Category Archives: Artist Communities
Notes and thoughts on why they start, why they fail, and how we can make them stronger
My death dream centers around my family cat Muffin who passed more than a decade ago. Not sure why she is the spirit chosen to remind me of finality but she is. I get to visit with her once a month and sometimes more.
She lived till 16 which is very old for a cat.
Muffin lived through 3 dogs – the largest of which was a Bernese Mountain Dog named Ben who was gentle except when he was defending Muffin, his surrogate mother. Ben was a beautiful and kind dog, the runt. He would pass years later on a Xmas eve in CT but that is another story.
We got Ben just after the hard discussion to give away Muffins litter of six. There were four short hair tabbies like her, one black and one fuzzy kitten. I’ll never forget those kittens rolling down the steps finding their nor the sounds Muffin had made having them. I thought she was dying then but she was just getting started. Anyway, Muffin assumed stewardship of Ben in her litters absence. It was seamless and beautiful and the image of the cat licking the dogs nose will forever be with me.
As for Muffins litter, We never knew the father – that’s the way it goes in the cat world.
Muffin was a unrepentant hunter and she was good. Her trophies were diverse and would be layered out on various stands on our deck sometimes with organs deftly removed with the hands of a surgeon.
The woods behind our house in Columbia MD were deep and in addition to being my playground they were Muffin’s hunting ground. It’s all cloverleaf and highway now and that great forest exists only in my mind.It makes me sad but then I remember that I have it there – all I have to do is close my eyes and I’m there. Lots of great adventures in that house but again another story.
Muffin loved to be scratched. When she visits me in my death dream, I always scratch her. It is usually the one normal part of the setting.
She moved with us from Columbia to Westport and got woods once more.
She kept hunting even when she lost some teeth and some of her claws. Her voice got thin and she would sit most of the day in a shaded room or on the arm of a couch staring outside. Maybe she had memories of that vast world, where she was queen. Where she was a masterful daytime lounger and surely had evaded the frantic paws and eyes of possums and raccoon in the wee hours when the human din was at its lowest. Maybe she had those memories.
Then one morning she walked outside and died in a patch of sunny grass. I was a collage and my mother called me to tell me about Muffin. We were both sad but my mom had been closest with the great cat. Mom always went deep with the animals. Maybe the news that they, my parents, are once again going to get a pet and take a journey far deeper than a commercial could ever imply. Maybe that’s what gave me the strongest death dream yet in the early hours of today. The once that clarified what they were all about.
The death dream is always obscure. We’re unloading a storage unit in a mall trying to beat rush hour in London before the casino closes. That’s weird – and of course I’ve got a big bet to place but other than that, which is true, none of it makes any sense except for the cat. She is there in the room observing us giving us that knowing look that speaks of how fleeting our stresses are. She is there to remind me that she is not gone she is just here now instead in my waking world.
The death dream was so powerful this morning that when I woke from it, my face ran with tears.
Muffin comes to remind me not only of death but of life as well. She freezes my parents at different moments in time for me. She brings me back to a time of wonder and possibility and of learning. I can still see her waiting by the screened door mewing to get in. I see the yard behind her and the fence that my father built. Where he would mow the lawn and be stung by so many bees that he eventually developed an allergy. I’m sure like the woods – the fence and most of the bees are gone now. Muffin frames those moments and bookends phrases of my life from the Columbia explorer to the Westport troublemaker. On mornings like this, she reminds me to live and these tears flowing for the duration of this writing are proof that for the love of a cat and all she taught me and how she visits me today, with dreams of wracking compassion that I am alive.
We have our own cats now – Wolf and Captain.
5 people sat together in front of a screen that made sound and light into shapes and meaning. They were Lucas Gould, Andrew Smith, Emily Smalter, Tracy Smith and myself. We asked ourselves for the meaning of the Superbowl, here’s what we found:
5 Meanings of the Superbowl
#1 A deep and open glade above the treeline sparkles pristinely in the morning snow. The white out from the previous evening has departed giving way to a blue painting skyway with wisps of streaky white hanging as if frozen in place the only reminder of how the knee deep drifts got there. Smile to yourself – you pulled yourself away from a third steel rail pale ale last night even though the band was good and the kaleidoscope eyed snowboarding girl you met at the coffee bar had just pulled in with friends in tow. You smiled at each other, once more and parted simply with the words, ‘epic pow’ serving both as a hello and goodbye. Two hundred and seventy three steps led here to the lip of the bowl. The Superbowl.
