i touch a single key on the piano. depressing it, i reach for the next and then the next. i build a melody, i build the cello line for arvo, i build a blueprint upon which to put lyrics. i touch a single key on the piano. slowly depressing it, i make no sound. instead, it is silent – to our ears. yet i wonder if some tiny bit of frequency escapes and travels away, bouncing off particles in the air, absorbed into light. “the vibrations of the strings are transmitted to the soundboard through the bridges, and a sound resonates as a result of the soundboard vibrating the air.“ (yamaha)
“a sound wave is the pattern of disturbance caused by the movement of energy traveling through a medium (such as air, water or any other liquid or solid matter) as it propagates away from the source of the sound.”
it would seem apparent that we are all patterns of disturbance. every molecule, every atom within, constantly moving, disturbing all other matter.
in the way of the feathering of sound as it travels away, away, from the source, our impact upon another tends the same – energy as it gets further away and there is more surface area. a decrescendo of sorts, our notes turn pianissimo, our voices to whispers. though a quieter din, the nearly silent cacophony is out there, traveling in air. more than we realize. until it is not.
our notes and words and colors and textures dance around the others in our lives, sometimes landing, sometimes repelled by mysterious opposite magnetic forces. they are absorbed, turn into heat and may warm those upon whom they land.
the world will adjust, yes, to our patterns of disturbance. we are all pianos, concurrent notes, synchronous string vibrations, noise ever-traveling.
the universe glances down at us – from its ever-silent timelessness. space, sans air, doesn’t entertain sound. there are no pianos, no notes, no cellos, no voices that can be heard.
so, we must be who we are here – now – doing the best we can to avoid absolute discordance and strident disharmony, timbres of aggression, anger, division. instead, i would hope we would recognize the responsibility of every sound wave we make.
i had a crush on glen campbell. 1970s. i was 11. i was 13. i was 16. i was eking into 20. he was the rhinestone cowboy, a clean-cut country singer with penetrating eyes, a guitar and a smooth voice.
the moment i saw this bumper sticker on an suv in a parking lot i could hear the song he rocketed into the charts “try a little kindness”…
“you’ve got to try a little kindness yes, show a little kindness just shine your light for everyone to see and if you try a little kindness then you’ll overlook the blindness of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets“
(Bobby Austin / Curt Sapaugh)
the lyrics seemed obvious, even back then. but now, more so.
we avoided four events of road aggression yesterday. and we barely were out and about. it’s disconcerting, particularly in this season of light. but these last years – in particular – have made aggression socially acceptable. they have made anger rise up and people pummel others with words and actions. pushing back – equally as aggressively – is dangerous…in any arena.
january 2, 2021 the sheridan press: “with all that happened in 2020, it’d be easy to kick off 2021 with a literal kick — a kick in the teeth, a kick in the rear or perhaps by kicking in the door. none of those kicks, though, would solve the woes of 2020, even if they made you feel better in the short term. so rather than start the new year with a kick, consider starting 2021 with a different act of defiance. start it off with grace, peace and civility.”
a different act of defiance. though strikingly resonant for us related to 2020 moving into that next new year, the words in the sheridan press in the beginning of 2021 are no less relevant now as we approach 2023. ever more important to try a little kindness.
i picked up two packs of tissue paper in target. neither brand was priced, but they were those packs of 100 pieces of tissue – perfect for the season of wrapping and perfect for david’s studio. we have found this is a good time to buy tissue paper. because the display shelf also had no price tag, i figured i would check out each and then choose the least expensive, asking the self-checkout-helper-person to delete the pack we didn’t want. so we did just that. and we thanked the nice helper-person who helped – the people who miraculously show up when you touch “need assistance” on the touch screen.
we passed her on the way out and stopped and thanked her again before we left, adding a wish for happy holidays.
she was astonished. she stood there – glowing – and wished us a lovely holiday. we all smiled and exchanged parting pleasantries.
we talked about it all the way home. it was not a reach to say “thank you”, to express gratitude to someone doing their job, to be kind. kindness begets kindness. it’s not complicated. at all.
