it is entirely and utterly exfoliated. delaminated. naked.
the slender tree stands alone in the marshland, like a graceful ballerina in allongé. barely a side branch, it is stunning against a blue blue sky.
and, yet, in all its raw nakedness, its vulnerability, it stands proudly, stalwart, determined. it is still alive.
we stand next to our canvases, in front of microphones, in recording studios, on wooden stages, at qwerty keyboards, poised in front of 88 keys, with ballet shoes or tap shoes or jazz shoes, behind the cine-camera, in front of the cine-camera, at the potter’s wheel, baton in hand, holding sculpting tools or playscripts, focusing lens and aperture, holding written words in our fingers.
we are naked trees in the marsh. we stand – vulnerable to the elements – unprotected. we brave lack. we brave abundance. we withstand the inbetween.
we are exfoliated every single time we put it out there. we are artists.
this installation was beautiful. stunning. olafur eliasson’srainbow bridge was in a room full of light and the spectrum of color was immediately striking. and then, we walked into the room further and all the color disappeared, instead spheres of glass reflected the windows and the water outside the museum. “the appearance of the spheres is unstable, slipping between clarity, colour, and blackness in response to the slightest movement of the viewer.” (olafur) if you stand right in front of one of the twelve spheres, you can see your reflection upside down, teasing you to make faces and play. we could have visited with this piece all day – moving around the room, standing still, watching the light waltz and dip as the hours wore on.
“its [the extraordinary] concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.” (mary oliver- upstream)
and so, when we finally moved on, past the sunlit rainbow, i’m quite sure we were both in that dreamy place – the place where you linger in all the vast possibilities that are out there – combinations of color and sound, notes joining together, brushes brushing, harmonics floating above you and bass notes stabilizing your foothold. it is a place of creation, where you feel the tendrils of ideas, of paintings, of songs, of melodies of piano, of sweeping strings and mournful french horns, of spattered acrylic, of photographs with intense depth of field. it is the place we visit on the trail, on the mountains, on the seashore, in our studios. it is beyond the edges of billpaying folders and mortgages, student loans and job searches. it flies past all the details of everyday mundane. it is nebulous and it is visceral.
we moved out of the room – newly equipped with dream – refreshed because someone else had “put it out there”. someone else – also – had vision and the impulse to express it. someone else – also – had stood for long hours, sat for long hours, pondered for long hours in front of canvas or a piano or on a wooden dance floor or waiting for the perfect snapshot. someone else had composed – the extraordinary – from out beyond the edge. and its whisperings fell on our ears, encouraging our response to it and reminding us to jump.
someone peeled carrots into the pond and then it froze over. shavings of those multicolored organic rainbow carrots on the ice surface, just below the surface…it made me laugh to see so many carrots in one place. only they weren’t carrots. they just looked like carrots. instead, it was bits of bark and dried grasses and small sticks – no nutritional value or nurture to bunnies and squirrels and chippies, deer and birds.
it brings to mind the children’s book “the carrot seed” – the little boy plants carrots despite the fact that practically everyone around him tells him – basically – that the bottom line is that they won’t come up, despite his care. the last frame of the book shows him – having persisted nurturing the seeds he had planted – pushing a wheelbarrow with the biggest carrot you’ve ever seen. the value – the power – of true nurture.
nurture: to care for and encourage the growth or development of someone or something.
at this moment, for me, it is a hop, skip and a jump from there to thoughts about healthcare and insurance, keeping wellness forefront.
insure: to secure or protect someone against (a possible contingency) this definition would lead one to believe that “to insure” is somewhat parallel – or at least supplementary – to “nurture” – seeking to keep someone safe, healthy, attempting to look out for someone’s best interests.
“insurance is a means of protection from financial loss in which, in exchange for a fee, a party agrees to compensate another party in the event of a certain loss, damage, or injury. it is a form of risk management, primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent or uncertain loss.” (wikipedia)
“insurance plans will help you pay for medical emergencies, hospitalization, contraction of any illnesses and treatment, and medical care required in the future.“(an insurance company)
our current (and unfortunately necessary) gap coverage insurance company states they are dedicated to a simple goal: “making health care easier for the people we serve.”
the insurance plan that will take effect in five days believes that “health connects us to each other” and that “what we all do impacts those around us”. and so, they say they are dedicated to “delivering better care to our members”.
nevertheless, the united states seems to have a grotesque insurance problem. the earnings pie – or say – the carrot cake only goes so far, particularly with major medical insurance. but then, there’s dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance, home insurance, car insurance, major appliance insurance, small appliance warranty insurance, laptop and tablet insurance, recreational vehicle and boat insurance, travel insurance, personal, general, property damage liability insurances. americans are slicing away at their own cake…for most, never quite big enough to start with.
and then there’s business insurance…various insurance plans that companies, organizations, institutions purchase to cover costs associated with property damage or liability issues and to keep their employees safe and healthy – because companies and organizations and institutions care about their employees and want to look out for their best interests.
