it was the last night. we stood out on the porch and then out in the east field, the farmhouse behind us. the dark of iowa-night rained down on us as we peered into the sky to see the constellations. we could feel the “last” of the last night. but out there, on the horizon – in the way an ellipsis works – the ellipses had a reminder: it’s never really over. the horizon lights suggested the story would be trailing on and on – up till now and then dot-dot-dot…
the story dot-dot-dot – without definition, without a distinct end, unrestrained – keeps on…
last week’s time in iowa and return home gave us grounding…reminders…learnings. feet firmly planted…spine tall…solid and trusting, we intentionally rearranged our thoughts – trying (because it’s not easy and it always takes the work of trying) to put aside worry and angst, instead centering on being steady and calm. the decision to not panic. the ellipsis of keeping on…
the impermanence sticks with us.
and we know it doesn’t matter that there is rust on our hubcaps or that our countertops are chalkboard/food-safe-wax-painted-wood. we know it has no bearing on real life that we don’t wear trendy name-brand clothing or that we actually like $2.50 old navy flipflops. we know that leftovers nourish us just like restaurant fare and we are not worried if we never get to sit at the table of a three-star-michelin. we know that there are wines of great robust but we continue to sip apothic and splurge on the new broadside (paso robles) we found. the ellipsis of keeping on…
the transitory taps us on the shoulder.
gathered, we listened to stories of the past, suddenly way long ago. we went to the pioneer cemetery high on a hill overlooking planted cropfields. the 1800s were just a moment ago there. and, just as the years fly by, we know that the incandescent kite we each fly has fragile filmy threads. our hands – holding the moment – age before our eyes. the ellipsis of keeping on…
the ephemeral sounds harmonic overtones we can hear.
we gaze at the peony buds in the backyard. they will soon bloom – in their sweet time – and they will stun all who walk by. their beauty will not be forgotten. each one has opened to the sun and told its own story. each one. and then dot-dot-dot…
the flower-power stickers adhering to my growing-up wall and my sister’s volkswagen beetle were these colors. hot pink and orange daisies, yellows, greens, vibrant and happy. and you think that some pantone or pms chart somewhere was the place they originated. but it’s not so.
this is where they came from.
and the tulips stand – proudly but not arrogantly – in their color, in their field. completely present and at ease, they open to the world, giving it all they’ve got. stand in nature and try not to be humbled…it’s impossible.
belleruth naparstek guides you – inside and outside – to quiet. a place of presence, of ease. not trying to push out thoughts or streams of consciousness passing by, but allowing it all to flow. with practice, you can feel the roots growing under your feet, the steady breathing of awareness, calmness.
and, if you are fortunate, you are held gently, right in the middle of tulip petals, and you are reminded, once again, you are alive. “knowing in a deep place that this place is inside of you…that you are better for this…“
“workers might want to consider these top 10 skills, which employers say are rising in importance over the next five years: 1. creative thinking.”(jane thier – fortune magazine)
mm-hmm. yup. #2 is analytical thinking. i’m pretty certain that without creative thinking, analytical thinking would hit dead-ends every time. and self-destruct.
the other night, in the middle of the night, the wee hours of the night when one is supposed to be sleeping, i was – shockingly – wide awake. we had a long conversation, chatting about places we had lived way-earlier-on, jobs we had way-earlier-on. i talked about eating lots of kellogg’s cornflakes and he talked about mountains of pbj sandwiches. we have both had histories of piecemeal, making-it-work, scrappy artists weaving a tapestry of living with rough-hewn shreds of granola-cotton, jute, hemp, fabrics not fine or finished but with torn edges and maybe a little holey.
larkfield road in east northport made it possible. many of my jobs – early-on – were on this road. i worked at the music store, the camera store, the dive shop, one of the churches – all on this road – before i left long island. i bought my cornflakes at the king kullen and my gas at the corner citgo, splurgy pizzas down the road and sub sandwiches next to the post office. i drove all over teaching piano lessons and saved whatever i could at the bank that gave away plates for deposits on the corner of larkfield and clay pitts. none of it was fancypants. but it gave me a different expectation bar and it was all setting the stage for a creative life.
