while she explained to me the presence of the cross on the back of the donkey, he explained to david how he installed the sun-seeking solar panel in the barnyard. both exist here. the old world donkey and the twenty-first century solar panel. together.
he told us that they were about our age when they started to make plans for next steps. they sorted and listed and researched and made decisions for their next phase, moving to acreage further south – in a bit more temperate clime – closer to some family, out in the woods with ridges and ravines, living their dreams for the next of life. “you should start thinking about that now,” he encouraged us. he’s right. we think about it all the time.
“the world never comes at you all at once,” john o’donohue wrote. “you are not simply here. neither are you definitively and forever ‘you’.” … “no person is a finished thing.”
things you can count on. change and change and change.
we know change is imminent. and change has already arrived. and we have exited change, taken the doorway that reads “next”. and we can see more doors and more doors. they are a little further away, like trail markers, choices to be mapped, routes to follow, narratives with gaps to fill in.
maybe a coupla donkeys, a coupla horses, dogdog, mountains, cherry tomato plants, and trees. our lives will evolve.
in our mind’s eye, we paint ourselves older – hopefully wiser, but i know there’s no guarantee of that. we paint the hue of early morning sunrises over peaks near and far. we paint old porches and adirondack chairs. less stuff and more time. old world and new world. much like now, we paint in mugs of coffee and glasses of wine bookending the day. we paint in people we love. we paint in hiking and writing and new recipes and doing the art we do. it’s unfinished, this canvas.
life is not a paint-by-number. and solar panels and donkeys co-exist in barnyards. and we are not definitively any particular colors in any particular place doing any particular thing. we are made of dreams and change.
in much the same way i draw sunrises over mountains, the boardwalk turned ninety degrees on a dime, with meticulously pieced craftwork, through the swampy area and across, back to the dirt trail.
we pondered how long it took volunteers to build this boardwalk…likely out in hot summer sun, working to span the distance between solid earth trails and protect the vegetation and water below. when you are out hiking in the middle of nowhere and come upon a boardwalk or a little bridge or, remotely, a bench, it is a reminder that you are not stepping there first and you are not stepping there alone.
time and again we watch backpackers like joey coconato or the wanderwomen forge streams and rivers. we marvel as they step carefully across, deliberately placing their feet with caution. occasionally, there is an unexpected suspension bridge or a big placed-log that helps. trail magic is not just water bottles and snickers bars. it’s the work that someone has done before you. someone who really cares. in this case, early-on-in-the-hike of pink-bed-trail, those someones built this boardwalk. in service.
extreme wind had blown down many trees on our trail along the des plaines. some of them stretched across our pathway and we climbed our way over them. we know the next time out they will be moved, for this trail is well taken care of. the work of those tending it is to make hiking possible for the rest of us. in service.
the winter show will be pulled down on january 9. artists of various medium brought their work to be juried into the gallery space on the lake. they chose pieces they felt were relatable, pieces that would hang well, would absorb and reflect light as it streamed through big windows. a lot of people went to the opening, including us, with masks. and then the crowds left and the art center had regular hours through the holiday, inviting patrons in to view art and trees lit with the season. we’ll pick up the painting next week, unless there is an offer on it. the curator will breathe and design the next show. and people will have been moved by acrylic and clay, watercolor and fibre. sun will light the wood floors and curl around dark corners and artists will create at home for the next time, the next chance to elicit the silent conversation between viewer and artwork. in service.
we watched carole king and james taylor in concert sunday night. it was two hours of bliss. easily two of the most talented songwriters of all time, their camaraderie is exquisite and the music carried us both back. at one point in the airing, there was a moment that carole shared thoughts about performing. she spoke about bringing music to others as her job, and she continued that it wasn’t for herself that she writes, plays, performs. songwriters, composers, performing artists. connecting to hearts of people, challenging them, reassuring them, moving them. in service.
a bridge spanning a raging whitewater river in the middle of nowhere…is it appreciated? a boardwalk built on a trail in the middle of somewhere…does it make a difference? a cleared path…is there gratitude? a painting that hangs with no viewers…is it seen? a piece of music with no audience…does it reveal its magic?