#2 A beam of light slowly creeps up Kleenex-strewn covers, highlighting a serene symphony of dancing dust mites. As a wave of shivers jolt my aching body, I instinctively sink further under the blankets, pulling them up to my ears. I’m dying. Pounding head, nose rubbed raw, swallowing shards of broken glass – I have to be dying. Is this going to be forever? With a creaking of the door and a clinking of glasses, I can smell it already. “Here, sweetie.” The only thing that could rouse me from my self-pitying, fevered existence… a steaming bowl of my mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup. The Superbowl.
He had spent a night outside with the man from the woods, who became the man across the hall, and then the Ghost Man. February be damned. It had been frigid, but they fought it back with fuzz and fire. Beards avenged the emotional trauma of a quarter lifetime-too long.
In the small hours, when the snoring had randomly subsided from the adjacent tent, he couldn’t sleep.
He had said he would try and ‘be quiet’.
The Ghost Man had said, “No worries. G’night Rooney.”
He stood by the fire pit he had shaped, cooing flames to life. Plastic-rich snow coated the world, and he slipped, barely catching himself. The owls called throughout the hollow. Bare treetops wrapped gnarled hands to cup the clearing in silence. Beyond, the deep ink of the abyss echoed pulsing blacklights. It all spiraled in to him then, coiling upon itself. It all made sense. He knew the answer.
The fire roared in the pit.
I treat the Superbowl as if it were a holiday rather than a sporting event. Much like any other holiday, we are together. Much like Thanksgiving, we are gluttonous. And as if we are waiting for the ball itself to drop – and we are – we wait for kickoff. Half-time and commercials receive the rollover commentary from my quiet minutes during the game. As with any other Superbowl in my life, I have admittedly very little awareness or understanding of what is going on, but I make sure to pick a team and cheer appreciatively at what I assume are the appropriate moments. Though it is what I refer to as both the shortest and longest month as well as the coldest month of the year, and I have caught my yearly sniffles, I am warmed by the communal ritual of everyone I know sitting around the TV to watch the same glorious event: The Superbowl – a chili bowl of American traditions, with extra cheese.
Decades have separated me from this moment. Everything in my life has led me to this exact crossroad in space and time. Trials have brought out my truth and my courage. People have come and gone, hearts broken and saved. Some strange spark keeps us all moving. A moment in another world. This day, one year ago is some sort of re-occurring dream. The monster in me, awakened and hungry. The child in me, confused. The vale between each realm is very thin this winter. The Superbowl.
I saw two solar arrays of the 1MW size on the drive between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. 1MW is enough to power about 400 homes and costs between $3-$4M to build in a ground array. The panels still produce on cloudy days.
I sloshed around City Center Philadelphia as the snow storm got underway
Someone choose to lay down on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Philadelphia is full of great words and always makes me think hopeful thoughts.
I played music at World Cafe Live and Fergie’s Pub. We got the whole bar involved for a Paul Simon tune at Fergie’s. Great Inclusion – Great intention bubble. Saturday night the city was ghost town – it was oddly inspiring – TIME was open and the band was cordial and warm. I broke my mother’s rule to never follow a jazz band with an acoustic guitar but it worked out just fine and I met a bunch of great folks. All things considered – Philadelphia was a wonderful trip. Now its on to the next place. To find me, book me, partner with me, message me go to KenCoulson.com
#hwhn – The idea is to share the experience of my travels with music through pictures. Sometimes they will be of the city I’m in, nearby nature or interesting people doing great and wonderful things. This weekend I’m in Harrisburg, PA playing at the Midtown Scholar. You can listen to the show here: Live Music
Today was a beautiful day and Tracy and I decided to take a walk through the city. Here’s what we found
The Ice has packed in the river making a beautiful scene
The whirlpools and floating mini-bergs inspired thoughts of album covers
This shot of Tracy walking down the bridges seemed to capture the meeting of two worlds, the natural & the industrial
Travelers are greeting with a question
This almost seems painted to me – It conjures many emotions.