it’s funny to me that it takes a fortune magazine article to espouse the merits of creative thinking. the number 1 top skill rising in importance – as if it’s something new. ahhh. but, perhaps it is.
for we know, better i’d say than many, the difference in actually choosing a creative path. creativity, artistry – these lead you in a direction that is unrevealed, a direction that is vulnerable, a direction that has no guarantees.
an accountant, say, knows that any amount of time spent on a project will be remunerated. time spent = time paid for. it’s really a lovely equation. and both of us have had positions in our lives when this equation was in place.
but the instant we list back to the artist side, all equations dissipate into a fog and people – the same ones who turn to the arts in watershed moments of their lives – suggest we might consider exposure of our work our form of payment. i imagine writing to the wisconsin energies company – “i’ll give you ten exposures for this $326 bill.” more so, i imagine their response. yikes!
and so, here we are. the workworld – so to speak – is catching up a tiny bit. employers are beginning to recognize the value of creative thinking…maaaybe. the COO of fortune, dan shapero, is quoted, “the long-term trend is pretty undeniable that the demand for skills outpaces the supply of skills.”
perhaps he – representing employers everywhere – is not looking in the right places.
creative thinking is found in creative people, the ones exposing their work to the world, the ones who scrimp and bring to fruition projects that started in a thought bubble, the ones who don’t have the same organizational principle applied to their vitae and whose vitae, perhaps, would go the way of bot-trash, but who have a thru-hiked life (sometimes many, many years of life – decades even – making age yet another employment challenge) – with creativity their north star.
as people-with-active-resumes we note that our schooling is bachelors and masters degrees – framed and unframed- in bins in the basement somewhere. our work experience is a little bit of that tapestry i was talking about. it’s been garnered in educational settings, in corporate settings, in public service, in non-profits like theatres and churches, in software startups, on stages and on radio, in studios with canvas and studios with microphones. our creative output is found in albums, in paintings, in books, in blogs, in cartoons, in plays, in workshop projects.
we get creative thinking.
i passed green eyes down to her. he got his eye color from his dad. both of them are wildly creative. their lives have already been a tapestry of edges. i couldn’t be more proud.
“the most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” (mary oliver)
if my photos are correct, the last time we were on metra – heading to chicago – was december 15, 2019.
and then, last week. over and over i said, “i can’t believe we’re on the train.”
we used to go on the train quite often…jaunting down to see our son, to catch dinner with him, to simply walk around downtown, to see holiday lights. we really live in a convenient place…pretty much midway between milwaukee and chicago with a hop-skip-jump to madison. each of these cities are within less than a two hour radius. but it didn’t matter during covid. we stayed away.
on the train with dear friends, we talked about the arc of the last three plus years. how 2020 was a watershed into the next, how impacted we all were by the pandemic, how the recovery phase has been slow. and we marveled at sitting on the train together, chatting with our seats facing each other, laughing, having a picnic lunch, taking the easy route to chicago. it was – truly – marvelous.
we don’t mind driving to chicago. we always take the back roads and enjoy the little towns and ravines along the way. it’s not that we are completely interstate-averse, but if there’s a back way and we can plan some extra time, we are going to opt for it. with a tiny bit more control of our schedule, we also felt a little more control of our airspace.
so we had virtually forgotten about the train. until last week.
our first-time-back on-board was kind of magical. much of the route goes along the back road, so new perspectives as we chugged past the towns we love to drive through. it made us all a little dreamy – so many possibilities of things to do together – simply by taking the train.
saturdays and sundays and holidays offer $7 weekend passes and weekdays – on an app – offer $10 full day passes throughout all the zones metra travels. the new ventra app makes it all easy. “easypeasy” as 20 says. i imagine we’ll be using that eataly giftcard we were given one of these days. it’s been tucked into a cupboard, waiting for some time now.
