and in the way that getaways slip into the wind, i know that this one will as well. time spent in the snowy up-north will slowly peel off and fly, seeds for the next time, the next few-days-away, the next memories.
this weekend we’ll have dinner with our son. he owns a new home – his first – and this will be our first actual viewing of it. i can’t wait! time spent with our adult children flies all too fast. already it’s been six months since i have seen our daughter; already it will be three months since we saw our son. their lives are busy and active and they are not in the same town. their homes have been anywhere from an-hour-and-a-half to twenty-seven hours away. it takes time and planning. and life is full of things – many things, for all of us – that take time and planning.
in what will feel waytoofast, our time spent together will zoom by. visiting and catching up and doing the yes-of-course-i’m-staring-at-you-i’m-your-mother will be followed quickly by goodbyes at the door and me, as ever, wiping happy (and wistful) tears as we drive away. and the tiny layers that comprise this time will feather, drifting into air streams where our mind searches for details and they are just a little further out than we can reach.
the wind brushes past us and time passes in its grasp. we – as ever – attempt to hold its filmy contrails, but time and vapor cannot be held. they are part of the wind that swirls and we simply are witnesses to its magic. we experience, we create memories, we stand next to those memories and gaze back as time’s half-life multiplies before our eyes. on friday, we are astounded by a long week’s end. on our 60th birthday, we are astounded by the six decades. as we sit at our child’s table, we are astounded by their maturity and place in the world, their mark.
we – and the stars – float in the basket of the hot air balloon of the universe and – if we are wise enough – glory that we are part of it.
and – up close – if you choose – you will see the foreleg of a winter-dressed pony, the extra cold-weather-coat trapping hair next to the skin of the horse, keeping him warmer. he is stopped, gazing at the distant field, ready to canter into it, the exploding of freedom of movement.
and you blink and it is a cattail. one of many in the field, waiting in the marsh through autumn and winter for early spring. as many as 250,000 seeds, white fluff sailing and transported by birds and breezes. and the life cycle continues.
it is winter in my studio. the rhizomes are gathering underground, together with the cattails. maybe around the spring equinox, maybe a bit later, the shoots will rise out of the ground – like a phoenix out of ashes – and new sprouts will grow and grow. the cycle germinates and pollinates and seeds will fly again. the birds and the wind and i will play for you – seeds and notes flying.
in the meanwhile, i wear my winter coat. it is keeping the heat in. it protects me. insulation for shelter in this long and cold winter, to shield in the storms, to brace in this fallow.
but soon, soon, with the sun and fresh air, the pony will run free.
we saved an article last sunday: “the best waterfall in every u.s. state”. from alabama to wyoming, we scrolled through to see how many waterfalls we had seen. there were aggressive falls and double falls, falls that trickled from natural springs and, of course, niagara falls. we have missed many. like the articles about the best small towns or best places to retire, it’s all about dreaming. a list of waterfalls.
we hike or walk many miles each week, either on the weekend or squeezed into the rest of the sun at the end of the weekday. yesterday and the day before we noticed a tiny waterfall on our trail. it didn’t make it to the list of “the best” but it gave us pause and we stopped to watch and listen. the sound of a trickling stream, the sound of a minute waterfall…both unquestionably sounds of peaceful flow. we drank it in. we stood together in a silent, still dance.
as i looked at the list of waterfalls, it occurred to me that it is not likely i will ever see all of them. there is much on our bucket lists and, though i can appreciate – very much – adding this list into the bucket, i also know that it’s not the award-winning, the listed, that will always touch us.
the best waterfalls – for me – haven’t been the grandiose waterfalls. though i can appreciate their grandeur, it is the waterfall you stumble upon in the woods, the waterfall that shows up just when you needed a waterfall, the waterfall that will never make the list that negative-ions you into a feeling of well-being.
when i was in my thirties and composing i started to dream. in my forties – composing, recording, performing – i was headed to niagara in my dreams. sometimes i’d watch the grammys and wonder. but the smaller waterfalls – despite their beauty, despite their ability to resonate or to bring peace, despite the number of times on “repeat” – will not likely show up at the grammys. nevertheless, they have fault-in-our-stars impact. even to one.
charts – the top 100, say – are compiled by detecting the songs played on a select panel of top40 radio stations. this is not objective, nor is it not machinated. many, many integrated, financial and complex symbiotic relationships go into the positioning of a song, the charting of a song. “the best songs” lists beget “the best songs”.
back in 2002 – waaaay back…up the waterfall, upstream, backaways – one of my songs charted on the secondary adult contemporary radio chart. “slow dance” made it up to #13. i was inordinately thrilled but, like many things, it did not come without a price tag. the radio promoter was steep, not to mention a little slimy. it’s a system and, at least back then, those guys had it wired. it wasn’t long before i realized that the charting did not help. it quickly flowed over the riverstones, past the boulders at the peak of the cliff and dropped – the waterfall never stopping for pause.
i don’t necessarily need to see the “best waterfall in every u.s. state”. instead, i think i’d rather see the ones that will invariably touch me, will give me moments to stop and drink them in. i’d rather see the ones that go mostly undiscovered. for even in their relative obscurity they are a gift and they count.
