in the great pause we are experiencing, things have risen to the top.
they are the cardinals on the fence, the house finch sipping from the dogdish, the hummingbird at the feeder, dogga sleeping on the deck, the smell of sauteing onions and garlic, ice water in a glass, the sun rising out the sunroom window, the play of first light on our quilt, the sound of the trail under our feet, the mayapple flowers tucked in and peeking out from the canopy, the piney scent through the stand, the repeating arvo pärt on the cd player, photographs, the gurgling pond out back, bunbun and the chippies, glass doorknobs, the basil plant on the potting stand, the first coffee, a hot shower, lavender soap, open windows, butterflies, five-year-aged cheddar and sips of wine, writing next to each other, repeated ritual touchstones in our week, unrushed hugs, the squirrel highway, the sound of a text on the phone, anticipation, generosities, idiosyncrasies, the peonies, sunny days of little humidity, the feel of old wood floors under bare feet, hagstones, smooth worry rocks tucked in our pockets.
and with these things of absolute greatness, we slow down and – in the way of centripetal forces spinning, spinning, around, around – we center. and wait.
“squeaking with joy, ” cousin kate wrote – all in caps – “the turtles are back!”.
at the exact time she sent that, we were on our trail, on the bridge over the river, gazing down at the turtles. we had seen a couple earlier in the spring, but then it got cold and they disappeared. now, they are back – seemingly for good – and we, too, are squeaking with joy.
earlier in the winter, i had written:
“i think about the turtles. they are there in the warmer months, sunning on logs and rocks that jut out of the river. but, when it dips below fifty degrees or so – and stays there – they disappear. apparently, they dive down to the muddy bottom, their metabolism slows down, they require less oxygen. their mucky homes keep them safe as they bide time, these wise, long-lived creatures of the water and the land.
we know they are there – somewhere – in hidden spots, places they feel sheltered and secure. i think about what they might be doing. they are silent and the fallow is long. i trust they are sorting what is next, kind of like us.
time keeps moving, though, and i keep hope that when it warms up and the turtles have a more secure sense of themselves in the world they will reappear, out of the suspension of presence. i’m hoping for an early spring.
and waiting. and the river freezes. and then it thaws.“
and then i had this idea walking down the hall the other day. it was a the-turtles-are-back idea.
in my mind i named it “out of fallow” or “out of the mud” or even “the relevant challenge” or “on the fly” but the name is fluid. the idea floated around and landed tiny feet on my brain, so i eventually told david about it.
it’s relatively simple. we choose ten destinations – in wisconsin, in the midwest, on the northeast coast, in the high mountains, on quiet southern beaches, in the canyonlands, in the grand national parks – all different projects. taking a yamaha portable battery-operated keyboard (with recording/disc drive capability), ten canvases and paint, both laptops, and a couple spiral notebooks – we go to each destination for a pre-determined amount of time (say, three hours). while there, i compose on the fly – what that place feels like – and he paints on the fly – what that place feels like. on the fly – spontaneous creation – is not for the meek at heart. it requires focus, has a terminal product necessary at the end – a short time after beginning – and necessitates a degree of letting go. it pushes us back into the active-art-place and pushes us past edges. it gets us out of the muddy bottom. it produces the raw pieces of an album to be orchestrated and a collection of paintings to be framed. it needs some support to get off the ground. it has me pondering, swimming to the surface with the turtles.
our snouts will pop out of the river and we’ll look around some, trying to figure it out. we would definitely need some encouragement, some warm sun, some help.
and, if we move forward, out of the suspension, we – turtles, too – will definitely be squeaking.
i lived in florida. merely 14 miles from the gulf of mexico. for eight plus years. yet, i can count the number of times i went to the beach while i lived there. likely on two hands. i spent more time on the gulf before living there and after living there. just not during.
as a teenager and young adult i was at the north shore all the time. biking there, vw-ing there, boating, diving, fishing, walking, climbing the fence to take sunrise pictures – winter, spring, summer, fall. all the time.