Check out the full album on my FACEBOOK page. Blessings – Ken
Morning Meditation, that’s how this song started. Really the whole journey to this album in different way represents some part of the path towards awakening.
Om Pram is the fifth song on the Forever Smile from Gatsby’s Green Light
I was doing frequent yoga at this time and my favorite teacher, Erin, was bringing a lot of singing into her classes. In this way and many other, she was connecting the participants in a truly beautiful and lasting way. She helped write this song. I told her she was ‘on fire’ because fire represents such a powerful transformation of matter.I left her classes with a reborn feeling, kind of like a cerebrally driven intelligence of the body. I’d feel like I could do anything and I would be perfectly content if that ‘everything’ ended up being nothing but an appreciation of the wonderful and beautiful world around me. I wanted to start my day with that feeling and so Om Pram was crafted as a piece for my morning.
Om means ‘Universe’
Pram symbolizes ‘Breath’
The song evolved as a kind of request. Let the universe love me, let the world be my guide and of course I lend my trust to it in the process. It was a deeply gratifying song to make and I think the whole band was able to achieve a similar feeling about what it might be capable of.
The song takes place in eastern tuning – open D.
At the time, Luke was also using in his practice a lot of Indian scales and talking to me about the shift in notations allowed with the time of day. Of course the fretless bass was the perfect instrument to fill out the song.
As Hari and Will crafted there parts, Hari immediately turned to the Digeredoo and Will’s ghostly guitar melody became the impetus for the missing vocalization in the chorus. We knew we had some with its own power. Something that came from somewhere beyond simply four individually in a studio making music.
We saw the finished project kind of like a reusable rocket for the mind, capable of thought stimulation as well as transportation. Maybe it’ll be something Space Travelers listen to? We don’t know, we just hope whoever does listen is able to journey down the path that we did when the song came forth.
Listen to OM PRAM exclusively release HERE & NOW
Strumming my first chord at 8am happens occasionally but usually it’s just for the birds, the trees and myself.
The past Saturday, I let the music play me in support of the 2013 CT Northeast Organic Food Associations Winter Conference. It was a crisp beautiful morning and you could feel the energy and excitement pouring onto the grounds at Wilton High School. I was in the registration area for the early session then got to play the lunch hour, before experiencing the wonderful food. Here’s my spot from the early morning centering.
Yes, I called my early morning guitar work ‘centering’ and that’s exactly how I view it. It relates back to my yoga practice where one tries to get into the moment, the present moment. I believe it is the key to staying in a positive space. Here’s my process derived from great teachers and personal exploration:
1.) Breath: The breath is the most important circle, stay focused on it
2.) Smile: they’re contagious and they create positive space allowing you to say more that words ever could
3.) The House: Music lives inside every living thing. I must let the music move through me
4.) The Moment: Everything I’ve done or will do is preparation for this moment alone.
5.) Love: If I can love all living things, that emotion can transform the world
I am not permanently in this place but I am trying to be there. When I do become present, everything around me resonates with energy and light. Conversations flow easily, often without words.
Here was my message for the 800 or so folks assembled at this wonderful conference: If everyone here could be present just for one moment. Not thinking about picking up the kids or what to make for dinner tonight. Not worrying about the workweek ahead and not lamenting past decisions or poor planning in this moment. If we all achieve this, the amount of information that can be access would be astounding. These 800 people can change the world in a positive way (it actually takes far fewer than 800). That’s the power of positive presence and it is something I wish for everyone.
There are tremendous folks and information within NOFA, consider joining today at www.ctnofa.org
Ken Coulson is the founder of Sonic Bomb LLC, a mixed-media company that uses art to raise awareness about sustainable living solutions. He is an advocate of Natural Capitalism, a multi-instrument musician and is writing his first book, Annalee & The Forever Smile. His musical project is at http://www.gatsbygreenlight.com
This past Sunday, I was setting up to play music in support of the Whole Planet Foundation at Whole Foods in Westport CT when a man approached me to say hi. He looked over my meager media table mentioning something about a birthday party for his son and asked me about Gatsby’s Green Light. As I was explaining the project, his attention perked up when I said the word ‘Sustainability’. He was intrigued but clearly frustrated. “What does it mean in terms of action? Specifically?”
