Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead

A month or so prior to Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead— I was asked by Martha and Enrique to help set up a photo booth for a local celebration they were organizing at Yaquina View Elementary. They are a fantastic couple and I have the highest regard for them on so many levels. As the experience emerged – planning, set up, event documenting and editing – I’ve been contemplating many things cultural and spiritual.  

“Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party. Equity means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist. And inclusion means that everyone has the opportunity to dance.” – Google

Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated. In North America it is growing in interest. Martha, Miguel and community partners pulled together many resources. Family, friends, local businesses, and the community converged at Yaquina View Elementary for a splendid evening on November 2nd, 2019.  

My past knowledge of Dia de los Muertos was very limited. We went to the theater and watched Cocoa in 2017. The movie was a stunning visual feast and very much a hero’s journey.  Practically, this was all I was going on. Reflecting on it now, I have much more appreciation for the event, the effort to put the evening together and what it would end up meaning for me.   

I have been reminded that recognizing our loved one’s who have passed is a good exercise. It’s a little embarrassing and I feel a hit of shame: I currently have no pictures of my grandparents, uncles, and father on display in our home. They are still sitting in a box. Why is our home so sanitized of visual symbols of these important characters in our life’s story? I certainly think of them. I have some work to do here. I need to create a home alter or at least hang some pictures for my beloved that have departed.

Waiting… Box of memories – moments in time. Stuck in the closet?! It feels at times like the deeper the love the harder the loss. How I miss you…

As the evening unfolded, we were given a spectacular event. It was a packed house. I’ll let the video do most of the work in regard to the participants and the performances.  I’ve got follow up plans to talk to Miguel Medrano, Leon Valdivia and Martha de Valdivia. How does Day of the Dead fit into their belief systems? Is this more of a symbolic gesture to loved ones who have passed, or do they feel a deeper and intrinsic connection that their loved ones are somehow conscious of their recognition. Are our physical and spiritual planes crossing in this time?

As I began researching the celebration in preparation of writing a couple of links have been insightful.

National Geographic has a very basic overview. (https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/dia-de-los-muertos/)

Georgetown University, Berkley Center for Religion. Peace and World Affairs has an article titled “Day of the Dead in Latin America and the United States”  (https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/day-of-the-dead-in-latin-america-and-the-united-states). It’s a fascinating overview.

Placing Day of the Dead in our modern context the author notes “we need to be careful about drawing direct lines of ancestry between ancient and modern Day of the Dead celebrations because when we do this, we erase complicated histories of cultural loss and struggle, decontextualizing the tradition from the effects of five centuries of colonization and the resulting alienation from and later re-appropriation of indigenous practices.”

Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. The bread was delicious! What an amazing journey we are on.

It’s fascinating how we build our personal history from our experiences and the written and oral communications of others. Finding an inner path that brings peace and meaning is sometimes difficult to separate from the cultural narratives. Belief systems are not a one size fits all situation. Dia de los Muertos has reminded me of death’s beauty and intimacy.  But, we should never force anyone into such things. This a personal journey.

The author closed with “Most of today’s public Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico and the United States are largely invented traditions that, like all cultural practices, grow and change with the times.”

I feel like every day is a renewed personal invention. My narrative is sometimes the same and yet it shifts. What seems critical to me is that we have the freedom to explore and allow that freedom to others. I recently listened to an interview with “Elif Shafak on the Urgent Power of Storytelling”.  At some point she noted that we don’t seek to understand how and what God means in our modern age. I’m not really sure that is true. But, it feels this way to me, sometimes. I’m speaking broadly here. Why are we here? What do we do with this existence? And, isn’t it fascinating that we have the ability to “contemplate” non-existence?!

Martha and Enrique’s daughter. Excellent little helper. Their kids helped set up for the event. This would become the area for the photo booth. I really love how MUCH LOVE Martha and Enrique model. Good people!

Day of the Dead got me thinking… and recognizing that I didn’t make it this far alone. That’s good reminder, for me, and possible others too. Thanks to all who made this evening incredible! My hope is that next year it’s bigger and more inclusive. My homework: hang some photos and create more time to recognize the passing from this plane into the next.

Tyler Spencer – Live – Cafe Mundo

Without knowing, consciously, that Tyler Spencer was a “local” musician – I’ve seen Tyler around.  Over the last year, our paths crossed with more frequency. He rides MTB, is a student mountain biking (NICA) coach, shows up at Newport Area Trail Stewards meetings and has been involved in the Coast Hills Classic Mountain bike race.  At some point, I friended him on Facebook and learned about his new album Sonar becoming available on iTunes.  We downloaded Sonar and begin jamming his tacks during our morning commute. (https://music.apple.com/us/album/sonar/1478790328)

I’m constantly making new Didjeridu and play religiously. I’ve experimented with many different materials and approaches to crafting this instrument and have narrowed it down to what I feel is the best possible Didjeridu for people to play, no matter what skill level you’re at. – Tyler Spencer

It is typical for Reed and I to crank the tunes driving, especially on the way to school.  As we started listening to Sonar the album grew on me the way good music does.  It’s often the best music that gets better with each listen. Such as the case with Tyler’s Sonar.  The better the music got the more I became intrigued with Tyler, his musical process and the mystery of his primary tool – the didgeridoo. On Sonar he’s laid the solid trance like and hypnotic beats. As a “former” multi-instrumentalist (and perhaps at some future date continued musician) I know that nailing these beats is no simple achievement. They are good. I also become intrigued with the didg riffs on these tracks. What is happening?! How many tracks? What can be done with this didgeridoo? Fascinating.

Reed. 9 years old. Super stoked to experience Tyler in real time. Cafe Mundo 9.9.19. We left early because it was a school night and I wanted him to get his rest. We could hear Tyler opening one of our favorite jams from Sonar as we were pulling away. I kind of regret that now…

Wikipedia: “There are no reliable sources of the exact age of the didgeridoo. Archaeological studies suggest that people of the Kakadu region in Northern Australia have been using the didgeridoo for less than 1,000 years, based on the dating of rock art painting”.  It wouldn’t surprise me if this instrument goes further back in the depths of time…

I have so much more to learn about Tyler and the history of this instrument.  I feel like I have seen photos of him in Australia hunting for trees to craft new instruments. So much to verify and correlate. I believe he designs, crafts and sells these instruments, as well.  “My life’s work is dedicated to the crafting and playing of the didjeridu. These pursuits have taken me around the world and helped forge strong ties to the didjeridu community.” (www.primaltones.com)

As I began editing the video I realized that 10 years ago Spencer had a show at Café Mundo and was witness to a “angel like entity” who he would later marry.  I assume this encounter would later cause his current roots to be planted and grow.  This show may be his last at Cafe Mundo. Lorie and Greg have sold the restaurant and property to pursue (www.realcannahoney.com)  Reed and I are very grateful to have seen Tyler play live at Mundo. This video’s intro from Tyler discusses the narratives and origins of meaning. It’s significant in this universe – Lincoln County’s Universe – and the sounds that we all experience. Enjoy…!