Hi All,

Hello, I am the founder and Executive Director of, My Voice Music. My Voice Music is a nonprofit organization based in Portland Oregon that engages youth in music and performance in order to promote self-esteem, social skills and emotional expression.

I am also a musician and songwriter. I write and record primarily as a solo musician these days (formerly playing in the bands Another Cynthia and American Hit List). You can hear my solo music by clicking on some of the album links on this site.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Turn to Poetry, Not Mastery: Act toward Your Best Understanding of What Is Just

I came across a short interview of David Gutterman. He is a professor at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon who teaches and studies in the fields of religion, politics, gender and race.

His (very brief) framing of the current state of the U.S. social/political situation we find ourselves in today vs. other historically tenuous moments gave me perspective. His advice on how to deal with information overload and the fact that individuals' beliefs are not being swayed by evidence, and particularly, how to move forward in such and environment will be useful to me.

Below is an excerpt from the interview:

"Why is Poetry Important"? (question is paraphrased)
"Everyone’s worried that they lack mastery. It’s part of the information onslaught: There’s always another source, another article you need to read, always another cross-cutting commentary that you have to engage with before you either act or say anything. I don’t quite have this whole race thing figured out, so I don’t know if I should say anything about the subject. I’m worried about what other people are going to think. 
There’s a real concern about mastery and knowing things. Poetry helps because it’s not a realm of mastery. It’s a realm of not-knowing. 
WisÅ‚awa Szymborska, when she accepted the Nobel Prize for Poetry, said, “Fascists know things. They’re constantly talking about how much they know.” To quote the President, “I’ve got a good brain. I know more than the Generals. I know.” 
Part of the reason I find myself turning to poetry in my political theory classes is because it frees people from mastery. It’s not about being lazy or glib, but it’s also not about having complete control over the subject, or over yourself, before you step forward."

Is there a particular piece of advice you give to students, or some sort of truth that you go back to again and again, yourself?
"Three things come to mind. 
One: You don’t have to figure things out entirely before you act toward your best understanding of what is just. You’ll find your way toward a clearer sense of justice through your actions. If you wait until you figure it all out, many opportunities to lead a just life and to help other people will go by the wayside. So walk your way there. 
Two: Be kind and gentle to one another and to yourself. 
Three: If you’re not using the power that you have to help support others who have been historically denied power and opportunity, then you’re not using your power justly."

Read the full interview here:
Act toward Your Best Understanding of What Is Just

Thursday, November 26, 2015

All Things Must Pass

My Grandma died yesterday.

She was a firecracker.  She lit up my life.

I loved asking her questions like:  “How many calls would you have to make to score some weed?” (her answer:  “one call”).  What is your favorite drug that you did or didn’t try and why?  - her response – “we could take a trip and never leave the farm”…she never answered that question directly.

She adopted people who were homeless.  She clothed them, fed them, told jokes to them, laughed with them.  She would go out on cold nights to make sure they had a blanket and warm socks.

She almost always had two squirrel-sized dogs with her.

If I mentioned that I liked something in her home (as a courtesy), it would take an act of god to leave without her forcing me to take the said item home.

She once gave me a bb gun.  Within the hour I had shot stranger with it.  While I lost the bb gun, she never let on that she was dis-appointed in me.  We would laugh about that moment each time we visited for the rest of our lives.

She always had a smile and a flood of tears waiting for me.  I was conceived the same month her husband died.  My father, her son, left a hole in her heart.  I feel like because of these things she always made a point to spoil me.

She prayed for me every day and let me know it.

She gave me guilt trips for not calling and visiting enough – every time I called or visited.

She loved remembering the past, a little celebrity gossip, and telling jokes.

She knew pain and how to be compassionate.

She knew love and shared it through her food, hugs, and doting.

She knew how to laugh.

She could give a good guilt trip.

I wish everyone had a person in their lives who saw them as the best person in the world.  It’s weird, for sure.  But certainly it’s nice.

This grandson can’t believe she is gone.  I am thankful for her crazy loving presence in my life, and happy that she passed quickly and with family.

She loaned me the money for my first recording rig (a Tascam 16 channel something or other).  This is a song I chose to mix down today as I thought about my grandma.  It is about hopelessness and hope.  Her brokenness certainly gave her a deep compassion and camaraderie with those who were broken.  This song is shared in honor of her – thanks Grandma!

I am Thankful for Those Who Have Believed in Me

I am thankful for the people who have believed in me.

As a young man I was suspended and kicked out of class more times than I can remember. I was failing in school, lying, and cheating. I felt like "Public Enemy Number One" amongst the adults in my life. I was pulled aside, glared at, yelled at, and addressed as a major problem weekly.

