On a cool, windy, and sunny Thursday afternoon, my wife and I attended a Catholic funeral Mass for Father Mark Stetz, a beloved local priest who passed on, leaving a grieving flock and family to say goodbye. We went not as Catholics obeying tradition but in respect and appreciation for Father Mark’s good heart and his values-driven life of service.
The church filled beyond its three-hundred seat capacity. Sixty-eight priests and bishops and a convent of nuns occupied a good portion of the pews. A dark-suited bouncer patrolled the entrance lest an un-anointed muckety-muck try to sneak a seat inside the crowded building. Though the Gospels tell us “the least shall be first,” the VIP section and reserved seating said something different.
The sidewalks leading up to the main entrance bloomed with rows of white folding chairs filled with friends and parish faithful saying farewell to the good Father. Suits and ties mixed with jeans and work shirts. English and Spanish voices blended in song and prayer, and the church musicians, minus my favorite mandolin player, filled the spaces with joy, sorrow, and a message of hope.
As an escaped Catholic, I engaged in the service from an emotional distance. My mind drifted from the present to past Catholic funerals, some held in my old Bronx parish of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, others across the tri-state region of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Some were for my family members, from grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles, to my beloved younger sister Anne Marie, whose death at thirty-two had a significant impact on changing my life. Her funeral, held just a few short months after my mother’s, was the toughest to accept. It was made more stressful by the Catholic Church’s refusal to allow a dedicated funeral Mass because it was Good Friday. Yet we, the family, found our way through the grief and loss and did our Catholic duty, sore asses on hard wooden pews, silently incensed as the censer swung and click-click-clicked against the long metal chains filling the air with a smoky aroma which always says death.
I remember other sadly joyful funerals for departed friends from the world of music and theater, held in churches filled with friends and family blessed with talents they shared, through tears and smiles, in song and recitation. The loss was there, but the dread was absent. There is nothing like sitting in an unassuming church filled with a few hundred actors and singers whose voices rise in a final farewell, serving the universe with their best, most meaningful, loving goodbye.
An odd sense often fills my head when listening to more traditional music played at some Catholic funerals. Maybe it’s the minor chords, the slow tempos, or the loss of clarity as the organist applies too much pipe and pedal. Perhaps it’s the subtle aggression some church pianists bring to the keyboard, or the battle for primacy between soprano and tenor during a dramatic rendering of a mournful hymn. Maybe I just cannot stay in the moment, but I often think these songs would kill in a heavy metal motif. A thudding bass, two low tuned guitars chunking out mid-scooped rhythms, a wild-haired skinny guy wailing away like the lead singer from a 1980s hair band would undoubtedly change the vibe. Or would it? I have shared this observation with a few fellow mourners, who quickly rescinded their proffered Sign of Peace. Not big metal fans, I guess – though if you look at paintings of Jesus and the Apostles, you might see a resemblance to the lineup of ’80s rock bands on one of those Rockapalooza Booze Cruises popular in some circles.
But back to Father Mark. His funeral was a celebration of his life. A long-time friend and fellow priest related the most telling story, illuminating who Mark was. At his ordination, Mark asked if there could be a washing of the feet. This request, to me, is the pure distillation of the message of Christ. Humility, service, caring, and community. Not glory, not adoration, not the fear of damnation. The expression of love for all, no matter the station.
Regardless of how we worship or what traditions we follow, good people find ways to do good deeds. Whether done loudly or quietly, it doesn’t matter. We can only go where our humanity leads us, and if that is a search for a higher power or a nobler cause, it’s all good.
I write about music a lot and often look at it through the lens of how it impacts me emotionally. So, I will write about the album “Currents” through the same lens. It will be interesting to see where this exercise takes me. It may be a jumble of parents, friends, musicians, creative souls, and flawed humans. I guess we will see.
My son John is a musician, a songwriter, and a rock and roll poet-philosopher.
He is part troublemaker, part peacemaker. He is a bundle of love, hope, despair, optimism, and pragmatic fatalism, at times impossible and always completely loved. The perfect combination to make a great rock and roll record, which, in my opinion, he has done with his band Original Son.
The album “Currents” shows Original Son’s roots in punk and builds out from there. In my mind, the band and the record are just good old-fashioned kickass rock and roll with a heart and a conscience.
The ten songs are full of emotion, from deep anger to natural optimism. Rhythmic shifts and musical intensity slam against subversively upbeat choruses, creating a fast-moving thrill ride. The connectivity between music, lyrics, and performance has the flow of good storytelling. The arrangements drop surprising little hooks, with background vocals, percussion, snatches of piano, and some tasty Hammond organ adding to the sonic picture. Producer Tim Hutton keeps it all flowing, never stealing focus from the guitar-bass-drums vibe that is the core of Original Son.