like us. we’ve been waiting. to move back into the world. it’s not like we haven’t moved about. not as much adventuring up to now as most, but we have roadtripped to see our kids, our family, have shared time with closest friends. but we can feel the difference now. we can feel the tug of concerts, the pull of town hall type talks, the visceral tapping on our shoulder of travel and experiences.
it was weird to sit on the train – after all this time – sans mask. there were a few moments i thought about it, a little wary, because the pandemic has left its mark on me. it’s left its mark on all of us. i don’t suppose there will be a time now that my purse won’t have a KN95 in it. and hand sanitizer. i definitely see the wisdom of sanitizer.
we exited metra at our northbound station, tired from the day but not in an exhausted way. a little bit had changed.
and we felt it. we talked it about it later.
life – and breathing a little bit easier – inviting us. on a tiny and a grand scale, both.
the chicago botanic garden spring field guide arrived. a really beautiful small magazine of images and quotes and information, i have kept it nearby to peruse from time to time. on the last page – under a stunning close-up photograph of the bud of an orange tulip poised to open – are the words “thank you for helping us thrive.” the text goes on to express appreciation for members who “allow our community of plants and people to flourish.” without members and their support, the garden would falter. instead, they are thriving. “come alive this spring at the garden,” they encourage.
there are moments – as an artist – that you feel truly alive…even more than other moments.
the moment the theatre audience stands at the end of your concert. and – maybe even more – the moment of hush at the beginning when first sitting at the piano, boom mic poised.
the moment – performing in the glaring sunlight on a flatbed trailer or in the artificial light of a wholesale or retail show – people come to the very edge of the flatbed or the edge of your booth to tell you that your music has comforted them in a time of sorrow or has accompanied them in a time of joy.
the moment you open email to find a message – someone has taken precious time to write to you – that says, “our favorite piece of yours came on dish radio and we danced!”.
the moment someone orders twenty copies of a cd to give to all their family members.
the moment someone writes to comment on the many-many words you have penned.
the moment someone comments on your cartoon “i can relate.”
the moment someone says, “you have no idea how much of an impact you make.”
that is true. we actually don’t. have any idea.
it is with an abundance of gratitude that i think of anyone who has supported my – and our – creative work in the world: purchasing cds or tracks or tickets to a concert, forwarding a blogpost or cartoon, hanging a painting, sending us a written card or a virtual coffee. you have helped us thrive.
when you wear the shoes of an artist, you are not necessarily aware of any dent in the air you have made. you are not aware of the seeds of thought or questions or perhaps, hopefully, goodness that are scattered in concentric circles or in the breeze around or after you.
this minute magazine is full of inadvertent wisdom.
“love in bloom” is the garden’s initiative june 3 – september 24. magnolias and redbuds, tulips and shooting stars, azaleas and irises start off the spring. “blooms aplenty.”
you’re an artist and you know that your life is different; it lacks the security – particularly financial security – of others’ lives. the moment you look at the total bill for one of your full-length recordings you are reminded. the moment you open your meager royalty checks – in these days of online streaming – you are reminded. the moments you ponder what’s next. you are encouraged by people to make another album, author a book, produce more cartoons, yet you know that any of these are without the good heart-and-mind-fertilizer of solid footing, as there is no promised return on your dedication or time or that vulnerability that comes with the territory. yet, i stand next to my piano and ponder the scraps of songs, i linger over the keyboard of my macbook, wordsmithing manuscript, i lay out the next smack-dab and write the next blogpost. blooms aplenty. yes. asking for help? not so much.
“we hope you find inspiration in the brilliance of spring,” on a page listing 80,500 bulbs planted-last-fall.
you’re an artist. and you hope there is inspiration – even an incandescent filmy thread – in your work.