I appeared indifferent to it all. But I was just trying not to expose my true self, my struggling self.

This was the case until I was invited to a summer camp and someone there saw beyond my indifferent facade.  They saw the best in me and they began to reveal that "best" part of myself to me. That changed my life forever.

I am thankful for all of the people who have invested their time, their wisdom, and their energy in me. Their investments have not been wasted. These mentors, like that camp counselor, have been guideposts showing me another, more fulfilled, path for my future.

I am thankful to have passion and the mental, emotional, financial and physical means to pursue it. 

 I am thankful to have an opportunity to invest in the lives of young people.

I am thankful to have the support of a community who understands how important this work is. This work of letting people know they are not alone. Letting them know their past does not define them; revealing to them the amazing strength, the resiliency, the humor, the depth that we see in them; that they are needed, their story matters, and their impact is relevant and powerful.

I am thankful for you.

I am thankful to know you; as a supporter, as a student, as a parent, as a partner in this work. I am inspired by the gifts you bring and give so generously to My Voice Music. 

I am thankful.

Friday, July 3, 2015

New Life

Karen and I just had a baby!  Jude Mouser arrived at 8:58am.  He was born 8 pounds and 15 ounces after 36 hours of labor by my wife, Karen.  I will get to know Jude soon enough, and of course I love what I know of him so far.  What I watched my wife do though is what made me weep.  

After being in labor for 30 hours with moderate contractions occurring every 1 - 6 minutes, Karen finally transitioned into “major” labor (the transition into the birth canal, and the push with all your might till baby arrives period of labor; the part where women say they want to die, they scream lots, and so forth).   By the time she arrived at this intense phase of birth she had not slept in 40+ hours.  She had been in labor, breathing through contractions for 30 hours.  She was running on reserves to say the least.  The baby would not be born for another six hours.  During that time I would witness the most significant physical feat I have ever seen.

From 3am to 9am, I watched my wife push herself into and through exhaustion over and over.  I watched her become terrified, and then find the strength from somewhere within to continue.  I was helpless as I watched.  She was powerful.  Monumentally so.

With each contraction the directive was given, "give it your hardest push yet"…over and over and over.  Each time, I held her body as it rose up and shook violently in order to accomplish that challenge...then stopped...gasping, shaking, moaning, then falling limp for a moment.  A variation of this was repeated every 1 - 5 minutes for five hours with little visible progress.   She endured.

The final three hours of labor she was falling asleep between each contraction.  During this time she was woken by her team (myself, our midwives, and the Kaiser nurse) as each new contraction arrived.  We encouraged her by shouting, whispering, running fingers through her hair, giving her ice chips, and any other means we could think of to keep her going. 

After 34 hours of laboring she was near exhaustion.  Doctors came in and said they would soon be considering additional interventions (forceps, vacuum) in order to deliver the baby.  She continued to push.  Never complaining, never asking for pain meds, never fearful, just continuing.  

Approximately 15 minutes before Jude was born it became apparent that Karen might actually accomplish this birth without intervention...and more crazy, without any pain medication!  I was able to let my guard down a bit and I wept.  I could not hold in my emotion any longer after watching Karen hurl herself at this birth again and again; finding more strength inside her then I have ever seen in a person.  Her lips, indeed her entire head and chest, turned blue each time she pushed Jude from her body.  Her lips rarely turned back to red, but rather stayed blue as she rested.  Her body was covered with sweat.  She would collapse, and do it all again, and again, and again.  

I thought to myself, “this is the most incredible thing I have ever seen”.  I have never seen another person do what she did.  I could not dream of doing it myself.  This was not simply child birth.  It was my wife, Karen Darr in her most pure state:  relentless pursuer, dogged to the last breath, to get whatever it is that is on her mind...fortunately, for us this was Jude!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bike Tour 2015: Astoria to San Francisco

I recently took a couple weeks to ride my bike from Astoria OR to San Francisco CA.  I had a blast!  I saw dolphins surfing, whales breaching, Redwood Trees, and miles and miles of beautiful coastline.  It was my first bike tour and I really enjoyed it!

I took a few photos, tracked my mileage and elevation gains, and shared some notable moments in a separate blog.

You can learn about my trip here:   Ian's Bike Tour Blog

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is Success Achieved In Triumph, Or Is It Found In The Accumulation of Failures?

Spoiler alert, "is success achieved through a multitude triumphs, or is it found in the accumulation of failures?", I think the answer is probably, both.

The word “triumph” implies overcoming something.  Literally, it means to conquer something.  (Wikipedia's definition references Napoleon in order to really drive the whole "conquer" theme home.) That “something”, I believe, is failure.  For example, one army triumphs over another army, one team over a rival team, a person seeking less clutter triumphs over a dirty house by cleaning it, etc.

