The Helpless Sky

In the last line of a story I’ll be telling at the Climate Symposium in Boulder next fall, Gaia, the original Earth Mother, reflects on how uncomfortable anger makes her feel. Bad things happen when she senses injustice and she’s been implacably rough on her husband Ouranos and grandson Zeus during the story. What, she asks herself after she goes into hiding now that the Titans have fallen, could ever make her that angry again?

 
I guess the time has come. Our atmosphere is definitely angry nowadays. Basically, it’s drier dries, wetter wets, windier winds and hotter hots. Fire seasons continue to lengthen. Whether rain or snow, precipitation is heavier, hence floods in new places. When they do begin to spin, hurricanes and tornadoes are more destructive than before. Insurers are desperate for forecasts. For thousands of years, farmers and herders in Africa, South America and the Middle East counted on rainy seasons to avoid famines. Slowly drying out now, those lands are forcing migrants to flee what are essentially climate wars. We haven’t even mentioned our own great population centers, built at the sea’s edge.

 
Ever cooked spaghetti in a pot? You turn on the heat and wait for the boil. Long ago I learned that if I cover it with a lid, it boils twice as fast. Instead of letting heat escape out the top, I trap it in a closed system. Smart, right? It might be hard to imagine, but Earth’s atmospheric pot had no lid prior to the Industrial Revolution. Over the last 150 years, though, we’ve installed an invisible one made of greenhouse gasses from fossil fuels. It’s not anyone’s voluntary doing. We only figured this out a few decades ago. Up until then, all that exhaust was progress. As vast as it is, we’re slowly closing off Earth’s heat release system, high above our heads. Not completely yet, but we’re getting there, busily tossing tiny carbon footprints by the billions up into a helpless sky.

 
There has to be a way to figure this out before the thing boils, with us in it.

 
I’ll also be conducting a workshop designed to turn climate-aware people, including scientists, into The Cadre of Science Storytellers.

Telling The Odyssey to Eight Hundred High School Students

I’m looking forward to it. This coming Friday I’ll drive down to the Dana Center at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH. This is the hall used for presidential primary debates and other performances, and I’ve been onstage there many times, sometimes for the college itself, but this time to perform The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast for the New Hampshire Classical Association’s hundreds of high school Latin students for Classics Day. They come in buses from all over the state. I guess this is my 8th time doing this. Maybe more times than that, I’m not sure.

 
The stage has a thrust. Like a ship’s bow, it sticks out into the waves of seats that slope upward into the eight hundred seat space. Way up there is the balcony. And it will be filled with kids who’ll be asked to turn off their cellphones as I wait backstage, taking the last few passes at tuning the 12-string before I step out, walk to my chair there at the bow, and hit the summoning motif, which I’ll play for a few seconds before saying anything. Two elemental bass notes at the bottom with harmonic sparkles at the top. This motif is meant to launch my listeners into a receptive level of consciousness, heroic and somewhat dark as it is. The promise of things to come.

 
Briefly I’ll describe how in 700 B.C. in ancient Greece, not many people could read, books had yet to be invented, and people either told stories themselves or relied upon professional “Singers of Tales,” the most famous of whom was Homer. I’ll mention how in Homer’s time, when he was performing his Odyssey and Iliad poems with character voices and a lyre, his stories weren’t myths, but were more like forms of religious worship. How he and his listeners believed in the gods and goddesses of Olympus as surely as we believe whatever we do today. And how like William Shakespeare, writing about Julius Caesar long after the fact, the Trojan War was already five hundred years in the past in Homer’s time.

 
And then the story will begin. I’ll enter the dream, which lasts about an hour, become all sorts of characters, play the 12-string guitar like a bat out of hell and emerge at the end ready for something new this year. A Q&A. In the past I’ve just stepped offstage, but Flora Sapsin, she who arranges for my performances, has asked me to take questions from the kids and teachers this year. Usually high school audiences have all kinds of good questions. How do I remember all that? Did I make up that music? How do I change my voice? Do I have a favorite color? Do I own a dog? Why did I become a storyteller? On and on they’ll go until we run out of time, since I’ve done this sort of thing with lots of young audiences. It’s always fun and rewarding and I’ll try to crack a few jokes along the way.

 
And then I’ll pack up and drive home, too exhausted to do much else for the rest of the day. As I said, I’m looking forward to it.

 

You can purchase an mp3 of the entire four hours of The Odyssey here at my shop, if you’re interested.