“…a simple act of kindness can feel revolutionary.”
there are days that i find it stunning – the number of wisdoms quoted on memes on social media. goodness-gurus like maya angelou, dalai lama, buddha, mr. rogers, gandhi…as facebook profile pictures, cover photos, posts, instas, sage snaps. so many of these are about kindness – basic, the foundation for living in and amongst others.
the center of gravity on a seesaw is in the center of mass. two people on a beam, fulcrum pivot point in the middle, there is a place negotiated where the seesaw will balance. maybe this is the secret of interactions with others.
in too many instances it would seem that our interactions with others are out-of-balance, that they are a study in power struggle, in a quest for control. the seesaw slams into the ground as the heavyweight force succeeds in out-maneuvering the lightweight with no attempt at level. you cannot hide the heavyweight forces and think they don’t exist. the choice to let someone’s else’s side of the seesaw slam into the ground or to let them fly off the high side is conscious and real. and the goodness-gurus frown.
yet the teeters totter on and quote and proclaim and tout and proselytize and do not choose to lead by guruwisdom, ever righteous. it’s astonishing hypocrisy.
sue aikens lives alone in the most northern regions of alaska. she spends most of the year in frigid darkness, with an airstrip and a camp for those willing to brave the remote arctic. her wisdom is seemingly honed by years of introspection and sorting. she has no seesaw at her camp, but she lives everyday on the slim board that is life in those parts, always balancing with nature, with wildlife, with her own abilities and limitations. i imagine there are days that she spends on the low side of the metaphoric seesaw, trying to control her surroundings, the rises and falls, as much as possible. but i would also imagine that most of her days are spent trying to find the pivot point, equilibrium – the place where she interacts with the good earth and its inhabitants with grace and generosity and keeps the seesaw in balance. she has teetertottered in kavik over twenty years. she is clearly doing something right.
as she says, “your interactions are always your choice.”
if my sweet momma had hung tiny signs in trees, she would have hung this one, “be the reason someone smiles today.”
the historic district of plaza midwood in charlotte is a paradise of bungalows and porches. we walked to the harris teeter slowly, admiring each one, imagining the inside. later, we searched on zillow to see interiors and prices of these gems.
the house with the huge peace sign, the word love by the front door, prayer flags hanging on the side…we knew these people could easily be our friends. an inviting neighborhood. and then, this tree, filled with wisdoms and encouragements.
we porch-sat each night in our tiny mountain town, sitting on the steps or in sling camp chairs or at our pop-up table that travels with us. our airbnb is on one of the main arteries of the little city so there is traffic to watch and there are people walking by.
sometimes the conversations would be short and sweet and we would just greet people and cheer them on their way. other times, we’d start chatting. mike and michaela walked by and ended up at the porch several nights. and the feral cat – so sweet and so very shy – stopped by for a quiet visit each night. it easily started to feel really comfortable; we settled in quickly.
there are definitely times we walk or hike and attempt a littlebittaconversation with others when we are dissed. they will say nothing. truly nothing. no reaction, no smile, nothing. but we – nevertheless – try to subscribe to my momma’s unspoken mantra. we keep on trying to make others smile. it doesn’t take a lot of energy to try and momentarily engage with another, to act goofy or silly or self-deprecating, to do something kind, say something positive or enthusiastic or complimentary.
sitting on the steps of the porch one night, we said hi to a guy walking past. he was carrying his hot-out-of-the-pizza-oven pizza from the gas-station-triangle-stop-shop that oddly “offers growler taps and on-premise beer and wine”. he seemed surprised and then called over, “you wanna piece? i can share.” we laughed, tempted, and told him thank you.
we declined a slice of pizza, but my sweet momma’s eyes were sparkling.
i’m sure people in the target parking lot stared at me while i took a photograph of the side of the sara lee truck pulled up in front of the store. i’m always the one – lagging behind, trying to capture some image. so many photo ops, so little time…
but these words “how goodness should taste” caught my attention. sara lee, the company of classic pound cake, chocolate creme pie, new york style cheesecake, makes me think of my sweet momma, coffeetime, the round smoked-glass table, white plastic vinyl swivel chairs. my poppo, pouring the coffee out of a farberware percolator, whistling. goodness, indeed.