“the woods are a recovery story of resilience and bouncing back…” writes the managing ecologist, woodlands.
the albums, blogs, manuscripts, paintings, cartoon strips – all recovery stories of resilience and bouncing back. we – artists – are on tiny trampolines in the world, trying.
“consider making a gift so that we can protect and celebrate the natural world for many seasons to come,” rounds out the garden’s “thank you for helping us thrive” message.
share. pass on. join. follow. gift. donate. purchase. download. consider coffee. consider being a patron to an artist – of any medium – who helps you move from one day to another, one season to another.
“discover the world of spring ephemerals. the garden’s mcdonald woods…ephemeral wildflowers make their brief appearance.”
we – artists – are ephemeral wildflowers, making a brief appearance in this universe, ready for anyone who wishes to catch a glimpse, to share in the synergy of our art.
“in years with little to no spring rain, ephemerals produce fewer flowers and less seed, which can impact their ability to bounce back in future years….if plants are healthy enough and if they have the right natural disturbances such as fire, they are resistant to annual variability in the weather and can adapt to longer-term climate change.”
“i want to know if you will stand in the fire with me and not shrink back.”(oriah mountain dreamer)
we – ephemeral artists on our tiny trampolines – need the rain. we need the fire. we need you to stand in the fire with us. we need your help.
“1. i don’t spend my days retired. 2. i don’t let myself get out of shape. 3. i don’t smoke. 4. i don’t restrict myself. 5. i don’t let my knowledge go to waste.”(dr. howard tucker – “at 100 years old”)
he’s a centenarian, so it would seem like his words would have some clout. his rules – so simple. and #5!! still a practicing physician, he is pragmatic and dedicated, believes in moderation, enjoys broccoli and brussels sprouts and sharing wisdom gleaned in the decades of his work. the passing of knowledge back and forth – to the younger workers in his field and back to him – he emphasizes acknowledging the importance of the gathering together of experience, education, hard work. he sounds like a delightful person.
we sat next to mary on a thursday afternoon at the milwaukee public market. on a stool at the bar of the st. paul fish market booth, we sipped wine and ate shrimp gumbo. mary pulled up a stool, ordered a beer and some oysters. i was transported back home – to long island – where fresh seafood abounds and i’ve sat on plenty a bar stool eating clams-on-the-halfshell or baked clams or lobster bisque.
mary whispered that she was celebrating her birthday that day – 74. we started to sing to her and she hushed us. we finished in low tones for it seemed that we might be her only sung song that day.
in the brief period of time – maybe an hour or so – that we sat next to mary, we learned plenty. she was engaged.in.life. she was a little bit raucous, a little bit edgy, a-lot-a-bit delightful. we talked about oysters and beer and irish men, ireland and nova scotia and downtown milwaukee, volunteering and learning and olive oil and balsamic vinegar. she talked about work; she talked about how important previous and long experience is for employers. ahhh, if they could all hear mary’s sage words. and she shared a sea bass recipe we forgot to write down. i suspect she and howard would be friends, had they a chance to meet.
in the meanwhile, i keep wanting to go back to the market on a thursday, pull up the stools we had at the end of the bar and wait for mary.
“stay young by continuing to grow. you do not grow old, you become old by not growing.” (wilferd a. peterson – the art of living)
we would like to be like frank. he will be 90 this month and his busy life could make many people feel like couch potatoes. he is interested and curious and makes himself available to volunteer for a wide variety of organizations. he is our go-to excuse for sipping apothic – “it’s such a drinkable wine,” he says. he’s not afraid to try new things. the art of staying young – he has this down pat.
today is eileen’s birthday. she is 100. one hundred. it’s quite the life you’ve lived when you were born in 1923 and it is now 2023. always interested, she loves the chicago tribune. her desk has stacks of issues, piles of stories she has read or, at this stage of health, it counts to even just simply touch the newsprint. 20 talks to her about current events, encourages her to think, to discern, to learn – even at 100.