HERCULES IN LOCK-UP

Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall is the lock-up for dangerous teens in California’s Central Valley, and until that day, the girls and boys incarcerated there had never been allowed into the same room. The warden, however, had okayed it for my show. With arms crossed and hands on opposite shoulders so nobody could hit anybody, the kids filed in, about forty miserable, thrown away children, past the guards with sidearms and pepper spray. There wasn’t a single African American kid among them, I noticed, just whites and Latinos. Some were quite young, nine or ten, but most were twelve to sixteen. Forbidden to speak to each other, they sat in chairs and listened to the 12-string guitar music I was playing through a couple of massive speakers. They were seated about six feet away from me. What these kids had done to end up in this hellhole, I had no idea. My friend, Roy Stevens, opera singer and polymath, had set up the show.

 
By then I’d told this hour-long story, Hercules in Hell, many times. Earlier in the week I’d performed it at the men’s prison, and they’d asked for autographs afterwards, so I knew the story worked. It moves people who are in trouble because the genuine Hercules of myth is nothing but trouble. Incredibly strong, he suffers from blinding rages, even as a teen. After each one he wakes up and sees the death he’s just dealt. But like a werewolf returning to human form, he can’t remember having done it.

 
It’s a good story for kids in lock-up, and for folks in general. I perform it often and will be telling an adult version of it this coming Sunday, April 23rd at 8:00 pm for my final appearance at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA. The other shows have gone remarkably well, with wonderful audiences. As with all these epics, I’ll be playing the 12-string guitar to accompany myself. The Hercules score is unique among all my scores, employing a tuning I use for no other tale. It certainly mesmerized the kids in Juvenile Hall that day. They sat there for an hour in silence and then asked questions for twenty minutes. And nobody hit anybody.

 
Tickets for Hercules in Hell, if you’re interested, are here.

Mahabharata Backstory: Births of the Pandava Brothers

Once Upon a Time in Ancient India…

 
Out hunting one day, King Pandu comes upon two deer copulating and against all wisdom shoots them both in their helplessness. When he approaches to retrieve his arrows, the stag is still alive and says, “For killing us in our moment of delight, I curse you. If ever you make love again, you will die in that instant.”

 
Pandu’s two new wives, princesses Kunti and Madri, are horrified upon hearing this but stay with him anyway. The three go to live in the forest. However, before she was married, an old hermit, covered in ashes, has told Princess Kunti that if she ever wants sons by the gods, to utter a certain mantra. And so one night, alone in her bed, she calls upon the Sun, Lord Surya, and to her amazement, he appears in her room. The next day she gives birth to a son and sets him floating down the Yamuna River, which flows into the Ganges. He is found by a couple and raised, becoming the greatest warrior who has ever lived.

 
But then, two years later, Kunti wants sons to keep, so she summons Lord Dharma, the God of Justice, and the next day gives birth to Yudisthira the Wise, the first of the Pandava Brothers. Next, Vayu, the Wind, fathers a son destined to be the strongest man in the world, Bhima. Lastly, Indra, the God of a Thousand Eyes, fathers Arjuna, destined to be the greatest archer of all. When Madri, Pandu’s other wife, sees this, she asks for the mantra and summons the Aswins, Physicians of the Gods, and produces the Pandava twins, Nakula and Sahadeva. And so the five Pandava brothers come into the world, all with heavenly fathers.

 
In Yudisthira at Heaven’s Gate, a tale I’ll be telling this Sunday, King Yudisthira, now old, must journey to Mt. Kailasa to die, entering the the gates of heaven there. The battle discussed in the Bhagavad Gita is long past. But Arjuna and Bhima won’t let him go alone. Nor will Draupadi, wife to them all. What happens during their journey, and what happens at the gates, is one of the most dramatic stories I’ve ever learned to tell. With full characterizations, it’s accompanied by sitar-tuned 12-string guitar. Come here it!

 
The show is Sunday April 9th at 8 pm at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA. Tickets are $20 and $10 and you can buy them here.

 
India’s Ancients: Tales from the Mahabharata and Beyond.

What is Gaia Theory? What Does It Have To Do With FALL OF THE TITANS in Cambridge?

This coming Sunday January 22nd at 5:30 pm I’ll return to Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA to tell Fall of the Titans: The Original Game of Thrones, an ancient Greek myth. The 90-minute show, told with narration, character voices and a score on 12-string guitar, is prefaced, believe it or not, with modern science, Gaia Theory in particular. Gaia Theory isn’t a belief, it’s a bundle of sciences. Biology. Chemistry. Physics. Ecology. Plate tectonics. Climatology. Paleo-geology. Vulcanology. Glaciology. On and on. It combines these and other disciplines into the grand notion that Earth is a giant, self-regulating organism, creating and sloughing off complex life forms for many hundreds of millions of years.