my growing-up wasn’t dressed up with ganache and crème brûlée or crepes and chocolate soufflé. i was the product of two great-depression parents and they were practical. entenmann’s crumbcake and my mom’s lemon pudding cake, homemade apple pie and chocolate chip cookies, box cupcakes and sara lee raised me, along with an occasional traditional-cheesecake splurge at the bakery.
goodness was simple. it wasn’t prissy nor did it require much money. it wasn’t fancy or haughty nor did it exclude anyone. it wasn’t loud and shiny nor did it bellow “look-at-me”. it wasn’t for show. it was just simply goodness.
when i saw the sara lee truck i called to david. he had stopped on the target sidewalk when he realized i hadn’t made it across the lane from lot to store.
i showed him the picture of the side of the truck “how goodness should taste” and said, “this is perfect for a blogpost.” i continued, “a great reminder!”
after all, maybe we should all think more about goodness.
not just how it should taste, but how it should feel inside, how it should sound, how it should be shown, what it should look like, how we can touch it, how we can share it.
wouldn’t it be cool if – maybe instead of [or, even, in addition to] “land of the free, home of the brave” – the united states of america was known as “how goodness should taste”?
elephant or bear. i’m trying to decide which i’d rather be called. both momma elephants and momma bears defend their young, protect their clans. i’ve decided to go with elephant (obviously, sans political statement), for it is said, “female elephants continuously protect each other from predators in the wild, providing one another a sense of security.” and i’m less grizzly-bear-growly than wrap-my-tail-around-them-draw-them-close. hmm. well, maybe i’m a little of both. either way, i’m not going to forget if you are mean to my children. i’m not going to forget if you are mean to my family. and, in this case, i’m not going to forget if you are mean to my spouse.
people can pretty much think anything they want. we artists are pretty much used to that. questions like “what do you reeeeeally do for a living?” have peppered us our whole lives. people stare and furrow their brows when we answer. and i’m guessing that it’s not just what we say. we must … look … and act … a little artsy… or something.
sidewalks are generally pretty black and white. concrete. stamped or not stamped. seamed between squares. jointer-tool-etched or not. dyed or not. though my sweet father-in-law would have happily described all the varieties of concrete possibilities to me, i am having trouble getting through on the heaven-line so i will have to linger in my narrower spectrum of understanding.
we have concrete. in our front walk by the street, in our driveway and in our walk to the front door. all of that concrete is permanent now – post-lead-water-line-replacement-the-story-that-would-never-end – except for one square (which i hasten to point out is actually a rectangle, though far be it from me to get stuck on a detail.)
this one square, er, rectangle, is up by our front door. temporary concrete lays cracked in the spot waiting for the real concrete, contraction line between it and the old sidewalk that has welcomed visitors for about, well, 94 years, i guess.
and it continues to wait.
because it’s a “weird little job” – not worthy of attention – uh, hello? every size audience counts. just sayin’. – and because the sub-sub-contractor is “afraid the guy won’t be happy because the color and curve won’t match the sidewalk that’s already there.” uh, hello? we are intelligent beings who can grok that different ages look different. letmetellyou, we can grok that. even in sidewalks. – and because he also said, “and he seems a little different.”
“he seems a little different.”???
i’m a-wonderin’ “whatintheheck?!” while i am reading this email that was forwarded to me from the sub-contractor-to-the-city, one step above the sub-sub in the project ladder.