we celebrated her birthday with butter-creme-heavily-frosted layered chocolate birthday cake, hyacinth and tulips, catered sliders and quesadillas and apothic. frank would have approved. we studied boards with photographs of a little girl named eileen, eileen and duke as young marrieds, the sassy and spirited and fashionista eileen, a mother named eileen, a grandmother. i’m certain it seems to her now that the 100 years have flown by, for indeed that’s how time is. as she was wheeled into the party room her words were boisterous, “i made it!”
my own sweet momma would be 102 this year and my dad 103. my dad always said he was going to be 100. he did not make it. he died when he was 91. my mom never stated those aspirations but she, as well, was not a centenarian, crossing planes at almost-94. my dad, never one to turn down any dessert would have devoured a big slice of eileen’s cake. and my mom would have sat at the table with eileen asking questions and telling stories. i wish we were also having their cakes, most definitely chocolate ganache, but soon now those crossing-over anniversaries will come again and i will burn candles and blow kisses into the universe.
it’s all a mystery, this life. how long we get to live it, how many desserts, how many sips of toasting wine. seems like – once again – there’s no time to waste.
maybe today is a good day for some cake.
“tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”(mary oliver)
we have been – knock wood – quite lucky lately – knock wood – during a period of time that tornado watches have proliferated weather apps across the country, including here. the words “tornado watch” make me uneasy. ok, truth be told, i find them slightly terrifying. i am not one to take these watches and warnings lightly. i plan ahead…important papers, phone and laptop cords, keys, wallets, purse, dogga leash…all in a safe place. and then i listen – intently – to the wind.
i didn’t use to have this kind of reaction to storms, but since the flat-line-windstorm of 2011, i have turned into a wuss. yes, wuss. period. somewhere around 750-800 trees were felled in that storm in our neighborhood, pulling roots from the ground, heaving sidewalks, falling wherever they fell. all in a matter of minutes. it was scary. and yet, i know it was not the destruction that a tornado can leave behind.
we have read each article about the tornadoes across the country, our hearts sinking for the loss of life and home and property. the weather is more extreme than i ever remember it. and it is not getting better. climate change is here – not a amorphous thing of the future. and, with the ocean temperatures rising, i suspect that this will not ease up. these storms are here to stay.
and so i wonder the best things we can do to pay attention to this good earth, the best practices, things to avoid. we are all in this together – despite the warring of peoples on big fronts and little. there will be nothing to celebrate – or fight over – should we ignore these signs. we’ve been relatively lucky as a world so far – knock wood.
we aren’t really “double” people. but we are let’s-have-a-glass-of-wine people. and, at the end of the day, these days, it sometimes seems like a lovely time to escape a tiny bit and sip a glass of wine.
our happy-hour-snack-time started during covid. isolated from others, we hung lots of white twinkling happy lights, surrounded ourselves in our sunroom with succulents and growing-things-every-one-of-which-we-named, planted ourselves at an old vintage table in front of the window, turned on a little music, and sipped wine. dogdog at our feet, we’d munch on chips and hummus or crackers and aged cheddar. the end-of-day ritual stuck and now even dogdog anticipates our sit-down, watching us for cues and ready to be with us wherever the happy hour takes us: sunroom, patio, deck, kitchen or in littlebabyscion on the hottest of days.
for the longest time, and then longer still, we sipped our wine out of jelly jars. smuckers simply fruit jars, to be specific. i even considered contacting smuckers – at the time with a base in ripon, wisconsin – to purchase enough jelly jars for everyone at our wedding to get one for their wine toast. because people are generally not as thready as i am, i figured they could move on from wine-glass-use and repurpose the jars for small bundles of wildflowers or as tealight candle holders out in the wind. momentarily, i thought smuckers might want to get in on sponsoring a couple of artists dedicated to their jelly jars.
make it a double, our son’s bar mat read. celebrating his new condo – without the benefit of all his glass and kitchenware moved in – we poured bubbly into plastic cups and toasted. in the midst of the city, we walked to pick up thai food and a bottle of wine. though we are not make-it-a-double people in the way of cocktails, we are definitely make-it-a-double in the way of making memories and i, like most moms i suppose, wrap myself in cherished doubles-triples-innumerable memories with my children.