The musicians – singer/guitarist Johnny Calderwood, bassist Justin Chester, and drummer Jeff Robinson, sound like a band– an honest compliment to them. Each player has a knack for dropping lines and phrases that make me go, “Woah, I didn’t see that coming, or just DAMN!!!” Younger, hipper reviewers have compared their playing to more contemporary musicians. I hear flashes of the players I have listened to over the years. In Justin, I hear John Entwistle as much as modern players like Flea and Mike Dirnt. Drummer Robinson reminds me of Mighty Max Weinberg, not so much in tone but in intense, rock-solid time and taste. (I asked John, “how hard does he hit?” to which he replied, “As hard as he needs to.” A compliment I know musicians who play in bands will understand and appreciate.)
As a guitarist, Johnny is an intense, dynamic rhythm player with a thick tone that fills out the mid-range with solid time and controlled aggression that lays down a bed for his crazy-good vocals. His solos, mostly short and to the point, dispense with gimmicks and make statements appropriate to the song. He shows a surprising range of stylistic influences, and nods to everyone from Mike Ness to Neil Young. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with his lead tones, but I have realized over time that his sound is his sound. His note choices and poignant phrasing in his short solo during “The Avenues” stopped me cold and had me hitting rewind. Moments may go unnoticed during casual listening, but these little glimpses beneath the bold and brash add dimension to my understanding of the artists.
The opening track, “Castles,” made me sit up and think, what do we have here? A dark, almost menacing eighth-note bassline joins with gritty power chords dragging a tail of feedback and crashing cymbals. A forceful voice asks, “Is this is the end/ Are we running out/of solid ground/did you learn to shout?” And then – BAM!!! Full-on punk-flavored power trio rock spitting social commentary on our fractured and divisive society and the actors who orchestrate the hate. “We’re all locked out /of the rooms of the castles/ of your masters. / In a world /built on deception/ you did not question/you are the weapon.” The song moves through a few subtle yet distinct styles, at one point causing me to flash to Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.”
Then comes “Parasite,” the first single released from the album. Brighter, bouncier, a bit cleaner sounding, giving the impression that it was a happy piece. Until I read the lyrics. This song’s moral and political core targets those who choose to attack rather than build. “You got your merry men/they keep their torches raised/so we can identify them/ You are a parasite/an American Parasite.”
“Well’s Run Dry” beats me up with the fury of the lyric, the ragged emotion of hurt, and the undeniable glimpse of acceptance and guarded reconciliation in the chorus, “we don’t want to talk about it.”. And then comes the breakdown courtesy of a volcanic performance by hardcore legend Lou Koller of Sick of It All. “You cannot fake this/you cannot break this/we turned our rage to hope and changed the whole perspective.” Then comes the heys and reminder that “we don’t want to talk about it.” “We” may not want to, but there it is.
Aha – “Currents.” A minute-long respite to collect myself. Guitar and vocal. Snatches of piano, a bit of keyboard, and one minute of philosophy-driven questions and observations about the world we find ourselves grinding through. The vocal is outstanding, almost beautiful—a strange word to use, given the delivery’s ragged edges and gritted teeth. There is courage in letting the lyric and vocal stand in the clear. And then it is over. I need to rethink the use of the word respite.
My absolute favorite in this collection of favorites is “The Avenues.” The song is a big basket of little hooks and moves like a ride on a gently rolling road of lyrics and melody. It is part rage, part despair, and part guilt. The story is inspired by what he sees in his adopted city of Los Angeles; the homeless, the underserved, the everyman and woman being driven farther and farther into hopeless situations while the ones with the means remake the city into walls of privilege. Johnny reflects on his journey in parallel to the changing communities he knew and shared. “We all found shelter here/and then it disappeared/between the lights and the glamour we made our way and survived. /Did we lose ourselves/in those dim-lit rooms/did the city slip away while we broke all the rules?” Then the relentlessly melodic chorus of “We’re just waiting for the fallout, baby. We’re just waiting for the walls to come tumbling down. Did they build it up/just to push us out? Recycle everything and turn this town upside down….” The band marches resolutely through the deceptively simple, repetitive chord progressions, allowing the lyrics to tell the story. A signature guitar phrase runs through the song, including the beginning of the solo, which adds a short eight bars of melody that breaks my heart every time I hear it. The final chant at the end says it all – “They’re gonna fuck it up. They’re gonna fuck it up” over a swirl of layered vocals repeating “down, down.”
“The Turnaround” is a reimagined take on an earlier recording, moving away from the more pop sound of the original into a gritty, almost punk-funk reading. Like “Currents,” the intro is low-key and a bit tense, then the band tears into an aggressive rock-funk slam that is invigorating and soulfully nasty. Power move here.
