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Fearless Play with Miles & Sally May 26, 2020

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“I’ve discovered that half the people would love to go into space and there’s no need to explain it them. The other half can’t understand and I couldn’t explain it to them. If someone doesn’t know why, I can’t explain it.”

 

– Sally Ride

 

“If you understood everything I say, you’d be me!”

Miles Davis  

I often say that when I think of being fearless, I think of jazz and the rules of improve. I think of saying “yes, and….” I think of people like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Joshua Redman, the Marsalis family, and Jason Moran.

I also think about Miles Davis, who would have turned 94 today. But we’ll come back to him, because when I think of being fearless I also think of women like Christa McAuliffe and Sally Ride.

Ride, who was born today in 1951, was the first American woman in space and the third woman overall, (after Soviet cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya). She is still the youngest American astronaut to have traveled into space and, although it wasn’t known at the time, she is now acknowledged as the first GLBTQIA astronaut. She once said, “I love the John Glenn model… I may call NASA in 25 years or so, and see it they’d like to send me to Mars.” And, she probably would have if she hadn’t been so busy teaching, running public-outreach programs for NASA, serving on two aerospace accident investigation boards, writing 7 books for children, and starting and running “Sally Ride Science” (which creates entertaining science programs and publications aimed at upper elementary and middle school children).

Part of what made Sally Ride fearless was that not only did she (to paraphrase McAuliffe) say yes to a seat on a rocket, she also said yes to being a role model. She kept the focus on the science even as she endured the most sexist questions from the public and the press; however, when she realized certain people were going to keep coming back to her gender, she used the platform she was being given to make room for more women and girls in the sciences.

“I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one. And I began to understand the importance of that to people. Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

– Sally Ride

The fact that pretty much anyone (and everyone) in the public eye ends up as a possible role model can be dangerous – especially when people don’t accept the responsibility, or take it for granted. Miles Davis fits into this category. Born today in 1926, Davis said, “The thing to judge in any jazz artist is, does the man project and does the man have ideas.” Davis did and had both. He was a musical innovator who studied at the Institute of Musical Art, now known as Julliard, but also studied in jam sessions with jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He was a trailblazer, who kicked off the “cool jazz” movement, developed “hard bop,” and ultimately fused jazz with rock and funk. He would lose old fans, win new fans, and then gain the old fans back – because he did the thing he told other musicians to do: he didn’t play what was there, he played what wasn’t there.

“A legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do. I’m still doing it.”

 

– Miles Davis

For all his musical success, however, Davis battled demons. He grew up in a fairly well off family, but people often assumed he grew up poor and was uneducated. He struggled with the fact that although albums like his Birth of the Cool were historically and musically important, they didn’t have the same success as albums by white musicians in the same genre. He also struggled with cocaine and heroin addiction, once broke both ankles in a car accident, and by all accounts (including his own) he was physically and emotionally abusive to all three of his wives (and most likely any other women with whom he had a romantic relationship).

Miles Davis was a narcissistic abusive jerk. He was also a genius. Interestingly, even now, Pearl Cleage is one of the few people to speak of his abuse. Not because she personally experienced it, but because she wanted people (especially men) to stop and think about how they engage in relationships. She wanted shine a light on how not to act in relationships.

“No, you should not feel guilty. Miles is dead. We can just hope the next time he comes around his spirit and his personality will be as lovely as his music.”

 

– Pearl Cleage, author of Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth, in a 2012 interview for Atlanta Magazine (when asked about listening to music by Miles Davis)

This week, we reconnect and remember those that came before and consider what lessons their lives have to teach us. Please join me today (Tuesday, May 19th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a little fearless play in the form of a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

 

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