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…
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 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.
it was easy to lose ourselves on the beach. it was cold, but the sun was out and we were all dressed for it. our hike had brought us through the preserve and then – a little jaunt through the woods – to the shore. deserted, it was sandy, punctuated by driftwood and thick stripes of rocks. the further south we walked, the more rocks. the shoreline curved and must have been the place where the stones were captured as lake michigan rogue waves carried them in. so much to pick up, with smooth edges to run our fingers over, ponder. so easy to lose ourselves.
we walked – heads down – looking, looking. the treasures were abundant, all right there. we found the first hag stone. there is something about hag stones. these rocks – with a hole straight through them – mysterious and beautiful, hag stones are thought to have special powers that represent protection and luck. sandstone, limestone, flint…we found another. and then another. we walked and walked on the beach, looking, looking – because it becomes addictive – finding treasures just waiting to be found. easy to lose ourselves.
it got colder and, with the wind picking up, it was time to leave. we ended up bringing home a few rocks, some magical hag stones, and some sea pottery, gorgeous sherds of earthenware with green glaze, worn down for years perhaps by the powerful great lake. despite no knowledge of the origins of any of these, the connection to the day and to the water made them alluring.
“luck will show itself when it’s there.” (ricko dewilde – life below zero) on challenging days, luck is certainly hard to see. the grass-is-always-greener mindset takes over and it’s easy to succumb, the we’re-never-lucky-like-that defeatist, unmoored. easy to lose ourselves.
but the grass-is-greener-anywhere-else moment yields. and after a pause, a deep breath, mind-quieting, a good lookaround tells us something else.
a walk on the beach with dearest friends. talking and laughing and quiet treasure-hunting. finding sea pottery and sea glass and heart-shaped rocks and smoothed-to-ivory driftwood and hag stones – there all along, just waiting to be seen.
and luck starts to show itself. even in ice cubes.
it’s 925 miles from the corner of sixth avenue and west 55th street, but it displaced me in an instant. there i was – back sometime in the 70’s, in new york city, seeing robert indiana’s love sculpture for the first time. i loved love then. i love love now. (could that be any more redundant?!)
a part of sculpture milwaukee in 2018, this sculpture has returned and was permanently installed at the milwaukee art museum in 2019. we saw it for the first time last week. life and covid interrupted our visits to mam. we were really happy to be back. seeing love out the window facing lake michigan’s lakefront was the icing on the cake.
there are nearly fifty of these sculptures around the world. people travel far and wide to have their photographs taken next to the iconic stacked word. it became a u.s. postal stamp in 1973. it has big history. its artist has big history.
the success of this giant – yet simple – sculpture begs questions for me: what musical gesture might be equivalent to this sculpture? what rhythmic or melodic motif has this kind of powerful impact? googling these questions produces a plethora of suggested lists – everything from classical to motown to the beatles and beyond. i suppose it’s a truly personal thing.
any listener of albinoni’s adagio in g minor or j.s. bach’s air on the g string or arvo pärt’s spiegel im spiegel or ennio morricone’s gabriel’s oboe or john denver’s annie song or leonard cohen’s hallelujah or carole king’s you’ve got a friend or aretha’s r-e-s-p-e-c-t or the beatles’ here comes the sun or, for that matter, eldar kedem’s you and i or any piece composed and played or sung by giant artists or tiny independent artists …. any listener of anything arrives at the place of listening – the dropped-down-out-of-the-universe of their own world – individually. we tote along with us our lives-at-the-moment, our busy schedules, our worries, our longings, color and breath and heart, a distinctively different set of ears. we hear and we listen and we are transported by music to worlds away, places and times stored up, a chorus of commentators in us telling silent stories in viewmaster snippets, our hearts grasping the filmy tails of memories. impact. giant impact.
the love sculpture means something different to everyone who poses in front of it; every person’s story has different details, a different emotional spectrum. how we connect to this emotive piece depends largely on where we are when we visit with it, what we bring to it, how open we are to its energy.
the love sculpture stands outside the museum and i know that each time we now visit, it will demand our time as well. we will stand and gaze and visit with it. and we’ll keep loving it. it’s simple. it’s that kind of piece.
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.
we were sitting on the couch, talking. there’s much to ponder, to talk over, to talk about.
“anything’s possible,” he repeated.
even before lipton suggested it for american heart month*, my sweet momma and i had #liptonteatalks. at the end of the day – after i’d get home from school – we’d sit on the couch in front of the big bay window, a hot mug of lipton tea in our hands, chips ahoy cookies on a plate – and we’d talk. #teatalks. i would give a lot for another #liptonteatalk with my mom. there was so much to talk about back then too. the world was at my fingertips – out there – waiting for me to decide where to go, what to do, how to move into it. it feels so long ago.
there’s been a lot of life since those #liptonteatalks with my momma. i have been fortunate to have had #teatalks and #coffeetalks and #winetalks with dear people, connections that value real talktalk, hard questions as well as the simple ones, introspective musings as well as anecdotal tale-telling.
we’ve been together ten years now – our connection is really relatively fresh. we still have stories to tell each other – things we never thought about before – things we need to talk through with a loving ear – things we’ve wondered about the days to come, quietly in some space in our hearts and minds. we tell stories to each other on the couch, on trails, in the car on long drives, under the quilts at the end of a long day. we take turns being the bottom rock of the cairn; we take turns being the kite in the wind, ribbons loosely – but safely – wrapped to the other’s wrist, grounded in flight.
in one of my favorite scenes of one of our favorite holiday movies – a season for miracles – the little girl is on a clue-filled treasure hunt. she ends up at the library, finding the treasure – the book the secret garden. tucked inside the book is the last note: “anything is possible.” it’s a heartwarming moment, a foreshadowing of one of the last lines of the movie, narrated at the end by the same little girl. “anything’s possible,” she reminds us.
sometimes it takes an other in our lives to remind us of this – to embrace the possibilities. sometimes with a cup of tea in our hands. always with big heart.
*”a tea talk is a great time to have a meaningful conversation about your heart health, plan healthy meals for the week, pause and take time to meditate with a cup of tea, map out your weekly schedule to ensure you are including physical activity and even schedule doctor’s appointments to get your heart health checked.”… “time for women to prioritize their heart health by engaging with family, friends, and doctors in open conversations about their needs, concerns, and goals, helping them embrace healthy habits, especially those that are good for their heart.” (Lipton)