like 7th chords vs major 7th chords, some things are irrefutable. the horizon is one of them.
each and every time i take a photograph i can hear crunch in my ear, “the horizon! the horizon!”. decades have passed and i still will look at my photographs post-snap and evaluate the horizon and its relationship in the whole image. post-click i will think, “ahh, crunch would like this one!” and i’ve considered time and again to send it on to this person who has instilled his words in my head from years of taking sunrise and sunset pictures out on long island sound, on the beaches, in the boat, in-between fishing or diving adventures. there is nothing like a sunrise over the water with a crooked horizon. if one has to tilt one’s head to the side to accommodate the degree of angle of horizon, crunch -and i, now – have no forgiveness.
it’s how i feel about dominant 7th chords (using the minor 7th). i find them cringe-worthy. overused and trite, i have, many-a-time, tossed out, “major7th! major7th!” to others, much like crunch’s “the horizon!” admonishment. it’s used as a resolution pass, moving to another chord (usually a fifth below, but that’s too much information for right here). suffice it to say, we all have our quirks, the things that make us grimace or make our eyes twitch.
the gallery where david’s piece “unfettered” is showing is right on the water. the center is filled with delicious light and warm wood floors and white walls and white woodwork. it is a gorgeous place, a mecca for an eye seeking tiny morsels of photo-worthy images. i wander through, admiring pieces of the opening show and taking pictures of the space.
but i am reminded of the huge art expo we attended in chicago. winning – and mightily expensive – exhibits included jute strung across the booth with a kitchen sponge painted blue hanging from a clothespin. this was for sale for literally thousands of dollars and there were curators/representatives/dealers in the booth – those who would privately shake their heads in astonishment, giggling all the way to the bank – who would happily explain its meaning to you. perhaps i am a bit jaded – by looped recordings and garage band and auto-tune and acrobatics and the machinations of the music industry – but i have to admit that, while there were fancily-clothed-people gathered around seemingly breathless-with-anticipation, i did not stick around for the explanation. like the emperor with his new clothes, the oh-i-MUST-have-it crowd amused me and i could hear crunch in my head, “the horizon! the horizon!”.
one of my favorite experiences – albeit adding to my cynicism – was attending a talk given by a curator at chicago’s institute of art. she was speaking about the work of christopher wool and she was giddy that he was present. she had developed wordy narrative all around his work, describing his temperament, his mood swings, his supposed depression. his work is pretty blatant; he uses words and images to speak to or portray conceptual ideas. referencing one particular piece, she spoke about how his dark depression contributed to his art. she glanced over at him as he made a gesture to speak and invited his-own-perception of his-own-work, a photograph. i could see his tic from our seats. “i just thought it was a cool shot,” he interjected into her soliloquy on the spectrum of his personality. the audience laughed and i breathed a sigh of relief. some 7th chords are just overused, overplayed, over-analyzed.
i’m wondering about stringing up some jute in the sunroom and hanging this week’s scotch-brite.
i suppose this is one of THOSE things – when you look back and see, with more clarity than you could ever have had in the moment, that you were nudged, pushed, prodded, indeed, shoved along. as you stood resolutely in the spot to which you were dedicated, something prompted change and things were no longer the same nor would they ever be. one of THOSE things.
i remember the early days of hearing garth brooks singing the country song “unanswered prayers”, decades ago now. he released the song and it exploded on radio not too long after i moved to wisconsin, away from family, away from two jobs i loved. i stood outside my then-husband’s workplace and gazed out at soybean fields wondering where i had landed, what on earth i would do. i went to the grocery store and wept in the pasta aisle; no mueller’s pasta to be found. i read the local paper and was disconcerted. i found solace in long-distance letters from my mom and brought lunch to the office at the local airport every day, the place my husband worked. i was lonely and lost.
but the universe had a way of catching up to me and consoling my soybean-cornfield-factory-town angst. that next year, my beautiful daughter was born – my first baby, i found new friendships, and a job i loved in a community of people who grew to be important to me. my amazing son was born in years to follow and then, in serendipitous ways, i started recording albums and i looked back and knew that, though my discomfort in – literally – moving was justified, life would not have been the same had i not moved. the complacency i had earlier adopted was not going to be enough and life had some gaps to fill in. nevertheless, i still sometimes wonder how it all would have turned out without the big jostling-along-to-wisconsin. for that matter, i still sometimes wonder how it all would have turned out without the big jostling-away-from-new-york. things to ponder and never know.
