Interviewsand Articles


More Than Two or Three Minutes

by Richard Whittaker, Mar 6, 2008



Welcome to the fifth edition of our newsletter. Behind each short blurb there’s real content. If you click on any of the links, you’re going to have something of substance to deal with and, I have to warn you, it’s going to take more than two or three minutes.

We bring you three exceptional interviews. There is Leigh Hyams, a very fine artist, a painter, who also casts spells on people of a very special kind: restorative. She can release what was forgotten, the joy of rubbing one’s hand in the dirt and, by extension, rubbing one’s hand in colored dirt. What is painting, anyway, but pushing around colored dirt on the end of a stick?

As she says, “I’ve been teaching so long that I’m able to release people, no matter how fearful they are—and adult beginners are always fearful.” She says, “These days, when I teach in any country or culture, the work is usually with adults who are, on some inarticulate level, searching for something beyond words that has meaning in their lives.” But Leigh is pretty good with words, too, as you’ll see. She will take you on quite a trip if you let her.

Something Beyond Words That Has Meaning

Well, how about music? Bill Douglass, a renowned jazz musician—he's played with Mose Alison, Bobby McFerrin, Art Lande, Marian McPartland, Terry Riley, Tom Waits and many others—knows something about music. What does it mean to explore a single note from its top to its bottom? Douglass came up in the sixties and learned by playing in the legendary clubs on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, Soulville, Jimbo’s Bop City and Jimbo’s New Bop City before the place became gentrified. Douglass plays string bass. He also plays flutes. His flute playing can be heard on the soundtracks of Never Cry Wolf, 1000 Pieces of Gold and The Black Stallion. Douglass describes his time rehearsing in a basement in San Francisco's Chinatown playing with a group of Chinese musicians, The Flowing Stream Ensemble. They used the traditional instruments and learned the authentic music from Mr. Liu, who spoke no English but, as Douglass fondly recalls, was always ready to share a sip whiskey —medicine! There was always plenty of good food around, too.

Douglass now lives now in Grass Valley and drives down to the Bay Area for gigs. Besides his playing, he is the music director of the Grass Valley Jazz Festival and teaches at the Berkeley Jazz School. At home, after practicing for hours, he likes to sit out in his big backyard and look up at the stars. There’s a wonderful fir tree out there, he says, and he tries to remember to go over and hug it once in a while.

Then we meet a couple of art dealers, Rod and Andree Moen who have a gallery in Jemez Springs, New Mexico—Shangri La West. They both make jewelry, too. Rod dropped out of a Ph.D. program in chemistry right on the verge of getting his diploma to take up jewelry making. What could have led to such a drastic move? That’s one of the questions I wanted to explore. It’s complicated, and Rod tries to walk us through that question. It boils down to something elusive and having the courage to take big risk. As he says, “I got good grades. But there was a point in my life where I realized that I wasn’t really happy. So I was looking for a life. Now I can’t describe it. I’m at a loss for words. I wanted the freedom. I thought life was passing me by.” He goes on, “Maybe we’re seeking perfection, all of us. And if you’re going down this road and you realize you’re not going to achieve something of worth, it’s time to change—if you’re honest with yourself. It’s better to be candid with yourself and accept your limitations and go in another direction, and save your life.”

Habitat Restoration

Rod and Andree’s story is like that, habitat restoration. It’s a restoration of the interior, but it requires actions be taken in the world, too. They go together.

Jonathan Hiller’s story got me to thinking about all this again. He spent a day in the rain one weekend as a volunteer on an environmental project, pulling weeds—weeds being, in this case, foreign species overtaking some local native species. In the course of the day Hiller experienced several unexpected impressions. His story beautifully makes some of these moments visible, moments where an inner shift in attitude and feeling take place, and quite fittingly, come to think of it, in the context of a restoration project. 

So that leaves Chuck St. John’s Fix’n Things. If you happened to know Chuck, you would realize how fitting this piece is with the man himself. How could the outer and the inner really be divided up? This matter of habitat restoration, isn’t it just as much, ultimately, a matter of the inner world as well as the outer? The hands-on world that St. John evokes for us in this little story is the world where the two have some connection, one that can be felt. Is that now really entirely a thing of the past? What do you think?

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founder of works & conversations magazine.


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