Seems many people, in his estimation, are hearing a lot of the buzzwords in the sustainability field, ‘green’, ‘organic’, etc but not knowing exactly what they can do to invest in our collective future.
I could empathize with his frustration. Having spent the last year studying the problems and trying to find or create meaningful work in the field, I was just getting through the initial learning curve of sustainable living practices. Habit transitions are tough but look deeply and you will understand the crucial nature of the change that is required. Here’s my list of 5 things you can do to create a foundation of sustainable living for yourself and hopefully, by discussing and encouraging these actions, for others as well
1.) Grow Something: We started a small garden and compost late last year. To our amazement, our mustard and spinach grew through some pretty cold conditions and we enjoyed the fresh food on omelets and salads. In the spring we plan to double the size of our garden, fence it and grow food inside. You can grow sprouts in a jar and many traditional retailers have a variety of seeds on hand. Take the challenge, fresh direct from you garden vs. store bought. I think your bodies and taste buds will know the difference.
2.) Vote with your Dollars: I was playing music in Whole Foods and here’s the thing. For a multi billion-dollar company Whole Foods does some great things but they are not local. I hope WF continues to become a learning center, using their scale and success to do things like: buy their buildings and install renewable power to become their own micro grid, onsite composting, waste energy implementation. WF aside, you need to vote local and vote clean with your dollars. Here are three great ways: 1.) Join a CSA for some of your fresh produce throughout the year: http://www.ctnofa.org/CSAs.htm. 2.) See a community play or music event 3.) Bank with a credit union or local bank. Why? They typically will invest directly in your community making small business loans, grants, scholarships etc
3.) Make a Culture Investment: For those of you around in the 60’s, you knew that music and art defined, not only our smiles, but our hearts, souls and minds as well. This is the understanding that drove me to express myself through these very mediums. In a very real way, supporting local and traveling artists over the monopolized commercialized alternative is a very real way to promote sustainable living. Pick culture that supports the ideals of your community and lift it with your dollars.
4.) Speak up on Clean Energy: I had the pleasure of doing a deep dive into Solar Energy production over the last year. It is truly amazing and makes me happy just to think about the fact that we could power ALL we do with clean from the sun and wind forever with zero fuel costs. The public tide has turned on this now it’s time for the government to do what we are asking here. Sign this petition here: http://ecowatch.org/2012/expedite-renewable-energy/
5.) Waste Not: One of the biggest things we have transitioned to over the past year is adhere to the four R’s:
Recycle: .Our local transfer station is pretty good where we can recycle glass, plastic, junk mail, mixed paper, cardboard and more. The key is to be really diligent (store you used batteries up for a bigger trip) and, if you can, to get involved with your town as to why they might not be able to recycle certain things.
Reuse: I’m pretty excited for our used ‘Chobani’ container pepper garden this spring. You’d be amazed at how many plastic containers you are throwing out. Most recycling centers don’t handle these well so re-use is the best option. The uses are unlimited from spare change containers to plant pots even a drinking bowl of the cat.
Reduce: Focusing on writing over the past year and being out of the ‘traditional’ work pattern has made this one easy for me. In our home we turned a $75 dollar investment in energy efficiency into an estimated $3000 saving in year one. For you financial types, annualize that rate of return then think about the growth potential if even a small percentage of building and residences achieved such savings. Here’s info on the CT program: http://www.cl-p.com/home/saveenergy/rebates/homeenergysolutions.aspx
Rethink: When you start to understand how serious the problem of waste is (I won’t inundate you with scary facts here but there are many) you’ll understand the importance of taking the above actions. Additionally, we need community leaders to help redefine how our communities function, standards at restaurants, zoning for new building, incentives to waste less. All these actions and more need to be community driven. The government should be steering the ship, the people need to row. That is the only way true change will occur.
Thanks for considering these changes, there are many more that we can all take together through our communities and I’d love to hear and share your successes as well.
Ken Coulson is the founder of Sonic Bomb LLC, a mixed-media company that uses art to raise awareness about sustainable living solutions. He is an advocate of Natural Capitalism, a multi-instrument musician and is writing his first book, Annalee & The Forever Smile.