“Fire Away” is a therapy session in two and a half minutes. “I might be broken beyond repair ’cause the pieces are too jagged to fix.” The background vocals on the ending are almost dirge-like ooh – oohs. The message is mixed, but the almost rockabilly feel shakes things all around, so the listener has the urge to sway and shout FIRE AWAY!
“Flesh and Bone” and “Shelter”are raw and rollicking. On these tracks, the rhythm section rules. Drummer Robinson kicks off Flesh and Bone with a Mick Fleetwood-like drum intro, switches to a pounding, unclenched hi-hat, then hits the gas with a punishing beat that calls the rest of the players to the table. Bassist Chester lets loose with some dynamic solo lines that make this old bass player grin like a schoolboy. He also pops out in Shelter, shoving every inch of air out of the low end and into the atmosphere. Another tear of minor-ish guitar runs crashes into a pounded piano, ending in a glorious wash of tones, tunes, and atmosphere. I hear things in my headphones that I’m not sure are there – yes, it is that ear-opener.
The last song, “Hymn For The Underground,” is a punk-rock pep talk for everyman, capturing the essence of accountability and self-destiny. “You’re not replaceable/ they can’t walk on water/we are the ones who make the gears turn…you are glorious.” Be good to yourself, find and celebrate your value, and “stand up for what you love.”
To my ear, The Turnaround, Avenues, and Hymn For The Underground call out for social awareness and activism from the masses.
Well’s Run Dry, Flesh and Bone, and Shelter share the more intimate and painful truths of trying to find some peace in a life filled with great highs and lows. Alienation and anger singe the edges, but a bit of jaded optimism is threaded throughout the pain. The one word that comes to mind is “accountability.”
I love this record for a whole lot of reasons. One of the best ones? It makes me want to sing, dance, pound the table and yell words not suited to a man of my age. And I will, and you just might too.
Words and Music by John CalderwoodArrangements by Original Son
Guitar & Vocals – Johnny Calderwood
Bass & Vocals – Justin Chester
Drums – Jeff Robinson
Additional Vocals on Well’s Run Dry – Lou Koller
B3 Hammond – Howard LaravaePiano – Tim HuttonPercussion – Chris Reynolds
Recorded at Canyon Hut Studios
Produced by Tim HuttonEngineered and Mixed by Chris ReynoldsMastered by Hans DeKline
Beautiful Cambria never lacks a passion project. The current drive to build a Skate Park on Main Street to replace the one removed due to its deteriorating condition is an excellent example of the challenges of such endeavors.
What might seem like a simple, straightforward project is much more complicated than perhaps people realize. Over the recent weeks, I had multiple conversations with representatives from all parts of the puzzle, including leadership from Skate Cambria, CCSD Board members, and staff. My goal is to present a reasonably clear view of the moving pieces that make up this effort. There are levels of complexity beneath each topic, so I have added links to available details so readers can examine the same data. Here’s a simplified takeaway from those discussions.
The goal of the project’s advocates is to build a safe, accessible skate park on Cambria Services District property on Main Street, next to the Cambria Library and across the street from the Vet’s Hall. The previous community-built facility occupied the site before being dismantled due to deteriorating and unsafe conditions.
A community organization, Skate Cambria, is deeply involved in driving the project forward. Skate Cambria has done an admirable job of gaining community support, as well as skateboard-related industry interest. The group’s fundraising efforts, managed through a local non-profit, have reportedly amassed approximately $175,000.00.
The Cambria Community Services District is involved in the project for two main reasons. First, the property belongs to the District, and by extension, Cambria’s taxpayers. As a community asset under the CCSD’s jurisdiction, there is a responsibility to manage the parcel appropriately.
Based on detailed presentations from the design and engineering firm Spohn Ranch and the Project Management lead from CCSD, the current projected cost sits at Six Hundred and Sixty-One thousand dollars. This number, provided by Spohn Ranch, carries several caveats, including potential areas of cost reductions.
The Project Management presentation details the requirements from SLO County’s permitting authorities. Concerns include the need for a restroom and accessible parking for the facility. Both of these requirements have the potential to add significantly to the final project costs. There are potential approaches that could reduce or eliminate the need to build out both items. Final project requirements will be defined through Value Engineering/redesign activities and negotiations with the permitting agencies.
Skate Cambria indicates they have raised approximately $175,000.00 in donations. They continue their fundraising activities and lobbying for additional financial support from the community and other interested parties.
A potential funding source under review is a PROP 68 grant for $177,000.00. As part of the application, the District must identify the project’s cost and all funding committed to the project.