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.
there used to be a lot of stuff on the counters. a breadbox, coffeemaker, fruit basket, basket with random mail and school dittos, microwave, paper towels, cookie jar…it makes me shudder now. the counters – back then – were yellow formica – bright yellow circa 1960 or earlier. i suppose the stuff on the counter helped disguise the counters a bit, but the backsplash was the same bright formica and there was plenty of that as well. i tried to think of it as cheery – every kitchen needs to be cheery. but…
the people who owned the house before us – back in the 80s and prior – had applied woodgrain contact paper to the counters and to all the shelves in the pantry and to the inside of the drawers, really anywhere it would stick. when we bought the house they asked us if we wanted a lesson on re-applying contact paper. i was horrified at the thought, and we politely said no. after we moved in i peeled all the contact paper off the counters and backsplash and elbow-grease-scrubbed off the sticky residue. yikes. what a mess. it was bright and it wasn’t without dings, but the kitchen went from peach cabinets and woodgrain to white cabinets and yellow. it seemed freshened, even with the yellow. it was supposed to be temporary.
there were other oddities – there was a door from our kitchen to the sunroom which they had kept on its hinges, blocking space that we filled in with an antique kitchen table that my dad refinished. we still eat around that table now. i suppose anyone touring our home who might consider it as theirs would utter “gut job” entering our kitchen but that’s for some future time. though we will make some updates to it, we love it the way it is. even temporarily.
at some point – a few years back – we decided to see what was under the formica. climbing into the cabinets i looked up and saw really lovely panels of good wood. we assumed that was the counter prior to the yellowness. it wasn’t so, as the first peel revealed. plywood was the countertop material and i literally starting panicking, running to the computer to google how to fix this dreadful mess. a sander, sandpaper, chalkboard paint and food-safe wax was the prescription and it achieved a kind of black soapstone look. black and white. it was supposed to be temporary.
we have pared down what’s on the counter. just the coffeemaker, the microwave and a wooden bowl of fruit – oh, and the roll of paper towels on a wrought iron stand. less busy, it makes it all feel less frenetic, tidier. it feels more orderly and that makes it feel more serene.
the florida national cemetery is the epitome of orderly. it is pristine and it invites you – without words – to wander. it would be easy to spend hours of time just walking among the big oaks and the lines of headstones, to weave in and out of the columbaria. its orderliness lends peacefulness and reassurance, its vastness a reminder of the temporal nature of this life – transitory, fleeting.
we arrived back home after a few days in florida with family, after interring my sweet momma’s ashes, after spending time with the adorable non-stop two-year-old and sat at our kitchen table with 20 who had soup and bread and glasses of wine waiting for us when we got there.
i love traveling and exploring and – simultaneously – always have a little homesickness when we are away, so i gazed around at our old kitchen and all its supposed-to-be-temporary fixings. my heart was full and i could feel all the time spent in there – my dad proudly placing the refinished table, my mom waxing poetic about the happy-yellow, my children in high chairs and suddenly on college breaks and suddenly adults. my kitchen counters and their timeline of transition, their sweet legacy.
one of these days we will update. but, in the meanwhile, i know it’s all temporary anyway.
took everything off every surface. dusted everything. put some things away. moved things around. got rid of excess. hung a favorite print. and – with great care – gently vacuumed the inside of my really beautiful piano, for full-stick is an invitation to dust.
i stood back, stood in the doorway, looking in.
the room was breathing. deep breaths.
i was breathing. immersed.
there is still more to go through. there is more to file away. there is former work-trauma to discard and there are calendars of choir music and ukulele band books and handbell arrangements and contemporary solos to box up. the first pass didn’t get all those and now, two years later, i am still a little paralyzed by all of it. that’s why it all needs to go. this process is taking longer than i would have anticipated. “mind, body, spirit,” she said. “it’s not likely others will understand all the layers. they will expect you to just move on, to get over it. they will not grok the wounds; it is all fraught.”
but there were staff lines in the sky. and the universe prompt is haunting me a little.