Pangea (“all-Earth”) is the name scientists have given the ancient super-landmass that fused the continents 300 million years ago but which drifted apart into what we’ve got today. In certain places, rock layers along the west coast of Africa are identical to rock layers along the east coast of South America, after all. Now the Atlantic Ocean separates them, but at one point they were in the same spot on Pangea. Continents drift about an inch a year.

So what’s the link to my storyteller’s version of Hesiod’s Theogony, a poem from 700 B.C. about the ancient Greek gods we see in the movies all the time? The link is paleo-seas, the waters that surrounded Pangea’s break-up. Scientists have given them names. The Tethys Sea. The Iapetus Ocean. The Pontus Ocean. The Rheic Ocean. Where did these strange names come from?

Well, the scientists who named them were obviously familiar with Hesiod’s creation myth, because Tethys, Iapetus, Pontus and Rhea were Titans, children of Gaia, the Earth itself, all of whom are characters in the Theogony (“birth of the gods”). Think of them as the Earth-Makers. The Bronze Age Greeks looked around and saw mountains, sky and seas and had no idea where they’d come from, so they dreamt up a Titan who created each one of them. Tethys, a Titaness, created the streams and rivers. Pontus created the sea. Iapetus created death to make room for new life. Rhea was the mother of the Olympian gods––Zeus, Hera, Hades, Demeter and so on. They were all part of a family that tore itself apart because of imperfection.

At least that’s the story.

So learning about ancient seas made me curious about the names, the names led me to the story, and now Fall of the Titans is a full-blown performance piece. It’s lots of fun with some pretty cosmic music on 12-string guitar and voices for Gaia, Ouranus, Cronus, Rhea, baby cyclopses, Zeus and others. It is an adult story and is definitely not recommended for children.

I’ll have my Celtic harp to help introduce the science part.

Tickets are $15 for tables and $10 bar seating. I hope to see you there!

FALL OF THE TITANS: THE ORIGINAL GAME OF THRONES/upcoming show in Nashua, NH

Along with Homer, the ancient Greek poet Hesiod essentially codified old spoken tales of the Olympian gods into the wondrously complex mythology we know today as the Greek myths. It’s good to bear in mind that in their day, these were deeply religious stories and the Greeks believed them as fact. Where had the Earth come from? What caused day and night? Who created the stars? How did the sea become salty? How did memory and prophecy enter the world? Why did weather change? What caused volcanoes to erupt?

Religions do this, each in their own way, even fossil religions like Greek pantheism, and so all these questions Hesiod tried to answer in his poem, The Theogony. “Theo” means deity and “gony” means “the birth of,” and so Hesiod’s “Birth of the Gods” covers all these topics and many more, all filtered, of course, through the mind of a brilliant man who lived circa 700 B.C.

Most folks know about the antics of Zeus, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo and the other gods as grownups, but far fewer know the tale of how they were born into a Game of Thrones-style family feud among their parents and grandparents–the Titans.

This coming Sunday, January 15th at 7:00 pm at the Riverwalk Music Bar in Nashua, NH, I’ll be telling my storyteller’s version of this wild old yarn. I call it FALL OF THE TITANS because after they created the Earth, the Titans did indeed fall. It has echoes of Moses in the reeds (Zeus is the hidden baby) and features gorgeous scenes of creation as well as sordid adult moments. If you don’t know this story, you’ll learn how the goddess of love, Aphrodite, was born. Be warned: it’s fairly chilling for most guys. Ambition, lust for power and child-devouring also play significant parts in this Bronze Age narrative.

This is an adult performance and not recommended for children under 13.

As usual, I’ll have my Celtic harp for background lore and my 12-string guitar for scoring the tale itself. I last told this tale in Boulder, CO to an adult audience and they had a great time, so I hope you’ll consider coming to the show. Tickets are $10 here.

Increased School Bullying/GOLDEN RULE

I’ve always thought that building empathy in kids is best done with stories. You can tell them to be kind to one another, but kids are humans with egos and compete with each other constantly. Feeling superior feels good. So how do stories bridge racial and cultural divides? Pretty simple answer. Wisdom.

Human wisdom.

Sounds like an old fashioned word, but when I open a GOLDEN RULE K-2 school performance with The Name of the Tree, a hugely entertaining tale from Africa filled with funny animal characters, and all the kids in the audience like it, that dash of universal human wisdom sinks in. “Wow,” they say, “that cool story came from Africa?” Same thing with the follow-up stories, an Aesop’s fable from ancient Greece and a singalong tale from Italy.

Other shows have other mixes of world tales––Japanese, Irish, Native American, Russian––but the goal is always the same. Show that wisdom comes from all we humans, regardless of our surface differences.