Gaining a more accurate and realistic total project cost requires significant interaction with the permitting organizations, complex project re-engineering, and aggressive negotiations among all parties to get to a final project plan. The filing deadline for the grant is December 31st, so it is a steep climb to gather all the data, crunch all the numbers, identify all the funding sources, and go through the process of budgeting and allocation of District funds.
Based on just the “known” estimated costs outlined by Mr. Spohn, the quick math is:
Estimated Project Cost – $661,000.00.
Assume the $177,000.00 grant is secured. Add the Skate Cambria funds of $175,000.00.
The difference that the CCSD would need to commit to contributing to meet the grant criteria is $309,000.00.
Remember, these figures are based on estimated costs and do not include any additional expense to meet required permit conditions. Nor do they contain any cost reductions gained through redesign and Value Engineering.
Regardless of how the project is ultimately defined, any District money must come from the general fund. That is the same pool of money that pays for the Fire Department and The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, among other things.
The Board has scheduled a special meeting for Saturday, November 20th, to discuss this project. The meeting will be available through Zoom, and the public is encouraged to share thoughts and suggestions on how to move forward. It is always better to participate in the process and make your judgments rather than rely on other people’s perspectives.
This project is a positive example of how citizens work together to meet goals that affect the larger Cambria community. Skate Cambria demonstrates the passion and commitment to the Skate Park project and the equally important job of being great role models for the community, young and old.
The CCSD Board and staff continue to do the difficult work of evaluating all the information, balancing the community’s needs, and making the hard decisions about spending limited resources most responsibly.
Crazy tumbling images spun by. Her logical scientific mind frantically grabbed but failed to hold onto the connective tissue that floated just out of consciousness. Her intuitive, primal spirit found a thread and pulled, gently braking the whirling carousel. The random images, sounds, and emotions connected; not in any logical order or sequence, but started to make sense.
In this dreamy vignette, young girls filled the small gym at Saint Nicholas of Tolentine grammar school. A whirl of motion, navy jumpers over absurd blue bloomers, six to a side, as the rules of the day dictated. Basketball, boys or girls, ruled the neighborhood. From grade one through high school, the thud thud thud of ball against the ground was as much a part of the atmosphere as car horns, cooing pigeons, and soft Irish accents of mothers and grandfathers.
The tone of the rhythmic thump changed from leather on wood to the metallic ping of ball meeting concrete. Gone was the swish of the net, replaced by the clang and rattle of the garbage can used for target practice outside the oval that centered Devoe Park. The oval was the neighborhood coliseum for serious players, usually male. Plenty of local girls could compete against the best boys, and handily beat the average ones. But in her dream, she was not one of those girls.
She was still falling. Her vision melted into a kaleidoscope of maroon and white. Words and letters appeared above and beside her, then turned upside down as she descended. Familiar words. She carried them for four years and earned an F, the prized varsity letter that represented Fordham. Fordham University, the place where she found her niche among the best cheerleaders. The place where she achieved academic excellence. The place where once again the arrogance of men tried to keep her from playing on their court. Forgive me, Father, but I will not be known as Young Miss, but as Doctor.
The picture changed again. A boisterous crowd filled row after ascending row in the most famous of all arenas: Madison Square Garden, home of countless basketball confrontations, rock concerts, and the occasional mass wedding. A young college man, playing his heart out for his school, grew older with each dribble, his face and figure becoming the comforting man she woke up to that very morning. Alongside him ran two boys, who, like the man they resembled, grew into young teens, then mature young men. They were as clear and familiar as her own heart, the heart that pounded as she presented them to the world.
There was no rat-infested apartment building in this dream, no terrifying first lab class with dissected rodents under her shaking hand, no arrogant Jesuit blocking her access to a life in medicine.
There were only twenty-five thousand cheering fans, falling with her, helping feather the landing, and sharing the fear and joy of a tumultuous ride.
She slowly woke, the places of the past replaced by the contours of her office. Her eyes briefly rested on the wall of framed accomplishments. The sounds of distant cheering remained faintly in her ears, as grateful neighbors saluted the arriving colleagues that fight to keep other people’s dreams alive.
Her hand rose to her white coat, feeling for the Blue and Gold SNT, or the Maroon and White Letters she gained at Fordham. Instead, her fingers found the symbol of her calling. She gave a reverent squeeze to the simple tag that bore her name and the most honorable letters, M.D.
The intersection of citizen advocacy and elected community leadership is more fluid than a hard, clean line. There are rules and processes designed to facilitate that dynamic, but it isn’t easy to maintain consistent compliance in practice.
Whether elected or volunteer, public service comes with the responsibility to sometimes loosen one’s grip on an absolute position and accept a reasonable compromise. It also requires occasional conformity to uncomfortable or alien practices to how one operates as an individual, a family, or a boss.