i will never know – really know – how it came to be that i am sitting next to this lovely man right now, writing separately together. how we each have grown and how we each have struggled and sorted through our figurative attics and basements, stuffed with things that have happened, things we have saved, things we have discarded, things we’d rather not remember, things we celebrate. how, from two entirely different places in this vast country, we found each other. i suppose love has a way.
time and again the understanding of events, situations, disappointments, things-that-are-really-hard is delayed. in-the-moment it – the why – is not clear. sometimes it is never clear or perhaps it’s just that by the time clarity arrives, it is far, far after the fact. so far that we have forgotten our dismay or our agnostic questioning or, in those that seem synchronistic miracles, our awe. it is in the looking-back, the time-line reflections that we might parse and question and realize that there was a reason, a cause and effect, maybe a prayer or two gone unanswered. though i could still list those and wonder why – through actions of others, good and bad, or decisions i’ve made, good and bad, or stuff that just happens, good and bad – i would guess that somehow the puzzle fits together in the end. no doubt the discomfort brings learnings we may not have signed up for, given the choice. the story is a mystery.
as i find myself in yet another nudged-pushed-prodded-shoved place, i’m trying to remember to stand still for a moment. to take it in – the discomfort – and to be open to what might be. and, in watching what shows up, in really looking and studying and listening, to take baby steps and move. maybe later on it will all make sense.
i officiated a wedding last sunday. the bride and groom, their parents, twenty-one attendants and family and friends gathered on a venue patio under the sun on a stunning september afternoon in milwaukee.
reminding them to go slow and drink it all in, they celebrated in a ceremony i wrote for them, personal and intimate, with pieces of their romance and tidbits of what was mutually important to them. we had gathered together to talk, for them to answer questions and tell stories, and i searched for the right poetry, the right music, the right sentiment, the right words, and it was an honor and a privilege to stand in front of them and everyone there on this most important day for this most important ritual. i reminded those attending this wedding that their presence was not passive. they were witnessing this event and, in doing so, were promising to be there for this newly wedded couple, through thick and thin. to stand by them in all times, to help carry them through joys and sorrows, successes and challenges.
“i carry your heart. (i carry it in my heart.)”. i read the words of e.e. cummings as they stood, with tears in their eyes. it was hard not to weep with them. they danced down the aisle after the words, “the light will shine through your skin and they will ask, ‘what have you done with your life?’ and though there are many moments you will remember, in the end, you will be proud to say i was one of us.” life stretches out in front of them. they will be amazed at how their hearts will grow and hold the treasure trove of memories that will come. and, all the while, they will tenderly carry each other’s hearts.
i was supposed to fly that day. i had already purchased a kringle to bring to my sweet momma and poppo at the other end of my flight. but, just before i left for the airport, 20 called and told me to turn on the news. it was surreal and i dropped to the floor of the sitting room in front of the tv. i called my husband, called my beloved children’s schools to have someone tell each of them that i had not gotten on an airplane that morning and i watched the horror unfold that sunny september 11th in new york city.
a friend from yamaha in nyc sent me a picture of the world trade center location where i had just recently performed. it was destroyed. i stayed glued, watching, carrying the hearts of all those worried about someone in those towers, someone in the pentagon, someone on flight 93. it was terrifying to know this was real.
tomorrow is twenty years from the day of this tragedy. though i’m sure not a day goes by that survivors and surviving family members and friends do not think about this, it seems, in the middle of this pandemic and political chaos and climate-changed extreme-weather episodes on a grand scale and divisiveness in the nation, that the marking of this anniversary should remind us, should unite us instead of prompting the sneering that i am viewing on social media.
it would seem important to come together under the sun to do whatever it takes, sacrifice whatever is needed, to defeat this global pandemic and cease the loss of loved ones.
it would seem important to come together under the sun to do whatever it takes, sacrifice whatever is needed, to cross the aisle and embrace inclusivity and fairness and equality for all.
