southwest Detroit. It was no easy task to acquire a mortgage on a social worker and folk singer’s earnings. But through the generosity of the Great and Holy Spirit working through friends and family, we have become first time “homeowners.”

Yet this label seems inadequate, and is charged with an exploitative understanding of personal property rooted in the colonization of sacred land and Indigenous peoples. We are working to transform our understanding of “ownership” into a sense of “stewardship” that can be a pathway to liberation and restoration.

Just as the house came to us through the gift economy, we wish to invest our energy and creativity in making “Grandmother House,” as we have come to call her, into a home where the energy of music, mindfulness, healing, and joy can manifest freely-not only for ourselves but for the community of all beings. We have a lot to learn from Grandmother House!

We do this in gratitude and humility, thanking our Beloved Community and the many ancestors who have come before, especially our Bodewadmi family whose village was once located where our neighborhood is now.

We invite you to sing with us this summer. Sing us back to our true home in the present moment. Our true home as members of the still evolving human family. Our true home as children of our Mother Earth. Our true home as musical spiritual beings in a vast and wondrous universe.

Singing with you in the neighborhood and in the cosmos,
Joe

Reasons to Hope

Posted by on Jan 5, 2021 in newsletter | 0 comments

Our Mother Earth rests under a blanket of snow here in Anishinaabe Aki, the land of the People of the Three Fires, Michigan. She reminds us of the importance of stillness and renewal, and gives us the hope of spring within the dormancy of winter.

We have made it to 2021, and what a journey it has been! As we grieve those who have died as well as the multitude of losses we have suffered in 2020, let us anchor ourselves in hope for the possibilities that lie ahead.

Indeed we have many concrete reasons to hope; the days are getting longer, COVID vaccinations are starting to be distributed, and we will soon witness the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, signaling much needed relief from the past four years of divisive and destructive politics and policies. President-elect Biden has nominated the first Native American cabinet secretary in his choice of Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Interior. Yes there are many reasons to be hopeful!

We are hopeful not only for a “return to normal,” but for new ways of living and working together that can bring healing change to our society and our world. How can we live in ways that generate justice, peace, compassion, understanding, and respect for all people and all beings?

I am excited to offer my humble contributions in this coming year to these new and old ways of being together. I have been inspired by my friend and fellow songwriter Sue Fink, in whose Virtual Dream Cafe series I will participate on January 6th, to continue to develop creative ways to share music virtually. I hope you will join us and experience the warm and intimate online musical experience Sue curates.

In that spirit I am happy to announce the launch of Children of the Earth, an online children’s music series using Zoom, which will occur every Thursday afternoon for 6 weeks starting January 14th. I am inviting families and classrooms to join me in these live and interactive virtual concerts. Come to any or all Thursday sessions and sing, dance, and play together from the comfort and safety of your home.

And in the end of January I am looking forward to teaming up with some of my fellow Earthwork Music artists for a virtual Songwriter’s Summit for Resilience. Come vision, create, write, and sing with us!

May the music remind us of the many reasons to be grateful, hopeful, and loving while staying rooted in the present moment. Let us continue to cultivate the spaciousness and possibilities for hope to bloom in this new year.

Yours in the music,
Joe