Many of the people who step forward to serve the Cambria community are eager to “crush the ball” and drive positive change. Some are natural leaders, with the right combination of skills and experience needed for a particular role. Others are situational leaders, either by subject matter expertise, intense personal connection to an issue, or passion for a cause. Many, if not most, are good collaborators who find a place to contribute to the overall success of the team, and therefore the community. There are a few who struggle to recognize when they are holding on too tightly to a single style, not putting the greater good above personal philosophy.
Little League Baseball
When my son was much younger, I helped support his Little League team. I was not an official coach, just a father who knew a fair amount about the game of baseball, had a flexible schedule, and enjoyed watching the kids learn all the essential things that come along with organized sports. The official coach, Steve Galluccio, kept a group of rambunctious young boys on a good path while allowing enough freedom to keep it fun. He also had the remarkable ability to handle the difficult kids who would sulk or act out when they weren’t chosen to start or play the position they wanted.
My skill was in observing the players as hitters.
You can observe a lot by just watching. Yogi Berra
Two of the kids had great raw tools but made repetitive mistakes that limited their success. One boy was an obvious athlete – tall for his age, great disposition, and a joy for playing that made it look easy. His approach reminded me of the great Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy. The Little League version held his arms high, with shoulders level with his chin. His eagerness to hit the ball as hard as possible led him to violate the prime rule of hitting – keep your eye on the ball. When he started his swing, he would raise his front shoulder, which blocked his view of the incoming pitch. On those occasions where he connected, the baseball rocketed over the head of the outfielder. More often, though, he would miss the pitch badly. We worked on this problem throughout the season, and his success rate improved with each game.
‘The second player had a different batting style, though his desire to crush the ball also led to some bad habits. To generate more power, he would pull his arms way back as the pitcher released the ball, knocking him off balance and elongating the time it took to get the bat into the hitting zone. We worked on his starting point, moving his arms away from his body and keeping his hands farther back, in a ready position. We also worked on getting his feet spaced and balanced. The time he gained gave him split seconds to adjust to the location of the pitch. The phrase we used as a reminder was “fast hands, quiet feet.”
Put Me In, Coach
Like people everywhere, we sometimes refuse to listen and adjust our stance, relying on self-confidence that might be a bit misplaced. Not everyone can be right all the time. We all need coaching, and we all need to constantly evaluate our approach and make adjustments to meet the day’s challenge.
One of the many reasons I see baseball as an analogy for life is the century-plus history of those who enjoyed long and successful careers by making adjustments. Many pitchers, gifted with a blistering fastball that made them unhittable, found themselves getting touched up as they lost a bit of zip. Twenty-year major league pitcher Frank Tanana adapted by adding new pitches, changing speeds, studying hitters more closely, and knowing when to turn the ball over to a teammate. Derek Jeter could hit home runs but took a situational approach to hitting, amassing statistics that underscore his intelligence, team focus, and the judgment to adjust to the game situation. Will he apply the same philosophy to his new career as an MLB team owner? We will see!
Self-realization is powerful. So is listening to coaches who see things from a different perspective. As my good friend and mentor Rick Jablonski says, “give me the athlete, and I’ll teach him the game.” Great advice, especially with those who have the willingness for continuous learning and growth.
Like baseball, there is always a crowd watching every move, every choice, and every decision in public service. The beauty of it all is there are way more fans rooting for success than detractors hoping for failure. So, grab a glove or a gavel, suit up and enjoy the game.
I had been thinking about what I might write on this Fourth of July – the most unsettled and concerning one I can recall. America. It is beautiful, and it is ugly. It is heartbreaking and uplifting. It is loud, it is soft, but what it can never be is silent.
My approach changed as I Zoom’d into the UUCC service, hosted by my wife Jan and populated with personal recollections and perspectives from several fellow congregants. I listened as different speakers shared their American experiences through profoundly personal memories.
I am going to take a bit of personal privilege and share some of Jan’s words. I will also take this opportunity to share the unseen hours of writing, researching, and practicing as she put together her contribution to the music of the service. She thoughtfully combined Lou Stein’s complex and compelling jazz arrangement of “America” with Paul Simon’s poignant musical story of the same name. Two very different styles and visions, brought together to underscore the theme of the gathering perfectly.
In her talk, Jan shared a bit about her family history in America.
“When I was growing up, someone in my family started the rumor that we were directly related to Thomas Paine. I have since learned Tom Paine had no children that survived past infancy, so if we were related, it had to be remotely. I do, however, really have a Grandpaw Paine.
I want to believe my roots hail back to the great man, Tom Paine, the writer of Common Sense, the rabble-rouser who inspired people to embrace the Rights of Man. I want to believe that my heritage is that of a people who demanded a more perfect union. I derive that heritage, or at least the imagining of it, from my mother’s side.