it would seem important to come together under the sun to do whatever it takes, sacrifice whatever is needed, to confront global warming and climate change and save this planet for the children of our children’s children.
it would seem important to come together under the sun to do whatever it takes, sacrifice whatever is needed, to turn toward each other, ask questions, have conversation, seek collaboration, surrender agenda, recognize truth, work together.
it would seem important – at the very least – to remember to carry each other’s hearts in our hearts. on wedding days and days of destruction of great proportion. it should all be the same.
i love #2 pencils – though, in an inane detail you are probably unconcerned about, i love mechanical pencils more – and it was a whole pack of ’em. plus each and every one was printed with the word “dissent”.
that’s why i should have bought them. i could have stashed reminders of RBG’s venerable spirit and dedication to equality and goodness and principle and ethics and probity in my purse, on the kitchen counter, at my piano, in our mélange-planning notebook, in my calendar.
they would have reminded me to stand courageously in dissent, to back it up with facts, to hold to integrity, to not waver in the face of any question or any fear or any threat. the thing about supreme court justice ruth bader ginsburg, though, is that she was intrepid – even without the pencils.
and so, with the sisu of ruth, the belief in “an opinion, philosophy or sentiment of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea or policy enforced by a government, political party or other entity or individual in a capacity of contextual authority” (wikipedia), the steadfast commitment to the truth and transparency, we all batten down the hatches and ready ourselves for whatever things we care about for which we must fight.
at the very least, i should have bought the towel.
PS. “despite the fact that the justices routinely disagree with each other, they never let it get personal, and have good working relationships with one another.” (dhruti bhagat, librarian, boston public library blog – ruth bader ginsburg and dissents: what’s a dissent?)
as i stand with david, together with his mom and siblings, watching his dad walk down the path of dementia, i am deep in thought of my own parents, missing them. elusive complexities become simple and unimportant as i think about my sweet momma and poppo and their stamp on the world. though certainly worthy, they will not be detailed in history books or in record-holding guiness lists, nor will they be featured in paintings in state buildings or referenced in periodicals, footnotes of prestige. but, just as the life that columbus is forgetting, a life rich in experience and love, so were the lives of my parents. their lives had purpose, their stories were and are important. their dreams counted and their voices mattered. and, though it need not be said, they made an impact.
there are moments when i gaze around and marvel at the rapid movement around us. i feel as if i step back away from the edge of the chaos that is everyday life in a society that values ‘more’ and i just wonder. i wonder about how we all fit in, how, from beginning to end, our lives – in the swirl of everyone’s lives – play a part in this world. i wonder how our very molecules affect other molecules, how permanent or impermanent this effect we have.
pat said, “it’s why you’re here.” she seemed much more certain of that than i. middle age, or maybe it is later middle age, as ross pointed out the other day, is complicated. there is a bit of that elusive complexity whirling around, waiting for us to reach up and cup it in our hands, like catching fireflies on a muggy summer night. holding memories close, we glance back at our lives, pondering the rights and the wrongs and the joys and blisses and the mistakes and the regrets and the happies and the sadnesses, and we watch the glimmering light, surprised at the time that has gone by, stunned by the arc of life that even the tiniest path-choices brought us. in the looking-back we notice the insignificant. in the looking-back, we notice the significant. and sometimes, when we are lucky, we realize how absolutely preposterous it is that we are here at all, how miraculous that we can feel, that we are breathing in this very time.
and i think about my mom and dad. though perhaps generations from now – even possibly just a few – there may be no more out-loud mention of their names or their stories, but they will have been here and, for that, the world is different. i think about columbus, who, though forgetting, is still here, is still holding to life and the filmy stories he can access, his innate and unspoken courage on that path – so painful – moves us, brings us to tears, yet, inspires us. his forgetting reminds us to remember – to live.
we are all on our way to changing the world. each and every one of us, despite our differences, despite anything. it’s why we’re here. it’s ridiculously simple and ridiculously complex.
it’s on the list. i explained to d yesterday that i have a lateral list of things that need my attention, in addition to a vertical list. cleaning the attic, sorting through the basement, going through the closets, these are all on the lateral list somewhere vertically among a number of other things that need to be done. every so often, this lateral push-pull bobs to the top. but procrastination is a fierce reactor and readily slaps the bobbing tedium down.