her card read, “age and glasses of wine should never be counted.” i laughed as i opened it. time is flying by. it’s short.
we no longer use jelly jars for our wine. we decided, instead, to use the good wine glasses. instead of worrying whether the riedels or the family passed-down-crystal might break, we use them, enjoying the wine in them and the remembrance of them as treasured gifts. a double.
now i think that the apothic people should sponsor us.
i went to school for nineteen years. when i finished my master’s degree my sweet momma asked if i would – one day – work on a doctorate. i emphatically replied, “not a chance!”. i felt that i had reached my terminal degree, so to speak, and that all the rest – all that education, work experience, talent and intuition and tenacity and wisdom gained along the way – would serve me well.
i am 64 today. sixty-four. six decades plus four.
and i am a woman. woman. she/her/hers.
and this is the 21st century. the 2000’s.
yet, sitting on the couch the other day, watching new amsterdam – cast with actors in many female physicians’ and specialists’ roles – i stood up and cheered for the female character who firmly stated, “i didn’t go to school for twelve years [med school] to learn how to smile more.”
what – exactly – is the propensity for people to tell – specifically – women to “smile” or “smile more” or “just smile” or some similar iteration in answer to conflict, to agenda, to management riddled with prejudice? the question i ask – would you tell a man to “smile” or “smile more” or “just smile” or – truly – any iteration as such?
the continued thwarting, silencing, harassing of women is insidious. and forever. as in – forever.
“there is a pull, a fiercely ingrained pull, to mute a woman’s voice until it coos. to press it down until it is as small and sweet as a pastel after-dinner mint. to control it. to silence it.”
“and still, she speaks. she tries to be heard. but very—too often—her voice is ignored … or belittled, mocked, critiqued, or shouted down.”
“if a woman utilizes her voice in a powerful way, or shakes up systems that are firmly in place, she will be subject to an abysmal, hack, silencing-method known as punishment.”(fiona landers – we have always silenced women – damemagazine.com)
“learn how to smile more…” i put new amsterdam on pause and rolled my eyes.
smiling more and keeping silent…when is that appropriate action in one’s workplace? is it appropriate – palatable – with a minimal salary and no benefits? is it substantially more appropriate – indeed more palatable – with a substantial salary, full benefits and retirement? do leaps and bounds of higher financial reward translate to keeping-one’s-mouth-shut even in the face of maltreatment? is a silent smiler in the upwardly-mobile ranks helping those on the lower ladder rungs? where is the line (or is it a ladder rung?) between generative transparency and closed-lipped acquiescence? where is the respect?
my sweet momma – who died at almost 94, a woman before her time – was a smiler. i – like most people – love to smile. i can see her smile in mine, the thinning curve as she grins, the crinkling of her eyes and the crease just above her top lip. she was a promoter of joy and kindness and – as the basic tenets of all the work i do in the world – i would like to think i have brought those forward, from her.
i found a small pocket calendar she sent me. i had saved it in a drawer in my studio for fifteen years. there is a handwritten sticky note on the back in which she directs me to “read the motivations through these pages” and to “start with the cover”.
the cover quote reads, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” (mahatma gandhi)
smiling-on-demand – even being a “sweet pastel after-dinner mint” – does not get one anywhere. conversely, not smiling-on-demand, not being a “sweet pastel after-dinner mint” can get one destroyed. but, in fact, smiling-not-for-a-real-smile’s-sake and the act of being a “sweet pastel after-dinner mint” and staying quiet about any prejudicial wrongdoing or malfeasance is an abhorrent manipulation, a coercion, shutting down strong, smart, valuable women – employees – time after time. and for what purpose? is this not perpetuating the oppression? just what responsibility do we have to each other, to the next? are we the change or aren’t we?