My father’s was a completely different story. He came to the United States at six months old from Sicily, grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, joined the army in the prequel to WWII, fought at Normandy, Ardennes, and the Rhineland.
That’s why I consider myself the quintessential American citizen. First-generation on one side and probably seventh or eighth or more on the other. What could be more American?”
It was her poem, read towards the end of the service, that expressed her American heart.
The Last Rocket’s Red Glare by Jan Callner July 4, 2021
The passing of Shirley Bianchi has me rummaging through my emotional couch cushions, looking for the right thoughts to express her impact on my spirit. I will write only what I know, and trust others will continue to share their memories as the quilt of her life is passed from heart to heart.
Shirley’s inspired political accomplishments are best shared by those who served with her, and those she served. And she served all, whether they voted for her or made other choices.
Courage and tenacity were the calling cards of her endless drive for environmental sanity and preservation. These chapters of a life lived in service are better written by those who sat alongside her, and across the table from her as that particular bit of history was made.
Her never-ending battle for equality, be it gender, economic, or identity, rolled with the force of the ocean. Her positions were delivered with frankness, steeled resolve, honesty, and humor. She wore her heart on her sleeve and her sweatshirt. Her lifetime of love, compassion, and devotion is best reflected in her family, her friendships, and her commitment to her faith.
My lasting memory will be our discussions around that faith. Shirley embraced the Catholic Church willingly, a choice she made later in life. I, conversely, have spent much of my adult life pushing it away, seeing only the wrongs I experienced while force-marched through a very different version of Catholicism. Where I saw fear, bigotry, and a reliance on blind obedience, Shirley embraced the tenets of love, hope, compassion and service.
Through these discussions, it became clear how she achieved so much, and why she was respected, valued, and loved by allies and opponents. Shirley listened quietly, found common ground, and maintained an openness to other points of view. Her stillness and focus sent a calming message that the discussion at hand was important and merited her attention.
I, the spiritual skeptic, recognized just what true grace on earth looks like. I hope to reach for that grace when faced with contention, and be just a little better at finding it in others.
Shirley Bianchi – fierce, gentle, combative, collaborative, relentless, and relenting, lived a long and valuable life with love in her heart and malice for none. There are shades of this grace radiating from her friends, her family, and those who use her as a guide in service to their communities and causes.
May her soul rest in peace, and may Perpetual Light shine on her, now and forever. And may peace be with you.
Go rest high on that mountain, Shirley.
For a fuller overview of Shirley Bianchi’s impact, please read Kathe Tanner’s beautiful piece in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, where those who knew and loved Shirley share their squares of the quilt.
We gather our tribes, define our borders, and set our pikes pointing outward, determined to keep away the scourge others try to bring to our door. All the while, self-created viruses are capturing parts of our hearts and souls, turning our humanity grey, then black, as it dies an ugly and needless death. That scourge is as simple as a differing viewpoint.
A Good Book
I remember when I was a kid, someone gave my mother a small book of writings by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. The book, bound with a tartan plaid cover and printed on a beautiful stock, drew me in. I didn’t fully grasp the meaning behind his words. The job of understanding was made more difficult by the traditional language of the time and what I have come to appreciate as sardonic wit wrapped around scathing commentary on the mores of the age in which he lived. I inked notes in that book, selfishly unconcerned that I was defacing and damaging what was not mine to damage. When my parents saw what I had done they shared more words, not ambiguous and definitely timeless in their meaning. The words of poet and parent still affect me. I occasionally seek out works by Mr. Burns and find new meanings and new applications for the verses written centuries ago. A few I can remember and recite from memory, burned into my mind fifty years back.
Ye true “Loyal Natives” attend to my song In uproar and riot rejoice the night long; From Envy and Hatred your corps is exempt, But where is your shield from the darts of Contempt!
What defines “a native” in today’s world, in this country, in this town? And to who or what is that native supposed to be loyal? Are we loyal to an individual because he or she is a friend? Are we loyal to an individual because they think as we think? Are we loyal to an individual because we have great animosity towards another? Are we loyal to an ideal? Is our loyalty locked in place regardless of changing circumstances?
As we careen down the last straightaway to November 3rd, there are a lot of opportunities to visit those questions. The local election cycle is less about spirited dialog and strong advocacy and more about personal animosity and the diminution of individuals. It seems like the strategy of the day is destruction and debasement. It feels like ideals, convictions, and engagement have given way to character assassination, fallacious arguments, and ugly demands to engage on terms absent a sense of fairness. We have become entirely comfortable with disregarding what was said in favor of what was “really meant.” It is not a question of having misheard, it is a strategy of misrepresentation.