lately, though, it has risen – triumphantly – and called my name. since the attic is hotter than heck right now, the basement will be first up. it may take me weeks just to decide what to wear down there – how to dress for the plethora of memories mixed with spider carcasses and a whole bunch of sunflower seeds i noticed a while back in the storage room. at the time i wondered why the boy had eaten sunflower seeds and disposed the shells in the storage room and how i hadn’t noticed these and cleaned them out years earlier. the realist raised her hand, shooing off the ridiculous and suggested that cute little mice had made the mess. the boy is now off the hook and there will be a broom ready. so, yes, the outfit might be important…something i might leave down there to specifically don for the lateral look-through. as chores go, this one will be to leave no stone unturned, to peer into every box, unearth each bin, gingerly throw away every spider and centipede carcass. there is no telling what treasures we might find. if it wasn’t so much work, i would be totally looking forward to it. ok, admittedly, part of me is happily anticipating it. because – it is rich in memories. and therein lies the root problem.
i explained to d that this will take some time. that he should not be thinking that – poof! – it will be done quickly. oh no…every single everything down there has a story. and, to jump on ann landers’ bandwagon, some things have words. lots of them. like old greeting cards, stories my children wrote when they were little, scrapbooks of adventures, brochures saved from, well, everywhere. not to mention old report cards, newspaper clippings, letters penned by my sweet momma, tiny notes on pa pad paper written by my poppo. so, draw up a chair, d, this could take a while. but, hey, don’t go away, because i’d love to share it all with you.
we recently brought home a bin from colorado in which david’s mom and dad had saved miscellaneous clippings and photos and playbills about him. we combed slowly through it; for me, it was my first viewing of many of these pieces. articles and wedding invitations, school letters and the note that the man in the neighborhood wrote to the editor of the paper bragging about what “a little gentleman” david was as his paperboy. sitting at the table going through all these was like having a viewmaster toy full of different slides, snippets of his life during which i wasn’t there.
though i may have a few more slides, bins full, shall we say, it will be a chance for him to peek into the viewmaster and see me as a little girl, a teenager, a young woman, someone who wore a bikini and went water-skiing and sought out all the lighthouses on long island. to see the tangible evidence of me as a young mother: art projects and cheerios containers, favorite rattles and the tassels of high school graduations. so many artifacts, so many stories to tell.
this might be the right week for that. the temperatures will be in the high 80s, the humidity will be drippy and this-old-house-with-no-central-air will be cooler in the basement.
i need to plan my basement work clothes. cue-up the lateral list. full-speed ahead.
it is said – and clearly there are many people in the news now’days who subscribe to this – that any press…good or bad…is better than no press. you have to wonder.
way back in 2002 i released this album. ‘as sure as the sun’ was the culmination of much writing, practicing, arranging, driving, singing, hydrating, listening, reviewing, re-writing, more singing, more practicing, more driving, recording, listening, sitting and watching my producer, more sitting and watching my producer, re-recording tracks, more practicing, more driving, more hydrating, more singing, more writing, more listening, more reviewing, re-writing, practicing, singing, hydrating, more driving and a lot of worrying. i recorded the album in nashville and drove back and forth for sessions, in between which i spent my time finessing each piece of music, each song i had composed for the project.
as an independent solo artist and not a complete band with others to lean on or a label financially chugging it forward, it was a big project, a big investment in heart, time and money. my producer and i had to believe in it to keep it going. bottom line, i had to believe in it to keep it going. when it was done and i drove home with a mastered CD, it was with a mix of feeling proud, wiped out, anxious and full of dreams. ‘as sure as the sun’ was my sixth album and the first that was a full-length vocal. it was stepping out of my comfort zone. it was the edge.
i hired an agency to help with its release and a radio promoter to aid in its adds to radio airplay. i don’t recommend either. to the tune of almost $40,000 they took me for a ride and i wonder now how this was possible. but when your professed dreams come knocking it is hard to turn away and do it yourself. in retrospect, i should have just continued doing it all on my own as i had done with all the instrumental albums that preceded it. but ah, that whole retrospect thing is such a fine perspective arranger.