That is to say, all these scenarios include the following steps; setting out to do "something"; by committing to something, we encounter the inevitable risk of not being able to achieve that something; and, after agreeing to take on this risk of failure, the triumphant individual is merely the individual who accomplishes their goal void of the failure.   (The quick version of this:  you set out to do something and accomplished it despite the odds.)

Quick disclaimer:  I am not speaking of the great movie theme failures such as infidelity, murder, or turning your jet fighter up and to the right too quickly, getting it caught in the jet-wash, killing Goose. (That’s a Top Gun reference, millennials.)  It’s not that they don’t have a place in this conversation.  But I am speaking of the more mundane failures, who’s fear thereof can stop us in our tracks before we begin our journey. 
“I want to record an album”, says, the aspiring artist, “but what if I fail?” -- artist stopped in tracks.  “I want to be a kinder partner to my lover, but I am afraid to be vulnerable” says, no-guy-ever out loud -- Emo Romance stopped in it’s tracks.  “I want to start a workout routine”, says everyone in January, “but what if I don’t follow through?” – says, a thousand people now at a higher risk for heart disease.

So if success is the accumulation of triumphs, the journey of success relies on an intimacy with failure.  To triumph (to be “successful”) is to willfully embark on a path where the only certainties are failure, or the triumph over failure.  The depth of our triumph (or success) therefore is measured by our willingness to co-exist with the reality of failure, or at least, tolerate it’s gravitational presence.   

Consider the moon landing.  One of man’s greatest triumphs to date.  It is so because the journey was enshrouded in constant, eminent danger.  It was ludicrous.  They all should have all died.  But they didn't and their reward is infamy; it was the inspiration of an entire nation, indeed the world.

Or more universally, consider a relationship.  A relationship cannot thrive without vulnerability.   To succeed in a relationship we must share the very things that could doom the relationship to failure.  When we choose to take a risk and share our vulnerabilities, and those vulnerable parts of us are understood and accepted by our partner, we know we have found a partner that loves us for who we are.  We can rest assured that the relationship might last for a while.  In order to reach this place of intimacy and security however, we must expose the relationship we love to the risk of possible failure; we must expose ourselves to rejection and humiliation.  

Success is not the absence of failure then, it is the wiliness to continue to be vulnerable, to experience failure, and to be exposed to risk constantly without shutting down and becoming paralyzed by it.

How painful is it to experience failure though?  It’s really painful!  And how do we not let it cripple us?  How many people reel from it’s grasp only to respond by becoming immersed in an “Illusion of Control” (that is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events).  If we could truly control something, we would lose the inevitability of failure, which is a natural impossibility.  If you could though...the absence of risk would negate any ability for triumph to occur, ie; there is nothing to conquer if it has first been handed to you as a gift.

So we must learn to live closely with failure (at least as an option) in order to experience any amount of success over our challenges.  And, unfortunately, if we live closely with failure as an option we will experience it.   

So the issue is still, how to deal with failure and not become devastated, numb, and averse to it.  It is certainly counter-intuitive that in order to experience success we must become bedfellows with failure.  

Failure is gross.  It is devastating.  It is our worst parts void of anything good.  Failure turns my stomach and makes me physically curl over and wretch.  It makes my head pound with shame.  So what do we do when we become exposed, absent of our “potential” and our “good intentions”?  What happens when what we aspire to be, is far removed from the reality of our present actions?  

Should it be that instead of congratulating ourselves for aspiring to be the potential "us" we wish were; and instead of believing that we are the illusion we wish other’s saw us as; we should acknowledge steadfastly our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, the places where we fail utterly.

If we did follow my above suggestion; embrace our weaknesses and be open about them, I see two things happening:  

  1. We may have a more intimate relationship with both triumph and failure which will both decrease the devastation of failure (yeah!) and the elation of triumph (huh?!);  
  2. we may also form relationships that give energy to one another and help each other grow rather than alienating one another and propagating a perception of “completeness”, "triumph", and "success".  

To be clear, however, I am not advocating a bunch of doom and gloom… “Woe is me" folks hanging out together talking about how terrible they are...I would rather swallow a tennis ball than hang around in that crowd.

Similarly though, my reaction is the same when people put up false pretenses to make a good impression, eg; the kind of folks who would rather learn to enjoy a sip urine from a tea glass if the decor is right, the company proper, and their image can be maintained, than state something is foul.  (btw, these folks are not to be confused with the folks who willfully, if not with great pains, eat the most wretched of foods humbly offered by a kind host…different situation there altogether; think Ghandi.

