The Challenge of Change

James Haywood Rolling Jr.
October 30, 2018
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When I was a youngster, there were certain album recordings I would replay over and over again on my father’s living room stereo turntable, typically the songs that made me cry.

Yet I would listen to the rare songs able to penetrate my castle-walled emotional defenses only when I was alone in the house—usually with the curtains drawn, the lights dimmed, and the sound cranked up high enough to overwhelm my bulwarked senses. I freely admit…I welcomed such invasions.

One such song was titled “Everything Must Change,” originally written and debuted by Benard Ighner as a guest vocalist on the 1974 Quincy Jones studio jazz album, Body Heat. In this fashion I tended to the wounds of my adolescence as a deliberate means of altering the inertia that kept me isolated and ineffectual as a human being. I knew I wanted to live a meaningful life, but I was just as aware that I could not do so unless I learned to communicate as directly as these songs did—cutting through the same-old, ripping away the monotony, and pulsing across my psyche like a warm balm applied to an injury. Ighner’s song has been covered by numerous artists, from Nina Simone to George Benson to Oleta Adams, but the lyrics always begin this way:

Everything must change
Nothing stays the same
Everyone must change
No one stays the same

The young become the old
And mysteries do unfold
Cause that’s the way of time
Nothing and no one goes unchanged
There are not many things in life

You can be sure of
Except rain comes from the clouds
Sun lights up the sky
And hummingbirds do fly

The meaning I take from these simple words and their musical phrasing is complex and layered, simultaneously issuing lament and heralding something new and necessary about to happen. Everything changes—even those things we don’t want to change, will change. Everything changes—and given time, even those things which are currently unknown will unfold and become apparent. Everything changes—and because we do not know what will happen next, life is certain to remain uncertain. Everything changes—except for the few things that never do…including, paradoxically, the inevitability of change.

The theme selected for this Simple Word Publications blog is “Making Renaissances and Revolutions.” Near the end of the circulated rationale for the 2017 National Art Education Association convention in New York City, art + design educators and scholars were reminded that, “Change is never complete and that is the real challenge: it is a continuous cycle that requires both vision and action.” As you settle in to the content that will regularly be shared in this blog, take the opportunity to ask yourself the question: “What is the change I need, and how can the change I need be sustained?”

Just as there is no single definition of art that all educators and scholars agree on, the change we each need in our own classrooms, communities, and research agendas will invariably differ. Sometimes the change we need is spiritual or psychological. In contemplating the well-known Wallace Stevens verse, “Things as they are / Are changed upon the blue guitar” (1982, p. 165), I note with the same intrigue as the authors of On Writing Qualitative Research that the Self as instrument of study is also the Self as artist (Ely, Vinz, Downing, & Anzul, 1997, p. 335). In other words, changing the mediums, materials, or methods by which we represent our experience in the world or as a community of educators is often the catalyst for the inner change we need to recalibrate our souls. Sometimes the change we need is systemic or structural. Because a system is a “set of elements or parts that is coherently organized and interconnected in a pattern or structure” (Meadows, 2008, p. 188), changing the story structures by which we organize or interpret our worldviews and practices is often the catalyst for the systemic change we need. Sometimes the change we need is seasonal or cyclical. But we do not need to necessarily wait through the yearlong seasonal cycle to experience that change. Simply altering our location or global positioning is often the catalyst for the seasonal change we need in our current situation.