“your employees may be your business’ most valuable asset.” “… protect your employees …”(an insurance company)
ahh, but here’s the rest of that insurance company’s statement:
“your employees may be your business’ most valuable asset.” “… protect your employees – and your bottom line…”
though it may look like carrots, there are no carrots there. no nurturing. no nutritional value. just a bottom line.
she was a coloratura soprano. her leaps, her trills, her range were atmospheric. bell-like and of angel quality, rayna sang effortlessly.
i have no idea if she is singing now. the last i heard – after i graduated with a degree in composition – she left and was in med school, seeking a degree outside of the arts. she must have had a wise mentor along the way. someone who told her she could always sing “on the side”. like rice pilaf.
“on the side.”
it’s the ever-present albatross of artists. even those who stand out in a crowd are thrust – by a society that doesn’t place as much value on the arts – into the yin-yang of opposing forces: stay. go. full-time. on the side.
every now and then there is a whitetop sedge spikelet in the field that is strikingly more successful than the rest… the mariah carey, the ariana grande, the beverly sills, the joan sutherland. delivering exquisite bel canto, they do not render the other spikelets any less important, nor should they be. each voice is unique in the meadow and this spikelet is just a little taller.
before i finished my bachelor’s degree i was accepted into the business school at usf. “accounting,” i thought. “i love math, therefore accounting.” the “normal-job” world was taunting me. but i declined the placement and continued on my merry way, writing music. i did not have rayna’s mentor and i believed there was a way to stand out, somehow.
it took some time just to get around to writing. life and its put-the-art-making-on-the-side-and-get-a-real-job-and-make-a-living had me directing and teaching. but not writing. i dabbled a bit relatively early on, did some recording and visited nashville – but didn’t move there. i don’t think i recognized the garden there when i saw it.
it wasn’t until a decade later that the muse caught back up to me. and when it did, it was with some gusto.
and now i’ve seen “the fault in our stars”. and i’ve witnessed mortality. i have loved and lost and changed and learned and made giant messes and have ridden the tide in and out, in and out.
and i’ve written some of my best and some of my worst. and it all counts – whether i – or you – are a tall spikelet or not.
i wonder now if rayna is practicing medicine. i wonder if she is singing.
i still have it. the index card is taped to the inside bottom of my old piano bench down in the basement. these words, “perfection is an eight letter word. practice ” written in eight-year-old pencil-printing. it’s been there – in that old spinet piano bench – since 1967, when i started taking lessons and needed a reminder how to keep the ups and downs in perspective.
i spent long hours on that bench and on the organ bench also in my growing-up living room. what i could hear in my imagination wasn’t necessarily what was showing up on the keys. my sweet poppo would encourage me, “remember, practice makes perfect,” he’d say. i’d add, well, at least practice moves you in that direction.
there’s no guarantee for perfect. there’s no route to it and any expectation that you will achieve it really is for naught. the best you can do is the best you can do – moment by moment. with practice, each best-you-can-do is better than the last. and so on and so on.
it’s the caring that matters.
i have two amazing children who have shown me examples of the pursuit of how to do something, to a point of excellence, that you’ve never done before. the keeping-at-it, toughlove-letting-go-of-judgment, the training, the practice, the trying-failing-rinse-repeat-ness of learning. they approach new things like stoic explorers, adventurers prepared and open to experience.
it’s the very thing that inspired our snowboarding lesson earlier this year – the one where i broke both of my wrists. every time i hear someone say, “eh, i’m too old; i can’t learn that,” i store my emotional response to that statement away in my memory bank, waiting for the day i’m about to say just that so i might pummel the words before they escape my lips.
even though my wrists broke and might never be the same and even though i cannot point to any great accomplishment or success on the slope, i would not take back the experience or the exhilaration and anticipation of learning something new, particularly, in this case, that very thing that would give me the slightest first-hand touch, not merely a window, into my daughter’s professional world.