The Pareto principle, or the “80-20 rule”, describes the phenomenon that 20% of effort yields 100% of gains.   We can say then that there is a lot we don't need to focus on; about 80% in fact.  Could it be that we do not need to focus on reinforcing things we feel good about, and rather exist on the razor’s edge, constantly refining and growing; sitting at the intersection of failure and triumph over it.

The bible says that god says, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot.  So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." I am guessing god wouldn't spit “thee” out if “ye” were focused on the 20% described in the Pareto principle.  

I think that 20% area is the “hot and cold” section.  That is where the manifestation of our passions exist, where we must take risks to grow them.  We must break off the conventional trappings and find something new.  

Should we not then be either hot or cold, refusing to settle for the ambient temperature?  Should we not take risks and make an effort to make change?   And if so, the question still remains, how do we live with the painful consequences of being wrong, of letting ourselves and others down?  And how do we experience “triumph” and maintain humility in success? 

So the answer to dealing with the pain that failure causes is...

Full Disclosure:  I am writing this because I can't sleep.  I am anxious right now over my own failures. I am constantly committing to things that I don't get done.  
Yes, it is true that I get some amount of credit for founding an organization that is thriving and supported by amazing staff, volunteers and community members.  I sit at the helm of an award winning ship so to speak - and that’s super! But how did I do it?  "What’s my secret?", you ask.  I'll tell you the secret:  I am incredible at sharing my passion, at having a vision... 
...then overcommitting, then failing, then finding people who surround me and help me not fail so much.  I excel at naively accepting challenges, and when serious problems arise, being creative enough to navigate them...by doing this enough, some progress is made.
Indeed, I am an expert at inspiring action.  I draw empathy out of people through the combination of revealing the great expanses of my inadequacies, and then peppering them with just a touch of hopeful banter.  My organization rests atop of a mountain of debris created out of my individual failure, upon failure, upon failure.  Indeed, it is that pile of debris (made from my failures…incase you didn’t get that), that allowed people to see how they could use their skills to help, to fill gaps, to do things better than I could ever achieve on my own.  Persistent failure, viewed through an optimistic lense and a sense that the ultimate result was in my power alone to achieve or abandon,  made it all happen.
Now, enough of me.  Back to the thought, "the answer to dealing with the pain that failure causes is..."

...We can reduce the pain of failure by embracing it.  Experience failure daily, moment by moment even.   We can take away it’s power by acknowledging it when it happens; laugh about it, cry about it, scream about it and cuss about it.  Don’t hide from it and don’t hide that part of yourself from others.  Share it.  It will draw people to you.  They may find value in being a help to you.  They may find respite from their own struggles in your vulnerability...

…or they will run from you.  That happens too.  Not everyone is on the same page regarding this “exposing our vulnerable sides”.  And timing is everything here.  Certainly don't go over board on a first date or a holiday party, no one likes a "Debby Downer".  Also, people might judge you.  That's always my fear, the judgment...it happens.

I used to play "tricks" on my students a lot with the goal, not to help them overcome failure once or twice, but instead, to help them become familiar with failure.  To become friends with failure (or at least enemies possessing mutual respect for one another) as a necessary part of the process of learning, of accomplishing great things, of doing something special.  

Before I would ask them to do something challenging or vulnerable, like a recital or performance, I would help them succeed and fail countless times in a matter of minutes.  "Play this scale...  Good, good, now do it with melody...yes, I can feel your focus, it is suffocating.  Now I want to feel your spirit!".  Yes they may have succeeded in playing notes, but what is a note if it is not inspired by the soul?  It is a soundwave (you can't take that away I suppose), but that's just it...it's just a soundwave, nothing more, a dry old soundwave.

I would encourage them to write an entire song and perform it for me in 15 minutes.  Why?  Who cares? The song probably won't be amazing.  It doesn't have to be.  It might blow us both away though... if we are lucky.  

Or it might teach the student (and me) something in the process.  The student may hear a new chord relationship they hadn't experienced before and love it...or realize they never want to hit those two notes together at the same time again.  Either way, something has been gained through this process.  The song would certainly never have had a chance to teach us if it was never created.  

So go out and fail all over the place.  Get used to failure.  Sure, you should apologize when you miss the bar (and you’ll probably feel like a sap for a while).  But you will also learn from the moments when you miss your own expectations; when you have to make that difficult phone call (as I may have had to do this evening). 

Don’t rest in lukewarm waters”, says the frog in the pot.  (Watch the the video explanation of this reference here:  Frog boils in water)  Make sure you are putting yourself in the position of either “hot or cold”.  The more we are willing experience failure on our journey the less likely it is to crush our spirit when it really matters, and the more likely it is that people can come alongside us, help us, inspire us and indeed, be inspired by us.  This will help all of us to walk forward, perhaps bruised but not totally broken.