in recent years i’ve yearned for the days on those long island beaches. and, though they are remarkably beautiful and warm and sunny and tan-producing (definitely not important anymore), i can’t really say the same for the florida beaches. i don’t find myself pining for them.
maybe it’s just my history with them. or, perhaps, the lack thereof.
the other day we went to the beach. on lake michigan. we walked and walked for a couple of hours, searching for hagstones and paintable flat rocks. then we settled down on a big log of driftwood in soft sand and sat and watched the waves. we wished we had a picnic lunch with us and a good book. it was that kind of day. the only thing that drove us out was hunger.
but we’ll go back, because the beauty of that beach was powerful.
when you live with someone who also likes to walk, you will walk anywhere. strolling in the ‘hood, hiking on the trail, trolling for stones on the beach. it’s the thing we do when all else stops – all work, all tasks. it’s the thing we do when we want all else to stop – all wistfulness, all thought, all worry, all out-and-out angst.
it’s funny to me that there was this big chunk of my life when i wasn’t walking, wasn’t hiking. just like this big chunk of my life when i wasn’t going to the beach – to stare at the waves, to watch gulls swoop and dive in the wind, to find the gifts of the air and the water – tuning into soul and energy, soothing and healing.
i’ve pondered, before, what would have happened had i walked. now i ponder what would have happened had i gone to the beach.
every day of this mysteriously unknown-unrevealed-unmapped extended journey of life we have been granted – we are seeking to make sense.
and – in the moment of moments – the ones when the abyss is evident or the peak is present, the ones when confusion reigns supreme, the ones when you cannot imagine any more bliss or any more dread or any more ardor or any more devastation, the ones when complexity is the starting gate, the ones on the roller coaster you wish someone would stretch out flat – in those moments none of this – any form of art – any medium, any life-giving expression of creativity – is a luxury. it surely does sustain, heal, breathe life into the motionless heart of fear or sadness. it is the music, the paintings, the photographs, the lyrics, the poetry, the clay pot in your hand, the dance. it is what the pads of your fingers touch just simply by seeing, hearing, reading, smelling, tasting, watching. necessary. of the essence. crucial. fundamental.
“give your heart to everybody you meet. the rest is pretense.” (e.h.)
and – the creators – each of us – stand by, fools all of us. humankind. finding who we are, what we love, expressing, connecting.
“showcasing a piece is allowing it to come to full bloom, to let it breathe in the world, to share it. but showcasing a piece is not for the meek at heart.
in the way you would likely feel standing in your underwear in a town square, introducing the world to some new piece of your heart is raw. on old wooden stages with a piano and a mic, centered on a wall with a tiny price tag placed nearby, during poetry-reading night in the corner of the general store, sharing with the novel-writing club every first thursday, skating the first performance on ice, tapping “publish” on a blog each day … pieces of your heart float shakily about as you try to hold onto sisu and stay grounded. it matters not how many times you have done this. your heart has been unbridled and you are allowing others in. each and every time.” (the underwear moments* – kerri sherwood)
“but then i thought about beauty. i thought about how artists dive below the surface, try to find the depth of meaning, try to hear and see that which others might pass by, not noticing. i thought about stages and boom mics and connection and standing in front of a diebenkorn – or a robinson – deep inside, marveling. i thought about arvo pärt and his absolute tug on my heart. i thought about john denver and simplicity. i thought about recording studios and soaring string sections, cello lines that make clouds rearrange to allow in light. the weaving of intricate relationship between people and nature, between people and art in any form.
there have been moments – and i can actually remember them – when i have been driving and listening to a song and i weep or hiking and seeing something so stunning i stop and cannot move. these moments when i know, without a doubt, that it was right to turn down the business-school-accounting-program acceptance. these moments when i know, without a doubt, that i will not have the same security as the person-i-would-have-been following that route. moments when i feel a sense of pride to be a tiny part of the tapestry of what people turn to in time of rejuvenation, of rest, of crisis, of pure bliss. these moments when i know, without a doubt, that somewhere along the way what i have done with my time has touched someone, has opened them, has taken them diving with me. below the surface of this great big world – to beauty.” (the gig economy tapestry – kerri sherwood)
“…boldness. the uninhibited freedom of expression – artistry come to fruition in the moment of utter sharing. terrifying and liberating. raw and real. the underwear moments.”(*)
this great big planet earth. sedimentary layers of beauty. we are all in our underwear.