“he seems a little different.”
funny. david had walked in from visiting with the sub-sub when he came to take-a-gander at our “small, weird project” and had said – about the sub-sub, “wow. he seems like a really nice guy. really knowledgeable and pleasant.”
i guess the sub-sub was a good actor.
because really nice guys don’t report – even sub-sub to sub – that the client, the customer, the resident – seems “different”. that’s just kind of mean.
i don’t know what i am supposed to glean from the forwarded-email-with-no-additional-message, but the elephant in me (or was it the grizzly bear?) did write back that, though tempted to ask for clarification on what precisely was meant by “he seems a little different”, i was not going to belabor the rudeness of such a statement. what does that have to do with anything here?
it begs the question: does this mean that the sidewalk won’t be done because “he seems a little different”??
the point is the sidewalk. finishing the job. the one that started last november. really nothing else. not david’s artistic look or his intelligent conversation. not how he seems. the point is the sidewalk. not his “seeming different”.
poised and ready. tiny seedpods waiting. their release will come with the wind and the rain and, surely, this spring is bringing that. and they will float and fall to the ground and be sent swirling and land in the meadow and the pond, on the river and on decaying nurselogs nearby in the forest. some will take root and others will not, for their form has changed too much in the rain and wind for their function to remain the same. but there are many, so the tree’s explosion of blossoms have guaranteed its legacy.
in every moment of communicating with others we are tiny seedpods. poised and ready to release with the wind. what will we scatter?
our words are not without volition; we have the choice of what to say, the choice of how to say it. the moments of measuring a response, of pondering a question…these are moments of great import.
“all summations have a beginning, all effect has a story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.” (mary oliver- what i have learned so far)
how many times we wish we could take back a comment, retract a judgement, shrink back from a story told. how many times we wish an other would-not-have-said-that, would apologize, would consider all the implications of something said in spew, or even in -what they feel is- jest. we know a tiny slowing-down, a quick brain-heart-lips check-in, a fact-check, a compassionate re-wording, would all change the minute our words – or theirs – hit the air, with the wind ready to sail them on and on.
tiny seeds sown on the breezes of everyday life. seeds that take root and grow.
“we plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land…”(stephen schwartz/john michael tebelak – all good gifts)
“i’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (maya angelou)
there were three of them. up and down. up and down. up and down. it went on and on and on. over and over and over. and i watched.
three fat and furry squirrels working together.
one squirrel ran down the hulking street in the backyard, tail flying behind it. it scampered into the bushes, out of view for a couple moments. then it emerged back on the tree, on its way up. first-squirrel encountered a second squirrel on its way down. they met on the tree, sniffed noses, twitched tails and parted. first-squirrel ran up, its mouth full of leaves. second-squirrel ran down to the ground, while at the notch in the tree, way above, third-squirrel began its run down. each one ran up to the big-branches-notch with decaying leaves and underbrush and then ran back down again. up and down. up and down. on and on. over and over.
it was mesmerizing.
i stood at the sink and marveled at their work ethic. after a bit, i moved away from the window. but from time to time i would go back to check and, sure enough, they were still at it. a long day of tree-climbing and nest-stoking. from what i could tell, there was nary a grumpy moment, nary a nasty action, nary an agenda but for nest-stoking…together.
the squirrels worked hard – all day and in community with each other and i can only assume they wore little buttons that read “be kind”. one could get kind of crabby running up and down a tree all day. and squirrels are known for being somewhat territorial. i’m guessing that they were working to shelter from the extreme cold, doing what they had to do to get through it – together – to stay well, safe, alive.
we drove past the neighborhood elementary school and the sign out front read “choose kindness”. i looked at david and said, “let’s use that! you can’t beat THAT drum too often.” we went back to take a photograph.
national random-acts-of-kindness-day is february 17. a specific day marked and set aside to perform – yes – random acts of kindness.
hmmm. in a world fighting a pandemic, a country politically divided, communities marked by despair and illness and economic instability, families facing loss and grieving time spent together, i’m thinking that this scurry of squirrels would encourage us to celebrate this every day.
and in other news, i am craving entenmann’s crumb cake. i haven’t had this in yearsss, but right now this ny staple has risen to the top of my consciousness and won’t let go. it must be random-bits-of-inessential-information day.
the hike to looking glass rock is uphill. not a little uphill. reeeally uphill. the view through the trees, sans leaves, reveals mountains close-up, mountains out in the distance. it’s a gorgeous trail.
