In praise of heroes…

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“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.”*

Two creatives who understand the degree of responsibility that comes with their freedom are Suleika Jaouad and Jon Batiste. They have both made sure their voices are heard regarding the pandemic uncertainty and the murder of Mr. George Floyd and the subsequent misery, mourning and marching in the fight for justice, safety and equality for people with brown and black bodies.  Suleika and Jon are the two heroes I’ve chosen to honour today. 

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Mr. Batiste likely needs no introduction – he is the beloved bandleader and keyboard artist extraordinaire of Stay Human, house band of CBS’ The Late Show (Colbert).  Every night he makes us smile and entertains us with sweet musical notes and phrases – he and his band are one of the best parts of the show.  Jon never speaks ill of anyone (even when Colbert is egging him on); my Nana would say “he has kind eyes” and he does indeed seem to be a kind, gentle soul. 

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Ms. Jaouad, on the other hand, might not yet be known to you.  In addition to being Jon’s partner, she is an author working on revisions (just like another friend of mine) of her first book and, just as soon as it is released, she will undoubtedly become a household name, just like Jon.

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For a lot of people, me included, journalling can be so much more than creating memories, it can be cathartic and it can be a coping mechanism.  So many of my friends and contacts are using their journals as a means of “talking through” their pandemic anxieties.

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Like so many of us, Suleika is a cancer warrior and knows very well the demands, constraints and anguish of enforced isolation. When the coronavirus “stay home” restrictions were first announced, Ms. Jaouad – knowing from experience how taxing separation can be – began creating, curating and sharing daily journalling prompts. ‘Though this writing project was meant to last thirty days, it has been expanded:  The Isolation Journals, A 100-day journaling project to get you through challenging times. I’ve a fair idea how much time and energy is involved in this project for Ms. Jaouad, and I’m sure she will welcome the 100th day, but I’m also sure her subscribers will happily, eagerly even, continue far beyond the hundred days if that opportunity should arise – the prompts are that inspiring, that enriching and that much fun.

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Personally, Ms. Jaouad’s prompts have helped me to engage with and overcome some of my isolation demons in a manner I’d never have considered or if I had, never been able to master alone.  But there have been lighter moments, like on day 36, “Dear Postal Worker” when our prompt was, Write a letter of thanks to your postal worker. That was a fun and easy assignment and I hope mine helped our mail carrier understand how much she is appreciated and that it brightened her day a little.  

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Then came the heartbreaking and sickening news out of Minneapolis – a black man callously murdered by a white police officer.  Proving that Ms. Jaouad understands the degree of responsibility that comes with her freedom, she reacted immediately and introduced a series of newly appropriate journalling prompts:

“Hi journalers,
I’m going to break format.
Given the events that have been unfolding over the last week, it doesn’t feel right to continue with our scheduled prompt programming as if nothing has happened. 
Over the next six days, you’ll get six musical meditations from Jon Batiste. We hope this offers a space for meaningful reflection.
Sending love to all those who are hurting, who are listening and learning and reckoning—
Suleika”

Beginning Sunday,  31st May, a week of stirring, rhapsodic writing prompts followed – articulately, thoughtfully and creatively written to help us journalers write expressive and impassioned prose based upon our feelings, emotions and experiences.

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The first six prompts were based upon the music of Jon’s new album “Meditations” (Meditation, Prayer, Home, Relationships, Teardrops and Lullaby) which is available on iTunes and is utterly lovely, calming and lyrical.  I’ve always found writing inspiration in music so those were six of my favourite prompts thus far.

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The seventh prompt, concluding Jon’s week on Saturday, 6th June, was titled “Anthems” and was, hands down, my favourite writing prompt, ever, and I’ve been fortunate and privileged enough to have had some wicked-good prompts over the years.  The music for this prompt was a live recording of Jon’s performance of Neil Young’s anthem OHIO with Leon Bridges and Gary Clark Jr. at the Newport Folk Festival 2018. I encourage you to click on the link below and listen, it is absolutely beautiful. So, too, are the words Jon wrote:  

“There was a time before music was commodified—before people sold tickets to “see” it, streamed it over the information superhighway or pasted logos of it on compact discs and t-shirts. Our ancestors used music as a way to communicate deep truths, hidden messages, collective wisdom and unspoken joy and pain. But even in the modern realm, at its best, music remains a divine source. We still get glimpses of that power from time to time from our great artists, and these moments frame our lives. 

Your prompt for today:
When was the last time you experienced art that transcended enjoyment and overwhelmed you with its power. How would you translate that magic into words? If this hasn’t been an experience you’ve had—make it up.

For a musical accompaniment to your journaling, listen to “Ohio“.

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‘Though it wasn’t the last time I experienced art that transcended enjoyment and overwhelmed me with its power, I wrote about the first time I saw Les Miserables on the stage at The Royal Alexandra in Toronto.  It was so dynamic, so impressive, so emotional an experience as to be overwhelming.  The star, Michael Burgess, was the very personification of Jean Valjean, so much so I imagine Mr. Hugo was beaming his approval and adoration down from heaven when Mr. Burgess sang the first few notes (sorry Mr. Wilkinson!).

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I listened to Ohio, many times in fact, and with that inspiration in my mind wrote too many pages to count.  The words gushed out and I didn’t stop to edit or correct, just savoured the experience.

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With “Meditations” (both the piece of music and the writing prompt), Mr. Batiste set an immovable inflection point on our anti-racism curve from which, as Ms. Jaouad so perfectly wrote, we might document our hurting, listening, learning and reckoning. Together, Ms. Jaouad and Mr. Batiste rose to the importance of this historic chapter in human history and in doing so, provided their journalers with the ideal opportunity to write about and process their experiences.  

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I am grateful for the 100-day journaling project to get you through challenging times.  I am grateful for the inspiration and creativity offered by Suleika and Jon.  I feel privileged to have had their creativity to work with in my journal.  Sending respect, gratitude and so, so much love to my journal heroes – Ms. Suleika Jaouad and Mr. Jon Batiste. Thank you for helping me soar!

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‘Til next time, y’all…

*Bob Dylan

The aircraft might seem incongruous but I’ve always felt that a personal hero is someone who makes me soar, helps me reach for and attain heights I’d never have done on my own.  Today was day prompt #69 (of 100) and I can honestly say that every one of these prompts has helped me soar whilst being completely isolated.  Thank you Suleika and Jon.

Ohio is a counterculture anthem (protest song) written about the Kent State campus shootings, 4th May 1970, originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

If you’d like to listen (and I encourage you to do so), here is the original CSNY version of OHIO.

This is the version performed by Jon Batiste, Leon Bridges, Gary Clark Jr., 2018, Newport Folk Festival: OHIO

OHIO

[Hook]
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio

[Verse]
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

[Bridge]
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na

[Verse]
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

[Hook]
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio

[Outro]
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio

OHIO Music and lyrics by Neil Young.

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