she was out on the deck, momentarily. stopping by to give me words of wisdom and courage, former u.s. supreme court justice ruth bader ginsburg stood in the sunshine. she leaned over, in emphasis, and the sun streamed through her collar, reflecting through the window onto our dresser. i held her words close to me. she reminded me, “but when i talked about sex-based discrimination, i got the response, ‘what are you talking about? women are treated ever so much better than men!’” then we both laughed, her eyes gleaming with the intelligent fight of a strong woman.
ruth continued, her sage words a repetition of something she had said, quoted back in 2020, “it’s an unconscious bias. it’s the expectation. you have a lowered expectation when you hear a woman speaking; i think that still goes on. that instinctively when a man speaks, he will be listened to, where people will not expect the woman to say anything of value. but all of the women in my generation have had, time and again, that experience where you say something at a meeting, and nobody makes anything of it. and maybe half an hour later, a man makes the identical point, and people react to it and say, ‘good idea.’ that, i think, is a problem that persists.”
her parting words, before she vanished from our deck, before her tatted collar no longer formed a sunlit shadow on our dresser, “whatever you choose to do, leave tracks. that means don’t do it just for yourself. you will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived.” i nodded. it’s our responsibility as women (and yes, as men) to make sure that we leave to those behind us a place that is better for those who follow, a place that is transparent and that rebels against agenda, a place that treats all fairly, a place that is dedicated to the resolution of conflict, a place of compassion and truth. her gaze was steady before she disappeared, encouraging me to stay grounded, to “breathe free,” to “speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”
“i would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”
“it’s projection,” he wrote. yes. bill penzey is right. it is projection. we project love onto objects and we “really see these objects as love.” he continues, talking about his desire – were there to be a fire in his house – to grab the six-quart stainless kettle he has popped corn in for every movie night he has had with his wife, and his love of the heavy-duty spatula his father gave him, adding, “and in a world where nobody gets too much love anymore, i want to do all i can to hold onto that love.” he is clearly thready. i’ve never met him, but he is on my list – people with whom i’d love to have dinner.
we have a pink backpack. it’s packed from back in the days our town was on fire, days i can feel and hear and smell and taste – viscerally – but would rather not. we’ve kept it packed, realizing that it’s wise to have one thing to grab and one place to go to find that one thing. it has important stuff in it…papers and such. it doesn’t have the tiny cheese knife we use every day, the one that was my sweet momma’s. it doesn’t have the wedding ring my dad wore or the matching flannel shirt of a pair. it doesn’t have the toddler drawings of my children or the small bowl turned trinket-holder that babycat ate from. it doesn’t have zillions of photographs. it doesn’t have masters of all my albums or a collection of jpgs or pngs or printed photos of all of david’s paintings. it doesn’t have the rock i picked up hiking with my daughter or the cork i saved from the first fancy dinner my son made for me. it can’t hold my piano or the vintage typewriter 20 gave me or the bowls we love from ken and loida or the snuggly scarf jen gave me or the old torchiere lamp from my growing-up. it doesn’t have room for the old quilt or our favorite mountain mugs or our ukuleles or my guitars or our dvd favorite-movies-collection or the cardinal towels from my sister or the ‘i-found-you-you-found-me” painting of early k.dot-d.dot days.
the one thing about antique stores is that they give you perspective. lots of it. so many items in the world. so much stuff. you ponder why someone might have held onto a plastic flower arrangement in a plastic flower pot long enough that it became part of an estate that passed into an antique shoppe or how it is possible that there are so so so many 45 rpm records out there, collections of so many long-playing albums, and, someday, so many cds. even mine.