amazon, and various other entities, added the album to my lineup online and radio stations added songs to their airplay. ‘slow dance’ charted at number 13 on the secondary adult contemporary radio chart. i’m not really sure how important that was now – at the time, however, it kept me paying for the promoter. i suspect that was the goal.
i played concerts and interviewed on radio and drove around to wholesale and retail shows with product, selling to large box brick and mortar chains and small privately owned shops that played music and displayed cds for customers to purchase. at the label in our offices on lake michigan we put together more cardboard display boxes than i can count, shipping out displays and cds regularly. it was busy and fun and a time when people still purchased actual cds.
in the zeal of the after-release glow, i looked everywhere for reviews of this new album. i wanted to know how it resonated with people, how it measured up, what i could learn by reading others’ commentary.
and then there was this.
the title was just the start. dang. sounding like a “hoofed mammal in heat” or a “squealing pig” was a tad bit much, i thought. the first-grader-lyric-writing comment was, well, kind of first-grader-like. i noted the misspelling of norah’s name. and, much as i appreciate his style, i really wouldn’t use “soulful” to describe jim brickman’s vocal music. but i digress.
i was stunned to have such a review and didn’t know what to think. i spent lots and lots of time, an inordinate amount of time, pondering who might have written such a statement. for some reason, i did not give as much time to the emails i received, the notes, the non-promoter-sought airplay, the adds in box stores and shops around the country, and the thousands of cds that were shipped out. this review nagged me.
it’s funny to me now how i let this one commentary puncture a pinhole in my confidence. but that’s the way of negativity. to stand firmly rooted, to take on the edge, to step new steps, to grow, to believe in your ability to shift gears, sway in the wind – the inner job of every artist. one moose and one pig should not be enough to undermine you and yet, there it was.
somewhere along the line i mostly forgot about this review and got on with the business of the music business: making more music. nine albums and several singles followed this album’s release. but i never really looked for reviews. i listened to what was inside and kept stepping. one of these days, maybe when i decide that i am still relevant, i will step again.
artists of every medium adjust and re-adjust too often to the whim of the viewers’/listeners’ fancy. they lose something every time in their pursuit of wanting their work to be liked by others. yet, the artist is most certainly riding the value-train with every project released. for that project, the last project, the next new project – all represent making a living. they represent a vulnerability not broached in other life-work paths. they represent a piece of someone’s heart and soul, hoping against hope not to be pounced on. all together – the projects of all artists of all mediums – they represent the woven fabric of our narrative, diverse and rich.
as my sweet momma used to say, “if [someone] has nothing nice to say, [someone] should say nothing at all.”
though i generally like moose and pigs and am in good company either way, i trust the moose and the pig agree with her.
in a twist of irony, the measured-computerized female voice on our voicemail the other day admonished us, “sorry. you did not reveal yourself to be human. goodbye.”
we are sitting in the emptied living room of my in-laws as we write. long grooves in the carpet reveal where the couch was and a few browned leaves lay in a trail of the shedding ivy that was moved yesterday. pictures are off the wall and the mirrors have been taken down. we sit at the counter on folding chairs from the shed out back.
all along the top of the mantel are shot glasses, part of columbus’ collection, the rest of which are on shelving downstairs or on top of the player piano in the family room. they read things like “green bay” or “maker’s mark” or “south dakota” or “heidelberg” or “cedar rapids, iowa” or “yosemite national park” or “krakow” or “utah shakespeare festival” or “ithaca college” or “chicago” or “estes park” or “florida” or “skagway”. over a hundred, there are too many to list. but they are a glimpse into a life – a human life – a timeline shared by others.
columbus went to some of these places, not all. but his beloved family and dear friends would bring him tiny glassware from wherever they roamed. their story became his story in the way that sharing stories works.
it would be a 100-act play to sit and listen to the narrative behind each of these memory shots; it would reveal times of travel and joy and yearning and the seeking of adventure. it would traverse across miles of decades; it would travel around the globe. it would be punctuated with laughter and sighs and maybe a few tears.
the thing i know – it would be rich with human-ness, rich with revelation, rich with love.