All may not be lost. We will see after we vote if the choices we made will move us ahead. The goal of any election, be it average or extraordinary, is to have an outcome that guides us forward. Not total agreement, not chaos. We won’t all be happy, but hopefully, we won’t all be permanently enraged. There will still be plenty of things left to disagree about if we can survive our current pandemic of personal destruction.
I am finally able to put a name to my feelings about my country. I declare myself a pragmatic patriot. I have always been pretty positive about the United States of America. The good and the terrible, things in transition, and things in stasis. We have sent people to the moon, and we have sent people to their deaths in pursuit of noble aspiration and misguided conquest. For every act of aggression, there are acts of generosity and resilience that define the best of what America can be. Yet here we are in 2020. We watch astronauts go to space and come back to earth, live on television, while at the same time we are told it is too risky to vote by mail. “WTF???” Here, in 2020, we witness brave Americans coming before us, testifying under oath to the terrible, illegal, and immoral acts of our most senior elected official and his cronies. Yet nothing changes, except that the truth-tellers lose their jobs, have their reputations brutalized by criminals and sycophants, while millions of fellow citizens cheer and jeer at their pillorying. Again, “WTF????” Some will argue that “it has always been this way.” Some posit, “this is nothing new, and it used to be worse.” I can’t remember when, in my lifetime, so many bonfires have been burning, using our most sacred and vital principles as fuel. Tribalism has grown worse. Ugliness is exacerbated by conspiracy theory and amplified by a willingness – even eagerness – to make all manner of accusations against our neighbors. We seem to have abandoned education in favor of indoctrination. Has the time passed for the dream that is America?
Our home is filled with books, many of them biographies of past American leaders: Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington. They serve as valuable resources and lessons on how we have faced crisis and triumphed over crushing odds. They also serve as a reminder that leaders aren’t always great, or perfect. The ones we remember, those who have shaped history, managed to find themselves when the world most needed them. The table next to my bed has a small shelf on the bottom that holds a collection of books. Among them are three that tell a story: the past, the warning, the result. The first, “Leadership: In Turbulent Times” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, examines the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Goodwin details the major historical events faced by each of these American Presidents, and how their leadership and vision propelled the country and, arguably, the world forward towards a more just and moral state. The second book, which paints a decidedly different picture of a man who would become an American President, is “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History” by journalist Katy Tur. This recounting of her experience covering the 2016 Republican candidate demonstrates the rot and ugliness of the man who would eventually succeed in becoming the nation’s 45th President. Tur’s reporting shows a person with the exact opposite qualities and morality of the four men covered in Goodwin’s book. The third book is “A Very Stable Genius” by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, both veteran Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who have covered American politics for years. Their effort chronicles the realities of an administration led by the candidate described by Tur. An administration headed by a person whose lack of leadership, morality and courage stands on the opposite pole from the men described by Goodwin. I struggled to finish each of these books. Goodwin’s work, because it was painful to realize how far we have fallen from the standards these four Presidents set for leadership and moral courage. Tur’s, because I knew how it ended, and I did not want to be gut-punched again. And finally, the work of Rucker and Leonnig, for it exposes the realities we now suffer – the manifestation of all the warnings that did not matter to enough of us to avert this American nightmare.
Of all the sobering and frightening warnings about the potential end of our grand experiment in self-government, one that shook me deeply came from historian and author Jon Meacham. Mr. Meacham has devoted his life to studying and chronicling the many roads that have taken America from feisty dreams to magnificent reality. As our leadership careens into chaos, destroying everything good and noble built over our very few centuries, Meacham would most often calmly assess it all and put it in the context of history. This implacable, scholarly observer found himself at a crossroads. He had wondered, if he lived in a time and place of existential crisis, what he would do. Mr. Meacham recognized it is no longer an academic exercise. Now is such a time. He spoke, not from his tomes but his heart. His words, while measured, revealed the depth of his conviction and the angst he felt as he spoke, not as a historian, but as a citizen, and said:
With our voices and our votes, let us now write the next chapter of the American story. One of hope, of love, of justice. If we do so, we might just save our country, and our souls.
His act of conviction gives me, not hope, but a sense that justice still matters, and good people will choose to take principled stands.
Our Better Angels
Many more historians, journalists, teachers, politicians, doctors, soldiers, religious leaders, and ordinary people here in America and around the world are raising their hands and speaking from their convictions. We need to listen. I am not writing because I believe I am right. I am writing because I believe our current direction is horribly wrong. I know we can always be better. America must be better. I am a pragmatic patriot.
I can’t believe it’s “destroy your neighbor’s political yard signs ” season already. Where did the time go?
From reading local posts and roasts, one might think multiple evil twins are running for the three Cambria Community Services District board seats. (From Wikipedia – “The evil twin is an antagonist found in many different fictional genres. The twin is physically nearly identical to the protagonist, but with a radically inverted morality.”)