and then you know. it hits you like a spatula upside the head.
though none of that will fit in the pink backpack, were there to be any sort of emergency – and all we could grab is the backpack – we would not lose it all.
marty was the first man i knew who was a breast cancer survivor. we also learned he was deathly allergic to shrimp – while we were all at joe’s crab shack devouring seafood. yiiikes. it feels like a zillion years ago, but it was a great community of folks – all who were dedicated to their craft and showing at large wholesale shows, lining up accounts with small and large shops across the country. it was before streaming was really The Thing and i was moving boxes and boxes and boxes – thousands – of cds with displays, all to be sold by real people in real places. the days were long – yamaha delivered in a piano and it was hours upon hours of playing, talking, writing purchase orders, selling cash and carry. in the evening we would all sometimes gather together somewhere, to share stories, to unwind. that one night, joe’s crab shack made us a little bit nervous. we traded seats around so marty wasn’t near any shrimp and wondered why we didn’t go to a steakhouse.
community makes a difference. in this latest lean time of community that is now particularly pronounced.
i watched as my dear big sister shared her breast cancer story on facebook. she is now, thankfully, on the other side, mostly healed from surgery and radiation, slogging slowly through a period of difficulty adjusting to a long-term hormone blocker. i know, without a doubt, that the people who sent her their love – even online – helped her. a community that rallies around is the village we all need, especially in desperate times.
heidi and i spent so very much time together. our mutual work was in the oncological field – performing at large and small cancer survivor and breast cancer awareness events. there are many posts in this blog about places we have been and i consider them to be moments i was honored to be a part of the supportive oncology community and a part of the story.
my grandmother-who-i-never-knew, my dad’s mom, died of metastatic breast cancer. my sweet momma had a double mastectomy at 93. my dad was a lung cancer survivor and my brother died because of lung cancer. this year my sister’s breast cancer diagnosis scared us.
in the middle of the night, when things are raw, i decided that a “sisu” bracelet was in order so i found an artist who designed and crafted it out of silver so that my sister could wear it and know i was with her, a part of her community, holding her close. i ordered one for me as well. because the middle of the night can be a scary time when you are thinking too much.
marty didn’t mention the whole shrimp-thing until we were already at joe’s. i guess he had decided to just go-with-it, to just live. he had already been through so much.
though i really wouldn’t change it – as i love my “sisu” bracelet – i wonder if it should just say “alive”.
my uncle allen had a beautiful voice. my mom’s brother, he would stand in our living room, with me at the piano or the organ, and belt out songs with great love. he’d bring stacks of sheet music over and we’d page through them, choosing greatest hits from broadway musicals or the radio. sometimes my big brother would play along and the three of us would entertain my sweet momma and dad for hours. there is never a time i hear “the impossible dream” that i do not think of allen.
“and I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest that my heart will lie peaceful and calm when i’m laid to my rest”
i cannot think of anyone i have ever known who was as consistently happy – no matter the difficulty or challenge facing him, he was happy and smiling. his complete support of my earliest recording path is something for which i will always be grateful. my uncle always believed. in his wonderful wife, his adored children, his family, in me. allen was a gift to the universe. when i think about the movie “the fault in our stars”, i realize that he was an example of living this way – recognizing that it matters not how many people you touch or impact or inspire, no matter the tiny or giant legacy you leave in your wake – what matters is that there was one person…one person for whom you have made a difference simply by being on this good earth. anything beyond that is icing on the cake. allen was indeed icing.
the chipmunks are back and i have to say i am delighted. they are adorable and cunning and just really smart little guys. before the winter, they devised all kinds of methods to get to the birdfeeder, despite the metal plate that is supposed to keep them away. they managed to chock-fill their cheeks with seed and carry it off to their wintercondos. now they have returned and they are hungry. they’ve been practicing getting up the feeder, sometimes falling into the grasses below. they have been intentional. they don’t let failure get in their way. they literally jump from the ground up to the plate over and over until suddenly they are somehow balanced there and then they can jump up to the grazing edge of the feeder. they do what’s necessary, then what’s possible and then suddenly they are flying through the air, rewarded by a feeder full of birdseed.