we started later than we had planned. and so, we had to turn around before we made it to the top. because once the sun goes down – and it goes down fast – it is next to impossible to safely navigate the trail back down. roots and rocks and twists and turns could turn it into a crisis. and we have watched everest enough times to remember professional guide rob hall’s words: it’s not my job to get you up the mountain…it’s my job to get you safely back down. pisgah national forest is – clearly – not the intensity of everest, but the same rule applies anyway.
and so – this time – we missed looking glass rock, an amazing formation, its sheer stone face rising above the trees. there will be a next time; we’ll start earlier, carry some lunch and more water and we’ll get there and back before darkness falls.
i had tucked a package of our “be kind” pins into my bag. i thought that there might be a place i could leave them. each time we have passed a little trail magic – a painted rock, tiny gift – it has lifted our spirits. i couldn’t think of a more beautiful place to leave these pins than this forest. the knot in the tree seemed perfect – at the right eye level for those hiking up. my only regret is not being able to go back and see that they are gone.
for each time i have left a rock – with a heart or a peace sign or a tiny message – on our local trail tucked into the notch of a tree, on an obvious branch or perched on a burl – i have had the opportunity to go back a next time and see that it has disappeared. it’s the gift of a gift.
i can only assume that the little cellophane bag tied with green curling ribbon in brevard is gone. i can only assume that someone has given out all the “be kind” buttons. i can only assume that as the recipients wear them or put them on their backpacks or their purse or hang them on the visor in their car they smile and pay it forward just a little.
“mama said there’ll be days like this; there’ll be days like this mama said.” (“mama said”, the shirelles, written by luther dixon and willie denson, 1961)
there are days in which i remind myself, time and again, over and over and over, blah-de-blah-de-blah, as i learned years ago from a cheery 95 year-old woman on an interview, to not take anything personally. this requires evolving. big evolving.
it does not come naturally to me to not take things personally. it is waaaay over on the other side of the taking-things spectrum from where i am. but, i am inching my way, crawling, scraping, babystepping my way in that general direction. ever-evolving, i intend to get there. some.day.
i suspect that, on the day that i arrive, i will find a light heart, laughter always at the ready, dancing feet, unconditional forgiveness of self and others, grace for mistakes or choices made, full nights’ sleeps, anticipation of continued bliss in the land of not-taking-it-personally. umbrage will fall like rain on duck’s feathers and the seesaw will stay level, a fulcrum of balance.
for, as any perusal through social media will remind us, we are not walking in shoes other than our own. memes as prodding cover photos or profile pictures or insta’d wisdombits or tweeted tweets, we are reminded “you never know what someone is going through. be kind. always.” yup.yup.
we each have access to the wisdom of the greatest wise ones. and we each forget. every. single. day. we don’t always think about how our words or actions will arrive on the heart of others, particularly in the moments of delivery, particularly the things that are … heartless. conversely, it, then, is likely that others, in the moments of delivery, were not thinking about how their words or actions would arrive on our hearts. we also know that it is not likely that someone else is laying awake in the middle of the dark night thinking about what they said or did, their words or lack of words. some people are better at letting things sliiiide off. me? i’m still evolving.
in a slew of bitterly cold temperatures, we passed a frozen pond the other day. there were many ducks on it and i wondered aloud if their tiny butts were frozen to the lake. in my best duck voice i implored passersby to “help us, help us. our tiny butts are frozen and we can’t get up!”. but, in my moment of intended comedy, i did not know some important things about ducks: “waterfowl possess remarkable adaptations to survive in cold weather, including dense layers of insulating feathers, counter-current blood flow to reduce heat loss through their feet and legs, behavioral modifications to reduce exposure to the elements, the ability to carry large fat reserves, and perhaps the greatest adaptation of all- migration.” (ducks.org)
“be a duck,” i said to him the other day. sometimes it is necessary. let it all roll off your feathers.
a little research had given me a tiny bit more knowledge: wear more layers. don better boots. reduce exposure to potential yucky stuff. eat and drink merrily without minding the mirror too much. and, if all else fails, move on. be a duck.
mama was right. there are days. ouch.
love oneself enough to be ever-evolving. ever and ever and ever.