For every positive endorsement of an individual, there is an equal number that declare the candidate a disaster. It is Amazing how many Kreskins live around here, and how confidently they predict each twin’s exact agenda for the future. Spooky!
Cambrians are fortunate to have four well-known and qualified candidates competing for three seats. Each individual is deeply involved in the community, serving in both elected and appointed roles.
Incumbents David Pierson and Harry Farmer are both seeking re-election. Director Amanda Rice has decided to step back for a while. I hold Amanda in high regard when we agree and when we disagree. She is pragmatic and passionate, always does her homework, and values data, facts, and solid reasoning. As a keeper of the community’s trust, Amanda embraces challenging issues with compassion and a drive for social justice. Thank you for your leadership, Amanda.
Now, back to the election.
Harry Farmer and David Pierson have both served as Board President and chaired District Standing/Advisory Committees. Both serve with non-CCSD organizations such as the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group, Friends of The Fiscalini Ranch, American Legion, and Greenspace. Both men have demonstrated their values, influences, and approaches while serving as Board members.
Harry and David have name recognition and a catalog of service. Those who follow the CCSD have a good idea of who they are and what they believe.
David Pierson is a mature, moderating force on the Board. He offers civility and collaboration to what has often been contentious and partisan governance. David’s life-long devotion to leadership continues to be a great asset to the board and to each committee and community group he leads. His extensive engineering and management experience make him uniquely qualified to understand the intersections of technology and process as it relates to the critical issues that face the community. He is always calm, polite, and practical.
The “no he isn’t” contingent tag him as relentlessly pro-growth with little regard for fire safety, failing infrastructure, and the ratepayer pocketbook. All that leadership of the FireSafe Focus Group is just a cover for his true plot to build the town to within an inch of the ocean.
Five minutes with David should put a rest to those ridiculous assertions.
Harry Farmer has been a consistent advocate for fiscal responsibility, environmental awareness, and preservation of Cambria’s small-town community essence. He does constant outreach to the community and the district employees, looking to better understand the needs and concerns of the different parts that make the community what it is. He is not an experienced manager or public official, so his approaches don’t conform to usual practices seen on many boards. Over his four year term, he has become more familiar with the technical aspects of budgets, infrastructure programs and practices, and employee relationships.
Harry’s evil twin has all of the same characteristics, positioned as negatives rather than positives. Torch-bearing townsfolk see his behaviors as disruptive, uninformed, and regressive, with an unhealthy tilt towards a subset of the overall community and a significant disdain for Cambrians on the other side of the issues.
Harry Farmer is Harry Farmer – he speaks his mind, and what you see is what you get. I appreciate the consistency and transparency of his service.
Talk with him at the Farmer’s Market – you’ll find him deep in discussion with his fellow citizens. He’s a good man.
Karen Dean and Tom Gray also have long records of service to the community. Both have served on the North Coast Advisory Council and CCSD standing committees. Karen and Tom each stepped up and offered to serve as appointed Directors during the last go-around of Board vacancies.
When I look to gain a wider perspective on how our community is managed, Karen always welcomes a conversation around the challenging and divisive issues plaguing Cambria. These discussions are always respectful and factual, and regardless of disagreement often end in the sharing of some of her awesome home-baked cookies.
But wait, say her detractors! Her deep concern and environmental activism make her suspect in the eyes of some. Her “evil twin,” according to her doubters, is violently anti-SWF and anti-growth, and is easily swayed by more vocal and aggressive partisans.
I have yet to meet that twin and don’t believe she exists.
Karen Dean walks the walk, humbly.
Tom Gray has deep knowledge of the issues that impact Cambria’s quality of life. He engages in public service from a sense of obligation and perhaps a smidgen of hubris. We differ significantly on a few key issues, and have exchanged some heated comments while representing our positions. Regardless of differences, Tom’s education, experience, and work ethic can add value and substance to the efforts to keep Cambria in good health.
Meanwhile, Tom’s evil twin wants to enable his coven of secret developers so they may turn a sleepy coastal community into a hellscape of mansions and swimming pools. His work as the Public Information Officer for the District during the development of the Emergency Water Supply project is all the proof one needs to convict him of everything, and then some.
This, of course, is silly, though it is not unusual thinking in a place where people’s character and motivation are suspect based on their professional associations.
My recommendation to all who have questions, or who struggle to decide which twin is which, is to actively participate in the process. Each candidate has made it clear that they are accessible and eager to engage in positive dialog with anyone – though I would personally disengage from the rude, the bullying, and the abusive, like those who steal campaign signs. Visit the websites, call the numbers, send an email, and make your assessment on who will best serve the entire community.