it’s always had a purpose – my studio – a direct line from standing or sitting in there to actual work. i’ve not just noodled or played because i was just playing. i’ve stood in there to write – to flesh out an album, to practice, to plan – the arc of music for a concert or for a church calendar, to teach – so many students through the years. it hasn’t been a place i go to without purpose, without an end-product, without a result i could see. as an adult, my studio has represented the potential for income; it has been a professional place. now there are questions. many of them. like living in a blank staff, i live – lost – in the questions.
i played my piano. a few carols.
there is one more day this year. and then 2023.
and i won’t carry carols into the new year. it will be time for something else, something less dusty.
there’s some way to go. it’s not as simple as it sounds.
the staff lines in the sky hold no clues, have no notes.
maybe – instead of reading that as tacet – silent – i might – and “might” is the operative word here – read that as a composition without designated key, without predetermined time signature, without definitive expression markings, sans any direction or boundary.
this darling face was larger than life, a giant print by simon te tai hanging on the wall at our airbnb in charlotte. many times we would find ourselves standing in front of it. it compelled you to do so. is there a “hug-a-sloth” day? we both would like to participate.
other than our sweet dogdog, the next animal face we were close to was the hawk’s.
it was out front in the yard, seemingly enjoying the sprinkler. d watched it out the office window, checking on it while he worked. when he went to turn the sprinkler off and remove the hose from the lawn, it stayed there and watched him. he sent me a photo of it, merely ten feet away, calm and steady. the next time he looked out, it was in the street and in trouble. grabbing a blanket he ran down to it. we have brought other birds to rehab centers so this would not be our first. the hawk was in distress and laid while david talked quietly to it. as he went to gently scoop it up, it flew off, straight up into the tree limbs above.
when i came home d was standing in the middle of the street, staring up, so i knew it had to be something to do with this hawk he had photographed.
there it was. a small raptor perched on a limb 25 feet above us.
we watched it for a while and then thought we should leave it be, believing it must be recuperating from – perhaps – being somehow stunned.
just a bit later, from across the street, at the front door, we watched with horror as this beautiful creature flapped its wings up in the tree and then fell out. grabbing a bin and the blanket we tore out the front door and ran across the street.
i implored him to wait. the eye i could see was closing and i caressed him softly, telling him how grateful the world was for his presence in it, how stunningly beautiful he was.
i don’t know when his tiny spirit floated away.
it was profound for both of us. david wrapped him carefully in a blanket and we placed him in the bin, hopeful that our suspicion was wrong and that it might be possible he was simply unconscious for a bit. but the time went by and each time we checked on him revealed no change. we called all the bird rehabilitation centers.
wisconsin dnr asked us to photograph the hawk. “take as many pictures as you can,” she instructed, “that way we can try to determine what kind of hawk it was and maybe a little information about what might have happened.” there were no obvious signs of injury and we know that the avian flu has been seriously problematic, especially for waterfowl and birds of prey.
his face was truly beautiful. feathers the color of bold coffee and caramel, amber eyes just like dogdog’s, a bit of green above his curled beak. really beautiful.
it’s these two faces of wildlife i will remember this past month.
the face of a sloth – though not three-dimensional – friendly and open, practically begging for a giggly snuggle.
and the face of a hawk – transient, evanescent and spirit-filled – visceral and, quite astoundingly, stroked by our fingertips – a moment we shared we will not forget – when this creature crossed over and we were all one, together. on a mysterious bridge that goes both ways.
the most powerful moment i felt at the elton john concert sunday night came when he sang “i’m still standing”. still standing! yes!
analysis of the lyrics aside, “still standing” elicited the gigantic reverberation of 50-60,000 people singing along, all of whom, i suspect, have a “still standing” story. it’s the kind of song that generalizes – it’s about relationship, but isn’t everything in life – our relationships with our beloved, with others, with ourselves, with our life’s work, with this universe? just the sheer still-standingness of being alive made singing along worthy, no, more, a necessity. the stadium roared.
his first hit – in 1969/70 – “your song” brought tears to my eyes. in the encore set, i knew we wouldn’t see him live-in-concert again and the experience was rich, under a beautiful open-air night sky hearing my husband, daughter and her boyfriend sing along in various songs.
but that i’m-still-standing … i wrote it down in a note in my phone.
because sometimes life teeters and you are delivered boulders while you – a tiny rock of ash in a huge galaxy – attempt to precariously balance it all. and last night – well – i knew i was still standing.
and i suddenly knew that i would do all i could to make sure that my tiny star is dancing inside and out, that all the notes count, that it’s all silently and roaring out-loud. yeah, yeah, yeah.
elton john somehow reminded me that i’ve been standing all along.
i read it on a thread. someone commented to an author i follow. “never be shy about your work,” she encouraged. i took a screenshot.
never be shy about your work.
humility is a virtue, we are taught. desiderata reminds us, “if you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” always.
but somewhere in there – in the spectrum between meekness and arrogance – is the space to be proud of what you do, to stand in it, to share it.