Music is really that supremely important
Imagine life without its’ rhythm, its intention and dynamic, color and space. Without it’s articulation. All conversations are not musical but a great conversation certainly is. All communication however can be thought of as containing the elements of music. The ones that don’t work are filled with discord. The ones that do are harmonious and lead to progress. For only the absence of music in totality from a society could confirm the juxtaposition of the fable on the tower of Babel. Music transcends basic conversation to sit among the inexplicable joys of life. Our passions or our drivers that should not be confused with the ones we download to keep our printers running smoothly.
I choose to try to articulate that inexplicable joy we get from music, that sustenance, that spark and that push to go on when all else seems poised and ready to thwart the good and right and true intention of ourselves and our loved ones. So then our music must be about changing the world in ways both subtle and profound. Because it is there to push us back into the fray when all else seems lost. It is there to force the hard conversation to establish a foundation for growth. It is there to reinforce our true selves out of hide and into the beautiful light of life. Let us then, or ,we must consider the true emotional content of music herself.
True emotion will never dissipate. Love and Courage and Kindness are the most powerful emotions. Like all true vibrations, once brought forth with intention they will last forever, even if they grow faint from time to time. The true vibrations the true intention of our lives is to be at peace and in wonder. Simplification supplanting these true emotions or worse working towards the short wave polar opposites can only remain relevant to constant reinvention. Now that was confusing. Let me put it another way, CSN only had to make Déjà vu once and it will last forever. It is about as powerful as music could be speaking to people on opposite sides of our unique and abstract system of human labels. For those on the right and the left, the Christians and the Jews, are all trying to ‘Teach their children well’. This infused Love Courage and Kindness become more present, the dynamic of the vibrations increases, when we need them most. Like now, true vibrations are exercising their intent to be heard felt and lived. Through their emulation we will change the world and then if we’d like we can blame the music. Because that has happened before as well.
Becoming an active channel for true emotional content is our natural path. You will have access to more information and walk a path of peace and wonder. You will have an effect and you will be heard. Follow the music, follow your heart and when you’re ready craft a world of harmony. It’s waiting for you right now.
Someday, when you’re older
Someday, when you’re older; You will realize that all of your anger was misplaced And that the only emotion capable of true transformation is love and that your love is your most powerful asset.
Someday, when you’re older; you’ll see that this life was never about chasing short-term pleasure or money but a one-time chance to transcend to simple things, build strong meaningful relationships, help others, and cherish our magnificent planet.
Someday, when you’re older; You will know the meaning of Wisdom and the value of imparting it upon others.
Someday, as you’re sunsets get shorter. You will appreciate each one in a whole knew way. Those days with sand between your toes or grass at your feet will become your most valuable moments.
Someday, you’ll see that your only tool in dealing with negativity is forgiveness and love and only those things can change the heart.
Someday you’ll see that Heaven and Hell exist on Earth and if you have the choice to create a brighter day for others you’re in the right place. Someday, you won’t be able to un-see the persecution and starvation of others.
Someday, you’ll wake up and watch you’re hands open and close and feel you’re breathe deep within you. You’ll understand the world inside you as the deepest Universe there will ever be.
Someday you’ll realize that breath and the sun and the water are what make this all possible. You’ll see that you are powerless and it will be the most freeing moment you’ll ever have.
Someday you’ll see our current collective reality is only one possible outcome. Someday you’ll speak up about the inarguable truths taught by nature, science, and art.
Someday, you’ll let go.
Someday, you’ll see that you have two Mothers and if your lucky enough to have them both equally as kind you will be blessed. Someday you will choose not to throw away that blessing.
Someday you will see that the laws of those kind Mothers are the only things that are sustainable and all of the answer are there for your taking. And you’re giving.
Your someday may be the last millisecond of your life. After your heart stops and your final brain impulses are firing. Or maybe on your deathbed, will you be able to speak?
Will you get your wisdom across?
Someday you’ll understand the most beautiful thing. That someday can be today. With all the love I have I believe this.
Will Shakespeare, Stephen King and I were sitting on a bench,
When Will said, “ You know Ken, it’s all about the act of the art? ”
” It doesn’t matter what you think, Will!” Stephen interrupted “ It matters what he’s got to say” ignoring my existence entirely while gesturing outward towards ‘it all’.