i don’t suppose that’s unusual. everything takes practice. impossible is maybe a temporary matter. i also suppose that there is a certain surprise element to things. we start out with one plan, one path, one intention. we don’t bank on wavering off, we don’t bank on obstacles, we don’t bank on changing direction. impossible.
and yet, there’s possible waving at us from somewhere beyond the impossible dream. and we find ourselves in places unexpected, doing unexpected things, forging those impossible mountains.
there we are, flying through the air, the world in our hands, rewarded by a feeder full of birdseed.
“her mother told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted to be, so she grew up to become the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, the wolf leading wolves.” (nikita gill)
inscribed in the sidewalk in frisco, colorado right outside the door to next page books and nosh, this quote begged me to take its picture. even under the bluest sky, embraced in high elevation rocky mountains, in and amongst the most golden aspen, it stood out. my sweet momma giggled from the other dimension as i took out my camera, and momentarily blocked the entrance to this independent book store.
we wandered for a long time in the shop. like deb’s fair isle books on washington island, it was exquisite and welcoming and easy to sink into. we touched the spines of books, chose another set of prayer flags, read greeting cards, bought our girl a magnet. i wanted to sign up for many of the upcoming masks-on gatherings there, sip coffee, browse the ‘be kind’ stickers and study the hiking trail books and maps on a center display. i would have liked to have been at “not your mother’s book club” on the 25th. my momma thought that was funny and assured me she would have attended as well. yes, it would be easy to spend magical days there; i suspect chatting and being quiet would pass the time and suddenly the sun would dip behind the mountains and we would be gently nudged out the door, past the nikita-inscription and onto the sidewalk.
i learned on their website that october is conflict resolution month. back in wisconsin, unfortunately, we were unable to be present on the 19th for the event at the shop called “conflict resolution for holy beings” (joy harjo) but i know plenty of people who should have attended.
nikita gill, a poet and writer with huge instagram following, also penned: “you have been praying so long for the strength to outlive the pain they inflicted on you, that you have forgotten – you are already strong.”
my sweet momma nods in agreement and whispers “oh yes!” to nikita and me.
glancing over at me, she adds, “hang the flags in the wind.”
SISU: a finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness.
“but grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.” (anne lamott)
resilience. strength. sisu.
we have flown through many storms, we have weathered many droughts and much deluge. we have built nests from scratch and we have re-built them again. we have given birth through birth canals and through love choices. we have sought security and food for our young when security and food were scarce. we have attached wings to ideas and rube-goldberg solutions; we have made do. we have made piss-poor decisions and grandiose ones that have changed everything. we have broken treasures and fixed stuff; we have learned reverse threading. we have been emotional and we have necessarily let go. we have withstood fires of damaging words and we have recuperated from physical blows to our body, our sexuality, our hearts. we have tried to understand, we have been seekers of closure in times of strife. yet, even without understanding or closure, we have kept on keeping on. we are soon old birds and we have stronger wings.
because life, as life, presents gain and loss, winning and losing, achievement and failure, rich and poor, rising and falling, young and old, crepey and supple elasticity, as juxtapositions, as two sides of a pendulum ever-swinging, we have been measured in these competing narratives.
but we are aging birds with wings who have felt the sun of more than twenty-thousand mornings, the moon’s gravitational pull of decades, the grace of time and gardens through fallow and fruit. we are aging birds who have both soared and plummeted. we are aging birds who do not need the measure of others for our definition, for defining ourselves, continuing to learn, takes enough time and is complex enough.
we imagine unicorns in clouds, names in the stars of the galaxy. we catch the scent of sunshine on a wafting breeze and listen to the calls of mourning doves, wondering. we have come a long way. the path we have taken has not been straight. we have been courageous and we have been tenacious. we have flapped our way to here. we proudly wing our way forward, ever-forward. we are ever-stronger.