“what do you do?” people ask. many people can answer that in a word. as artists, it often takes a paragraph, all run-on sentences with no breath so as not to get that lost-in-space glazed look on the asker’s face.
when i broke both of my wrists, the medical staff wrapped up both of them, casting and explaining the possible ramifications of the breaks “at my age”. when i fell the second time on a wet floor and re-injured my right wrist to the point of it having a frighteningly small amount of range of motion, the specialists asked questions and each politely said, “i heard you play the piano” as if i sat around noodling, surrounded by porcelain figurines and teacups, playing chopin-light or maybe little easy-piano-pop-hits. i was literally hesitant (!) to speak and qualified my statement-to-come by saying, “i’m not saying this to be self-aggrandizing, but….” and then i continued, “but because it’s a fact that i have 15 albums out in the world and piano is my major instrument and this could change my life work.”
those specialists had no qualms about saying they were specialists. none. i wondered why i hesitated, why i was apologetic.
never be shy about your work.
i have worked hard in my area of specialty. i have struggled like any artist, have written on scraps of paper and flimsy napkins, have squeezed out time in-between everything else that takes time, have stood in the rain playing and singing on flatbeds, have lugged boxes and boxes and boxes of cds. i have also sold thousands and thousands of albums and have millions of streams. it doesn’t equate to any kind of riches except the kind that is the deep satisfaction of doing something you love.
i used to be much more aggressive – and assertive – about “getting the word out” about my music. though i recognize that vocal styles come and go, instrumental piano is not irrelevant…it has no shelf life. it’s just as peaceful and evocative today as the days i composed it, the days i recorded it. so that would mean that 14 of these 15 albums still have some sales merit, not just the $.000079 cent so “generously” royaltied by online streaming.
never be shy about your work.
in the last church position i held, i was in a meeting with two of the leaders. they were streaming the services and i was commenting on the level of professionalism we needed to try to achieve. i wasn’t willing to link my personal and professional social media to this online streaming until the sound quality (in particular) was indeed much better. one of the leaders stared at me, clear disdain on his face, and told me he had no idea why i would say such a thing or hold such a stance. i explained that i am a yamaha artist and that only PART of my work in the world was the job (which he deliberately pointed out was part-time) i had at that place. for the umbrella of my life i was an artist and that i have always strived to bring the best quality to my work. i told him that it was important to me to make sure that nothing i did musically in the public arena was schlocky (including at that place) and that, as a yamaha artist with fifteen albums, i would hold to my position of not-sharing until there was something more professional to share. i would not undermine my own artistry because mediocrity was ok with him.
never be shy about your work.
he – eventually – found a way to fire me. in the deep dark cloak of covid. with no one really knowing why, including me. well, except, maybe, for retaliation. que sera.
never be shy about your work.
i am proud of the albums that will eventually find their way into antique stores around the country. i see them on resale sites now.
but i also know that – from time to time – someone writes to me. and in their writing they tell me that my music has meant something to them. my music has helped them, given them a sense of serenity, made them think, made them dance.
and that is what counts.
so before the vintage-store-influx i guess it’s my job now to not be shy.
i am a composer. i am a pianist. i am a singer-songwriter and recording artist. i am a writer. i love being on stage, telling stories, playing music. i love the feel of wood under my feet, a boom mic in front of me. i have fifteen albums and a few singles. i’m researching how to get more out of pandora and itunes and all the streaming devices out there. i’m 63 but i’m thinking i might still be relevant. i may need your help because no one gets anywhere in a tiny bubble; no one walks this path alone.
i did a photo shoot with my cello. it’s a gorgeous instrument, elegant and full of tear-your-heart-out melodic possibility.
i am sitting at the edge.
i clutch onto it tightly, yearning to yo-yo-ma, yet knowing this edge is somewhat irrefutable. in my heart, my wrist, the tendons of my fingers ache to bow, to press string to fingerboard. the edge pushes back. i know that it is time and that no dream in the night – onstage with soaring, weep-worthy lines – will change that.
my edges – like conglomerate rock, a mixture of wishes and knowings and new – reorganize in the kaleidoscope of life. and, because life is like that, surprises will show up, lit by spotlights and sunlight.
and, once this stunning instrument has moved, as it should, from my studio to the embrace of someone else, i understand that, though my hands will not touch its graceful lines and resonant soul, there will be other learnings, other touches. and always, other edges.
“though i play at the edges of knowing, truly i know our part is not knowing, but looking and touching and loving.” (mary oliver)