in post-cast moments many people, aghast, said to me, “what were you thinking? don’t you think there’s a point you are too old for that? remember your age!” i am more aghast at these words than all the months dealing with uncooperative wrists in a livelihood where they really matter.
knowing first-hand how difficult and humbling pure novice-ness is, i hope i can always release the suffocating self-evaluating that goes hand-in-hand with being new at something; i hope that i always care about learning.
at eight i had no idea what piano lessons would mean to my life. i simply wanted – really, really wanted – to learn. i, at 8, didn’t beat myself up over getting it wrong or failing nor did i get self-conscious about my journey of mastery. i just stepped into it. and i cared with all of my eight-year-old heart.
we walk and talk about the day The Girl or The Boy suggest to getting-older-every-day-us that we purchase new technology or download a new app or try a new recipe or consider a new lifestyle or or or …. the day we will want to say, “eh, we’re too old; we can’t learn that.” i look down at my right wrist, which may never bend at a 90 degree angle ever again, and i remember to care.
this came across my desk last week. “maturity in season of life.” part of a minister of music job description, i was struck by the unguarded language, the bow to what only time and experience can teach. i have never seen this written as such before. it was bracing in every GOOD way. it was appreciatory. it was a breath of fresh air.
in a society that seeks to remain youthful and puts less emphasis on maturity in season of life than on staying young, we need remember there’s a place for everyone. some places require youth, fresh and breathing hard from the sprint. other places recognize the need for the steadfast wisdom of the ages, a decision-maker-doer who brings a lifetime of positive and negative experiences and knows how to differentiate between them, has an intuition built on time and the ever-growing wealth of lessons. the seesaw has room for both; the fulcrum can only balance with both.
as two artists living together, we are more than aware of the challenge of ageism, the challenge of time spent in our artistry and how that relates to value. more than a thousand times we have each been admonished for thinking we need to be paid when we should be grateful for the “exposure” we are being “granted”. more than a thousand times we have each been in a place where we have had to explain why our artistry needs to be financially rewarded just like anyone else’s work.
indeed, pay scales have been built to reflect time spent and job descriptions use verbiage like “pay is commensurate with experience.” experience. maturity: “the ability to respond to the environment in an appropriate manner. being aware of the correct time and location to behave and knowing when to act, according to the circumstances and the culture of the society (read: job) one lives in (read: one works in).”
i recently was having a written messaging chat with a hard-working young adult whose job is in the arts. with these challenges facing him every day, he said that people do not realize that “they’re paying me to know what to do if things don’t go well.” intuition. working on the fly based on training, knowledge and an ever-building bank of experiences. he will continue to face that challenge; it will only deepen. how is that maturity measured? how will he be paid for that maturity, for that which he cannot describe and for which others cannot fathom? for some reason, in this society, it is easier to answer that question if you are doing a numbers job, something seemingly more concrete, more measurable, more quantifiable.
but maturity in season of life touches others as well and we have dear friends who have been ‘let go’ from their jobs simply because of their age. now, their companies would never testify to that and are careful to avoid such language – for that would set them up for all kinds of legal problems – but it has been clear to our friends, struggling to find a new way in later days of their lives. few and far between are those who are able to benefit by pointing out the error of their ways to the company that is undervaluing a later human-on-this-earth season. other friends are fortunate enough to be working somewhere that has deeply valued the long time they have spent in their work and these friends have retired with spoken words of gratitude and wishes of continued good living. where is the fulcrum?
in this particular document that came across my desk, the whole phrase read, “maturity in season of life and maturity in ministry experience.” shockingly, they are seeking this as a qualifier and they are willing to pay for it. speaking directly to that qualifier that beautifully honors the wisdom of the ages, there are things that, as a minister of music at 19 i did not know. there are things that, as a minister of music at 32 i did not know. likewise, as a 30-years-as-a-minister-of-music at days-away-from-60, of course there are things i do not know.
what i DO know is that every experience i have had as a minister of music has built upon the last. instead of a chasm where learnings have dropped rapid-fire into an abyss, i have learned what the important stuff is and how to attempt to keep those things foremost.
like anyone in any job, mastery is commensurate with time spent, with growth in that work, and yes, without exception, with maturity in season of life.
“take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” (desiderata)