“Precisely Mr. King” said Will
It was something about William Shakespeare and Stephen King that got me going again. Not that I wasn’t going, I had been performing, writing a few new songs, and trying to find effective ways to interact with people as an independent musician and writer, right sizing my life, considering my carbon footprint but I had been sleeping way too much. I had a lot of fits and starts running around in my head and maybe I just needed to let them go, let them brew in the subconscious and cavernous recesses of the mind. It had been awhile since I was struck awake at 4am or until such an hour, struck with burning idea and vicious cause. Struck with the idea that I had to get on the page for it’s importance to anyone, any single soul including my own, might be too important to lose. Now I care about a great number of things, chiefly the planet and our potential, but as such I could be writing about any number of little or big things and maybe I had been just becoming a bit overwhelmed by it all, by the levity of it all. This is indeed, powerful stuff. As Stephen King would say, Magic, and I had to be reminded that I too absolutely and unequivocally believe in magic.
If Will Shakespeare was just a name behind a movement, a movement that saw art as the most powerful medium to affect social change and spread awareness in a period of intense oppression and harsh living conditions, then isn’t that the most important thing there is. After all in those days the bard’s song was often considered heretical and even when cherished and secretly revered was still kept in the cellar next to the wine, only to be brought out for the good times and emotional bribes. Then quickly tucked away so it were not to show weakness in the hands of those that beloved it so secretly. Not one could argue we’ve come along way from artistes’ being branded heretics and burned at the stake; after all there is an Art & Entertainment industry. But then again, one could view the industry and it’s surrounding media as a modern day rendering factory for artist designed to squeeze dry and spit out any peripheral talent willing to go along. The superstars, those with talent and wit and the ability to maintain integrity while navigating the various career and image pitfalls as they climb out of the chasm of opportunists, lichens looking for a ride to greener pastures. Smart businessmen capable of seeing the qualities that people with part with their green paper and maybe soon gold bars for. No different than any other industry, with the singular goal of ending up with more. The problem isn’t the process, it’s the definition of ‘more’. And then there’s the guy who ended up with the ‘most’, wasn’t he smart? How did he do it? Maybe he’ll write a book about it and a whole other line of cutter and pasters will show up to prove how smart they are. And thus, all industry was created and all industries fell. Back to art Metaphor, indeed. They all fall back to art.
And then there’s Stephen King, who came along and said if your not going to take it seriously, if it isn’t like making love to you, then kindly get the fuck out! Call yourself a businessman, a fishmonger, a programmer but not a writer. Stephen said no matter what, when you take it seriously someone will try to make you feel bad and it will hurt. You might even learn how to make yourself feel bad and become so good at it: you’ll quit.
Quit what exactly? This business of art? No, the art itself. The business part, after all, can be routine and oh so dour. The business part is unfortunately ugly and contradictory to the art in the first place. It’s the art that breathes life into everything. It’s the art that make us human AND part of nature at the same time. It’s the art that has something to say, something that will not be kept down. It’s the business that taught non-artist’s how to cut and paste to capitalize on the talent of the artist. As such, we are undershooting our potentially in a big way and the storyteller will continue to tell you that. In a small way, in a love song, in the flash and fade of the pop industry, in song written to sell, in words to die for. In it’s falsehoods, the industry, is still showing you the right way. I see a universal story so deep and powerful that I can often barely articulate it. I see the wrong story being told, told by technophiles, business minds, politicians, and that aforementioned flash and fade pop music industry. Stephen and Will might say the wrong story being told can still illuminate the right path but often I worry. In a big way, I understand I guess the misnomers ripe with humility necessary for a word of sanity backed by evidence to make it in edgewise. Be humble before the ignorant King, for it is he that knows the door that leads to the land and its spoils and also the door that leads to the lion.
It’s easiest at 4am, being honest. Beginning to question our current paradigm and accepting all that’s wrong with the human problem; the ignorance, the bigotry, the war, the state of the planet and the ignorance about that as well. It’s easier for me to know that art is about telling this story. And I needed to be reminded that what was keeping me up at night was what is also keeping me alive. Not being judged by the industry for it or by an artist who feels it somehow behooves his or her goal to criticize because simply, with a nod to Mr. King, who the fuck are you? I’m making love here, and love is all there is.